Tuesday, December 29, 2015

For the moms: Say your name. Now repeat it.

Sappy and sentimental - that's me. But I've learned to let go and that's the key. Read my column posted several weeks ago on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter:

Reaching a moment that you strive for is like taking a drink of water when you are parched beyond measure. For me, it was that moment when you see your kids leave the house for college, or for a job that will take them somewhere that you don't see their faces but several times a year. The house settles into its bones, moving and sinking into a comfort that doesn't hold racing up and down the stairs, or the shaking that comes with sibling fights and rivalries. Like the house, solid and cozy, I let myself sink in and accept my creaks and groans — the settling of a body that's housed three children and bore each fight, scar and tear. I envelope the silence around me, gather it into my palm, and move ahead to what my now entails: words written and organized, songs played against a blank canvas of time and the silent slurp of my spoon dipped into a bowl of food I prepared for my taste buds only.
It's surreal and it's right. Our kids are meant to leave, and not readying them and ourselves will leave us with our hands in our laps, fighting back the tears of a life only lived for someone else. 

Peering through the vapors of time, I see myself with three kids under the age of 5 — each one vying for my attention in different ways. Nights of crying that bring milk-stained memories, rife with emotion and a new mother's worries – tiptoeing out of rooms and lying down to sleep dreamlessly.
First words and steps, racing to grow and smile. Mornings filled with chocolate milk and Barbie dolls, or Power Rangers and Legos scattered across the floor. I can recite every Rugrats episode from memory, hearing the lines and giggles as I moved throughout my day. Days spent with Rollerblades strapped tight around ankles, zooming through the rooms of our tiny house and falling repeatedly, or the whoosh of the bikes as they flew down our neighbors hill and into our driveway. 

There were seconds of time that I longed for the solitude of one moment, just one bathroom break without the banging of the door and the screaming of, “Mom! Mommy! Mom!” piercing my eardrums. There was no Instagram or Facebook to document it, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Etched inside me are the warm dusky smells of tiny necks, sleepy and holding me tightly as they fought the sandman at every turn. The endless drinks of water that were needed before bedtime, and the stacks of books beside their beds that needed read over and over.
And when morning arrived once again, I would fry dippy eggs and cut the warm buttered toasted into tiny squares, just right for tiny hands to sop up the runny goodness. 

I see you, young moms, struggling to get to the grocery store and make it through without a meltdown. I see the endless tiny meals and snacks you prepare, trying to get them to eat something — anything.
I see you wishing for a quiet moment that enables you to remember who you are, what you want. 

I see you, moms of teens, who look at the growing faces of their offspring and wonder what planet they arrived from. Who took over this child who once needed to sit in my lap every day? Where is the child who cried when I left to get groceries, tiny faces pressed up against the window as I backed away, and me — grabbing a moment to settle myself in the rows of a superstore for one blessed moment. First dates, proms, games that involve some sort of ball, graduation, and your heart — beating bloody drops outside your body — as they drive away to their futures. 

If I can give you a word of unsolicited advice, it would be this: Make more chocolate milk, eat more cookies fresh from the oven, let them smear the chocolate on their faces and kiss them while doing it. Stop striving for perfection — it doesn't exist.
Give yourself the gift of a day to go shopping by yourself — you need it to remind yourself who you are. Say your name and don't forget the sound of it. Don't rush home because you feel guilty for leaving them. That guilt is false. Let them cry themselves back to sleep. When they come home late for curfew listen to their reason instead of screaming. Never say my child would never do that, because half the time they did. Be their advocate because no one else will. 

I've earned the solitude I find in my home. I smile, though, when I scroll through the pictures on Facebook and see the babies, toddlers, and the moms who find it hard to laugh some days. I love the pictures of elementary kids, the tweens and the teens whose parents are grasping on just a bit harder than they should. Ready yourself, because your arms will soon be empty. It's startling and it takes your breath away, but it is exhilarating. Repeat your name often. Write down your dreams. Ready your kids to fly, because they do. Abandon yourself to motherhood, but leave a lifeline — one day you'll need it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Inching this holiday season forward

Newest column freshly posted on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter:

I just rolled off the weekend – Thanksgiving weekend – and I do mean roll. 

The table at our family gathering was heavy-laden and food was partaken of at a rapid clip. 

The dressing, glorious in its vintage enamelware pan, is the heaviest of all. In all its fried glory, it is the most anticipated part of the meal – at least for me. I don’t make dressing on a regular basis — who does? If you do, I’m sorry, but there are certain foods I savor on the holiday – unless I’m eating in a local restaurant and get a bug for bready goodness. A dish appears on our table every Thanksgiving called cranberry salad, and lots of noses are turned up. I take a small helping because for one, I like its tart goodness and the way it cleans the palate and enables more food to go down. Bad reason? Nah. Thanksgiving only comes once a cycle. 

With Thanksgiving tucked away, that means one thing – lots of sales! Even though this is true, it also means that my Christmas spirit has arrived. While lots of people get crazy decorating for Christmas on November first, I still find myself in the spooky-fallish-themed-glare of October. It takes me weeks to get on board and realize that Thanksgiving is coming. I will not skip it, jump over it, bypass it, or pretend it’s just a ruse to get to Christmas. I will plant my ceramic turkey on the table and enjoy it until it’s time for him to go. I’m a weird stickler for enjoying each day as it comes, and that means relishing in each holiday – one trick or treat bag or turkey leg at a time. We ventured to a tree farm to pick out a tree the day after Thanksgiving (Go visit Fencerow Productions outside New Bedford), and as we were putting it up — with N’Sync blaring “Merry Christmas Happy Holidays” in the background — I was covertly pitching pumpkins away as the pine was drug out. Bring one in, usher one out. Just as it should be.

My gift lists are not yet made — and nary a longed-for item has been bought — but the coffee is hot as it slides down my throat this morning. I’m not panicked because I decided years ago that I would not let it touch me – that I would not let the madness of the season take over and turn me into something that I’m not. I would much rather shop online for a few things, as well as venturing out into the fray when I decide to and taking advantage of the insanity of markdowns. And oh, are there markdowns. I’ve also been scratching the itch to think outside the gift-giving box and shop at tiny collectives, boutiques, and mom and pop stores. There is a vibrant community outside the glow of the big box stores, and at times we need to detox from their warm lights. While I do and will haunt the big box stores – because who doesn’t need a good pair of jeans marked heftily down – I am making a commitment to finding other things that will tickle the fancy of the gift receiver. 

I stare at my Christmas tree, warm lights tucked inside its Frasier-furred branches, and I ponder. Only half the ornaments are up and it looks a little bare, but I treasure the light that spills from it around the room. There are bags filled with d├ęcor that sit patiently, as well as piles of gold and silver trinkets that await their place on the tree. The manger scene is sitting on the desk with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus haphazardly lying in a pile with sheep and wise men, tangled and expectant. Soon, I’ll arrange them carefully on a surface in my home, thinking of years past when the little hands of my children had this job. I once entered the living room to find the wise men and camels spread out all over the room. When I asked why they weren’t in the manger scene, my son cocked his head and looked at me like I was crazy. “Mom,” he said, “they’re traveling. They haven’t arrived yet because it’s not time.” It made me catch my breath. That particular year, every single day, he inched them closer and closer until they arrived at their destination. That will be me, this month, inching forward day by day. Preparing, nesting and making ready. I wouldn’t want to jump ahead of myself and ruin it all. Instead, I’ll be sipping my coffee and savoring each minute, because each piece I put out has its place – just like each season.

Friday, December 4, 2015

I'm back. Let's catch up.

I'm back writing my column! I've missed it, so swing by The Holmes County Bargain Hunter and have a read. Life is weird, but doesn't that make it interesting? 

Herrera is back and ready to catch up

Friends, I’ve missed you. Life takes a swing and you’re off on another venture, sometimes leaving behind something that was near and dear. This column was near and dear, but I had a few other things to do, so I was gone for a while, stacking up words neatly in piles. I’m bringing them out and dusting them off to let you know what I’ve been up to since we last chatted. 

I’m writing my novel and it’s almost done. 

It was a weight that sat directly on my chest, mostly taunting me through the years to finish. I’m nearly 60,000 words in and can see the finish line — albeit hazy in the distance. The last part of it seems to be moving at a snail’s pace, and that’s not for lack of being a fast typist. I do have typing medals to brag about from Oscar Miller’s class that I wore proudly on my letterman’s jacket but, um, does that date me? Regardless, my classes were in typing, not the newfangled term keyboarding, and I still position my hands over the correct letters before I start. No pecking one finger at a time for me. I value those typing classes every single day when I sit down to write. I’m sure Oscar would be proud of me today, although he might just chuckle and tell me I typed too fast and made too many errors. This is where I like the technology of now — no whiteout to correct mistakes — just backspace and move on. 

In September I traveled solo to Mexico and took part in a writer’s residency I was chosen for. It was a place that sat high in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, and is available for all types of artists to apply their craft. The novel is about my husband’s life, and he is from Oaxaca — can I say match made in heaven? All I needed was a spare room, a desk and a view to sit in front of. I had all that and more as I punched my way through every single day, for three weeks, watching my word count rise and the story evolve. I made several trips to town to do research and visited places that he had been. Emotions and an amazing experience were what I found. The majority of the book was written in that tiny third floor room, and I’m writing as much as I can, now that I’m home, to reach the end. I honestly can’t take in the fact that I’m almost done. It’s been such a far-off thing — an unattainable dream — I short sold myself on. I didn’t believe in ME and my ability to finish. Things happen, friends, when we believe in ourselves. 

Life is a blur of days filled with words and love. My husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary back in May, we sent the younger two kids off to college in the fall, and my house became empty once again. I’m learning to enjoy the silence. Making a pot of coffee and sitting in my chair, while dust motes float through the slices of sun that break through the windows — isn’t this life? Most days I kiss my husband goodbye as he leaves for work, then sit down and begin my freelance work at the kitchen table. Now I can fold in one more thing to that list – this column. Until next week.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Mostly, we ramble along in life doing things the same way because nothing tells us to change. We've always done things a certain way, so we keep on doing them. 

What if something comes along that nudges us and says, "Hey, this is wrong. We need to rethink this. Maybe we need to change how we do it?" There will be stubbornness and whining, because we have to learn a new thing. It's like a child, performing tasks and making mistakes until they learn to do it correctly. They find it annoying, but it's part of life. 

Isn't it the same with us? Everyone is saying we've become too sensitive and touchy - that we call racism and are intolerant of those who "don't really mean anything by it." Either by the words they say, or their actions that speak one way and do another. 


What if we've been doing it wrong all these years? 
What if it's time to change and learn a new way?
The cries ring out, "We used to do it this way! Why does it have to change?"

I'll tell you why. We were wrong. 

Monday, November 16, 2015


This is what I can muster for today.
Love casts out fear.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The short story // She still waits for me in the words of her book

What's the haunting season without a few short stories to make that chill run up your spine? I offer you a story I came across, that upon reading this morning, has stayed with me. If you tell me you don't read horror, but still read Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti, then you read horror. It's that thrill you're seeking.  I make no apology for my love of horror movies and books, just like I don't apologize for reading romance or science fiction. Read on, if you dare.

She still waits for me in the words of her book

I sleep soundly, in my cozy, comfortable bed. Most nights I climb in and am asleep within minutes. Other nights I read. I'm not talking of e-readers, those that lull you to the other side with their easy interfaces and slick controls. Real books are what gather me up, the ones you can grab on to and feel the pages as the story leaps to life. I want to feel the spines of books that give you purchase to hold and grip – to become lost in pages made of paper.
Books mean a lot to me and I have read voraciously since I was a child, really at a very early age. By first and second grades I was reading proficiently at an adult level. In my rush to reading my interests expanded to genres that included spine-tingling novels, and by fifth grade, I was reading full-fledged horror novels.
Where were my parents?
They were there, and they were readers as well. Never ones to censor much of what we read, watched, or listened to - I was able to get my hands on deeply disturbing tomes that called out to me when I passed them in the bookstore. My eyes were drawn again and again to that section that held black-spined books with names like The Omen, Ghost Story, and The Amityville Horror.
I devoured them word by word.
My novels, piled intricately on a shelf dad had built me, were aligned according to my eleven year old mind. When I went to bed at night my bed was facing the shelf, that way I could always see them. My books, you see, were as important to me as any collection. People collect things. I collected books.
Books were attached to me, as any avid reader knows, and at any given time you could find me in a corner taking in words and sentences as if they were water. It was just that now, the words I was taking in were tinged with the blackest horror, the thin edges of madness, and scratchy whisperings that floated under my door at night. My mind was awash with ritual slayings and rites of satanic cults that slid down easy, easy into my soul. Mesmerizing, they were so mesmerizing. And I couldn't stop.
The purchase of a book called Audrey Rose brings goose bumps, raised high, to the surface of my skin. As I write this, my hackles slowly raise and I glance outside my dark window. I pull my sweater a little tighter, just a little closer for comfort, or what I don't know. The night presses in and whispered fragments, or words, travel up the back of my neck and fall gently into my ear. I turn and brush them away. I can't let them in. Had I known what the book would do I would have dropped it and run.
I delved in, always reading by night, and I consumed each word, letter by letter. I'm not sure when things started....changing. At school, as I sat numbly in my seat, I could sense the slightest blur at the edge of the classroom door. If I looked twice it was just a door, firm and blue, standing guard as it always had. The fringes, though, were alive with murmurings and activity. If we were playing on the playground at recess I could sometimes glance in the distance and see a small, dark figure standing just on the edges of the grass. I squinted hard and nothing was there. When I used the restroom during class, I would sit on the edge of the toilet seat squeezing my eyes shut tightly. The dark corners of the bathroom threw their shadows towards my stall, and inch by inch crept underneath the door.
The book, you see, had come alive.
It was as if I was running a race to finish it, to feel and render the book into the very depths of my being. I could feel her in every crevice and crack of my room as I read and read and read. When the last words were absorbed and the book was over, I breathed a silent sigh, a nearly imperceptible washing through my body of relief. I crept to my shelf and placed the book carefully in its place - the place it would reign with all my other books filled with horror. I lay down and turned off the light and an instant dread filled me.
She wasn't going to let me go.
My room became black as night and I could feel the tomes on the shelf reaching out to me, their pages yearning for me to slip inside of them and be lost forever. The door to my room....oh the door....swung silently open creating a vortex of mindless swirling in my heart. My body lay rigidly still, and I could smell the sweat from my fear dampening my nightgown - a nightgown that an eleven year old wears to bed believing she will wake up in her room safe and sound.
My eyes were frozen open in soundless horror as I could feel a presence enter the room with authority and float silently towards me, the hole in its center ever-widening. My chest became tight and I knew without knowing that it was on top of me...pressing the air from my lungs - keeping me from the good that I knew my life should be. Images of every scene of horror I had read slowly played in my head, like a silent movie, as the face of evil, disguised as Audrey Rose, tried to steal the very breath of life from me.
I shut my eyes and mouthed, "Please God, I'm so scared. Help me."
I woke up with a start and the morning sun was throwing its light softly through my white, frilly curtains. I sat up and looked around the room in stark horror as the juxtaposition of my safe surroundings screamed in protest to what I knew had happened last night. I never did know how I fell asleep and evil fled. I only hope that a bigger God had rescued me. My eyes fell on my bookshelf, those black-spined books staring at me in restful repose - their edges lined up like soldiers ready for war.
With my nightgown still damp from sleep and terror, I gathered all the books of horror...those novels filled with evil reckoning and restless spirits...and I stumbled outside in the early morning dew to the fire pit in our backyard. With match burning in hand, I lit those books up until all I could see were the twisted faces of the covers burning in the flames. I could feel Audrey Rose screaming for me, the smoke stifling her shrieks. And then she was gone.
My flesh, shivering with the writing of this tale, has finally been warmed with a blanket I've thrown around me. Though I am now married and have raised children, reading is still one of my first loves. Deep in the dark, with book in hand, I climb the night. It takes me to places that nothing else can, and I soar with the thrill the words bring me. Yet still, I sometimes feel the tiniest of breaths on my neck and a thin whisper calling me. I glance outside and on the periphery of my line of sight I can see her, a dark shroud that will always stand just outside of what I can comprehend. She waits for me to pick up her words so that she can live, once again, through me. I resist her, for now, and fervently hope that I can stay away from the words that would lead me to her.

This book does exist. It came out in 1977.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sliding out of obscurity

Every year, a few days after my birthday grants me another notch, I sit down and think about the new number I've been assigned. After I turned forty, I didn't care what the number was, just how I was living. How I was breathing.

That air was so fresh after forty.
Forty-seven is even fresher.

When I look at pictures of myself in my twenties and thirties, I see someone who hadn't yet claimed herself. I feel a sharp pang knowing the confidence I have now compared to then, but I don't mourn her. I took her for what she was and have shaped her into the woman I am now. My step feels lighter and my vision clear. My fingers move nimbly over the keyboard as words and phrases fill me. The clarity that comes from added minutes and hours to your life do not come at a price. They come as a gift that must be opened at once and used until spent. 

Don't wait to use your gifts. 
Spread that goodness to the ends of the earth and never question it.
Not once.

Where I hesitated in my younger years to do what I knew I must, now I'm like a freight train barreling down the tracks. Boldness comes with knowing yourself and what you're made of, the cowering fear of stepping out of the box brushed aside. I can still feel those feelings when I'm faced with trying something new, but am now able to walk through it so the fear subsides. 

We can't live our lives in fear of failure.
Just as we can't live our minutes waiting.

So many times we say, "I just don't have the money for that, nor the time." Chances and opportunities slide away into the ether never to be seen again, all because we chose to avert our eyes from it. One day, having never taken chances, we'll wake up and find ourselves old in spirit as well as body. Did we use what we were given? Or did we squander it by being safe and tidy in our boxes? 

This year was a big year for me in stepping out of that neatly tied box. Traveling alone to another country only enhanced my vision for the future. I saw what I wanted and I went after it. My life has been enriched by grabbing opportunity and if I hadn't, I can only say I would be mourning the loss of unused experiences. 

I know it's easier for me now to grab those chances now that the kids are gone, off to find their lives in college and work. It's something I may not have done had I been presented with it when they were still here. I consider part of my life's work raising them with my husband, and knowing they will be productive citizens with minds open and alert. I would say, though, not to close your eyes. Fill your eyes with clarity and be ready for what comes to you. Don't brush it off and say, "No, I can't do this." You'll only regret what you didn't stick your neck out for. It will haunt you as you stay safely tucked into the familiarity of the known. 

I've found nothing more thrilling than the breeze of unfamiliar lands, food untasted that explodes on your tongue, and the knowing that the minutes of a day are yours to shape into only what you want them to be. Another year has come and gone, and it will be three years until I reach one half of a century. I claim each and every minute left in this life to live to the fullest. Don't slide into obscurity not having at least tried. 

Happy 47 to me. 
Three-hundred sixty-five days until 48.
Time to live it up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Staying cool in a mad, mad world

One week. 

That's how long it took for me to be inundated with life here, in the small corner of Ohio I call home. A retreat is just that - a retreat. It plucks you out of the norm and deposits you somewhere you can turn your brain around in your hands. A place to look at your thoughts, from odd angles, and reflect on what they mean. I found the words in Oaxaca and they poured out of me. I'm searching for a way to keep that unfiltered flow alive in this house.

The world contained in this rectangular piece of electronics that I hold on my lap, that is what stops me. 

I get swept away in the glut of information and attitudes that hold my frozen stare, and throttle any spark that may have ignited upon waking. Being away from this sphere, even for three weeks, allowed me to look in from the outside and see the inanity of who we - and I - can be. We sputter and spew on topics ranging from abortion to guns, and gay marriage to politics. I see every day on my feed what is sin and what isn't, as well as who we should welcome and who needs kicked out. Our opinions spiral into the ether and sound petty and small in the scope that is this world - my voice among them. 

Whether we realize it or not, we are responsible for what we put out there. When you see words or pictures coming across a screen, they can be taken much differently than how you're thinking them in your head. Our posts are voices, and they can sound full of anger and childish speech - even if we don't mean them that way. I shudder at the posts I've seen full of vitriol and name-calling, horrible things that I could never imagine them saying in person. 

What fuels the power we feel to say these hateful words?

I have opinions, and on occasion, have posted them. But I stay away from name-calling and bullying, as well as the "Unbelievable" and "Wake Up" posts. I don't look down my nose at someone because they like certain things, nor would ask them to join me in mine. I've never changed my opinion from someone who makes me feel stupid for my beliefs. I believe in witty repartee and intelligent conversation that doesn't veer into bashing. We MUST learn to communicate with each other. There are ways to do this without belittling the other person, group, or idea. 

I know I can shut off this computer. No one has to tell me that. What I've realized is the effect that it can have on a productive life. I love what social media can bring and the connections it creates. It brings out the best in some, and sinks others into an abyss they can't crawl out of. 

Won't you join me in creating spaces that aren't filled with hate-mongering feeds that depress? Engaging in bright conversation that doesn't demean? It's a long shot, but for the sake of us as an online community, it's imperative. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Oaxaca // Following through

The wild night sky out my window facing the city.

Saturday, September 26th // 2015

The sliding of days into the past, like taking a sip of water until you find the glass empty, have overtaken my thoughts this morning. Today and tomorrow. That's all I have left here in this space, this small slice of found moments that I have put myself in the past fortnight plus seven.

Urgency, though, hasn't found me here. The tranquility of this breeze hitting my face every morning, allowing me to write freely, has afforded no trace of urgency. Authors will tell you that any time the words find you that they must be written. This is truth. They have found me every day as the sun rises to its zenith and the afternoon sear settles over the land calling for a quiet rest. I move from my window at that time and sit on the bed and finish for the day until it's time for the afternoon comida. I've not found the words in the evening, or even at night. It seems I need to rest my brain and recoup for the next day. A cyclical rhythm, if you will.

Cacao beans and nancha.

As of today, 11:01 A.M. on 9/26/15, forty-three thousand eight-hundred ninety-five words fell from my fingertips, as blood from a wound flows. I will write today and tomorrow, before I roll up my belongings and pack them tightly into a suitcase. I will board a plane Monday morning, the words safely in the cloud (and various other places) and I will fly home to the waiting arms of my beloved. How I've missed him.

My writing space at Arquetopia.

Making this trek alone has been the best choice I've ever been compelled into. It's allowed me to find in myself the 'knowing' that comes from starting and doing and nearly completing. I consider the book three quarters of the way done, though if more words find me I won't stop writing them. I've learned much about myself and what I'm capable of. Stepping away from life, a wonderful and fulfilling life, is imperative to success. It was never my choice to come - it was a propelling, a pushing out, a step-out-to-the-edge-moment for me. It was written before I knew it, and it was God-driven from the start. I only allowed myself to listen.

Zaachila mercado

So today I will write. I will allow this breeze in the verdant terrain just north of Oaxaca City to pull more out of me, and tomorrow as well. I will squeeze it for all it's worth, then I will complete what cannot be stopped at home. But where is home? I believe I will leave a part of myself here, the place where I met part of my other half - the little boy he left behind. 


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Oaxaca // Finding the emotions

This place, so heavy and dense. 
It has enfolded me in its palm and I lay here, gently, on the hot surface. 
Sometimes gasping for air. 

Graffiti, beautiful and evocative.

This week my word count has piled up and they are stacked neatly in my computer, waiting for the day they see the light. I have found them and I spew them out as water comes out of a geyser - forceful and necessary. I've found while writing that some characters don't have as much of a voice as I thought, and others are stronger. It's a strange process, writing, and the tiny threads you think won't mean much reveal so much more when pulled. I enjoy pulling stray threads and seeing where they take me. I write each day, every morning into early afternoon, and see where the trail takes me. I jot down notes and talk with George frequently so I can be sure to have details correct. Technology lets us see each other's face as we connect every morning and evening, love never losing itself over the thousands of miles. 

Santo Domingo cathedral

The church George took his coins in and asked God to help him. 

I've said before that missing him is the key to me writing the bulk of this story. Many times, as I meandered in the zocalo or on side streets to find a piece of the story, I've felt alone. When we hustled into town for the Dia de la Independencia (Independence Day) the rain pelted us, and as my hood was up and I became drenched, I felt a feeling akin to where will I turn for comfort? None was to be found, just walking and walking until I reached my destination. As independent as I am, I believe these feelings have been afforded me so I can sense some of the desperation yet happiness he found all while being lost. 

Drenched on El Dia de la Independencia

The frutas in Ocotlan market

We traveled to Ocotlan market, a town some forty minutes south of Oaxaca, and spent the day there browsing the wares. It was the cleanest and most delightful market I've ever been to, with the lushest produce and flowers I've seen.  The art and handcrafted wares were incredible, and I succumbed over and over to impulse buying. We also said goodbye to Allie, one of my fellow residents, who inspired me with her quest to find a part of her father here in Mexico - a place he was made to leave behind. 

Beautiful graffiti at the train station 

The little boy I captured. Such irony.
I climbed the train. So cool.

Most importantly, though, I found my way to the old train station - the one where George disembarked and found himself in a lush city, teeming with people. The place where as a six year old child, he looked around and felt emotions of loneliness and uncertainty. When I walked in to this place my eyes pricked with tears and a feeling I couldn't explain welled up in my throat. It was the most connected I've felt in my entire two weeks here, and I walked the length and width of the unused tracks and old train cars until I had my fill. I ran my hands along the chippy paint and iron that once robustly ran the tracks until it reached its destination. I was able to climb up on the train itself, rickety and rusty, and peered in and breathed the air around it. The air was different around this place, somehow sacred, and although George will laugh and tell me - Babe, I'm here. I'm not lost anymore - I know he downplays the emotions he feels. A small boy was playing near the caboose, and he appeared to be around six years old. I approached him, with his mother sitting on a bench near the station, and asked him if I could take his picture. Embarrassed, he ducked his head, but soon looked at me and nodded yes. I captured him looking at me in-between the wheel, and the irony of it stung me. This place was a highlight, and I left filled with something I hadn't felt before. 

The old train station. So many emotions.

I have one week to go, and I'm working hard to write as many words as can find me. I reach out in each space and tuck it inside my brain, to pull out when it seems difficult to write. This story is hard, and I'm telling it harshly - we aren't holding anything back. You will find it shocking, heart-rending, and maybe see some hope in-between the dark places. There's always a hope, isn't there? 

Magical city streets

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Oaxaca // One week completed

Today marks one week in Oaxaca.

The house I live in high up in the San Pablo, Etla terrain looks out over the city, like a blanket spread out and sprinkled with glitter. The lights twinkle as I connect them like so many dots on a familiar landscape - at least as familiar as one week can acquaint you. I have eaten calabasa, nopales in soup, agua de melon, and a plate of chicken enchiladas with salsa verde so fine I may never make them again in protest of not having these exact ones. Making them just like I ate them will be a challenge.

The most amazing enchiladas I've ever eaten. 

I am adjusted, I feel at home, and I am writing.

Today marked a milestone for me as I completed nearly 22,000 words in the seven days I've been writing here. Each morning I awaken, always very early, and contemplate my day. I feel no stress and no urgency to get going...to move. When I finally arise I sit at my computer that looks out an open window to the city below, and I type. For all the years I've tried, and all the times I've procrastinated, it seems the story has been waiting to emerge here - in the place where George's blood and tears flowed. Arquetopia and coming here was the right choice. It was intended for me to know it's name and claim my spot here. 

Flags fly in prep for their independence day.

I write him, and I feel each emotion as I connect it from my mind to the screen. Somehow, when I look up it's hours later and many, many words have been written. The book is taking shape and finding purchase. If I can complete this many words per week before I head home, I will be very close to done. Although, as with any book, I don't know how many words it will need and I'll write until it's done. I've learned that with writing, it's best to get into a routine of every day. Even if it's just several inches of lines that add to the story.

I've met myself here...and I like who I am. 

This city is so unique and so special. On two different occasions I've had the opportunity to meander through the zocalo, explore the markets, and eat food from the bounty of vendors that line the streets. I've stood in front of the church where George found refuge and gave back, as well as the market where he slept under the tables for so many nights. I've felt goosebumps many times, as though an invisible finger reached out to touch me and let me step through a curtain of time, to see what I must envision.

Political activities are always to be found in the zocalo.

I have several more places I want to visit in connection to the story, as well as some artist markets and shoppes that some of the friends I've made here at the residency have told me about. The old train station is a main place I need to go as that's where he first arrived, stepped off, and didn't quite know where he was. I want to go and stand in his steps and see, at least partially, what he may have seen. I know he is waiting for me back in Ohio, yet I can feel him here. I can sense his little frame running through the streets, lost and not knowing which way to turn. I stand in his small footprints and reach out to hold a little hand that's not there, yet is trapped in time and awaiting the full story to come into the light. 

The simple tamale, Taste buds are alive.

This I will do, for him and for me. When it's all done, he needs to come back to this place to feel it and find peace. Even though he is happy man, always the life of any party and especially my heart, he needs to come full circle and stand in the zocalo where he ran hungry and tired, and finally let go of that little boy that he was. 

Allie, Ellen, and I - fellow residents!

Mexico is a country full of ancient wonder and beautiful people. They are welcoming and warm, full of life and vigor. I entreat you to see beyond what you hear in the news and find the real Mexico. It is a lushly wonderful place full of inspiration - if you look for it. 

And I write on.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Oaxaca // The Words

Wanting something and actually carrying out the plan are two separate things. I'm usually on the former end of this scenario and do a lot of wishing and dreaming. Doing? It doesn't usually happen except if it's baking. Chocolate always comes first, hence the name of this blog.

I am a gatherer of words. I love to parse each part of them and know their meaning, while rolling their pronunciation around on my tongue until I know it dearly. I've read thousands of books which makes words come easy, though I'm not sure if the love of reading or of words came first. I guess they all go together in one tidy package. 

I've written many essays, columns, blogs, and poetry. I collect letters to form tiny vignettes around my home because I must be surrounded by things I love. Words signify home to me, as well as safety and comfort. There is never a moment I'm not "currently-reading" something. I've mostly stayed in the physical book realm when it comes to novels, though I have a Kindle and I'm known to use it when I travel. I read most of my articles online and find it hard to read a magazine that I hold in my hands. Otherwise, there's nothing like paper in your fingers, the heft of the book a calming world that you know will satisfy. The feel, the texture, and the choice to stick your nose in its crease to smell the words coming off the paper. It's bliss and it's love rolled into one. 

I have novels in me, but they can't be written until my first one is completed. Until I feel it in my greedy ink-stained (Okay, keyboard-weary) fingers and know the words I had pent up have been freed upon the backs of so many pieces of paper for all to read. The words, having spent so much time in my brain, seem to have taken up permanent residence. I admit I have no more space to store them so they must be gone and tucked away neatly into a Word doc so I can be free of them.

So I've come to Oaxaca, Mexico to free them. I'm a resident artist at a writer's residency tucked up in the mountains of our southern neighbor. I am ensconced in a house the locals call "La Casa de las Brujas" because of how it's built. The mountains, as I look out open windows on both sides of my room, are a midnight blue, and the verdant hills blink sleepily at me as I feel the atmosphere pervade my very thoughts. 

This is epic and once in a lifetime..

Looking out my bedroom in Oaxaca.

I am here to write the novel of my husband's life, that boiling mess of pain and shattered lives that ends with a rugged and ragged love, held together by stubbornness. 

He is Mexico. 

And I can feel him here, in the town of his birth and where he slept on the streets for three years, as surely as I can feel the Oaxacan wind brush my face. Today I write for me, I write for him, and I write to cast all nets out and write for the burning touch of the words I hold inside me. 

I arrived yesterday after three flights where I was dropped into the most exquisite airport I've ever been. A crisp and clean jewel of white light was Xoxocotla, and then I was whisked away to the small villa that sits in the hills of San Pablo, Etla - where the lights of Oaxaca twinkle to me out the window and whisper in Spanish the harsh realities of the tale I came to write. 

Today I awoke at 5:30 A.M. after a restless night filled with deep sleep and coming up for air in a strange room. The sounds of Mexico flowed to me through open windows, beloved and familiar sounds of roosters crowing and cannons booming. I opened my computer and after many weeks of writer's block, the words flowed. Three thousand words today and my fingers still move quickly over the keyboard to write this blog.

Today I also visited the place where my beloved was lost, where he cried on street corners, and where I stood and could feel his little heart breaking, yet persevering with a strength I am in awe of to this day. I haggled with a street vendor for a pretty blouse, and I looked up at beautiful cathedrals that reach for the blue Oaxacan sky. I bought a four-layered chocolate confection, and I rode on the Periferico and experienced the traffic that only Mexico can serve up. I did all this on my own, because to find little George I need to do it without big George. 

I am humbled by this opportunity to do what I love.
I feel bold in my quest.
I love these words.
They are hard.
They are bloody.
They are.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hello Monday

Hello Monday.

You of normally hurried minutes that diminish rapidly through a hazy time continuum. Today I met you with problems consisting of regular things, yet clouded mind. Money and things and issues and future happenings stirred in my brain this sunny day. Though the sun met me with warmth and color and flowers that were blooming on my porch.

Ordinary days filled with troubles that aren't really troubles.
Ways to meet obligations and fulfill them drift through me,
pressing, gently pushing.

This morning, yet again, I've given it over to the one who knows me, and embraces me still though I've wandered far. Always wandering and wanting something more and different than the light of a regular Monday morning.

Today I work, gather groceries, and scribble poetry in a simple notebook in the dappled light of my porch. My haven and the place where my thoughts come together. A place where the book coming through my heart to my fingers finds purchase, and spills out onto an electronically-organized machine I hold in my lap. I will write these words one inch at a time until they are spent.

I greet you, new week, with messy thoughts and high hopes that will accomplish half of what I normally wish for a refreshed seven days. I will move through each minute and try to make it count. Each word and thought, held captive.

And I begin the day.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

I see you America

I know you, America.

I see you in the tiny back roads where wildflowers
bloom and droop with the dust that covers them. Where
I wander and watch verdant woods filled with green
inch past my window.

I feel you in the breezes that fall across my face,
as I am free to travel your craggy terrain and find
new places you have hidden from me. This, in your 
excitement for me to explore you.

You are on my front porch where I am free to seek refuge
and form prose that falls from my fingertips like 
blood, cut from jagged edges. Where I find the hard 
words more defiantly than anywhere else.

I know you, America. 
You are not 'Merica.

You are more than patriotic vitriol spoken with
careless abandon, without connecting brain or tongue.
Words wrapped in a flag and handed to you at birth
to blindly worship and tread softly around.

You are more than a flag, fibers and pigments colored
to make red-hued stripes and white stars, signifying a 
birthright of undying allegiance. The foggy wars we've
fought as we're spoon-fed the pablum of liberty.

Freedom isn't free, because it's a state of mind.

Liberty comes in the freedom to make decisions of
who I am and choose to be. It comes to me in the words
I say and the people I love freely, without fear
of someone saying I can't.

I see you, America.

In the faces of my children as they ford the waters
of this life that aren't easy to cross. As they 
scrape and scrounge and do and be. I see America
in their faces, fiercely shining in their will to 
accomplish much as resistance presses them.

I see you in my husband, who made your harsh
and beautifully unfolding land his own, leaving behind a home
where familiar creases would have lined his face. Where
smoke from comfortable fires burn and 
the smells and senses could wake
him up to what he left, though a home made now, 
where he chose to make it.

In myself, though older in body, yet young in spirit.
My chance to also do and be and see new things
and walk different paths. I don't need a flag in my
face to tell me I can accomplish much. 
Neither the cold grip of metal
in my hand to say I'm American. 


Not 'Merica. Where to be an American means 
gripping tight to words long ago spoken, 
and wrapping ourselves in a cloak
of rigid freedoms we hold tightly 'til death. 

Your wind whispers to me in the night, and I
wrap that caress around me as I find you in a 
darkened sky lit with dying stars.

I want to meld you with 'Merica and find an 
uncomfortable place, where we can relish in 
your goodness together. Instead of divided,
from the precipice I now stand on. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Admitting racism exists and other hard things

I've learned two things over the past several years:

1)  It's hard for people to say the words "racism exists."
2)  We use excuses. A lot.
3)  The more open my mind becomes, the less I share.

I used to write about every situation that came down. My audience wasn't as broad and I felt semi-protected (!) in putting my opinions out there for the world to read. I say semi-protected knowing full well the privilege I am granted in being a white woman. There, I said it. I know that though I may incite heated arguments, disagreements, or a all-around nodding of heads in agreement - that in the end I will still remain a white woman who tends to side with the minority (at least in our area) of things "better left unsaid." And I will still be able to give my opinion without being bashed mercilessly, or at the very least called a "bleeding heart liberal" which is a wretched thing to call anyone. Wasn't Jesus an open, bloody, bleeding heart for those around him?

Now, I hesitate - and mull over - every single word I put out there.
I tremble when I say the hard things.
But there is no time to tremble.

Our world is close at hand, as close as the glance of an eye at words spoken on a post...through a picture...on a tweet...or through a snap. All is seen and I am quite sure that all is filed away in the memory banks of most to be brought out when the right post or thread spools itself out.

We are separated into neat, tidy piles of humanity starting with Republicans to the right, Democrats to the left, and the rest of us clinging by fragile tendrils to what little purchase remains in between. Christians, you're over there with those beliefs, and those of you who believe things should be a bit more equal, you sit over there with those people. We file people by what they say, do, and especially say on social media.

I'm not sure I want to be so easily defined.

We are a world of sound bites and chunks of flesh ripped away bit by bit. We know immediately that if a black person protests, defends, or is accused that they are guilty until innocent. They are thugs, by nature, to be handled and pressed down.

When Mike Brown was killed all I heard for days was, "But he stole cigars!" As if that meant he needed to die.

"Trayvon was a thug who smoked pot!" As if that meant he deserved to die.

"Tamir looked much older. And that looked like a real gun." As if that meant he deserved to be shot point blank in his neighborhood park at 12 years of age.

"But that black girl was talking back to the officer!" As if that meant she deserved to be thrown to the ground and SAT ON by the cop. She is 14 years old.

 If one is of Latin descent, then they are most likely "illegal" or "working under the table" and had "better go back to where they belong." They are treated as guilty before innocent, and this I know well and will say no more.

If a white person is caught doing something heinous - even committing mass murder - we carefully sift through what we know - in very grave tones - what might be, and deem them to be possibly "unstable" or "mentally off" in some capacity. There are never words being spoken like, "That white guy was a thug. A terrorist." We hear how he was quiet and reserved and got good grades in school. We don't hear  how he may have smoked pot, drank a bit, or was a menace to society. Because white kids do all those things. Every day.

Our categories are swiftly brought out, like a menu to be read off and memorized, so that we can say what is happening and put it in its place. I have been appalled and heartsick at what has happened in Charleston. Nine beautiful souls shot down in cold, cold blood by another soul that although also beloved by God, chose specifically to claim these lives because of their skin color.

You may argue that fact if you want. Though you might want to know the shooter said this himself.

What makes me the most sad is the denial I see on social media...on TV...and elsewhere. It crawls right up inside my heart and drops it quick like a punch to the stomach.

From a comment thread on FB:

"I also say that yes Dylann Roof committed a racially motivated mass murder and I condemn his act...but my goodness he looks like such a young boy. It's killing me that this child (and yes I know he's 21 but still that is SO YOUNG) has so much hate in his heart. Hate doesn't kill hate. Only love conquers hate. Condemn the act. Love the sinner. I'm praying for the victims but also for this young man. Tragic all around!!" Find that thread here.

Why do we excuse? Why do we explain away? Why does darker skin mean older and more dangerous? Why does white skin mean young and seemingly innocent? Worthy of pulling a gun first? And before you can say "but" please listen...

Admitting that racism exists can only serve to set you free from excuses.
Can you say the words with me?

Dylann Roof committed a racially-motivated crime. He chose the church, he walked in and sat with them for an hour, then he pulled out a gun, told them he was there to kill black people, pulled the trigger and reloaded, and nine people were murdered.

Say it again
Now say it slower
See the horror for what it is
Acknowledge that racism exists
Roll it around on your tongue
Let it slide slowly off until it feels comfortable
Stop saying the word "but"
Then stop making excuses