Scout, Atticus, and Boo 7 December 2021

I’ve been reading this book, Scout, Atticus, and Boo by Mary McDonagh Murphy. It’s a fifty year celebration (published in 2010) of To Kill a Mockingbird. It contains reflections on the novel by all kinds of people, including Oprah, Wally Lamb, Alice Finch Lee, and many others. I was very taken with Richard Russo’s piece and what he had to say about teaching writing.

“Writing, it seems to me, is often taught, from the time that we’re in grade school, as the absence of mistakes–when you get your first papers back, and you have a little X that’s an error, another X that’s an error. Right up through college, I remember being taught that way, the careless errors, the difference between T-H-E-I-R and T-H-E-R-E–you get counted off for that.

And so every time you get a little check, then, you have lost points. And I lost points. But somehow you never gained points. You started off with a hundred points, and then for every mistake that you made, you lost points. If you’re trying to teach fiction writing or any kind of decent writing, any kind of real writing to students, the first thing you have to do is get them out of that frame of mind whereby you lose points for mistakes.

…The thing about writing is, you’re not looking for an absence of errors. You’re not looking for a pristine slate. You’re not looking for things to be perfect, but something that hits you where you live.” (Russo.Murphy,170-171)

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Losing Her Soul 24 November 2021

She said she was losing her soul. When she told me, there was no emotion. Not at first. “What do you mean? Your faith?”

“No,” she said, and then she tried to explain it. “I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do, or what I think I’m supposed to do. But it’s all on the outside.” She told me that she was lost. That if something didn’t change, she’d go mad. She prayed about it everyday and said it was like the man in the flood. He kept believing God would save him. When the rescuers came, he told them he didn’t need them. God would save him. When he was finally on his roof and a boat came, he still refused the help. No, God will save me, he told them.

After he drowned and got to heaven, he asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?”

God said, “I sent help and you refused it, even the boat at that last moment.”

“So, what has God sent you?” I asked her. She broke down then and gave me a list of friends and messages, all ignored. She wondered if she wasn’t just reading into things what she wanted to hear. Yes, she felt lost, felt that if she didn’t find the courage to take a step, she’d never be found again. But then she tells herself that it isn’t so bad, that she has blessings to count.

I want to be a life raft, or to throw her a life jacket, but I know both will float on that rising water and she would never see them, not with the glasses she wore now, all scratched and out of focus. But still, I can be here and let her know that I see her, that she isn’t completely lost, that even one tiny step in the right direction would eventually lead her back to herself.

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The Rosefire Writing Circle Continues

I love being a part of the Monday Zoom circle!

Live to Write - Write to Live

One of the unintended consequences of the pandemic has been to welcome writers from far away to the Rosefire Writing Circle, a place for writers of all ages and abilities to write in community and with support.

I started the Rosefire Writing Circle because I know how lonely writing can be, and also how even the smallest amount of encouragement is as necessary as breath.

As a writer, I benefited from writing circles early in my career, most notably when I was a new mother and looked forward to every Tuesday evening, where I could write with others. This first circle of women, mostly older than me, was exemplary for being leaderless. Those who hosted the group lived in tidy, childfree homes. It was worth going just to experience such domestic order. But we also took turns providing prompts to which we wrote.

My words were so bottled…

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Caramel Stack Cake 3 August 2021

Screen Shot 2021-08-02 at 4.09.57 PMThe cake was dense with the use of so many eggs and butter. When I arrived after my hike, she said I had to wait until Trevor came home for lunch. How was I supposed to wait? To take my mind off three layers of caramel stack cake? To silence that delicious masterpiece calling to me from Elaine’s pretty plate, with the blue, yellow, and orange designs peeking out from the edges of the caramel icing?

When Trevor arrived, more waiting. Did they really need to eat lunch? Clearly, I had other things on my mind, like that rich, sweet caramel frosting and the cake hidden beneath which I knew was going to be everything the picture on the recipe promised.

“Do you want us to sing Happy Birthday?”

“No.” I was firm on that, even as I was so grateful to my dear friend for always making me a cake and attempting whatever recipe I sent or that she came up with. But I didn’t want the song. I didn’t want to think about my actual birthday, in a few days’ time, when there would be no cake and candles, no present to open, and the “Happy Birthdays” would come by text, email, or phone call.

I already knew what my plan was for that upcoming day. I’d be mowing, dragging hoses to water thirsty trees starved by drought, and feeding the injured bull in the pen by the barn. The sweat dripping down my face and soaking my shirt would remind me that I’d been born. I’d remember as I checked on the eggs in the nest built on the bars across the new yellow panels all stacked together, that all creatures come into being with different struggles and obstacles, and yet they come and find their place.Screen Shot 2021-08-02 at 4.07.43 PM

As I listened to the Barry Manilow channel on my headphones, I waited for that little space of silence during the song that tells me someone is texting or there is an email. I watched the yard take shape again with each back and forth of the mower. I saw the care as I trimmed around the protein tubs turned flowerpots, all reds and yellows, purples and oranges. Soon the barn and all the outbuildings emerged again from the tall weeds. The whole farmyard came into being again, just as I did, all those years ago, from the dust of stars.

When my work was done, there were birthday greetings from my children, siblings, and my dear friends (along with my favorite biscotti and a good book)-all far away. But there was also that last piece of caramel stack cake, lovingly wrapped in foil and tucked into my bag when I left Elaine’s, and waiting for me to enjoy my day.

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Writing Circles 20 July 2021

writing-circleThe thing about being a writer is that one must actually perform the act that makes one a writer. From what I can see on Twitter, with my fellow writers, sitting down to write can be the most difficult task to get to, and yet to be a writer, well, putting words on the page is required. It isn’t that we don’t have great ideas, that we don’t dream about characters, situations, and settings, or that we can’t imagine all manner of detail for our stories.

I know how to write. I have a ba-zillion stories half-begun. And when I do sit down with a pen and my notebook, (yep, call me old school), I can block out the world and enter the one I’m writing in without coming up for air. But I’ve gone weeks without scratching out a single word. It’s gotten much worse since I left the brick-and-mortar world because I don’t have that set time where I open my notebook and write without stopping, well, until recently.

I discovered the Rosefire Writing Circle (RWC), when I found the courage to join a session on New Year’s Day this year. I made a decision to make time for my writing again. I was nervous and a bit terrified because I’d not been a part of anything like this, ever. I left that experience feeling supported and inspired as a writer and I’ve made the RWC a priority since that first time.

I meet with other writers, where Deborah Lee Luskin creates an incredible space, online for me, to simply take a breath and write. Once we’ve written, we can choose to read our work to the circle of writers, and gather in all that the other writers loved or resonated with in our words. It is so affirming, so life-giving to a writer, and to both hear those words from other writers and give them back to other writers is, well, like riding a horse on a mountain trail through a beautiful forest and then coming to the opening where the view takes your breath away.

Check out Deborah’s online spaces and think about joining a writing circle. Your writing life will be changed. This is her website, and pay special attention to Writing in Community and Support, and of course, the Writing Circles Page.

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Silver 29 June 2021

Silver was a grey mare. She was fairly well put together, even if slightly toed in on her front legs. “Be easy with that one,” Stu said as I led her out of the trailer, “she’s a bit spooky until she settles in.”

Tying her to the post, I patted her shoulder, leaving her next to Sugar, another mare who could be her twin.

With all the horses unloaded and tied, I wrote Stu’s notes in my book while my wranglers unloaded saddles, blankets, pads, and bridles onto the tack room porch. We soon had the summer’s supply of oats, in fifty-pound bags, stacked in the tack room.

Brushes and curry combs in hand, hoof picks tucked into a back pocket of our jeans, we began the summer routine well-known by our hands. Soft voices murmuring to warm dusty horse hides, we made our way around the stalls, grooming so we could fit saddles and bridles. Many of the horses had been with us in previous summer camp seasons, but Silver and Sugar were new.

As I approached Silver, I began quietly singing, “I love the mountains. I love the rolling hills…” Her ears pricked toward my voice, and I moved into her shoulder, stroking her neck, and slowly moving my hand to scratch behind her ear. She didn’t bend into me, but neither did she move away.

Untying the quick release knot and leaving the lead rope looped simply around the post, in case she decided to pull back, I bent and blew gently into her nostril. And we stood for some moments just sharing breath.

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The Hardest Move 28 May 2021

The hardest move to make is to bring something back to life. To capture her smile when Rebel’s wagging tail greets her at the door. To remember collapsing into giggles for no apparent reason until we couldn’t breathe, dropping the heavy box and falling into the grass by the sidewalk. Catching the bright sun in her golden hair out in front of the old house on 105th street, the porch steps painted bright purple by a mischievous aunt while we were gone.

Jumping from bunk bed to dresser and onto the windowsill so our feet wouldn’t touch the floor and give us cooties. Feeling the hard wooden pillars as we peered out between them, hidden under the table past our bedtime.

If we could cuddle together again in the drainage pipe at the bottom of the big hill, keeping each other warm on a cold grey winter day, I’d take us back there.

Could I somehow fit all the pieces of her, left here, in some magic blue bottle and climb in with them? I’d add her burning sage and lavender oil, photographs of our times and places: that ride in the back of a jeep on the hard sand beach in Australia when we belted out “We are the champions” at the top of our lungs, that big horse she loved at Ponca that was too much horse for her.

I’d cut out those special days she marked on years of calendars: birthdays, appointments, special sayings and scribbles I cannot read. She might like to have all the school pictures she’d saved of her nephew and niece, and Rebel’s ashes. A bit of the beach and somewhat of those mountain paths she walked. The dreams she never had a chance to finish.

And I cannot forget her sarcasm for all things fake or put-on. Her sense of justice and her rather loud voice for the underdog. I would bring her back, but before she was broken by stroke, when she could still travel and nurse and speak her mind. And there, inside that tiny blue glass, she could go on and on, and I could see all that she would do. But in climbing in myself, I would be lost. The hardest move to make is to let someone go.

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Inch By Inch 17 May 2021

I began running a tractor when we moved to northeast Colorado. This, in my mind, was basically large-scale gardening: corn, wheat, and hay. I knew how to work the ground before the planter or drill came through, to care for the field, and to harvest the crop.

Growing up, we always had a large garden. Fresh tomatoes, hot from the summer sun, were my favorite summer treat.

Each year, in late May or early June, past any chance of a hard freeze, I take my hope-filled packets of seeds, and sow them into my little patch of worked ground. I tenderly and diligently water, weed, and sing The Garden Song ( to all the neat rows of zucchini, cucumber, and squash. I dream of fresh healthy goodness on my plate and of filling my freezer with the taste of summer in the long cold winter.

I gave up tomatoes first.

Try as I might, the tasty red beauties refuse to materialize.

After that went watermelon and cantaloupe. I already know there will be no cucumbers…some sharp-toothed critter gets through every barrier I erect or devise to protect and eats the tender leaves right down to the ground.

Squash plants grow and wind and their orange flowers push me to think about spaghetti sauce and parmesan cheese on those hot strands of translucent yellow yum. Alas no. Raccoons and skunks lurk, and sensing ripeness, drag the long vines out of the garden. They munch spots here and there and then simply abandon them in the dark of night.

But the zucchinis are the worst. They grow in their bush like ways and no animals ever bother. I watch and wait as each flower turns into cinnamon spiced bread or chocolately brownies, but only in my mind. If it’s a good year, I might harvest one or two. The flowers refuse to turn to fruit.

Finally, my neighbor to the southwest texts me: “Hey, I have a boatload of zucs, cucs, squash, and tomatoes. Do you want some?”

“I’ll be right over,” I text back. “As soon as I park the tractor.”

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Running Out of Time 9 April 2021


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Running out of time. That was the message she kept receiving. It came by text, by Zoom, by email, on Facebook, on Twitter. Oh that Tweet! “Are you settling?” it said.

And she responded into the void, “Yes.”

“Stop,” it said back, “you don’t have time for that. The clock is ticking.”

Well, she could totally ignore that. I mean, who has a clock that ticks? She’d mastered the art of distraction, or maybe it was more the art of, um, once this is done or, when summer begins, or, if it happens again then she’d know it was time.

And it did happen again. But she continued settling because the rose colored sun captured her as it came up each morning. Because just that morning the horses had greeted her, frost on the tips of their ears. Because the cow licked her hand looking for the treat she always carried. Because here, when she was the only human around, was home.

Still, the message kept repeating. “Have you reached out yet?” She didn’t reply to the text, kept the phone on mute as if that would silence it. “Are you joining me in Zoom?” Not today. If she counts the hours when home is hers, they go faster, so she doesn’t. She can stop them if she ignores the ticking texts, Tweets, Zooms. Unwilling to leave behind.

But there is still time, or maybe still. Time. But it still ticks and she knows. She hears. She settles.

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Eight Years 24 March 2021

5pRGllE+TUWb89yqEp2QUQThis year marks eight years since our youngest sister, Cathy, was torn from us by unspeakable violence. I find myself better able to think about her, or at least I can remember her without so many tears coming unbidden. Something she always loved to do was to bring a birthday cake for Alex and for Lynne’s birthdays, especially when they were little.  She would bring the one with the most dynamic colors of frosting, and plenty of it. This way, when the kids dove into their cake, their skin was dyed for days and that gave her no end of entertainment.Lynne

Oddly, I think about her every time I pass through the bakery at the grocery store. The flowers on Lynne’s cake this year also brought Cathy to mind. And a short time ago, when I hiked the high desert with Alex and Rikki, I know it was a place she would have loved, along with the brewery!

We go on, and she goes with us in her way. We miss her still.

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