Letter to the New Owners

 

Look, it’s my fault, I think.

I must have forgotten to mention the trees. Surely, if you’d known, they’d still be standing.

That little aspen grove in the corner of the yard? They were babies, not higher than my knee, when we moved in 16 years ago. Eight or 10 of them, connected in ways we may never understand. We watched them grow and struggle and grow and then finally thrive. They were a few feet taller than me when we packed the moving truck. They had survived a blizzard that dumped 9 feet of heavy snow on top of them, a storm of a century that broke the branches of our sturdiest pines. They survived several summers when no rain came until early September, when their stressed leaves turned not bright gold but a mustard brown, and fell to the ground in the slightest breeze. But they survived. Provided cool shade from a burning high-altitude sun, allowing ferns and mushrooms to grow in the patches of earth between them. Until now.

And that one thick lodgepole pine by the deck. For 16 years, that tree held the wooden birdfeeder my father built for me with his own hands, and that my husband hung snugly against the trunk, so tight no 120 mph wind in the dead of February winter could send it flying through the woods. I lost my dad two years ago, but I still had that weathered birdfeeder. That he made me. In that tree. Birds of all shapes and sizes ate from that feeder year-round. Chickadees, woodpeckers, pine grosbeaks, bluebirds, gray jays, nuthatches, dippers, pine siskins, crows and the incomparable stellar’s jays, with their breathtakingly rich blue-sky wings and screechy call. Red-tailed hawks sat in that tree waiting for a rosy finch lunch, and once, a golden eagle rested there. Right there. My kid learned about birds from watching that tree. He knew the call of a chickadee before he knew any kind of rhyming song. I wrote and edited novels next to it, listening to the noisy chipper games of squirrels and chipmunks.

You see, these trees were quite possibly some of the most spiritual things I’ve ever accepted into my over-cynical mind. If there was a god of some kind, a power in the universe working beyond our control, I figured it must reside in the bark of those trees.

But now. Well.

So for future reference, here are a few other things to note.

The woodstove in the great room is your lifeline. Don’t treat it like an appliance, something that can be replaced easily. It will heat the whole cabin on a 50-below zero night with 60 mph winds howling outside, when there is no way a propane furnace could keep up with that kind of cold. Not all woodstoves pack that kind of punch. But our little one can. And did for 16 years. If you treat it well, it will protect you from the kind of cold you can die from.

Also, there’s a little piece of skinny, floor-to-ceiling wood that frames the closet in the extra bedroom. It has tiny marks and dates, indicating how our son grew, from when he could first stand with his head proudly flush against the wall, his chin a little raised. He’d let me mark his height there, in his room, and spin around to see just how much he’d grown since the last mark was made. We marked his last height the week before we moved. He’s 10. And I know those are our marks, not yours. And yet, they belong to that cabin in a way you don’t yet.

Let’s also talk about the creek behind the house. A selling point for our cabin, no doubt. But there’s a responsibility that comes with that. Stupid people sometimes come up to the mountains and dump their crap back there, near the creek. Don’t ask me why. And the winds, so fierce in the winter, blow things all around on the mountain, too, and a lot if can end up in the creek. So, you’ll have to stay on top of the trash in the spring and early summer. If you want the moose and bears to still visit for fresh drinking water, and the trout to still swim through it during snow melt-off. And that way, if you take care of it, you can sit by it in the summer evenings, listening to the still and then the rush and the flow, and know that it’s not polluted with beer cans and Styrofoam and parts of an old mattress, but quite likely renewing a whole ecosystem downstream. And maybe a part of yourself, too.

There is so much more to say. The little blue spruce that is about 4 feet tall along the rock walkway? I planted that our first year in the cabin. We were broke, but it was on a clearance shelf at Home Depot for $3. I bought it and planted it and cared for it like a child during the years when I suffered miscarriages and the emotional and physical pain of infertility. I couldn’t make a baby, but I could water that tree. After his adoption, my son and I hung Christmas lights on that tree many years. No tree was ever more wanted.

Oh, and the front of the house next to the large boulders? There’s a perfectly sunny spot there in the winter where you’ll want to stack your firewood. Trust me, we tried a lot of stacking locations over the years. But the important thing to remember is that you have to move that wood by middle of May, if there is any left over, because if the ground is allowed to feel the sun, it will eventually spring forth a mountain wildflower garden in late June. Purple fireweed will bloom, and wild roses, and yarrow and sunflowers, and pink clover, and even a few yellow wallflowers, and they’ll change your life every time you see them in the morning light.

The back deck. Where to begin? My son gardened with me on that deck, rode his Big Wheel on that deck. Learned to shovel snow on that deck. Took naps on summer afternoons on that deck. Had picnics on that deck. Laid, wrapped in blankets, on chilly August nights watching meteors showers on that deck. My husband perfected his barbecue techniques on that deck, with his old-school charcoal grill. We’ve listened to music on that deck as a family, made s’mores together around the firepit, wrote songs together, sang Rocky Mountain High together at midnight on that deck, ate lazy summer meals on that deck with good friends and family. A family of raccoons lived under that deck one winter. This year, it was rabbits. Lots of rabbits that our golden retriever mixes would visit 10 times a day. We have had bears on that deck. Red and black foxes that look into the sliding glass door at dinnertime. We made our most important decisions on that deck.

I could go on, but why? Why. We chose to leave. Life moves on. Things change. The raw, unbridled, sometimes-harsh life at the top of a mountain was exactly what I needed when I moved to Colorado from Texas so many years ago. I wanted to be tested. I wanted to heal whatever was broken. I wanted that log cabin and piece of land at 10,500 feet above sea level, with its surrounding snow-capped peaks, to save me, and it did. Again and again and again. I didn’t want to leave that cabin, or my mountain. But I had to, and now. It’s not mine anymore.

You are the stewards.

Please handle with care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe We Weren’t That Different

On the surface, one might think my dad and I were not much alike. I’m liberal; he was conservative. I always vote Democrat; he never voted a straight ticket in his life. I saw him cry maybe three or four times in 46 years. I sometimes cry over a dog food commercial or when the fading sunlight catches my child’s face just right, all in the same day. He was rational and logical and a planner. I tend to be impulsive and approach life with the thought of, Why not? I’ll figure out a plan B later. I anger easily and have little patience. My dad demonstrated patience every day of his life — whether teaching a bunch of loud-mouthed eighth-graders or dealing with three daughters arguing over who needs the bathroom next.

I think because of those differences, he didn’t really know what to do with me. He shook his head in subtle disbelief — a lot — when I was around. I was the one who fell out of line. I moved away. I didn’t listen to advice (much). I had no interest in cattle ranching. I’d stay up all night reading when he’d told me, “lights out,” five times before. I wore socks with holes in them so I could afford to travel. I ate Cheetos and drank Dr Pepper for breakfast if the mood hit me. I mowed circles in the yard versus straight lines like he taught me. I chose to live where temps hit 50 below and bears hang out by the front door. Did I mention he shook his head a lot around me?

In fact, my very first memory at age 3 or so is of my dad shaking his head at me, grinning, as I tried to climb over a sagging barbwire fence. He waited to see if I could do it on my own, then quickly picked me up and over when my shoe caught the top wire.

Now that he’s gone, I miss that feeling so much, physically and metaphorically.

But something happened at his funeral that makes me think maybe we weren’t as different as I thought.

After he retired from teaching, my dad worked in my hometown county in Texas helping the area’s veterans and their families get access to benefits they might be eligible for through the VA. His office was in the county courthouse, across the street from the fire station. One of the firefighters came up to me at the funeral to tell me how much he enjoyed getting a wave from Dad in the mornings.

Then he asked me if I knew Dad was trying to help a homeless vet who slept down by the river and who hung out near the station some days. He said my dad would watch for the guy and bring over forms for him to complete. Several times, same forms. Tried to help him fill them out right there in front of the station. Told him about resources. The firefighter friend said my dad would always say, “I’m working on it!” when asked about the man who wandered around town, obviously needing services but not trusting anyone to help him.

I was so proud to hear this story. But it didn’t really surprise me. My dad was the kind of man who would stop on the side of the road to fix someone’s flat or run into a neighbor’s burning stable to get horses to safety.

But hearing the story did make me feel closer to him. Because my husband and son and I, every fall, put together a warm blanket and pajama drive for the homeless folks who stay in Denver shelters as winter moves in. It’s gotten really big over the years, and it’s something we look forward to all year. Last year, we collected nearly a thousand blankets alone. Now, knowing my dad had a soft spot for a homeless vet in my hometown … makes what we do even more meaningful.

I’m sure we had other things in common, too. The love of animals. A strong work ethic. Good books. Credence Clearwater Revival. Stubbornness when pushed.

But the next time I’m home, I just may try to find that homeless man. Maybe I could at least bring him a home-cooked meal or some clean clothes.

I don’t think my dad would shake his head at that.

photo 1

New Poetry: A Different Seed

texas-bluebonnets-081

 Photo by Texas Parks & Wildlife

So … I’m knee-deep in poetry right now, still.  And I feel almost guilty. I have so many people waiting on my next novel, but I’ve set it aside (again). I’m drawn to poetry and I’m gonna ride this pony til she stops.

Here’s one of my latest that I worked on in a recent Lighthouse Writers workshop. I can’t seem to get the line spacing right on this blog, but it’s close.

Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!

 

A Different Seed

I was born in fields of bluebonnets,

ink-well-sapphire             dense petals spiked in sun-blind white

short-lived in the Texas spring —

each dew-soaked stem

flattened just yesterday

by the sharp nose of the coyote

the hoof-step of the Hereford

hiding the hiss and slither of the rattler —

always bouncing back

seemingly singular,

good for early-morning picking

before the heat sets in.

 

Yet by high noon

it’s never easy

to detach a wilted loner

from the rest      held together by a nest of roots

entrenched in the holy dirt

of Saint Sam Houston

el malvado Santa Anna

battle-blood of the Alamo

sweet bread of the German siedler

rusted barbed-wire of fences

oily cotton boll of the farmer

weather-worn skull of a fire-ant-stricken calf

my grandfather would’ve tried to save.

 

And even though Lady Bird’s highways are lined with them —

musky-sweet flowers,

family ties,

good intentions —

 

not every seed will grow

where planted.

 

Is it easily spread on the wind?

Can it tolerate full sun?

 

And what happens

when

the parched and crisp soil

becomes suddenly drenched,

clay-like —

unable to breathe?

My Kid Has Lost His Mother to a Sleep Number Bed

First, the history: I have slept on the floors of friends’ apartments where smells of cats past were strikingly fresh. I have slept on hotel room floors (I’m gagging thinking about it now) and pull-out couches (those springs can hurt like a mother dog) and non-pull-out-couches (there’s a joke in there somewhere) and even, once, a blow-up pool raft (tequila helped). I have slept on the cold, hard, bumpy ground in Yellowstone National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park and a few hundred other campsites from Central Texas to Montana. And for the last nearly 20 years, in my own home, I’ve slept on a mattress that was so old and misshapen that it required special gymnast moves just to get out of it in the mornings. True story. But I didn’t really mind all that much. Gymnast moves keep you young.

But then I hit the mid-40s. And my body became sore from things like, say, unpacking groceries.

I started to make those legit moaning sounds when I would get up from sitting on the floor after playing Hot Wheels with the kid for a long time. I began to hear unnatural creaking sounds in joint areas where I’m pretty sure there should be cartilage. And then, after 14 years of manual snow removal without one injury to my name, I hurt my lower back tossing a big shovel-full of heavy snow over our deck railing. As in, “ummm … holy hell, I may not be able to walk now, or ever again” kind of hurt. And then, several days later, during an epic snowball fight (turns out I could walk again – hallelujah!), I landed smack-dab on my hip, on a bank of concrete-ice.

Suddenly, what I slept on kind of mattered.

And suddenly, the evil advertising gods told me that Sleep Number was having a sale.

And then, I found myself strolling unknowingly into a Sleep Number store to test out their product and witness my body’s pressure points with their whole heat-sensor technology thing.

I was a goner once that remote hit 55.

I’m still a little worried about what that salesman was thinking when I let out a When Harry Met Sally-kind of reaction. (You know the scene.)

Granted, in the week between purchase and delivery, I mourned the impending loss of my dilapidated BeautyRest. After all, I brought my baby home to that bed, and we did the whole family bed thing until he was 4 years old, like the good hippies we aspired to be. I’ve snuggled with hoodlum puppies and held aging, sick old dogs next to me in that bed. My husband and I have had some pretty fun times in that bed (reading and talking and laughing, of course! What were you thinking?). I wrote a lot of my second novel propped up in that bed, writing by the light of the laptop. That bed has spent many a night dragged in front of the woodstove in our log-cabin great room when the power went out for days and we needed to sleep near the flickering warmth. And that bed was where I spent a lot of time last year recovering from some seriously bad flu/pneumonia/liver and kidney failure juju. That bed served me well.

But now, the Sleep Number P5 has entered my life.

I have changed.

I used to make the family pancakes or migas or biscuits and gravy on the weekends. Now, the kiddo’s eating cold cereal and, most probably, Cheetos. I don’t really know because I’m still in bed.

I used to lay down with him in his bed as he fell asleep each evening. Now, I tend to just yell “good night!” from the comfort of my Sleep Number.

I used to get up early to take the dogs for sunrise walks. Now they’re constantly giving me these accusatory looks, as if they are puppy-mill-level neglected.

I used to read in the great room, near my family as they did other things. Now, they can usually find me curled into that P5 like a kangaroo baby in a mama’s pouch.

My husband and I actually joke that we may never, errrr, talk and laugh in bed again because once you sink into the glory of this new mattress, you don’t really want to move unless the house is on fire or something.

In fact, when the dogs go bark-shit crazy (I’m trademarking that phrase) at 3 a.m., instead of going to reassure them and get them settled down to avert internal damage to our home, we nudge each other, then ignore each other, and then simply hope they don’t tear down the back door to get to the mountain lion before morning.

I’m sure one day I’ll reclaim the life I was once led. My son will get his mother back. My dogs will get another sunrise walk.

Until then, I plan to celebrate a lower back that doesn’t ache, a once-injured hip that feels young again, and the fact that I no longer need professional climbing gear to remove myself from the prone position each day.

P.S. Sleep Number didn’t pay me jack-anything for writing this. Which only proves I’m not smart enough to figure out how to ask them. #blogfail #bigmoneyfail

 

This is a Sleep Number bed. It is not my Sleep Number bed because taking a picture of my bed would be weird.

This is a Sleep Number bed. It is not my Sleep Number bed because taking a picture of my bed would be weird.

Top Blog Posts for 2014

Happy New Year imageWow — 2014 flew the hell by, didn’t it? It was a crazy year for me in many ways … nearly died after New Year’s from complications from the H1N1 flu. Took me until April to really recover and be able to feel healthy and hike short distances again. Then we moved from our comfortable foothills experiment back to the top of a mountain in June, and I’ve been soaking that up ever since. In July, I took the kiddo on our first mom-son fishing trip. The school year started in August, and that’s been a rollercoaster ride, and not a fun one. I have to say that I’m looking forward to a smoother ride in 2015. And I hope the same for each of you!

In the meantime, here are the top posts from this blog in 2014 (based on unique views):

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Is Forever Ruined

I Am Tired of Apologizing for My Dogs

How Do You Define Home?

7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Pneumonia

Perfect Soup Recipe for a Snowy Night

Why Thanksgiving Is the Best Holiday of the Year, or Why Thanksgiving Is the Sh*t

A Million Ways to Die in Texas

My Dear Moms of Adopted Children remains the number-one post of all time for my blog, still generating the most views of all posts, even in 2014, at nearly 80,000 over 12 months.

And the top search phrases folks used to find my blog this year (these always make me laugh) are: texas, colorado life, kathy lynn harris,  cool whip,  what are texas men like,  is dr pepper bad for you

 Happy New Year, Everyone!

Thank you for reading my work, and for sharing it with friends and family this past year and always.

Above image credit: http://www.minutemanpressnewengland.com/2012/12/happy/

Why Thanksgiving Is the Best Holiday of the Year, or Why Thanksgiving Is the Sh*t

Thanksgiving funnyI usually don’t name favorites when it comes to holidays because a holiday is a holiday and any reason to be away from work for a day and/or celebrate with people I love is groovy, regardless of the reason.

It’s kind of like picking your favorite kid. (Actually, I can totally do that because I only have one. Next analogy please.)

It’s like choosing your favorite dog of all time or your favorite coworker at the office. You could probably think it in your head, but you shouldn’t say it out loud.

Yet.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Unlike Christmas, there isn’t the whole heavy religious thing going on that makes some people uncomfortable, and that makes a lot of people post sort-of mean stuff about those of us who say “happy holidays,” instead of “merry Christmas.” And there’s no pressure associated with purchasing gifts for people or making cookies with frosting or doing pipe-cleaner ornament crafts because I never get any of those right anyway.

Easter is also heavily laden in religious undertones and a mandate to get up to see a sunrise, both of which can bring a gal down. And, let’s face it, it’s a holiday that can involve outright lying, i.e. the Easter Bunny. (Now that I think of it, Easter is very much like Christmas, only without the twinkly lights, the ginormous inflatable snowmen at Home Depot, and the two weeks of ABC programming.)

Fourth of July is awesome because of fireworks and burgers and that Lee Greenwood song, but it’s during the hottest time of year, which means I usually get sunburned and beer-bloat. And that marks it down about 20 notches in my book.

Valentine’s Day makes me unable to breathe even though the days of drinking a bottle of wine alone, watching bad sitcoms are (mostly) behind me.

Columbus Day? Too much guilt.

The presidential holidays and civil rights holidays and veterans’ holidays and made-up Hallmark holidays are all fine and dandy, but the commercials undoubtedly make me cry. Soldier coming home and seeing his baby for the first time? Mother and grown daughter sharing a moment over coffee? That speech by Dr. King? STOP IT ALREADY. I have hormones going on here, people! I do make an exception for the ads about saving $500 on a Tempur-Pedic with no money down. Those are okay.

So, to recap, Thanksgiving is the One.

I like that it’s a holiday that emphasizes being grateful. We need more of these kinds of holidays.

I don’t even get annoyed at all the gratitude challenges going on via social media right now. I kinda like them. I like that Jane* is thankful that her knee surgery went well. I like that Robert** is thankful for Starbucks pumpkin lattes on a cold morning. I don’t mind that Anna*** is thankful for the little things, like her husband leaving her love notes when he goes on a business trip. In fact, I don’t even say sarcastic things about any of these kinds of posts.

It’s a Thanksgiving miracle, really.

I like that Thanksgiving really does just revolve around sharing food. Unlike other holidays, there’s no pretense here. It’s all about the grub. Heck, even that first Thanksgiving was founded in raising fork to mouth. I know, I know. We’ve taken it a bit in the wrong direction since that whole initial soiree likely involving waterfowl, venison, berries, corn, and squash. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with evolving our traditions to include the trifecta of butter, cream and gravy. That’s just one more thing to be thankful for — the ability to eat our weight in homemade dinner rolls one day out of the year. (If you substitute “cranberry relish” in for “dinner rolls” in that last sentence, we can’t be friends.)

I like that Thanksgiving usually includes a good football game or two. Growing up a Texas Aggie, Thanksgiving Day used to be sacred because of the A&M vs. t.u. game. The world stopped at kickoff, we knew not to walk in front of the TV unless it was a commercial break, we got to eat more good food even though we were stuffed (Sue’s sausage balls, anyone?), and we got to see my dad get out of his recliner to kiss my mom when the Aggies scored. Or for a while there, when they got a first down.

I like that there are very few expectations for this holiday, other than to thank whoever’s cooking, eat with reckless abandon, help clean up the kitchen, and maybe keep your mouth shut when your uncle drinks too much and tells an off-color joke at the table, or when a family member wants to discuss the evils of Obamacare and why Barack is a Muslim and how we all know his birth certificate is fake.

It’s not a perfect holiday, of course. Sometimes I think American culture has turned Thanksgiving into nothing more than a prelude to greed, and that it will soon lose the name “Thanksgiving” altogether and just be called “Brown Thursday.”

But until then, I’m going to enjoy the food. I’m going to enjoy the fact that people are nicer for about a week leading up to the holiday. (Twitter does not count.)

And I’m going to enjoy the fact that I have a gratitude list much longer than any holiday shopping list I’ve ever had.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

thanksgiving funny ecard

* Jane is not a real person.

** Robert is not a real person.

*** Anna is a real person and sometimes I don’t like her. I’m kidding. She is not real, either.

Colorado Aspens: Just One Reason Why I Love Early Fall in the Rockies

colorado aspens in the fall

Even when I lived in South Texas, fall was my favorite time of year. Because despite the fact that you couldn’t really wear a sweater of any kind until December (if at all), there was the excitement of Friday Night Lights and Saturday afternoon Texas Aggie football, the first cold front of the season, pumpkins for carving, my mom’s chili, and the chance that she might bake one of her world-renowned apple or peach pies.

But here in the high Rockies, fall is even better. There’s a briskness to the air that can’t really be described, only felt — even when the sky is a bright blue and a cloud is nowhere to be found. Bear sightings increase because they are in heavy foraging mode to prepare for hibernation. There is nearly always the scent of wood-burning stoves in the evenings. The foxes and coyotes begin to get their thicker coats. The birds are gorging on my sunflower seeds. And the squirrels and chipmunks are climbing the lodgepole pines, picking out the centers of pine cones and tossing the cones down to the ground in what sometimes feels like a battle zone in the forest.

And, of course, the aspens turn the most saturated, breathtaking colors of red and gold. Our fall colors don’t last nearly as long as they do in the East, but while they’re here, they are brilliant.

Here are a few shots from around the neighborhood right now. And the leaves aren’t even at their fall peak yet!

(And yes, I know it’s not officially fall yet until September 22. But don’t tell that to the bears.)

fall in colorado - aspen trees

aspen and pine trees in coloradofall in colorado mountains

colorado aspen leaves

One of the Lucky Ones

sleetintexasI wrote this for my mom’s birthday and am a day late in posting. I have a kick-ass Texas mom. What’s yours like?

100-Percent Chance of … Mom

The clouds were already gathering that morning, hanging low and moody in the South Texas sky. As we sat around the breakfast table before school, we listened to the weather forecaster out of San Antonio, broadcasting on our rural, small-town radio station. He was predicting sleet overnight — a rare thing in our part of the state, even for January.

A possibility of sleet or a bona fide ice storm was exciting, I had to admit. But even more so was the fact that the first game of our junior high girls’ basketball tournament was set to begin that evening in a town about 50 miles from ours.

The tournament was a big deal. We were dominating this season, and if we could win this first game against our toughest competitor, we’d likely win the whole tournament. We’d solidify our rank as the best in the region. There was even a pep rally planned for us that afternoon. (A pep rally for any type of girls’ sport in Texas in the 1980s was a reason to check to make sure you hadn’t been abducted by aliens and placed in an alternate universe.)

Basketball, though, hadn’t always been important to me. In fact, this was only the first year I’d played.

Let’s just say I wasn’t known for my athleticism. I was not lean and mean. I fell more in the chubby and uncoordinated camp. I was a full-on, straight-A, teacher’s-pet nerd. Spelling bee champ, science competition winner. Trying out for the basketball team had been my way of trying to break out of that mold. I wanted to fit in with the cool kids for once. I wanted to wear those sweet uniforms and high-top sneakers.

And it was working. I not only made the team, I was a starter on defense. (Turns out, you really only need height and brains to play some positions in life.) The cheerleaders even knew my nickname: “Special K.” (The positive connotation of special, not the other one. I think.)

I was living the dream, as much as you can when you’re 13.

And then came that game day.

The predicted cold front slipped right through the county, dropping temperatures into the mid-30s by noon. It was raining buckets when I reported to the gym after school to meet up with the rest of the team. As we waited for the school bus that would take us to the game, we huddled together, giggling like even cool, athletic girls do, excited about the game, jumping up and down to stay warm in our official team sweatshirts.

That’s when I saw her. She was marching toward us, small red umbrella overhead. Dark, thick hair to her shoulders. Sunglasses on, even in the gray. Her camel-colored long coat pulled tightly around her curves and whipping around her knees. Her car keys still in one hand. Her lips pressed into a painted-on, don’t-mess-with-me smile. She looked like a force even a 50 mile-per-hour northern wind couldn’t reckon with.

My stomach dropped. I knew that look well. She was determined to do battle of some kind, and I understood by then it had everything to do with me.

She walked up to our coach, who was looking down, checking things off on a clipboard. Poor innocent soul.

My mother began to explain, politely at first, that under no condition would her daughter — the one trying desperately to shrink into the shadows — go anywhere on a run-down, hick-town, bald-tired, rat-trap of a school bus when the back country roads we’d be traveling would most certainly be a sheet of ice within an hour or two.

We heard the coach attempt to reassure her that all would be well. That the school district and the tournament managers agreed there was no reason to cancel the game. That she was, perhaps, overreacting.

She took that coach down with just a few quick, choice words. Then she walked over and pointed me in the direction of her faded maroon Lincoln town car, parked right where the aforementioned bus would soon be.

The unfairness of it all was incomprehensible to me. Everyone else was getting to go!

As we drove away, I saw my teammates nudging each other. I was sure they now considered me an overprotected baby, not cut out for the tough life of an athlete. With a mother who was quite possibly a hair shy of crazy.

That evening, I ate Mom’s warm grilled cheese sandwiches and beef stew in silence. And then I watched the sleet begin to come down. I watched the county road in front of our house turn into a skating rink. Conditions got treacherous in a hurry.

Luckily, my team made it home safely, although it had taken three hours to go those 50 miles home after the game. We’d won, and we would end up advancing and winning the tournament. I played in the rest of the tournament, but not as a starter. The coach made me run additional laps in practice on Monday for letting down my team, as if I’d had a choice in the matter. My teammates made fun of me often and for the rest of the season.

Back then, I’d wished she could just be like all the other moms, who didn’t seem to mind that their kids were heading out onto slick roads. I’d wished that she hadn’t made a scene. But now, I’m a mama myself.

Now I see I was the lucky one.

Some parents might have simply taken the school district’s word for it all, bowed down to authorities who are perceived to know more than we as parents do. But my mother has never been one to let others make decisions for her or to automatically assume people in positions of power can’t be challenged. She’d done her own research that day. She knew she was right, and nothing was going to stand in her way when it came to keeping me safe.

That day and so many times since, she has taught me that sometimes it takes courage to be a parent in ways no one tells you about. That it’s not okay for someone else to put my son in danger, and that I have every right to step in and protect him. It’s something one particular school administrator has already learned about me after seeing no reason to keep the back door to the after-school care classroom locked in the evenings before parent pickup.

Even though I’m at the age she was when I was in junior high, I remain so thankful that I still have my mom on my side. Because I know, even though she’s in her early 70s now, she’ll fight for me, always willing to hand out another dose of her take-charge-now, ask-for-forgiveness-later attitude if I need it.

And besides, I’m pretty sure there may still be some icy roads in my forecast.

10 Books That Impacted Me

An author friend, Lauren Clark, challenged me to quickly come up with 10 books that impacted my life. Definitely not an easy task, but I took a shot at it. (Lauren has a new book out, too [Pie Girls]. If you like southern fiction full of sassy, smart women, you should check it out!)

Meanwhile, here’s my list. I really need about 200 more spaces to work with here, folks.

1. Little House in the Big Woods – Laura Ingalls Wilder

2. Birds of America – Lorrie Moore

3. Waltzing the Cat – Pam Houston

4. Larry McMurtry – The Last Picture Show

5. Annie Proulx – Close Range

6. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

7. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

8. White Oleander by Janet Fitch

9. Beloved – Toni Morrison

10. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

Now, I’d love to hear your lists in the comments! Then I’ll psychoanalyze you. (Kidding. Mostly.)

Also, I am already revising my list in my head … Stegner, Steinbeck, McCarthy, Salinger, Lopez, Smiley, Conrad, Lamott … oh and The Solace of Open Spaces (G. Ehrlich) …and so many poets like Mary Oliver …heck, even Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew books … I’ll stop now.

How Do You Define Home?

photoWe’ve settled back into mountain life now after about two months. The weather has been a beautiful summer mix of cloudless blue skies and 75 degrees, and cool mountain rain that rolls in from the West in the afternoons.

It’s been an especially good wildflower season. Even as September approaches, there are still carpets of white, yellow and lavender mountain daises and large swaths of bright purple fireweed. The sweet scent of pink and violet clover fills the air on our walks.

The monsoon moisture has also kept the forest floors thick with green, and the meadows are thigh-high in bunchgrasses and cattails. Trout are jumping out of the crystal-clear mountain lakes, daring us to try to reel them in.

And in just our short time back, we’ve already seen an abundance of wildlife, including moose, black bears, foxes, coyotes, a mountain lion, rabbits, and beavers — not to mention the plethora of birds and chipmunks and squirrels who keep the forest humming.

It’s a bit like living in a nature photographer’s dream. And, honestly, it’s where I feel the most alive.

But is it home?

Obviously, I haven’t always lived in the mountains. I grew up in the flatlands of South Texas. And I love those flatlands.

I love the people, the stories, the food, the history, the music, the Texas sky. The smell of mesquite-smoked barbecue. The feel of crisp, dried grass under your bare feet on a hot summer day. The mixing of Mexican, German, Czech and other cultures. The homemade tamales. The kolaches. The sound of polka music on the local radio station. The click-click-buzz-pop of grasshoppers flicking about and attaching themselves to the porch screen door.

I love all the little idiosyncrasies that make that place special. The small-town courthouses and main streets. The Lone Star beer, the dancehalls, the oil wells, the old churches, the Stetsons and belt buckles and boots, the cattle and horses lazing under hundred-year-old oak trees.

Did I mention the food?

And of course, most importantly, all of my family members, including my Mom and Dad — whom I cherish — still live there. In the house I grew up in.

But is that home?

I’ve always thought of “home” as a place where you feel most comfortable. Where you can wrap yourself in familiarity and know that someone always has your back. A place you know like the back of your hand.

And in those terms, South Texas is all that and more.

Yet.

Here feels right for me, and it has for a long time. Like in a good novel, this particular cabin and mountain have become the physical place where the narrative arc of my life moves forward. It’s as much a part of my story as my friends, my job, my writing, my dogs, and even my son and husband. I think that’s why I felt so lost when we moved away for a couple of years.

If you don’t count those years we spent in the foothills, we’ve lived on this mountain now for 11 years or so. That’s long enough to feel that sense of familiarity and comfort, right? Instead, here, I find myself wrapped in something much different.

A kind of wildness maybe? A feeling that there are systems in place in this world that are much larger than myself? A feeling of wanting to uncover all the things I don’t know yet?

Yes, all of those things.

Some people say home is wherever their spouse or children are, that just being with them is all it takes. But I’ve learned from experience that even though you are in the presence of people you love more than anything in the world, there can still be a hole … a missing piece of the puzzle.

So what does define home?

Is it the place that warms your threadbare soul, like my mama’s chili on a rare cool day in South Texas? A place that knows who’ve you’ve always been?

Or is it a place that pushes you, like a rippling and rushing mountain creek full to its banks from spring runoff? A place that knows who you’re still becoming?

I don’t have the answer. But I’d love to hear your thoughts, too. Meanwhile, I have firewood to chop. Snow’s in the forecast.

 

PS: This is one of the themes explored in my novel, Blue Straggler. I keep hoping that, through writing, I’ll figure some of this stuff out.

colorado moose