A quote from Rachel Carson on Earth Day


“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” – Rachel Carson, Silent Spring


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The Mess (Political Animals: a 21st Century Love Story, part 2)

This is fiction, fiction, I tell you, a love story. Another adventure for Kristin and Adam (from “Political Animals”).

The beginning of the mess.

The beginning of the mess.

Kristin squinted up at the sun. It was hot and her legs were tired, but she was in New Mexico, hiking with Adam, and the day was good.

Adam handed her his scratched plastic water bottle, covered in political stickers, the blue strap patched with duct tape. She took it gratefully, dousing her parched lips with water the temperature of breakfast oatmeal, as the bottle had nestled in Adam’s day pack all morning. She gagged, but drank anyway.

“How far do you think we’ve walked?” Adam asked, smiling at her from his perch, leaning back on his ankles tucked under his folded legs.

“About six miles, and we have about a half mile more, I would guess,” Kristin wrinkled her nose. “Don’t you think this hike is much harder compared to the distance?”

“Yes, definitely. Two days ago we hiked 15 miles easily, but today feels like my first day at any altitude,” Adam sighed.

Kristin, still standing, ruffled his brown mop of hair and then quickly tightened her own ponytail, even though pulling away was the exact opposite of what she wanted to do. It was the ninth day of their two-week road trip through the southwest and she thought back to the whirlwind events of the last two months. After seventeen years as friends, mostly across the distance of continents, they were finally in the same place and within inches of each other.

Two months ago she was reading Emma in the midst of a stifling June day in her Denver apartment. Adam had sent her an instant message that very day. He was a dear old friend, whom she had met when they both spent a semester of college at the University of Idaho, each visiting from other schools.They had quickly become close friends, discovering a mutual love of politics and activism, but college graduation had thrust them into different locales and vocations. Kristin taught first grade in an inner city school in Denver, working on local and state campaigns in her spare time. Adam worked in business development and alternative energy in Asia, also with a side career in politics, mostly writing articles and op-eds since he had lived abroad. They had followed each other’s lives with the devotedness of close friends, but with the perspective of long-distance, watching jobs, significant others, and passions change and stay steady over the years.

The ping of Adam’s instant message had been shocking, after a couple of years of rare and brief e-mail missives. Several hours of instant messaging on that hot summer night occurred in swift and significant updates in each other’s lives: both were single and pondering big changes in career and life direction. They made plans to spend their shared birthday together, when Adam would be coming to town for a job interview and a month’s vacation in the west after years of living overseas.

In the following weeks they planned a road trip of hiking and camping through New Mexico and Utah so Kristin could share her “beloved Southwest.” The route was planned so they could tremble together in the rocky footsteps of Edward Abbey.

“Kristin, Kristin! Are you here?” Adam lightly tapped her shoulder.

Kristin shook herself out of her reverie. “Sorry. I was just dazing. I first hiked this trail the summer after college. My dad was living in Grants and I stayed with him while I interviewed for teaching jobs in Albuquerque. I went for runs in the morning, midday interviews, and hikes in the late afternoon. This is the only place I’ve ever gotten lost. The rock cairns along the trail weren’t so well-marked and I lost my way at sunset. I had to turn and try to find the road and then walked in the dark slowly back to the trailhead parking lot. It was three hours of anguish, but it’s still one of my favorite places to go. I haven’t been here in at least 10 years.”

“I love that a hike where you got lost is one of your favorites. Do you know if Abbey was ever here?” Adam grinned his lopsided grin as he stood up and stretched.

Soon they were walking side-by-side on the rocky trail formed by old volcano lava, referred to in the area as malpais, or bad lands.

“Well, Ed was definitely a wanderer and spent lots of time hiking and camping all over the west. I don’t think he ever referred to this spot specifically, but he went to school in Albuquerque, so I like to think he found this spot while getting his master’s at UNM. Who knows? Isn’t is great, though?” Kristin realized she was speaking in the high-pitched voice that squeaked out when she was very excited. Adam seemed thrilled and amused by her excitement.

The last half mile they sped through quickly and soon they found themselves back at her rusted, but sturdy station wagon.

“So, what do you think about dinner and where shall we camp?” Adam opened the passenger door, slid in, and reached for the lever on the driver’s side. Kristin quickly adjusted the seat, pulling it in from Adam’s over-six-feet driving stance. Kristin looked sideways at Adam as he pushed the passenger seat all the way back and giggled.

“Well, what about a night sleeping inside? We could both do with a shower and some laundry time,” Kristin reached for the mason jar of peanuts from the back seat and took a handful. “I also know a really good Mexican restaurant in Grants and a hole-in-the-wall motel there, too.”

Adam clapped his hands. “That sounds perfect! Let’s go!”

Kristin nosed the faded red wagon out of the parking lot and back on the highway, her hiking boots pressing on the gas, but never speeding. She took gas mileage and speed limits seriously, while other rules she was not as religious about following. Despite her speed, or lack thereof, soon they checked into the motel, a thick adobe 50s landmark of the Old Route 66 which passed through town.

“This place is awesome! Just enough kitsch to be cool,” Adam looked approvingly at their room.

Kristin flopped down on one of the beds after tossing her large backpack on the luggage rack. “You take a shower first. I’m going to take a quick nap. Then I’ll be fast and we’ll have a really good New Mexico dinner, fit for a Maine man who lives in Hong Kong.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Adam snapped off a mock-salute before digging in his pack for his cleanest t-shirt and a pair of jeans he had stashed in the trunk, but hadn’t worn.

Kristin heard the rush of water from the adjoining bathroom, closed her eyes and returned to her reverie. The last two weeks had been like a dream. Adam had flown in from Hong Kong for a job interview in Denver, convenient for his planned vacation in the western states. He had been adamant that they spend their birthday together, July 4, along with a road trip. Back in 1996 in the midst of piles of snow and freezing temperatures they had planned a similar trip that had never taken place. Adam had been clear, this time, that he was spending his vacation with her. She had the summer off as a teacher, and would not return to school until after Adam flew back to Hong Kong. Kristin had jumped at the chance to spend so much time with her friend, but her heart and mind were a confused, jumbled knot of feelings.

Kristin and Adam were both single, and on the same continent, even same town, for the first time in a decade. She thought back to when they met in Idaho. She remembered the long, cold snowy winter in Boise and the beautiful, crisp spring that followed. They had been practically inseparable, talking politics and dreams, and everything else in between. A firm friendship was built, she did not remember being attracted to him until later. Over the years, while their friendship had stayed firmly in the platonic field, she would fantasize about the possibility of romance, especially in between boyfriends or when she was particularly lonely. He had been the miles away fantasy of someone who understood her perfectly. It had never seemed a real possibility, while she lived with David and dated others through the years. His years-long steady had been Ellen, a woman Kristin had learned to love as Adam’s significant other. Kristin convinced herself she was shocked when Adam told her he had broken up with Ellen, now married to someone else. Kristin knew deep down that she loved Adam as a lot more than as a friend.

Their wanderings through Utah and New Mexico had only cemented her feelings. After years apart, they quickly fell into the day-to-day familiarity, one that she had missed. Their conversations were as long and as free-flowing as back in college. They talked of politics, religion, careers, world affairs, mutual friends, books, dreams, and the transitions they were considering. They punctuated each other’s remarks with jokes, quiet ribbing, and comfortable silence, giving each other the time and space to respond, ask questions, probe, and challenge each other to get to their deepest, most honest selves.

As the days in their vacation flew by, as wonderful as it was, Kristin’s discomfort grew. Adam, who knew her best, did not know her secret. How could she keep it from him? She did not want to wager at his response, terrified of ruining the friendship with him, but frustrated at her inability to own up to her feelings. How could she be dishonest with herself and him, the person she knew best?

She closed her eyes, blew out a sigh of air, blowing her sweaty bangs off of her forehead. She heard the shower pipes squeak as the water shut off. “I’m running out of time,” she whispered to herself. She bounced off the bed as if movement would erase her thoughts, rustling in her backpack for the sundress she had crammed into a plastic ziptop bag stuffed at the bottom of her pack.

Adam opened the bathroom door and a cloud of steam floated into the room. Kristin jumped, butterflies flitting around in her stomach. Adam walked out, his dark hair dripping on his neck, the grey t-shirt contrasting with his olive skin. He smiled, as if choosing his best crooked smile just for her.

“Did you rest? That shower was heavenly,” Adam leaned down to grab boating sandals from his pack, propped against the far wall.

Kristin smiled back, nodding and darting into the bathroom. She felt silly, her discomfort with Adam felt awkward and unfamiliar. She used the skimpy motel towel to wipe away the steam from the mirror. She unraveled her ponytail, staring into the mirror, wisps of brown hair falling around her shoulders. Kristin felt excitement dilating the pupils of her hazel eyes. Her skin looked tanned with hints of sunburn, from her perpetual forgetfulness for the use of sunscreen that Adam gently scolded her about daily. The smile lines at the outside of her eyes were deeper than the last time she looked, from perpetual squinting in the sun and days of laughing, singing, and learning with her first graders. She blamed the worry mark between her brows on her political work. “No campaigns this fall,” she whispered to herself, not because of her vanity, but because she needed a break.

She reached for the ancient-but-not-antique tub faucet, testing for the cold water. She hated hot showers, even on freezing days, and was pleased that Adam has used up the hot water, even in his short, five-minute shower. No chance for scalding here, she snorted. She showered quickly, working fast to scrub, before turning off the faucet to shave her legs. Why the effort after nine-and-a-half days of dust, hiking sweat, and camping grime? They had stopped in Moab on the first day, days ago, but that was miles away, buried under the adventures of walks in Utah’s red rock country. She had forgotten about looks and smells. Despite squashing her feelings deep into the backpack of her heart, she felt completely comfortable in her skin with Adam.

“Don’t be silly. It’s Adam. Just tell him. If he doesn’t feel the same, it will be okay. Honestly. Neither of you are attached to anyone. Be brave. Be honest, Kristin!” She gave herself one last cold water shiver and then abruptly shut off the water. The shabby towel barely covered part of her healthy, muscular frame, but she would be dry soon enough in the hot, arid New Mexico air. She let her  dark hair hang loose after quickly brushing through the thick mass. Kristin slipped into the red sundress, the last unworn and clean garment in her backpack, the wrinkles quickly shaken out of the modern travel fabric. She stabbed silver hoops into her ears and fastened her grandmother’s silver and turquoise necklace around her freckled neck. The hammered silver cuff that she had bought in Santa Fe, she slipped on her left wrist. She buckled the grey rubber strap of her running watch around her right arm. She smeared on a finger of lip balm from the tiny yellow and white jar she always carried in her pocket. No more grooming supplies to delay the inevitable, she opened the door, struggling with the ill-fitting door in the frame.

Adam looked up from Kristin’s copy of The Brave Cowboy. “Wow! You don’t look like you’ve been camping for days!” he stutters. “I mean, you look great!”

“Thanks!” Kristin’s heart jumped into her throat at the sign of Adam’s awkwardness.

“Ready for dinner, K? I’m starved,” Adam quickly returned to normal.

Their strides matched, hands brushing as Adam opened the door. Kristin’s stomach butterflies and galloping heart barely stayed inside her body as she squeezed her palms together in prayer, eyes closed briefly. Adam did not seem to notice, his quick lopsided gait already five steps ahead of her before he turned, smiled, and waited.

She caught up, matching him stride for crooked stride. She stuttered with no words on her tongue, but he faced the restaurant’s huge iron gate on the front door, a few stores down from the motel. While a party of seven stumbled out of the door, Kristin and Adam tiptoed into the old dive restaurant. Ice cold air conditioning blasts. Kristin shivered, relishing the cold, while mentally chastising the owner for having air conditioning instead of energy-efficient fans. The waitress steered them to a corner booth, handing them cloudy plastic-laminated menus. They sat, away from the long, loud table of a family, happily celebrating a birthday. Except for the birthday celebration and a couple who paid their bill, Kristin and Adam were the only ones in the restaurant. It was a late summer weeknight in the quiet New Mexico former boom town.

Adam nibbled at chips and salsa. Kristin stared at her menu, even though she knew exactly what she wanted to get.

“Are you ready to order, darlin’?” the waitress asked in a throaty voice, sounding like a jazz singer. Kristin made up a story in her head about the waitress and her basement recording studio, while Adam ordered cheese enchiladas with green chile. Kristin waited for the waitress’s friendly nod in her direction and then squeaked out her own order of a stuffed sopaipilla, also with green chile.

“Did you know that New Mexico has a state question, ‘Red or green?’ indicating the most important decision, not who to vote for, not what you believe in, but what type of chile you eat,” Kristin smiled.

Adam’s face lit up. “I absolutely love that. It gets to the heart of a place, and to the very basic and most important. How we eat.”

Kristin asked the waitress for an order of sopaipillas for dessert and snapped the menu shut, even though she had not looked at it.

“What’s been your favorite, so far, on our trip?” Adam asked.

Kristin paused. “The absolute whole thing. I’m so glad we have had all this time. What about you? Kristin threw the conversation ball back to him, unsure how she could begin the difficult topic of her heart.

“That the lands you’ve long described in letters and e-mails and raved about in phone calls have come alive to me. Abbey has nothing on you in description and passion. Remember when we were messaging at the beginning of the summer and you talked about wanting to return to your dream of writing? You should write about this. This magical place you know so well,” Adam looked at her, his eyes smiling.

He grabbed her hand for a moment and dropped it to reach for another chip and dipped it into the bright red salsa. Kristin opened her mouth to speak, but the waitress clattered to the table with another basket of chips and small bowl of salsa. The red salsa reminded her of blood and her beating heart.

“Adam, this has been like a dream trip, but I have to tell you something,” Kristin’s voice cracked.

Adam glanced at her, his warm brown eyes showing concern. He did not say a word, but a million thoughts passed between them in what feels like an hour, but was really only a second or less.

A dish shattered and a child screamed from the birthday table. The waitress darted over with a broom, a woman picked up the toddler gently rocking and soothing. Kristin longed for her heart to be soothed and healed like the hurts of a three-year-old. She stared up at Adam, his eyes still wide open with worry.

“We are 38 and I have realized something. I’m tired of living in dreams. I want to do things, instead of thinking about them. That includes writing, like you talked about. I’m starting massage school in September. I will go at night, but I will still teach first grade. I have an article written that I submitted to a magazine before we left for this trip. I don’t know if it will get published, but I am proud that I finally stood up and tried. There’s another part of my life where I need to be brave and honest, though.”

She nervously twisted the silver bracelet on her wrist and bit her lip. At that moment, the swinging door between the kitchen and dining area opened and their waitress, in what seemed like Olympic-sprint-speed to Kristin, gracefully glided over to the table with two large plates of food, steam rising like circles of smoke from a campfire.

Adam, with the hunger of a wolf after a long winter, ripped open his napkin-knotted bundle of silverware and shoveled a forkful of cheese and tortilla into his mouth. He looked up at her sheepishly. Kristin lost her balance and resolve to speak, focused instead on her napkin and the pile of food in front of her. She took a bite, the scalding cheese burning the roof of her mouth. Jaw locked, unable to speak, she swallowed the bite. Her esophagus melted, she was sure, and she choked.

Adam reached over and slid her glass of water closer, “Are you okay? Is it too hot?”

Kristin’s eyes watered, the choking continued. She gasped, taking a large mouthful of water. She swallowed. Airway cleared, she let out a big sigh. “Sorry. I got too excited, I guess.”

“You were about to say something and then I rudely interrupted you with my big gulp of food,” Adam’s eyes twinkled at her. “Bravery and honesty,” he prompted her.

She blew the bangs off her forehead again. He reached over and smoothed the worry line between her eyebrows.

“What is it? It’s just me,” he whispered. She thought he whispered, but the tone and volume were normal. He spoke above the din of the clatter of the kitchen and over the hum of the family at the other table picking up the remnants of dinner leftovers and birthday presents, their evening revelry complete.

Kristin blurted, “Adam, I love you. I have for years. But now it’s real.” The world came to a halt. No sound, no movement, no light. Kristin couldn’t feel her body, only her heart huge and beating in her throat, in her temples, in her stomach. She looked down at the table and focused on the faded crack on the bright white plate holding her dinner. She wiped her palms on her sundress, but the world appeared in black and white. Slow motion.

She looked up at Adam and color returned to the world. She saw the grey of his t-shirt and the blue of his faded jeans. She squinted down at the table, seeing the bright red of the salsa, the cobalt blue napkins. She felt warmth and saw his hands grasp hers.

“Oh, Kristin. I think it’s always been you.”

“But you didn’t say anything,” her own voice low and barely above a whisper.

“Neither did you. I figured we’d get past the layers of politics and see if we could regain our magic of being in each other’s company after all these years.”

“Yes, that’s it. The magic,” she croaked, her heart still beating in her throat.

“Well, yeah, but also the magic of daily humdrum. I got the job. I’m moving to Denver if that’s okay with you.”

Kristin looked up at Adam’s crooked grin. “You mean we can have day-to-day-life, not just sporadic e-mails, phone calls, and instant messages. Honesty and bravery are messy. People are messy. Hearts are messy. Love and life are messy.”

“Yeah, it’s going to be messy and different and chaotic. Vacations and faraway fantasy are fun, but I want the challenge of household chores. The monotony of work and sleep and breakfast. I want late-night chats, and even early-morning arguments,” Adam’s voice cracked.

“Are you ready for the mess?” Kristin asked.

Adam reached over and grasped her hand. “Absolutely, I’m ready for the mess.”

They looked up, ear-splitting grins cracking open their hearts and faces.

Adam chuckled.

Kristin leaned back and let out a full-body cackle.”Let the mess begin.”



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From under the snow


There are dear friends, flesh-and-blood friends, old friends, new friends, Facebook friends, and blog friends. Yes, I have a blog friend from Norway. Jan has a great photo blog and lovely, lovely pictures. Link here for a couple of Norwegian peeps of spring: http://jnergard.wordpress.com/

Originally posted on Jan's bulletin board:

The forest has preserved its beauty
Forest in early spring (photo: Jan Nergård)

Forest in early spring (photo: Jan Nergård)

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Leading the Heart Home


“You wanna give up ’cause it’s dark
We’re really not that far apart
So let your heart, sweet heart
Be your compass when you’re lost
And you should follow it wherever it may go
When it’s all said and done
You can walk instead of run
‘Cause no matter what you’ll never be alone (never be alone) oh oh oh
Never be alone oh oh oh”
-lyrics to “Compass” by Lady Antebellum

Home may be the place where you hang your hat, or kick off your shoes, or greet the day. For some, home is the house where you live. For others, home is where family is. Home can be an activity that sets you right. Home may be the times when you breathe and feel fully yourself. Home may be the moment of calm in prayer. Home is many things, many places, many ideas, but we all know when we feel at home.

I have many people, places, ideas, and activities that can bring me home. One that rises most fully into the moon of home is the small hamlet of Springer, New Mexico. I was not born here. I do not have extensive branches of the family tree here. I lived here for only six years in a life of more than thirty, but this place is home. I think I could find it walking blind-folded from Alaska. There is something about this place and about my time here. Perhaps, because my formative years (junior high and high school) were spent here, I call it home, but it is much more than that. Despite the fact that I consider it home, I have not lived here in more than twenty years. My mother moved to Raton (35 miles north) a few years after I graduated from high school, so even trips to visit her do not include spending the night in my hometown.

The last time I spent the night here was two and a half years ago when a dear friend died and I came home to meet several friends to say goodbye. We sat in the church pews, huddled together in a pack. Then we spent the weekend laughing and crying and remembering. We built up the memories into a collective fortress of grief.

A couple of weeks ago, Springer and good friends were calling me home. I had planned to make the five-hour drive from northern Colorado to northern New Mexico several times over the last several months. Somehow work, finances, time, weather, and a myriad of other reasons (excuses?) made the trip elusive. Until that weekend. Perhaps the delay helped to set me into appreciation, because I savored it with every fiber of my being. I made plans to meet my friend J., who after unfortunate circumstances has found himself back at home in Springer. In a small town, in a region with a shrinking population and struggling economy, this can be difficult in the best of times. J., if nothing else, has a big heart, but I could tell he has been feeling discouraged from some of his Facebook posts. Knowing that status updates are no way to truly stay in touch, I sent him an e-mail and we arranged to meet for breakfast. I called him early on Saturday morning from my mom’s house in Raton, and then wound my way down the highway and felt my heart beating faster as I entered the town limits. I was home, albeit with Colorado tabs on my car. I drove up the old familiar hill (where we used to run hill repeats for track practice) and turned into the driveway of J.’s house. I had a care package for him. A couple of weeks before my visit, I asked J. what he would want in a care package. He chimed back with an instant message that he had never received one. I told him to think hard about what he would like to receive. A couple of days later, he responded with a short list of junk foods. I obliged his cravings, picking up things at the grocery store on my way out of town.

J. showed me his house and then we drove down the hill to eat breakfast at Elida’s, my favorite haunt. It was busy for a spring Saturday morning. We sat and talked and ate scrumptious breakfast sprinkled with the Northern New Mexican flavor that I miss and only seem to recreate in memories. There’s something to breaking bread with an old friend, it helps to break the ice and bring on the old familiarity that gets lost over the years. I saw another old friend, N. who makes breakfast like nobody’s business and runs the restaurant. He was working and I was running around, so our visit was too short. I ran into the lovely old gentleman who remembered me from high school track. I got a hug, with a quick catch-up, and I marveled at the quiet generosity of a man who has volunteered his time to high school athletics (on the chain gang for the football team and as one of the starters and track officiates) in our quiet small town. Calories consumed, J. and I took a drive, reminding me of high school and the “cruise” down the main part of town. We drove on familiar streets, talking with small punctuations of silence along the way, filling in some of the gaps of twenty years. As we gathered our stories, we spun the car north, past old homes and old paths, and headed out-of-town. I could make my measurements with the perspective of memories. Our stomachs full, our stories traded, J. and I made our goodbyes at his front gate. He went in for Saturday chores and to check in on his parents, while I drove back down the hill for lunch and a mini-class reunion. We promised to see each other again soon and I look forward to the visit.

I made a couple more loops through town, stopping at the cemetery to see the graves of friends and friends’ loved ones, before meeting M. and D. and their families at the Dairy Delite. The Dairy Delite is a local institution and the ladies that run the restaurant are as well-loved as their tacos and ice cream. They close down in late fall and it is a rite of spring when they open up again in March. I happened to visit during the first weekend of spring opening and they were doing a busy and brisk business. Earlier, when I had made plans to come and see D. and her boys for that weekend, she saw that our classmate and friend M. was in town with her family to visit her parents for spring break. D. coordinated a lunchtime reunion. I pulled in, just as M. and her sweet family were piling out of their van. I spotted her and her magnificent red hair as if it had been days, rather than twenty years, since we had seen each other. We hugged and squealed and went in to find D., ever the mother and planner, already her two and half month old in his car seat was doing his tabletop duty to save our dining space. There was chaos as we arrived in the midst of the first Saturday lunch rush. I hung back, for a bit just watching and marveling at my two beautiful high school friends and their families. While my spiritual and emotional connections to Springer seem strong, I often feel like my ties are invisible or tenuous. That day, though, I made the rounds at the restaurant like a politician, glad-handing and hugging several folks who were also there for the spring opening of “The Dairy,” relieved that some of those ties are still there.

We settled in at a big table and chatted and laughed and ate and tried to catch up on twenty years. We gossiped about ourselves in high school, in college, in our twenties, and thirties. We talked jobs, marriages, motherhood, family, friends, and all the rest. It felt like being in a tribe, one that I was happy to join. Both D. and M. are good mothers, strong in their faith and belief, determined to raise kids with goodness who are equally strong in their faith. I marveled at the art of my friends and their motherhood. We spent three hours, yes three!, holding court at the table. I cuddled D.’s baby and made friends with M.’s four-year old daughter. Just because I do not have kids at home, does not mean that I do not want to love and cuddle with my friends’ kids. I kind of missed my chance to be an aunt. My older sister had kids when I was in high school and college, and I was not mature enough, nor close in distance to help out and be a proper aunt. Most of my college friends who have kids are far away, so I have to wrestle these moments with the younger generation when I can.

The thing about a three-hour reunion is, it only whets the palate for more. It makes you realize that strong bonds can be strengthened and people whom you love will always be people you love. Friendships can be renewed, but they can also be broken and wilting. We have to nurture our hearts, as well as our relationships, and find that they are ever-changing. Miles and obligations can move us apart, but there are ways to challenge the distance. I think, in the mathematics of the bonds of people, the shortest point between two hearts is friendship and love. We grew up together, ate lunch together, played sports together, solved algebra problems together, went to student council meetings together, walked together around the small high school before the first bell rang, cried and giggled over crushes together. The women that we are today were created by those girls that we were then.

After three hours, it was time for M., her sweet and devoted husband, and their charming brood to make the drive back to Texas. We hugged and said goodbye, her children politely nodding and waving, and they were gone in a flurry of van doors slamming and the sprinkle of gravel under the wheels as they turned onto the highway. D. invited me back to her house and we loaded up, me following in my car, to take the 25-mile drive to her home in the neighboring small town of Cimarron.

The clouds and wind and a bit of rain changed the day from a sunny morning to a dark, overcast afternoon, all the better for curling up on the couch with the baby. D.’s husband was sick, so her older boys did a bit of nursing their dad, interspersed with bouts of reading books and playing board games, while we girls took charge of the cozy living room, a hot fire crackling in the fireplace. I got my fix of baby-love, cooing and rocking and holding, and D. and I caught up with the latest details. After years of being out of touch, she and I have had a few marathon sessions of girl talk in the last two and a half years, and now, more than even in our high school years, we are the type of friends who can talk about anything and everything. We talk faith, family, finances, careers, politics. We talk about where we have been, where we are, and where we would like to be in all matters. We may not always agree with each other, but we give each other the space and grace for that. I know that she helps me to understand a different viewpoint, and I hope that I can do that for her as well. Sometimes, despite our different ideas, we end up reaching the same conclusions. I marvel at how a friendship, rocky during parts of junior high and high school until our senior year, is rooted with history, but sprouts in a new light, a much stronger bond. She is a soul sister.

As easy as it is to catch up over a meal or an afternoon visit, those same ties will not strengthen without time and love. I know that if I want to pursue these friendships, I have to give it time and I have to realize that it may come in fits and starts. In the last few years, I have become familiar with loss as dear friends and family members die and some bonds do not renew as easily. When you find the people whom you love and admire, it is important to find the time and opportunity to be with them. Just like muscles atrophy without exercise, friendships can wither and fade away. Our people need us and we need them. I plan on more trips to New Mexico and perhaps a road trip to Texas soon.

Who are the people, what are the places, that become home for you? Find them and nurture them. We need to go home to the people and places that are home in our hearts.

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A quote from Thomas Berry

“Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.”Thomas Berry

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Meme of the Week


Check out this blog, Studio Mothers: Life & Art, for tips and weekly doses of inspiration!

Originally posted on Studio Mothers: Life & Art:

Charlie Peacock quote

As found here. Happy Friday.


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Shrove Tuesday and Waffles, Ash Wednesday and Fasting, Lent and Rituals

The season of Lent is upon us. In the Christian calendar, Lent represents the 40 days before Easter, but actually numbers between 44 and 46 days, depending upon whether or not it ends on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) or Easter Saturday, and somehow the Sundays do not end up in the total. Regardless of the number, this begins the march to Easter. While not mentioned in the bible, the season of Lent represents a time of feeling and fasting, repenting and renewing. It is a ritual to reflect upon the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting, as mentioned in the book of Matthew.

I have long struggled with my faith and spirituality and religion, but finally I realize that struggling with it is my path. I am now comfortable with that endeavor and recognize that I am not alone. I struggle to find a spiritual home, but I am not homeless. I have learned that it is not easy, but maybe it means more to me in the answers I am able to uncover. In spite of the struggle, or because of it, I have always loved the season of Lent. When I was a child and belief seemed simple, I gave up chocolate most years and then gorged myself silly on Easter afternoons. Perhaps the broader messages of reflection and sacrifice did not always penetrate my childhood chocolate haze. As I grew older, I did not always keep up the traditions, but still looked forward to the late-winter season, plodding to spring and renewal, and eventually to the centerpiece of Christian belief: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is a day (or weekend) now associated with thousands of plastic beads thrown in New Orleans, but there is a long tradition of eating rich and fatty foods before the season of Lent gives way to periodic fasting and sacrifice. It is the party before the purge, if you will. It is widely believed that Lent and the traditions of ash crosses smudged onto foreheads is a Catholic tradition, but many Protestant churches continue and celebrate the tradition as well. The cross, made with ash, on the forehead, represents the rebirth and rising. We become the ashes as Genesis 3 says, “we are earth to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.” The refrain, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19) is repeated after one receives the ashes. The ashes represent our physical being, as well as the Israelite tradition of repenting in dust and ashes.

Pancake and waffle. By Frank Wouters from Antwerpen, Belgium (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In preparation for Fat Tuesday, also Shrove Tuesday, I made waffles on Sunday. Usually pancakes are served on this special Tuesday before Lent, also known as Pancake Day. Pancakes with eggs and occasionally butter and sugar, are thought to be a decadent and resplendent food. Making them before Lent is also a way to use up the rich ingredients that have collected in the larder, before the season of fasting begins. Since my pancakes tend to be uneven and spottily cooked, I opted for waffles. I figured I would be okay, since the recipes are fairly similar: flour, eggs, baking powder, salt, and a bit of melted butter. After a quick stir, I poured the batter onto the hot waffle iron. A hiss, a click, a few minutes ticked by, the steps repeated, and then glorious waffles. I made a whole batch for Sunday breakfast, leaving a few to eat on Tuesday.

I got up extra early on Tuesday, so I grabbed two waffles and ate them, cold and chewy, on the way to work. I drank coffee from my ceramic mug and enjoyed the quiet drive in the dark, before the sunrise. Tuesday was a whirlwind of teaching and checking in with my dad who endured a short hospital stay the night before. When I got home late that afternoon, I prepared for a quiet evening at home. I called my dad and we chatted for a bit and despite his recent hospitalization, I could tell he was feeling back to normal. I knew because we were able to squeeze politics into our conversation as we wondered about the Texas primaries and the Colorado party caucuses. I hung up the phone, planning to return to my room for some unearthing of objects and sorting of laundry. The phone rang again, this time it was my sister at work. We made plans to celebrate our own version of “Fat Tuesday.”

I picked up Kelly, my fellow partner in crime, and we sped to a pair of our favorite restaurants, right next door to each other. At the little Mexican restaurant, we tucked into a booth for margaritas and chips and salsa. Salt on the rims of the glasses, she ordered hers on the rocks while I requested mine frozen. Purists would laugh at my tequila blasphemy, but I love the slurp and thickness of the icy liquid (at least I know not to order a flavored marg) and the effect I cannot get grinding ice with my home blender. In my greed, I even felt the pangs of frozen-margarita-chest, similar to ice cream headaches from childhood. Fat Tuesday for sure! The chip basket empty, the glasses relieved of their salt, we paid the check and headed next door for dinner.  We claimed another booth and pored over the menu, I chose flank steak, mashed potatoes, and kale with mushrooms. My sister opted for a smaller plate with a petit beef filet and steamed vegetables. She got a glass of a local brew and I ordered a glass of red wine. Dinner commenced with giggles and sharing bites of food, maybe only in the language that sisters speak. If you are one of the few who read this blog, you may be wondering at the gluttony of my sister and me with brownies a few days ago and our Oscar night hors d’oeuvres this past Sunday. Let me just say that we are feeling the effects of all the splendor and look forward to returning to a bit of normalcy and restraint. 

After the evening’s food and alcohol fest, we gulped water and waited at the restaurant quite a while before driving home. In the late night darkness, sprinkles of snow turned to rain showers and the whole world smelled clean. As soon as I unlocked the door of home, I could feel the gravitational pull of bed and a book. I set my alarm, knowing that the morning ritual of ashes would come early. At five o’clock, a couple of minutes before the much-to-early-shrill, I reset the alarm for 6:15 and questioned my commitment to Ash Wednesday. I rolled over and fell quickly asleep. I woke up at 6:11, pleased I had beaten the alarm, and jumped into a green turtleneck, grey pants, and black boots. I brushed my teeth and headed out the door after a few gulps of water. My fasting day had begun. Last week, I discovered a church that was offering “drive thru ashes.” It was a little far from the office, but not much of a detour on such a special occasion. Despite my extra hour of sleep, I calculated I had time for the extra commute before the day unfolded. I squeaked in to the church parking lot with plenty of time and enjoyed a few minutes of prayer after the smiling minister shared his ashes and a benediction. I could see the smudge in the rear-view mirror and felt the trepidation of wearing the “badge” all day in public and at work, with part of my day in a school. In addition to my struggles in faith, I feel uncomfortable proclaiming my faith out loud and to others. I realized that this was part of my challenge for the day. For me to truly embrace Ash Wednesday, I needed to wear the ashes with honor and quiet dignity. I prayed for strength and courage and commitment.

Throughout the day, walking down the hall in the office, loading or unloading my car with teaching supplies, giving a science presentation to fourth and fifth graders, attending a reception for teachers and principals, and striding through the library to the study carrel to write this, I wore the ashes. Some acknowledged it, “Oh, it’s Ash Wednesday!” A co-worker (a mechanic) thought I had grease on my forehead and I just smiled. I realized it’s not a big deal, but it would have been a big deal if I did not step forward and participate.

Lent word cloud

I will sleep with this sign on my forehead and tomorrow morning in the shower the faded smudge will wash away down the drain. I, however, have been transformed, if just slightly. It’s the beginning of Lent, a time for reflecting and a time for committing to my faith, struggles and all. For me, rituals are the outside ways to get to the inside. Through the comfort and routine of ritual, we can be challenged to broaden our perspectives and seek something more meaningful.

For the season of Lent, I will be fasting on Wednesdays and Sundays. Some may not see that as pure fasting, as I will eat a small meal at the end of those days, but I will try. This is for religious purposes and spiritual purposes. It is both an action and a prayer. On Wednesdays, it is also for political purposes, in solidarity with the organization Fast for Families, “We are fasting as an act of prayer for the families that are torn apart daily by deportations and our broken immigration system.” On Sundays, it is for me, my own private act and prayer. I will also be taking part in the ritual of giving things up for Lent. The idea is that by giving up things that are pleasurable, one can reflect and remove the distractions and vices in our lives. The ideas and qualities of discipline, moderation, and strength are important to me. I feel I need this for spiritual growth and as a reminder of all that is holy. I am giving up chocolate, meat, and alcohol, which lately have been all-to-easy to rely upon to lift my mood or to treat myself. I am also giving up swearing and abstaining from junk food. In loosening the grip of these vices and bad habits, I hope to regain a balance. In some ways, I hope to go back to an earlier self. I was a strict vegetarian for years and welcome Lent to help return me to that lifestyle permanently.

Through rituals, acts of sacrifice, prayer, and reflection, I welcome Lent. I enjoy the season and community of others doing the same. I reach more deeply, I examine my struggles. I reset and do the uncomfortable work of looking within. I dust off my faith and see it in the clear light of Lent. I seek community. I look for a spiritual home. I breathe. I take a step. I reflect. I cower after making these proclamations. And then I pray.

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Two Sisters and the Oscars

Photo by Alan Light [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Well, my younger sister and I did not go to the Oscars. We met at the hotel where my sister works. We checked into a vacant room for the evening to watch the big show and gaped from the safety (?!) of a hotel room floor in Colorado. I brought a sack of burgers and fries, she brought the candy. We sipped from cold canned beverages (hers diet coke, mine lemon seltzer). We stared, we commented on the movies we had seen, we picked out our favorite dresses, we predicted the winners. The night went by in sister-to-sister snark with jokes and giggles and bawdy humour that was definitely not for the family-friendly crowd.

In the five plus years since Kelly moved to Colorado, we have been roommates for almost the entire duration. We have a TV at home, but do not have any reception, and we willfully and gleefully ignore most TV programming. The TV is hooked to a DVD player, occasionally spinning in repeating rounds the discs from our combined movie collection. Online articles, the radio, and print weekend newspapers are our sources of news; we each have our favorites on a shared online video streaming account for newer movies and shows. However, sometimes TV events like the glamour of the Oscars are missed. Neither of us are big into celebrity worship, but we do love the awards shows. It is fun to see the pretty dresses and have our own sister-shorthand-running-commentary. For the last four years, she has been our ticket to these shows. In that time, we have kept up a similar tradition, usually the Golden Globes and Oscars, on the floor of a vacant room at the hotel where she works. We scarf burgers or pizza and gorge on Junior Mints and Sour Patch Kids like some do during the Super Bowl. It is a night of unhealthy food with a healthy dose of humour.

We often comment on our lack of fabulousness, but I cannot imagine there is an Oscar party out there that is as intimate and witty as ours. Or one that is as easy to clean up and clear out. If we are careful, and use the common facilities, she is able to quickly clean the room after our festivities and put it back into the vacant-clean-and-ready stage for a last-minute, late-night check-in. We go back home for the night, leaving the splendor of golden statues and formal attire for another year.

This “tradition” reminds me of our teenage years. We watched the awards shows then too, usually with a baked frozen pizza, and it was one of the few times in our childhood when our mother let us eat in front of the TV. We used to keep lists (in the days before the internet and live-blogging), tracking our predictions and the eventual winners. It is just something we do and share, like talking politics and listening to country music. I even remember a few Oscar shows in our twenties, I was in Saint Paul while she lived in Albuquerque, when we talked on the phone while watching the awards over a thousand miles apart. I think of the Oscars like touchstones. We watch them, together and growing. Soon our time as roommates will be ending. Our apartment lease is up in a few months and my sister ponders a move to another state with the possibility of a promotion. I will stay behind to work and finish school, pondering my own life changes.

No matter what, I predict that next year, we will be watching the Oscars together, either one of us visiting the other for our sisterhood tradition, or together across the miles by phone. Some events, like the Oscars, do not really matter in the day-to-day, but in the year-to-year of our sisterhood, they matter greatly. We connect, we watch, we chat, we joke. The night goes quickly in fun and frivolity and our days go by.

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The Balm of Baking and Brownies

While not photogenic, they are delicious.

While not photogenic, they are delicious.

Sometimes, when I am tired, or hungry, or cranky, or confused, or happy, or sad, or listless, or excited, or directionless, or restless, I love to bake. In other words, baking sets me right (and left). It is one of my ways of making sense and order around me. It gives me direction, a task, a reason. I flick on the oven, search for a battered and batter-covered recipe card, and reach for ingredients. I measure and pour, sift and stir, level and beat. Depending upon the mood and the recipe, the time in the kitchen can be full of labor or just a dash of effort. Sometimes I ponder a dilemma while I work bread dough. Other times I create routine with Sunday morning blueberry muffins. Corn bread brings me back to the wonder of sustenance and memories of my grandparents. Chocolate chip cookies bring smiles and the smells of my mother’s kitchen. New recipes challenge me and old recipes return me to other places, kitchens, and memories like no time travel machine ever could.

I am not the most talented or patient baker. Sometimes my dream life interferes with my baking life and I end up with slightly burned or over-beaten creations. I am a passionate baker, if neither imaginative nor original. Occasionally, I reach out for new and different baking adventures, but usually I tend to favor a few recipes that are flour-covered and fastened into my memory, that have become part of my being. Sometimes an old reliable does the trick. Sometimes that is brownies. When I want maximum enjoyment and minimum effort, with a warm pan of deliciousness to share or to sustain me through lunches and desserts for a week, I reach for my old brownie recipe. I do not know or remember the exact origin of the recipe, but I know the recipe card goes back to when I wrote reliably in cursive. “Brownies” is written in my teenage script, which has not been seen since my first year of college. I think I copied the recipe from some card in my grandmother’s recipe box, although I am sure that it was not original to her.

I never use oleo, only butter, but I copied the recipe faithfully.

I never use oleo, only butter, but I copied the recipe faithfully.

It is simple and sweet. Flour, sugar, cocoa powder, butter, vanilla, eggs, a bit of salt, and sometimes nuts if I have them. The original calls for oleo, but I have only ever used butter. A healthy recipe this is not, but it is soothing and magical and restorative.


The well-worn, butter-stained card shows the magic of the recipe, only 20 minutes for baking time.

I can assemble the ingredients rather quickly.  A little mixing, the satisfying cracking of two eggs. It is better if I remember to leave the eggs and butter out early and bring them to room temperature. It is best if the butter is somewhat melted. The oven preheats quickly while the ancient-but-not-antique glass baking dish gets coated in the remaining melty bits of butter from the stick wrapper. The rubber spatula, like a magic wand, smooths out the light brown batter, while the spatula wielder smooths out her soul. The recipe calls for just a little clean up, one dirty bowl.

Twenty minutes in the oven can seem like an eternity, but while the scents waft in the air it is just enough time to wash the bowl, spatula, measuring cup, and ring of measuring spoons. A kettle of hot water hisses in the background. Preparations for tea and coffee begin. The butter knife waits in anticipation.

My sister and I sit down. The square glass pan is between us. Coffee, tea, and milk are poured. A square of brownie is cut. Details of the day are shared.

Baking brings me closer to others. Baking and sharing make me human. Baking and sharing keep me human. I remember who I am and dream of who I want to be. Sometimes the difference between the two is not so far apart. I can see that on the three-inch-by-five-inch card, scribbled in my 17-year-old bubble cursive  and printed letters. I cover the brownies, brush up the crumbs, and savor the taste. Love and life are sometimes measured in crumbs and conversations.

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“The fiery moments of a passionate experience are moments of wholeness and totality. . .”– Anais Nin

A quote from Anais Nin

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