One of the magical parts of writing novels is discovering bits of history that make me want to learn more. Several years ago, we traveled through Winslow and I learned about the Harvey girls. The novel was essentially done, but I went back to the story to add these details.
On this trip, we bumped into a woman who told us about the Winslow Historical Society. Our meeting felt like kismet; she shared that many of the buildings in downtown Winslow, by the railroad, had tunnels originally connecting them. No one knows why, and the tunnels were filled in during the 1970s because the foundations of the buildings were slanting and starting to fail. However, in the cellars and basements of many of the buildings, there is reportedly Chinese writing from the workers who built the rail (and likely had to dig the tunnels.)
Another little gem of Arizona history that I am tucking in my pocket for a future story. It does make me wince that there are photos of white pioneers to be found in multiple places in Winslow, and yet the Chinese workers aren’t mentioned, and nearly all the service staff are American Indian. I’m guessing the history of the land for the northern Arizona tribes is told differently.
A few photos of the grounds and the weekend. Even if you don’t take the time to stay at the hotel, if you are ever in Winslow, make time for the corn and black bean soup at the restaurant. It is among the best dishes I’ve ever eaten.
I have several friends who publish weekly newsletters that I look forward to. They update what they’re reading, what’s happening on their farms, the shows they’re watching, the patterns they’re knitting. You get the idea. (Yeah, I know. I follow a lot of like-minded folks. Don’t you?)
On Mondays, I plan to do the same. The categories may change, but here is what’s happening at our hacienda this week:
Reading: I’m reading and very much enjoying two novels. The first is for a bookclub that met last night. I’ve only got 300 pages remaining. (Whoopsie.) The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is funny. This book is like sipping a great glass of ice tea in a rocking chair on a porch with a cool breeze. It’s delightful. The second book I’m listening to thanks to the Libby app is “The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters.” It is set in Ireland during the potato famine. The main characters are sisters who discover the magical power of their hair. Again, a delightful, easy listen.
Watching: Homeland. I never caught this series when it was on and we just started season one. It is intense and reminds me why I love Claire Danes. (And good Lord. This entire series is an advertisement for Latisse. Her eyelashes are WOW.)
Knitting:The Weekender in Cascade 220 venezia worsted for a Christmas gift.
Cooking: Oh, snap! It isn’t my week to cook. I’m not cooking a thing, other than my lunches because I’m still telecommuting. Jason and I split cooking duties when we got married. I cook and shop for two weeks and then he does the same. Once I was sent home to telecommute full time 14 months ago, I took over the cooking. I was home, and it was easier. (Let’s get honest. It wasn’t really easier, but it gave me something to do every afternoon when my professional calendar had unexpectedly emptied.) Now that there is no return to the workplace for me in sight and that schedule is busier than ever, it is time to return to our previous schedule. We cook different recipes. This is a much needed and appreciated break.
Playing: piano! Tomorrow is my final recital for my first college course in piano and I’m nervous and not exactly ready. I can play a piece perfectly at home a dozen times. Put me in front of a small crowd and my fingers become noodles. We’ll see how it goes. I’m glad to have had the time to take this class and learn to read music.
I didn’t intend to take a year away from writing. Once upon a time, more than a decade ago, I had to keep myself from posting updates more than once a day. For a year to pass without giving this space any attention feels strange.
I have been writing, just not here. I’m working through the final edits of my fourth novel, “Desert Divide.” This is my least favorite part of the writing process. I’ve written and edited for the last several years and now am left with a stack of edits from friends and colleagues. Some of these edits are exceptionally helpful, namely those of the typo and grammar variety. Others are more complicated. Those edits that deal with pacing, tone, character aren’t simple to address. If you change a detail in the first chapter that is key to chapter 12, you’d better remember to connect all the dots.
And in writing novels, making sure to weave in all the necessary ends while leaving some to the audience’s imagination is tricky, magical, daunting work. That’s where I’m at — sitting and staring at a huge stack of edits. It feels like mile 20 of the marathon. There is still so much work to do before the celebration can begin.
This year of working from home during the pandemic has had some bright lights worth noting:
My niece Maxine was born in August, bringing the first grandbaby to the family. Watching my brother become a father is hard to describe. He is this amazing man, father, and husband. He’s also still my knucklehead little brother, but watching this transformation has been remarkable. I am so proud of him, my sister-in-law, and the beautiful family they’ve created. Max is one of the happiest babies I’ve ever been around. She’s just a doll, and I can’t wait to be a constant source of spoiling her rotten. My parents are over the moon, too.
We adopted Hello Dolly Parton in October. Dolly is a terrier/terror mix and is a constant source of amusement. She’s also in part responsible for a bit of weight loss, thanks to the daily distance we must walk to keep her from bouncing off the walls. We have walked every inch of this neighborhood and she would be happy to go again, right now. She’s a great source of love.
Our home has thrived with additional attention. We’ve committed to eating at home except for once a week. We’ve made many new recipes. The vegetable garden is thriving. I’ve made nearly weekly trips to Goodwill to drop off items we did not need. Things feel organized and simplified. (May this please carry forward as our post-pandemic life begins.)
I’m looking forward to returning to a regular writing routine here and otherwise. Many of my routines that I’d honed in the last two decades have fallen away during marriage, and certainly during a pandemic. I’m excited to get back to church, running, swimming distance, and reading actual books in lieu of leaning on podcasts.
If you’re here, you’re likely family or a dear friend. Thank you for continuing to be interested in my updates.
With gyms closed, I’ve been walking early in the mornings while it is still cool, meandering around the neighborhood. Before, walks were quick and crammed between appointments. Everything pre-COVID now seems like it was rushed, with productivity the prize. This morning, as I took my time, I noticed the jacarandas and palo verdes are in full bloom, leaving purple and yellow flowers everywhere. Under some of the older, more established trees, the blossoms are so thick, they resemble snow.
Snow in the desert in May. Living during a pandemic has left my thoughts dizzy. Tasks that require creative thought must occur first thing in the morning with several cups of coffee and a quiet house – or they won’t be accomplished at all. The heat of the day strikes by noon and by late afternoon, everything has gone limp and tired like the thirsty Thai basil in the garden. This is the time for naps and cool glasses of ice tea that have a thick layer of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Neighbors are leaving the last bags and boxes of lemons and grapefruit at the curb with small handwritten signs. “Please take.” I’ve heard of this happening with zucchini in the Midwest in the middle of the summer. In Phoenix, it’s citrus, and by early May, we are so tired of citrus. The freezer is full of juice and zest. Loaves of lemon bread have been baking since January. Our canning pantry is full of marmalade. Even the bees have moved on to the blossoming mesquite, which sends a layer of neon green pollen across the garden.
Restrictions are being lifted this week locally. By the end of the week, you can go get a haircut or eat out at a restaurant. We won’t be doing either anytime soon. Arizona is 51st in the number of individuals who have been tested for COVID, which is a bellwether for poor public health leadership. If you don’t know how many people are sick, how can it be suggested that we are on the other side of the curve? Leftovers and hats make more sense.
We’re dreaming of summer vacations camping in the pines, reading from hammocks, fishing for trout, star gazing. We’re dreaming of having the kids around the dinner table again, home from California and college. We’re dreaming of seeing friends and family, of hugs and cocktails and laughter that will once again fill our home.
I’ve noticed more bloggers are transitioning from blogs, or long Instagram posts, to emailed newsletters. This requires subscribing to another service and maintaining yet another way of communicating when I’ve got this little here blog, which I already pay for.
Sure, this space is a little dusty. I used to post daily, and sometimes multiple times a day. Now, I’m lucky if I get a couple posts up a month. There are several newsletters I now look forward to receiving. One is Affirmation Chickens, and the other is what Meleyna is cooking. Both offer delightful and personal insights to what is happening in their homes.
I like the idea, but I’m not ready to make the jump. So, I”m going to replicate some of that spirit here.
The tomatoes are orange, not quite red. This weekend was hot. The peppers, basil, rosemary, and dill are flourishing.
The geese and ducks are still at the lake, but I’d guess they’ll be gone soon. The saguaros are starting to bloom–a reminder that we should all be more like saguaros with our crown of flowers and arms open for life.
I completed my Proverbial Quilt, with a pattern by Denyse Schmidt. I’ve long admired how she looks at quilting differently. It was a pleasure to play along in this international quilt-a-long. Next up, these adorable honey bee blocks.
The pandemic keeps us at home and it is beginning to feel psychologically like this is just how we live now. The idea of only seeing my family ever again on a small screen makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. We’ve been crying a lot this week over the loss of Gigi.
I’m cooking recipes that just feel good. I’m hesitant to say these are comfort foods because they aren’t heavy. It’s too hot already for mashed potatoes or cornbread slathered with butter and honey. Instead, tonight we’ll barbecue chicken, with salad, and fruit.
To end on a happy note, today is the 40th birthday of my best friend. Meg and I have been linked at the hip since we were teens on the high school swimming team. Her dad served as the officiant at our wedding. Her mom passed away earlier this year and it still doesn’t feel real. I’m so fortunate to have her family as my family. I know this birthday will be bittersweet without her mom there to celebrate with her.
This week our dog Gigi died. She’d been sick since January, which in retrospect was amplified by having teeth removed. She’d been diagnosed with pancreatitis in February and we spent 6 weeks slowly nursing her back to health. She completed a considerable round of medications and became accustomed to being hand fed pieces of rotisserie chicken. (Dark meat only, please.)
Last week, after having returned to her dog food and gained some weight, she started showing strange neurological signs including scream barking and pushing her head into corners. Tests showed she likely had meningitis, with the only confirmation coming from a spinal tap — which we were not willing to put her through. She was in obvious pain and there is no longterm treatment for this.
Holding a beloved pet, trying to keep your voice steady and calm, and whispering your last words of love to them while they die is among the most difficult, painful experiences I’ve had. With Gigi, this was further complicated because of COVID. We were lucky to be able to be with her in her last moments and while they asked us to wear masks, in her last minutes I pulled mine off and pressed my face against hers. I don’t know if it was more for me or her, but I wanted her to be able to see my face and not be scared.
I inherited Gigi (and her older sister Grace) when Jason and I married. They quickly became my dogs and Grace continues to be my sidekick. Happy Gigi memories include her bullying Nelson to establish herself as the alpha, which was hilarious considering she weighed all of 9 pounds, and the fact she loved to swim. During the summer we would visit family with a pool and Gigi loved to get in and hang out on a raft. She’s the only dog I’ve ever had who loved heat and water.
She also loved baby carrots, walks with her sister as long as she was at the front of the pack, and in her final days — being held.
I don’t think the loss of a pet ever gets easier. I will miss that sweet little dog until my last days. For now, I’m grateful for these last weeks at home with her, and being here now with Grace as we transition to a one-dog home.
We didn’t need the loss of an animal on top of managing a pandemic and other trying family concerns, but here we are. Hopeful today is brighter.
Hold your loved ones close. Again, again, I am reminded how fragile and temporary this all is.
Today marks week 6 of working from home. Life has changed in some ways that feel permanent. Our eating habits have improved. We’re being intentional and cautious about going to the grocery, planning meals, and food economy. Sleep and concentrated thought are a luxury. The heaviness of what is happening around us keeps me from being able to focus on reading anything of value. I lose count knitting. I toss and turn between 2-4 am.
I’ve found peace in sitting outside mid-afternoon and watching the white clouds float overhead. This spring has been one of the most beautiful I can remember, but perhaps that’s because we’ve all been forced to stop and notice. Yesterday I watched hummingbirds come and go, monarch butterflies flitter, and quail bobbing along with their head feathers dancing as they searched the edge of the garden for seed.
The tomatoes and peppers are still green, but the basil and dill are in full bloom. This week spring will morph into early summer as the temperatures will climb over 100. We’ll put out water for the birds, refill the feeders, and close the windows to keep cool air inside. I’ll miss the sounds of the garden from the kitchen.
We’re staying connected to others as we can. We join neighbors nightly at 7 pm to bang pots and pans in the driveway, a global celebration of those working on the front line. I’ve joined others in my quilt guild by sewing and handing out masks to loved ones and others in need. We’ve checked in on those who live alone on our street, and picked up groceries for those who can’t get out of their homes. And we’ve been blessed with bags of citrus from neighbors’ trees, swaps of loaves of bread and dozens of eggs, going back and forth across the street as people have extra and others are in need. We’ve met people in our community we didn’t know before and been delighted to witness their generosity.
This weekend, feeling stir crazy, we took a long drive north to hike and wander. I don’t remember ever feeling so fortunate to be outside, away from home, adventuring with my husband. On the radio, a talk show host reminded listeners that this is the first time we’ve ever had to all slow down like this. Rediscovering the simple joys: watching the clouds, listening to the birds, meeting the neighbors, going for a drive: I’m thankful.
Last year, a neighbor gave me a sock full of birdseed. She loved
her birds, and I would too. Was I at this point in my life? Apparently I am. I
placed the sock in one of our ficus trees within view of the dinner table and
we’d watch in awe as tiny birds in a dozen jewel tones would arrive momentarily
in view to have a snack.
One sock became two. During the hot summer months, I also
filled up a large automatic dog watering station near the feeders too. Soon,
birds were dipping into the water to cool down and have a drink between bites
to eat. It was all delightful.
At Christmas, my mother in law gave me a new feeder. It’s a
small metal box with a chain you hang from foliage. Inside, you place a square
of greasy suet. This attracts larger birds, who are mostly shades of brown but have
the same voracious appetites as their younger, more colorful finch cousins.
Recently, my husband moved the feeders from the ficus tree
to outside the kitchen window. The socks hang from a series of black metal
hooks that are pushed deep into the earth below the window. The suet box hangs
behind them from the branches of a climbing pyracantha, which is in full bloom
with thousands of bright red berries.
All of this to say, I look forward to sticking my hands in a
sink of warm, soapy water after dinner and listening to the birds outside of my
kitchen window. We had no idea so many varieties lived in our neighborhood. It
is a simple joy.
I’ve also become the woman who has a jar of homemade jam or
chutney in her purse to give away. I’m not sure how or when this happened, but
as I write this, I realize I handed out five jars yesterday, including to our
favorite bartender at the sushi restaurant last night. I’ve given him enough
jam, the transaction didn’t seem strange to anyone, including my shy husband who’d
rather we just not make conversation with
This time of life is comfortable and peaceful. Our family is
healthy, we are enjoying our work, we have extra time to spend traveling and
seeing friends and making tiny jars of jam with whatever fruit is in season. And
the birds continue to fill the feeders.
I grew up in a home where the garage shelves were heavy with pickles, beets, and jam. Our vegetable patch in the backyard always needed weeding. Come January, we’d climb the citrus trees. We had one small peach tree in the corner of the yard that would produce every few years. And every few years, my dad would stand over that little tree and rub his hands together, anticipating pie and crumble. We loved the good peach years.
I grew up in a home where Mom sewed my clothing. I went to elementary school in culottes and jumpers. My Girl Scout badges were sewn on my sash promptly and properly. Holes in jeans were mended. Pants were let out. I begged my mom for store-bought clothing. I wanted to be like all the other kids, in bold name brands that were so popular in the 80s and 90s.
I grew up in a home where we spent the summers riding our bikes to the library. I couldn’t wait for the summer reading program. There were goals and stickers, and those poor librarians probably had small flasks of something strong for when they saw me coming in the door.
I grew up in a home where things were not perfect, but they were so, so much better than what my parents experienced. It’s remarkable to look back on childhood with adult eyes and see the sacrifices made for our wellbeing. Of course, as children, we had no idea how hard our parents were working, how desperately they wanted time to themselves, how much of their young lives they spent watching us live the childhoods they wanted.
I grew up in a home where we were told every day that we could be whatever we wanted, that we were loved, that we were safe.
And I grew up to be a brat. I was a brat to my parents and my brother. I wanted to have and be more. I wanted the things that I thought would make life better, easier, cooler. This unhappiness followed me like a dark shadow for too long.
Today, I have a home where the garage shelves are heavy with pickles. I’m learning to sew clothing, and consider frugality a virtue. I’m a frequent flyer at our library. And I’m trying to build a place where my stepchildren know they are always loved, they can be anything they want to be, and they are safe. They also loved handmade gifts, waffles before a day on the beach, and prefer to buy their clothes second-hand.
This is the legacy of Rex and Karel. May we all be so lucky.
My cousin Cale was given this quilt after my grandparents died. It wasn’t one my grandmother used; it was kept on display on a high plant shelf above the kitchen. Cale’s puppy didn’t show such deference and sooner than later the hand-stitched heirloom was in pieces.
Cale, abashed, asked me if I could do anything to fix it. “It’s just so soft.”
It was soft. The fabric had been used for a generation before being tucked on a shelf, and I didn’t blame him for wanting to use it, or for his puppy not knowing better. Accidents happen and Grandma Maxine would have been the first to smile at her grandson wanting the quilt to live on.
It took a bit of cutting away tiny stitches…
and a bit of creative patching…
I cut away three of the four corners and patched them with new fabric, and backed the quilt with flannel. This beauty will live on for yet another generation.