coloring inside the lines

When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to fill graphic design color books with marvelous artwork. What he made of those pages of geometric lines and curves still makes me wonder at his imagination and talent. He did not allow the pages to tell him what to draw or color. He made someone else’s black lines dissolve into his ideas. It must have been immensely satisfying, because he lined bookshelves full of this beauty.

Some years ago, I started thinking his hobby was worth exploring. I always liked colored pencils and sometimes crayons, and often chalk. Instead of talent, I capitalized on my ability to stay within the lines, my stubborn attitude toward completing things, and a great eye for good quality paper and pencils. Television-watching has never been more fun than it is now, because I can pay as much or as little attention to either pursuit – the TV show or the coloring page – as I want at the moment. What a worry-free zone I created for me.

therapeutic stress-relievers???

Until now. Everyone seems to be buying adult coloring books and art supplies for stress relief. We have coloring books that direct grief and coloring books that keep you from eating and others that encourage you to quit smoking. I have been years in this pursuit, and show no signs of stopping. I don’t remember picking up the hobby because of stress. It just seemed like a good idea. But it’s sort of like if the medicine helps your condition, didn’t you have the disease? And then another thought occurs to me. Shouldn’t I at some point in time feel cured and leave the books behind? All this commercialization of coloring has me perplexed.

I am left with one question. It’s not should I be worried? It’s how worried should I be?

….stressed out at the bungalow…. MarshaIMG_6262



Who are you?

Susan in Stockholm with a well-deserved ice cream cone (raspberry licorice with salt)

There are so many ways to think about that question, but this time I am asking it literally to myself. I have been Marsha at the bungalow for quite a few years, but Marsha is not real. She has been a writing alter-ego that I cherish and enjoy. When I started adding my real name, Susan, to my comments in other blogs, it had a nice ring of truth.

As Susan – who else? – I am beginning a blog devoted to walks at home and around the world. I hope you all will join me at

It’s simple – click here, then look at the top right of the webpage and click on ‘follow’ (I think a ‘follow’ button also hovers on the bottom of the page.) Of course, you can also click the link above.

For the first several walks, I will link the two blogs, and you can – almost – always find me at Restless Jo’s Monday Walks.

So if you see comments in your blogs from a Susan who sounds familiar, it might be because Marsha has become a real girl – Susan@onesmallwalk. See you around!

apr5 007
made for walking



apr5 007
made for walking

You practice-packed and repacked last week. You printed out and saved to your phone or e-pad all your travel information. Your passports and health screening is up-to-date.

Sadie – we’d take her if we could

You made sure your neighbors knew you’d be gone. You made arrangements for pets, gave loved ones your itinerary.

The refrigerator has been culled, the bread box is empty. The patio plants will survive on their own, you hope.

The time is here. Lift-off. Sail-away. Engine warmed-up. Doors closed. All those elements of a vacation’s beginning announce new steps in your journey. It’s a delicious feast of anticipation. What will the next adventure hold? Perhaps Norway, Sweden and Finland, and maybe some more.

IMG_3028Just don’t forget to stash away -somewhere safe in the travel gear – the most important stuff.

Rock Walk

IMG_1004.JPGSearching for rocks along this Central California beach has become my afternoon pleasure. I walk for a peaceful hour along the wave line, searching for rocks that the tide has brought in from the ocean or pulled out from the dunes. If I am lucky, it will be low tide, and the beach will supply an abundance and variety that sparkle in the retreating waves.

We are lucky today. Walking through the dunes from the street to the sand, I notice it is low tide. I reach the water, tuck my hat close against the wind, aim my eyes downward, and search for the eye-catching rock, the one that glimmers in the sun, or sparkles with foam from the ocean. People passing by may wonder why my attention is pulled to my feet when the surroundings are so glorious, and at times I feel guilty that I am not honoring this haven with my full attention. But the rocks and their beauty are also insistent. I let the sound of the waves envelope me as I focus feet-ward.

Sedimentary, volcanic, igneous. I have heard all these definitions before. Perhaps I could name a few, but the pristine color and smooth surface is what I really want to admire. I do spend a moment wondering where these specimens of the earth came from, and what adventure caused them to look the way they do.

Today, I get lost in the search until the rumble of a strong engine comes alongside. The beach is seldom crowded, and cars are not allowed, so I look up at the unexpected noise. A harbour patrol truck slows and the driver points to the ocean, then speeds down the beach. Looking into the waves, I see the partner harbour patrol boat racing parallel to the beach. I want to think they are saving a sea lion or errant pelican, but right away I think another shark has probably been sighted and the patrol is on the way to warn surfers to get out of the water.

A jet-ski joins in. I have only seen one jet-ski on the water, so I assume the harbour patrol has the only one allowed. It flits in and out of the waves, circling around the boat. Shark sightings are fairly common here in Central California. I have seen the patrol boat come to warn surfers once before. The surfers had seemed to linger that time, not overly-excited about retreating in the face of deadly sea creatures, but most heeded the warning eventually. I scan the ocean, which is rough today, and even though it is sunny and warm, I don’t see anyone in the surf.

Look close, he’s in there somewhere

Until I walk farther down the beach, and see one brave/foolhardy soul entering the water. I think maybe the patrol truck had passed by before he arrived, and he doesn’t know about the shark. But maybe it’s me who has got things wrong and the commotion isn’t about sharks at all.

I look up and down the sand. A platoon of horses and riders enter the beach and start their slow walk, in and out of the surf. Horses on the beach are more common than sharks in the water. A young horse accompanies this group, maybe its first trip to the beach, and they lead it into the water.

I cross the rubble of a rock pile, the ocean having pulled apart a large dune and its rocky contents. It’s my last chance to hunt for smooth or colorful pieces of the earth and I get momentarily diverted.

IMG_1017Ahead, just beyond the surf, the patrol boat is waiting, then speeds back my direction. The truck does not return, but I hear its loud motor in the road alongside the beach. The lone surfer is still battling the surf for a chance at dominating a wave. The boat approaches, but I lose sight of both as I reach the yellow flags that signal the walkway back to the road. The dunes close in and I can only hope the surfer stays safe.

I look for the signs that are posted after a shark sighting, but there is nothing. Then I wonder what the patrol could have been monitoring out there. I remember the patrolman pointing out past the waves. Whales. I bet it was a whale coming too close to shore. This place has so many curiosities and wonders. And to think that all I was looking for were a couple shiny rocks.


Rain, Rain…

As long as I have lived in California, we have had drought on our minds. We are either entering a drought, recovering from one, or – as right now – in the midst of an historic period of wishing for rain. We have been at it for so long, we classify our type of drought, so as to fool ourselves into thinking we are transitioning from one climate to another. But it’s all about relative drought, and we worship what we don’t have. We worship rain.

And then it comes.IMG_0229

And comes again.

And the next day, too.

It damages the neighborhood.IMG_0204

We Californians are not known for our ability to focus for long periods of time. Didn’t the word ‘fad’ begin here? We love those things that come and go and come again, so we don’t have to pay attention for too long. We’re always entertained by the next new thing. IMG_0224

So, for Stanley and Marsha, two native Californians, four days of rain indicated an end of the historic drought. Didn’t it? Certainly, it should have.

After four days, I’m ready for the new fad: no rain. New wildflowers.

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California Coastal Walk

Morro Rock in the background

Though I take this walk nearly every day when I am at home, I rarely take photographs, and hardly ever reflect on the beauty of this part of the earth. I use this glorious walk as a little bit of silent stepping out, a relaxation built into my already relaxing retirement. Today, I’d like to share Morro Strand State Beach with you.

It’s exactly in the center of the long state of California, a couple miles of beach that slowly curves just like the coastline of my home state. We have a mild winter, and today is typical of that time between winter and spring. Really, the only difference between the seasons is a couple degrees of warmth and an hour or so of sunshine. Today, we are recovering from welcomed rain, so the world will be washed and clean for our walk. Sadie knows the way, so she leads.

In and around the natural setting of the coastline, we wind into the rustic dunes from a man-made grassland that hopes to bring nature back to the area after  a housing development took its toll. The fences keep us away from the sensitive areas, but still gives us a view into the dunes.

We pass through a shaded section, over a sweet bridge crossing a creek that is usually dry. As you can see, today it is full of murky rain water, and the ducks look happy to have more than the usual pond for swimming. I wonder if they venture out onto the beach when the water dries up, or if they pad over to the park wetlands. I think they have a nest here, as I’ve seen them in this same spot now for a month or so.

This area has sections dedicated to a tiny bird called the snowy plover. They are pretty little birds that run together in groups of hundreds. During the winter, they earn their name by turning a brilliant snow white, and look like popcorn popping on the beach as they bounce up and down in their huge bird groups. When they fly into the air en mass, a gorgeous white flash fills the sky. We are not to walk in their nesting areas, though, because if a human approaches, they will desert their nests. Or if a dog sniffs, they will desert their nests. Or if loud noises rouse them, they will leave their babies behind. I think they are better at being like popcorn than at parenting. We turn here, recross the bridge, and because dogs are not allowed on the Plovers’ beach, Stanley and Sadie return home and I continue alone.

To the beach, through the dunes. The distant roar of the waves has joined us on our walk, becoming loud and soft again as we strolled in and out of the grassland and dune trails. Now, it blasts my ears with its insistent call. I am the most powerful thing on earth it says, proving its point by reaching your mind whether or not you allow it.

I struggle through the soft dry sand before reaching the packed sand, easy to walk on. Even easy enough to ride a bike. The snowy plovers are the small birds, cute but not the best parents in the bird world. I turn my camera south toward Morro Rock, but decide to walk north.

In the distance to the north is the town of Cayucos. It’s a longer walk than I’ll be doing today – probably six miles to the restaurants – but it’s always tempting, since it is an easy straight-ahead beach walk.IMG_0140

Along the way, fishermen try their luck and beach-combers hunt. I reach the steps up the cliff, my turn-around point, and spend some time in my favorite beach activity: rock hunting. Or I should say rock-admiring, since I am trying to take photos rather than taking the rocks themselves.

Back toward Morro Rock, then home. I hope you’ve enjoyed Morro Strand State Beach. Wouldn’t you like to take this walk yourself? As a decades-long former resident of the California Central Valley, this walk now in my front yard fills me with gratitude.


The Purse Curse: worn leather and other unwanted changes

Purse ExplotionEverything in life changes, and I suppose your purse should change every once in a while, too. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. My purse was just what a purse should be. Why change? I had downsized it when I’d downsized my life. Extra Kleenex? Lipstick? A comb? Who needed it? Give me a driver’s license, credit card, ten bucks, my sunglasses and keys. The small shoulder bag my Mom handed-down to me was perfect. For a while.

Our county has entered that enlightened no-plastic bag era, an era I approve. And when I go to Trader Joe’s, by habit I reach for my three bags. But those other shopping trips, the ones I hadn’t planned to buy but one or two items and ended up with an unexpected sale of ten necessary boxes of loose tea, those times were driving me wild. I could purchase a reusable bag each trip, but I had a large selection already.

Some of which I keep with me at all times. Well, sort of with me, if locked inside the trunk of my car while I’m in the store is close enough. But, you know it isn’t. Yesterday, I’d skipped into the store with my tiny purse, carefree, for a bagged salad mix. Then added ten items to my basket. A store clerk asked if I wanted to buy a paper bag. I didn’t want to buy one, but I had to. It simply adds to my supply at home, since I will not throw out bags by themselves. They must accompany something with a purpose, like our diminishing amount of refuse. Even if they carry an item away from the house – returning a food favor to a neighbor, for example – they always seem to come back with the next gifting. 

I was in favor of this no-plastic change, but the third time in a week that I’d forgotten my reusables made me think again. If I was going to survive, I would need to change my purse.

With great reluctance, I handed-down my handed-down purse, and brought back the big guns. Now, I run around with a large open shoulder bag. Big enough to handle those surprising tea finds and a bargain or two, I am hoping that I’ve side-stepped the bag crisis. If only I wouldn’t yearn for those care-free days of a small and simple bag-ette.

Home, Homing, Homed

Magical World of Marsha
Magical World of Marsha

For many of us, home is a verb. It’s movable. It changes with all that life brings. Somehow, though, whatever else I have in my life, I always have a home.

But I don’t have a hometown, one place of solidarity with the past that I am confident will last into the future. My brother does, and as proud as he is about his home and hometown, it is one thing that I welcome in his life, but can’t replicate in mine. It’s that old story about accepting our differences, accepting ourselves.

Stanley and I have lived in our chicken coop for 3 1/2 years now. It is home, as it has been since the first time we entered the poor old run-down bungalow, long before we turned it into its current state of comfortable unspectacularness. I recently confessed to some travel friends that 3 1/2 years is about my comfortable pace of travel. This is as fast as I want to see things in this world. A childhoood in California, two years in Colombia, three years in Texas, a couple decades in the central valley of California (aiii!), a year in Ukraine, and now this. Is it time to move on? Have I ‘traveled’ the wondrous central Pacific coast, ready to move on to some other place for 3 1/2 or so years?


Who knows? But it won’t be this year. This year, Stanley is on the count for new countries to visit, filling up his list. And I am tagging along. Lord help us.

Glogg and Sparkling Cranberries

Santa happiness
Santa happiness

Around this time of the year, I feel I should search for tradition. Many people have customary ways to celebrate a holiday or the new year itself. I have none. I may put up a light or two one year, crochet and display a tree the next, but my celebration changes from one year to the next.

Thanks to blogging friends Martha and Tiny, who each shared a tradition, I enjoyed sparkling cranberries and glogg this year. Partaking in their holiday cheer made my mine better.

When we had young ones in the house, we tried the Stanley-and-Marsha-do-American-Christmas. It was fun. But American Christmas is exhausting, and it was one of the first things we gave up when we could. Celebrating peace, brotherhood and love is a good thing, and I continue that tradition in spirit. While I enjoy other people’s celebrations – the decor, the Christmas tree, endless Santa – for me, most the other hoopla is gone.

Being a good American, though, I struggle with the guilt of it. Shouldn’t I play endless Christmas music? Shouldn’t I shop until I drop? Shouldn’t I race around until every gift is perfect and no one is forgotten? And what about the annual Christmas brag letter?

Today I received a simple, exquisite, heart felt note of seasonal happiness. Tamila sent us a greeting from Ukraine. I know things are better for her today than last year, and am very happy that, even while her country reels, Tamila’s life is settling a bit. But she said nothing of herself in this note. Her message was clear and unselfish. All she did was send a wish for goodness in our lives.

Maybe I’ve found my tradition, one that will stay throughout the rest of my life. No list of good (or bad) events during this past year, no lengthy update of jobs and people and vacations, no heavy hand at decorating,  just a simple wish for good things to happen to good people.

May there be happiness in the new year for us all.


Rotten Family Roots

the best medicine
the best medicine

Having had heart-warming successes in Northern Ireland finding personal connections that I could actually touch, I was tempted to explore my family roots in Scotland. Prior to planning this trip, I had vague recollections of a long ago Scottish connection through my paternal grandmother, but without the voice of my grandfather to bring that connection to life, I put it out of my mind.

But my brother did not. He enthusiastically researches all kinds of historical stuff. Without him, I would not have had anything to look for in Ireland. A couple weeks before I left on this journey, he sent me a reminder of Grandma Brown’s past. We were descended from a Brit named Sherburne and a Scot with an unusual French-sounding name. On a lark, I typed that name plus ‘Scotland’ into Google – it being the less common name and, I figured, more likely to bring pertinent info.

Right back at me came news article after news article of a famous – or infamous – fellow from Edinburgh. He had been a well-known boxer in the late 1900’s. Then he beat up a guy (badly) after which he killed another during a time he worked for some very serious crooks. The fellow in our family who eventually made in to the USA in the mid-1800’s had fled Scotland after believing he had killed his uncle (the uncle survived.) These two stories were a bit too close for my comfort, so to avoid a potentially embarrassing family history of extreme violence and prison sentences, I decided to let my attempts to pronounce Edinburgh fill my academic time in that city. Some family secrets you just don’t want to know.