Category Archives: Personal Log

A Trip to the Oregon Coast

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A few days ago, my husband and I headed off to the Oregon Coast for a little break. For months we’ve been looking forward to this getaway, a cabin offered through the Oregon State Parks system.

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With a toilet, shower, microwave, and bunk beds, vacationing in one of these little beauties is not exactly roughing it. However, I much prefer to be in the forest right next to the beach rather than in a motel room.

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From a sunny day in the 90s we entered a foggy atmosphere in the 60s. The break from the heat was nice.

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I love the towering overstory, woodsy scents, and booming surf.

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The beach is quiet after Labor Day. You can walk for miles without running into anyone.

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A feast of calamari, provided by Pacific Restaurant.

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Sunset over the Pacific Ocean was spectacular from our cabin.

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I even got a little writing accomplished by the light of the campfire, in between s’mores. Just over 1,000 words, if you’re curious. I’ve found that I really enjoy writing in different locations. New surroundings seem to add some zest.

Photo credit: Tillamook Chamber of Commerce

Photo credit: Tillamook Chamber of Commerce

On day 2, we stopped in at the Tillamook Air Museum. Why would Tillamook, Oregon, a town known for its cheese, with just over 4,900 people, have an air museum? I’m glad you asked. Tillamook was the site of a blimp base during World War II, one of only ten such bases on U.S. soil.

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The blimp hangar at Tillamook, which houses the aircraft collection, is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. The plane on the left is a Mini Guppy.

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The Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa “Oscar” is a rare Japanese fighter plane. They were used extensively as kamikaze aircraft at the end of the war.

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A spooky house on the outskirts of Tillamook. This is what our house would look like if I didn’t hack back the overgrowth every once in a while.

It was a short trip, but very enjoyable. We’ll be back!

Note: All pictures were taken by my husband unless otherwise specified.

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Early Birds and Night Owls

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
— Benjamin Franklin

Blessed are the owls, for they shall inherit the mystery and magic of the night.
— Hilary Rubinstein

Do you ever feel that you’re just not in synch with the people around you? You’re soaking your brain in caffeine in the early a.m., trying to shake off sleep like a bear in spring, while your coworkers behave like busy beavers and Chatty Cathys. Then, just about the time everyone is clocking out, your brain lights up like a firecracker. If that sounds familiar, chances are you’re a night owl.

Night owls, or evening people, tend to stay awake past midnight, perhaps even until dawn. They feel most lively in the evening. Morning people, on the other hand, also known as early birds, early risers, or larks, get up around 6 a.m. and feel most energetic in the morning.

I’ve been a night owl since I was a kid. In the summertime in my preteen and teen years, I stayed up late reading or watching TV well past anyone else in the household—and I was the youngest. During the school year, I conformed to the school schedule, but those hours were never my preference. Nocturnal habits followed me into college, where I typically opted for afternoon classes and studied in the evenings.

Sometimes I lucked out with work. For instance, for a couple summers during college, I worked the swing shift at lumber mills, 4 p.m. to midnight, which coordinated well with my natural rhythms. (I also worked the graveyard shift, midnight to 8 a.m., but didn’t like that at all.) After graduation, however, daytime hours were the workplace norm, and getting up early, day in, day out, became an unpleasant grind. Before too many years had passed, I figured out a way to work for myself and set my own hours.

So why do some people feel more active in the morning and others in the evening? Are early birds and night owls just people with slightly altered sleep tendencies, or is there more to the phenomenon?

Science Says

Scientists have discovered that the number of people who identify as night owls or early birds is surprising high. A survey of more than four hundred adults found that about 15% were morning people, 25% were evening people, and 60% were intermediates, according to Carolyn Schur in Birds of a Different Feather.

Studies performed at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in 2008 showed that sleep-time preferences are often inherited, and additional research indicates that 50 percent of sleep-time choices are determined by genetic factors. In fact, rare gene mutations are linked to entire families whose members wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and cannot stay up much later than 8 p.m.

This all makes sense in the context of my family. My mom is a morning person and my dad (now deceased) was a night owl. My two oldest siblings follow my mom’s pattern, while my other sister and I are more evening people, like my dad.

Some speculate that the division between larks and owls is rooted in evolution, with early risers in the ancient past immersed in daytime activities such as food gathering, while owls took up guard duty as darkness descended.

The Benefits of “Earliness” and “Owliness”

Studies have uncovered certain trends among larks and owls. For instance, early birds tend to be more conscientious. They also display more positive emotions and are more proactive in general. “They tend to get better grades in school, which gets them into better colleges which then leads to better job opportunities,” according to Christopher Randler, a professor at the University of Education in Heidelberg, Germany. “Morning people also anticipate problems and try to minimize them,” he said. Night owls tend to be less reliable, less emotionally stable, and more likely to experience depression, addictions, and eating disorders.

And that’s not all. A recent study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences indicates that staying up late is associated with a “dark triad” of personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

That all sounds pretty grim for owls, but take note of a few bright spots. Evening people, studies show, need less rest and are able to stay focused longer. Early birds may be more sensitive to sleep pressure than night owls. Oddly enough, evening people become physically stronger as the day goes on, but the strength of morning people remains the same throughout the day. People with higher IQs are more likely to be night owls, and they tend to have better memories and accumulate more wealth.

A Who’s Who of Larks and Owls

Examples abound of famous early risers and night people, so neither pattern appears to hold an edge for success. Benjamin Franklin of the well-known “early to bed” idiom was a dedicated early riser. He reportedly began each morning by asking himself “what good shall I do today?” and ended it with “what good did I do today?” Ernest Hemingway, John Grisham, George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Napoleon, Tim Cook, and Rachael Ray also fall within the early bird category.

Famous night owls include Charles Darwin, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Florence King, Fran Lebowitz, Keith Richards, and Elvis Presley. Winston Churchill typically went to bed at 4 a.m. and rose late. As a result of his sleeping patterns, he often hosted War Cabinet meetings in his bath.

The Creativity Question

One question that arises when discussing sleep patterns is whether night owls are more creative. The answer might indeed be yes. A Spanish researcher found that early risers were more likely to be logical and analytical, while those who stayed up late were more imaginative and intuitive. Night owls scored better on creativity tests than did intermediary and morning people, according to a study published in the February 2007 issue of Personality and Individual Differences.

That’s not to say that creative early risers and analytical night owls don’t exist. As I researched this piece, I found that I have a mix of the traits for morning and evening people. For instance, I did well in school, and I’m conscientious and reliable, all characteristics of morning people, but I also at times demonstrate something of an artistic temperament. (My husband can attest to that.)

So what about you? Are you a lark? An owl? Something in between? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Lilac and Lemon Balm

A Cold, Dry Month with a Record Effort

Last Saturday my husband and I spent a few hours toiling away in the back yard, a red letter day in our household. Yard work in winter? What gives?

Typically by that time in January we expect about 4.5 inches of rain, but we were logging in at 0.31 inches. Puddles form in the back yard on the wettest days, which might see more than 2 inches of liquid sunshine. Along with the lack of rainfall, the temperature hovered right around 30 degrees, day and night. Our normal high is 48, with a low of 35.

The unusual weather presented a unique opportunity to tackle yard work without getting soaked, or so I suggested to my husband, who wasn’t nearly as enthused as I was. Usually we ignore outdoor chores during the wet season, but I didn’t want to pass up the chance to get the drop on some of our problem areas. Eugene is a green city that enjoys rampant, prolific growth in springtime, and because our spring months are also wet and our soil waterlogged, managing the abundance presents a challenge. Hence my eagerness to get started on a chilly winter day.

Himalayan blackberries and English ivy can take over a yard in a single season, given the chance. Saturday we pruned them to a manageable level, at least in one section of the yard, and stuffed their arms and legs—er, branches and leaves—into a yard-debris bin, which is collected every two weeks all year round. I’m hoping the weather holds so that I can take a stab at another flora stronghold, by the snowball tree in the corner of the yard. There, tall blackberry canes sweep over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, while ivy vines slink up the rough slats.

I noticed a few things while I was outside. Tiny buds have appeared on the lilac trees. Apparently these buds form in late summer and become visible when the leaves fall. In spring, this head start allows blossoms to quickly burst open. I missed this interesting phenomenon during previous winters while sheltering inside. Lilac is a favorite of mine, and when we bought this house we inherited three varieties: white, pale purple, and deep purple. Score! I may be crazy, but I think they all smell different.

Lilac buds in our back yard, January 2013

Lilac buds in our back yard, January 2013

I enjoy the appearance of bare tree limbs, along with red rose hips and bright berries that remain through winter. I also like the look of lemon balm stalks, with the seed pods sticking out like odd-looking beaks. But the stalks have to go now, before the first flush of spring. While cutting them back, I noted with surprise a shock of tender green leaves at the base. They’re ready to go as soon as the warm weather hits. By May, our far back yard (it runs pretty deep) will become a meadow of thick bushes that when gently pressed, smell—you guessed it—strongly of lemon.

For centuries, lemon balm has served as a medicinal herb. It offers antibacterial and antiviral properties, and helps to calm jaded nerves and enhance the mood. It contains eugenol, a natural pain reliever, and speeds the healing of wounds. One study found that it helped patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms. It may also be useful in combating obesity. Lemon balm may work to suppress thyroid function—useful for people with an overactive thyroid, but unfavorable for those with an underactive thyroid.

Lemon balm and ivy

Lemon balm and ivy, January 2013

Making lemon balm tea is simple. Just use two to three tablespoons of fresh leaves or one to three teaspoons of dried leaves per cup of water. Bring water to a boil and pour over the leaves. Steep for 10 minutes. The flavor is mildly lemony.

A local herbalist gave me a simple recipe for lemon balm honey. In the summertime, pick a handful of leaves after the dew has evaporated. In a clean jar, add a small layer of honey and place a leaf on top. Spoon on more honey, enough to fully cover the leaf. Add another leaf and repeat the process until the jar is full. It won’t take long for the herb’s healthful benefits to be absorbed into the honey.

In other news, I’m back at work on my sequel to Freeblood, after a hiatus. It’s called Fastblood. Those who have read the first book will understand the title’s significance. Blocks and barriers that seemed frozen in ice have melted away, and a creative landscape that once lay dormant now seems lush with possibilities. I’d worked on other writing projects in the interim, but it feels good to be back scribbling on Quinn’s story.

It’s been a few days since I first started this post, and the yard is calling me back. Those areas of bountiful overgrowth may be weighing on my conscience, but I equally suspect the allure of the first signs of spring.

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