I spent a week in the mountains last week, planning to do some catch-up work, maybe read and start rewriting The Mirror Girl, figure out how to structure this complicated puzzle of a new WIP, and block out some other work.   I arrived on a Saturday, alone with my collaging materials and iPad and books.

The first morning, I woke up FULL of plans.  I had eight days to work, alone, without distractions! I could rewrite the whole book! Plan the little series in my head! Collage the WIP and see if that helped shake the structure loose!  I got out of bed at 5 am, rested, and thought how lovely I would feel about myself if I managed to take home ALL THAT WORK!

One of the other things I promised myself was that I would meditate every morning for as long as I wanted. I sometimes rush because I feel the pressure of getting the day started.  So that was my first action: to drink a cup of tea on the balcony and then meditate in the sunshine. A fox came to see if I had tidbits to share.  Birds twittered in the trees. The sun rose over the mountains.

I fell into bliss.  And you know, I didn’t really want to read the pages of TMG, but after breakfast, I sat down to do it.

And I fell asleep.

Then I took a walk and ate lunch and had a second nap and spent the evening reading a book.  Alone, in the quiet. It was a little lonely.  I

my breakfast companion most days

was a little bored without the animals or Christopher Robin to talk to.  I went to bed very early, and again awakened very early.

Rinse and repeat.  Monday, Tuesday.  Except that Tuesday, I skipped the pretending-to-work part and leapt straight to reading a novel written by someone else.  I started it in the morning and read the entire day until I finished, at which point I wandered down to the village and sat by the river, journaling, shooting photos of the melting ski runs with my camera phone because I didn’t want to be bothered to carry my big camera.

By Wednesday, I began to realize I was not interested in working.  I didn’t pick up any pages I’d written.  I didn’t journal or blog. I just read and then took a walk, then had dinner with CR.  Slept long.

Rinse, repeat. Thursday, Friday, we wandered down for breakfast, wandered around town for awhile, wandered back to lie around and read.  When I got bored Thursday, I started collaging the WIP, find enthusiasm for the project and possible glimmerings of a fix for the problem.  Love the characters a LOT.  Love the setup a LOT.  Feel strongly that it has the potential to be really good work.  Optimism restored.

By Friday night, after we’d walked for four or five hours, all over the village, shooting photos, eating Danishes and vegetable sandwiches, shopping for treats for the baby and my d-i-l, I realized that what I’d needed was REST.  Pure, unadulterated rest.  Even boredom.

That night, I worked on the collage some more, drank a couple of beers, fell asleep early reading the third novel of the week. When I awakened, the plot and characters of the WIP were swirling around like a jigsaw puzzle in my head, fitting themselves into various arrangements for my perusal.

If I am to think about the qualities of a wise woman, an elder, then I have to make sure that an examination of rest is on there.  In our hurry, hurry, hurry material world, rest is desperately neglected.   I am very guilty of pushing myself until I crash, like student cramming for finals, and that’s not wise behavior.

Happily, I am refreshed and relaxed, and I have already scheduled a retreat for three months away, so that I don’t get overwhelmed.

Do you find it hard to get enough rest? Do you even recognize when you’re overly tired?


An organic farm…in my backyard!

Just before Christmas, CR surprised me by bringing in a landscape architect to make our yard over into a beautiful urban farm. Perhaps he wants more fresh potatoes like the ones I grew in a black bag last summer. Or maybe he is tired of me complaining about the price of organic produce. Whatever it is, I am thrilled.

The trick is to use vegetables and fruit trees, along with ornamentals, to create a pleasing setting for a backyard barbecue, but also use the land and water productively.   (You may have heard me rant before about watering grass in Colorado, which is an exercise in waste.) The first draft is here, and I am SO excited. I thought you might want to follow along with me on this journey.   This is the draft.

There are many challenges to growing a hearty garden in Colorado. For one thing, the season is short–Zone 4 where we are, thought some parts of the city are Zone 5.  For another, we sit at just over 7000 feet, which means a lot less oxygen and much harsher sunlight.  To maximize my success, I’m starting plants indoors, in waves.  Last week, I attended a class on starting seeds with grow lights, and have stocked up on materials.   I can begin March 1. (Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes!!)

What a Christmas present, huh?

Do you have a garden? What are the challenges where you are, and what crops to you most like to grow?

The Reward in Going Away

When I was a child, I loved going to  summer camp.  Girl Scout camp in canvas tents with wooden floors, or much more often church camp (probably because it was very inexpensive and my parents had four kids) in cabins housing 20 girls.   It was the highlight of the summer—getting ready, gathering shampoo and following the list of “recommended” items to bring.   I always brought dark green Herbal Essence shampoo, a heady smelling liquid that’s nothing like the watered down version they sell now

Camp pic, circa mid70s. Author on far left.

We were only there for a week, Sunday to Saturday, but it seemed that entire lifetimes took place during those days.  Romances and friendships built and lost, discoveries about self and place uncovered, dreams forged and reinforced.  On the last day, we all had our group photo signed, and hugged each other as if all was lost, and cried our eyes out.   In the backseat on the way home, I was silent and distant, lost in memories, crushed that it was over for another year.

Back home, it was a slam back into everything ordinary.   The ordinary green telephone on the wall.  The ordinary food.  No singing.  No long deep discussions about…well, anything.  For days, I would be lost in mourning, sure I would never, ever have a good time again.

As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate coming home to ordinariness, but I still love getting ready for a trip, making a list, checking things off, packing special totems, creating rituals.   I learned during those weeks at camp that every journey was a lifetime and I was changed by each one.  Sitting in the meadow at La Foret Camp (which is, ironically, only about a ten minute drive from my current home—it wasn’t even very far away in those days), I dreamed a life for myself.  I learned to connect to other travelers—my fellow campers—and I learned to think outside of the box, challenged by counselors to make us do just that.  (I also learned just about every folk and bible and church song known to modern woman—and you would think that my fellow pilgrims would have appreciated that on the Camino.  Somehow, they liked listening to Bethany, the trained professional opera singer better.)


Before I left for Europe in June, my creative well was very low indeed.  I wouldn’t say dry, but a voice shouting down into it would echo for a long time before hitting water.  It’s a normal part of the process, and probably because of the loss of my Sasha and the long months nursing her, I was a little more weary than usual.  I also had that nagging knee injury, which is not terrible, but is sort of…annoying, you know?

Whatever the reason, I was empty and sick of working by June. The great luxury of a writing life is the time

to go wandering.  I went to camp, first with CR to England and then with a group of women on the Camino, and I still wasn’t finished, because then we went to Orlando, where I spent the first half with my dearest writing buddies, and the second half with CR, playing at Disneyland.

Not only did I wander and chat and think about life in small and large ways, I read like a junkie, popping one book after another in a wild lust for story.  Australian writers, English writers, a bunch of Americans.  Fiction and non-fiction.  Adult and young adult.  Spanish and English. Reading, reading, reading, reading.

What I did not do is write.  I kept a journal, as always, and I wrote the odd blog post or Facebook missive, but other than that, nothing. I didn’t think much about writing, either, and when ideas started pushing into my imagination, auditioning for the next spot, I shoved them away.  Once in awhile, I took a note or two on my phone. Once in awhile, I woke up and thought, “Hmm, that has some merit.”

Mostly, I ignored every single one of them.

The result?

The well is overflowing.  I’ve been in a working frenzy, sometimes working on two different things in a single day because when I’ve reached the end of the juiciness on one project, I find there is energy and excitement left for another bout, so I change locations and start work on the other one.   One morning, an idea I’ve been shoving away for about two years awakened me and dragged me to the computer and didn’t let me go until well after lunch.

It’s lovely.  It’s like going to camp and getting the good stuff afterward, too.  Filling the well is always, always worth it, and I haven’t been taking enough time to do that.  Not at all interested in travel for a little while, you understand, but I am going to go to movies a couple of times a month, and play with my collages (which I realized recently don’t have to be about books all the time) and water color pencils.  I’m taking cello lessons.

It’s all material, right?

Did you go to camp as a child?  Do you fill the well with travel or by some other means?  What hobbies give you that sense of exuberance, whether or not you are a writer?

A wander through Glastonbury

There’s a bit of a time lag here…have not had a lot of connectivity to the Internet, but I hope you’ll enjoy the trip ramblings anyway.

Books read: 1 memoir, 1 British WF, 1 American WF, 6 short stories, 1 Australian WF.

Miles walked thus far: approximately 30

Date stamp: On the way home from Weston Super Mare. Written on the bus.

Last Wednesday, on our free day with the tour, we went to Glastonbury, to walk up to the Tor where King Arthur supposedly pulled the sword from the earth, and to the ruins of the Abbey, which King Henry the Eighth knocked down in 1539. We took a taxi (which I keep calling a cab and no one understands what I mean) on narrow lanes through the green, hedgerows of the countryside. Farmhouses, square and white with rectangular windows and steep roofs, stand right against the road, so close you could almost touch the walls if you stuck an arm out of the window. The grass in each yard is bordered with flowers—poppies, just now, red and orange and pink, sprays of foxglove and larkspur and delphiniums, pots of pansies—and the blossoms are twice or three times the size of the same flowers at home in Colorado.

The town of Glastonbury is a medieval warren of narrow lanes lined with shops and houses that open directly onto the streets. The taxi dropped us at a triangular plaza with a clock and benches, with the Abbey ruins behind and a hilly street climbing toward the Tor. New Age shops of every ilk sold their indiscriminant sacred relics—baskets of crystals and wands next to tokens painted with Native American symbols next to postcards of the Chalice Well. If one wished to be adorned as a witch or a goth or a yogi, all items of loose and printed and glittering clothing were available, batiked and sequined and gauzy. British and European hippies converged, all ages, with beards and bellies, wrinkles or smooth arms, everything in between.

Between the shops were hotels as old as the streets—one born in 15th century. The church is ancient, and the Abbey, of course, dates back to the 11th century. The Tor is very, very old. St. Patrick is said to have sheltered there before heading to Ireland. The Chalice was supposed to have been buried in the Well.

I loved the vigorous walk to the top of the Tor, and the scenery was glorious, green fields around like a painting of What England Looks Like. Houses in the distance, built along a ridge, fields just below us with a narrow road going between them. Pathways up the Tor itself, one from the main road, one looping behind the town to the top. It might have felt more sacred but there were so many people it was hard to get to the heart of it. It did have a rich silence about it, the silence of time and history and things long spent. The hill was ringed by meditators, facing outward. A boy about five peed into the grass while his mother looked on beneficently.

I sat for awhile, feeling at first like a fake, because the town was such a New Agey jumble of mingled everything, so much that none of it means anything after awhile. I felt a little awkward because CR was with me, but he didn’t mind, sitting down next to me as he does when we’re at church. Finally, I closed my eyes, and there, waiting with a low chuckle, was SPIRIT, big and golden and warm, soaking into me.

Well, okay. So maybe I have to offer an opportunity for communication.

We went back down, and stopped by the gardens of the Chalice Well, which was silent and holy in a way the Tor was not. We collected water at the fount, and I walked in the pool of healing, splashing the cold, cold water over my knee. I would have meditated again at the well itself, but there was a family group sitting there, and it seemed…strange to encroach. I might have waited my turn if CR hadn’t been there, but he was being so patient, I know that’s just an excuse.

Anyway, we wandered into town for lunch at a traditional tiny teashop, where we ate cream teas and I had a bowl of soup, this one cauliflower and Stilton. Last night, it was Cock A Leekie, which is chicken and leek, and Tuesday, it was carrot and coriander. Soup fest this time…the weather has been right for that.

After lunch, we went to the Abbey, which was deeply moving. Huge, obviously once a wealthy pool of welcome and shelter. I have long known about the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry the Eighth, but the vastness of it was not real to me until I stood in the middle of that ruin, feeling the loss of what must have been a glorious church, and abbey….Henry’s act of violence was every bit as ferocious and violent as the Taliban tearing down the monuments in Afghanistan. Wanton destruction.

That’s all for now. The computer wants to restart and I’m going to let it, and drift a little on the scenery.

England: the seaside, part one

Having technical difficulties with photos.  Will add later.

Time: 8:20 pm, English time.  Weather: bright and warm.  Not a drop of rain in sight.

Books read: 2 (1 memoir, picked up on impulse at the Borders in the Orlando airport, 1 British Women’s Fiction picked up at a thrift shop in Cranbrook, Kent when my Kindle broke somewhere between Denver and London). 

Approximate # of miles walked (not including any miles walked while sightseeing): 9

Where I am right this second: in the bar area of a Victoria hotel in Weston Super Mare.  I am drinking a Well’s Bombardier Ale, which I have to say is very, very good.  I might have another, since I am, after all, on vaca…holiday.

What I can hear: the murmur of British voices. One so thick to my right that it must be Welsh or something. Cannot understand it at all.  A pair of couples, maybe in their sixties, are discussing their holidays in clean accents much like CR’s, which I at least understand.

Today,  we traveled to Cheddar Gorge, which is a spectacularly beautiful canyon. Crumbling gray limestone, thick greenery everywhere.  It was raining most of the time we wandered around the village, which reminded me decidedly of Manitou Springs, Colorado—90% tourist traps with a couple of very interesting spots.  In this case, it was the last place that makes Cheddar by hand, every day, where we watched a part of the process and sampled various varieties. The cave aged is, I think, meant to be the ultimate, but I have to admit I preferred the sharp, long-aged version.  

This afternoon, I walked on the beach for a long way.  It was utterly empty save a few dogs and their owners, including the biggest German shepherd I have ever seen, who was so beautiful and noble I was instantly reinforced in my quest to find a mix shepherd pup to rescue.  Love them madly.   This is not technically the sea, but perched on the Bristol channel, so the waves are small and simple. The shells are little shatterings across the sand. An island, broad and green, rises to one side, inviting you to come hike and enjoy the delights to be found on top, but a river cuts it off from the mainland, and signs warn of dangerous sands. (Which I will admit I only know because CR went running there.  I walked nearly that far, but  gave up before I found the very end.)  

It’s quiet in my head right now, the tuners focused outward, not inward.  This, too, is part of the writing life, arguably one of the most crucial: taking in whatever life offers, letting it flow in and fall into some dark center where it will ferment with other things and eventually grow something new.  Today what went in: greenery and hedgerows, seagulls and seawalls, dogs and the effects of aging, the curious fact that there are those little turtle humps in so many bays and seas.   I’m thinking of all the odd jobs people have—a girl is testing a microphone, getting ready to sing for the old dears in a seaside town on the Bristol Channel.  The old men are flirting with her, and their wives are shaking their heads, shushing them.  She is so young she wears braces.  Today, there was an old woman selling sweeties in a stall in an indoor mall.  The waiters are Spanish. 

So many jobs. So many locations. So many different life paths and possibilities.

The Deconstruction of Fish & Chips

At CR’s urging, I decided to give the deconstruction of fish & chips a try.  (For background on the Top Chef deconstruction challenge, read about it here.)

My challenge was to create a dish that would deconstruct fish & chips and end up tasting like the original.  Since the only ingredients in the traditional offering are white fish (usually cod or haddock, depending on your locale), and potatoes, both fried and heavily salted, then served very hot, it wasn’t easy. But it was intriguing.


Really good fish and chips are served very hot, very greasy, and very salty. There’s a good crisp breading on the fish, and the chips (fries) are thick and tender, not like McDonalds, but like your mother’s best home fries. I decided to bake the fish, and use potatoes to create the crispy texture of the fried version of both fish and chips (fries).  I had the luxury of two days to think about it, and arbitrarily made a rule that I had to use the fish in the house, which was halibut.   The challenge in my mind was to get the simple, satisfying flavor of that very, very simple food and not add much of anything to the ingredients to try to make it upscale.  I decide to bake the fish, mash potatoes, and try two different crispy potato pancakes.

malt vinegarBy happy accident, I was in the English Home Goods store (where we buy stupidly expensive imported PG Tips for $26 for 250 bags, but trust me, if you get used to English tea, American is very pale in comparison). While I was there, I happened to spy a small bottle of malt vinegar. Eureka! Everyone knows you can’t eat fish and chips without malt vinegar!

(Note: always remember that I am at 7000 ft altitude, so shorten your cooking times if you decided to try anything I post!)

I started with Yukon Gold potatoes for the mash.  The fish was simple, 7 oz frozen halibut steaks.  The chefs on Top Chef had two hours, but that seemed excessive, so I started 90 minutes out.  Peeled and boiled the potatoes, leaving them a tiny bit undercooked so they could rest in the hot water while I readied the fish and made the two pancakes.   The fish was very simple prep: olive oil in the pan with plenty of kosher salt, in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes. 

To get ready for the pancakes, I grated two medium size potatoes and a very small onion.  (Onions are not standard here, but I just couldn’t do potato pancakes without it!)  For the first set of potato pancakes, I mashed about 1-1/2 cups of cooked potatoes with 2 tablespoons butter, enough milk to make a good paste, then blended it until the potatoes were smooth. Added 1/2 a beaten egg (save the other half), a tiny bit of grated onion, roughly 2 tablespoons of flour, and for some body, about a quarter of the grated potatoes, and salt and pepper.  Because I wanted a very thin, crispy cake, I added milk until the batter was fairly thin.

Since time would be short, I also made the second batch of potato pancakes, which were a hashbrown with a little egg to hold them together. Mixed the grated potatoes, grated onions, salt, pepper and the other half of the egg together.

I used an electric grill and poured a generous amount of canola oil on it (this was the greasy element), then added a couple of tablespoons of butter and heated it until it was medium hot.  On one side, I poured the mashed potato pancakes, on the other, the hashbrowns, and let them cook.

Meanwhile, I poured the water off the remaining boiled potatoes, put them back on the burner on low, added 4 tablespooons butter, milk (my mistake is always adding too much milk, so I do it in small amounts) and mashed the potatoes, keeping an eye on the potato pancakes at the same time, and turning them about 3 minutes in.  They were nicely brown and by this time, I was getting very hungry, so I was beginning to look forward to eating this experiment, however it turned out!

CR was in charge of setting the table, and now, the timing was critical.  I took the fish out of the oven, and on the plate I had already sprinkled with malt vinegar, the fish was settled in the middle,  it with the two different pancakes in a circle around it, and a nice mound of mashed potatoes to one side.  It was rather bland looking, all that white, so I put the lemon rounds on top of the fish, even if they are not traditional (“You’re American,” said CR. “We make allowance for you.”) 


The layering was, pancake, fish, mash, all in a single bit, with a dip in the little pool of vinegar.  We both tried it, blinked, and looked at each other in happy pleasure.  He tried one kind of pancake, I tried the other, and—it worked! 

DSCN1312 by you.

Honestly, it was wonderful, and a faithful deconstruction/recreation.  For the sake of the experiment, I thought the hashbrowns gave the layers the right greasy crispness, but CR preferred the pancake.  Both of them were delicious and very greasy and the kosher salt sprinkled on top added just the right layer of brine.

But I must admit that the malt vinegar was the crowning touch, pulling the flavors together just the way it does when you go to the chip shop.


–I would cut the fish into smaller pieces and grill it rather than bake it, just to give it some color. 
–I would layer the pancakes, fish, and mashed potatoes like a tiny lasagna

I will definitely be making those little potato cakes again.  It was fun to make this dish just to find something we liked so much.


Deconstruction Challenge, via Top Chef

Tonight, the chefs were asked to deconstruct a classic dish.   One of them was fish and chips, which happens to be one of Christopher Robin’s favorites, so I found myself trying to imagine how to do it.  As we watched, I kept tossing out ideas, and CR finally said, “Try it!”  (Subtext: please please please!)

So,  on Friday, I’ll give it a shot.  I promise to be truthful about the process, and post photos, mistakes, and…perhaps even a successfully delicious.  I’m not exactly a whiz with fish, but am very, very good with potatoes.  Wish me luck and….check back.

 (The photo is of the chip shop by CR’s mum’s house in Kent.)

10 little stories about Michigan

4th of July sunset on Lake Michigan by you.

4th of July sunset on Lake Michigan.

Christopher Robin and I traveled to Michigan to celebrate his first 4th of July as a citizen.  Here are a few observations.

10. It is a long way from the Detroit airport to upstate, especially on the Thursday before a Saturday 4th of July, and especially when you’ve been flying since 6 am from Colorado, and you narrowly escape the crash of United computers at O’Hare Airport, where there are a lot of annoyed and exhausted passengers.  We arrived at Lake Walloon at 8 pm, just about as strung out as if we’d crossed the ocean to England.  Luckily, our hosts grilled exquisite fillet mignon and served them with perfect rounds of mozzarella, tomato, basil, and balsamic vinegar with a smooth red wine.

9. Lake Walloon is where Hemingway grew up.  It is surrounded by thick pine and leafy green forest that boasts no snakes except the friendly sort, and I’m not afraid of them.  900 (or so) people have “cottages” around this lake, some that are quite old and made of logs. There are also two summer camps, which made me think of Trixie Belden and my own girlhood at camps of whatever sort I could find–girl scout, High Trails (which is probably a Colorado thing), church, whatever.

8. On Lake Walloon I read Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories and found them dismayingly filled with the N word and had to stop.  I know he was a product of his times.  But I am a person of my times and the casual dehumanization was bothersome enough that I couldn’t keep reading.  Result: my love/hate relationship with Hemingway continues.

7. On Lake Walloon, we ate  s’mores, roasted over a fire pit by two boys in a still night with the lake rippling against the shore in sibilant commentary.

boyne city 4th of july parade by you.6.  At Boyne City, Michigan, the 4thof July parade is an Americana beauty, complete with little girls waving from fire truck windows, and flowers provided by the garden club. There were hats and pants and clowns suits and shirts all made of the stars and stripes, more stars and stripes than you have ever seen in one place, and it was all done without one tiny whit  of irony.  Three times people behind us leaptout of the crowd to join some marching band or float passing by.   Also, the entire downtown was still completely alive, populated with businesses like a hardware store and a fudge shop and whatever else.

5.  In Boyne City the day before, we met a man sitting with his beautiful labradoodle in front of an ice cream store. The dog was so lovely we stopped to admire him, and the man told his sad story of a wife who’d left him with the dog.  We all said, “The dog is a better deal,” but he was still so raw he didn’t know it yet.

4. Our host patiently taught me to kayak, and it was seriously fantastic.  I don’t want big rapids or danger or kayaking on Lake Wallon by you.trouble, but paddling in the smooth waters of the lake was deeply, powerful meditative and I could do it for days unending.  (Note: as with all things, the secret is to relax into the whole thing.)

3. The traffic back to Detroit on the Monday after the 4th of July is also really insane.

2. In Ann Arbor I went with my aunt and uncle, who are practicing Hindus,  to a Guru Purnima celebration, which commemorates our teachers.  My aunt produced a flowing yellow outfit for me to wear, and we meditated and chanted and I loved being with them on such a sacred night. 

lisa's shelves by you.1. The next day, we visited Zingermans, a foodie heaven, where they have things like chocolate sourdough bread and exquisite olive oils, and my own particular reason for visiting:Balsamic vinegars, and I tasted several before deciding upon the 20-year-old.  My aunt, who is a foodie from before it was cool, naturally had a couple of bottles at home, along with her shelves and shelves of great ingredients and drawers full of utensils.

All vacations should be so filled with love, friendship, and the pursuit of passions.  I’m refreshed, renewed and ready to get back to work!

How was your 4th of July? Do you find it corny or uplifting? How do you celebrate in your corner of the world?

Meeting bears up close

Grizzly bear encounterAnyone who has read here for any length of time knows that I have bear worries when I hike.  I even have dreams about them sometimes, but I’m not willing to give up hiking. 

Today, to celebrate my birthday, Christopher Robin arranged a surprise: he took me to the zoo for a “Grizzly Bear Encounter.”   We went behind the scenes, into the back rooms, and even into the enclosure to learn more about grizzlies. 

The best part was feeding a grizzly bear through a grate, looking at his giant head and incredible paws and realizing they’re like dogs, kind of.  Savage dogs. Dogs that weigh 600 pounds, but definitely dog-like in aspect and attitudes.  They’re curious. They’re smart.  They’re not particularly friendly if they don’t feel like it and they will definitely kill you for food if they are hungry, but for some reason, looking into those giant faces made me GET it on some deep level.  

I also realized it is completely silly NOT to carry bear spray when I hike in the deep woods by myself.  The trainers told me that. And they never, ever go into the enclosures with the bears. That says something, don’t you think?

It’s equally silly to demonize wildlife and make it into something Disney-esque.  I can be at peace with bears if I know and understand what they are.  Can we have a cheer for CR for understanding that and giving me such a cool birthday present?  For a YouTube video, check this out: