Sometimes it’s hard to be thankful, and that’s okay

UnknownIt’s not a secret to anyone who knows me, or reads my work, that the last two and a half years have been the crappiest on record for me. And by crappy, I mean moldy garbage full of week-old salmon crappy. I mean two entire years of shrunken donkey balls and snake excrement. (Snakes do poop, right? I’m too tired to Google it.)

I lost my hero, my sweet and funny dad, in July 2015. I knew I’d lose him at some point, but I had no idea how difficult it would be to not be able to pick up the phone and hear his voice. My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly after, and it’s been a speedy descent into memory loss and confusion and sundowning and finding 24-hour caregiving and hiring and firing agencies and feeling guilty that I can’t be there in person for her more than a few times a year. My once-vibrant, beautiful, take-no-shit-from-anyone Mom is now virtually helpless. I don’t think she would recognize me if I walked up to her in the HEB grocery store tomorrow. Yet I talk to her daily, trying to help from two states away. Every day, she asks for my dad. She needs him, she says. Where is he?, she asks. Why won’t he come get me? So every day, she has to feel the hurt of either a) his death again, or b) his not being there to take care of her when she needs him. I feel her pain of abandonment physically.

On top of those losses, there have been financial challenges and job transitions and substantial fear for my son’s future in this country and huge hurt from those I thought would always be there for me and let’s not forget important volunteer demands and mass shooting nightmares and months of sleep sacrificed to worry. (I’m sure this is the case for a lot of people right now; I don’t mean to imply my life is worse than anyone else’s. It’s sooo not. Just bear with me as I write through it.)

I told a friend recently that grief is kind of like this: Things always go sideways in life. Tires go flat. Sewer systems fail. Assholes thrive everywhere from Starbucks to the office. But when you’re grieving, your brain can react to those things like, “yes, the sewer repair will cost $8,000 … AND DON’T FORGET your dad is gone forever and your mom doesn’t know you anymore.”

I know I should practice better self-care, but I’m not very good at it. In fact, my body has recently said, F*ck you, in a very loud way, and I’m struggling to recover enough to even eat a bite of turkey on Thursday.

So yeah. Thanksgiving this year? Meh. Whatevs. Nobody really likes the cranberry sauce anyway. Am I right? And pumpkin? Please. There’s no way to make it look any less like runny camel shit. (How many times can I say shit in one post?)

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Buck up, sista! Things could be much worse. Stop yer whining already. You’re thinking that I still have a lot to be thankful for. And I know that. (Of course, I do. I’m sad, not dumb.) And I say those very things to myself all the time.

I have a roof over my head. My son and husband are healthy and happy. I work with some great people. I have good friends and my generous in-laws who seem perpetually on standby to pick us up if any of us fall. I live in Colorado with a view of the foothills from every level of our new home. Nature still surprises me if I let it. Our dogs are still funny and hanging in there most days. And we now have a truly caring and kind team of caregivers helping my mom.

But I wonder.

Why do we force ourselves to pretend, especially during the holidays, that everything is just fine? That we’re living a Target + Kay Jewelers + Folgers commercial?

Doesn’t the sorrow we feel also serve some purpose, just as gratitude does?

Is it just human nature to want others to snap out of it? And if so, why? What do we fear so intensely about sadness? That it will spread like a contagious disease?

The fact is I’m not good at pretending. I don’t have a bluffing face. I’m bad at poker.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re having a tough time, too, it’s okay.

If you feel like you’ve put on a good show for the past year, but you’re tired and have run out of energy to do so now, it’s okay.

It’s okay to feel what you feel.

It’s okay to say you are a little hopeless and lost right now.

It’s okay if you don’t feel like writing a gratitude list.

It’s okay to say “pass” as folks gather around the Thanksgiving table, with everyone saying what they’re most thankful for this year.

It’s okay to binge-eat pecan pie in the garage.

Yes, I’m absolutely sure that we all have much to be thankful for this year. We don’t live in Syria, after all.

But it’s also absolutely ok to acknowledge your wounds.

And honestly, it might even help more than you think to give the Folgers coffee commercials the middle finger every now and then.

 

Maybe We Weren’t That Different

On the surface, one might think my dad and I were not much alike. I’m liberal; he was conservative. I always vote Democrat; he never voted a straight ticket in his life. I saw him cry maybe three or four times in 46 years. I sometimes cry over a dog food commercial or when the fading sunlight catches my child’s face just right, all in the same day. He was rational and logical and a planner. I tend to be impulsive and approach life with the thought of, Why not? I’ll figure out a plan B later. I anger easily and have little patience. My dad demonstrated patience every day of his life — whether teaching a bunch of loud-mouthed eighth-graders or dealing with three daughters arguing over who needs the bathroom next.

I think because of those differences, he didn’t really know what to do with me. He shook his head in subtle disbelief — a lot — when I was around. I was the one who fell out of line. I moved away. I didn’t listen to advice (much). I had no interest in cattle ranching. I’d stay up all night reading when he’d told me, “lights out,” five times before. I wore socks with holes in them so I could afford to travel. I ate Cheetos and drank Dr Pepper for breakfast if the mood hit me. I mowed circles in the yard versus straight lines like he taught me. I chose to live where temps hit 50 below and bears hang out by the front door. Did I mention he shook his head a lot around me?

In fact, my very first memory at age 3 or so is of my dad shaking his head at me, grinning, as I tried to climb over a sagging barbwire fence. He waited to see if I could do it on my own, then quickly picked me up and over when my shoe caught the top wire.

Now that he’s gone, I miss that feeling so much, physically and metaphorically.

But something happened at his funeral that makes me think maybe we weren’t as different as I thought.

After he retired from teaching, my dad worked in my hometown county in Texas helping the area’s veterans and their families get access to benefits they might be eligible for through the VA. His office was in the county courthouse, across the street from the fire station. One of the firefighters came up to me at the funeral to tell me how much he enjoyed getting a wave from Dad in the mornings.

Then he asked me if I knew Dad was trying to help a homeless vet who slept down by the river and who hung out near the station some days. He said my dad would watch for the guy and bring over forms for him to complete. Several times, same forms. Tried to help him fill them out right there in front of the station. Told him about resources. The firefighter friend said my dad would always say, “I’m working on it!” when asked about the man who wandered around town, obviously needing services but not trusting anyone to help him.

I was so proud to hear this story. But it didn’t really surprise me. My dad was the kind of man who would stop on the side of the road to fix someone’s flat or run into a neighbor’s burning stable to get horses to safety.

But hearing the story did make me feel closer to him. Because my husband and son and I, every fall, put together a warm blanket and pajama drive for the homeless folks who stay in Denver shelters as winter moves in. It’s gotten really big over the years, and it’s something we look forward to all year. Last year, we collected nearly a thousand blankets alone. Now, knowing my dad had a soft spot for a homeless vet in my hometown … makes what we do even more meaningful.

I’m sure we had other things in common, too. The love of animals. A strong work ethic. Good books. Credence Clearwater Revival. Stubbornness when pushed.

But the next time I’m home, I just may try to find that homeless man. Maybe I could at least bring him a home-cooked meal or some clean clothes.

I don’t think my dad would shake his head at that.

photo 1

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

One of the Lucky Ones

sleetintexasI wrote this for my mom’s birthday and am a day late in posting. I have a kick-ass Texas mom. What’s yours like?

100-Percent Chance of … Mom

The clouds were already gathering that morning, hanging low and moody in the South Texas sky. As we sat around the breakfast table before school, we listened to the weather forecaster out of San Antonio, broadcasting on our rural, small-town radio station. He was predicting sleet overnight — a rare thing in our part of the state, even for January.

A possibility of sleet or a bona fide ice storm was exciting, I had to admit. But even more so was the fact that the first game of our junior high girls’ basketball tournament was set to begin that evening in a town about 50 miles from ours.

The tournament was a big deal. We were dominating this season, and if we could win this first game against our toughest competitor, we’d likely win the whole tournament. We’d solidify our rank as the best in the region. There was even a pep rally planned for us that afternoon. (A pep rally for any type of girls’ sport in Texas in the 1980s was a reason to check to make sure you hadn’t been abducted by aliens and placed in an alternate universe.)

Basketball, though, hadn’t always been important to me. In fact, this was only the first year I’d played.

Let’s just say I wasn’t known for my athleticism. I was not lean and mean. I fell more in the chubby and uncoordinated camp. I was a full-on, straight-A, teacher’s-pet nerd. Spelling bee champ, science competition winner. Trying out for the basketball team had been my way of trying to break out of that mold. I wanted to fit in with the cool kids for once. I wanted to wear those sweet uniforms and high-top sneakers.

And it was working. I not only made the team, I was a starter on defense. (Turns out, you really only need height and brains to play some positions in life.) The cheerleaders even knew my nickname: “Special K.” (The positive connotation of special, not the other one. I think.)

I was living the dream, as much as you can when you’re 13.

And then came that game day.

The predicted cold front slipped right through the county, dropping temperatures into the mid-30s by noon. It was raining buckets when I reported to the gym after school to meet up with the rest of the team. As we waited for the school bus that would take us to the game, we huddled together, giggling like even cool, athletic girls do, excited about the game, jumping up and down to stay warm in our official team sweatshirts.

That’s when I saw her. She was marching toward us, small red umbrella overhead. Dark, thick hair to her shoulders. Sunglasses on, even in the gray. Her camel-colored long coat pulled tightly around her curves and whipping around her knees. Her car keys still in one hand. Her lips pressed into a painted-on, don’t-mess-with-me smile. She looked like a force even a 50 mile-per-hour northern wind couldn’t reckon with.

My stomach dropped. I knew that look well. She was determined to do battle of some kind, and I understood by then it had everything to do with me.

She walked up to our coach, who was looking down, checking things off on a clipboard. Poor innocent soul.

My mother began to explain, politely at first, that under no condition would her daughter — the one trying desperately to shrink into the shadows — go anywhere on a run-down, hick-town, bald-tired, rat-trap of a school bus when the back country roads we’d be traveling would most certainly be a sheet of ice within an hour or two.

We heard the coach attempt to reassure her that all would be well. That the school district and the tournament managers agreed there was no reason to cancel the game. That she was, perhaps, overreacting.

She took that coach down with just a few quick, choice words. Then she walked over and pointed me in the direction of her faded maroon Lincoln town car, parked right where the aforementioned bus would soon be.

The unfairness of it all was incomprehensible to me. Everyone else was getting to go!

As we drove away, I saw my teammates nudging each other. I was sure they now considered me an overprotected baby, not cut out for the tough life of an athlete. With a mother who was quite possibly a hair shy of crazy.

That evening, I ate Mom’s warm grilled cheese sandwiches and beef stew in silence. And then I watched the sleet begin to come down. I watched the county road in front of our house turn into a skating rink. Conditions got treacherous in a hurry.

Luckily, my team made it home safely, although it had taken three hours to go those 50 miles home after the game. We’d won, and we would end up advancing and winning the tournament. I played in the rest of the tournament, but not as a starter. The coach made me run additional laps in practice on Monday for letting down my team, as if I’d had a choice in the matter. My teammates made fun of me often and for the rest of the season.

Back then, I’d wished she could just be like all the other moms, who didn’t seem to mind that their kids were heading out onto slick roads. I’d wished that she hadn’t made a scene. But now, I’m a mama myself.

Now I see I was the lucky one.

Some parents might have simply taken the school district’s word for it all, bowed down to authorities who are perceived to know more than we as parents do. But my mother has never been one to let others make decisions for her or to automatically assume people in positions of power can’t be challenged. She’d done her own research that day. She knew she was right, and nothing was going to stand in her way when it came to keeping me safe.

That day and so many times since, she has taught me that sometimes it takes courage to be a parent in ways no one tells you about. That it’s not okay for someone else to put my son in danger, and that I have every right to step in and protect him. It’s something one particular school administrator has already learned about me after seeing no reason to keep the back door to the after-school care classroom locked in the evenings before parent pickup.

Even though I’m at the age she was when I was in junior high, I remain so thankful that I still have my mom on my side. Because I know, even though she’s in her early 70s now, she’ll fight for me, always willing to hand out another dose of her take-charge-now, ask-for-forgiveness-later attitude if I need it.

And besides, I’m pretty sure there may still be some icy roads in my forecast.

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.

Which Novel Should You Read First? Take the Quiz

The infographic craze is, well, crazy. I think it’s safe to say that I’m about as tired of infographics as I am the #IceBucketChallenge.

And yet …

Let me know your result of this quiz, would ya? I’ll psychologically analyze you later.

infographic

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

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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.