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?

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.

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

Why Of Course There’s a Recipe for Dr Pepper Ice Cream

A great Texas friend (thanks, Lorri) who shares my unfortunate crack-like addiction to Dr Pepper recently sent me a recipe for Dr Pepper ice cream.

Because, well, hell yes, I want some! What could be better than ice-cold Dr Pepper but ice-cold Dr Pepper surrounded by smooth, ice-cold cream?

I haven’t tried it yet, but wanted to share the recipe with others, so that the joy will be spread around the world. Or at least WordPress.

Here you go:

Dr Pepper Ice Cream
(Recipe is for a one-gallon ice cream freezer)  
   
     1 can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand or similar)
     1 pint half and half
     3 regular cans Dr Pepper
     1 cup sugar
      4 eggs
      2 tsp vanilla extract
      1 T. flour
 
Vintage Dr Pepper ad from the 1960s, via Vintage Ad Browser

Vintage Dr Pepper ad from the 1960s, via Vintage Ad Browser

A Million Ways to Die in Texas

Dont-Mess-With-Texas-350x288

Two weekends ago, the husband and I saw the Seth MacFarlane comedy-western movie, A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s all about how completely batshit crazy-dangerous it was to live on the Western Frontier in the 1800s. Basically, if a gunfight didn’t kill you, cholera would. It was good for a few laughs … but mostly just a great excuse to sit in the air-conditioned theater and eat buttered popcorn. (Real butter, people! Thank you, Alamo Drafthouse.)

It got me thinking, though, about my beloved (sometimes) home state of Texas. Because let’s face it. It’s not that much different than the Wild West, even in 2014.

Now, I won’t list the full million ways to kick the proverbial bucket in Texas, because I do have a life. (And I won’t even go into the whole open-carry, everyone-ought-to-have-an-AK47 gun thing because I prefer not to get hate emails.)

But here’s a start:

  1. You could be killed by one of the 15 different kinds of poisonous snakes that make Texas their home. Seriously, there are 15 … and 10 of those are rattlesnakes. There are also three kinds of copperheads. And then there’s the cottonmouth water moccasin and the coral snake. Basically, if you go outside in the summer, whether on dry land or near a body of water, and you’re not wearing boots, you’re dead.
  2. You could succumb to heat stroke. Texas is a huge state, but one thing is pretty consistent whether you’re in North, South, East or West Texas: It gets damn hot. As in hitting 95 degrees in February and staying above 100 degrees for most of the summer. You can actually get five-degree burns on the bottom half of your ass (I made that up; the degrees only go to three) just by sitting on a tailgate in shorts in August.
  3. If you choose to lie down for a nap in the cool (ha) green grass, you might never recover from the fire ant stings. We used to lose more baby calves to fire ants than to coyotes. And if you do get stung by a thousand fire ants, and you don’t die, you’ll likely wish you had. So it’s a wash.
  4. Should I also mention spiders? There are FIVE different kinds of brown recluse spiders and all of them live and love the Motherland of Texas, and also the dark interiors of boots. Of course, there are also effing black widows. BLACK WIDOWS EVERYWHERE. There are jumping spiders and also tarantulas. And while those last two aren’t really all that venomous, if they take aim and jump at you, you will probably die of a heart attack. (To those people who say that jumping tarantulas are a myth, I say you are wrong. I have witnessed it myself, and the only reason I didn’t die of Freaking Out Syndrome is that I was 10 and my heart was still strong.)
  5. Here’s one not many people think of: You could get hit in the head with a rodeo belt buckle. These are large, heavy metal objects that, when sent flying through the air, can be lethal in a severing-a-major-artery kind of way. Please don’t ask me how I know this. Also you may be asking yourself, “How often does a belt buckle go flying through the air?” Doesn’t matter. Only takes once.
  6. One phrase: The Mexican drug cartel.
  7. If you’re allergic to dust, oak pollen, cedar, scorpions or bee stings, and you don’t have an inhaler or epinephrine injection handy, you might as well kiss breathing goodbye.
  8. Finally, drowning’s big in Texas, too. From flash floods or being drunk on a boat on a lake, or simply playing in the Guadalupe River with its magical sink holes and mystery vortexes that suck you under in Gonzales and spit you out in the Gulf of Mexico, your odds of going down are pretty high.

I could go on, but I’m getting homesick.

Texas friends, what would you add?

And Colorado friends, should we make a list of our own for this fine state? I think there may be even more than Texas: blizzards, mudslides, I-70 in the winter, hypothermia, mountain lions …

What about other states? Come on, it’s morbid fun.

 the_texas_chainsaw_massacre_image

 Despite its content, this blog post was not brought to you by the Texas Tourism Board.

 

Losing Your Hair Sucks Worse Than My Six-Year-Old Walmart Vacuum

mama triedHere’s something I’ve learned in the past two weeks: When your body suffers through a brutal illness and you nearly die, your hair can decide, weeks later, to give up the ship, too. And while I am super-thrilled to be alive and all,* I’m a little bummed to be dealing with rapid (and I mean as rapid as a cat with its tail on fire) hair loss.

It began about two weeks ago. I woke up in the morning to find my Snoopy pillow (don’t judge) covered in strands of hair. As in hundreds of strands of hair. As in horror-movie, something-has-gone-horribly-wrong strands of hair.

After my first reaction that involved the word, “mother” followed by one that rhymes with “trucker,” I decided it was surely a one-time kind of thing. Maybe a reaction to a new shampoo? A new medication? Karma for saying that one (tiny, rarely ever happens) mean thing to my husband last week?

But sadly, by the end of that day, I was literally holding huge clumps of my hair in my hands every time I touched my head. There may have been audible whimpering.

Can I mention right now that when you hail from the Land of Big Texas Hair, this is a High-Alert Crisis Situation?

You see, my hair is the one beauty trait I could always count on. I may have been ass-ugly at times from the neck up, or fatter than a Lone Star tick on a cow dog from the neck down, but hey, I had good hair. Healthy, shiny, dark hair, just like my mama. It didn’t frizz, even in Houston in June. It didn’t need straightening or perming (at least not since the 1980s). I hadn’t even thought about coloring any gray yet. It was damn good hair, people.

But now, after only two weeks, there’s not a lot of it left. I have actual bald spots. I have a legit comb-over. (Daddy, I understand now.)

The only options I have these days, since it’s too thin to be styled in any way, shape or form, are to push it all back with a headband like I used to when I was 12 and in love with Scott Baio, or wear a ball cap or beanie ski hat. All the time.

Luckily, the ball cap/ski hat thing works well enough in Colorado; women wear them everywhere here. And by everywhere I mean Target, REI and bike trails. (Headbands work better for the office, though, since a “Mama Tried,” stained cap doesn’t go that well with black palazzo pants and a fancy blouse.**)

I’m working with my doctor to turn this hair loss thing around, but she said it could take months for things to rebound. In the meantime, I’m going to try to picture myself as I remember my Granny when she’d wear her old faded John Deere cap, out in the sun, working cattle or planting okra: One tough broad you didn’t want to mess with before she had her second cup of straight-up black coffee.

Also, at this point in time, I’d like to apologize in writing to every one of my friends who has ever had to go through chemo. Remember how I used to advise you not to worry about losing your hair? How I said it was just hair?

I was wrong and you can slap me next time you see my balding head.

 

* Thank you, Little Baby Jesus.
** Who am I kidding? I wear jeans and boots to work most days.

 

PS:  Are you offended by the word, “sucks?” Don’t be! Here’s why.

 

The Best Margarita Recipe, Taste-Tested and Texan-Approved

tequila Margarita on the rocksWhen you’re from Texas, three of the four main food groups are lime, tequila, and salt. (The fourth is straight-up enchiladas.) Suffice it to say that I’m no stranger to the sweet-tart heaven of a margarita done right. (The main character in my novel Blue Straggler isn’t, either.)

I’ve had margaritas made with sweet-and-sour mixes. I’ve had margaritas made with Lone Star beer. I’ve had blue margaritas and strawberry margaritas and cucumber margaritas and prickly pear margaritas. I’ve enjoyed frozen margaritas, swirled-with-sangria margaritas and on-the-rocks margaritas.

And they are not all, as they say, created equal.

In honor of the two-year anniversary of the publication of Blue Straggler by 30 Day Books, I’m sharing what I consider to be the best, simple margarita recipe on the planet.

Let me know if you agree!

The Blue Straggler Margarita

Run a juicy lime wedge over the rim of a cocktail glass and dip the rim of the glass in coarse sea salt.

In a bowl, whisk 1 tablespoon light agave nectar with 1 tablespoon filtered water and 1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice.

Pour the nectar mixture, along with 1/3 cup 100-percent blue agave tequila, into a shaker. (Do not settle for cheap college-days tequila. You’re a grown up!)

Add ice and shake.

Pour liquid only over fresh ice in your salt-rimmed glass. Add a final squirt of lime on top and drop the wedge into the drink.

Sip while listening to the Marty Robbins’ song, El Paso, or Down on the Rio Grande by Johnny Rodriguez.

Good Enchiladas Are a Powerful Thing

There’s a scene in my novel, Blue Straggler, that involves Tex-Mex food, which every Texan knows that, when done right, most specifically enchiladas, can be a gift straight from heaven. Here’s an excerpt from that scene:

I convince myself to get out tonight. What I would prefer to do is curl up on the couch with a box of Godiva chocolates and Casablanca. But I promised Rudy I’d join him, so I throw on a pair of jeans and leave the house. The draw of enchiladas is a powerful thing.

The restaurant is packed. Dusty piñatas hang from the ceiling’s cedar beams, and paper-mache flowers in green and pink are gathered in Mexican pottery around the restaurant. Every table—wooden and scarred and square—holds a black, cast-iron pot of salsa and an orange plastic pitcher of beer.

Making my way through the crowd, I dodge waitresses balancing platters of sizzling beef. I can just make out Rudy’s red head in the back corner bobbing around like a fishing cork, watching for me. Next to him, his blonde-haired guest is flushed from what looks to be several pitchers down.

Wolfgang—I swear that’s his name—shouts “nice to meet you.” Mariachi music blares from speakers near the kitchen, competing with the low-octave hum of the Friday night crowd.

At this point, I don’t know if I would call Wolfgang engaging, but I decide he could be quasi-appealing, especially next to the glow of the orange pitcher.

“You look like someone I should know,” he says, and I try to block out that he’s using a Worst Pick-Up Line from a list circulating on the Internet.

“You’re from Colorado?” I ask, not all that interested. Probably because burritos are being served at the next table.

Wolfgang leans toward me, his thick brows drawing closer together as he speaks. “I’m just in town for a few days.”

I try to draw my brows together like him. But as usual, I’m reasonably sure I’ve contorted my face into some kind of scowl. Rudy laughs; he knows exactly what I’m trying to do.

“Why the scowl?” Wolfgang asks.

“I’m thirsty,” I say.

“Drink up.” He pours me the first of what I expect will be many.

“A toast to new partnerships,” Rudy holds his cup above the table. Wolfgang touches his cup to Rudy’s and looks for mine. I’m pouring myself another.

In honor of Bailey and Rudy, I’m sharing my own enchilada recipe, which I’ve been told is pretty darn good. So good, in fact, that they have an ego all their own.

Look, I’m just saying people ask me to make these. A lot.

Warning: This is not an exact science. It’s more like an art …

Kathy’s World-Famous Enchiladas

Brown 2 lbs. ground sirloin in 2 Tablespoons of oil with two medium chopped red onions, 1 green pepper (chopped), 1 red pepper (also chopped), 3 cloves of garlic (you guessed it  – chopped), ½ cup salsa (I use Pace medium chunky), a dash of Tabasco, a shit ton of cumin powder (probably 6 – 7 Tablespoons), 1 large jalapeno (chopped – add more if you’re a badass), and 1 can black beans (drained). Bonus points if your black beans have some Mexican spices in them.

Add 7-8 Tablespoons of GOOD chili powder. (Do not, I repeat, do not use Walmart Great Ffing Value chili powder.) Add 7-8 Tablespoons of water to get it all saucy and such. Do not add too much water or you will ruin EVERYTHING. No pressure.

Simmer about 30 minutes uncovered. Drink some good beer while waiting … or sip some tequila if you’re feeling like a real rebel.

Coat a white corn tortilla in the meat sauce then put in a scoop of meat sauce and some grated cheese (I suggest pepper jack, medium cheddar, or Colby jack or a combination). Then roll that sucker like dice (not really), and place in a long casserole dish. Repeat until you’ve filled up that dish with rolled tortillas full of meat and cheese goodness. You’ll be placing the filled and rolled tortillas side by side. Put a bit of meat sauce on top of them as you are adding tortillas to the dish, to keep them from coming unrolled. (There’s a marijuana joke in there somewhere, I’m sure.)

Top with remaining meat sauce and lots of grated cheese. Don’t be stingy with the cheese. This is not the time to count your Weight Watchers points.

Bake at 375 degrees until things are all bubbling and cheese is melted.

Behold, heaven on earth. Accept your applause.