- Do not listen to music. This is especially true of country music. Hip hop may be okay.
- Do not commute to work over long distances that leave you with too much time in your head.
- Take fast showers, and stay focused on hygiene, not the emptiness.
- Avoid looking at family photographs.
- Ignore the fact that the holidays will still exist.
- Abstain from drinking more than one glass of wine at any one point in time.
- Do not travel down Target aisles that pose a threat, such as those where you might see a can of his favorite kind of nuts (Beer Nuts) or catch the scent of Old Spice aftershave.
- Talk to your dogs about chewbones, the weather, or anything but how you’re feeling. Especially if they have big, brown-saucer eyes and floppy ears.
- Do not allow yourself to linger for very long in the company of compassionate and kind people who ask you how you’re doing.
- Do not text your sisters or call your mom.
- Tell your husband no thank you when he wants to simply hold your hand or massage your neck.
- Amp up your carb intake and emotionally overeat as necessary.
It’s been 26 days since my dad died. It’s been 26 days of waking up every day hoping that losing him has all been just a bad nightmare, and thank goodness, I can call him now and hear him say, “How’s life in the frozen tundra today?”
But I can’t. He’s gone. And it hurts. Like a primal, raw, curl into the fetal position at night, dry sobbing pain. Only worse. A complete, ugly, want-to-vomit, overwhelming feeling of drowning in emptiness.
He was 74.
He had his first heart attack at 45, and we almost lost him then. But thanks to modern medicine and his strong will, he’d made it almost another 30 years. (After that bypass surgery back then, he quit smoking cold turkey and never looked back. I can’t even stop drinking Dr Pepper.) But if I hear one more person tell me how happy I should be that we had him in our lives for way more than doctors had ever predicted, I may punch them in throat. Twice. Three times. Maybe more.
Because you know what? I wanted 20 more years.
I know I’m in the anger stage of grief right now. You should probably stop reading right now if you don’t want to witness that.
Even though I’m smart enough to know that it does no good, I want to blame the hospital in San Antonio. If only he hadn’t gotten pneumonia or MRSA. After all, they knew he was at risk for both. If only they’d had better technology and infection prevention practices. If only the nurses hadn’t been so understaffed, someone might have been on top of his status, and stopped it, reversed it. Maybe if that one nurse had alerted the doctor on call just a few hours faster.
I want to blame his surgeon. What the hell happened during his procedure? He was never the same. Why did you go on home and relax for the evening when my dad was suffering and in pain? Where the hell were you?
I want to blame his cardiologist. Why didn’t you act sooner to replace my dad’s pacemaker? Why did you let him get so weak? Why didn’t you DO SOMETHING?
I want to blame the doctor treating his Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease. He told you he was getting weaker and weaker. He told you he needed help. You said you’d cure him. You didn’t. You lied.
I know doctors make mistakes. But why weren’t doctors working harder to save his life? Why didn’t just one of those doctors who are now sending their effing bills care enough to figure out how to help him live this time? He’d had some close calls, sure. But even they were all “surprised at his rapid decline.” Paying bills, taking work calls, and making jokes one day. Then a few days later, gone.
I know he’s just a statistic to them. A readmission. A hospital-acquired infection. A never event. A blip on their mortality radar screen.
But he was my father, dammit. And I wanted more. I wanted them to do more.
More, more more more more.
I wanted my son, who worshipped his grandfather (hat and boots and all), to have more time to soak up his rancher/teacher hybrid values and quick wit. For my son to not to have to cry when he reads Hank the Cowdog books now, because Pa was the one who always bought those for him.
I wanted more time to ask him questions. To get his advice. To hear his laugh. To talk football or weather with him. To hear stories of his father and mother and grandparents. College stories. Army stories. Stories about the land he grew up on and tended.
I wanted to hear him say he was proud of me.
I wanted him to be at home when he died, with his dogs near him. Not in some sterile, cold, stupid, dumb medical facility.
I wanted. Anything. Everything.
Oh, I know. I’m not the first person to go through this. I know, I know, I know. And it’s not like I lost a child, right? Or lost him in a tragic, horrible, accident or crime. It was just the circle of life. It happens. We move on.
You know what I say to that? (I probably shouldn’t write that here.) Just suffice it to say that none of that helps right now. It just doesn’t.
And I do appreciate all the well-meaning friends who tell me it gets better. I really do. That the memories will sustain me.
But right now, I don’t want the damn memories. I. Don’t. Want. Them.
I want him. I want our anchor. I want the sturdiness that his simple presence brought to the world.
I want him back, so he can continue to help veterans and their families in his job as a veterans services officer for the county.
I want him back so he can help my mom remember things she needs to remember, but sometimes can’t.
I want him back so his old dog, Jodie, doesn’t look like she’s lost her best friend.
I want him back to help me figure out why the hell my tomatoes won’t grow.
I want him back to figure out what kind of ants these are that are likely moving my home off its very foundation.
I want him back to laugh at the stories I tell about my kiddo and what crazy smart thing he’s done today.
I want him back by Aggie football season. I want him back by Thanksgiving. By Christmas.
Because all of those things seem pointless without him.
He would likely hate this, by the way … what I’m writing. He’d say “That’s the way it goes, kid. You win some, you lose some.” He’d expect me to push through it all, pull myself up by those stupid imaginary ducking bootstraps.
Other well-meaning people also tell me that he’ll always be with me. I do appreciate the sentiment. But remember, I’m angry. And I don’t think so. I mean, this was my dad. Everything was black and white to him. He wouldn’t be one to hang around. He’s already gotten the job done here.
And then there’s that whole heaven thing. I wish I believed in it, I do. I wish I could say for sure that he’s now happier than ever before. He’s back with his parents, his good dogs, his horses, his friends who passed away before him. Sunshine and tequila and unicorns. It all sounds nice. But honestly? It also just sounds like a good story. And no, I don’t want a lecture on Christianity right now, either.
I had to write his obituary, you know. In like 12 hours, to meet the small-town newspaper weekend deadline. (You can read it here, if you want.) I’d have rather written my own.
I don’t like what I wrote now. It’s not enough. It’s too ordinary. It doesn’t capture all that he was. It told the story of a really good man who touched a lot of lives in a small town, but it didn’t tell you so many of the more important things.
It didn’t tell you that he loved peanuts. And a good steak. And any kind of pie my mom makes. That we argued about politics and gun control and gay marriage. That he voted for Ross Perot and I never let him live that down. That he said “I love you” at the end of every phone call, even when he was dying. That he expected straight As from us kids and grandkids. Expected it. That he used to drink Evan Williams whiskey while playing dominoes or sitting in his recliner, holding court. That he used to play volleyball with his Pearl beer cap on backwards, while holding said beer. That he loved Big Bang Theory and Simon & Simon. That his barbecue was legendary. That he would take off work when I came home to visit. That he would take my kid fishing in 100-degree heat, even when he felt like warmed-over cowshit. That he had a party van in the 70s complete with a rocking 8-track stereo and swivel chairs in back. That he could hug and love on a dog all day, but he wasn’t a hugger when it came to humans. That he could get mean when he was working cattle. That he was never sadder than the day he sold them all. That his own father died when he was just 16. That he left a to-do list for my mom titled, “After My Death,” to make sure she got what was coming to her from life insurance, retirement, the Army, etc. That he really and truly loved teaching science, until too-many rules and tests changed how he had to teach. That he had the patience to help my son build a birdhouse at age 7, but got far too impatient with me when I was trying to learn how to mow the yard when I was 9. That he introduced me to Larry McMurtry books. That I never heard him use the F word. That he hated asking for help of any kind. That using a cane was hard on his ego. That he had a way of looking at you that could make you laugh out loud. That he liked Merle more than Waylon and Waylon more than Willie. That he always shined his boots before going dancing at the VFW or KC hall. That he loved to swim when he was younger. That he smelled good when he taught us girls to two-step. That he could grow anything from seed. That he was stubborn. So stubborn. Unbelievably stubborn.
I’ve read all the research, by the way.
One day, they say, I’ll wake up and I won’t be so angry.
And I really do hope they are right.
Because I just heard my son repeat one of my dad’s favorite phrases while watching/playing video-game football on Madden 25 (“Looks like there’s some extracurricular activity going on out there”) and now I’m in the back bedroom. In the near-fetal position.
Writing through my fury.
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
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 —
good intentions —
not every seed will grow
Is it easily spread on the wind?
Can it tolerate full sun?
And what happens
the parched and crisp soil
becomes suddenly drenched,
unable to breathe?
When the holidays roll around, our family usually sets aside time to watch the old favorite, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. And this year was its 50th anniversary, so, yeah, it was on the DVR. And we were ready with fresh-baked cookies and popcorn, the Christmas tree lights on, and a roaring fire in the woodstove. As traditional as it gets.
Unfortunately, this mama was stressed the hell out that night. Life hadn’t been easy that week. So I had, shall we say, a couple of glasses of wine prior to Rudolph. Yes, let’s go with a couple.
And as it turns out, a wine buzz and 1964 claymation do not a good combination make.
In a mere 40 minutes, it seems I pointed out everything that’s completely wrong about the show. As in pausing it and rewinding and pausing and pointing it out again and again. And laughing hysterically.
Yep, I have pretty much ruined the show for my kid and all future generations of his kids.
But at least he was laughing along with me. He even took pictures of the screen.
Here are a few of the highlights of our analysis.
First, the Snowman narrator plays a banjo. And while that is hilarious on its own perhaps, because real-life snowmen don’t have fingers and such, what’s really funny is that the song he plays the banjo to is Silver and Gold. There is no banjo music in Silver and Gold. Piano yes. Cello maybe. No banjo. Also, he has a porn mustache going on. (No, I did not teach my kid what a porn mustache is. Not this time. That can wait til he’s 9.)
Secondly, Santa is a serious asshat throughout the whole movie. He doesn’t like the song the elves sing for him. He tells Donner he should be ashamed of Rudolph and his nose. He’s a total steaming pile of turd to Mrs. Claus. And he looks like he’s been on the Paleo diet during most of the movie.
Furthermore, if you look closely, Santa only has three fingers and a thumb. No lie. Where is the other finger? Did he use it during a period of road rage when sky traffic got bad one night? And then did he get into a bar fight where someone taught him a lesson? It could happen. I bet a lot of guys who dress up like Santa and go to bars get beat up.
Yukon Cornelius, who was my first boyfriend really, turns out to be a problem. You see, this is a kids’ movie, right? Even in the 1960s, he really shouldn’t have been packing visible heat in a children’s holiday special. But yep, right there in his holster is a big ol’ shiny gun. The Moms Demand Action and gun violence activist in me was quite disturbed by this. He had a gun. A gun not used for hunting. In a children’s Christmas program. And we wonder what’s wrong with the world.
My testosterone-laden family members, however, were more concerned about the fact that he had a gun with him and yet never tried to use it to defend himself and his friends from the Abominable Snowman monster dude.
Also, he had a flask. And I’m pretty sure he didn’t have apple juice in there.
Yukon’s team of dogs also poses an issue. Early on, he has them and is mushing them and all, while being chased by the Abominable Snowman monster. But then all of a sudden, Yukon, Rudolph and Hermie are on an iceberg floating away from the monster. And no dogs. They were obviously left behind at a kill-shelter or they were eaten by the monster. I cried a little. But then they suddenly reappeared later. Where were they during the adventure on the Island of Misfit Toys? Did someone give them food and water? Also, amidst the Saint Bernards and Huskies, one of the dogs is a bona fide Poodle.
Also, Bostonians take a hit in this move. Because one of the mean-ass little bastard reindeers who is so clearly bullying poor Rudolph had a distinct Boston accent. Was that necessary? I guess I should be grateful they didn’t make him a Texan. Although now that I think about it, Hermie had a bit of a drawl.
Sexism was alive and well in the special, too. Donner has a name but his wife doesn’t. She’s only Mrs. Donner. And when Donner, Mrs. Donner and Clarice are out looking for Rudolph and can’t find him, Donner decides the best thing to do at that point is to “just get the women home.” Oh yeah, Donner? Like we’re so frail and useless? Well, I hope Mrs. Donner burned her bra in 1972 and found fame and fortune (without you) at Disneyland where she currently surfs the waves, reads Chaucer on the beach, owns a high-rise luxury condo, and goes out at night with J-Lo and a number of nice bucks who know how to treat a lady. And I hope you waste away alone in that little cave of yours or that Yukon mistakes you for supper. (Too harsh?)
I also have a little bit of a problem with the way the Abominable Snowman was tricked into coming out of his cave, with Hermie pretending to be a pig and “oinking” to get his attention. Yukon says if there is something any snowmonster can’t turn down, it’s a fresh side of pork. But I’m pretty sure there are no pigs, domesticated or wild, in the North Pole region. I googled it.
I’m just saying that I could handle the whole reindeer born with a glowing nose and an island of misfit toys and a flying sleigh better if there had been some fact-checking going on in other areas of the plot.
Finally, the movie ends with Santa flying off into the sky with his reindeer pulling his sleigh and Rudolph leading the way. It’s a touching scene, really. Until you realize that the sky is beautifully clear without a cloud in sight. So that kind of blows the whole a-blizzard-is-the-reason-why-Rudolph-was-needed story climax. That’s just lazy writing, people.
I 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.
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!
* 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.
It’s true that I do not have the most well-behaved dogs on the planet. In the state. On the mountain. Okay, okay, on my street of eight or so full-time mountain people houses.
They — our two nearly 100-pound golden retriever mixes — are notoriously bad dogs.
We thought they wouldn’t be.
We believed in the golden myth. That myth that plays out in every dog commercial and on every dog food bag and in every Cabela’s catalog. The myth that says, “Get a golden! They are always calm and cute … and the perfect dog to have by your side at all times.”
That myth is not just a myth. It’s a bold-faced lie, people.
Ours bark loudly when I let them out in the mornings and multiple times during the day.
They jump on visitors, and on us, when we come in the front door.
They steal socks and then shred them. (See also: Stuffed Animals)
They are ace counter-surfers and have eaten, among other things, an entire, freshly baked cherry pie, a stick of butter, a loaf of bread, fresh trout, a stocking full of Christmas candy as well as the stocking, grilled hamburgers that were ready for our guests, a bouquet of tulips, and at least one filet mignon while it was actually cooking on the stove. Doggie Poison Control is on speed dial.
They tend to forget who’s in charge on our walks and hikes and have been known to pull me down the trail. God forbid we stumble upon a wild animal that’s in need of being chased. Or we stumble upon a wild animal that’s in need of being chased and we are walking on several layers of ice. In that event, life becomes a full-on sitcom moment.
One of them enjoys poop appetizers before dinner. The other scratches on the back glass door when she has been put outside and needs, needs, needs to be inside. One is notoriously grumpy past 6 p.m. The other sees nothing wrong with jumping all 100-pounds of his beast-self right onto your lap while you’re watching TV, as if he’s the size of a Chihuahua and you don’t have internal organs that can be easily smushed. Both of them retrieve laundry items and books from various parts of the house and then make you chase them to get them back. They both, when relaxed, can release a smell that the U.S. military should look into for use in warfare.
Oh, and they eat their dog beds. Every one of them.
It’s no coincidence that we call them hoodlums. (And, also, for the record, I have had dogs my entire life. Lots of them. I know how to train them to behave. These dogs are untrainable.)
But here’s the thing. I’m not going to apologize for them any longer. Why? Because they make me laugh. They make me happy. They make good, fluffy, hilarious pillows.
When they bark, it’s because there is moose scent everywhere and a squirrel is usually taunting them from a tall pine tree above. They are programmed to tell us that these very acute dangers are present at all times. Who else is going to sound the alarm, really?
When they jump, it’s because they simply cannot contain their excitement that there are People Available. Right Now. To love. It’s so completely and totally unbelievable to have such good luck!
When they steal socks and shred them, it’s because they think it’s their job to do this. And they want to be good at their jobs. They’re overachievers, when you think about it.
When they grab food off the counter, it’s because it smells soooo good. As I tell my husband: Could you resist the world’s most awesome, decadent chocolate cake with homemade whipped icing just sitting there, inviting you to take a bite? Because every single ounce of food, I’m convinced, seems like the most wonderful thick, juicy T-bone steak to these pups. It’s kind of like how I would never, ever be able to refuse a perfectly ice-cold, fizzy Dr Pepper on a hot summer day.
They pull us on walks because they are confined to a backyard and a small home most of the day, every day. And confinement isn’t a great idea when you have more energy than a toddler on a six-pack of Red Bull. And they are dogs. They are meant to run free. To smell all of those smells. To check out every rock and tree, just in case something needs to be addressed. I understand that, I do. Some might say I’ve been known to pull those around me along for miles, too, when I get an idea in my head.
You see, as naughty as they are, I get these dogs. They march to their own beat. They won’t be tamed.
Of course, they can learn manners, like sit, but who really wants to be told what to do unless there is a bacon treat involved? I don’t.
And another thing. These furballs truly love — like with all their little hoodlum hearts — their people. I feel that way about my people, too.
They are Explorers. Clowns. Always-looking-for-trouble hounds. Cold-winter-night foot warmers with a zest for life.
So, I’m thinking maybe we could all learn a little something from my hoodlums. Sure, good behavior is nice and all. And they will likely be the best dogs ever when they are 15 years old and content to lie in the sun all day.
But isn’t there also something to be said for saying no to arbitrary rules?
Isn’t there something to be said for living exactly the kind of life you were meant to live? For doing things that make you happy every single day?
Life doesn’t guarantee you hours of great belly rubs and weeks of adventure in a mountain forest. You gotta seize that shit for yourself.
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.)
I live in Colorado. On a mountain. In a forest. Winters are harsh and beautiful here. But summer? Summer is every word I can’t seem to find … and every cliche (paradise, bliss) that I try not to use. It’s 70 degrees, blue skies, and a light breeze that rustles the aspen leaves around you. It’s brief afternoon rain, cold as ice on your skin, as storms move over the Divide. It’s wildflowers thick as blankets. It’s the call of a Stellar Jay. The howl of a coyote. The sunlight streaming through tall pines.
It’s abundance. And yet, it’s more.
This evening, as we do most days, my husband and son and I took the dogs for a long walk around the neighborhood. I tried to capture some of the beauty and magic around us in the following photos. I don’t think a lens can capture what it feels like, but perhaps it can at least capture a little of what we see.
When 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.
Following is an essay I wrote a few years back that was eventually published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. A version of it also placed in a Real Simple magazine essay contest. I’m pleased to share a shortened version of it here for my blog readers.
The Magic of Second Chances
Years of disappointing infertility treatments can leave you feeling raw inside — like an asphalt-skinned knee or that tender place beneath an ugly blister when you peel the outer layer away. It was the kind of open wound that drove me to crazy acts, like directing daggered looks at women shopping for baby wipes and absurdly mean, fortunately silent, comments toward unsuspecting pregnant women at the mall.
What got me through those ugly days, and what served as a bandage over that intense rawness, was this: There remained a tiny degree of hope that the next month could be different — that this time, the moon and the stars and my body would all magically align to give me what I wanted most in the world, a baby.
But unfortunately, celestial magic, and pregnancy, continued to elude me. Procedures weren’t working. Finally, our doctor called one day in the spring to say she recommended no further treatments, no further procedures. Statistically, I had a much better chance of winning the lottery — twice — than giving birth.
That evening, with my husband out of town, I curled up on the couch with our collie at the time, George Bailey. He rested his long, Lassie-nose on my leg. He’d already secretly enjoyed the pint of butter pecan ice cream I’d opened but couldn’t eat. And now he looked concerned about the growing pile of used tissues at our feet.
I rehashed the conversation with the doctor in my head, searching for something, anything, that might offer a hint of optimism. But there was nothing I could hold on to this time. And her last words tumbled through my thoughts again and again. “Honestly, if I were you, I’d consider adoption.”
Adopting a child? It wasn’t that we didn’t think it was a good idea. We thought it was great — for other people. I think in some ways, saying “adoption” out loud would’ve meant some kind of defeat to us — an acknowledgement that perhaps we might not, in the end, conceive. And that wasn’t something we could let ourselves believe.
But now, the world and everything in it was upside down and strange. I was no longer a woman who would someday see the outline of our baby’s spine on an ultrasound image. I was no longer a woman who would learn Lamaze, who would fret over whether or not to hire a mid-wife, who would ask friends for their hand-me-down maternity clothes. Even our home in the Colorado mountains seemed empty and cold, the clouded moon outside more scarred than before.
I looked down at George Bailey, our formerly abused, now reformed, sweet loyal canine companion. I wanted to make sure he hadn’t changed before my eyes, too. I ran my fingers through his soft, thick fur. I had to smile. George Bailey had served as a pillow, sounding board and heating pad in recent months. Now his tawny-tan coat was absorbing my tears.
We had adopted George from a rescue group two years before, his beat-up body complete with two broken legs. We’d brought him home around the holidays; the group had named him after the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Both Jimmy Stewart’s character and our George Bailey had been given a second chance at life.
George Bailey’s dark, almond eyes stared up at me as I stroked his ears. Adoption in his case had been an easy decision. We met him online and immediately wanted to give this bruised soul a happy, comfortable home. For George Bailey, though, becoming a part of our lives had been a leap of faith. Those almond eyes didn’t always reflect love and trust.
In the beginning, he was guarded. He literally did not make a sound for months. Finally, after a great deal of coaxing (not to mention treats) on our part, he decided to give us a chance. I imagine he had to overcome many doubts — and a lot of bad memories — to make that jump.
That’s when I decided maybe it was time for us to learn a little something from George Bailey. Maybe it was time for us to take our own kind of leap. In a new direction. Maybe it was my husband and me who needed a second chance.
I stayed up all night long, George Bailey sleeping at my feet, a crackling fire toasting the cabin and tossing shadows on the walls. I researched international and domestic adoption. I read blogs; I read adoptive child psychology reports. I read about state and federal laws, about laws in countries I had only previously thought of when reading ethnic restaurant menus.
That night of research set us on a journey that transformed our lives. Within a few months, we had settled on domestic adoption, worked on how we would fund the $30,000 bill. Within a few more months, we had completed our paperwork and passed our physicals and background checks. (Luckily, my pregnant-women-hating behavior never got out.)
By August, we were matched with a birthmother and birthfather who chose us to be the parents of their unborn child.
In early fall, we held our son when he was minutes old. We cried with the birthparents, for our shared happiness, for their loss. We told the birthparents we loved them. We meant it.
When we brought home our baby and introduced him to George Bailey, our collie seemed … proud of us.
Magic, it’s safe to say, no longer eludes us. Every day is filled with wild little-boy laughter and Dennis-the-Menace level schemes.
And we owe it all to my sweet and gentle George Bailey, who taught me how to put the hurt and doubt behind me — and leap.