Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I'm in E the Environmental Magazine!

Check it out - my New Mexico adventures in E/The Environmental Magazine...
Back to Nature What Is It About Simplicity and Solitude that Inspires Writers?
By Wendee Holtcamp

blustery day

It is so incredibly windy today! You'd think the outhouse would get blown right away... The dust is flying everywhere. A few birds have been whacked up against the windows as they dart about. Most of them have gone away for the time being. There are quite a few birds, they eat the juniper berries and the birdseed in the feeder. I wish I'd brought my bird book but alas I did not. I hope it is not this windy when I fly out on Sunday!

Well I really don't have any brilliant things to say today. Unlike my other brilliant posts about things like frozen pee. I will update later, perhaps, if I am feeling like it. I have made some progress on my proposal and all I have is the Expanded Table of Contents and possibly a sample chapter which I doubt I will finish before I leave. I will complete all the rest though... my friend Miranda said she doesn't know how I work so fast and I was like, dang, I thought I have been inching along like a freaking snail.

I read this article, "Enough Nature Writing Already" by Stephen Lyons in High Country News from 1999, and thought it was a hoot.

Quoting, "This may be heresy, but how many times do we need to wade through an introvert’s musings on his or her latest tramp into unspoiled wilderness? Would it hurt anyone to have a moratorium on the word 'sacred,' or on the following: 'I take a step slowly across the knoll. I listen to coyotes howl. I watch hawks circle on thermals that I feel against my skin, which is attached to my body. If only all of humankind could walk with me and think the same thoughts I have then all conflicts, cruelty, and madness would cease. I take another step ... into the wild.'"

Well at least in my belly-button gazing musings, I talk about frozen pee.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

cotton candy sky

My kids and I like to call the pink clouds in the blue sky "cotton candy sky" - so I thought I'd upload a few photos of a cloud that turned into a cotton candy cloud as the afternoon wore on.

I finally made significant progress on my proposal, and then took a walk up the mountain. I scared a cottontail bunny. I've seen a few of them and also saw a hare today dashing across in front of my window. When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a bunny as a pet. I never got one. But now I see them all the time.

A Prayer for Awareness and Confession
God enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things... to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of [humankind] with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone but for themselves and for thee, and that they love the sweetness of life. Amen.
-- St Basil the Great (329-379 AD)

It has been colder lately, and the pee in the outhouse freezes at night. Isn't that just a lovely detail you wanted to know?

Monday, November 28, 2005

drafty drafts and propaganda preachers

I haven't posted much because I've been getting increasingly foggy and stressed. Nature is not supposed to do this to you! Actually I think it's a combination of things - only a week left and the stress of feeling that I haven't accomplished enough. I completed my first drafty draft of my Overview and About Me sections of the proposal, but its just not all coming together. I think I have some compelling ideas but I need to draw it out in a more narrative form. I admit I never have had real writers block, but I have had moments of self-doubt and fear, particularly with a new magazine or new important project.

I think perhaps the fear is that this message is so important & I have to do it right. I was browsing Robert Pennock's "Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism" last night - the intro talks about some of the creationist cartoon-based posters and tracts where they represent the big bad biology professor yelling at the poor Christian student and in the end, the student quotes from the Bible and defeats evolution and the professor retires. "We didn't evolve! The establishment has been feeding us THE BIG LIE! We really do have a soul!" (this is what the tract reads, apparently).

I mean, really! Come on people!!! The obvious untruths in this depiction are (1) that evolution is incompatible with Christian faith (2) that evolution says anything at all about a soul which is by its nature an unfalsifiable question and hence science can't study it (3) that the Bible would negate science - they are different realms entirely.

I browsed Phillip Johnson's book "Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds" and it just really gets my goat. I'm sorry but here is an educated guy, but he's a lawyer, he's not a biologist, and he's just so full of doodoo. His writing is just so ill-informed, full of a bunch of mistakes and untruths and half-truths and, frankly scary. I am truly scared about where our nation is headed. And I'm going to try to do something about it! (a la my book)

Well I have a lot of work to do... so I'll leave you with this photo of the snow dusting we had the other night. The photo didn't turn out great but you can still see what it looked like a bit!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

it is snowing!!!!!

oh my gosh, I am soooooooo excited!!! First I saw lightning through my window. Given the horrific lightning storms in Texas and that it generally means a mandatory shut-down of the computer, I was a little worried since I have a ton of writing left to do tonight. But it stopped lightning-ing, and in my dash to the outhouse I noticed it was snowing! The wind is howling through the hills and flurries are all around. I am so thrilled that I am literally jumping up and down! (remember I live in Texas...) Oh I wish my kids were here to see this... in the morning I will send photos of the snow-covered landscape. This just takes the cake. I'm so happy. This is just too cool.

This morning I awoke to coyotes yapping right outside my cabin! It was so neat! I looked out the window and saw two of them, right there in front of the window.

Friday, November 25, 2005

purple mountain majesties

This afternoon I took a walk. For the first time, I took some photos of Pedernal, the flat-topped mountain Georgia O'Keeffe loved and claimed as her own. I sat down in the dirt and stared at the hills and valleys on the way toward distant Pedernal for a while. Then I walked up and around Owl Mountain to that high spot where I could dangle my feet over the ledge and as I turned the bend, I said out loud "Oh my God." The landscape from this mountaintop view was just so beautiful - I remember uttering such words in Alaska as well. I have seen many a beautiful scene around the world, and I really did not expect to fall so in love with this place. But I have. The colors are almost gaudy -- I always thought the paintings of the region so odd. I like the way it looks in nature far more than in a painting -- the greens and yellows and browns of the land, and the pinks and purples and blues of the sky. Well really the land turns purple and pink too, which is what you see in paintings. Every moment you look to a different direction and when you glance back, everything has changed again. Because of the rolling hills and the mountains in the distance and the rock formations close by, the light really dances and illuminates.

As I sat dangling my feet over the ledge and marveling at the purple mountains, I felt love in my heart for this country. I started singing the lyrics to America the Beautiful inside my head:

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea

and I cried real tears over what we are doing to our land. I remember leaving Houston and just thinking how we (humanity) really are a blight on the land in so many places. And yet I come here and so much wide open space exists, so much beauty. I think maybe New Mexico has got it right? And yet if there were gold or silver or coal to be found in that mountain, and some company got a hankering to mine it, they'd swoop in like vultures and chop that mountain right up. Mountaintop coal mining is back, folks, with weakened rules snuck into the Federal Register over Thanksgiving when no one is paying attention. At least people know about it - with sand mining nobody knows what it is or the devastation it has caused in the beautiful bottomland hardwood forests and lands adjacent to Texas rivers.

I love our country. I love the land, and the principles the nation was founded on. And it's a darn shame that we can not all be wise, conserve, and stop the greedy corporate interests from destroying what remains.

Oh beautiful, for smoggy skies, insecticided grain
For strip-mined mountain's majesty above the asphalt plain.
America, America, man sheds his waste on thee
And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea!
-- George Carlile's 1970 version

About the best I can do for the purple mountain majesties with my feeble photography skills. Now if Laurence Parent were here... Laurence! Calling Laurence Parent! ;) He has an out of this world talent. If you have never seen his photos (well if you've seen a Sierra Club calendar you probably have), check him out. This is a link to his Texas Photo Gallery (you can see others in there). He has a lot of NM photos too. Laurence I hope you don't mind me talking about you!
The quaint little outhouse at Owl Mountain.
The toilets. Like you are probably wondering yourself, my first thought was, two seats? What is this for a husband-wife couple? ROFLOL. But alas, one is for "solids" and one is for "liquids". Nothing like reminding you we are all just civilized human/animals, when it comes down to human waste.

PS The comment by Tom Finlay - that's my daddy! :) Gotta love him!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

all i can say is.... wow

sat outside and stared at the stars. in the words of lilly from "Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, "all i can say is, wow."

soooo many stars. so beautiful. i imagined mariners of times past out on the sea staring at the sky, using the stars to navigate. how amazing that through the generations and across the years, these same stars have borne witness to history. Neanderthals stared at these same stars. to think that so many people go through life (myself in suburbia included) without the joy of seeing these stars daily, that some may even forget - for all intents and purposes - that the vast universe of stars even exist. i must get a telescope.


God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well. - Voltaire

My God how I entertain myself... Taking self-portraits has never been so fun. I made myself a totally delish Thanksgiving dinner - chicken cooked with basil, stuffing, a sweet potato and cranberry sauce. mmmmm yummy! And I didn't even gorge myself. Which is a good thing since I ate the whole darn chocolate bar yesterday. I talked to my best friend Daline who I LOVE and she is so so so funny and so so so cool. This is what she is going to do for her birthday which is Sunday (happy Birthday Daline - you go girl!!!). Like me, she went through a divorce recently. She is working on forgiving herself and creating a grand new life. So she is going to put on her wedding dress, overlain by her silky purple bathrobe which is covered with Lotus flowers, and a purple veil and a bunch of costume jewelry, and go out in her hometown of Moab Utah and give away chocolate and flowers as a way to spread joy. I wish I could be there with her!!! I told her that we HAVE to do something like that when she comes home for Christmas. GOT TO!!! I love life!!! I told her she has got to send me some photos for my blog... Meanwhile here are some self-portraits that I hope entertain you as much as they have me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

chocolate foibles

The cabin pantry is stocked with goodies, and loving to explore, I poked around the first day here. Thai noodles, canned goods, soup, mmm.... chocolate! I spot a chocolate toffee bar. You should know better than to leave me alone with chocolate. I peel the wrapper and the chocolate is light in color, as if it's been around a while. No bother, I don't mind old chocolate, I think. I take a bite. Mmm... love toffee. I look at the bar and notice something crawling on the bar... worms! Oh lovely, I am eating maggot-infested chocolate. I run outside and spit it out. Then rinse my mouth. Throw the bar in the garbage. Rinse mouth again. Brush teeth. Pleh! Ah, well I should have known... it seems a metaphor somehow.

Today I made my first foray out to town, the village of Abiquiu a few miles down the road. Georgia O'Keeffe's old home is there, and I stop at a few places to browse. At one place I stopped there was a O'Keeffe postcard with a quote of hers about Pedernal the flat-topped mountain in this area -- I got a kick out of it "It's my private mountain, it belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it."

So I stopped at the store to get cranberry sauce and stuffing and there at the counter was chocolate. Despite the earlier chocolate foibles, how could I resist? It was packaged like a love letter "love poem inside" it read and "XOXOXO" Crystallized Ginger in Dark Chocolate. So I bought it. On the way home, I nibbled. Just a little bit I said to myself. Its a huge bar, I'll eat a bit now, a bit for later. I love crystallized ginger... Yummy. So what does my love poem say? What does the universe have to say to me about love? (I'll tell you what it says, it says you ate the whole darn bar and that chocolate is gonna make your butt get big)...

My love letter from the universe is from one of my favorite poets, John Donne. From "The bait" pub 1896.

COME live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines and silver hooks.

There will the river whisp'ring run
Warm'd by thy eyes, more than the sun ;
And there th' enamour'd fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

For thee, thou need'st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait :
That fish, that is not catch'd thereby,
Alas, is wiser far than I.
The sky on the way home from Abiquiu 11/23/05


The last couple of days the sky has had a few wispy scattered clouds. It adds a dimension to photographs. I took some incredible photos of the red rock hills behind the cabin, glowing in a rich light that made them appear even more reddish in the photo than the eye saw. A puffy thin streak of cloud went behind them, and it looked really cool. My cam battery croaked though so I'll have to upload later.

I think I may make a foray into town today - either Abiquiu or even all the way to Santa Fe. I want to get some cranberry sauce so I can have my own little private Thanksgiving feast. No turkey but I may make some chicken. And stuffing. I do have a sweet potato in the fridge. I will have to make a fire tomorrow and look at the stars. I have been hesitant to, because I'm not the greatest warrior-firebuilder she-woman, and I'm a complete cold wimp. Though I suppose after the fire is started it will not be cold. If it lights. And lasts more than 5 minutes sputtering along. I did make my own very first campfire when I camped with the kids at Martin Dies Jr State Park earlier this year (part of the Big Thicket - the State Park actually got pretty destroyed with Hurricane Rita). Anyway no matter I have to make a fire and that is that.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

pee-cans and yesterdays

I have, as it were, my own sun and moon and stars, and a little world all to myself.
- Henry David Thoreau, On Walden Pond

6am I awoke with an urgency to relieve myself. The main thing I don't like about outhouses in the winter is the cold seat. I don't mind the cold of the night, or having to go outside to use the bathroom, but I don't like a cold bottom. This composting outhouse toilet really has no odor unlike the quite smelly numbers of my youth. When I was at dad's, in the night I would either just go in the yard (mind you, this was on a mountain on 24 acres of Oregon woods in the middle of nowhere), or use the pee-pot. It was a little light blue ceramic pot just the right size for my little bottom. Pee-pot reminds me of something hilarious from a recent trip to San Saba, Texas, the Pecan capital of the world. "A pee-can is what you go to the bathroom in, a pa-cahn is what you eat."

As I walked back to the cabin I broke into a spontaneous smile and I thought to myself "pure joy" which is what Jewel wrote on her album liner that she felt upon moving into her van, prior to being discovered. Living here in this tiny cabin in a vast beautiful high desert place, sitting in front of the fireplace/"wood stove" at night listening to Simon and Garfunkel and writing by candlelight, I am in heaven. It reminds me that the suburban home I live in is not where I want to be. It is functional and nice, and has its benefits. But I feel pure joy and freedom and that I am true to my hippie bohemian roots living in a sustainable place set amid a natural landscape. I must find my way back, and creating that sustainable retreat center just may do it for me, though it may take some time to build and plan.

I love the way the sun dances on the mountains here, how it colors and illumines in succession the layers of the land, in soft, rich, glowing colors. During mid-day the soil is washed out grays and tans and pale pinks, but at dusk and dawn the colors richen and deepen and the sun's rays may light up a section of mountain horizontally, or cast long shadows across the land. The wind may howl through the hills and the coyotes yip and ravens caw.

How beautiful that our bodies create a physical manifestation of something our hearts and minds feel - tears. Since my book is about the dangers of being deceived, I have been thinking a lot about a personal situation that happened to me earlier this year. A song by Sheryl Crow on her latest CD brought tears to my eyes.

My yesterdays are all boxed up and neatly put away but every now and then you come to mind. Cause you were always waiting to be picked to play the game. But when your name was called you found a place to hide, when you knew that I was always on your side. Well everything was easy then, so sweet and innocent. But your demons and your angels reappeared, leaving all the traces of the man you thought you'd be. Leaving me with no place left to go from here. Leaving me with so many questions all these years.

Dusks soft colors - 11/22/05

Monday, November 21, 2005

magic is happening

I started to wonder today if I would get anything done on my proposal since the landscape keeps beckoning me to explore it. Earlier I sat at the outside table and read a few articles on evolution and creationism. Then I updated my blog after going for that walk and taking the shower. Then I sat in the circle you have seen in the photos (made for the fire pit) in a chair with my tea and Susan Rabiner's awesome book "Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get it Published" and I started to answer those questions I'd been mulling earlier atop the hill, and that are integral to a proposal: What am I going to write that is different, and why am I the one to write it? And who cares? At first it came out in fits and starts and then it actually started to come together in a cohesive theme.

Then I went for another walk as the dusk hour came upon the land. I walked down to the Tibetan flags again - they fascinate me (I will have to look into their history), and then down to a flattish area and there was this huge crevasse - it was so deep and the ground/soil so soft that I was a bit afraid it would collapse under my feet. I started to think about the "evil exboyfriend" situation and why it happened to me, and how I could get suckered into the whole thing and be so deceived-why did I believe the lies? Why did it seem so real? And tears came to my eyes as it all came together for me. It doesn't really matter how or why, the fact was that it happened, and I - an intelligent, well educated woman who questioned relentlessly - still fell for it hook line and sinker. Then the connection to the book I am writing fell into place -- Here is the "why me" for why I am the one to write my book. Because it can happen to anyone, and increasingly in our nation it is. Not with deceitful men but with deceitful people spreading propaganda and lies that masquerade as the real deal, as truth, as religious faith-based ideas and ideals. Smart, well-meaning and educated people are being deceived into following the concepts espoused by proponents of intelligent design, and it is all a Wizard-of-Oz sham. Being deceived can happen to anyone. And that is why everyone should read the book I want to write. It was a beautiful magical aha moment.
Long afternoon shadows on the fall landscape

My shadow cast against the golden afternoon sunlight

my first camp shower - a humorous adventure

Had my first attempt at a camp shower at Owl Mountain. Here's what the scene looked like... Heat water on propane stove in big metal pot. Pour hot water into 5 gallon plastic container, and haul heavy water-filled container across room to place on top of wood pedestal near shower. Place pump in water. Dash outside, and attempt to light propane heating element. Not tall enough. Hmm. Grab a bench and move it under propane element, still trying to "hurry."

Slightly fearful of blowing self up, carefully turn on flame thrower (one of this candle-lighting dooma-hickies), turn on propane and try to light heating element. It does not light immediately. Hmm. Fearful even more of being blown to smithereens, turn off propane and let dissipate for a few moments. Try again. This time, success! I think. I can hear something different than before, though I can not see flame, so in faith I run inside, rip off my clothes throwing them all over the floor and push the button that turns the water on. Shower!

The water feels great, perfect temperature. I take the showerhead from its place and get myself wet all over. Then I can't get it back in its place, so I have to hold the hose in between my legs while I lather up my hair. I poke my hand into the bucket to see how I'm doing on water - more than halfway gone. Already. Yikes. Quickly start to rinse hair even before I've finished lathering. Get all of soap out of hair and use shampoo bubbles to try to wash as much of my body as I can before water runs out. Think lathering and rinsing very quickly, cartoon-comical like. Water starts to drip. Gone. Hang hose down and use "grey water" in tin bucket to rinse soap off my body. Hear strange bubbling noise and smell burning plastic. Hmm.

Quickly dash out of tin bucket I am standing in, dry off with a towel, throw on some clothes and run outside to turn off propane heating element. Hear water "boiling" inside the tubes that run the water to the water storage bucket. Decide I will have to figure out a better way to get the propane turned off promptly after the water runs out.

This is just like the showers I used to take at my dad's only I didn't have a propane element to turn on/off. We heated the water on the wood stoves, put it in a bucket that hung over a makeshift shower, and then when you dry off you run by the wood stove to heat yourself up. You had to turn the water on the spigot on and off when you lathered up to conserve it. I tried that here but the problem is the propane heats the water in the bucket and a few seconds and it gets too hot and can burn you... Yes that little red plastic container is all the water you get for the shower....(can you tell I'm a big fan of ellipses...?)

Before my shower I did some reading outside, and after my shower I went for a walk around the place and sat atop a cliff overlooking Owl Mountain for a while contemplating. What is my unique contribution? What can I say in my book that will reach the audience that needs to be reached without alienating them but while still finding a publisher that thinks it will sell? How can I be a spokesperson for evolution? Who am I and what do I have different to say? Is it that I am both every-woman and one of a kind? I can be both very normal, very real, a mom, with kids, with struggles, with hopes, who wants a good education for my kids, who wants myself and my kids to not be deceived by propaganda - and at the same time I am someone a little bit different than everybody else?

Here I am in the middle of nowhere, sitting atop a desert mountain in a way that maybe Jesus himself did, and asking my God, the Lord of Creation and the God of the Universe - the God of Love and Truth and Peace - what can I do to bring these things - love, truth, peace - more fully into the world through my life, through my writing? Its a tough calling, but I will put one word after another to paper (or to electrons as the case may be) and see what is born. (The photo is me making shadow images/ creatures as I sat atop the mountain and it turned out quite a bit more humorous than I intended it to...)

Walking through the land, bra-less and without makeup (I actually started to put some on and then thought, why? That is absurd, but shows my insecurity...) I felt free and alive and a sense of joy in my step I have not felt in a while. I love the way the little shrubs polka-dot the land, growing in little isolated clumps. They are these shades of yellow and sage green and some evergreen (the junipers). They just looked so cute and fuzzy. OK I know I'm weird. I jumped across these crevices made from the water and just felt very free to jump like a colt. I feel a renewed sense of committment to creating a place like this on my own, like my father did, and like I want to do so that I can offer writing retreats in Texas along the San Jacinto, and to have a beautiful environmentally-friendly "green building" where environmental groups can hold meetings and conferences and I can run a B&B. This is one of my dreams.

desert solitaire

First morning - awoke at 6am to a beautiful cool crisp morning in the high desert. Made some camp coffee and am catching up on some loose ends before digging into my proposal, first chapter. I walked around and shot some photos in the early morning hour, the sunrise, the way the light dances off the hills and the quaint little polka-dot shrubs that grow scattered on the landscape. You'd think nothing could live here but we know wildlife abounds in desert places. Last night I heard coyotes singing and yapping to one another - I love their noises, they are hauntingly beautiful. I remember when I was a child at my dad's log cabin and having to go outside in the night to go to the bathroom in the outhouse (or in the yard...) and hearing the coyotes. As I write this something dog-like is walking by my window... it must be a fox? It was black though - how weird. Maybe a wild dog? I have never seen a black coyote... And it was too small for a coyote. Many birds alight in the juniper trees and sup from the bird feeder outside my window. Notice the 3/4 wedge moon in the first photo here...

You know as much as everyone loves Edward Abbey and I am now living in his world, I have never read Desert Solitaire. I will have to read it sometime soon. It reminds me of one summer during college when I lived in Nevada and worked doing field research on the Nevada Test Site - where they used to test nuclear bombs above ground... my mom and her twin as children would watch from Las they do the testing underground. During my summer there, I trapped small mammals (a nice name for rats and squirrels and mice... which I must say I absolutely adore, call me weird), and did vegetation sampling (picking all the teeny tiny leaves off of creosote bushes, identifying species, etc.) and trapped reptiles and invertebrates in pitfall traps and traversed the desert in search of endangered wildflowers among other things - oh we also did radio telemetry on desert tortoises. It was a wonderful summer. Very hot. I was in great shape! I still keep in touch with some of my friends from there but I have not seen them since... we will have to change that - David and Tracey!!

I've had some insights into what I would write about for my book. It's scary and intimidating because I want it to be the best book it can be and I impose insane expectations on myself. But though I know I can do it, I have to convince someone else (agent/publisher etc) I can do it and that is a harder task altogether. That requires both shameless self-promotion and genuine humility at the same time, a difficult combination. Well I better get to what I came here for...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

i have found heaven... and its in NM

I have found heaven and its in New Mexico... this place is beautiful. I walked around after I got settled and every minute the sky changed. I'd look through my camera lens and then look up and say out loud "Oh my gosh," and "Wow!" The colors of the sunset and the rolling hills, covered with sagebrush and yucca and tumbleweed... in the distance the sun illuminated the already snow-capped peaks. I am only disappointed that my camera can not capture the beauty near to what the eye can see. Georgia O'Keeffe painted here in Abiquiu, she painted these very hills and mountains.

I may have a hard time concentrating to write... However I have to force myself. Here are some photos I took. The cabin - Owl Mountain Writer's Retreat - overlooks - you guessed it, Owl Mountain. It uses solar panels which power up a battery that runs my laptop and some lights. There is a self-composting toilet outside. A propane wood stove heats the place at night and there is a propane-run refrigerator and stove. There is a large water tank outside and a camp shower inside that also runs by propane. Its just like when I grew up, only much more modern! I picked up some groceries in Santa Fe and Marguerite, the owner, has the place stocked with all kinds of goodies. Its a real treat to stay here.

Even a few beers and a bottle of wine in the fridge.

So driving up the driveway several Tibetan prayer flags greet you. The cabin is poised on a hill, and the topography is incredible. I will have to hike around the red hills where Owl Mountain is. All around are sandy washes where evidence of water from rainstorms past flushed through. There are so many colors. I had so many profound things to say earlier but I am all out of words, so I will leave you with some photos.
Inside the cabin. Note the carved wooden owl at the upper left corner of the photo.
Tibetan prayer flags
Self-portrait of my shadow

The cabin nestled in the hills

Saturday, November 19, 2005

making a day worth remembering

I am doing these weekly "Live Your Best Life" exercises (from Debbie Ford), and this week's is Seize the Day. Debbie in her audio-cd said something that really struck me, and it relates to today's exercise. She said that her husband reminded her that even though she was already dedicated to living her best life, and creating great days and years, she needed to slow down and pay attention to what was occurring each day or it would come and go and she would look back in a year and that particular day she may not be able to remember what she did.

If you think about it, we remember significant events. We remember weddings, funerals, divorce days, graduations, particular days of vacations (but even they blur together), but when you look back on your year how many really special days did you have? As a writer, and a avid journaler, I am inclined to remember more of my days than those who do not. But even I have many days that blur together so I am trying to make this an active part of my life.

Yesterday I had a wonderful day with the kids. Since I won't see them for a couple weeks I spent the day with them. It was Grandparents Day at their school and they had early release and my parents came down (mom and stepdad) so we went bowling (no, it is not one of my regular habits). I had a blast bowling - we were just all being silly and crazy. Well that would be myself and my kids. My parents were being my parents and telling us to settle down. Things haven't changed much since I was a kid! Then my parents went home, and I took my kids to see the new Harry Potter movie. We got some candy and went to the bookstore and I picked the kids up many times and swung them around and we played "1-2-3-4 let's have a thumb war" and it was great.

I tell my kids about one day when I was in high school and I was in a silly mood and I ran through the house like an ape scratching my armpits and saying "bananas! bananas!" in a really low gruff voice. Yes I was a little nuts! I had fun, though... I didn't tell my kids that My mom accused me of being on drugs when I did this... which I was not. I guess that was a day to remember since I remember it twenty years later!

I am going to go take a long hot bubble bath now, and do my bible study, since I will not have a hot bath (or running water) for the next 2 weeks...back to my roots to create my masterpiece :)

Friday, November 18, 2005


It has been a while since I've posted only because I have been swamped with things to do. There are days when I HAVE to write in my blog because the thoughts and words are pouring into my mind and have to overflow somewhere and it usually is the page or the typewritten word. But lately I've been trying to play catch-up or get-ahead or something like that, before I leave for my exciting adventure to New Mexico; I leave Sunday and am completely thrilled and excited!! I am excited to go and be alone like Thoreau in the wilderness. I love to be alone. I love solitude. I am a contemplative and have thought of being a monk (not really very seriously... lol) anyway I need to ramble because I don't have time to self-edit.

So I am excited about the concept of focusing on one thing. I am such a freak-multi-tasker. At one time I'll have 5 websites open - I'll be renewing my library books, ordering something on Amazon, searching Google for some info, and then also have 8 emails open, 4 Word docs (2 assignments I'm working on, a table with the queries I'm working on to agents, etc etc). Yes I am insane...So anyway it keeps life exciting. But as focused light can be a lazer I need to focus my attention fully on the task of finishing my book proposal. I am going to tune out the rest of my life for a while, but I will try to blog and write about my experiences. So for now I have to go finish an assignment and do a few other things so I'll sign off this scattered blog entry. Later!

Friday, November 11, 2005

fear of failure

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
- Eleanor Roosevelt

I wrote this in my journal the other night. What brought it on is that I have received some emails from some very cool, interesting, intelligent people that say they love my site, my blog etc. That combined with some interest from agents in my book idea, and I just got overwhelmed with emotion - fear and joy and excitement all wrapped up together. Here is a slightly modified version of what I wrote:

Why is it that everybody believes in me but I am afraid to believe in myself? When I taste a small drop of the golden nectar of success, of moving toward my dream and what I hope is my destiny, fear is right there with me - filling my body with dread, filling my mind with doubts. I think of all the negative things of why I can't do this, why no one will think I am credible to say these things, people will make verbal attacks on me if I write about controversial issues like telling Christians to accept evolution as fact. I think I will get a burning cross in my yard and what I intend as a peacemaking book will end up generating hate aimed at me and my family. I think people will laugh me off of Oprah (if I would ever by chance to get there...)

Then inside my head I hear, you don't need an advanced degree to be wise. When I was 7, I was wiser than many of the adults around me... I do remember time and again hearing adults say things to me I could tell were bullshit. I remember over and over adults telling me that I could not do something, or something wouldn't work, and not believing them, I went and did it anyway. I remember specific events where I could see right through adult's facade, see that they were talking down to me, see that they were not really taking the time or attention to engage in a real dialogue or a real attempt at help. By the time I was sixteen, I wrote an essay for English class "On The Abuse of Authority."
The Gwen Stefani/black-eyed peas concert was really cool. In the old days people held up lighters. Today, they hold up cell phones. What a trip. I had never see was very cool. There was a very funny woman behind Gail and I - she kept saying I LOVE HER! And Gwen is SO cool! One time when it was somewhat quiet she said at the top of her lungs "Uh huh, this my shit, all the girls stomp your feet like this!" LOL. (If you don't know... that is from one of Gwens songs). It was just funny. I also think that when people get so into these stars and pop icons I just think, you recognize this talent and uniqueness in this person, and that is great. But to even recognize and appreciate something special in someone else, you have some of it in yourself. So like Jewel would say to the young women she'd meet, you go out and follow your own dreams! We all have them and some put them on the shelf. Icons and heroes should make us believe in ourselves and our ability to achieve our own dreams and to be our own unique selves.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

precious grownups

The other day I sat inside Starbucks staring out the window at these two little kids, probably two year-olds - a little blond curly-headed boy and a little Indian girl. They were identical in size, and they both held onto one of the poles that has an umbrella on it and they held their arms out and walked around and around it like a May pole. It was so cute. Children are so precious and fun to watch in their unselfconsciousness. I always wonder though why we think of children as so precious but adults lose their preciousness to most of us. After all, we are all really just those precious little kids all grown up.

We can come up with reasons to justify our changed attitudes toward adults - we're not as cute, we become more selfish (which I'd argue the point), and so on. But I like to think of the people I'm frustrated with as little children and as precious. When I get frustrated with my kids - I try to think of how I would talk to them or treat them if I knew they had cancer. It is a pretty harsh way to think about things in one sense but I think its the right way. Although we may indulge a child with cancer a little but more than a purely healthy one, the attitude we would take toward them is the correct one I believe. Tenderness, a gentle teaching spirit, and a lot of love and patience.

I am getting very excited about going to the Gwen Stefani and Black Eyed Peas concert Thurs night!!! It should be a lot of fun. My freezer seems to have miraculously recovered - no odor and its freezing just fine... guess freezer prayer team worked. Thanks! :)

Monday, November 07, 2005

my freezer had an aneurysm

Pray for my freezer.... As I was working earlier I heard an odd crashing/breaking sound. I got up and looked around, thinking perhaps it was one of the kitties breaking something but I saw nothing except a somewhat innocent-looking cat. I returned to my computer and then after a while smelled a very pungent plastic-burning odor. I got up and looked around and sniffed everywhere I could think to sniff but could not find anything. I opened each door to see if it was drifting from outside. Nope. I burned a candle and opened a few windows. But everytime I went into the kitchen the smell was very intense. So I got down and sniffed the bottom of the fridge where there are those little slats. Phew - A ha! I pulled the fridge out from its crevice and nothing could be seen except some black gunk and dust. But later when I got my ice cream out, it was soft and mushy... Aghhhhh!!!! I need serious prayer team guys, my freezer had an aneurysm and I don't have refrigerator health insurance right now.

Earlier as I was leaving the grocery store I walked past this 70 or so year old man. He was rail thin and his pants were belted up to his belly button and he had the equivalent of a camel toe. But the thing that made me break into a huge grin was his face. I wish I had a photo of his face to put above my computer and everywhere I go. He literally had a frown that looked like the arch of a rainbow ETCHED into his face. It was his permanent facial feature - and he looked very bitter too. I know that the faces we make certainly become our wrinkles, laugh lines, frown lines, and I thought that he is certainly not going to achieve that Deepak Choprah saying about having your heart as light as a feather when you die...

Actually the funniest thing is that after I saw the grumpy old man and had this huge shit-eating grin on my own face I walked past a woman and she spontaneously broke into a smile upon seeing mine. It was a cogent reminder of the power and contagiousness of joy.

Alas it also a very good reminder that I need to smile more. I know that our faces reflect our inner spirit, and yet we can also improve our mood by simple things like smiling. I can be very serious and even though I'm not unhappy and I generally have a basically happy demeanor, I do tend to look a bit serious as reflected by photos etc and just when I catch myself. So all day I made a conscious effort to smile at people.

So I've also made a renewed committment to eating healthy and cooking more. I enjoy cooking but find myself over the past months (years?) not having time due to feeling like I have to constantly work. I truly enjoy the simplicity of cooking healthy though, and need to get to a routine where I can enjoy that part of my life again. So I bought a bunch of veggies and healthy stuff and have been cooking more.

Oh! And I spent all weekend redesigning my website so please check it out and let me know what you think! and I'll be offering a 6-week "Writing about Nature & the Environment" e-course that you can sign up for if you're interested in writing, I've taught it before, and am offering it again. It starts Dec 10. You can register HERE.

I'll also be putting on two very exciting "Manna Sandwich Inspiration Retreats" a Yoga-Nature Retreat in January and a Writers-Artists Workshop in March. They'll be held in TX at a forested venue yet to be announced, and I will reveal more details as they are available. It will be top of the line! I love to teach and this is something I have long wanted to do. And I got a couple of friends, who are very talented, interested in helping me out. We are going to do great things! I hope you join us :)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

making my big getaway

I'm an all-American rebel making my big getaway
- Sheryl Crow in Steve McQueen

It's now or never, baby. I've done my research on writer's retreats, thanks much to my SEJ colleagues, and I've pondered going to a beautiful beach on Caye Caulker Belize, staying at a monastery, going somewhere in my home state of Oregon, and looked into several writers retreats nationwide. What I've chosen is Owl Mountain Retreat -- an off-the-grid isolated cabin in the red rock hills of New Mexico. It uses solar power, a composting toilet, and a little propane-fueled heating stove. There is a phone line for internet access. I'm going for 2 weeks in late November to focus on completing my book proposal, refreshing my soul, and getting a new focus and inspiration for my new life ahead. Here is what owner Marguerite Kearns, herself a talented writer, said in an email describing what I'll expect:

"Beyond the gate, Owl Mountain is about two miles at the end of a dirt road, up against the rocks. It's very safe. The coyotes might make themselves known, as well as ravens and other wildlife. The peaks in the distance are snow capped already, but the weather is mild during the day but chilly at night as you might expect. There's a fire pit outside the cabin and it's a treat to build a little fire and sit under the stars."

WOW. This will be over the week of Thanksgiving. Looking at the billions of stars, hidden from view in Houston, I will have much to be thankful for. My daughter went on a week-long camping trip with her school to Enchanted Rock State Park recently, and she was telling me how they went out with their flashlights at night and then 1-2-3 all turned off the flashlights and she was telling me how they were just millions, and billions of stars and she was ao amazed and it was so beautiful. Although I grew up with the stars overhead in Oregon, and have seen them before, whenever I see them I remember how beautiful they are, I remember feeling this same thing the first night I arrived in Costa Rica on a moonless night and we walked the beach looking for sea turtle tracks. You forget - until you see them again in all their glory - how many, and how hard it is to see them or even remember they are there in the city.

It is a parable for life isn't it. In the hustle and bustle and stress and anxiety of daily life, in our homes, our cars, our streets and cities and traffic and to-do lists, we can forget the bright lights of those who have come before us to illuminate the way. I know for myself, I have felt very inspired, and very confident, and I have felt very down and very disillusioned. Refreshing one's soul and spirit in nature, I believe, is a crucial part of feeling alive, enjoying life, and remembering that we each are lights to the world, and that we can draw inspiration from nature and from one another's journey.

Wow I'm feeling refreshed already! :) Maybe I don't need to go... JUST kidding.

Here is a link to an amazing tale of a prison artist named ibn Kenyatta, the In the Fray article is written by the Owl Mountain Owner Marguerite Kearns: "Freedom, deferred"

Thursday, November 03, 2005

blog mama

I think that its cool that several people have started blogs because they read mine and then got "inspired" if that is the word to do their own. I'm a blog mama!

I myself was inspired to start a blog from my dear friend Jen who has an amazing story. Her blog was started by her late husband Joel who wrote his cancer story as he endured treatment. I linked to the main page because the story of their love is written on their faces in the photo on the main page, when they are in the hospital. She took over the blog when he died in Oct 2003. We met at the Conservation Genetics 2-week Workshop at the Smithsonian CRC in Virginia last August and we would run together in the hills of the southern Appalachians. Jen is a total inspiration! When I wear my LiveSTRONG bracelet it is for her. She has run and won many marathons and triathlons. She's so cool. And she studies sharks!!!

I love things that make me laugh so I have to point this out because it is a riot! The "other Wendee" has a very cool blog and she posted some photos of her pumpkin carving contest. She is also a very talented artist!!! You must see this:

More later. I need to tell the story of how the chinch bugs took over my yard. Its a full-scale chinch bug invasion. Ugh. They're gone now but the scars remain...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

how to spend 4 hours and get nothing accomplished...

I wrote this when I was a full-time employee and sent it to everyone. Some thought it was funny. Others were not impressed. I made myself laugh out loud so that is worth something. Gads people take themselves way too seriously for crying out loud. PS the "super cute...yada yada yada boyfriend" should now be the "evil exboyfriend" as I refer to him. hee hee.

Oh, and just to clarify I did NOT actually do these things at work!! Jeeeeeezus. It was complete fiction, a caricature. Well, it is true that I do "refresh" my email constantly.

Get into office and put food in refrigerator. Say hi to everyone and take at least 5 minutes per person.

Go to bathroom. Spend ten minutes staring into mirror. Gads look at that big zit on my chin!

Head back to office. Set up laptop and unpack briefcase.

Check email. Skim important emails. Spend 10 minutes staring into space.

Read through the Policies and Procedures online documents for entertainment value.

Go back to email and hit send/receive in case someone has emailed in the last 30 seconds

Call babysitter to see if kids are acting like banshees.

Wonder what I'm going to do this weekend. Realize its only Monday. Stare into space for another 10 minutes, dismayed.

Talk to officemates for 30 minutes.

Practice tying hair into a knot.

Go to CNN to see whether the world is falling apart (not quite yet). Nothing interesting except Destiny's Child announces breakup. Look at all CNN Entertainment news.

Go back to email and hit send/receive in case someone has emailed in the last 30 seconds

Eat a muffin.
Go refill water bottle from Ozarka tap.

Check email.

Visit Alanis Morrissette's website to read her online journal.

Check out my own website - God I am so cool. I can't stand it.

Check email. Anyone in my fan club written today?

Stare at photos of my adorable kids. Wonder when they will turn from adorable kids to monstrous teenagers.

Stare at photo of supercute surfer mountain climber green beret boyfriend. Wonder if I should break up with him again. Wonder if men are evil. Remember that a writer in Oprah Magazine said because of the Y chromosome, men are more closely related to chimpanzees than women.

Decide we need another Happy hour so plan it.

Talk to officemates to decide best venue for Happy Hour. Send out email. I love email! Its like Christmas every minute!

Wonder what I should do next. Check email! Maybe someone has sent me a message in the last 60 seconds.

Think, wow I really ought to get some work done.
Photos: Me and my brother and my dad in about 1975 at my dad's Oregon log cabin. I told you I made that same expression as Sam! This is one of the few rare photos from my dad's because we were too poor to have a camera! That is until I won one from a scratch-off deal in Rolling Stone magazine one time. The other photo is my dad's cabin a few years back and he took this photo. Beautiful isn't it!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

kids are funny

When Savannah was about six years old (she is 10 now) I'd bought her a t-shirt around Valentine's Day. It was red with a large pink Velcro heart and it came with a pack of Velcro letters that you could use to spell out things on the heart, like LOVE or I LOVE U or her name, etc. The first time she wore it, she comes strolling out of her room and in the heart was the word WHATEVER.

At that point, I knew she was one cool chica.

Tonight, I took the kids to dinner. It was taking quite a long time, and so Sam was asking, "What is taking them so long?!" and I said "I don't know maybe they had to butcher the cow." Sam had ordered chicken fingers, so I added, "maybe they have to find the chicken and butcher the chicken." Sam adds, "Maybe they have to find a chicken with fingers!"

Octopus daddy -- Later I got gas in my car then drove the shortcut through the parking lot that goes by Starbuck's. I happened to see Matt's car and I said, "Look that is daddy's truck." So we stopped and went in. Sam was super hyper and spastic and both of the kids were sitting on Matt's lap. He was complaining about how Savannah was taking up too much room and in his little annoyed boy voice he says, "I have just a half of daddy's leg and Savannah has like, five!" At which point we all busted out laughing.

Tonight when I was putting Sam to bed he told me that sometimes when its quiet he likes to yell out "blah!" and everyone gets startled and laughs. He then said that one time he was sitting in after school and everyone was quiet and he said "cheese" and everyone started cracking up. I know this is my boy! I have a photo of myself at age 5 or so at my dad's log cabin and I have that exact expresionon my face - mouth wide open and being silly as pie.

The photos are Sam and his best friend, Sam and his other best friend (Sam being crazy...), and Savannah looking at the woolly mammoth skull fossils that they found in Mississippi. A professor at one of the universities is studying it, and its apparently like the find of a career. Sam and Matt spent a lot of time doing a dig out there (can't say where!). I am so glad that my kids have so many of these outdoor experiences because truly if they don't they would never appreciate nature and the environment. I think Sam may well be a scientist when he grows up.

Savannah already knows she wants to be a neonatologist. She has known that she wants to be a doctor for about 3 years now. At first when I got cable (after the separation) she was fascinated by childbirth shows and wanted to deliver babies. I tried to convince her to be a midwife because natural birth is the way to go... (I had a homebirth with Sam, and a drug-free 22-hours labor with Savannah).

In fact I designed the website for my California midwife Shelly Girard. Check it out: Childbirth at Home: A Labor of Love! Anyway then she decided she wanted to be an pediatric surgeon and now has settled on neonatologist. I thought it was quite precocious when my 7-year old (at the time) loved to watch childbirth! My opinion is that birth is a natural part of life, biology, and the human experience and I taught them about the birds and the bees as early as I could. As much as they needed to know... to protect themselvs and understand the biology of we human beans. ;)