Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Post in Pictures: the cliffs of Britain and a river in Idaho

When I traveled to England with my friend Holly in April 2015, one of the last excursions we took was to the White Cliffs of Dover. There we hiked from a near sea level visitor's center and gift shop up the cliff trail past many sheep to a bright little tea room in a charming old lighthouse. On the way to and from that lighthouse my knee-high boots picked up a thick layer of the white dust from the cliffs and rested in it for some time, too, as we chatted with friendly Britons and watched some wild ponies in a hollow. Months after we returned home, I pulled out those boots to wear again as the fall weather grew cooler in Arizona and, lo and behold, the dust of Britain was still on them.

My shoes knew where I had been, and they carried crystalline memories. I almost didn't brush off those boots, but I figured I'd just be tracking Dover everywhere.

Recently, new suede Puma tennis shoes of mine picked up memories as my family and I hiked and climbed a little way along the Payette River in Idaho.

We went to Idaho to see family and saw more family in that state than my children even knew we had - the appearance of some of those dear relatives completely unexpected. 

Then, on a day when we didn't have much planned and I was begging my husband to be serendipitous, we drove up past Black Canyon Dam, searching for a place to experience some Idaho country. We pulled off the road at a spot where we practically slid down a slope of dry pine needles to river rocks, and there my kids and I scrambled all over the place, watching the intermittent white water and listening to its rhythm. On a huge sloped boulder, I laid down on my belly in the sunshine, slowly sliding down toward the white sand at its base, that same light sand that is now embedded in my shoes.

I may not brush off these shoes. Sometimes you have to go home again to realize it's home. I lived in Idaho for most of my teenage years - camping, fishing, spending holidays and ordinary days with relatives - but I don't believe I really appreciated it til I brought my own little family back with me.

With these dusty sneakers, I can carry home with me wherever I go.

And I believe my tall brown boots still have a bit of Dover on them, too.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Reel Big Fun

I think I've pulled my man into my mid-thirties crisis. We've been out dancing past our bedtime several times in the past couple years; I'm starting to layer silver chains around my neck for special occasions; and just this past Saturday we went to a concert that had a mosh pit. If my guy starts painting his face with black make-up and wearing high-heeled boots like his once-favorite band Kiss, then I'll know we've gone too far.

Speaking of that Saturday concert, it was totally worth it until Matthew and I had to wake up early the next morning for church with bags under our eyes and slush in our veins. It occurred to us then that instead of going to a concert that started at 9:30 at night, we should have gone to one that ended by eight. We would have been home in time to watch our Brit-coms on PBS!

But we just couldn't miss this band. During his college days Matthew was big into Ska music, and the first concert he ever went to was Reel Big Fish, a Ska band. He still has the T-shirt, in fact.

Our cool friends, Holly and her husband Chip, who started dating in high school and attended two proms together (how many married couples can say that?), once upon a time followed Reel Big Fish (RBF) around the East Coast from one venue to another. Holly heard that RBF was playing Octoberfest in town and invited us to come along for a night filled with dark beer and deafening music.

Like a bunch of college kids, we waited in long, packed lines for beer from plastic cups and messy food served on floppy plates, and I really began to regret my wardrobe choice of skinny jeans, cowboy boots and a jacket on a very warm first night of October crowded with festival-goers.

Somewhere around nine, we found seats not far from the stage. In the spirit of Octoberfest, we procured more beer and ate warm, sticky fry bread with powdered sugar as we chatted and waited for the band to take the stage.

Being the only one in the group unfamiliar with the band, I listened as Holly and Chip recounted the concerts they had attended, then told of a handwritten note in Sharpie from the band's Hawaii-shirt-and-checkered-sunglasses-wearing lead singer and of how Chip checker boarded the hood of his car in high school with permanent marker to show his devotion to the band.

Then Holly told us about a recent Madonna spectacle; Matthew and Chip mildly debated the merits of Def Leopard as live performers; and I said we should all go to a Tom Petty concert if we ever got the chance.

At last, with instruments held high, RBF jogged out to cheers and applause from an exuberant crowd. Ska music, combining elements of reggae and rhythm and blues, is nothing if not good for dancing, so everyone began to move as soon as the trumpet player blew that first note, and the mosh pit quickly developed into a cyclone of jumping, jostling young men - one with green and purple spiked hair at least a foot high. Soon everyone was flattening folding chairs and pushing them into piles like unruly fire wood. I shoved my suffocating jacket off one shoulder, swinging my hips. Matthew, Holly and Chip sang catchy lyrics, flashing broad smiles of nostalgia at one another, and I joined the rambunctious choruses.

Of course, as Holly promised, the members of the band were also great showmen. Several times they started to play huge radio hits from the 1990s, putting their own punk style into the arrangements, and then stopped and announced, "Oh, that wasn't us! That was so and so," purposefully naming the wrong famous group, causing the crowd to laugh and whistle. The lead singer also teased his bandmate about how many trumpet solos he was racking up.

Matthew had kept his hair natural and free for the occasion - no spray gel! - so he kept pushing his left hand through his thick mop to keep it off his forehead as he danced. I found it sexy and adorable; it made him look like that college boy I never actually got to spend time with. From my man I turned often to look at Holly and Chip jumping up and down to the beat like a couple of teenagers and dancing together virtually nonstop, obviously reliving high school days. Chip even braved the mosh pit, though Matthew warned that he wouldn't rescue him, but soon returned with this critique: "It smells in there!"

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the music, if not always the rambunctious crowd and warm weather, my favorite part of the night was watching how much fun Matthew, Holly and Chip were having together at the concert of a favorite band.

Observing my enthusiasm as I danced and sang along, especially when they covered Morrison's "Brown-eyed Girl", Matthew asked me if I still wanted him to get rid of his RBF T-shirt from college, full of holes and faded from years of faithful wearing.

I quickly shook my head and grinned.

"No," I assured him.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Short thoughts in the last of September...

Can you believe such a huge flower can blossom from such a little cactus? I've been wanting to share that wonder for a while with someone. This one grows in our front yard, and we've witnessed it sprout a tiny fur ball from its side every so often. Just a few short days later, the fur ball has grown into an incredibly long, hairy stem with a tight bud at the end. We check on it regularly, anticipating the morning when we'll walk out and be greeted by an enormous, pristine blossom. It's a marvel we have yet to grow weary of.


I recently had the opportunity to read the manuscript of my dad's latest book, Darkness Manifest, that will be out mid-October. Dad claimed it was a draft, but the text was very clean (as in, not rough draft) and flowed so well; I'm a little skeptical. If it was a draft and not the final version, I told him, than I really wished I could write as easily as he does. I finished the nearly two hundred pages he sent me in less than a day. Considering that it is about Dracula (as this character was known once), is suspenseful, and the story takes off to dangerous territory immediately with "history" thrown in for such souls as myself, it's not surprising that I ate it up. I'll admit there were a few scenes toward the middle that made me nauseous and caused mysterious pains in my arms (I don't even like reading about blood and certainly not people who no longer have it), but I went through a slight depression when I reached the end of what he'd sent, feeling deprived without the conclusion.

Dad's Kelven's Riddle epic fantasy series is selling very well on Kindle, and is in the top #500 for epic fantasy in that format. And he just released a sixth book this summer called Doomtalon: The Legend of Ayrfel, a quick, enjoyable fantasy read that stands alone.

Bravo, Papa! You know how long I have loved Kelven's Riddle. I've discussed all my favorite scenes from all five books with you and Mama at different times, and it makes me amazingly happy that others are discovering it and Doomtalon, and more and more each day. You deserve it! You have worked hard for years, been diligent in your craft even when it was difficult to find the time to write, and you are now officially not just my mentor, but my hero. I am so immensely proud of you.


This beautiful time of year called fall, when at least the mornings are cool and refreshing in this desert town, makes me nostalgic for trick-or-treating, watching the leaves change in Tennessee, and spending time with families in the Moms' Group that began at my church when my daughter Analisa was not even a year old. 

The children in this group have known each other since they were babies; some of them are in middle and high school now! The parents have babysat for each other in emergencies, sponsored each other's kids for confirmation or stood in for absent family members. The families have celebrated many birthdays, holidays and baptisms together. Many of our children have continued to grow up near one another in this desert town, though some have moved away, and I thank God that my kids have these friends far and wide that they may never have found or known if our community hadn't existed.

I become wistful sometimes, because, getting busier as the kids get older, the families don't see each other as often as we once did. But Autumn is that time when we reconnect as Halloween approaches. May we never grow too far apart!


The other day when my husband was pulling a splinter out of our six-year-old's hand, I bent down and kissed my Daniel, rubbed his blonde head, and thought with immense gratitude, This one is still little, thank God. He's still our little boy. 

Those days have not yet passed us by. We have many more moments to treasure with each of our kids. I hope we will always be mindful of that.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

5 Things I want my children to know (and I hope I already told them)

"If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough." 

Meister Eckhart

My children, did you know that sometimes when I lie down in my bed after a long evening of sport practices, meal preparation and chores, I fervently thank God for my bed? I do. A bed is such an ordinary thing, but I know how lucky I am to have a warm, firm, comfortable place of my own to rest my body.

I also regularly thank God for all the fruits and vegetables we can afford, for your Papa's job, for our little dog Taz and the joy he brings, and for our small, comfy, air-conditioned home here in Arizona.

Don't forget to be grateful for the little, ordinary things that we think are our right to have. Not everyone has them. That lesson is crucial, and I believe these ones are, too:

Respect the Working Man

Your Paca told his children this when we were little, and you need to practice it, too. To every man and woman who works hard for a living, especially those who do hard, menial tasks or serve others' needs for long hours, show your respect and appreciation. Never take advantage by giving them more work out of carelessness or your own laziness. Return that shopping cart! Put things back on the shelf after you're done examining them. The steady Joes and Janes of this world keep it pumping, God bless them.

Another Reason Not to Do Drugs

Whether it is their intention or not, every person who does illicit drugs supports a chain of absolute evil, including murder and violence against women, children and the poor/desperate. Remember that if some happy pill or powder is ever proffered by a "cool" friend. It's not just that these terrible chemical substances are toxic for you and highly addictive, robbing you of control in your own life; they are cancerous in society at all levels of their supply chain. 

Entertainment Often Is Not Mere Entertainment

Be careful what you expose yourself to in the name of a good time. This includes movies, video games, TV, social media, and of course, real world performances.

Not Every Day Should Be a Feast

This, if you keep it in mind, will serve you well your whole life. You will be healthier physically, financially, emotionally and, most importantly, spiritually. You will be more likely to remember that some in this world don't have a bed, clean water, or regular food, and thus, being grateful for what you have, you will share. 

I suppose you could say all things in moderation, but people have begun to ignore that phrase; the word moderation has sort of lost its meaning in today's first-world society, just like the words honor and valor.

Here's what I mean, specifically:

Learn to recognize a real need. Treats are called treats for a reason. They're not necessary; they're an extravagance. If you have them every day or a few times a day, they are no longer treats. This likely means you're spoiled, dependent and have lost some perspective on what really matters. (That is a boat I am trying constantly to get out of!) Don't eat out every day. Save that expensive cup of coffee for rare occasions; it'll taste better. Don't live your life searching for the best brands to display on your person, only stay in luxury hotels or always carry the "next" smartphone. Use things until they have lost their usefulness before throwing them out.

Let Thanksgiving and Christmas in their abundance and oodles of candy on Halloween be something really special still.

And always read about what is going on in the world - real, well-written articles, I mean. You will constantly bear in mind how lucky you are and this will help you know exactly where your resources are greatly needed to lift up your fellow (wo)man.


Your mama believes in the power of a simple smile to spread joy and love in this world.

As it turns out, so did Mother Teresa. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Here, Hair

Honestly, all I can see in this picture is my big nose.

(I once had a little girl on the school bus tell me I had a witch's nose. I must have been a teenager at the time, and I took it as a compliment. Halloween costumes would be easy.)

Do you think it qualifies as a selfie if you take the picture with an inexpensive camera and don't have the ability or desire to post it immediately on social media?

I'm not fond of selfies, but there is a reason why I'm sharing this picture. Something is different about me. I can't quite put my finger on it...

Just kidding. I see it now.

Twice last week I woke up in the middle of the night worrying about my hair. The first time I felt anxiety about committing to something expensive and drastic and wondered if there was any way I could back out. The second time I woke up because I had accidentally set an alarm clock for midnight and suddenly felt pangs of sadness.

After 36 years of being natural, I had dyed my hair.

Last Thursday I spent four hours in a salon getting pampered, having my hands and scalp massaged and getting strips of foil plastered to my head and then being plopped down under a dryer that felt like it was possibly frying my brain.

And the end result after my hair was washed, rinsed and conditioned without the lifting of even one of my little fingers?

I couldn't tell a difference, and as I gazed at my damp, limp hair in the mirror I thought, Great! Just my luck! She chose a color almost exactly my own. I spent all that money and damaged my hair for no change!

But then things brightened up, and I recognized the lovely change, subtle as it was. It made me happy til I experienced middle of the night remorse.

It's not all-over color. It's not highlights technically. It's that ombre coloring women are going for nowadays, though without the stark demarcation you see on some ladies' heads. It should last a few months as it grows out, the stylist assured me, because I assured her that although I have been craving a change on and off for years, I balk against maintenance. Understanding this, she told me that a complete dye job would be a bad idea, especially since I don't have greys.

I don't? Ha!

Gosh, I don't know why I'm telling you about my hair. It's a slow writing week, sorry. But, after all, every little act of daring is worth celebrating, and mine just happened to turn out all right.

This time.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Birthday Boy

Berto and Papa
My oldest son Berto didn't want to go to school today; it's his 14th birthday. I didn't blame him. Really, he hates school just as I did growing up. Still, I made him go.

His birthday will be full of school, sports and work obligations just as his dad's was. Honestly, I wish we could take a breather some days - just pause for a less hectic celebration without other concerns pressing us down.

This weekend as we worked to prepare for another rowdy birthday sleepover, I was recalling when our boy was a baby. I thought of the blissful and sad moments of his infancy. It puzzled me that the sad memories rose too; I didn't invite them.

One of my happiest memories of time spent with my first baby (who looked a bit like a ruddy-faced, middle-aged balding man when he first entered this world), is those first several days or few weeks when I held him nearly non-stop in my arms, supported by his blue bumble bee boppy. Even while he slept, I cradled him instead of putting him in the crib. When he awoke I nursed and changed him and let him drift off again in my steady, loving arms. I didn't even try to pretend that I had better things to do, because I was as content as I have ever been in my life sitting there with my tiny little boy and reading Agatha Christie novels.

Of course, I thought next of how ecstatic Berto was every day when his papa arrived home. New to Arizona, we were the only two special people in his life, and he liked to see Papa for a change at the end of the day. There's a great picture of Berto as a toddler hugging his Papa's knees and looking up at him with absolute love. Matthew is looking toward the camera with a big grin on his face; it's great to be adored. They have a little more trouble understanding each other now, but they still share a million-dollar smile.

Then my thoughts betrayed me, and I thought of sadder, lonelier moments. I remembered when another mother made me feel like a bad mama, because Berto had eczema on his cheeks, and I didn't know how to clear it up or guess that it was likely related to food allergies. I was trying to wipe his face regularly which probably was making it worse. She thought I wasn't taking care of my son, that perhaps I didn't care. Her judgement astonished me.

I also recalled when relatives came to visit and assist when we first moved to this house. It was a busy, crazy time, and they helped watch the baby. Berto was not always a happy-go-lucky baby, and when I heard him giggling as I was cleaning the apartment bathroom for the last time, I rushed out because I thought he was crying, and our relatives stared at me when I asked if everything was alright. How could you not recognize your baby's giggle? they seemed to be thinking. How could I not?

Later, at the house, I tried to make my little Berto giggle that exuberantly again, and my six-month-old son stared back at my antics with a tired, serious face. I wanted to cry. It broke my heart.

But there are more good memories. For instance, there were all those afternoons in this house when we played a game I made up called Oogula-Boogula. Berto would crawl under our new dining table, and I would walk around it with all his soft, plastic toy links hooked together, chanting slowly at first and then faster, "Oogula boogula, oogula boogula...oogula boogula - Booo!", and I would try to catch him under the table, tap his arms or legs with the end of the Oogula-boogula link monster. Berto giggled and shouted and scooted away. We thought it was great fun.

Berto and Mama

And how I cherish all the evenings I held my baby's hand through the crib at night, singing him bedtime songs!

And how many days did we drive around his big, squishy fire truck and dumpster truck that he got for his first birthday? They were great, because you could lean down on their pliable tops and push them around on your knees and hit the buttons to make engine/emergency noises.

There was the move to a big boy bed (one from his dad's childhood) in order to give the crib to the baby girl Mama was expecting. There was the awesome look on Berto's face when he met his first sibling, Analisa, a few months before his second birthday. They were good friends as little tykes. They used to take naps together, giggling and squirming as I tried to wind them down with books; they got into plenty of mischief together; and Ana used to crawl into the hall when her buddy Berto was in timeout to keep him company and offer comfort.

There are many other memories I've written about here: Berto's love of Star Wars: how he is a great big brother; and what a talented writer he has become. I am so proud of my son, and many an evening he has pulled me into long conversations past bedtime, because I am very interested in his views, ideas and inquiries.

Really, I shouldn't still be writing - I have to go make the frosting for his birthday cake! But I simply wanted to take some time to walk down memory lane and greet the myriad specters there, some friendly and some a bit morose, and in taking that walk I wanted to remember that all in all, despite my mistakes as a Mama, the one thing I have always given abundantly to these precious children throughout the years is love: wrapped up in innumerable hugs and kisses, sleepy nurses, silly games, baked treats and words, sung or spoken.

And today especially I want to thank God for all the love we have given to and received from our Berto, and for all the gifts our Father has given to our eldest son. May God bless him this year, for what joy he brings to our lives!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Coffee and Cacao

Is there a detox program for Ghiradelli 60% cacao chocolate chips? I'm not saying I need one - I can quit anytime I like! But just in case I get to eating...oh, let's say a hundred or so a day, I'd like to know there's someone out there willing to lift up my chin, wipe the chocolate from my face and tell me everything's going to be alright.

This is the bad news; I now eat somewhere between thirty and forty chocolate chips on any given day. And not just plain. I like to add them to little things. Oooh, banana bread, I can melt chocolate on it, I'll think, or Yum, pumpkin muffins! Now let me stick a few chocolate chips in that. I've had that thought about a bowl of oatmeal, too, but trust me, friend - you don't want to try it. It is nothing at all like chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.

I used to make stuff with my chocolate chips: muffins, brownies, cakes and such. But, hey, if you're going to sin with chocolate, why not make it pure, as in pure chocolate, dark preferred?

I've got to stop, though. You know you have a bad habit when five minutes after you get up, you're looking for your fix. I do have a reason why I started down this dark (chocolate) path. I'm exhausted - utterly, completely wigged-out tired from getting up with a baby night after night, month after month. Hey, it's my job, but it's also a hard row to hoe, so I go stumbling into my kitchen every morning, find my special case of chocolate and shove some in my mouth while my vision's still fuzzy.

Recently, though, I had had too many bad nights in a row; my handful of chocolate was not going to suffice. I needed something...what about a fully caffeinated Pumpkin Spice Latte, maybe? Yes, indeedy!

"I'm thinking about going to Starbucks," I said to my son Berto, my only talking companion in the grey light of that early, early morning.

"Cool, I'll go with you," he said. "I feel like going someplace at this time of day."

By that I suppose he meant before the crack of dawn. He was already fully dressed, however. Me? I like to wallow in my sleep-deprived misery awhile before I cave in and try to dress the mummy. Besides, I knew of a drive-thru. No need to wait to look decent. I could get my coffee right away.

Normally I wouldn't attempt such a thing - going out in public with not even lipstick or one small scrap of jewelry, but I was just desperate enough to do it that morning. I didn't even brush my teeth; I just dragged a comb through my hair, woke up Matthew to tell him I was gone and that his girls were still asleep, and headed out in my pajamas with my two boys.

So we drove, listening to the classic rock station. Daniel was placid; Bertie was calm and happy to be out with Mom; and I was looking forward to that fall-flavored Latte. I pulled into the middle lane to enter the shopping center with the drive-thru Starbucks. Hmmm...looked like something was roped off. I really hoped it wasn't what I thought it was.

It was. Some construction workers were working on the drive-thru lane. I would have turned around and gone home if my normal self-respect was present, but I'd lost it somewhere in the thick fog of lost sleep. I didn't even hesitate.

"Guess we're going to have to go in," I said. I jumped out in my baggy flannel men's pajama pants and my faded blue cami shirt. Flip-flops adorned my feet, but they weren't the cute kind. Matthew had brought them home as a gag gift for me from some work convention, and they were white, had some company's business logo on them and were pretty well hideous.

"Look," he'd said after he had presented them to me with a laugh. "I didn't even get the large side, and they still fit you."

They fit alright, and they were about to make their first public appearance in a Starbucks. Out of the car next to ours, a metrosexual male exited and glanced over with pure disdain at the pajama lady removing her infant from the dusty and cluttered white minivan. I slung my plain canvas diaper bag over my shoulder, and my entourage made an entrance.

We awkwardly approached the counter, passing high-heeled business women and slacks-wearing gents. The young man behind the counter eyed me warily, but just then I caught the eye of the lady preparing the coffees. After surveying me and my early morning company, she gave me a broad smile. I smiled back, and in that communicated my appreciation for the fact that I knew that she knew how it was for me that morning.

The young man took our order and warmed up once Berto shyly paid him for my latte, his papa's plain coffee, and his own carbonated clementine juice. He didn't even roll his eyes when I had to dig through the abyss of my diaper bag for the money while another woman was dragging cash from a sleek purse. For not acting like a snob and actually being gracious, I gave cash to Berto and nudged him toward the tip jar.

Because he could have been a total jerk about it. I remember one time when a relative saw me for the first time in my normal pajama attire. He opened his eyes wide at the spectacle before exclaiming, "Hillary, for a person who cares so much about her appearance, you sure do dress like a slob for bed!"

Okay, yes, I know. Whatever.

Anyway, that coffee did me a lot of good. I normally would have gotten a conservative tall, skim, decaffeinated beverage. (But always with the whip - never leave off the whip; it's bad form!) This time I was happily guzzling a fully caffeinated, grande, whipped cream slathered coffee. It did me a lot of good, too. I talked really fast for the rest of the day, did tons of yard work and speed-walked through stores looking for Halloween costumes for the kids.

With as much caffeine as it had, and with me being a nursing mama and all, I'm lucky my baby Daniel didn't start walking, talking and training for his first marathon that day. But he didn't. He forgave me for the extra jolt and didn't even wig out later when I had pumpkin bread with melted chocolate for breakfast.

This post was originally published October 20th, 2010.