The Magic Figs

12022329_933572046733385_9056047089503414338_oI absolutely adore figs. I don’t think I’d ever eaten one until I was an adult, and it was the most delightful revelation, all that sweetness and texture and flavor–oh!  They don’t travel particularly well, so the only times to eat them are the short seasons in late spring and early fall when they are finally available in the produce section of the local high-end markets. They don’t grow in Colorado, so they are not even at farmer’s markets.

So I got it into my head to grow a couple of fig trees. I read that you could bring them in to overwinter, so I ordered a couple and put them in pots and–you know, despite all the challenges, they’re doing all right. Kind of scruffy looking–every year, they start leafing out too early in the basement and I have to bring them up into the full light, where then they have to have an adjustment period outside, and drop a bunch of leaves. But I keep trying.

It has been three summers and these two lovely figs are the first harvest off my little hard-scrabble trees. Aren’t they the loveliest figs you’ve ever seen? My friend Mel Scott, fellow painter friend, suggested they should be immortalized in watercolor, and so they should.

Christopher Robin teases me about how much time, money, water, and energy I spend on things I can buy at the grocery store for usually much, much less. But when I cook a pot of new potatoes that I just carried in from the garden, the feeling in my heart is so much bigger and happier than the same new potatoes I picked up at the farmer’s market. They’re all delicious. Mine are just that tiny bit better. The heads of garlic I carry upstairs in January from the cool place in the basement where I set the to cure are imbued with love and sunlight I know, and water I poured on them. They’re local and organic in the most satisfying possible way.  My ears of corn are much smaller than the ones I could buy at the store, but they make me so happy.

This is one of those things gardeners share that others scratch their heads over, but, oh, aren’t they just so very very beautiful?

 

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.

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.

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Come back soon!

Love,
Barbara

On The Goddess Blogs today….

I am in bliss. On every black tarred pavement in every shopping center across the southwest, vendors have set up their chile roasters and spend the day roasting long green chiles for stray motorists who buy them by the bushel to take home and freeze for the long cold winter ahead.  There is nothing I love to smell more than chiles roasting on a summer day. I am a chile fanatic, and this summer I’ve been experimenting with the most dazzling little chile pepper. I must tell you about him, darling creature.  But first–

photoEveryone has their regional foods, and here in the southwest, we have Mexican food.  Everyone has their opinions on Mexican food, right? These days, everybody eats burritos and tacos.  They have corn tortillas in the supermarkets in the midwest and Maine.

But in the west, we are aware that “Mexican food” is not just one thing.  KEEP READING >>>>>

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.

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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?

Rituals of Spring

The other day, I bought some tulips at the grocery store.  It was a gloomy day, threatening snow, and they just looked so appealing in their buckets that I gathered up two bouquets and brought them home.

As I was settling them in a vase, a bucket of indirect light poured through the window and glossed the petals.  I peeked into the centers of the flowers, seeing the dark stars at the base of the flowers and the stamens, sturdy and sexy.  I thought about going to get my camera to take some photos.

And then I remembered that I do it every year.  Choose these very flowers—pale pink and orange edged with flame yellow.  I put them in a vase and shoot them against the dark snowy days of April (which just doesn’t even sound right!).  One of my nieces loved one set enough that she had prints made and hung them in her apartment.  One of my own favorites is a tulip reflected in the silver faucet.  And this morning, I shot this one.  Well, actually I shot 46 photos, but this one was one of my favorites.

I also like this one, which looks like a bunch of girls whispering.IMG_4629

It’s a peaceful little ritual, shooting tulips on wintery spring days.  It brings the promise of the coming season a little closer, where I can believe in it.  It brings the light, it brings beauty.

Do you have rituals like this? Has spring arrived in your world yet? If not, what are you doing to keep believing it will come? 

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…..

VOICE CLASS

THE WRITER’S VOICE

A six-week writing intensive designed to help writers understand voice as a whole, and to understand the elements that make her own voice unique.

The exercises are mostly timed writings, and are designed to build, week by week, to help you see what you have to offer the world with your work. Are you a funny ethnic writer with a thread of poignancy? A serious historical novelist with roots deep in a particular time?  What influenced you to become a writer and what do you want to get from it?  Who taught you to speak, and what have you read and loved?  These are all elements of the writer’s voice.

The class runs from Tuesday to Tuesday, and is comprised of lecture, exercises and discussion. Due to the intensive nature of the reading and writing requirement, class size is limited to 8.  If an entire critique or other like group takes it together, there is a 10% discount, and as always, I will offer one scholarship available for each segment.  To be considered, email me with “scholarship” in the subject line and specify which class and date you want to be considered for.

Questions? Email me.

COST: $225
DATES:  April 30th–June 4th 3013

July 30th–Sept 3rd 2013
IF THERE IS SUFFICIENT INTEREST, I WILL CONSIDER OFFERING THE VOICE II CLASS LATER IN THE FALL.

 

SYLLABUS

WEEK ONE:

What is voice, exactly?
Childhood and cultural influences

WEEK TWO

Becoming Aware: ourselves and our places
Voice vs. Style

 

WEEK THREE

Other influences: other writers, stories, genres.

Individual truth and emotional honestly; why writing is scary sometimes, even if you’re making it up and the heroine is a princess for heaven’s sake

 

WEEK FOUR

Check in: how does it feel? Discussion.
More on influences and exercises on how to see them, see yourself, see others, pick out a voice
Illustrating the differences.

WEEK FIVE

Exercises designed to show individual voice and quests.

Two part exercise designed to illustrate each individual voice. Reading, side by side posts.

WEEK SIX

Pulling it all together. A worksheet and discussion to help each writer answer lingering questions, put all her ideas in one place, and have a chance to display her own work.

 

To sign up for the class, email me  and I will give you details.

To apply for a scholarship, email me with VOICE SCHOLARSHIP in the subject line. I’ll draw names from a hat the week before the class starts.  Please don’t feel you have to give reasons. I’ve been there, and I trust you–if you can pay, you will.  

 

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