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>>>>>>




Upcoming New Zealand

I haven’t been on a long journey since the splendiferous trip to England and Spain in 2010, when I walked a part of the Camino de Santiago (which showed up emphatically in The Garden of Happy Endings).  In a couple of weeks, Christopher Robin and I are headed off to New Zealand for a month, to visit family and wander and recharge the batteries and celebrate a certain important birthday for CR.  I’ll be blogging and posting photos, of course, and I know some of you like these journeys a lot.

We leave Dec 27.  On the schedule are penguins and the earthquake-savaged Christchurch, Mitford Sound and Queenstown. I can’t wait to see those savagely beautiful mountains.  I hope we’ll be able to sea kayak (even if I’ll be nervous).  Everyone has insisted glow worms are really a treat.   I once visited the 90-mile beach in the far northlands and saw a wild horse laughing on a hill, and picked up a purple shell and held my breath over such long stretches of beach so unpopulated, so I want to take CR there.

The rest…who knows?  Bookshops and grocery stores.  Cookies and nephews.  That crazy accent and calla lilies and greenery.  Also, long long flights, which I admit I sort of love.  Time to read, to think, to be away from ordinary life.

Any tips? Anything you’ve seen I must not miss?  What are the best trips you’ve made? 

What Are You Worrying About?

Flickr Creative Commons photo

This morning, I ran the vacuum over the living room carpet to pick up the leaves the animals have dragged in.  It wasn’t the most thorough job—just a spit-shine because the baby is coming over and I don’t want her putting leaves in her mouth.

For some reason, as I moved the footstool aside, I thought of how much I used to worry about things being messy when my boys were young.  I’m not mis-remembering; they were often really messy—piles of clothes to be washed or to be put away, toys and shoes and coats and books everywhere.  It was a crowded little house, four rooms in a row downstairs, two big rooms upstairs, and four people cozied up in there with various hobbies and interests and friends.

Only I never let my friends come to my house. Ever.  We had a writing critique group and we always met somewhere else.  I was embarrassed about the old carpets, some of which had been salvaged from a hotel renovation; the ancient kitchen (truly, for awhile it was the worst kitchen in the world) and the constant clutter that I could sweep away on Saturday and would reappear on Sunday, exactly as it had been, as if the objects all had souls that animated them and they moved around at will.

This morning, with twenty years between me and the woman who worried about those carpets, it struck me as tragic that I’d been so worried about what my friends would think of my housekeeping that I wouldn’t let them come over.  They lived in newer places, all of them, but my own house was a charming old beauty, full of light and my special quirky loveliness.  Not everyone’s taste, but comfortable, welcoming.  How did I not understand that?

It is the same unfounded worry that makes us all, as teenagers, exaggerate some imaginary or real flaw—a big nose or skinniness or fatness—into some Major Thing That Everyone Is Noticing.  When actually, they are so worried about their own flaws they don’t even see ours.

Which led me to wondering what I worry about now that might be just as tragic.  What impossible standard am I setting?

It’s not so much about appearances these days.  For one thing, there are no armies of seven year old boys racing through the house, and I don’t live in that small, charming old house, but a spacious suburban sweetie that has plenty of space to put things away.  I still have to clear the clutter away regularly, trying to find the kitchen counter or the surface of my desk, but even if my friends come over and see the big mess, I don’t think they won’t love me.  They do.

I feel a certain freedom in my physical appearance, too.  I accept it, flaws and all, even if I don’t like pictures of myself all that much sometimes.

What I do worry about, all the time, is about attaining a certain level of perfection, of No-Flawness, maybe like Snow White or Belle,  that would render me then a Really Wonderful Friend and Human Being, on every single level.  Kind, always.  Never lazy.  Never grumpy. Always well turned out, instead of sometimes running to the grocery store in yoga pants with my hair in a ponytail.   In my imaginary perfectness, I would never drink too much coffee and give myself indigestion, or too much wine and give myself a hangover.  I’d eschew sugar and bad fats and eat clean and green.  I would listen earnestly to someone who wants to talk out a problem and probably be able to balance my granddaughter on my hip while stirring a pot and writing a novel, all at the same time.

But if I were that woman, who would even want to be my friend? I mean, seriously—would you? I wouldn’t!

In Sharon Salzman’s book Real Happiness, she writes about the Buddhist practice of Lovingkindness as a way of loving ourselves and others unconditionally.  Science tells us that it can be learned, she says.

“It is the ability to take risks with our awareness—to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of reflexive criticism….to care for ourselves unconditionally instead of thinking, “I will love myself as long as I never make a mistake.”

That phrase, “reflexive criticism” caught me.  I recognized the action instantly, that meanness, that monkey-mind judgment that so often shows up with a really nasty undernote and narrowed eyes and passes judgment on something or someone or myself.

Anna Quidlen says we begin the work of authentically becoming ourselves when we let go of being perfect.  That sounds really lovely to me right now, a person who has been worrying about things for decades, only to find most of them weren’t worth a single moment of my precious hours.

So today, I’m just going to go with imperfection.  I’m going with love, that simple answer to every question. Every question. Love. Toward me and my work and the people around me and even the people who irritate me, and maybe in that way, my heart will be more open to the everyday, to my friends and my children and the lady at the grocery store who shoves her cart in front of mine, and even, maybe, myself.

Can you think of a time when you worried a lot about something that ended up not mattering very much? Are there things you worry about now that it might be better to put down?


Life Returns

Another photo & essay about the Waldo Canyon Fire

(Read the first one, about the explosion of the firestorm) 

My friend Brenda lives in the middle of the Mountain Shadows burn area. Her home survived, but her daughter’s burned to the ground just one block south. We were chatting Sunday about the daughter’s children drawing farewell notes to their stuffed animals on the driveway before it was razed (and weeping).

I asked if she was going to stay, if it would ever feel like home again. She said, “Have you seen it yet?” I said I had not, but I hoped to get there before all the damage was erased by new construction.  There is a book brewing, of course. That’s what writers do with intense experiences–transform them into stories and narratives.

She said, “You must come.”  (This is the same angel who took me to the soup kitchen where she volunteers when I was writing Garden of Happy Endings.)

Today I joined her for a long, long walk around the burned neighborhood. I was braced for feelings of sorrow, but that wasn’t what I discovered. It is dismaying, of course, to see the damage–the blackened trees and burned out cars and houses that have not, even after seven weeks, been touched.  I wonder about the families who haven’t even sifted through the debris–where are they? Is it too difficult? Are they despairing or furious or what?

But there was a lot more that was hopeful, even exuberant.  Like seemingly dead trees coming back to life. (To see any photo better, click on it and you’ll see it full-sized.)


And cactuses doing double duty.  Look at them, reproducing out of the burned cactus!


One of the most touching things I saw was a garden.  This is in the very worst spot, where 140 houses burned in a cataclysm that is still hard to understand.  Brenda told me about it before we came, and I was eager to see it, because that was the thing that ran through my mind so much during the fires: I could lose a lot, but it would be agonizing to loose the garden I’ve been working so hard to create. The neighborhood where this happened is filled with beautiful gardens, and I thought of all my brother and sister gardeners so often.

This is what we saw:

Please notice a couple of things.  There is not house standing.  The orange fence surrounds the foundation of the house.  Notice the denuded tress.  Not a leaf, not a living branch.

Also notice the bird feeder.  The fact that the garden is green, and tidy, even though there are no utilities to this site.  Those big plastic tanks are filled with water.  And this is what remains:

How did the garden survive?  How is it that there are dead trees all around and yet her garden, much more layered and elaborate than this photo shows, is thriving?  She came back and made it a priority. She focused on what she could do.  I admire that, and wanted so badly to speak with her. Brenda said she’s often there, working four or five hours a day, as she did before the fire, but she wasn’t around today.  Another time.

Another thing that surprised me were the little beauties, here and there. Volunteers have come through and sifted through the debris of many of the houses, leaving stacks of artifacts for the home owners.

There was more, so much more.  We walked for three hours, and I shot over three hundred photos, collecting images before they disappear. A chimney sticking up so tall you begin to understand how big the house was, a fridge standing alone in the midst of a debris field, its contents unrecognizable (as sometimes happens in my own).

We chatted with an elderly couple whose house looked untouched from the front, but had been badly damaged in the rear, and they were aggrieved to report they had also been rear-ended two days ago. The variation in what has been done and what has not is vast–some lots are scraped clean, and are ready for new building.  Others are untouched, even by the cleaning crews, the bricks still laying in a pattern that suggests explosion.  The area was oddly empty, patrolled by police, crawling mainly with construction and clean-up crews.  We walked up one hill and down another, and then another.  It is not at all barren or lost. By next spring, the hills will be covered with greenery, if not new trees.  There will be fresh homes built.

In one place, I captured my favorite image of the day.  Roses growing in the debris of of a front yard.


And last, but not least, this is something you see all over the city, in one form and another.  The firefighters themselves were surprised by the outpouring of love they experienced here, and it’s worth noting.  I think of them a lot, trying to stand their ground, save a house, try to outsmart the beast of fire, the weather, the patterns.  I think of them losing that ridge, and losing a house, and sleeping in tents in a school yard down the block from my church.  I say this, too:



It’s over, in a way, but in a way in never will be.  We’ll remember it, always, the dragon firestorm that wanted to gulp the city whole.

Colorado Springs On Fire

A mountain wildfire started in a canyon nearby the westside of Colorado Springs Saturday.  I noticed the weird pink light in my house and snapped this picture from my office window, of the smoke plume rising above the city:

Note the ridge at the base of the smoke column.  That marks the canyon, the wild side. On this side, the city begins.

Forest fire.  Not shocking because it has been deadly dry this year and there have already been two big fires burning, north and south of us. Also, it seemed as if it would be contained to the mountains, where there are few people and fewer structures.

But I don’t remember a fire on the Front Range in my life time. Also, though it is very shallow, I was sad because I adore this hiking trail. It’s only a few minutes out of town, and a nice 7-mile loop that has plenty of good ups and downs.  I’ve hiked it dozens of times, including when I got lost with my friend Chrysauna and we had to hike another three or four miles into Crystola.

For four days, we’ve all been watching it like it was a movie on the horizon.  It’s hard not to stare at the horizon, gauging the progress, the direction–is it better? Worse? Will it gobble Manitou Springs? Woodland Park?

Yesterday, this morning, it seemed better.  I wondered if we were all just settling in, getting used to it.  I got up early–at 4 am–to write so that I would not be distracted by the latest news. I spent some time in the garden before I turned on the television or the Internet.  It doesn’t help the world if I am freaked out.

When I finally turned everything on, the fire seemed a little less extreme. The smoke wasn’t so bad. Some evacuations had been lifted. I had a couch being delivered for my basement and decided to go look for some lamps and pillows to add some color. When I got to the Shops at Briargate, this is what I saw:

By the time I came out of Pier One, 20 minutes later, the light playing inside the smoke clouds was extraordinary, so I fetched my camera and ambled around the city vantage points to shoot the fire.

No more than 30 minutes later, I shot this pic from Cottonwood Park, virtually the same view as above, just a bit south.

This one was shot from the UCCS campus, maybe 5 minutes south of the shot above, and only 10 minutes at most.

This one was also on the UCCS campus. Notice the woman in black has a substantial camera, but she’s not shooting photos. She’s biting her thumbnail.

The smoke cloud was doing amazing things at this point.  The vantage point was extraordinary, and I was feeling this little bubble of creative pleasure.  I shot a series of pictures:

Beautiful, right? All that light and the starkness of the telephone pole.  I might have laughed a loud a little.  Some people in the parking lot had brought snacks.

A change of perspective might be in order.  This is the full view of the telephone pole.  See that street? The teeny tiny cars?

I drove another three or four miles, directly west.  Everywhere, people were lining the streets, taking photos on their cell phones (while driving!!) and I can’t tell you how many fender benders I saw.  Dozens. The weary police were asking people to pay attention while they were driving.  Please.  I made myself focus on my own driving and the driving of people around me (thanks to my dad, the ex-state patrolman who taught us that it takes two to make an accident).  I still very nearly got rear-ended at one point, but that was a little later and you’ll see why.

My next stop was just shy of Centennial and Garden of the Gods, where I often have coffee with my friend Heather.  Across the street is Ruby Tuesdays, where I spent many many Fridays.  That was where I spotted this:

Until then, my photo trip had been just that, an artist date of sorts, a chance to shoot the very rare conditions the fire has created. When I spied the flames, my skin rippled.  It was like knowing you’ve cut yourself, then looking down to see blood spurting out from an artery.  I drove another two blocks to a better vantage point, in the parking lot of an office building, and shot this series:

(To show you I was not close…er…sort of.)  Remember, this fire had been burning for four days and had not posed a threat. This is a close-up:

Remember the ridge in the first photo? The line of defense the firefighters had held for so long?

There it goes.  And more:

Emergency vehicles of all kinds were racing down the main drag, so it seemed like time to get out of the way.  My loop included going home via Woodmen, so I headed up Centennial.  a couple of blocks up, i found myself in very heavy traffic.  Very heavy.  It was way too much to be only gawkers, but it wasnt until I spied a woman in a fully packed Subaru that I realized more neighborhoods were being evacuated.

Because would you want to hang around with this?

My trip home from there was nightmarish.  That cloud of smoke descended and engulfed us.  Ash and flakes fell on the car. By the time I made it home, I was shaky and newly educated. Fire moves fast.

The flames engulfed those neighborhoods. No one knows how many homes are lost. Or where the fire will go next or…anything.

We are quite safe here. Please don’t worry about that.

More anon.

Stove Atrocities

This morning’s post to The Lipstick Chronicles.  What household jobs or areas are repugnant to you?

Photo by Ax|d-Works


I have an old stove—a dull cream model with ancient electric rings and a black front.  It’s serviceable, but little more than that.  I hate it when the sun comes streaming through my kitchen window and illuminates the splatters of grease across the control panel and the aged dust stuck to the inner hood.  I’m sure I must have wiped it all down when I cleaned the kitchen last night, but it looks like something out of a hoarder’s episode.   Dust from the wings of cat-murdered miller-moths mixed with flutters of dog fur mixed with kosher salt mixed with that creeping cooking sludge I can never quite identify.

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The Lipstick Chronicles

I have been in hiding, deep in my cave, finishing the new book, THE GARDEN OF HAPPY ENDINGS, which will be coming your way next May.  I finally mailed a second pass back to my editor on Monday, which felt like delivering a very large, overdue baby.  It’s alive and well.

Some readers here know that I post twice a month at The Lipstick Chronicles, with a group of very entertaining and interesting women writers.  I am posting there the first and third Friday of every month, and here are the opening paragraphs of  the most recent three.   Stop by!


Ian and the Blue Gill

Three women, ranging in age from senior to ancient, are settled in a half circle at the end of the dock.  The chairs have been dragged down to the pond from the main house, metal lawn chairs with green and white woven seats.  My young son and I sit on the wooden slats of the dock.  A little while ago, there were some bigger boys, young teenagers in baggy shorts and skinny chests, daring each other to swim in the murky water with snapping turtles and water snakes, but they’re gone now.

The old women wear cotton skirts and sensible shoes and soft cotton hats to protect their good complexions. Gnarled fingers fix bait. Fishing lines trail lazily in the water of the small pond.  The air 2143129809_1ffac3b16c
is thick and still, so hot I find it hard to breathe, and my son’s pale cheeks are flushed.  We are Colorado natives, and this is the countryside of the border between Missouri and Illinois.

I’d rather be almost anywhere else.

I hate fishing. I hate humidity.  I hate the heat.  Before we arrived, I’d been excited about this gathering with my husband’s family, but the reality is daunting. It’s hard to understand some of their deep south accents, and I don’t understand references to times and people I don’t know. And maybe they’re notpatronizing me, the much-younger, blond wife of an older African-American man, but all the usual in-law negotiations seem particularly exaggerated.




The Ghost in the Garden

Have you ever lived with a ghost?  I have.  In fact, I’m pretty sure she wanted me to save her house.


My eldest son was in kindergarten when I first saw this house.  It was a narrow, two story brick, with a bay window on the top floor, and deep porch.  It was well over a hundred years old, and looked it—the yard was bare dirt, baked by the southwestern sun to absolute sterility, the paint on the old wood was peeling.  There was a crack in the brick over one window.  It was empty. Abandoned.

But every day, as I passed by with my son’s five-year-old hand in mine, the house caught my eye.  A pair of windows faced east, illuminating a staircase with a beautiful old banister, and spilling sunshine into the open front rooms.  The light was so inviting, so peaceful, that often I would pause on the way back home and peer in the windows to see what else I could see.  That inviting upstairs bedroom with the bay window.  The enormous front windows overlooking the street, arched and ancient, the glass thin and wavery.  One of them had a tiny bb hole in it.  The kitchen was horrific—a single bank of cupboards made of tin, covered with wood-grain contact paper.



How to be a Perfect Mother In Law

216411_10150157611105893_698160892_6602988_6015592_nMy son was married on April 7.  This means that I am a new mother-in-law. I have to forget everything I knew about mothering, and adopt a new approach.

This is not the simple transition I imagined it would be.  For one thing, the son who got married is my mama’s boy, a child so devoted to me as a baby that I called him my joey.  He was two weeks late emerging from the womb, and then I carried him on my hip for the next ten months because he wouldn’t allow anyone else to so much as change a sock.  He’d howl piteously even if it was his father.

DSCN3392He’s grown into a strapping man who towers over me and has tattoos all over his arms and shoulders
(including, natch, one for “Mom” (please note the quill)).   His bride is a serious, level-headed Air Force sergeant who looks at him with enough love in her eyes to make any mother happy.  He’s an exuberant character, and worships the ground she walks on.  I liked her immediately and have only grown to love her more
over time.




Project: building light frames

Today begins the first major project of my urban farm. the growing season is so short (some years) that I must start seedlings indoors. I attended a class on starting seedlings indoors, and then found these plans for a light frame in Urban Farm magazine.

I’ve collected all of my materials and marked the PVC pipe. I’m not actually allowed to build it until I’ve done my pages for the day. A good incentive to get to work. 🙂





The first order of business was to get a better hacksaw, which cost all of $11 with extra blades.  This little guy couldn’t do the job.

The article in Urban Farm seemed to make this a very easy project, but I have to admit to some dismay when I was sawing away with my new hacksaw because it was very difficult to keep the cut straight, and I kept hearing my ex-husband’s voice in my head, telling me that I wasn’t doing it right.  (He wasn’t a mean guy, just a construction guy who thought my use of tools was hilarious).

Turned out I couldn’t saw them straight to save my life, but in the end, it didn’t matter at all anyway, because you stick the ends of the pipes into elbows and joints and things.  I was quite pleased with myself at the result.











The final stage was putting the shop lights together with one regular bulb and one grow light, then rigging a wire circlet around the pipes from which to hang the lights.

I also secured the pipes to the table in a very high-end way:

Yes, lots and lots of postage tape.  The table was just big enough, and I didn’t want to take a chance on kittens making a big mess of my hard work. I suspect this will be an interesting place for them.







Finally, I installed screwed the bulbs into the stoplights and hung them up.  The growlight bulb is a lot bigger in diameter than the other one, which freaked me out at first, but it doesn’t seem to matter in the slightest.  What I also learned: the white bulb is seriously loud (or maybe it isn’t quite installed right or needs to warm up? I don’t know the answer to that yet).  I might have to opt for two more grow lights.

Anyway, mostly completed:

Now to the planting!

Have you undertaken a scary little task you didn’t think you could do?  How did it turn out?