Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Just Do It

Okay. I am back again.

And totally bored with writing. Perhaps I need to get out in nature tomorrow for some inspiration.

The idea is to practice. I do not have the goal of wowing anyone with amazing words of inspiration. The goal is to write. Sit down and write. I remember back in high school I took a journalism class and helped make the yearbook a couple years. We carried around our cameras to snap shots. Our teacher would often tell us it is necessary to take hundreds of photos to find the one true piece of art that captured a moment.

Hundreds. Maybe even thousands. The idea was to get out there and shoot. To practice with lots of apertures, levels of shadow and sunlight, to just do it. Kind of like cooking.

I started a marvelous course early this year on happiness. I went to see a counselor for a few visits to work on a couple of areas. Depression related to the weather, the loss of a couple of significant girlfriends, spiritual stuff, relationship navigational help. You know, the stuff the average middle class person has to deal with at various points in life. Along with helpful EMDR sessions, some wise words suggesting what i have been going through is fairly normal, and homework that involved meditation, she recommended a course on Coursera called "A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment."

It was great! Okay, when I started to feel happy again, I quit the class. Perhaps in the dark days of winter I will pick it up again!
What I am getting around to is that one lesson was centered on mastery. The professor cited studies done that show one needs about 10,000 hours to reach mastery in most subjects. 90 minutes a day for 20 years or something like that. As I listened to the professor, I thought about how certain things in the bakery require less brain effort than others. I have over twenty years experience, learning to work the dough. I don't always get it right, I still have fails, especially when I introduce new things. But the basics, well, they are pretty consistent, unless other variables get in the way. And at this point, I have seen enough to typically catch the variables. And at least recognize them. After twenty years.

The lesson brought to mind the sage advice from the high school journalism teacher. I thought of my mom and her painting, and piano. It isn't effortless. She still puts in hours of work each week. Well, she did, before they moved here. Now a broken arm (daddy) and a pulled, torn tendon and boot (Mom) and new home, adjustment, etc. has wrecked her schedule. But it will take very little time to regain lost ground, after the decades of constant practice.

Sometimes we only want to do when we can do well. When we can shine. When we are inspired.

It is rough, not just rough, but occasionally humiliating to show the rough stuff to the world. It is hard to be vulnerable enough to let someone else see the practice sessions.

Philip used to talk about how valuable baseball was to help one learn to live a rich and full life.

Haha! I tried to see it, and since I was sort of a Yankees fan, due to my Oklahoma dad who loved Mickey Mantle, I pretty much got the drift, even if a full nine innings felt like torture to me.

He would call up batting averages for different players spanning decades of baseball games. How do people store that information and then be able to recall it???? He would marvel, saying that batting in the 300 range was fairly normal. Which meant they would miss 700 pitches for the 300 they would actually hit. Or something like that. Baseball taught a person how to fail, and not give up, since there was much opportunity to fail. It was expected. No one got it right all the time.

Why do we think we need to get it right all the time?

I certainly have an issue with crappy, mediocre output. Whether in my gardening, my housekeeping, my parenting, my baking, my writing, whatever.

It makes my stomach clinch to think of a job poorly done.

I do many things in a half-baked, get it done fashion. I am a widow, a single mom with five kids, a son with special needs, some parents and friends and family in my community, animals, a business, etc, and consequently, like millions of other men and women in the world, to get anything done at all, I have to surrender a lot of quality and perfection.

But the things I care about, the food, the parenting, the writing, these things occasionally leave me feeling quite anxious when I consider I am not working and performing in what I consider an excellent fashion.

For this reason, the blog is a good medium for me. The idea is to practice. Not to edit, perfect. Just get those hundred photos shot. Knock it out. Knead a few more thousand loaves of bread to find out what the good ones feel like. For my mom, get the paint on the brush. Again. Sit down to the piano. Again. And when the whatever emerges, the photo, the loaf, the column, and it is good, may we recognize it. And be willing to keep on allowing mediocrity as our practice. Even great big, giant fails.

A thought comes to mind.

What if the practice is the whole point anyway? What if reaching excellence serves little purpose, but a daily practice helps me to remember who I am? I guess that is worth it.

Well. The timer went off twenty minutes ago.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Creamed Spinach and Steak are a couple of my favorite things.

Tuesday evening.

Thomas and I went over to Daddy's house. We grabbed Theo to join us. She brought an eggplant and some fresh shiitake mushrooms. I carried over heavy cream, onion and a big bag of fresh spinach. Daddy had steaks thawing out on the counter. Theo chopped up the eggplant, I found a red pepper in the fridge and we sauteed the eggplant, onion, garlic, mushrooms, red pepper with olive oil. I melted butter in a skillet, gently sauteed garlic, added a ginormous glug of heavy cream, let it simmer for a few minutes, salted it, threw in some cheese, more cream, and then as much raw spinach as would cram into the pan. I stirred and stirred. A slug of dry vermouth would have been divine, but as I have none at the time, we didn't miss it too much. As the spinach melted into the creamy cheese, I added more. And more. And more. Generous with the black pepper. Let the whole thing bubble and meld, then placed a cast iron skillet on a different burner. Daddy seasoned the beef with his favorite, Montreal Steak seasoning. I threw steaks onto the pan, cooked to a medium rare, and we sat down to a carnivore's delight.

The plates were colorful, the conversation sweet as Daddy shared stories of his growing up, when his mom would make the house full of kids and cousins, and other assorted relatives, 100 biscuits a day, to go with a big bowl of oatmeal, and warm milk, straight from the cow. He mentioned the size of the can used in the making of those biscuits, but I can't remember right now. As big as his hand could spread! Oh, I can imagine the smell that greeted the nose of those young siblings as they marched back to the house after doing their chores. Mmm. And jars of jam and preserves and fruits and all sorts of things in the pantry preserved from the garden. I was happy to have baked eight biscuits for my kids this morning!

He mentioned his work in the fire station, and how he would be elected head chef of the station, making meals for his colleagues who would stay the night in the bunks, at the ready to slip on their bunker boots in a flash when the lights came on, activated by a dispatcher. They would slide down the pole and head to the truck, ready to serve as EMT's, or help in accidents or house fires,whatever duty demanded.

We ate so much, I am quite full right now.

After doing the dishes and visiting for a bit, we hugged and kissed goodnight. Thomas and I drove Theo to her home, then I dropped Thomas at his. The air is pleasant. I thought about taking a walk, decided to put on my nightgown and write instead. One new discipline at a time, please!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Day Six rambling thoughts, a practice, how boring...

It is hard to sit down and write over the holiday when there are many needs, many distractions, many reasons to not write.

Especially when my writing is so out of focus. The lack of precision, the raison de etre.

Well, I guess I have a reason for writing. A practice. A reminder. A way of helping my mind and my fingers to remember what to do.

This afternoon I cried when I realized, for the umpteenth time, I could not please or bring total satisfaction to everyone I love. I couldn't serve one without neglecting another. I couldn't care for a need without having to let go of a wish. I realized that I let a couple of people down, I neglected to get half prepared Christmas boxes mailed to people we love, I neglected calls to relatives and friends dearer to us than anything.

The big kids have to go back to big city and work and life tomorrow and we feel like we have barely started to Christmas. We had the mindset that we would have another week to find time to hike, to prepare Japanese food, to laugh and tell stories and make stuff.

To tell you the truth, we have had beyond wonderfully rich times together. Just not quite enough. And there are still hurting places for us over the holidays, dammit. And those places tend to ooze out around the edges every once in awhile. Not for longs. But I am learning to recognize it in my kids, after how many years?

Something inspired me to grab Maggie and Thomas and stream Julie and Julia on the tv tonight after my tears. The kids love Julia Child. They remember being woken at night by their dad and me laughing so loudly watching the vintage cooking shows. We watched. We laughed. Patrick and Nora joined us. I remembered the first time I saw it, in the Grandin Theater with my friends. My heart hurt a bit as I thought about friendships that were that now aren't, due to the passing of time, the miles, the worries of the world. And then we got busy watching the movie and were caught up in two worlds for a couple of hours.

I know that some people would suggest a family could not bond over screen time. But this time was rich for us this evening. We were inspired. And delighted. And we shared a moment, a story, that wove together into ours, as the kids definitely recognized the Queen of Sheba cake on the screen, hell, we just ate some of that leftover cake after leftover ham and turkey tonight. They recognized my cookbook, which is splattered around the edges, but not because I have cooked every recipe in it.Mostly just a sauce or two. Beef bourgignon, of course, Queen of Sheba, dozens of times.

It feels like a relief to write now. I think at some point, I got a bit of stage fright, when I realized others were reading my blog, and were having little tiny insights into my life. It was very frightening for this introvert. I had to run away for a time, let everyone disappear.

Why? It seems a great paradox. It is my choice to write in a public blog, rather than a yellow lined legal pad or journal. I do write in a journal, but not daily. I have one for private thoughts, hopes, confusions, prayers and wishes. It gets filled around the edges with recipes, dinner party menus, bakery lists, budgets, to do lists, kid calendars and garden maps.

The blog is a habit. A source of accountability in a weird way. And a way for the kids to check in on our life from afar. They like for me to write. As long as I am careful about how I write about them!

I wonder if I will find a reason for writing over the next couple of weeks as I discipline myself? Seems strange talking to myself via this laptop. Ding.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


Where is our old record player? Did it get lost in the shuffle of the move? Get taken to thrift store? Thrown or tossed?

A year or so ago I started searching, thinking it was stuck out in the shed or something. No such luck. I think I tossed the old speakers ages ago in a purge, thinking we would never have need for them, now that we listen to streaming digital music all the time.

Pretty much any type of music, any era, available with a wifi connection.

For some reason, we were drawn to get a record player for Christmas. Perhap it was walking through Urban Outfitters in Manhattan this summer? I think we were wishing for a record play for the last three years or so. UO just reminded us that it wasn't really that difficult to get one if we really wanted one.

I bought a Charlie Brown Christmas record, as it is my favorite music for the season. After our traditional breakfast, this year, cinnamon rolls made by Maggie, Woo! Woo! we opened our gifts, enjoying time with my parents. We set up the record player and realized that I bought one that needed speakers. Darn. We nearly panicked, until we discovered that Patrick's little cube speaker would attach and work just fine.

It felt wonderful to see the arm drop the needle onto the transparent red vinyl disc. The music welled in my living room and I was content.

We filled the day with gifting, lots of food preparation, cleaning up, more food preparation, more cleaning up, lots of family time. Not much sitting down relaxing time. Which is why I am sitting here at 11pm, diligent to fulfill my self challenge to write, every day, even if I just sit here and type nonsense...

After 7pm, I lit the candles, put on the record, sat down in our cozy, pretty, holiday home, and began to read a book. A friend came over with gifts of some more records for the kids. Happening Hits, John Denver, The Irish Rogues and the Beatles. Oh. My. Goodness! Quiet time ended, and all of a sudden, most of the family settled into the living room, laughing, singing, dancing, enjoying music. Together. I plan to find some old speakers somewhere. I imagine I could probably buy ours back from the thrift store! Even with the small speaker, it felt quite magical to have some time, faces on each other, not a screen, old nostalgic music, memories, all together.

Almost three hours, listening, laughing. I like our Christmas present. We have a record store in town. Ringtail Records. I bet we will have a good time digging through the stacks to find treasure. I want an Eva Cassidy. Some Emmylou Harris. Perhaps some old cowboy music for when Daddy comes over. We have classical in the shed. Tomorrow will be a good day to bring it back to life.

How in the world did someone invent the record? And isn't it amazing, that with all the technology available, our family can still find a delightful moment together, with a needle running along a groove in a vinyl disc? Pretty neat.

On another note, it certainly was special being spoiled by my kids today, as they presented me with gifts bought with very hard earned money. I loved seeing the things they picked for each other, and their grandparents. Very obvious they thought things through and took joy in the gifting ritual.

The day was warm, no snow, no white. Our first Christmas in Alpine was white. I don't mind, I will take the variety. Most of all, being around my kids, my parents, certainly is a gift to me. I cherish it. Maybe tomorrow will offer a bit more rest and quiet sitting time? We certainly have enough leftovers to enjoy easy meal prep for a few days!

Day five......

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Not Gonna Take It For Granted.

Christmas Eve. All is calm, all is bright.

I wanted to sleep late after staying up into the wee hours, but the sun shone and I decided I have plenty to do today anyway, why not enjoy the quiet for a bit? Besides, I gave myself this crazy four.

We almost had a political fight break out at the feasting table last night. A couple of feelings were hurt here and there. There weren't enough chairs, the silverware didn't match. I didn't get the gravy made. But we had enough, people shifted, ruffled feathers were smoothed.

After guests went home, the kids and I perched in the kitchen and talked and talked. They asked me about me. We talked about important things. As usual, I revel in family. Gosh, we are so imperfect. It is so rough around the edges. But, oh, how I love them. Us.

I remember as a kid going to the grandparent's home for the holidays. Whether western Oklahoma or northwest Arkansas, we girls would lie in bed, giggling and talking, with the comforting sounds of parents and grandparents talking into the night. If we went to the Rowe house, kids would keep piling in, into the late night. Every bed would be filled, every couch covered. Almost every spot of floor in the living room would be covered by blanket pallets, cousins lined up like firewood. One bathroom for dozens, a modest kitchen. We played outside as much as possible, to avoid the grownups, to play, climb trees, ride Grandma's big three wheel with a basket down the red dirt road. Grandpa would get up at five or earlier, turn on the 12in. tv to the morning news. The newscaster voices crackled to the sound of Grandpa shuffling around, harrumphing over us layabeds. He would start the percolater, the smell of strong coffee mixing with his Prince Albert roll your own. Cold Oklahoma no match for the paneled gas heater and the piles of sons, daughters, grandchildren spread out. Grandma's big, veiny, wrinkled hands would hold my hand, massaging gently, she would look me in the eyes, and I knew she loved me dearly. She would play her piano, and encourage us kids to play as well. I can still hear her voice yelling out the door, "Har-wooooood!" hollering for Grandpa to come back to the house. Food would be piled everywhere, the wives working away. The men smoking, talking, arguing outside. Paper plates stacked, grab it and find a place to perch.

If we went to the Conner house, we would be greeted by the smell of trees and rotting leaves and moss and a camp fire with a giant coffee can of hobo stew bubbling away. Oh, that smell was like heaven! Probably some divinity and fudge cooling on the screened in porch. Things were a lot calmer at the Conner place. Papaw would give us great big hugs. Mamaw was shy, but always smiled tenderly. They would break out the box of Nilla wafers, and pour glasses of milk or tiny glasses of orange juice out of a small glass jar from the fridge. Their house was two story, built by my mamaw's grandpa, a master craftsman. We loved the dark wood, the creaky stairs, the parlor. Things were tidy and not nearly as loud as the Rowe house! We girls would make up plays, and put them on in the parlor or on the big front porch. We would swing on the porch swing as high as we could go until a parent reprimanded. Beautiful meals were served around the dining room table, special plates, the jewel red glasses filled with iced tea. We were guaranteed a trip to the lake or the hills, with a box of Kentucky fried chicken, paper plates and wet ones. My grandpa was a pastor, artists, photographer, and he and my mom loved to tramp about. So did we kids.

No matter where, we were surrounded by hugs, love, laughter.

Sometimes anger, fights, quick harsh words. Not perfect. Not at all.

But all covered over in love. Secure. The broken parts were not always so pretty, and at times I was quite resentful. At some point (probably after a good bout of counseling, haha!) I grew to understand things a little more. And was able to see, to remember, the good. Grandpa Rowe kicking the football with his prosthesis, and all of us laughing! Mamaw setting up the tv trays in the living room, cottage cheese and fruits, iced tea in small glasses, the soap operas her entertainment. Can you still hear the sound track from As The World Turns? My Aunt Linda, the youngest of the Rowe clan, Down's syndrome, running to the car to great her dear brother, singing "Big, Bad John!" My Aunt Janet letting us sleep over at her beautiful house, Daddy taking us into the cave by the spring that used to supply water for the family when my mom grew up. Icicles as long as our arms. Cousins for running around crazy.

The sound of moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas talking late into the night. Laughter. Sometimes tears. Mostly love.

Okay, kids up, I better make some more coffee!!!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Day Three...practice makes perfect.

I set the timer on my smart phone for twenty three minutes and turned it face down on the bakery table so I would not be distracted by notifications, texts, and other important business.

It is rather hard to be disciplined to write when it is two days before Christmas, a bunch of people are coming to dine at my home, a cake needs to be baked, mounds of gifts need to be sorted and wrapped.

Will twenty five minutes upset the wagon too much?

It feels a bit silly to be sitting here, typing random thoughts, as a practice, an exercise. But exercise it is. So. Here I am.

The sky was blue when I woke, but cool and brisk. I am watching an ominous blue gray mass of impending weather move in from the west, and a breeze gathers. I have yet to deep clean the bakery, so a dusting of spelt flour covers the place, trays are stacked, crumbs and a rolling pin still sit on the stainless steel table. chickens scratch outside the door, grumbling a bit, asking me to toss them the crumbs. After the timer sounds, I will.

Yesterday in the bakery was so weird. I had two batches of cookies completely fail. No recovery. All the spelt gingerbread people. I used the regular recipe. I added plenty more spelt flour, since it reacts so differently, let the dough refrigerate for several hours, chilled the cookie dough before throwing it in the oven. The nuss eckern wouldn't set up. No matter what.

At some point I realized things were not going as I wished. The caramel sauce I make on a regular basis just wouldn't incorporate. It seemed like there was an unknown factor in the chemistry of all things and consequently I grew very frustrated. I felt a deep sense of anxiety well. All those ingredients, so expensive, becoming gourmet chicken food. All that time, to yield nothing but exasperation. And then all the income from cookie orders lost.

I snapped at the girls, steamed, and felt a bit of panic, as my orbit felt wobbly. Isn't it strange how small things can trigger such reactions? Maybe not for you, but then again, we all have some triggers, don't we? I tried to ask myself what it was I really feared, and why did it stir me up so much. The niggling voice in the back of the head told me I was afraid of running out of money, and the loss of income touched a nerve. I told myself the truth, being that a couple hundred dollars here or there was not going to send us to the poor house. That I am in a comfortable place financially, and when stretched, can pick up side work here or there that will cover the gap. About 45 minutes after the surge of panic, I was able to tell the girls that the fail of a couple of recipes was no big deal (thank you, Pema Chodron for the no big deal teaching), and we hugged, i said my I'm sorry for snapping, and we were all able to smile as we finished up many other good things for my customers.

The girls set out a platter of treats, we had glasses of wine and perrier, Christmas music on the ipad, and wonderful smells of the many successful bakery goods. Customer friends stood around, shared laughter, a few tears here and there, conversations, love, real community. My mom and dad came over and met neighbors. We laughed about the epic fail, and one of my friends confided that she felt glad when I shared my fails with them. That authenticity gave her hope. We talked about perspective, and how there are some things in life that are not no big deal. Having your house burn down, losing all your possessions is a pretty big deal. Having your child die is a super big deal. Mental illness is a big deal. But many other bumps in the road are just that. A bump. No big deal.

I am trying hard to let the time between onset of stress, anxiety, panic, whatever you want to call it, and "no big deal" grow shorter. I would like to say I had it made, and was able to catch myself before slipping down the slope. Practice makes perfect.

Time's up. Ding!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Bakery Life in the Here and Now

A young couple from Dallas popped into the bakery yesterday afternoon. They had been camping in Big Bend National Park, were back in civilization and hungry for fresh bread.

I was making out my list for today, working up the plan for Christmas week in the bakery. They were mesmerized by the mill and slightly confused by my hours, Thursday afternoons, between 4 and 6pm. Crazy, right? I think it is a bit odd, and wonderful. We laughed about all the restaurants in Marfa that are often closed. How tiny communities in this region can be sustainable with mindful, careful hours that allow owners and employees to pick up other jobs on the side.

At times I have dreamed of having a bakery in a real building, with a pretty window and glass cabinet to display my wares. I have even looked at a place a time or two. So tempting! But the business woman/mom in me kept seeing other small businesses crater, unable to sustain the costs of building maintenance, employees, insurance and more.

The other day I took my mom on some errands. We remembered the dream. Now she is here, I have this vision of a building, great big chalkboard, vats of soup, trays of frittata, loaves of bread lined up, plenty of crazy good muffins and croissant. My mom's paintings on the wall, as this would be gallery/bakery. A nice fantasy, as small is working so well for me now. I get to work at home three days a week. The kids come home to warm, cozy fresh bread and cookies. May not be much else to eat, but there is always good toast! I can stumble out of bed right here, no driving.

The costs of running a business connected to my home are so much more manageable.

Even so, there are dreams. This winter's dream is the addition of croissant to the menu. Sourdough has been an astonishing success. Except for my fails, as I learn to drive the new vehicle! I let the starter die once. And another time I used the whole vat and forgot to save some for future batches. But it has been fun doing something old and new. Freshly milled spelt sourdough is the coolest, my customers appreciate it, the kids love it.


I want to make the best spelt croissant in the region.

I have been researching for some time, and most bakers of croissant, the from scratch ones, not the ones buying the dough prelaminated from Ben E Keith, say that it is an unsustainable product to offer to their customers. Way too labor intensive. The ones who managed to keep it up in their businesses invested in a dough sheeter. You know, the thing Meryl Streep uses when she and Steve Martin make croissant in her bakery after a crazy party in the movie It's Complicated? Which, by the way, is hilarious, and left me laughing out loud a few years back.

I have been waiting for winter and cold to experiment with the process. Butter has to be stone cold. Not easy to do in a steaming hot bakery. In West Texas.

So. Maybe I should send a letter to Santa? Not for a building to maintain, but maybe a smallish sheeter? Actually, I occasionally check out craigslist, typically things become available about the time I need them.

In the meantime, I am enjoying some new things today. Along with the gingerbread people, I am making one of Philip's favorites, nuss eckern, nut corners, a german cookie made for us by our friend, Chris, an English teacher who lived in the same town as our family back in Tokuyama, Japan. Haven't made that cookie in years. Will let you know how it goes! And a spelt toffee date cake.

The sun is rising, the coffee is hot. And here I am, day two of challenge. The smell of molassesy sucanat and roasted hazelnuts perfumes my air, chickens peck outside the bakery door into the backyard, hoping I will find some scraps of stale bread or crumbs to share with them this morning. I probably will. The early morning light catches in the translucent seed pods of the cardinal vine that threatens to overwhelm the grapevine arbor. It is so pretty, like suspended drops of glistening ice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas is Coming

The temperature was 59 this morning as a cat climbed through her door, aka my window, and onto my chest. 77 is the predicted high for today, which is why I will head out to spend a few hours in the vineyard. A girl has to soak up the sun when she gets the chance.

We are moving the vineyard into biodynamic agricultural production. Organic, with specific methods, using minerals and practices taught by Rudolf Steiner and others. The vineyard has been a real saving grace for me. By now we have had several freezes, the vines are no longer covered in leaves. But leaves there were this year! A beautiful canopy. Very few grapes, as the vines are not yet ready to produce. Early in the season we walked the rows, trimming off the baby clusters, helping the vines put more energy into root development. We hope for a small harvest next year, and more the following.

It is rather shocking to see, up close and personal, the cost of a glass of wine. Hours and hours of hard labor, whether the digging, the planting, the watering, the weed eating, the pruning, the tying, the trimming, the feeding. Oh, and the researching, the reading, the dreaming, the hoping, the crushing failures due to drought, bugs, floods, viruses and late freezes.

At some point this fall, I thought I would never operate a weed eater again. After weeks and weeks of constant weed whacking, I grew fed up with the noise, the vibration, the blisters, the bruises from flung rocks and pebbles. Things are finally manageable in the vineyard, I have a couple of large compost windrows working away, and decided to trim down the high mountain grasses the surround the vineyard and home of the owners. After a break, the work didn't annoy me. The noise and physical exertion took my mind off the worries of the world.

I will go back and do it again today, after working on compost preparations.

Today I am writing whatever comes to mind as a result of a challenge I received last night. I began to read a book I picked up from our local book store, Front Street Books, owned by my friend, Jean Hardy Pittman. It is my Christmas tradition to go and spend a pile of money on used books, new books, a journal or two, whatever strikes my fancy. I feel so happy to go in and use our funds in this local economy. Yes, I also order thing online, not a purist, but things feel better when I buy them from my friends. I saw the book Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett on the used shelves. I have read other pieces by Patchett. Her writing touches me. Lately I have been watching streaming tv to numb myself a bit at night. Or I will listen to audio books as I drift off to sleep or drive. You know, me and the dark days of winter.

Last night winter solstice came upon us. As I came home from work, I felt a stirring to welcome the dark as if I believed the light was surely going to return. I went for a jog walk around the golf course and park next to our home (first in months). I lifted my arms to the sky and said thank you for the many painful lessons of 2016. Damn. We had a lot of painful lessons. I said I would attempt to make good use of the education. But, please, could we have a break? As I lifted my arms to the dark sky, I offered out prayers of comfort and consolation to the many others whose lessons have been way more painful than ours. And attempted to share nourishing love and grace and hope to the world in pain.

When I got back to the house, I was tempted to set up my evening tv watching. Good tv, well written, poignant, truthful stories that bless me, but passive, numbing for sure. I decided that on this solstice, I would allow myself to be in the real moment. Then I remembered the bel canto book. I did a quick search on Ann Patchett on my phone (see how hard it is to loose myself from that electronic grip?!) to place it in chronology. One of her earlier books. And while searching, I came upon some of her advice to writers: "If you want to write, try this: Pick an amount of time to sit at your desk every day. Start with twenty minutes a day, say, and work up as quickly as possible to a much time as you can spare. Do you really want to write? Sit for two hours a day."

That little challenge grabbed me. I felt a twinge of sadness for a moment, thinking that I used to think I was to be a writer. And how sad that I don't get to do what I thought I was made to do. And then, in a heartbeat, I thought to myself, why not? Who has a gun to my head telling me I can't sit down and write? Surely I can carve out some time typing, instead of scanning Facebook, the news, the weather, recipes, etc, etc.

So, I had one of the better sleeps I have had in weeks. I woke up rather refreshed, and was ready to get busy with tasks, when I saw the book, remembered the challenge.

I feel rusty, somewhat silly. But here I am. I remember myself when I write.

Today is December 21st, 2016. The twenty first birthday of my son, Patrick John Hillery. Conceived in Japan. Born in Austin, on a cool, clear day, at St. Davids. A few blocks from where he lives today, a student in his junior year, studying philosophy of politics. He loves to run, ride his motorcycle, explore, travel, learn, be in nature, be with his girlfriend, eat and cook good food, argue, debate, work hard. He is tender and strong and lovely. He is a bit of a procrastinator, but knows how to work a deadline!!! He was the best gift on our wedding anniversary those 21 years ago.

Today is December 21st, 2016. What would have been the twenty fifth anniversary of my wedding with Philip James Hillery, 1991, in Ft. Worth, Texas. We chose each other. We knew each other, the good, the bad, the ugly. We believed it was all worth it, the hard, the fun, the crazy, the broken. We were naive, but brave. And hopeful. Thankfully we had no idea how much it would cost, the making of a marriage, the growing of a family. Little did we know that after all that hard work, about the time we had a few years of good history beneath the belt, he would die. Really? All that counseling and learning how to love and live together using healthy communication? Seriously? So now, almost seven years with him gone, being single, dating, a long term relationship that ended up broken, dating here and there, now feeling quite, well, pretty much content with my single status, I think of who I am because of being married to that man on this date, 25 years ago. I have a clue what secure attachment is, thanks to that marriage. I know what it is like to be known, to be accepted, all of me, even the not so nice parts of me, thanks to decision to marry 25 years ago. I had a lot of crazy fun, exploring and travelling places we shouldn't have been able to afford to explore. I learned that money is convenient, but there are way more important things out there than financial security. Because of that day in time, I had a fan who believed I was something special, who believed there were things I could do that would change the world. He was crazy about supporting me to go and do what I needed to do, whether that meant running away from home for a few days to write, recharge, be still, or start a business feeding people, or homeschooling the kids, or whatever. And I like to think that he was pretty happy to have a fan who believed in him, too.

We truly experienced family as a result of that day in time. My children each know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what it is to be loved by their father. A gift not all get to receive, sadly.

I get a bit teary on this day. And tender-hearted. And filled with joy and memories, and delight.

I am now going to go to work. Tonight I will drink champagne, just as he and I used to do, as we celebrated each other. I will toast the giver of good things who miraculously brought me to that time in history. Our ignorance was a good thing. Sometimes I am sad I am so aware of the costs of good things. It just might keep me from taking those leaps that lead to riches and fame and glory! Like starting a vineyard, growing a good garden, getting married, having children. Or maybe not. I did move to Alpine and start a business here, verdad que si? And now look, Mom and Dad, living down the street, five minutes away, family dinners, hugs, and great gift, Daddy and I will sing our favorite, Oh Holy Night, in their church this Christmas Eve. My children will come around me, we will laugh and delight and bask in abundance.