Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Job Security, or Queen of the Garden Hoe

Yesterday I drove up and over the mountain to one of my jobs. Blackie joined me as I hopped out of the pickup truck, grabbed gloves and went to work. I weed, mulch, and basically love on the vines growing at my friend's vineyard. The vineyard is located at a setting about one mile high in elevation. As I work, the birds sing in chorus, the breeze gently blows. Sometimes, not so gently! My muscles are happy to be doing what they were designed to be doing, the motion a meditation, as I work to be fully present in my here and now.

As I struggle to loosen the hard, West Texas soil to remove tenacious Johnson grass, woven tightly around the vines, I hope the soil in my heart will be soft and loose. I wonder what is strangling me? Do I need to create more margin in my life so I can access the peace, the nutrients, the moisture, without such competition from weedy distractions?

Most of the time the sun shines, the clouds make me marvel, the peace makes me thankful.

How lucky I am! I get to choose my work. I am thankful. Some people have to pay to make their bodies work the way they need them to function. They are stuck in an office, grey cubicles. Yes, they might make a bit more money, the insurance and retirement benefits might be more generous, but, oh, how glad I am of my work.

And now, off I go. Up and over the mountain. Blackie and maybe Brownie in tow. Sunscreen on, water bottles filled. A chunk of cheese and some work clothes that don't mind getting dirty. A sense of security, knowing that I am queen of my universe for at least a few minutes. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Columbus Day Weekend Back Country Camping Trip

A couple of things I wrote in my new journal yesterday morning before leaving our campsite:

"Don't Blink!"

Last night, sleepy, sandy,
we climbed into sleeping bags, eyes scanning the sky for constellations.
"There are too many stars! I can't see them!"

Two girls, teetering on the edge of adolescence complained. They had never seen a shooting star.

We searched the sky, afraid to blink.

And then...

A brilliant ball lit up the sky directly above Juniper Canyon.

So bright, the comet? meteor? star? slid down into the mountains.

I gestured in the dark. Words tangled in my mouth. We gasped. We jumped up. We couldn't believe our luck, the four seconds, five, seemed to stretch on for minutes.

9:36 pm, Sunday night, Robber's Roost campsite. Rose and Lauren, Nora and Katie and I.

I kind of expected to feel the earth shake after such an auspicious sign.

We went back to sleeping bags, afraid to close our eyes, afraid to miss another...


In the pale white light of the headlamp we saw a flicker by the base of the bear box.

Pale, translucent, quickly twitching, the scorpion struck terror and future nightmares into the heart of campers.

"Kill it!" they begged, wishing to eliminate the potential enemy; the threat to their peaceful sleep. Fearful it would make its way to our sleeping bags with its painful, searing sting.

"Leave it! Leave it!" I begged, and we watched it scurry over to a log and crawl in a crack.

Yes. I admit it. I put on a brave front, and went to bed fairly afraid that all the scorpion cousins would find their way into our bedding, carelessly thrown onto rocky ground in the desert.

I prayed that karma would come into play, and our camp guest would spread the word about the fearless warrior woman who bravely displayed courageous mercy.

We awoke the next morning. No sustained stings, bites or other such inflicted injuries during our trip.

note: bear box: a large, metal bin for storing food and other smelly good stuff, with a bear proof latch. There are small, black bear in Big Bend National Park, but we have never been so lucky to see one at our campsites.

guest: I realize that in the desert, we were the true guests, disturbing the scorpion's habitat, and as we were intruders, a sting would have been quite natural and reasonable on the part of the scorpion, especially if we bumped into it and caused it fright. But I am exercising poetic license, and with it, the option of telling the story from my point of view! :)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rainy Sunday

Grey blue mist falling
blurs my vision, chills my bones.
Coffee is the fix!

Sometime back I subscribed to a daily devotional put out by Father Richard Rohr, a quite progressive Franciscan monk, a mystic and teacher and writer. His teachings came at a perfect time for me. Each Saturday he offers a contemplative practice to help reinforce the week's teachings. Typically the practice involves being in nature, being still, then doing some type of artistic practice, once a mandala, this week a haiku.

So there you go, I offer you my practice! Silly, I know, but when we dabble in the arts, whether music, poetry, visual arts, we tap into a different part of our self, and that self needs to be expressed and welcomed. I think I am going to ask for a coloring book for my birthday! How many of us have taken on the belief that if we are not good enough to be professional, it is meaningless for us to practice? Today I wish to embrace my mediocrity! And try to have a sense of humor with myself.

It is misty here, interspersed with rain. The temperatures have dropped to chilly, the sounds of the neighborhood are somewhat muffled. I changed into a nice sweater and did indeed make afternoon coffee, even though I might live to regret it this evening. I feel a bit daring, and very much comforted by the coziness. Tabby the cat is curled up tightly on my bed. Brownie and Blackie snooze on the floor at the foot of my bed. The washer agitates, the breeze fills my opened windows with the heavenly scent of freshly washed creosote. I could be folding laundry, but the computer grabbed my attention and asked me to write for a little while.

The rain is coming at a most welcome time for us, though our friends on the East Coast are floating away in their extra measure right now. We have been very dry. I planted some fall and winter vegetables anyway, on faith, and have been watering with the garden hose to keep them going. The purple green beans continue to provide a meal's worth, at least three times a week. Chili de arbol have produced non-stop. Last night I made a chicken recipe I read about in the NY Times online cooking column a few weeks ago. Three Cup Chicken. With a few modifications. I had no scallions, but plenty of young leeks. So I halved them, cut them in one inch lengths, cut up the shriveled remains of ginger root, peeled twelve cloves of farmer's market garlic, and put them in the hot wok, with several tablespoons of toasted sesame oil and 6 or 8 of the red, super hot chilies. As they cooked over the high heat, a couple of the chilies popped right out of the pan! Isn't cooking an adventure? When the leek was tender, I tossed in three chicken breasts, cut up into chunks. When they were beginning to brown, I added a couple of tablespoons of sucanat, then half a cup of white wine, 1/4 c of soy sauce and a glug of rice vinegar. Then put a lid over the wok, sauteed our purple green beans with one of our home grown red onions, more garlic, and then 1/4 c of sesame seeds. By the time the rice was done, the green beans tender, I opened up the lid on the wok and stirred in two cups of our fresh basil. The smell was absolutely divine! And it tasted pretty good too. Spending time cooking a nice meal, taking a few extra steps, feels like a luxury to me. The Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong station on Pandora, a glass of wine, and quiet solitude in the kitchen feels like a vacation.

Don't be too terribly impressed! We had store bought fried chicken and mashed potatoes that we ate like savages, standing around the table for lunch today. And supper is fend for yourself. I believe I heard Rose make herself some MaltoMeal.

No more coffee for me. But I do look forward to snuggling under an extra blanket, with the cool, damp air coming in the window tonight. With a book in hand, just in case that earlier caffeine keeps me up.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Lunar Eclipse

Last night I arrived home, right as the full moon made her way up the sky.

Nora and Rose sat with me for awhile as we watched the darkness overtake the big fat moon. Her brightness was diminished, bit by bit. We wondered about the people of long ago who were so connected to the natural world, no Facebook to check, no phones to ring. No Youtube videos to distract.

We wondered if they were frightened to see the darkness eat up the moon. Did they think that something bad was going to happen? Gloom and doom seem to find their way to the front of our imaginations if we let them.

As the eclipse progressed, the light shone out, faintly, dimly, but surely showed itself. A breeze cooled the air and I went in for a sweater.

I said a prayer for the many who feel the darkness trying to smother them. I prayed for the light to shine through and give them hope. I made a wish that we would not lose heart when darkness came along, but would see it as a time of ending and beginning, of growth, of resurrection.

Some newspaper this morning said that 1982 was the last time there was a supermoon eclipse. Last night was truly lovely and seemed auspicious, a sign of good omen, instead of bad. I felt hopeful watching it, making my wishes.

New Normal

We are more than a month post-college kid drop off.

Patrick and Maggie are engaged in their new collegiate life, feeling the stress of papers due, the delight of new friends, the scramble to find good food away from Mom's table.

Rose and Nora and I are using less dishes, and bit by bit, I am learning to cook for fewer people. Thomas often pops in and cleans up the leftovers. He even cooks for us a day or two a week.

We had a bit of a family crisis this past week, and I waited, prayed, meditated until something in me let me know it was time to close up shop and drive to Austin. My kids are all fine. But a family member has been struggling with health issues. In a world where it is tricky to get help if you have been sick and unable to work and don't have insurance to pay for medications, necessary surgeries, treatment, etc.

Last Wednesday was the Autumn Equinox. I just love days that are set aside as reminders that we are tied to this earth and the moon and the stars. After a busy week, I put myself in the kitchen to start the big deep clean that comes before bakery work commences. The girls were gone to karate and cross country practice. I was drinking my iced green tea and thinking. Trying not to think. Trying to be still. Praying for direction and a sign, a calmness, a something that would let me know that going was going to be more helpful than staying.

A few months ago I was involved in too many aspects of leadership in my life. It became very stressful. And then life continued to happen. And a child graduated and another child went through some personal struggles and grief reared its painful head once again.

I was so desperate for Philip to be alive. I wanted him to help me with some difficult decisions. We used to talk about everything. I wanted him to say, I can hang out with the kids while you go take a three day silent retreat. I wanted to feel his hand wrap up my hand and see his eyes look into mine and know that no matter what, we are in this together and everything is going to be okay.

Then I went to Virginia and I sat by his grave and the reality of his dead body being stuck in a grave in Salem, Virginia really worked me over. A counselor recommended meditation. She knows I pray. She suggested that meditation and the act of being still would help my mind settle down. She told me that often we know exactly what to do, if we just sit still long enough to listen to ourselves and the wisdom that is already within us. That our prayers are often being answered, but we are too busy running around to hear those answers. Then we had an absolutely mind blowing EMDR session about the day Philip died. You see, a few months ago, I was riding my bike around town, taking care of errands. And then an ambulance went through town. Which happens rather regularly. But this time, it almost made me sit down in the middle of the street. My mouth got dry, I felt light headed, and all of a sudden, I might have been on my bike in Alpine, Texas, but in my mind I was in the car with Serge, our friend and family doctor, headed to the hospital, and the ambulance, holding my dear, dead husband's body, was sounding off, lights flashing, and everything that we knew was no longer.

It was really weird, this physiological response to the ambulance. I practiced some deep breathing. Raised my head and biked back home. And called my wonderful counselor who does amazing short term counseling and doesn't mind that I don't go see her but on a rare occasion, a couple times a year. She is able to give great direction and counsel when tough stuff comes up.

During that session, I was able to see that grief and pain are perfectly normal after the death of a loved one. Responding to ambulances the way I did that afternoon is a sign of trauma that can be healed. And it was, that afternoon.

I did take up the meditation advice, trying really hard to practice being still, feeling my breath go in, my breath go out. Stopping the constant stream of babbbling noise, making my prayers be more about listening, less about chattering.

It has been amazing how life altering this tiny little practice has been for me.

The other day, as I washed dishes and breathed in and breathed out, I felt Philip's arms come around me. It was weird. I could hear his voice telling me how proud he was of me, and how I am still the prettiest woman in the room, and how everything was going to be okay if I closed the bakery that week and headed to Austin to be with my family.

And that was that. Was it a ghost? Was it Philip? Well. I think I have an amazing imagination, and can imagine just what Philip would say if he were here. I imagine there is quite a bit more to this world than I can see or touch. Either way, I guess I can say I side with Iris DeMenthe regarding the mystery. I don't need to know why. But in being still, the answer revealed itself.

And the memory of Philip was gentle and loving and sweet and dear. I felt so loved. Wow. It gave me strength to make a long drive and be fully present.

The weekend was hard, and we are still hoping for progress. I wish no one ever had to suffer through health difficulties. I wish life didn't have to be so hard. But that said, I got to go make a home-cooked meal and sit around the table with my college kids and hear their laughter and see them grow. It was good. No politics in the world are pure enough or good enough or strong enough to make a system powerful enough to help every human on the planet. I pray that we could all do our little parts for one another and that just as the loaves and fishes became enough, our little puny efforts would be enough. And as we were present, all coming together for family, I felt our little efforts become a safety net.

Not sure what this all has to do with the price of tea in China.

But here I am.

I planted some seedlings in the garden this afternoon. I wrote some recipes for my food column. Tended the bathrooms. Hung laundry on the line. Biked to the bank. Saw some ambulances and was relieved that the sound did not send me into a scary place.

These days, I work for a fellow in a vineyard a couple days a week, weeding, running a hoe. And have two or three house cleaning gigs. The bakery is open a couple of days. I am back to reading to the kids in the evening, at least a few times a week. We are reading My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, a book that changed my life, some 38 years ago. Instead of being in leadership, I come home and pick green beans and tomatoes and peppers. And talk to the chickens. Cook a little. Read a lot. Trusting that the new normal is going to be okay...

ps you guys who leave me comments and emails are so encouraging. It is beyond me why any of you would continue to read! But I will endeavor to keep it real.

And perhaps we will be an encouragement for one another on our journey.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Changing of the Season

Whoa! I feel cold in the bakery this morning! I guess it isn't really cold, but 60's feel different than 80's. Reminds me that fall is my favorite season and surely she making ready for her journey to Alpine.

Maggie drove away yesterday after tearful hugs and prayers of blessing. My tears! We will see her again for a few hours on Friday, getting her installed in the dorm. We will get Patrick situated and then come back home to a house that is steadily emptying out.

I was a little testy with Patrick at one point yesterday afternoon, then realized I was sad, and needed to cry. So I did. And ran errands on my bike and sought comfort in a chili relleno burrito made by the nice lady at El Patio. Yes, it was comforting! I told myself that feelings of grief are not shameful, but rather lovely and natural considering the sweet relationship I have with my kids.

Patrick and I sat outside for our dinner last night and talked about important things. We watched the chickens scratch for bugs and eat grass. Little girls, not so little any more, were all out clothes shopping in El Paso, using hard earned funds, seeking their bargains. Thomas was at his apt, probably enjoying tv or the computer. The house does not feel sad at all knowing that former inhabitants are now off and about, growing up. It must be used to that pattern, as the Turners, who built the place had their own blended family with five kids who all went their different directions, too. The house knows that kids come back for holidays and family celebrations, and as the years pass bring partners and babies and new stories to share.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

It is August. Past mid-August, and time to say farewell to Maggie and Patrick. We head to Austin as soon as the bakery closes Thursday evening. Actually, we drive to Mom and Daddy's, camp out all over their house, eat a great big, Daddy breakfast, then go to install the two. One in his second year on the campus of University of Texas. The other a few miles south, St. Edwards University.

I am so proud of these kids. They worked so hard, each getting tons of academic awards and grants making it possible for them to get accepted to wonderful universities. Their running discipline has taught them endurance that pays off in many areas. Their work helping on the farm, volunteering here around Alpine, all the meaningful relationships, have been excellent means to prepare them for this next step in their journey.

To tell you the truth, my worries about how they will adapt are next to nothing.

That said, sending off these children who are growing into adult friends makes my heart tender. Ouch. Right about the time we grow able to converse about meaningful things, we are able to understand and appreciate each others differences, off they go. And I lose friends, not to mention amazing help!

I remember the last scene in Nanny McPhee, one of our favorite kids movies. Saying farewell is a tender thing indeed.

How will we manage, our new family dynamic? Rose and Nora and myself, with Thomas coming over several times a week for dinner and dishwasher duty in the bakery? I think we will manage just fine, and probably the girls and I will move into a lovely new way, more time to enjoy one another, less laundry, fewer shoes scattered around the house.

Holidays will become more and more precious as college kids come home and share stories and new philosophies and grand ideas and failures. And we will sit around the table and talk and talk and revel in the truth that family, even when scattered, is still family. We know each others stories, regrets and rewards and love each other deeply.

And just think! Someday it will be just me, and think of how much more time I will have for writing! (I realized a few months ago that my margin had been eaten up, my hours were filled up to beyond normal human capacity. The things that give me joy, like solitary hikes, gardening, writing, were having to be shoved to the side because I was overinvolved. All good stuff. Church leadership, work, friends, kids. I have taken up extra jobs. The bakery continues. I am so thankful that I have options and control over my life. I let go the leadership positions, some of the social stuff, sold the car, ride to shop and odd jobs on my bike, have taken up meditation, and am getting more rest. I am feeling better than I have in a very long time. Somehow that makes me think that writing will happen more naturally because it is definitely a sign of mental health and balance for me. I love the discipline that my monthly food column offers. It is fun developing seasonal recipes and rooting for the local food movement. But there is something about this blog community that keeps me grounded. You guys who read so loyally are amazing. The encouragement you give me is priceless. Thank you!!! More on the journey soon... )


Gardens in May are bright and tender and full of promise. June and July, the picture of vibrant fertility. August rolls around a bit tired, somewhat bedraggled, just about played out around the edges as the heat and the squash bugs take their toll.


The tomatoes and peppers just keep on coming. Ratty green bean vines and squash vines get pulled and manure and straw are spread. Once again a beautiful canvas, ready for garden artists to exercise faith again, trusting that cooler weather awaits and with that swiss chard, spinach, ruffly green and pink lettuces, giant kale and turnips and carrots.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Two days ago we found the first ripening figs on the trees in the backyard.

Each day we go out, seeking little gifts.

If we are patient and careful, we are generally rewarded with treasure, bites of heaven, rich, nutty, decadent proof that we are loved.

We might have to peer under leaves and behind branches. But sure enough, this time of year means quite a few contemplative moments as we steal away into the backyard, seeking a tasty treat.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Trying to start somewhere...

How do I return to blogging when it has been thousands of miles since my last post? Filled with highs, lows, delightful moments, dark, sad gut-wrenching grief moments, garden stuff, recipes, road trips, supernatural provisions, mile posts, celebrations, new recipes, and more?


Today is Thursday. That means we reached peak bakery output in our week. Monday I had some bakery orders for Girl Scouts. Pita bread for thirty and piles of hi fiber, tasty, seedy banana muffins for the same gals who headed out to camp and kayak and hike. Then Tuesday, working on inventory and making ingredient orders, shuffling papers, tending to accounting. Bill paying. Kids' college financial aid loose ends, and unbelievably big piles of ridiculous things I have to sign and send for this and that. Then I come up with a loose list of what I plan to sell on Thursday. Wednesday I scrub and clean and clear away unfinished paperwork and begin to mill. I make cookie dough and stick in the fridge to ripen. I mill more grains with my stone burr mill from Meadows Mills in N. Wilkesboro, NC and then mix warm whole grain flour with coconut oil, yogurt and iced water to form a tender pie crust for fifty veggie tarts.

Three twenty eight am comes early for this night owl. I tried to go to sleep at 8:45, probably drifted off by 9:30pm.

Thank God for ritual. The alarm goes off. I don't think. If I think, I will go back to sleep for another two hours because that would be logical. I get up anyway, shuffle directly into the kitchen. Put on the kettle. Turn on the bakery lights and pull out gallons of local raw milk to warm. Take the french press coffee pot, fill with water and shuffle out to garden to pour the watery old grounds onto whichever plant cries out to me the loudest.

This morning it was the tomato plant in the front bed, on the side by the mailbox.

By the time I have shuffled through those steps, the kettle begins to whistle and the milk is warmed. I grind the coffee beans, pour the water and let the coffee steep while I take warmed milk into the bakery, and begin to perform alchemy.

I have three giant mixing bowls that will occupy several gallons of mixture. Summer sales are down as customers are traveling, and distracted and out and about. So instead of larger mix, I place two pans filled with twelve cups each of warmed milk from Z-Bar Ranch into two bowls. Add a couple of cups of Fain's raw honey to each. A couple of tablespoons of yeast. Into the silver bowl I add around 18 cups of spelt flour. Into the white plastic bowl with a crack I add 16 cups of golden wheat flour. Into the other white plastic bowl I pour 7 1/2 cups warmed water, add yeast and 8 cups of the golden wheat flour to begin the sponge for the italian peasant bread.

By this time, the coffee is fully steeped, and while I am still not having to think or really be awake, I do know it is time to press and pour myself a very large cup of coffee, leaving plenty of room for heavy whipping cream. By now, 3:47 am.

I beat the sponge for the italian bread fifteen minutes or so. The third pan of milk should be warmed by now, ready to be transformed into Grainier Seedier Milk and Honey bread sponge.

At this point, the music is cranking. Dixie Chick station on Pandora.

For some reason, every song seems to make me sad. What the heck? I was hoping for energetic, girl band power music! But there are a couple of songs that really tap me into grief mode.

So I cry. And keep on working. I have a bowl of old grain that needs to be tossed to the chickens, so I walk outside into the dark, pre-dawn backyard, and marvel for a moment at the waning moon, already high in the velvety black sky. I think about the outing Thomas and I made on Tuesday evening. I really wanted to go, then, right before time to drive to Marfa, I told Thomas I was just too tired to head out. He let me know he had his heart set on our excursion, so I went with him, out to the truck to make the 26 mile drive west.

We didn't really know where we were going, but the event had been advertised. A Japanese movie made in 1953. Ugetsu. Subtitled. Free.

We get to the location. Find a big yard with a barn door open. We hear sounds of people milling around. I feel kind of strange and foreign. We don't know a soul. We pick a couple of plastic chairs and I notice an acquaintance who walked in. Ahh. Relief!

The movie is set in 17th century, civil war torn Japan. I find myself delighted to recognize many Japanese words and understand them! The fable is a story of two families who get caught up in the ambitious search for fame and riches, one man wishing to become rich as a potter, the other as a soldier. At the onset of the story, there is a prophetic word given, suggesting that the search for said riches would bring them all to ruin. The sassy wives try to encourage the husbands to live a simple life, but the men are hell-bent on the path to success.

I find that even though the movie is dated, filmed over sixty years ago, Thomas and I are fully engaged in the story. As it progresses, we find ourselves in the middle of a Japanese fairy tale, with the men reeling in their moment of glory, seemingly achieving all they ever desired, with fame and glory and doting women and all. Of course they have a few twinges as they remember their wives and the other life, but assume they will have plenty of time to make all things right.

Meanwhile, we witness scenes where the wives suffer terribly for the foolhardy choices of their husbands. It is painful to watch.

As the story comes to an end, well, I guess most of you will probably never watch an esoteric Japanese film from the 50's, so perhaps this won't spoil things for you too much....Well, the one husband, who becomes a glorious soldier, finds his abandoned wife in a brothel, broken and hard. They somehow manage to painfully reconcile, and return to their farm and the day dreamer finds purpose and joy in working beside his wife. The other husband manages to barely escape a ghost lover who wishes to take him to her kingdom in the other realm, and finds his way back home, where he is greeted by the ghost of his wife who was murdered by desperate soldiers. He repents and finds his purpose in his work and caring for his son.

And we are left to see that some lessons just aren't learned the easy way.

That pain and suffering are most often the only path to enlightenment. Because we are not quick to listen to advice? Because we forget to think of others?

The movie left me a bit stunned and pensive.

And I felt so grateful to share that experience with Thomas! And enjoyed pondering many things while I continued the baking.

After the italian comes the ancient seedy. Then the Spelt Almond Raisin Rye. While the dough mixes and yeast rises I prepare brownie mixes and pancake mixes. Then make a giant pan of almond raisin granola. I boil the syrup, just to the right point, add vanilla, and mix with oats and cinnamon. The aromas are overwhelming!

And so the day continues, the sun rises at some point, the flour and water and yeast turn into bouncy balls of dough, cut out and weighed, kneaded into loaves or rolled into pizza crusts. The oven whines, the heat builds, and steam and amazing smells fill the neighborhood. I send out my email list to customers and post the menu on facebook.

At ten thirty or so in the morning I pause to eat lunch. The kids are up. The girls get ready to go to work. I wash a big pile of pots.

By twelve thirty the bread is all baked, all 75 loaves or so. I get the baby quiches going, make pound cakes and cookies and a giant jar of green tea for me, served over ice. The rain begins to fall and I run outside to catch buckets of water to dump into the fish pond. The rain falls so furiously I get completely soaked! Thank goodness this is right before shower time. I think I collect fifty gallons of water in the five gallon buckets before my break comes to an end.

Thank God for gully washers!! My garden won't need to be watered today!

Customers pop in early and by three thirty I have a steady stream. All are my friends. How lucky am I? They are happy and grateful to pick up their bread and other good stuff. I am exhausted and happy and grateful for my job.

So there you go.

I want to write. I truly do. But I don't know where to begin...

So perhaps if I just start where I am that will help prime the pump. I miss you guys.