Mojave in my Heart

From a not-so childlike beginning in New York City to my child inspired world here and now


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life of rich people

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I’m asked if I plan the baking activities along with books we read. Sometimes I do, like one of our favorite baking/ book duos, “sun bread” on rainy days inspired by the book Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven. More often than not though we read and are inspired by a book and we  just roll off the couch and make “stone soup” or baked goods from the story. Many of our days revolve around cooking and baking, so it all flows naturally that our favorite books would lead us to the kitchen.

Recently we read The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Bayloran absolute favorite of mine and if you don’t know it, read it! Like other books, after we read it we found our way into the pantry checking to see if we had the ingredients to make sugar snap cookies- the baked good that sits atop  “the table where rich people sit.” This book, like others by this marvelous author moves me very deeply. It tells the story of Mountain Girl who gathers her family for a meeting to discuss their lack of money, their poverty. Mountain Girl thinks she is the only one who has any sense in the family and goes on to suggest her parents get real jobs, work in offices and then maybe they won’t be so poor.  Her parents then outline the value of their life in monetary terms, say working outdoors, that’s got to be worth $20,000? How much more for hearing the coyotes howl? Sunrises and sunsets? Being together everyday? And so on.

Before the girls were born, Stephen and I worked together. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. Driving in to school, sharing our lunch, checking in with one another throughout the day and then heading home. All together. After the girls’ birth, I found that  separation from him so difficult– we were apart all day and it felt so wrong.  Mondays are still so trying. Tuesdays and Wednesdays too. Yet, it is normal and typical and surrounds us. We were unique in working together back then, not the norm.

My decision to remain home, ultimately homeschooling and leaving a job I truly did love, a second income, outside recognition and all the defining elements that go along with a career has not always been easy. It is accompanied by some heavy baggage — financial being just one. Re-framing is necessary to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing! Sometimes it is hard to put to words since it is a calling beyond explanation. My inner compass has not wavered on this decision at all. The outer compass, influenced and shaped by the world I live in and my past, has challenged the decision. More money?  Security? Health insurance?! My own life? A bigger home?  My own upbringing, inundated with financial difficulties (to say the least) haunts me. Am I being responsible? Shouldn’t I just get A JOB?!! Ahhhh! Maybe Mountain Girl is right…

Stephen and I discuss our need to work toward finding that balance. Let’s not get pulled in to the financial burdens of a bigger home or a second car. Let’s work this one income out, comfortably, by making the right decisions for us- following this path! Let’s have the afternoons and the summers together. How can we continue to not only value, but reach for the non-monetary benefits of this scenario?

Reading this story,  my inner compass is strengthened– like a reassuring friend reminding me of what’s important. The value, the riches, the WEALTH we have in our lives may not stack up behind the $ sign, but are seemingly infinite and amorphous, impossible to pin down or capture because they tally up by being together everyday. Having time together and the freedom we have each of those days to bake cookies, picnic in the snow, make Japanese food together and serve it on little plates, ride the carousel (again and again), dance in the wind, hike up a canyon, enjoy the view after, write our name in the snow, brush a friend’s horse…

And if this doesn’t work out, I tell Stephen we’ll go panning for gold. We’re in Colorado after all.

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their worlds

I LOVE stumbling upon an Ada and Arlene world.  A still life or in-action world.  For instance, the vet shop open for business before I’ve finished my cup of coffee.  Hearts in the carpet. The elevated crib with the “north star” taped above it. Soaking pinecones and lima beans anyone?  I’ll admit, those are less fun worlds to discover when they’re hidden beneath their beds “baking” they say. Boxes that became boats then tents, then a house. Dressing Kinsey up? All the time. Layering their friends for our chilly bike rides. Not enough hats? Just tie a shirt around their head. Maybe ribbon? Reading to Kinsey is something Ada has done for years now. Frederick, a stuffed elephant, (who was my “baby” and their “patient” most of last week) learn to play the ukulele with Arlene today– even after suffering from memory problems!

The friendship and fun Arlene and Ada have all day long is so amazing and heart-warming. They get along very well- complimenting each other in unexpected ways and learning better each day how to listen, compromise and find space to be alone, when needed. As I write I’m listening to non-stop laughter from the two of them!

When I was pregnant with the girls, I was driving home one afternoon and I started to laugh and giggle. I had this sudden realization that I had the most precious, incredible gifts growing inside of me! It was a whirling, giddy sensation and gifts is the only way to try to express the feeling. The awareness was unexpected, nearly random. I was bestowed with these gifts –like wrapped presents there was anticipation, excitement, fear, and joy!  Their giggles reminded me of that moment over 6 years ago. I love these seemingly unconnected, connections.

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12 days, exactly

12 days ago we were suppose to leave for an epic drive and visit to North Carolina.

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Our first trip back east since we moved here. It was going to be the first time seeing the new home of Stephens parent’s. We were going to hug and play with our family and friends, walk our old stomping ground, eat at Elmo’s and visit with Tweedy (our last surviving hen). 12 days ago was Christmas. We spent weeks preparing for the trip, practical considerations to emotional ones. The plan was to leave in the wee hours (4:00 am) of the 26th of December and make it to NC by the evening of the 27th– in those 34 hours, driving the necessary 24 hours.

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We planned a special, low-key morning for Christmas, followed by an afternoon at home, early fondue dinner and squeezed in there, cooking, cleaning, and packing of the car. We were greeted with happy voices that morning- excited to share that Santa indeed had left something for our dog! We did have a special, low-key, beautiful morning on the 25th. A&A admired Santa’s wrapping, choice of bows, and arrangement of gifts. We had a simple breakfast and then opened gifts together, savoring it carefully. Last year we celebrated the 12 days of Christmas (beginning on Christmas and ending on the eve of the Epiphany or King’s Day) where we found a gift each of 12 days. I loved celebrating the holiday over the nearly 2 weeks. Each day was special without the buildup (for anyone) or bust. We maintained a spirit of reverence and magic those days and while the trade-off for North Carolina was worth it, it was change.

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As Christmas day progressed, so did the snow. We were aware of it, but in full denial. Like one of the girls’ books where the child is elated over the snowflakes and everyone around him says, oh, it won’t stick, it’ll melt, just a snowflake, etc. we too were in denial. We were busy I will say to our defense, but one would think after multiple trips to the car, packing and rearranging that it would have dawned on us sooner. It didn’t though. We all went to bed at 8 and fully expected to drive east at 4 am.

It was not in the plan. While we initially made the decision rather tentatively– let’s see how the weather evolves, I think we knew in our hearts it was not going to happen. Nonetheless, we would wait it out and see. Waiting it out, however, didn’t yield a different decision. Weather and roads looked bad across Colorado and Kansas. We were so utterly torn about going, staying, flying, flying later, waiting another day, staying a shorter amount of time?!?! We felt resonance with JB’s singing:

“I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna stay, I don’t wanna go, I don’t wanna stay, I don’t know what I wanna do now. (Widespread Panic covering The Meter’s song  “Ain’t No Use” 

It took days to rebound, find our groove again. We joked that we should have been taking a lesson from the girls’ example. While they did have some unusual emotional moments, by and large they threw themselves into the present! The present was full of snow, so that meant climbing up hills and rolling in it, making snow people, sitting on fresh snow to see one’s snow pant pattern, sledding and so on.

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Without plan nor agenda, the days provided an opportunity for us to just be. A little formless, but fully enriching.  We continued our 12 days celebration with a star of spirals and nightly readings. We knit together, girls on straight needles now and Stephen, too! We had leisure dinners and snow-filled outings. I got to yoga in the morning or out for a gorgeous run (below)!

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It was different than a vacation, different than going away…it felt “timeless” without start and end, a permeable beginning and end. Arlene even lost her first tooth!

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Our light continued to guide us, but to our center(s), as individuals and a family. We honed in on some of the inner and outer work we’ve all desired, maybe even needed, at home. I’ve been grateful for the larger life we have come to encompass this year in Colorado, but I’ve also longed for less. I’ve learned a lot this year about myself–balancing and trying to better live my priorities and this week and a half unexpectedly bestowed time to fully bask in that searching while on our journey.

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There was hiking, sledding and game playing. New Year’s Eve fun with a homemade candle holder and more games.

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We took on bills, health insurance, graduate school paperwork, etc. We reorganized parts of the house, decluttered (yes!) and began tackling the monstrosity of photos on our computer. The girls played and played — without interruption! They’re like actors on a stage– setting up a new scene and immersing themselves in its storyline 100%. We had vet clinics, thrift shops (with basically everything in the living room price tagged), courier services (lots and lots of deliveries to neighbors) and so on. There was time, too to hear what they needed and time for Stephen and I to pause and discuss how we want to proceed. There’s always change and some days it is more obvious than others. Their need to exert their will, to talk things out, to be listened to, to be guided through difficult moments. Lastly, a homeschooling issue that had been percolating within me for months came to fruition– do less. Our short morning lesson will devolve and we will take on a more meandering morning. Playing together more after circle and greater time to get into our handwork, more painting, lots of baking, more singing and so forth. I want to play with them more and and trust the rest will come in time.

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In Quakerism, one believes there is God in everyone, light within that we can attune ourselves to hearing and understanding. I didn’t understand what our time staying here in Colorado was going to be about, nor what I should make it BE about, but I did know that once we made our decision to stay, it was about being in the present.  Over the first few days past Christmas it was clear that although we faced some real obstacles, disappointments and a major change in our “direction” we were still guided and moving forward.

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Now, on the 12th day of Christmas, the eve of the Epiphany, I can’t help but laugh at the synchronicity. Our 12 days has led us to a simpler pace, clearer vision and a more grounded footing than before.


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experiencing inspiration on the solstice

 Nothing, I believe, can really teach us the nature and meaning of inspiration but personal experience of it. That we may all have such experience if we will but attend to the divine influences in our own hearts, is the cardinal doctrine of Quakerism.
~ Caroline Stephen, 1834-1909 (my italics on inspiration)

The winter solstice began beautifully and ended magically. First to the Meetinghouse for worship and lunch. While I craved more silence during the Meeting, I appreciated the words shared by fellow worshippers. Worship ended with the entrance of the children in a Christmas pageant. A & A were the two Marys– again :-)  There were readings from Luke and singing of songs. The middle and high school children followed with their very own satirical and comical songs. We ended with an acting out /sing-along version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” The room was fun and festive– a contrast to what the space usually offers– silent gathering.

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The potluck spread was delicious and with the mild temperatures and sunny day, we sat outside.  I was so appreciative to have Stephen and the girls at my side, wonderful friends around, mountains ahead, gorgeous sun above. I really just wanted to go around and hug people! The Quaker Meeting has brought us so much joy, direction and confirmation of what I’ve been looking for–and it just seems to continue to grow and grow…

We putzed around at home for some much needed putzing before heading out for a solstice bonfire with a new friend — whom we met at a Mountain Quaker Meeting through another wonderful friend. His place is about 40 minutes from us, 10 minutes from Lyons. As we drove between enormous boulders it felt as if we were passing towering dinosaurs and their ancient eggs. It was gorgeous. Unlike other canyons, this one stands out, at least to me, geologically – not that I can explain it very well!  The canyon ascent is a gentler climb than the other canyon roads we’re familiar with–wider with what seems like a tranquil, meandering creek, the St. Vrain, flowing beside it. The same creek that flooded and caused massive destruction to Lyons and surrounding areas in 2013. Rather than forests and steep canyons here though, you’re met with sandstone, rock and sky. All together it evokes a silence, an inspiration…

We arrived early at our friend’s place so we could get the tour while there was still light on this, the very shortest day of the year :-) He is a minimalist, living with the motto: “use less so you have to earn less” or something close to it.  He works a lot on his property, improving the original cabin, building fences, and a lot of inventing- a self-taught millwright. We spent time with his flock of 30 chickens, feeding them popcorn, talking lots. We eventually headed to the bonfire spot, down a steep hill to a dry creek right up to a beautiful hill. Here you’re surrounded by lodgepole and ponderosa, hills and peace. At the opposite end of our bonfire spot, where the creek (dry now) tightens, a 60ft swing beckoned us. Comfort level with the swing grew with experience – rides were more adventurous by night’s end, like from a chair atop a table! We made friends with another family and their lovely daughters. Our conversations flowed smoothly, without much effort and we were all content there, together in the dark woods with the bright fire on a special solstice night.

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We ate, we talked, we played on the swing, watched the kids and warmed ourselves by the fire while fat, beautiful snowflakes fell all around us!  A simple string of lights made for some pretty ambience by the swing and the snowflakes falling perfected it. It was magical.

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The girls, typically slow to warm to new places, were right at home in these woods. They were confident and ambitious. More than once we had to remind them to stay together (strength in numbers!) and where we could see them. They seemed to want to climb higher and deeper into the woods each time I turned my back. Then they’d return to the swing, which made me nervous too, but a little less so than bears and lions!

I reveled in the new friendships and genuine inspirations from just this single day — all emanating from our precious Quaker world. The decision to explore the Quaker path has presented us with sweet friendships, wonderful opportunities and an inspiring path with direction. At our solstice gathering, I felt no hesitation in opening myself to these friends. I felt honored to listen to others’ stories– full of twists and turns, dreams and inspirations. Sitting, standing, being in the company of kind people, amongst the snow, the trees, the mountains, the fire, I was truly inspired, deep within me to continue to walk firmly toward our dreams.

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a look at how things looked, last week or so

They made decorative banners with beautiful feathers, pine branches and salt dough ornaments. They baked cookies, dog treats and scones. We played and walked around our neighborhood. Saw friends, wrapped gifts, and read lots. As I strayed, the girls brought me back, always offering their joy.

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Stephen and I held back the tears (of pure joy, excitement, pride) as they danced beautiful ballet at the holiday show in Louisville. It is an indescribable feeling watching your children out there in the world, on stage, DOING all on their own. Time completely stood still as I held Stephen’s hand, absorbing those precious moments.

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I made up a child-friendly version story of Saint Lucia. We talked about the light within and baked Santa Lucia bread. Regular sized and miniature.

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A photo taken by one of the girls. I love finding their world on my camera.

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The girls have the sweetest voices and this night was no different!

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We returned to the animal shelter bearing gifts for dogs and cats. We also spent time with doggies that needed a little extra love. Roxie is a super cute border collie available for adoption!

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Arlene as Mary at the live nativity. It was simple, genuine, magical– standing in the barn together, in the dark, singing, listening, young voices, old voices, llamas, sheep–all of us together.

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Girls night out — pizza down the street.

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st. nick, holiday happenings and joe, a former student of mine

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St. Nick came by our place in similar fashion as last year, leaving a sweet treat and a note about the weeks to come. Last year St. Nick wrote about the beauty of the 12 days of Christmas and we had a wonderful time celebrating it–  our first in Colorado, beginning on Christmas Eve and ending on the Epiphany. We enjoyed it so much it was hard to accept it just wouldn’t work out this year. St. Nick was very helpful with this conundrum. His note informed us that we would be celebrating with gifts on Christmas only, but he asked us to give to others during the 12 days. Immediately the girls were excited by the challenge, not disappointed by the change, of giving to others for “all those days!”

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Perhaps it is my Catholic background or my attraction to the organization, but we’ve embraced the Advent calendar and candle ritual these years, too. I’ve come up with themes for the weeks of Advent- this week, the second, has centered around giving to others. St. Nick kicks it off, inspiring us to give to others on the heels of his gift to us.  We started in earnest –our happy crafting time, leaving handmade gifts for neighbors, signed “mystery givers” and baking cookies for those near and far. Last night we went to a homeless shelter in Boulder where we helped give out medicine, band aids, cough drops, etc. The girls asked lots of questions which I ultimately think is healthy, although it certainly made me wonder and question my decision. The folks at the shelter were friendly and while the girls have been well aware of the homeless situation in Boulder, this was a far more intimate and realistic dose.

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Whenever there are multiple trips to the post office, things can get stressful. Yesterday, our second day to the post office in a week, was no different! We had a pretty unhappy meltdown on our way home– and it left everyone feeling unhappy. We all had a quiet time at home and then came back together for lunch. I was still feeling uncertain about our afternoon (we had a lot going on in the evening) and how to smooth things out. It was gorgeous out so I suggested we get some balls and go to the park. We were excited about heading out, but as we finished lunch they got sidetracked with a handmade figure a former student of mine named Joe made for me, many years ago. Joe was a unique, wonderful student of mine in North Carolina who also happened to be on the autism spectrum. One day, early on in my knowing Joe, I found him completely absorbed in making tiny figures with paperclips and thread. I nearly stopped him, but stopped myself instead. I gave him a smile and on we went. His “crafting” with found objects didn’t seem to distract him from the importance of the Renaissance or the Treaty of Versailles. ; ) He was prolific in his work and soon I was finding these figures on my desk after class. There were spiders, robots, animals, people and even portraits of me! I was distinguished from the others by a scarf, which he managed to incorporate with thread or pieces of yarn.

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It was one of these figures that the girls became curious about that diverted our afternoon, for so much the better. They asked lots of questions about the figures, Joe and my teaching. Can we make them? We pulled out paperclips and yarn and got to work. It was HARD and it left me with more appreciation for these tiny figures than I had before. Our fingers ached a little, but we managed to create self-portraits, paperclips only.

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Above: Joe’s figures

We staged our figures along with Joe’s and put some music on. Wednesdays, if we can get it in, we sing. With more activity and school this year, it has been harder to have a set, weekly singing time. Ah, but here we were! So we piled up on the couch and started singing! It was overwhelming in the most beautiful of ways. We were close and connected, present and soulful. We belted out our favorites– mostly gospel songs that are simple, powerful and beautiful– getting right to the truth of the matter.

We can do things, offer things, go places with our kids, but I know that times like these imprint deeply. They seem to fill the soul rather than create a specific memory. The feeling of closeness, singing these powerful words and the presence we all shared. These are the times I want more of, just sometimes they come after the stress of package making, post office tripping and low blood sugar, but I’ll take it.

One song in particular, “I’ll Fly Away” a hymn from the earlier part of the 20th century really spoke to me yesterday. With the passing of my cousin two days ago and today marking three years since my mother was diagnosed, I was left really wondering about it all…and full of gratitude that I got to wonder in the arms of these sweet little people.


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ecosystems – aquatic (day 4)

The balm of nature transformed several gravel pits in eastern Boulder into a thriving wetlands ecosystem, home to a variety of birds, small mammals, wildflowers and other plants. We decided to visit the ponds on our 4th and final day of ecosystems. It was an absolutely stunning day– classic blue skies and the omnipresent, warming sun. With only containers of fresh popcorn packed, we headed out and met some friends at the trail.

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Decades ago this area was mined for gravel.  In 1974, residents of the area wished to transform the open pits and puddles into a wildlife habitat- they had a vision. Rocks were added to the pits, creating several ponds. Trees and shrubs were planted, the ponds filled with groundwater and then stocked with fish. It was named Walden Ponds, not as I thought as a nod to Henry David Thoreau’s,, but in reference to the Boulder County Commissioner who helped launch the plan to convert the gravel pits to a wildlife habitat. His name was Walden “Wally” Toevs. While active pits do remain around the open space, you can get lost in the tall grasses and cattails, winding trails and various ponds. That is just what the girls (and friends) did when we visited the ponds on Friday. They completely immersed themselves in the work of building fishing rods, diverting water this way and that, digging holes, digging holes and digging some more.

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Even after 5 hours, their work was not done.  I knew they were hungry and tired.  We had an early dinner at 4:30 and slept deeply.

The contrasts between the environments of the week and that little bit of structure (parts of an ecosystem) really meant a lot to the girls. This was the easiest of the four ecosystems to discuss the soil (maybe because they played in for several hours). They felt its moisture and its pliability. Arlene mentioned on the way home that the dirt was much easier to dig in than at Mud Lake. They also talked about how the grasses were fun to play with although there weren’t many trees. I appreciated their awareness and was so grateful for the inspiration and time to have this week together– exploring and loving Colorado even more.

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