Which Novel You Should 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

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.

 

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

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.

 

Losing Your Hair Sucks Worse Than My Six-Year-Old Walmart Vacuum

mama triedHere’s something I’ve learned in the past two weeks: When your body suffers through a brutal illness and you nearly die, your hair can decide, weeks later, to give up the ship, too. And while I am super-thrilled to be alive and all,* I’m a little bummed to be dealing with rapid (and I mean as rapid as a cat with its tail on fire) hair loss.

It began about two weeks ago. I woke up in the morning to find my Snoopy pillow (don’t judge) covered in strands of hair. As in hundreds of strands of hair. As in horror-movie, something-has-gone-horribly-wrong strands of hair.

After my first reaction that involved the word, “mother” followed by one that rhymes with “trucker,” I decided it was surely a one-time kind of thing. Maybe a reaction to a new shampoo? A new medication? Karma for saying that one (tiny, rarely ever happens) mean thing to my husband last week?

But sadly, by the end of that day, I was literally holding huge clumps of my hair in my hands every time I touched my head. There may have been audible whimpering.

Can I mention right now that when you hail from the Land of Big Texas Hair, this is a High-Alert Crisis Situation?

You see, my hair is the one beauty trait I could always count on. I may have been ass-ugly at times from the neck up, or fatter than a Lone Star tick on a cow dog from the neck down, but hey, I had good hair. Healthy, shiny, dark hair, just like my mama. It didn’t frizz, even in Houston in June. It didn’t need straightening or perming (at least not since the 1980s). I hadn’t even thought about coloring any gray yet. It was damn good hair, people.

But now, after only two weeks, there’s not a lot of it left. I have actual bald spots. I have a legit comb-over. (Daddy, I understand now.)

The only options I have these days, since it’s too thin to be styled in any way, shape or form, are to push it all back with a headband like I used to when I was 12 and in love with Scott Baio, or wear a ball cap or beanie ski hat. All the time.

Luckily, the ball cap/ski hat thing works well enough in Colorado; women wear them everywhere here. And by everywhere I mean Target, REI and bike trails. (Headbands work better for the office, though, since a “Mama Tried,” stained cap doesn’t go that well with black palazzo pants and a fancy blouse.**)

I’m working with my doctor to turn this hair loss thing around, but she said it could take months for things to rebound. In the meantime, I’m going to try to picture myself as I remember my Granny when she’d wear her old faded John Deere cap, out in the sun, working cattle or planting okra: One tough broad you didn’t want to mess with before she had her second cup of straight-up black coffee.

Also, at this point in time, I’d like to apologize in writing to every one of my friends who has ever had to go through chemo. Remember how I used to advise you not to worry about losing your hair? How I said it was just hair?

I was wrong and you can slap me next time you see my balding head.

 

* Thank you, Little Baby Jesus.
** Who am I kidding? I wear jeans and boots to work most days.

 

PS:  Are you offended by the word, “sucks?” Don’t be! Here’s why.

 

Meanwhile, over at BathwaterBlogs …

Did you know I also blog over at the fabulous Bathwather Blogs? It’s parenting-focused, and there are some funny and smart folks writing over there, all of us dealing with parenting in unique ways.

Here are some of my latest posts from that gig. Follow Bathwater Blogs on Facebook to be in the know in the future, too.

Mom, in denial

The day I didn’t give a damn

Confessions of a so-not-a-soccer-mom

Mama bear learns a lesson (again)

Traditional Thanksgiving dinner? Don’t get your feathers in a ruffle

Hope everyone is having a helluva week. It’s snowing here, but it was beautiful this weekend. Our bad dog, Trouble, agreed.

golden retriever, male

 

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.

My Favorite Reads of 2013

———————promotional note——————–

Not sure how to avoid plagiarism? Use Grammarly because while orange may be the new black, nobody looks good in it.

—————————————————————–

Before pneumonia took me down in December, I would consider 2013 a banner reading year for me. Mostly because, perhaps unfortunately, I wasn’t writing much fiction myself. Which is just fine. Because sometimes writers need to spend a long time soaking up the words others have written to get back to the reason we write in the first place.

I didn’t keep track, but I’m sure I read at least 100 books — some fiction, some nonfiction. And here are five of my favorites.

1. Tenth of December by George Saunders. This collection of short stories is literary perfection. Every word, every phrase, every sentence, every character, and every story seems to have meaning far beyond the first that comes to mind. It’s definitely a thinker’s story collection and not for anyone who wants a light, airy read. It’s honest and brutal and moving, and it’s one of those books that stays with you long after you’ve read it. It’s oh so good. It’s one I will buy in hardcover after having read it twice on my Kindle. This should be required reading for all writers of fiction. Maybe all writers in general. Maybe all readers.

2. Great Colorado Bear Stories by Laura Pritchett. I’ve been a fan of Laura’s since her first collection of short stories, Hell’s Bottom, Colorado. And I’m also very interested in bears, since I have lived among them in the Colorado mountains for 12 years now. But I think anyone who is curious about wildlife, and the interaction between humans and wildlife, will enjoy it. The book is full of nonfiction research and first-hand accounts of bear encounters. It’s written in a way that engages and makes what could be a dry topic instead a book I couldn’t put down. If you like Craig Childs’ work, you’ll enjoy this book.

3. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III. Another fiction collection, this one touted as “four not-quite-novella-length stories.” I absolutely loved these stories, all of them about relationships and people who are on the cusp of something. The stories hurl you into the characters’ minds so completely that you truly care about them, even with all their flaws, and, in comparison to Saunders’ work, you don’t even think about the words or language used. You just HAVE to know what happens to these people. (However, the writing is near brilliant, too.) I’d love to see any of these stories made into a full novel. If you liked House of Sand and Fog by Dubus, you’ll enjoy this collection.

4. Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto. This was a fun, nonfiction keeper. It’s from the woman who cofounded the humor blog, Texts From Last Night, while she was in law school. But the book grew out of her other blog (no longer up, I don’t think) called Book Porn. This book is hilarious, particularly for college English majors and all-around book nerds like me. Here’s how the publisher described it, and I agree: “… [It’s] like a literary Sh*t My Dad Says—an unrelentingly witty and delightfully irreverent guide to the intricate world of passionate literary debate, at once skewering and celebrating great writers, from Dostoevsky to Ayn Rand to Jonathan Franzen, and all the people who read them.”

5. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh. Another blogger turned book-writer, Brosh got her book deal based on her blog, Hyperbole and a Half. So be sure to check out the blog to see if you can handle her type of writing, which is a hybrid form of words and illustrations and more words. But mostly, it’s hilarious. And insightful. And true. Not just to her life, but probably to your own. My favorite chapters were the ones where she delves into the minds of her dogs (so funny!) and the ones where she describes depression for those who have never experienced it (spot on.)

What was your favorite read of 2013?