Well, Toto, we aren’t in Hawaii anymore. At least for now.

What is this heresy?

I know, I know…those of you who follow my blog may have noticed I fell off the map after daily blogging about our epic vacation in British Columbia back in September. Well, that’s because in October my life pretty much fell apart with the death of my father-in-law and the ripple effect that had on my husband and his family.

Where to begin? Perhaps where I am now is best: I’m on the Russian River, in California. This is the view out my front window.

How did we get here? Well, with Mike’s dad gone, his mom’s care became destabilized and he and his siblings rallied to take turns throughout the year at being the “point person” to call when help is needed at her assisted living facility in Santa Rosa. My mother-in-law is in good health and just needs emotional support and some assistance, so this situation could go on for an indefinite period of time; but we are considering a year here, to see how she does and how we do at living in “the Madland,” as Hawaii people call this place, with its millions of zooming cars, layers of malls and acres of concrete.

Mike came out to assist right after Christmas, and to scout for somewhere we could be happy with our nature-loving ways.

He found this little red cottage on the River, in a tiny community without even mail delivery—a community I’m going to call Playa Verde (because I plan to write about it, and I want fictional disclaimers.)

Playa Verde is perhaps a mile in diameter, built around a couple of bridges across the mighty Russian River, which, since Mike arrived, flooded three times. Our cottage is fifty feet up from the water on a steep hillside studded with redwoods (above the flood zone, thankfully) and looks down at one of the bridges and a very popular beach. There’s a bar just off the bridge with a weatherbeaten, moss-covered sign advertising “The Pink Possum” that’s apparently been there since Prohibition. A Quonset hut that doubles as a movie theater, a diner, a community center and a couple of corner grocery stores of the chewing-tobacco-Jim-Beam-and-canned-beans variety (no artisanal quinoa here!) make up the town’s hub.

Leaving my home of seventeen years was pretty awful. Not only do I live on Maui, one of the top ten “best islands in the world” (according to Travel and Leisure for years running) but I’m embedded in my community, helping run a nonprofit (Keiki Cupboard) and my counseling practice and immediate family are all there too.

At one point I seriously considered just letting Mike go alone—but he asked me in all seriousness, “Could you find it in your heart to take one last big adventure with me?” and his heartfelt words (along with those amazing blue eyes boring into my soul) melted my resistance.

These are the true tests of marriage and commitment, and we get to pass through another of these milestones in our lengthy journey. So I said yes, and it felt like getting married all over again when we celebrated thirty-one years Feb. 1.

The weeks up to the move were a whirlwind of my usual crazy writing schedule interspersed with emotional ups and downs and a million “to do’s.”

One of the biggest challenges of the move, for me, was figuring out what to do with my little dog, Liko. After much debate, I decided to bring him, embarking on the six month rabies vaccination process that would end with him being able to return to Hawaii once he’d left.  A seventeen-pound shih tzu of energetic temperament, he had to go in a carrier small enough to fit under the seat in front of me for the duration of the flight. We began training for that weeks in advance, getting him used to the claustrophobically-small soft sided carrier he’d have to be confined in for more than five hours.

The big day finally arrived after a whirlwind of social events, goodbyes and last minute details—and Liko traveled better than I did, curling up and sleeping the entire plane ride!

When you live in Hawaii, all major passages are marked with that process of boarding, flying, and disembarking from a plane. This trip, while outwardly indistinguishable from the many journeys I take off island each year (except for the significant addition of Liko) felt much different—but the sight of Mike, waiting for me in the Oakland baggage claim with his arms wide open, made it all worthwhile. I’m a sucker for a happy ending (as anyone who reads my stuff can tell) and me and Liko running across the airport to jump into those arms counts as a happy ending in my story–or at least the beginning of a new chapter.

I’m settling into the River House as we have begun to call it. My writing desk is set up in the front room, so I can turn my head to take in the ever changing vista of life on the Russian River: pairs of wood ducks, mallards, grebes and coots paddling up and down; buzzards and hawks wheeling; wreaths and scarves of fog winding above the redwoods, and the guy who parks daily on the gravel shoal beach with his fishing pole in the water.

I walk Liko twice a day on our little frontage road, getting to know every smelly leaf-pile and interesting log, and this morning I trundled across the bridge to the community center and took a lovely yoga class make up of six middle-aged to ancient ladies and one old dude who huffed like a steam train but did an impressive headstand. On the way back, I bought envelopes at the corner market and met the Indian lady, Sagrinda, who owns the store. Further down the road, carrying my grocery bag, I asked an an oldster at the bus stop about the routes, getting an earful about the vagaries of the bus service (I didn’t bring my car) and waved to the friendly cops patrolling our quiet street.

This came to my PO box today! Weighs a ton at 640 pages, but if you like big books…this one’s for you!

We have a P.O box and I got my proof copy of the hefty new print book of the Michaels Family Box Set in the mail there today. Playa Verde is already beginning to feel like home.

I particularly like the way light filters in long golden misty lances through the redwoods as I walk the dog in the morning, when sunshine is just breaking through the fog. The chill makes coming home to the smell and warmth of the wood burning stove in our snug living room even sweeter.

Wish me a mellow adjustment and good productivity in the days ahead as I co-author the last book in the Scorch Series with Emily Kimelman, and begin work on Wired Dark, book 4 in the Paradise Crime Series—even as I look around at the colorful characters peopling this village, and dream up fun new stories set on the Russian River in an imaginary place called Playa Verde.

Have you ever had a move you weren’t sure about? What helped you embrace your new location?

(Click on any of the photos to open up for detail into a slide show.)

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