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

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

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

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

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

Here you go:

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

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

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.