New poem for #WorldPoetryDay

World Poetry Day

Breaking

I can count my broken bones

like milestones

like clean breaks

like short stories

maybe Lorrie Moore’s—

funny

but also kind of sad.

 

First-grade nightmares and hardwood floors

driveway basketball with two bare feet

recklessness and dank river air

missteps on a solo mountain hike

impatience in a Target parking lot.

 

But my heart?

You can’t really count

the fragile

hairline

fractures

on a fault line—

eventually spreading

 

like what happens

from the weight of beating

monsoon rains

on long-weathered wood,

rotting, wearing down

strength.

 

moments after days

after weeks after years

 

chipping love and naivety

into what must resemble

rubicund ceramic shards

scattered on an unswept,

linoleum kitchen floor

 

too many unkind boys

and unkind girls,

playground pranks,

and no way to measure

root-scraping betrayal

in familiar trees

or insecure men and unsuccessful lies

or the gradual creep

of a mind-tangled disease

or conversations I’ll never unhear.

 

My bones healed, I suppose

some smoother

and stouter than others,

some reminding me

on the last mile of a long day

that healing takes a long time.

 

But my heart?

It just figures …

that’s the way things are now.

 

 

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.

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

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

Homemade Peach Ice Cream — Without an Ice-Cream Maker

20120717__0719_HOGAR_PEACHES

Palisade, Colorado, is home to some of the juiciest, sweetest and best-tasting peaches I’ve ever had. And people, I know peaches. My parents grow peaches in South Texas. I’m never around anymore during picking season, but I get to enjoy them in Mom’s homemade peach pies at the holidays. My grandmother used to make the best homemade peach ice cream. I love peaches so much that I’ve even been known to make peach jam, which is sort of out of character because there’s this whole fear of bacteria thing I have going on.

The point of all this (there is one, I promise) is that Palisade peaches are in season right now, and there was a legit rush going on at the farmer’s market on Saturday. Yuppies and grandmas alike were elbowing each other to get their hands on a box or two.

It got a little crazy. I tried to remain calm, but one lady literally pushed me at one point, and my kid wasn’t with me so hell yes I pushed back. I’m not proud of that moment, but we’re talking peaches here.

Actually, the point of this blog is not at all about peach-craving betches in their yoga capris and pointy visors. The point is that I came home with some gorgeous peaches and wanted to make ice cream in honor of my Mammaw. But I wanted a shortcut.

I found one, and it was seriously good! Maybe not AS good as Mammaw’s, but I didn’t have to use an ice cream maker, and I only needed two ingredients.

No-Churn Peach Ice Cream

Peel and slice 6 large, ripe peaches.

Put them in a bowl in the freezer. Freeze until they are firm.

Put frozen peaches and 1 cup of sweetened condensed milk in a blender or food processor. Mix well.

Put mixture back in freezer for 2 hours, then enjoy!

Seriously, try it. It’s wonderful. And so easy.

 

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.

photo (2)

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photo (14)

photo (7)

 

 

 

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.

 

Recycling

We’re moving again, back to our home at the top of a mountain in Colorado, after two years in the Denver foothills. It’s been a short experiment, and there have been some good things about it. But mostly, I can’t wait to get back home to my cabin.

With this move, though, I’m dedicated to a minimalistic approach to what we bring with us. I want a fresh start in my old home, and I want to leave behind things that are dragging me down, and ones that no longer serve a purpose in my life.

Jeans from 2008 that don’t fit anymore? Donated. A desk that I never actually use for writing at? Gone. Bowls that are chipped and stained and oh by the way I didn’t really like to begin with? Off to Goodwill.

I also just sold an antique hutch I bought right after a life-changing breakup. It had been a project that took me several weekends to finish back then, nearly 20 years ago. I remember working on it in the Texas summer heat, sweat dripping into my eyes. It had kept my mind off how badly I was falling apart inside, and it gave me something to put all of that hurt into. And it gave me a sense of pride that I could tackle refinishing the piece on my own, without him. I brought the hutch with me when I moved to Colorado — just me and my dogs — partly because I needed a reminder almost every day that I was strong and capable.

But I have other reminders of that now. I don’t need the hutch anymore. And it doesn’t need me.

I also took a huge step and recycled about 30 years’ worth of my feelings and thoughts (and bad poetry). I started journaling when I was in 3rd grade and stopped only during the college years. (Possibly due to not wanting any evidence to exist of what may or may not have happened at the Dixie Chicken in College Station, Texas.)

Recently, I flipped through all those journals, one by one. I could feel the pain dripping from the pages of my adolescent and teen years, when I felt so alone and so terribly ugly. And I caught my breath reading through the years of clinical depression, the years of fighting unexplained infertility, the years of losing my grandparents and saying good riddance to friends I thought would never let me down.

I suppose I’d held onto these journals, thinking they would inspire my writing at some point, thinking they might hold important insights some day. But all they are now are reminders of darkness when all I want to feel is light. So I ripped them into millions of pieces and threw them into the recycling bins.

I did choose to keep a few journals … the ones documenting my decision to move to Colorado, the ones reminding me how and why I fell in love, against my strongest judgment (I wasn’t interested in marriage!), with my husband. And the ones filled with the limitless joy and amazement when our son came into our lives.

It feels good to let go. It feels really, really good.