My Favorite Things

A few days ago, I was putting ornaments on our tree. (Once adults, I had relinquished those belonging to each of our three children). Once finished, I stepped back, gazed at the tree and wondered why there were so few? Certain more were hidden in one of the many boxes stored in our garage for Christmas decorations, I headed there. Searching box after box like a mad woman, tossing them everywhere, I came up empty. Despondent, I went back into the house. My husband was engrossed in a football feed on YouTube and it took a fog horn to get his attention. No, he had no idea where they were located. Frustrated, I stared at the tree once more. I solved the dilemma. This year’s tree was new. It was taller and much fatter than our previous one, loaded with more lights. No wonder it looked as if I had fewer ornaments!

I have to say, if I’d lost certain ones, I would have been crushed. Ones like the three below.

Christmas 1987: My sister cross-stitched an ornament for my parents and one for me and each of my three siblings. It was a reminder of our weekend together for Christmas. Living a doable close distance to each other, we all gathered and celebrated at her family’s home in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Our children were young and emitted giggles and laughter the entire time. They spent the weekend writing a play about the Christmas story, performing it for the adults our last day together. Written in the eyes of children, it was a delight. We fixed an abundant Mexican meal for our dinner. We didn’t know then it would be the one and only time our entire family gathered for Christmas. My brother and family moved to Colorado, my oldest sister eventually to California, and my youngest sister and her family went back home near the farm and where our parents lived. My husband and I spent one year in Colorado and following, took jobs in Minnesota. We just weren’t able to coordinate the entire family with our children to celebrate together as we did 36 years ago. 

Carmel otter:  Minnesota was a shock, even colder than Nebraska. The first year there, during Halloween, we received 31 inches of snow that stayed on the ground through April. It was a common occurrence and we purchased wool coats, hats, and mittens. The cold was grueling, so my husband and I spent years annually going to Carmel, California for five days either in January or February. A credit card came in handy then, but we never regretted spending the money. We needed the reprieve. Every morning, we strolled the beach, the sound of crashing waves our companion. We looked at shells, felt the sand beneath our bare feet and shared our dreams. Some came true, some didn’t. We laughed as the otters followed us, swimming and playing. I’ve loved them ever since. I bought the ornament early on. I’m glad I did. Time speeds by and the otter takes me back to one of many times we loved being together.

Sheeba’s ornament:  A close friend gave us a Christmas ornament following her death in November 2018. A German shepherd, she was almost twelve. Her spirit was gentle, her heart big and we miss her still, five years later. When she was five, she “blew” both knees and determined to not euthanize her, my husband searched until he located a small, independent store run by a mother and her daughter near the mountains. The mother invented and sewed harnesses out of a sturdy material that supported a dog’s back legs. Not knowing if it would help Sheeba, we drove there and had her measured and fitted for one. We took her home and for a long time, my husband walked her slowly – a few feet, half a block, two blocks and more until she could run and play again. That $200 halter gave us seven more years with her. 


“The house was very quiet, and the fog—we are in November now—pressed against the windows like an excluded ghost.” ― E.M. Forster, Howards End

“November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.”― Emily Dickinson

Here it is, the end of November, pressing away and I have the privilege to do the last post for November of 2023. November derives from the Latin root novem – meaning “nine” because in the Roman calendar, there were only ten months and November was the ninth, which marks the point in the year when the cold sets in.

I think of the many trips back to my Illinois roots, often times in November. We could enjoy a surprisingly brisk sunny day or wake up to a skiff of snow. Looking outside my parents’ kitchen window to the north is what I saw over three days after I arrived in the sunshine. The first snow silently cluttered atop roofs and yards, fields, and playgrounds.   

View out the window…note deer behind the farthest tree.

I am sitting in my parents’ tiny kitchen looking out the window and having a cup of my dad’s weak coffee. (I soon learned to make myself a pot before he got up, pouring the strong coffee into a carafe I found deep in their closet.) Across the yard, lay wide empty fields, now harvested, and beyond that, a sturdy long borderline of trees that marked the woods. The fog this morning was dense as usual, slowly allowing the eye to see the barn outline become larger in the near distance, the end of the yard and the old tractor shed, now part-time car garage. All the pecan tree limbs were bare, black, and slick-looking from the fog. As I sat having coffee, my mom was in the background in her housecoat and reading the newspaper. The salt block finally becomes visible. Dad keeps it at the edge of the field by the shed for deer. Deer in these parts are as thick as ticks in Pike County. Thick.

Mom muttered something about what happened in a nearby town, and some recipe in the paper that looked ‘just’ awful. I watch the Dark-eyed Junco and Black-capped Chickadees on the feeder when suddenly, back in the distance, heads begin to emerge. It starts as a fuzzy dark rectangle, then takes a shape, a nose, tall alert ears, the soft breast and legs of a deer. Another, and another—like ghosts emerging from a mist, a make-believe place hidden among the thick fog. By now their hair is thicker, a bit longer, and darker as well as their undercoat to protect them from the cold. They slowly emerge through the dense gray haze, their bodies form into shapes, into needs and they bow their heads and lick the salt. My mind sort of went loamy as if I were the one to fade away into a rising mist—beautiful, gentle deer.  

I have walked and run through those same trees, over the creeks, for miles and miles as a kid through all seasons. Seen a deer startled, leaping up and bounding over a fence like a whiff of smoke, then as suddenly, disappear—into their own wild Brigadoon.

I hope your November nourished you with life-long memories.

Weekend Kitchen Counter Fixins

Mexican Green Chili, Ham and Pinto Beans

Turkey and Wine

Prompt for 11.16.23

The road to authentic art is through the self. More specifically, it lies through the heart, not the head. Your loves, your hates, your scars, glories, fears, losses, triumphs–your heart is the heart of the matter. Heart is where the art is. ~ Julia Cameron in the Vein of Gold

What is changing in your life right now? What are you bidding farewell to? What are you welcoming into your life? What is constant?

Let’s Get Stuck

“First coffee, then a bowel movement, then the muse joins me.” ~ Gore Vidal

As a writer, I have read, and heard in person, many, many kickstarts to get the flow going, (no pun intended). Oh, the rigmarole to start the writing process, i.e., time of day, yoga, a walk, strong drink, (your choice), reflections, talk to the parrot or the parrot talk to you, musings of such, to get the words down. I have mentioned before, I do not entirely give initiation or credit to the word ‘muse’. I attack my process, mindfully, in a different way.

Writing gives a person time to discover connections, and time to ponder which great or small discoveries can be had, then taken deeper or lighter. As a writer, we play with words and ideas, taking them apart and putting them back together, and get a surprise along the way.

Photo from AZ Daily Star

In re-reading an article from the Arizona Daily Star, February 14, 1994, Dale Dauten tackles issues of musing and writing in the corporate world. (FYI – I do not clip out hundreds of articles or tidbits from newspapers, or print off the internet, but when I read something regarding writing, at times, I give in.) I found this piece in one of my journals recently. Dauten writes, “I once told a business broker that I would go home and muse on his proposition. He gave me a look of one-quarter pity and three-quarters disgust – that look people give a dog who just got sick on the carpet…” Dauten goes on to account that his friend is wrong, of course. Inventors are musers. He had recently read a story of the Swiss inventor George de Maestral. Coming home from a walk in the woods one evening in the 1940’s, he found cockleburs on his woolen trousers. How did these little cockleburs manage to get such a hold on his pants?

So he put a burr under the microscope and found that it was covered with tiny hooked barbs. The hooks caught the loops of thread in his wool pants. George then was able to recreate with fabric the cocklebur’s system of tiny hooks and loops and using the first syllables of two French words – “velour” for velvet, and “crochet” for hook – he gave his new product the brand name “Velcro”.

Many years later in one of my classes, the instructor asked each of us to pick out ‘velcro words’ in others’ stories, write them down, and then after each story is read, say aloud keywords that ‘clung’ to us, words that ‘poked’. We were to think more openly, more creatively in our descriptions of words such as these ‘ velcros’ in our own stories, giving the reader more to cling to, words that would rattle around in their head maybe for the next several hours, or days. What an invention!

For instance, here are a few from a private workshop in May 2013 – ‘bags of bleakness; sea of yellow; skin the color of oatmeal; ‘I felt like the inside of a tin can; swampy crater; navigational nightmare; anxious tore at the soft parts of my body’…and so on, all loaded with Velcro.  

Sometimes I sit on my porch late in the afternoon after I think my work is done for the day, or at the dining table when too hot or too chilly to be outdoors, looking at my yard of many colors, and opening the door for my thoughts to walk about. Words, ideas, and even nothing can spring up in the oddest forms. Like recently, the word panther – she rises like liquid flint. I jot it down. I might be able to use that someday, or just be satisfied with the feel I got from it floating through my head. But it stuck, like a cocklebur.

In this mental walk-about, Abigail Thomas in a recent blog post echos similarity: “I am interested in why this, why now? what’s the root of this new thing I can’t get out of my head. So I set to finding out. Then if I’m lucky, and don’t impose my will on it, or aim for perfection, I might find what I’m looking for without knowing I was looking for it, which is sort of the whole point, don’t you think?”

Yes, I do Abigail, I do.

A reminder of the upcoming event: Diana and I will be joining a group of published authors at the Annual Book Fair hosted by Society of Southwestern Authors on November 25, 2023, in Green Valley, Arizona. The location is 2150 S Camino del Sol, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon.

If you are local, please join the fun. The weather and atmosphere should be captivating.

Holding On

Fall is closing its doors with winter just outside. We’ve been lucky in Colorado. Our fall season has been wonderful with warm days and vivid colors. A couple days ago, we experienced one. I had our deck patio door wide open, screen door included. No flies to worry about, they’ve taken flight. Ready to run errands, I grabbed my purse off the table, but movement below our hill caught my eye. The elderly man was riding his stocky pinto while leading a young horse, a western saddle on its back. Usually he and his son train a race horse or two and I was surprised this horse wasn’t one. I stopped to lean against the open door frame in the soothing warmth of the fall day and watched below as the man led the horse around and around on a large, circled pathway located in their sizeable pasture.

The sun was at that perfect angle, the air still inviting, almost resembling a desert day in October with the cloudless sky a light blue. Small sprays of dust rose from the horses’ hooves. A feeling overtook me. For a few seconds, the outdoor combination spun me back fourteen years to our time living in Tucson. As I watched the man and horses trotting below, it wasn’t memory. I  actually felt  transported to the desert once more, riding Shadow, a young, barely trained bay horse. I stood still in the moment and let it overtake me.

This familiarity took me to the twelve years I rode in the desert and weekly riding lessons I took from an instructor that lived close to the base of the Catalina Mountains. Sometimes, quite often, we rode the dry washes and popular horse trails. We walked or trotted up and down the mountains nearby, searching for ancient shattered Indian pottery pieces, admiring them but never keeping. Being adventurous, we traversed where no trails existed, just brush and a variety of cactus. It always fascinated me our horses seemed to know how to avoid the cactus and rattlesnakes. Only once did Shadow get a jumping cholla cactus below her tail and on her rectum. I have no idea why, but she didn’t buck me off. I only knew she had one because the girls riding behind me started laughing. Luckily, one of them carried a comb to brush it quickly off Shadow and to the ground. The comb kept one from getting any barbs into you or more on your horse.

On the farm, my father purchased three horses during different years while I was growing up. I was never a proficient rider, not then, not in Tucson. How I stayed on without a big number of falls is still a puzzle. My instructor said I was able to do so because I wasn’t afraid. I was, but she didn’t realize I was an accomplished actor. When I rode Shadow or Justin, her thoroughbred, I just silently prayed I stayed centered on their backs. They liked to spook in the washes, especially if a bird burst out of a tree. I don’t think I ever fell off when that event happened, but there were other times. Like when Sparky, a small gray horse with a lot of spunk, pretended to shy from the same tree, jumped a quick right angle sideways, tossing me so hard on the ground, my instructor sitting on the fence a good distance away, heard my head hit. No broken bones there. “Show him you’re boss,” she said as I mounted once more. There was also the time we were practicing for a fun competition of horse games (a Gymkhana) and as I galloped Shadow around a cone, she headed one direction and I went the opposite, landing in soft dirt on my bottom. I got back on. I always did. Not that I wasn’t literally “shaking in my boots” as they say.

I eventually stopped watching the man training the young horse, but not before I wondered how it could possibly be it was fourteen years ago when I rode in the desert? I thought of Shadow and her sweetness. Was she still alive? Were the trails still there or had houses had taken place of those we rode time and time again? All the questions and no answers. 

I stopped riding once we left Tucson, but never tire of watching the man and his middle-aged son train a horse. I watch for a long amount of time, sometimes using binoculars for a closer look. They might think I’m a stalker, but I’m pretty certain they can’t see me gawking, loving every minute.

It’s rare I return to the memory of horses, my riding friends, the entertaining conversations as we rode the washes and trails. I will always miss those years and they will always warm me. I am so grateful that on one special day, all the elements were aligned to allow me to return once more. 

Writing Prompt 11.2.2023

Our writing group loved to have a good laugh and some of the pieces we wrote in our meetings gave us just that. One prompt we loved created so much laughter around the table, we ended up with tears in our eyes. We started a story, passed it right to the next member and continued until all of us had a chance. Most of the times, the finished story was outrageous, but oh, how we loved it. Here’s the beginning of a story. Try to continue it if you are in a group:

“In a small village located deep in the Alps, there lived a man named Mark Musket. He had a wife of big stature and wide appearance named Coral the Tiny and a small son named Big Buck. Everyone in their village knew each other through gossip or gathering at the food market. One day, a stranger started to stroll the village streets, his hat pulled low over his eyes and he donned a long shirt and farmer’s overalls. The people whispered to one another, “Who is that? Why is he here? He makes me nervous.” Mark Musket was the bravest of the village and told Coral the Tiny to come with him to meet the stranger while telling Big Buck to stay close to one of his friends…”

Rhythms of Autumn

Seems like we are taking walks outdoors a lot now that autumn has arrived. How utterly lovely! I see fall floating through others’ blogs; in afternoon conversations with friends on the porch with a pinot gris with prosciutto pear cup appetizers, or Maple Nut Crunch coffee and biscuit mid-morning. Such a relief after being in the house for months on end due to the heat.

Jackie spoke of her dog walks in last week’s blog post of the crunch or crackle of leaves. She asks how one can describe a sound, or drum up a new word or a way with words to form a fresh description, an emotion, a jiggle of a feeling. She continued her walk with observations, private thinking, and wondering. In her walk, what she did was take the reader along. She did her job by simply stating her notions of observation. She ended by realizing she may not have the words she wanted, but “it was just plain fun.” Indeed, I felt refreshed as if I had felt the same ray of sun and crunched as many leaves as she under my tennis shoes.

When my niece became pregnant for the first time, she wrote letters and notes to her unborn. In long emails to me she shared her new feelings, hard to define, but on she went, beautiful, touching thoughts. I saved all, printed out, poems and notes she sent. When “Livvy” was born, my niece continued with her discoveries. She wrote and wrote and noted from anywhere she was physically or emotionally at the time. She found words through the five senses she had not experienced before.

With Tarah’s permission, below is a poem from one of her walks in November of 2004 when baby was a few months old. She writes from an unfamiliar place she had not undergone until the little one, her presence, perhaps, helped make note of it.  

Tarah & ‘Livvy’, my house in Tucson, 2006

November Afternoon

The sky is painted darkest grey, heavy with ominous clouds.

Bare branches whisper of bitter-cold wind and autumn sunshine long faded into the cold iron winter.

A few birds linger, one fluffing his feathers haughtily, puzzled by the absence of foliage, he once called home, knowing warm air and golden rays lurk just over the southern skyline.

The quiet is overwhelming. Waiting for the first flake to dance to earth in slow, swirling splendor, I watch.

I bundle baby in a warm fleece hat and wool sweater, confining tiny, wrinkled hands in soft mittens, stuffing plump feet into pink boots, zipping, buttoning, strapping.

Tarah & ‘Livvy’, my house in Tucson, Feb, 2019, sophomore in High School.

We plunge into the dark November afternoon. Cold air takes our breath away, unleashing deep, joyful laughter, like miniature bells of glee molded from the silver of angel’s wings.

She laughs to see the bird, puffed up so proud. He looks at her too, disdainfully.

She laughs again. This time, her eyes dance. Silly bird. Silly, silly bird.

She turns her bright blue eyes to me in wonder, meeting my desperate gaze, recovering my being, rejoicing in my love.

I am warm all over.

~ Tarah T, Nov, 2004

Oct, 2023, Sophomore in college, close to her home in Illinois.

The brilliance of fall softens the edges to prepare for the harsher, colder, and shorter days of sunlight in the months ahead. In Tucson, again, we only get brushstrokes of winter. Having lived twenty-three years in the Midwest left a lifelong imprint of each season and its changes. I feel as close to these seasons as if I never left. I will take walks with my surrounding autumn, enjoy the companionship with others in their walks via their writing, and bend my ear to the crunch and the sites of the last few birds that bravely linger. It is a quick season to step outside to breath deeply and walk with those we love.

Crunch or Crackle

Yesterday, I was walking my baby-sitting dogs (Beanie and Buzzy) that I’d written about in my previous blog. I go to their house to feed and stay with them a while, then we take the routine walk. The houses in the neighborhood are older, more established houses and tall prominent trees form a line down the street-side as I mosey along with the dogs needing to smell each and every site where some other dog has left a tell-tale sign. 

Withered crisp orange and red leaves fall, brushing the top of my head. The sidewalk is layers deep with them, so I’m actually pleased we stop as often as often do. I slide my feet through the leaves to hear the crunch. I gaze up at the trees in memory. I am a child again raking the leaves in our front yard on the farm, forming a sizeable hill with my brother and sisters. Once raking is finished, we nearly undo our work as we stand back and run full speed at the gathered leaves, diving as close to the peak as we can. We turn around and repeat the run, hoping to beat each other – to reach the pile first since it is without doubt, collapsing. Once the leaves have spread almost flat, we pick up our rakes and push them back into a pile. It was worth the extra raking.

As I walked the leaf-covered sidewalk, I looked down at my feet crunching the leaves, delighted with the feel, the sound. For some unbeknownst reason, I began to wonder how to describe the sound. Is it “crunch?” Is it “crackle?”  Or maybe “crinkle.” How about “pop” like the snap, crackle and pop cereal? I decided “crackle” was best. Thoughts traverse in our heads, like a maze with no end and I began to wonder. How does one truly find the right word to describe the color of an angry sea? Is there a worthy adjective for grief? What about wind? Or the joy of a baby’s first steps? 

That’s the challenge of writing. To not use the same common descriptive word, to try to “show” the place, the action, the feeling. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing. There’s a challenge in finding new descriptive words. I admit I keep a thesaurus right by my computer. Even then, I gaze out the window at the tree on our front lawn shedding its leaves. I try to think of the word that is a perfect fit. This has an extra benefit at my age. Researchers tell us baby boomers need to keep our minds active. They say the body too, but that’s more boring. 

As the dogs and I returned home, I looked forward to our next walk. I decided it didn’t matter what descriptive word I used to describe the leaves under my feet. It was just plain fun.