Bright and Dark

My old dog is pacing this morning as he often does these days. He’s a thirteen year old chow mix who has arthritis in his hips IMG_8636and shoulders (not helped by the leap he took from a second story window as a young pup, or the time he went through a plate glass window in terror over fireworks on New Year’s Eve and ran like hell for miles, only limping home at four in the morning with a sheepish expression). He’s not completely deaf, but not far off.  He sometimes stops now in the middle of the room with a bewildered expression, and I know he forgot what he was doing.  Since I’m familiar with this, I tell him to go back where he started and his purpose for going to the kitchen will come back to him.

The point is, he’s old and getting really old right before my eyes. The pacing started recently, just a restless, endless circling of whatever floor we’re on. He can’t get comfortable. He has all the supplements and the painkillers and a special drug for Cushings and….well, none of it is going to keep him alive forever.

12705453_10153418938840893_4732546385600136097_nOn the other hand, I have a new granddaughter.

Being Still

The first Monday of the new year, and once again, I am not home. This is the fourth January in a row that I have not been home. This year, I am in San Antonio, awaiting the birth of my second grandchild who is in no rush at all, though everyone else is. Her sister said plaintively, “Can I see my baby sister, please?” expressing how all of us feel.

Last year, it was a wake for Christopher Robin’s mother, a gathering with the New Zealand arm of the family. The year before was her sudden death and the need to attend to all the duties that entails, and her funeral. (We were very glad we’d made the trip to see her the September before.) And the year before that was a long trip to New Zealand to see the family there, and tour the South Island, which is still one of my favorite trips ever.

This year, it’s quiet. I have been playing many games of Minnie Mouse Concentration, and a matching game called Hiss, and Candyland. The girl has gone off to school and we are in the puddles of quiet left behind. I miss her chirping little voice, but I do have to work and I need a good long walk. A trailhead beckons from not far away.  In the summertime, it would be too hot and I’d be afraid of the ants that seem to attack my feet when I come to Texas, but in the winter, the snakes will be sleeping and if I wear shoes, the ants won’t annoy me.

My American-school trained self wants to START FRESH this Monday morning, wants to start writing something meaningful on the clean chalkboard of the new year. And yet, the universe has been arranging something else for me the past few years. Instead of getting busy, getting back to work, I have been dropped into situations where my access to actual writing is blocked, and instead, I read a lot–in cars, on planes, in the long evenings. I stare out the windows to landscapes that are not my own, and I see something new, a bird, a tree, a sky. On Saturday, it rained all day, just a slow gentle drizzle, but all day. That happened a lot in England two years ago. It does not happen in Colorado.

Instead of getting busy, I’m getting filled up. Which might be just the right way to spend a week or two at the start of a busy year.

Later this week, I’ll write about my favorite books and binge watching in 2015. For now, what are you all up to this fresh Monday of the fresh new year? 

Go Ahead, Be Terrible

One of the hardest things about starting a new book is the awfulness of it. I’m there now, at the beginning, no longer thinking about the book or making notes or even writing long backstory and character pieces—which is actually one of the most fun parts of writing. If it was only that part, I would be the happiest writer in the world.

Instead, I’m actually starting to write the thing, in scenes, with characters talking and moving and all that.

This is the point of ruination. I’ve talked about this before—every book is perfect before I must try to bring it into the world. They live in some other place, in the Land of Books Waiting to Be Written, and some are mine to write and some are yours and some are still waiting for their person to get busy and bring it over into the Land of Books That Can Be Read.

As I try to bring my book over the wall into this world, I ruin it, almost from the first word.

Writers Don’t Get Lonely

As part of rehab for my brand-new bionic knee, a physical therapist comes to my house five days a week and puts me through my paces. As I’m standing on my toes and cycling on a portable little bike, we chat. He’s a guy of a certain age, with an intriguing history as a Shakespearean actor and a director in New York, and we’ve found lots of things to talk about. We were talking about various kinds of work, and introverts and extroverts and I mentioned that I was spending a lot of time alone with the rehab, but that’s pretty much the shape of my life.

He said, “But writers don’t get lonely, do they?”

It gave me pause, because I had actually been feeling…oh, not lonely exactly. More at loose ends, like a bead banging around inside an empty can. I don’t get lonely, for the most part. I love being alone, puttering in the garden or taking photos or writing. My head is filled with people, lots and lots of them, and they amuse and entertain me quite nicely. I also just like to think—about the vast reaches of space, about how tea is harvested, about the young woman on the radio who said both men and women should be hairless, all over. (Really?) I also love the company of other people, and find people interesting, which might be why they tell me their stories.

Just now, however, I’m not engaged in much of anything, and I guess the word lonely might have been floating around. CR works all day. My concentration is a bit splintered. I’ve been doing a lot of watercolor exercises, which is distracting and enjoyable, but there are only so many a person can do in a day.

It turns out that a writer who isn’t writing actually does get lonely. When I realized that, I sat down and opened the Scrivener file for my MIP. The two main characters have been poking me, and followed me all over England (I wrote pages and pages of plotlines on trains) but I thought I should be more focused before I started actually writing scenes. I’m floating in a world of narcotics and know from experience that there’s a reason they keep you high for awhile. (Another PT said, “Do you know what they do? Basically amputate both bones in your legs and then get you on your feet the same day.”)

But it’s not like I won’t go over them twenty seven thousand times between now and the time anyone sees it. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing here.

I opened a file and started writing. Funny—I wasn’t lonely anymore. More, there’s something freeing in doing it through all of this wild year. I’m a writer, and what I do is write. I write to understand things, to celebrate things, to decipher things. I write stories and essays and blogs and articles and letters and posts of all kinds. I write because that’s what writers DO—sick or well, sober or high as a kite, furious or peaceful or silly. Writers write.

Have you ever discovered a loneliness that can be eased by working on something?

At last! More blogs.

I had a letter this morning from a reader of this blog, wondering if it had been discontinued. In fact, the exact opposite is true–I’ve given up blogging elsewhere (except for Writer Unboxed once a month) to bring my focus back here. My web mistress is busy behind the scenes doing a facelift and I’ve made a promise to myself to write at minimum 52 blogs here this year. For me, it’s a pleasure and a discipline. I love sharing my everyday observations on writing, books, food, and life with you. I hope we’ll be able to start the conversations up again.

Today I am forced to decorate my Christmas tree, so I have only this to share, a photo of some satsumas I shot this morning. In fact, I saw them in their little bag at Whole Foods yesterday and knew how pretty they would be in this very bowl, and that was the whole reason for buying them.

IMG_6080

Come back soon!

Love,
Barbara

All Is Well, even if it doesn’t seem like it

It has been a traumatic period in the history of my city.

A photo I took the Friday before last at the Arcade.
A photo I took the Friday before last at the Arcade.

Last Friday night, I watched the water pour through Manitou Springs, over the sidewalks and bridges, through the streets, through a café I love. The water is black and thick with debris and it’s wrecking things.  Things I love.  Things that feel like they define me.

Last summer it was Waldo Canyon. I know there was a lot of coverage of the loss of homes, and that was deeply tragic. But my loss was the hiking trail there. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. There was a meadow by the creek where the trails diverged at the circle point. People camped there, though I never did. I would have been too afraid of bears wandering about to get the raspberries that grew thick along the ravine.

I hiked there, though, more times than I can count.  I walked with my friend Renate, a charming German who made me laugh, and Chrysauna, a young teacher with ice blue eyes.  Once, my friend Heather and I had to take the last of the hike at a .10 of a mile an hour pace to let an old dog rest. His paws had grown raw over the hike and he was too big too carry.

Mostly, I remember early mornings in high summer, with hot blue skies and a group of cheerful companions in good boots parking their cars at the lot and tromping up the stairs to the trail, laughing and joking and feeling good about ourselves because we were going to hike.

I loved that trail.  The raspberry bushes, and the place where we stopped behind a bunch of boulders to pee, deep in the shade of Ponderosas.  The switchbacks up the long steep stretch about a third of the way through, and the spot were we always, always stopped to admire Pikes Peak in full revealed glory, one of the best views in the county.  I loved the high view of the city, hazy in the distance, and the spot where we stopped sometimes to eat a snack, on a long log that had fallen sometime ago.  Once, Chrysauna and I got lost and ended up in Crystola, and had to call Christopher Robin to come get us.

5580781131_e22e0e99a7_z


There is some part of me that kept thinking, quite irrationally, that if I had a cheerful attitude that somehow the trail would be restored.  That somehow, some miracle would happen and—It has come home to me lately that I will never hike there again. It is gone. It only exists now in my imagination. It was burned to nothing in that big fire. We are not allowed to go there, and even if we were, I would not know it.This is not easy for me. I know it is not like losing house.  But it’s a pretty gigantic loss to me. It’s personal.

The Friday before last, I was restless from working too many hours and I texted a friend to see if she wanted to go to Adam’s Mountain Café with me. We sat on the patio by the creek and watched the creek rush by in its stony channel and ate grilled watermelon salad and a Small Planet burger and even indulged desert. Afterwards, we ambled through the arcade and I stopped to have my ritual sip of water from the ever-flowing fountain.

I have been wandering over to Manitou since I was a small child. It tugs me to its bosom when I am tired or confused or lost, allows me to dance on its streets when I’m celebrating.  It holds my life like a prism, showing now the the wild me, the young me, the weary me, the Colorado native me.  Every time I walk through that arcade, I am five again, with my father’s hand in mine, and I am looking down at the creek visible between the boards beneath my feet. I am sure I could fall through.  My father assures me I will not.

I never have.

The Friday before last with my friend, I resisted buying salt water taffy from Patty’s, and instead bought a copper bracelet to see if it would heal my wrist. I shot Instagram photos of the old-timey signs. I thought, with gratitude, of how much I love the place. The hot sun burning my head. The arcade, the restaurant, the twisting streets.  The hippies, the homeless kids, the tourists, the old timers with their grizzled long hair, the dogs.

Last Friday afternoon, an inch of rain fell on the Waldo Canyon burn scar.  In a half hour, the water came roaring down the canyon, washing over a highway, sweeping cars ahead of its raging force.  Houses were torn off their foundations, 40 cars were swept away. One man died, a woman is still missing. It’s chaotic.

This has all happened before, the fires and the floods.  It will happen again. All of it.  I understand—intellectually—that it’s a normal, natural process.  Emotionally, I feel grief and exhaustion.  Emotionally, I wonder what can really possibly be done to really stop the floods from destroying Manitou. That might seem unnecessarily negative, but those bold facts stand there, staring.  The burn scar is naked and enormous.  There are three canyons that feed into the town. There is no place for the water to go.

Eventually, maybe levees will be built. Eventually, there will be even more ideas that are better than that.  In the meantime, every time there are thunderstorms over the scar, we are collectively looking at Manitou.

When the fires licked so close to the skirts of the town, I chanted under my breath, please not Manitou, please not Manitou, please not Manitou.  And it was spared.  What does not seem plain is how it will fare under this new threat.

The good news is, we are toward the end of the summer.  The monsoons will slow.  And we have all learned, in our beautiful city, that life is more precious than we realized. Things can change in an instant, when a spark ignites a forest. When a rainstorm arrives, as always, on a summer afternoon.

That’s the thing. Life is always random. We just pretend that it is not. Fire brings it home. Floods remind us. But it’s always like this.  Ultimately, life is dangerous and unpredictable.

It is also so unbearably perfect.  I am lucky enough to have the shady, fragrant trails of the Waldo Canyon trail in my mind, living and breathing in my imagination. As long as I live, it will live with me.  Manitou, as it is right now and perhaps always will be, also lives.

Once again, I remember: be here now. What we have is today.  This moment. In my world it is sunny and summer, cool enough with a breeze coming in through the window that I thought about putting on sleeves.  My old cat is sleeping her box.  A big fly is in the window. Clothes are washing.

Be here now.  What is your here and now?

An Early Spring Challenge

greenhouse--my happy placeFinally, there is real spring in the air. You can feel it burning off the cold by eight-thirty, and a brilliance of light makes everything stretch and awaken.  My poppies are up, green and thick, and the daffodils—a bit scrawny so far—and the tulips, looking sturdy.  I’m surprised by a crop of garlic that must be leftover from last year, and not at all sure that the wisteria that’s supposed to overwinter is actually going to do anything.

We shall see.

In the meantime, I have a new experiment.  I’m madly in love with a chubby Spanish pepper called pimento de padron.  I must have had them in Spain when we walked the Camino, but it was later that I started to love them so madly—they’re often served as a tapas plate in Spanish restaurants, and prepared very simply, pan grilled in olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt.

That’s it, but every bite is heaven. They are mostly not very hot, but part of the pleasure is in finding the one in ten that has a bite—it explodes in your mouth, spice and heat and salt and oil, and it makes me laugh, every time.

The thing is, we have peppers of every variety you can imagine here.  I could buy habaneros and jalapenos and Anaheims (which we call Pueblo chiles here) and cayennes; I can grow all of those and more from bedding plants sold at the grocery store.

Padrons are not common. I had to search hard to find a place that would ship me some last fall, and they were $17 a pound, plus shipping.  Worth it, but at that price, not something I’d do very often.

Naturally I decided to see if I could grow some.  Logical,  yes?

Problem #1: getting the seeds. I did find some, and ordered from three sources, to see which ones grow best.

Problem #2: peppers need a long growing season, which I do not have.  They also need a very hot bed to germinate, and my greenhouse is not heated.

This was not the easiest challenge.  I bought some heated mats, but they said they kept the temperatures of the soil about 10-15 degrees higher than the room. Not really enough.  I fretted and considered one solution after another.  I bought a space heater, but when it arrived I realized that even if I hung it from the rafters of the greenhouse (not ideal), I’d worry about it melting the walls.  I put it aside for my real greenhouse (which I vow to you I will have by this summer’s end) and went back to brainstorming and combing the web.

Turns out, many people use jugs of water, painted black, but I didn’t have time for that. Another solution is oil heaters, which I happened to have in the basement. I lugged it outside, but it was too tall for the spot it needed to go, and the slope was too much for it to stay stable—another bust.

I finally decided that maybe I was putting too much effort into what is, after all, an experiment with seeds, a little hobby play.  Keep things in perspective, I said. Let’s just see what happens.

I planted the seeds, along with some celery.  One of the leaflets in the padron seeds suggested putting a ¼ inch of water in the bottom of the trays to what will be padron peppershelp conduct heat, so I did. I also made a special trip to Lowe’s to find seedling greenhouse covers, to help keep the heat and water in.  I tucked some potato starts in a black potato bag and put it on the south end, by the tables, hoping it would hold and conduct heat, too.

Then I closed everything up and waited for the storm. (Oh, I didn’t mention that? Yes, a storm came through over the weekend and dropped the temperatures to below freezing.)  The cats slithered in below the plastic and slept in there, so I figured it had to be sort of warm.

By the time the storm passed, I’d stealed myself to find everything inside frozen—but when I opened the window flap to peek in, a rush of warm—not hot, but definitely warm—air poofed out.  Everything was fine!

Nothing is sprouting yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

 

Shrek’s Ears

peas

Christopher Robin loves fresh peas with a passion he usually reserves for milk chocolate.  He will eat a solid pound of them, steamed and salted and buttered.  I enjoy the meditative aspect of shelling them, sliding open the pod, pulling a string, skimming out the contents of the cold jackets.  He also added them to store-bought chicken soup.  I ate a lot of them before they even made it to the steamer.

What I noticed this time is that the peas look very like Shrek’s ears. Do you suppose they might have provided inspiration for the artist who conceived the ogre?

Hmmm…..

A New Walker

Yesterday, I took Amara to the park.  We walked most of the way.  I couldn’t help but think of my grandmother, walking with me in a dozen parks and on hundreds of city blocks and country roads and shopping malls and small towns.

So the circle turns.  What a blessing!

Afoot with Amara

 

 

Tilting toward Spring

It is February which means I have survived the worst month in Colorado, which is always January.  The days are short, ending claustrophobically even before I’ve started dinner, and it is often bitterly cold. The worst is the boring weather–indifferent, icy sunshine pouring from a frozen blue sky, day after day after day.   I ache for snowstorms in January, or cloudy days, or something to break up that endless blah cold.  It isn’t that I hate winter.  I just hate boring January.

And then February arrives and the earth tilts ever so slightly toward summer, and the days progress minute by minute toward dinnertime, then catch it.   In February, it can snow a lot, soaking the ground in readiness for spring.  If we’re lucky, crocuses might start popping up.  The tree branches start to swell.

My gardener’s heart turns to catalogues, oh torturous exercise!  Look at those plump tomatoes, those tender flower sprouts, even the clogs and knee protectors.  I want to go turn the compost just to smell the earth.  I spy the seedling trays and tug them off the winter shelf, wondering when I might be able  READ MORE  on The Goddess Blogs>>>>>>