Note from an Exile

Moving to Abilene, Texas was not part of my five-year plan! Still, here I am, and I’m ready to make the best of the year or so that I’ll be here.

I found a decent piece of property to rent, with plenty of room for all the animals, a lovely porch where I can watch the sunrise with my morning coffee, and the space and peace I need while I write. Let’s not talk about the interior of the house or its previous occupants (rats!!) that were unwilling to vacate the premises. It’s slowly becoming more livable and kind of cute. And on the plus side, it’s a great place for Sprout while he’s still in his Destruct-o-Rama Kitten phase. There’s not much he can do to damage this place 🙂

When I signed up for internet service, I had to give my Wi-Fi a name. I chose the Writer’s Barn because it seems to fit the unsophisticated vibe of my temporary home, as well as its intended purpose. Nothing fancy, but a great place to write.

I recently wrote a blog for Bold Strokes about my new book Set the Stage (, in which I talk about my dream job of acting in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. And on the “Books and Stories” page on this site, I mention several other dream jobs. Truth is, though, I really have the career of my dreams. Writing, like reading, gives me the chance to explore every path I didn’t take. That makes this the best job of all.

It’s Kismet

A stressful move away from the only state I’d ever called home. A long trip that included winter storms, hotel-room goats, and frantic searches for the nearest available Starbucks (I’m really not used to them being so few and far-between). A new state that is sometimes different enough to feel like a foreign country. What I need is time to acclimate, a handful of Valium, and to get my stuff unpacked and put away. What I don’t need is another goat.

So…maybe it wasn’t a good idea to visit the Boer goat farm (Boers are meat goats) and play with the bottle-fed kid that was going to market in a few weeks. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to go back to the farm a few days later with a dog crate in my car and cash in my pocket. Then again, maybe it was a great idea. It’s kismet.


Or, rather, she’s Kismet. Soft and fluffy in her baby fur, she’s adorable and sweet. She needs time to adjust to her new home, just like I do. Instead of her huge herd, she has two big sisters who want to chase her. Every aspect of her life has changed (for the better, I hope!) from what she eats to where she sleeps and how she spends her days.


When I think of all the different threads of my life that were tugged and snipped and knotted in order to get me here, to this place I now call home, my mind reels. Fate? Random chance? Who knows. We can imagine what might be ahead of us on this journey through life, but we can never be sure until we take those steps forward. I rounded a corner and found Kismet. How lucky am I?

Still Moving Cross-Country (The Goats Opted out of the Last Two Legs of the Journey)

A few beloved possessions.
A few beloved possessions.

Parts two and three of my trip were better weather-wise. Instead of cutting through the middle of the country (what I know refer to as the “Blizzard Belt”), I took I-10 to I-5, and vice versa. I drove the rental van back to Washington, and then my dad and I drove my car to Texas. Aside from Oregon (top-to-bottom ice and snow) and the worst hail storm I’ve ever experienced—with lightning strikes close on either side of the highway as I drove—in New Mexico, the trips were long but uneventful. With the goats safely ensconced in their Texas pasture, the hotel stays were amazingly simple. I didn’t need to leave a tip and an apology note for housekeeping after staying in a room with my dad.

I’ve done the mental exercise before, “what would you save if your house caught on fire?” After rescuing animals and people, what are the main objects you’d grab? What’s irreplaceable? I had limited space in my car, after our suitcases and road snacks and coats and maps were packed, so I had to choose what to send—and possibly never see again—and what to take with me. Things I loved or valued enough not only to bring in the car, but to lug up to the hotel room and back every night. I thought I’d share the items that made the cut.

1. Memorabilia. Although the items chosen will vary by person, this category is probably universal. I had mementos from beloved pets I’ve lost, two boxes of photos, a handwritten book of family recipes, and an Elmo. A piece of jewelry—a gold horse pin my sister bought for me when we were kids—was tucked into the boxes as well. Nothing of great value to the world, but priceless to me.

2. Valuables. Most of the (relatively) expensive items I own are horse-related—saddles, bridles, show clothes, etc.—and were too bulky to take with me. They’re in storage or with my parents. But I carried my three delicate instruments, not trusting them in the jostling moving box. An acoustic violin and viola, and my lovely burgundy electric violin. I also—to my dad’s chagrin since he had to help me carry everything—brought my pricey and beloved compact (but very heavy) OED.

3. The final category was comprised of important objects. Maybe not irreplaceable, maybe not overly valuable, but things that mattered. Like the notes and collectibles from my current work-in-progress. I could have recreated most of them from files saved on-line, but there’s something about those pages written in my sloppy scrawl… And the going-away present from my nieces (a limited edition squishable stuffed-animal goat). And my book about horses around the world, written over a century ago (one of my most cherished gifts). And my ratty old cowboy boots.

It was a car packed with love. My dad, a phone to stay in touch with the rest of my loved ones, the few prized objects I’ve collected over the years. Everything carefully stowed, and just as carefully put on a luggage cart and brought to each hotel room. It was a lesson in value. What I value, not what the world values.

What would you fit in the trunk of your car?

Traveling Cross-Country…with Goats

Shasta on my hotel bed

My recent move from the Pacific Northwest to Texas was a major undertaking for me. I’ve moved before—to college and back, into an apartment, into houses—but never on such a large scale and over such a long distance. I had to evaluate the things I had collected over the years and decide what I’d bring with me, what I’d leave behind in storage, and what I’d rehome or toss. My top priority? My two pet goats. I had a jumbo dog crate I used when they needed to take a trip to the vet (twenty minutes away), but I had no idea how to safely haul them over two thousand miles. Thirty-plus hours of driving. Through parts of nine different states (due to some interesting routing that I’ll explain later).

I’m sure that after you read this blog, you’re going to think to yourself Hey that sounds like fun! I think I’ll get a couple of goats and drive them halfway across the United States. Since there is a sad lack of travel guides for goat owners (believe me, I checked all the bookstores), I’ll happily share some of the tips I picked up along the way. Some Dos and Don’ts for those adventurous souls who want to enhance their next driving vacation by bringing goats along for company and a few laughs.

Mode of Transportation

Do: First step, choose a vehicle. Not your car—goats can be joyfully destructive, and there’s no interior-detailing company in the world that would be able to restore your car to its original condition. Think it’s difficult to concentrate on driving when your kids are bickering in the backseat? Try doing it while your two goats are head-butting each other as they fight over the last fig bar.

I did extensive research on-line and found some interesting suggestions. One woman sent me a photo of her five goats as they traveled along a similar route. She had enclosed the bed of her pick-up with wire fencing and had not only the goats but also what looked like all of her worldly possessions crammed in there. It was good for a laugh, but a little too redneck even for me. It might have added some visual interest to a scene in Deliverance, though.

I checked into some traditional livestock hauling options, like horse transport companies, but they were usually ridiculously expensive or filled with detours to pick up other animals. Besides, my goats are a bit prissy. They prefer climate-controlled conditions with all the comforts their servant…I mean owner…can provide. So I settled on a cargo van that would carry two jumbo dog crates (one per goat), me and my friend Susan (one human per goat), a bale of hay, miscellaneous goat-related items, and our suitcases. After about five minutes on the road, there was hay everywhere. In our clothes, in every nook and cranny of the rented van, and even in the stitching of our suitcases. But the goats were comfortable. I thought we were all set for the long trip, but that leads me to my first Don’t:

Don’t: Travel in the middle of winter.

Choosing Your Route

Don’t: Forget to pack your map and driving directions.

Don’t: Pick the route that manages to pass through most of the weather channel’s severe weather warning areas.

Don’t: Travel in the middle of winter. (Yes, I already wrote that. It bears repeating.)

I rarely take road trips that last longer than three hours, so at first I didn’t really grasp the concept of a thirty hour trek. I spent the morning before we left checking the weather reports for Chinook pass in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, worried the pass would close before we got through. We made it over the pass, encountering minimal snow and ice, and I thought we were home free. I had failed to take into account the weather in the NE corner of Oregon, in Idaho, in Utah, in Wyoming, and in Colorado. It wasn’t good weather. By the way, have I suggested that you don’t travel in the middle of winter?

Now, before you check Google maps and tell me I should have taken a more direct route instead of the WA to OR to ID to UT to WY to CO to KS to OK way I went, let me explain one thing. Traveling with goats is stressful. Traveling with me while I’m fretting about my goats is even more stressful. I had to tag team my co-pilots, giving Susan some relief by dropping her at her home in Denver and picking up another friend who had flown there from Texas to drive the final third of the journey with me. (After all, she was the one who had suggested the move. Plus, she told me I’m tracking the weather…after you leave Utah it’ll be really nice. It wasn’t.)

Finding Accommodations

Travel was slow because of the icy conditions and because we needed to stop every few hours to get the goats out for rest breaks. For the first two nights, we got what sleep we could in rest stops or parking lots, keeping the engine running so we stayed somewhat warm, but we did spend one night in a hotel in a small town in Wyoming (both hotel and city shall remain nameless so I can’t be traced back to the scene of the crime). The drive into town was harrowing, with wind and black ice and heavy snow (the road was closed to all traffic soon after we got through). Driving that huge, square cargo van was like parasailing down the wind-blown Columbia River Gorge, and after crawling along the dark and dangerous mountain road and being rocked by speeding semis as they passed, we all needed a break. So I checked us into a roadside hotel.

elaxing in Texas. (photo courtesy of Sterling Mann)
Shasta and Emma relaxing in Texas. (photo courtesy of Sterling Mann)

How to choose a hotel when traveling with goats: Look for one with private entrances to each room and ask for one in the back and on the ground floor. Try to ask for this in a nonchalant voice, so no one suspects you’re about to smuggle goats in with you, maybe saying something like it seems like it will be quieter back there. And learn from my mistake and find a hotel with doors wide enough for the crates to fit through. Only one of our crates was easy enough to dismantle when it was way below freezing, late at night, and we needed to get the goats into the room without being seen by anyone. No problem, I thought at the time. Shasta can sleep on the bed with me, and Emma can stay in her crate. Yes, that’s Shasta on my bed in the photo. This was the ONE moment of calm in a night of chaos.

What was the rest of the night like? Shasta stood at the foot of my bed and pounced at me playfully every few minutes. She watched television with me and stared at herself in the mirror (I was worried she might try to head butt this “other goat”). Every time Susan snored, Shasta would bleat an answer. Early in the morning, Emma got her chance to be out in the room while Shasta napped in the crate. For two goats that had eaten and drunk very little over the past few days of driving, they somehow managed to pee and poop nearly non-stop while we were in the room. SERIOUSLY. EVERYWHERE. I can try to explain what the room looked like the next morning, but the only way to fully understand is for you to take two goats and keep them in a hotel room with you for one night. I don’t have words to describe the havoc they can wreak; it simply must be experienced.

How to check out of a hotel after staying in it with two goats: First, dismantle the crate again, haul it back to the van and put it back together, and then sneak two goats out the door when no one is looking. Second, leave Susan and the goats in the van with the engine running and the heat on (it was below twenty) while you painstakingly pick up goat berries using toilet paper. Try (in vain) to air out the goat smell in the room by keeping the door wide open while you try (also in vain) to clean the carpet and bedspread with hotel towels. Then try (even more in vain, if that’s possible) to clean the hotel’s towels in the bathtub. Then leave a large tip and a note for housekeeping, explaining away the mess without mentioning the word “goats.” My note (paraphrased) went something like this:

I’m sorry we left the room in such a mess. We spent the day at a horse show and that’s why we tracked hay all over. I spilled a bottle of white wine on the bedspread and tried to rinse it out in the bathtub. You might want to wash it.

Don’t bother to explain the puddle Shasta left on Susan’s sheets. She’s warm in the car while you’re cleaning, so you don’t care if housekeeping thinks she wet the bed. When you check out and are asked how your stay was, just smile and say Very nice, thank you. Then repeatedly check your credit card statement, waiting for them to charge you for a new carpet and linens.

Ordeals aside, the goats made a surprisingly quick adjustment to their temporary cargo van home and then to their new Texas home. They love their pasture—with spools and bridges and rocks on which to climb and play—and they love their new brother (pooch) and sister (kitty). I wish I’d adjusted as easily, but I barely had a chance to catch my breath before I had to drive the van back to Washington (it was a round trip rental) and then drive my car back to Texas two weeks later. For more on those trips, check back next week…