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

Glimpses of a Colorado Life … on One Summer Evening

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.

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photo (7)

 

 

 

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.

The Magic of Second Chances

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.
 

George Bailey 1998 - 2009

                     George Bailey
                       1998 – 2009

 

A Walk and a Talk in the Mountains

I had the day off from work on Friday, and even though my husband and I were both still feeling sick from a Colorado Super Bug going around, I announced I was heading up to our cabin on the mountain. I needed to be there, to take one of my old walks that I took daily for more than a decade. It’s the same way I feel about Texas about twice a year, too. That driving need to be back in touch with some basic part of who I am.

My husband has been up to the cabin several times since we’ve moved, but I have stayed away. I knew I’d likely tie myself to a pine tree and he’d have to peel my arms away or chop down the tree to get me to leave. And frankly, it played out kind of just like that.

On our walk, we talked about moving back. It’s a tough thing, marriage. And parenting. You just never know for sure what the right move is. You can guess, and you can hope to high heaven you’re making the best choices. And then you can pick up the pieces and put them back together when they turn out to be the wrong ones.

I’m still not sure what we’ll do. I want to do what’s best for our son. His needs come first. But it’s all so murky, that determining what’s best.

Yes, it’s dangerous to live and drive up there on the mountain. The drive to school alone would be trying … about 50 minutes one way. And yet, I have to also believe that living in such a raw, untamed area would feed his soul, too. Right?

And let’s not forget his newfound love, or obsession, with fishing. At our cabin, he could walk out the back door and fish in a beautiful creek within minutes. And there are three private stocked lakes, too. He could be ice-fishing within 5 minutes during the winter. And doesn’t the opportunity to witness bears and moose and mountain lions and stellar jays and golden eagles in your back yard have profound educational value?

I’m not completely crazy, by the way. I know life on the mountain is tougher. The elements (wind, cold, blizzards) demand that you develop survival intelligence, that you respect Mother Nature in all her greatness. That you learn the value of hard work, like chopping wood, that ends up keeping you warm all winter. You learn that life isn’t just one big easy paved suburban street. You learn that sometimes the power can go out for days, but that’s okay because you kick ass at Scrabble and keeping a fire going 24 hours a day.

But are those lessons he really needs to learn in today’s society? Shouldn’t I be trying to create the easiest life for him? So that his biggest worries are doing well in school and making friends with kids, not foxes?

Or maybe we should just forget the mountain for now and instead live abroad for a year or two. Let a foreign country shape the kiddo instead of life at 10,500 ft. Maybe then my unsettled feeling would be replaced by excitement for a new adventure. Of course, there’s that little problem called money to fund such a thing, and let’s face it … we don’t exactly have Eat, Pray, Love kind of reserves going on.

I don’t have all the answers yet. But I’ll leave you with a few photos I took while we were on our walk … showcasing the Colorado Rockies in transition. The gorgeous aspen leaves are all gone, but the lake isn’t completely frozen over. The snow is on the mountain and some of the trails, but water is still trickling through the waterfalls. Paradise to me.

Colorado mountains

mountain trail

pine tree in the mountains

pine trees reflecting in water and ice

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.

You Must Try This Recipe: Shrimp Tacos With Corn-Avocado Salsa

Photo credit: Iain Bagwell, from http://www.cookinglight.com/food/quick-healthy/quick-easy-mexican-recipes-00400000054866/page26.html

Photo credit: Iain Bagwell, from cookinglight.com

This evening, my husband, son and I made the most awesome, fresh-tasting summer meal. And let me say right now that, being a South Texas girl with a Mama who cooks better than most professional chefs, I rarely rave about a taco recipe because who could ever improve on hers?

Well, this one comes close. We adapted from a Cooking Light recipe and made it our own. (The magazine called this “Mexican food,” by the way, and it’s not. It’s more California Meets Texas food.) Regardless, I highly recommend. And the greatest part is that it had plenty of smaller jobs that our son could handle. He was very proud of his lime-sour cream sauce.

Try it while the summer corn is still in season!

Shrimp Tacos With Corn-Avocado Salsa

3 ears of fresh sweet corn, cut off the cob

2 tsp. olive oil, divided

1 cup chopped green onions

1 cup chopped cilantro

Juice of 1 lime, divided

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. coarse ground black pepper, divided

Dash of cumin, chili powder and garlic powder

1 large avocado, diced

1 lb. frozen shrimp (tails off) – defrosted

4 oz. sour cream (light)

White corn tortillas

1/2 cup canola oil

——————————————————————–

Mix corn with 1 tsp. of olive oil, spread in a roasting pan. Broil on high about 8 minutes until corn is lightly browned. Let corn cool.

Combine corn, avocado, cilantro, green onions, salt, 1/4 tsp. of black pepper, and juice of half a lime. Mix carefully so it doesn’t turn to mush!

Combine 2 tsp. of lime juice with sour cream to make the lime-sour cream sauce. Mix thoroughly. Kiddo says for about 15 minutes. “That’s how I got it perfect,” he says. Mom says 30 seconds at most. :)

Toss shrimp into sauté pan with remaining olive oil and add spices and the remaining juice in the lime. If the shrimp is making a ton of liquid as it cooks, pour off a good deal of the liquid as you cook. Cook the shrimp, stirring/tossing, for about 6 minutes or so – or until done.

Meanwhile, fry the corn tortillas in the canola oil until they are just beginning to get crunchy – you want them soft enough to bend easily still.

Top each warm tortilla with the corn-avocado mixture and a drizzle of the lime-sour cream sauce.

Enjoy with a light ale or ice-cold Dr Pepper, of course.

MMMMMMMMM.

 

 

Texas Women Bloggers

It Ain’t the Riviera, but It’s Mine

Due to limited funds (I need a KickStarter campaign for my life), our family’s summer vacation this year needed to coincide with buying three plane tickets home to Texas to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

We talked it over with great seriousness. I suggested a cabin on one of the lakes around Austin, or the San Antonio Riverwalk after the big party in my hometown. My husband suggested anywhere there was air-conditioning and tequila. Our son, however, was all about a beach.

We’d taken an awesome trip to Florida when he was not even 2 years old, and he’s seen those pictures time and again. But he can’t remember ever being near the ocean. And the kid wants to be a marine biologist (this moon cycle at least).

So, being the Perfect Mom that I am (ha), we decided to book a place somewhere along the Gulf Coast that was not more than a few hours from my parents’ celebration.

Heading out on the ferry from Galveston.

Heading out on the ferry from Galveston.

An Internet search led me to research Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula. It’s an island accessible only by ferry from Galveston. I’d spent a good deal of time in Galveston back in the day but had never been to the peninsula. Even if I had, I probably wouldn’t have recognized it now: It seems Hurricane Ike pretty much wiped out the island five years ago. And when I say wiped out, I mean, WIPED OUT. (You can see pics here of the catastrophic damage.) But the area was rebuilding, and I liked the idea of supporting that. And because there aren’t many services/amenities there yet, prices were reasonable, and I found a cute little beachfront house for less than we’d pay for a condo in Galveston or Port Aransas. So I booked it.

My husband was not all that excited about this excursion. You see, as an Air Force brat, he grew up with the perfect sand beaches and clear blue waters of Hawaii and Florida. He hadn’t heard great things about the Texas Gulf of Mexico. (I didn’t even tell him that the area was known for shark breeding …no sense adding that to his list of why-we-should-not-gos.)

View from our deck of an ice-cold Dr Pepper. Oh, and the ocean.

View from our deck of an ice-cold Dr Pepper. Oh, and the ocean.

But I convinced him, and we packed up a boogie board, summer sausage (see my post about that here), Throwback Dr Pepper in bottles, and a large amount of limes and tequila and headed to Crystal Beach.

My report? It was really just lovely. The water isn’t Caribbean-blue, for sure, and depending on how much churn was going on, it could look like chocolate milk, but it was warm ocean bath water with perfect-sized waves for family fun.

Pure future marine biologist joy.

Pure future marine biologist joy.

The beach was not white, but it was fairly void of beer cans and jellyfish and pretty great for castle-building. There was, as predicted by others, lots of seaweed, which some people see as an eyesore. But my son found its abundance great for catching ghost shrimp by shaking clumps of it into his fishing net.

The temperature was perfect for June, mosquitoes weren’t biting, and with the Gulf breeze, sitting on the deck at night, listening to good music, was the epitome of relaxation.

Surf was up.

Surf was up.

Unlike Port A and parts of Galveston, the beach was not crowded, and there were no drunken parties and wet t-shirt contests going on around us.

But here’s what I loved about Crystal Beach the most: Over the course of a few days, our son found a family of three sweet little boys to play with, and we parents got to hang out with the parents and grandparents. The family was from East Texas, and they welcomed us into their little part of the beach with open arms. I watched as my son, an only child, played in the waves and fished for minnows and crabs and dug in the sand and flew his kite with his new friends. I watched his smile light up in ways that it simply can’t when he plays with his parents (even though we’re pretty darn fun, if I should say so myself.)

Fun with new friends.

Fun with new friends.

Meanwhile, I laughed and soaked up the humor and kindness and thick Texas accents of our new friends, one of whom reminded me so much of my grandmother, I had to fight back tears a few times.

I listened to the stories they told — stories, I’ve found, that you just can’t get anywhere but Texas — drinking stories, fishing stories, kid-gone-wrong stories, small-town stories, trailer-trash stories, oil-rig stories, down-on-your-luck-four-wheel-drive stories, and stories about how family sticks together no matter what … and how when it comes down to it, home is what keeps you grounded.

Even when a hurricane takes everything but your foundation away.

Happy summer, y'all.

Happy summer, y’all.

Free Weekend Promotion! Children’s Picture Book for Kindle Fire

Higgenbloom and the Dancing GrandmasHi all! Now through Monday, my children’s picture ebook (for kids age 3 to 6 and all adults!) is FREE on Amazon – available for download to your Kindle Fire or to your iPad with the Kindle reading app.

Download the free Kindle book right now.

This is likely the only free promotion that’ll happen this year, so take advantage, and help spread the word about the book! (Reviews are always appreciated, too.)

I really hope you enjoy Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas.

Here’s the book description:

Higgenbloom the Honey Bee didn’t fit in with the other bees who lived on Grandma Rosemary’s farm. Instead of working from sunup to sundown like the others, Higgenbloom was known for doing silly somersaults, breaking out in little bee boogies, and pretending he was a jet pilot, zooming from flower to flower and making himself quite dizzy. But sadly, Higgenbloom always played alone. One morning, Higgenbloom wanders off on his own (again), only to find himself in a heap of trouble — trapped inside a moving car and traveling away from the farm and everything he knows! Find out what happens when Higgenbloom goes on an adventure … and encounters some very cool Dancing Grandmas along the way. Packed with abundant silliness, interactive questions for children, and beautiful illustrations, Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas is the perfect book for fun grandmothers who know how to “rock and roll,” grandchildren who love being silly, or anyone who has ever wanted to boogie down — no matter what others might think.
Thanks for reading!