A Sign


My living room was awash in pink at 7:53 this morning as I gathered up umbrella and book bag to leave for work.

I stepped out onto the damp deck, yellow, rust and peachy maple leaves plastered to its slippery surface. The air was too warm. A weird cloud hovered close on the horizon–a luminescent, feather-edged cross between cloud and fog that cast a rosy glow onto everything. Eerie.

I stood there breathing in the damp, oddly mild air for a moment, then turned to walk down the lower flight of wooden steps.

Dominating the other horizon was the maple tree that towers over the property. Each branch, I noticed for the first time, was greenish yellow at the base, turning peach then fiery orange toward the ends, with deep cherry at the very tips of each leaf. I stood and stared, breathless. Fire tree.

I thought to snap a quick pic with my phone but stopped myself. Just be in the moment, Kel. Just be here now. Anyway, you’ll never capture the magic.

And then came the topper: just to my right was a pale sliver of rainbow arcing through the powdery sky.

Are you trying to tell me something? I said, tilting my gaze skyward. I was tempted to seize it as a sign for me to relax and stop worrying about a certain something. I smiled then, and all anxiety I’d been carrying around for the past days slipped away.

Later in the morning, I found a magic marker rendition of a sunrise lying on the keyboard of my classroom computer.

Hmmm. Odd, I thought. There is an after-school program whose participants sometimes leave artwork in the room. I set the picture aside.

At break time, my colleague L asked me if I’d found the picture.

“What? You put that there?”

“Yes,” she said. “My daughter has a new habit of sketching the sunrise every morning when she wakes up. As soon as I looked at this morning’s drawing, I somehow thought: Kelly. I knew it was for you.”


GiST 254

on another bravery front, I’m presenting in Toronto next week

good home-cooked food

watching someone–over a period of weeks–go from the painstaking process of recognizing A, B, C to reading her first full sentence just rocks my world

the flyswatter game gets my class laughing so hard we cry

because a student from another class got the room numbers confused, my group was invited to a Thanksgiving potluck tomorrow


So the morning class, inspired by Doors Open Windsor, voted to spend a week learning about the main architectural styles to be found in the downtown core so that we might go on a little walk to see examples of those styles. Studying the architecture would also give us an appreciation for the heritage homes all around us.

This is only happening because this particular group of students is not like any other in the school or in this city, for that matter. Firstly, all but two of them are from the same country. Of those, they all have more schooling than I do. They know what it is to have the freedom to learn about western culture and the freedom of intellectual pursuit wrested from them, and they very much value having it back again.

As soon as I started working on the materials for the week’s classes, I got a huge jolt of creative energy. This is so blooming fun for me!

Tuesday we were completely bogged down in learning so many new terms and names of styles: American Foursquare, Classical Revival, Dutch Colonial, Romanesque, Italianate, Victorian, Queen Anne, Tudor Revival, Craftsman, dormer, column, balcony, lacy detail, gable, vernacular, etc. But after that initial investment of serious cramming, we can just enjoy using the new language.

I started this morning with a little matching quiz whereby they had to label eight black and white sketches of houses. They did great! Then they had to fill in the blanks on sentences such as “House #1 is a ______. I can tell by the ____, _____ and _____.” Which would be answered with “House #1 is a Queen Anne. I can tell by the wrap-around porch, dominant front gable and tower.” They really did an awesome job and didn’t miss anything! They now know a Craftsman Bungalow from an American Foursquare, no two ways about it.

Next we got to turn all that vocabulary into chatting via this dialogue:

A: Would you rather live in an older home or a modern one?

B: I’d rather live in a/an ________ one.

A: Which style of older home is your favourite?

B: I like _____ .

A: Which style do you hope to see on our walk tomorrow?

B: I hope we see a ________ style home.

As they milled about asking each other these three questions and filling in their classmates’ answers on the graphic organizer I’d provided, the energy in the room was absolutely electric. I’ve almost never seen them so engaged. Who knew?



GiST 253

I had a helpful session with my new Jungian analyst today. We are exploring both the Bluebeard folktale and the predator archetype as well as my pattern of bailing out of relationships before the 8-year mark. My friend Suzanne conceded that I have gotten into some very challenging relationships. So it might not be such a wonder that I finally came to my senses and left them. But I have also exited some very good ones. So there’s that.

Work? I have a blast there. My morning class is a special demographic. For one, they all have advanced degrees. There are a couple of engineering profs, two physicians, a chemistry prof, …the list goes on. They all have at least two years more university than I do, some more. Because of their age, it’s not part of the agenda to get them ready for the workforce. We can focus on their goal of social integration, on staying sharp-witted and healthy into their 80s and 90s. I’m hoping for two really fun field trips soon: urban foraging and a walk to check out some of the houses on the heritage registry near the school. I can’t believe they are actually keen to learn about the latter, as it’s a hobby of mine! I am so eager to put together a little lesson on the seven to ten most common architectural styles in the downtown core and how to recognize each. Today I told them what clinker bricks are. FUN!!!

In my afternoon class, I am just blessed and privileged to be part of the process of teaching someone to read print for the first time. Some students are literate in their first language, but not all are. Seeing someone go from learning to hold a pencil to filling out forms with ease is nothing short of a miracle in my eyes. It may take a year or more, but wow…when they do say goodbye to my classroom, that’s such a triumphant day.

Well, a certain someone is scheduled to come through the door soon, so I’ll shut down the machines and be present.

A Spacious Morning

I just feel like checking in this morning; there’s no particular topic.

On the Craftsmen Era woodblock prints wall calendar in the kitchen, a birding field trip is pencilled in for this morning. I didn’t go. The notion of extra sleep called to me more loudly than the idea of being out in the fresh air with my birder tribe, though I would not have regretted that choice, either.


A long block of quiet time alone in this house, especially in the early morning, feeds my soul in an inexplicable way. I love the slow rituals of making coffee or tea, drawing a bubble bath (citrus sage), and taking my first peek out the window to see what wildlife is stirring. If I pad out onto the deck in bare feet, mallards will look my way. Some are still in the yard, having supped on cracked corn, wheat and millet last evening and then slept there.

The squirrels want my attention when the supply of peanuts tossed to them is gone. One cheeky fellow figured out today how to cross the roof to the other side of the house, drop onto the air conditioner, and stare at me from the west window where a row of African Violets enjoys filtered sunlight. I call him Starbuck because his coat is caramel-latte with dark chocolate around the muzzle. Beautiful animal.


smart squirrel found the back window

Now I have time to thoughtfully make out a ‘to do’ list and make my way through it as the sun crosses the sky. I notice small things that need doing as I putter about the apartment. I wipe the stove top, take out trash, bring in the hummingbird feeder for the winter. The same timer setting works for the toilet cleaner as for how long I will sit on the meditation cushion to start my day.

Since bringing in most of the container garden from the deck to overwinter in the house, this is my jungly view from where I like to sit.


Solitute is a sweet commodity.

Thrift Store Haul

All around me now I see the squirrels madly dashing in front of cars, their little brains preoccupied with stashing food for the coming cold. Me? I get this unmistakable yearning to put away sleeveless tops and dig out my flannel and tights. I almost can’t stop myself; I have to play with texture and rich fall colours in my closet, sew that one item I can’t find anywhere–even on Etsy, mix and match what I already have, and hit thrift stores.

The ritual soothes me. I fill a bag for the charity box with things I thought I would wear but haven’t touched in over a year, maybe two. I make room for new-to-me previously loved garments.

Yesterday was my marathon Value Village run. I came home with three dresses/tunics, three tops and two pairs of shoes. It was my first time to overcome a fear of germs in used shoes, and I’m taking steps to eradicate any viruses or fungi in said footwear before I place my socked feet in them.

Here are some shots of my haul.

two dresses and a PURE Alfred Sung linen pullover tunic

two dresses and a PURE Alfred Sung linen pullover tunic

Here is one of the 3 tops I was drawn to. All three are long-sleeved cotton, like this one. Colours: black, warm grey-brown, cool grey.

And here are the shoes:


Merrell Mary Janes with sport soles


Naturalizer loafers

Yes, there seems to be a predominance of warm and cool greys, black and other neutrals. (Grey is one of my best colours, just so you know.) And I’m currently in the mood for tunics, jumpers and dresses that will go nicely with brightly coloured tights. What a fun look, especially with a pair of sport Mary Janes, which are cute enough for skirts and dresses while comfy enough to teach in all day. (I am not a teacher who sits during the lesson. I sprint up and down one flight of stairs several times daily.)

Also I have a renewed appetite for flowing BoHo dresses. I LOVE to feel comfortable at work, able to move freely in my clothes whether I’m bending over to help a student or reaching to write something at the top of the board.

I was just amazed to find these shoes at the thrift store since I have spent the past four months searching for a sport Mary Jane that I like, to no avail. I also needed a new pair of loafers since I could not get stains out of my old ones–light taupe suede jungle moccasins. I should have started at the thrift store instead of wasting that hour and a half at the mall!

I so enjoy the slow, methodical process of all the steps that come next with these acquisitions: washing, ironing, taking inventory of my new fall closet. I rub mink oil into the leather shoes then waterproof them.

I love laying the “new” clothes out to see what I have that goes with them. This also tells me if I have the makings of a fab outfit minus one pair of tights or one particular colour of scarf. Another fun hunt is then on!

I imagine the black linen tunic (which has deep pockets, BTW) with a bright tee and matching tights, black clogs OR with a grey long-sleeved, close-fitting cotton top and my grey and black polka dotted tights. Hee hee. I love whimsy.

Does the change of seasons cause any similar instincts to awaken in you?


Last night the couple who own this duplex were frantically cleaning, painting and repairing the lower unit because they found a tenant much quicker than they’d anticipated, and he wanted to move right in. After listening to them toil for hours on end down there, I invited them up for a snack. She accepted while he mowed the lawn, his last chore of the night.

My last neighbour was not a bad neighbour by any stretch of the imagination, but she wasn’t as into keeping the property looking nice as I am. We shared two areas: a storage shed and the laundry room. It took a lot of reminding and finally going through the landlord before she finally cleared out enough junk for me to use my 50% of the shed. Even after taking those steps, I never did get half of the laundry room and settled for a foot of shelf space for my detergent. The rest of the room was cluttered up with the overflow of stuff that wouldn’t fit in her living space.

As soon as I learned that she was leaving, I took down the ratty pieces of frayed burgundy fabric stretched across the laundry room windows to serve as curtains. I replaced them with little cafe curtains in a cheery yellow and white gingham. They took me about an hour to make.


sewing the tabs on the cafe curtains

I had hoped for a window of time before the new tenant arrived during which I could throw out some of the junk Tammy (not her real name) left in the laundry room and around the property. But when the U-Haul pulled up this morning, I realized I hadn’t moved quickly enough. Fortunately, the new neighbour, whom I’ll call Bill, has a much greater spirit of cooperation than “Tammy” did. (I had given her my email address three times, but she never reciprocated.) My new neighbour suggested right away that we all exchange contact info since we have shared areas.

I interrupted his moving-in process long enough to tell him what I wanted to do and he had no problem with it at all. In fact his movers even suggested that I didn’t need to cart large metal items to the dump; if I just put them at the curb, they would disappear quickly. I’m happy to report that the rusty bed frame, patio umbrella and stand, straightened out coat hangers, length of industrial-sized chain and a number of other odd items that had been left to rust under her part of the deck did indeed all disappear within hours of being piled up by the street.

I then either appropriated or trashed the non-metal junk she left to clutter up the laundry room and shed. I wiped down the shelves and applied contact paper. I rearranged things so that all the half-used cans of paint that the landlord might need for touchups now fit together on two shelves, freeing up all sorts of space for laundry items. It looks SO MUCH BETTER NOW!

Not only that, but during discussion of where to put our bikes in order to give him his half of the shed, Bill said, “I don’t need outdoor storage.” I take that to mean he’s NOT a clutterbug. Yay!

I feel better now.

Cover the Clutter

I don’t like living with clutter.

I like the way an uncluttered environment helps me feel calmer.

So this week I decided to cover the cheap wire stand that the screen sits on. We watch DVDs on this thing. I think it also can function as a TV if you have satellite or cable or one of those services that I have never had hooked up.



I went to Fabricland and finally decided on black as the colour that would be most neutral and unnoticeable. Found some black denim / twill that wasn’t too pricey. I wanted the stand to be a non-entity, not getting any attention. I sort of messed this up, but you can’t see the mistake from here so I’m not going to tell you what it is. It was my first time to try to make something without a pattern.

The flap in front opens so you can have access to the shelves. Now I need to paint those two pieces of wood black so that they blend in.


Turquoise and Orange

I was surfing around Pinterest boards of those I follow the other night and was struck by Patti Digh’s love of the colours turquoise and orange paired (on her OFFICE board, if you’re interested). “Hmmm,” I thought. “I never would have thought to put those two colours together.”

Then when I got up to get something from the kitchen, I realized that I already have those colours together in MANY items around my place, especially if you include: the many cousins of turquoise, such as teal, seafoam green, robin’s egg blue and aquamarine; and the variations on the orange theme, such as tangerine, melon, peach and apricot.

Here they are together. I plan to add a third even smaller dragonfly below these two pieces, this time combining turquoise and orange in order to tie the first two pieces together. I could also take out the top painting and add some turquoise to it using coloured pencils. It’s my own work, so I’m allowed to do that.


The bedroom is aquamarine, mostly. And there are punches of orange in the kitchen.



I noticed shades of the two colours in this print I got off Etsy.

IMG_4780I spied the combo again in this shopping bag and a few more items around the house.



There’s a lot more than two colours here, I realize.




Look around where you live. Which colours pop up again and again in the things you collect around you?


Women Who Run

with the Wolves.

That’s the book my new Jungian analyst recommended I get hold of in order to re-read the Bluebeard story. Soon. Of course I’ve read that book.

“At least once,” I told him.

But that was a looooong time ago.

I am currently under the influence of alcohol.  

I want my old blog back. I need this. I am not a private person. I think I need a place where I can process what I’m going through. A place where I can get feedback from other humans. I don’t know how to negotiate this with my very private partner. Perhaps if I agree never to bring the relationship into the public sphere. Maybe if I never mention HIM. (???)

It is possible, I think, to use alcohol consciously. I’m thinking of taking some with me to my next analysis session. Thinking of asking Paul, “May I drink, Sir, using the alcohol as a sort of truth serum?”

In the movie The Good Shepherd, they used LSD to that end.

I’m back.

From Two Blogs to One

I reached a decision last night while having drinks downtown with my coworkers and supervisor.  I am finding it stressful to try to maintain two blogs (plus the two professional ones–one for each of my ESL classes).  But I am having fun with Border Cities Blooming.  So I’m putting this one to bed, at least for the foreseeable future.  I won’t take it down since people still refer to old posts, such as the recipe for Zereshk Polo, and how to reach Anatole Rybas.

The other blog is less personal and certainly does have a culinary focus, but it is also where I will document trips we take, museums and festivals we attend, movies I feel like reviewing and my habit of counting my blessings daily.  I would love to see you over there if the idea of following a slightly less personal blog and those topics interests you.  If not, I would welcome continuing my friendship with you via email.  If you do not already have my email and want it, leave a comment on this post and I will reply.


That Being Said…

I am struggling. I suspect this is one of those times when I should do what my former Jungian analyst advised so many times when I felt I was on the prongs of a dilemma: hold the tension. Hold the tension between two opposites; a third option can magically arise.

On the one hand, I feel a yearning to use this platform like a diary as I once did. On the other hand, I feel inhibited when I think about doing so now. Also, I now have someone in my life who is not the exhibitionist I am. In fact, he tends to be a private person.

So as the days pass, I just sit and do nothing. Neither do I get on with my life and forget the blog, nor do I write. (Though I am writing now, am I not?) Instead I spend hours paralyzed by indecision.

A good part of me wants just to be free from the grappling. I’m tired of it. I’m tired, also, of feeling obligated to blog. I know I put a badge on my blog a long time ago saying “Blogging without Obligation.” But I do feel something akin to obligation. It’s not so much to my tiny retinue of readers (I LOVE YOU!), but almost to myself. Maybe it stems from my obsessive-compulsive bent. When I don’t blog a recent important event or psychological / emotional state, I feel anxious, and that anxiety is only relieved by getting my feelings and thoughts out.

Should I go back to a private diary? I wonder about that, as well. I do have a Penzu account and sometimes use it to record dreams and special things I can’t put here.

I have really enjoyed the new blog, Border Cities Blooming. I love posting about food and explorations around the border region. But since the big road trip, I am about 12 restaurant reviews and meals behind, thus feel overwhelmed by the idea of trying to catch up. I think my O.C.D. has affixed itself to the act of blogging, that’s what I think.


I do believe I need a break from this, maybe to discontinue altogether, but I must be addicted. I notice that I tend to quit blogging the way some people stop smoking: temporarily and often.

I also find that stopping blogging feels a lot like going on a diet. I always want to start the fast “tomorrow,” after this one last guilt-inducing yummy morsel.

State of the Kiki Address

It’s a rainy afternoon. I just put a skillet of corn bread in the oven while a ham hock boils on the stove in preparation for tonight’s mess of collard greens and pecan-crusted catfish.  Travelling through the South with a new southern cookbook on the back seat of the car left me hankering to try out some of the recipes on Chuck, a very willing test kitchen volunteer.

A group of House Sparrows is on the lower deck by the river pecking up one of last week’s corn muffins (from a mix) that I crumbled up for them this morning.

Chuck is off doing his thing over in Michigan–putting in a few hours at the Red Cross followed by some time at his house getting it cleaned up enough for me to start helping him clean it up.

There is a lot I would like to be able to blog about but feel I cannot do so without compromising the privacy of the parties involved. There’s my sweetie and his privacy, my ex and his, and that of a close friend.  I have one friend I can talk to about the situation, but she is far away. She did help me a lot during a recent visit. I couldn’t really talk to my mom about it because we didn’t get a whole lot of mother-daughter time this visit.  Maybe I’ll try emailing her about it.

So that’s why the posts here have become rather impersonal lately. I can tell you about my trip and the food we ate. I can blog about my daily routines.  BO-ring.

What I can tell you is that it’s difficult. I feel alone in this.

What is this “THIS” that I’m talking about?

A couple of relationships–one very close one and one that wasn’t as close but was still important to me–have suffered as the result of my getting together with Chuck.  Those relationships were strained by my break-up with Sylvain, but the union with Chuck seems to have derailed them completely.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was when I arrived in Cedar Crest, NM and watched Chuck absolutely hit it off with one of my relatives. That felt so nice for me. Then my aunt took me aside after our dinner out on the night of our arrival and whispered to me, “He’s a keeper. Hold on to him!”

That felt validating, too.

I guess we bloggers can’t really use this forum to talk about our significant relationships at all. Sure, we can talk about the good stuff. The other party never takes issue with that. But then you, the blog reader, are never getting the full picture.  You didn’t have the full picture of my last relationship and you’ll not have a fair image of this one, either.  I might soon feel okay about sharing the fun parts, but I’ll never reveal our problems unless it can be done in a way where both parties agree to the message being shared.  Chuck and I have already agreed that if we are ever experiencing a rough patch, we’ll never show it in public.  We agree that it’s not appropriate to air one’s dirty laundry. It isn’t pleasant for the couple and it makes those who are exposed to the discord uncomfortable, too.

So I don’t really know what to do. I would love to be able to tell you about my new relationship, our bliss, our growth, our deepening love…but I don’t feel I can freely express myself here at this moment without risking being misunderstood and without risking hurting others.

Road Trip Part 6 – Soul Food and Family

This blog post has been moved to Bordercitiesblooming.blogspot.ca.

Road Trip Part 5…in Which We Are Not Abducted by Aliens

Chuck only had three things he wanted to do / see during this entire two-week trip: stop in Roswell, NM; stop at the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock; stop at Crater of Diamonds State Park, AR to look for diamonds.  Everything else was from my personal agenda, and he tagged along for those activities with a degree of patience I found utterly astounding.  I know that if the shoe were on the other foot, I probably could not endure three different stops to meet another person’s relatives nor spend hours in houses filled with people I had never met before. He’s a trooper!

So when we arrived in Roswell in the late afternoon just in time to find a CLOSED sign in the window at the UFO Museum and Research Center, I was more than a little disappointed in my own failure to plan better.  Exhibiting the good humour that I’ve come to learn is typical of him, Chuck settled for a trio of hokey souvenir shops.

2013 07 186

lamp post in Roswell, NM

2013 07 187

invaded furniture store

Our next stop was Artesia, which is where my mom’s sister still lives. Aunt P is my godmother and housed me like a sibling to her other two kids for long periods of my childhood when my mom had to be in L.A. with my brother at Children’s Hospital for his multiple surgeries.  I have very fond memories of those stays in New Mexico when I was small. It was so great to see her again. We took her to dinner and spent time on the sofa going through photo albums.

After a restful night in one of Aunt P’s guest bedrooms, we set out for Lubbock, home to the Buddy Holly Center and Museum.  I was absolutely certain we had scheduled our departure from Artesia in time to enjoy the history of regional rock and roll until Chuck pointed out the change in time zones. I’d failed to account for that!

“You are seeing the Buddy Holly Center even if we have to spend the night in Lubbock,” I insisted, getting peeved with myself for again failing to plan well. We arrived in Lubbock, however, with plenty of time to enjoy the exhibits and even watch a documentary film about  Hardin’s short life and even shorter ballistic career.  I learned so much about this amazing young man and his music.  Later in the gift shop I got my brother a souvenir tee shirt and a memorial CD set for Chuck, which we enjoyed in the car all the way to Little Rock. Many of the tunes in this special collection had never before been released in the U.S., and some do not sound anything like what a die-hard fan would expect from the artist. Case in point: Smoky Joe’s Cafe.

We spent the night in Wichita Falls, TX and in the morning headed for Crater of Diamonds State Park.  By the time we got to the area, a long and steady rain reaching all the way to Little Rock was making the idea of diamond hunting less and less appealing.  Oh, well. Along with all the life birds I dipped on, we have to save some treasures for next time, eh?

When we passed a sign that Chuck thought would make a good story, I offered to double back so he could get a good picture.

“Don’t you want to be in the picture?” I asked.  He assented and posed in front of the green road sign just long enough for me to snap two or three shots. No sooner had he crossed the highway back to the parked car than he was frantically brushing little biting insects off his ankles, calves, thighs and from inside his urgently removed sneakers.  As soon as I saw the ants, I joined him in brushing them away as fast as I could.

Our next impromptu stop was a pharmacy.

2013 07 205

Sightings of Chihuahuan Raven in the western region soon gave way to a plethora of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Northern Mockingbirds.

As we neared my mother’s home in North Little Rock, my dreams of authentic southwestern cuisine began to be replaced by fantasies of black-eyed peas, turnip greens, fried okra and catfish, gumbo and corn bread, and diners where the tea is sweet unless you request otherwise.  Before leaving the area, we would taste most of those and more.

…to be continued…

No Rufous-necked Wood Rail (Road Trip Part 4)

….continued from previous posts…

After a disappointing “free” breakfast of watery scrambled eggs the previous morning at the hotel, we checked out of the Plaza Inn hoping to find a diner on the way out of town. I suggested we detour into downtown Albuquerque rather than hunting for breakfast from the freeway, and Chuck spied the winning side street as we slowly drove up one main boulevard and down the next seeing one after another CLOSED sign at seven in the morning.

A sign in the window of Cecilia’s Cafe announced breakfast burritos, and it was open. The decor was a modest mix of shrines to the Virgin of Guadalupe and portraits of grandchildren. How could we go wrong?

2013 07 151
Indeed, the huevos rancheros and chorizo burrito left us satisfied and ready to continue our southwest journey.

2013 07 155

huevos rancheros at Cecilia’s Cafe

2013 07 154

chorizo breakfast burrito at Cecilia’s Cafe

My original 2012 road trip plan was to arrive in Belen before dusk so as to look for the Burrowing Owls at Taco Bell Marsh. In order to pass through my cousin L’s town at a time when it was convenient for her AND move on to visit my aunt in Artesia on a day when she was free, I had to save those owls for another time.

2013 07 156

2013 07 158

Instead I had one spare hour to cruise around Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  I was hoping that the area right around the visitor centre might be almost as productive as the gardens at Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary had been.  While Googling the refuge that morning, Chuck learned that there was much hullabaloo over a Rufous-necked Wood Rail. We arrived at roosting hour and found almost no birds of interest, just some egrets, herons and sandpipers that are easy to see back home. In fact the list of birds I’d hoped we might get but didn’t is much longer than the list of ones we saw. We had fun in the gift shop and learned from the docent that the wood rail had been reported to the local media immediately upon its discovery, but the local press had only responded when the Associated Press finally picked it up over a week later.

We got to Nogal in time for lunch with my first cousin L, her husband G, and their son C.  It was my first visit since they bought a log cabin up in the hills near Ruidoso.  I hadn’t seen my little first cousin once removed since he was about three years old! It was lovely to visit with them and see their new place–which was miraculously spared in the 2012 Little Bear fire while dozens of neighbours lost homes, barns and animals.

2013 07 181

Chuck, Wink and Kelly

My cousin headed off with her horse trailer to do a job while we continued on toward my aunt’s home in Artesia, stopping in Roswell because…well…goofy people have to stop there.

…continued in the next post…


Life Birds and Meeting Family (Road Trip part 3)

…continued from the last two posts…

With only two weeks allotted for the trip, I had resigned myself at the beginning of the journey to the fact that I would not be getting a great number of life birds unless I was willing to sacrifice one or more of my other priorities, such as seeing relatives, stopping for good meals, or spending a few days with Mom.

“Tomorrow you can sleep in,” I’d told Chuck at the end of my wonderful birthday since he had risen before dawn to get me to the sanctuary before they even opened. Keeping my word, I joined him in a later-than-usual breakfast at the hotel before we set out to find the first of three birding destinations of the day, a very easy birding schedule that I’d hoped might net me one or two life birds if I was lucky.

The sun was already scorching by the time we found the next hot spot I had highlighted in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico. We easily found Embudo Canyon at the end of a cul-de-sac in a residential neighbourhood. As we were coming to the end of Indian School Road, I got my first lifer of the day: a Curve-billed Thrasher was perched atop a green street sign! It swooped away before Chuck could turn the car around, but the silhouette had been clear enough for me to count it.


feeling overheated

We got out of the car and began applying sun block. I hadn’t even started looking for birds yet, but my attention was drawn to a Scaled Quail singing atop a desert plant with a central stalk on which to perch. I felt as if he were putting on a welcome show just for me!

We walked the trails for a short while; I managed to pish up my first Black-throated Sparrow.  Then we went back toward the parking lot to stroll down one residential street and up the other, as alluded to in the guide book. Enjoying feeders, gardens and bird baths were Canyon and Spotted Towhees, several kinds of Hummingbirds, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Western Kingbird.

By the end of this walk in the midday sun, we were ready to find a place to cool off with a refreshing beverage. We easily found a Starbucks where we enjoyed free wifi and regrouped for our next trail walk.

With the help of Liddell & Hussey’s guide, we found the trail head to Three Gun Springs (Tres Pistolas). Perhaps I was feeling lazy at this point in the day, because I unfortunately failed to note the length or difficulty of this hike. I cannot fault the very comprehensive guide. For every stop it gives directions, target species, what to watch out for (such as bears, rattlers, harvester ants), etc. But the guide only works if you read it.  I had only skimmed the paragraph up to the point where I learned to take a left at a fork rather than a right toward the hawk watch tower.


We walked.  And walked.  And walked.  There were no springs in sight. And it was hot. And we did not have water with us.  Yes, I know. Stupid. All trails undertaken to this point had been easy half-mile hikes, one-mile hikes, etc.  My bad.

So we walked some more, guessing that we might come upon the springs ANY TIME NOW, the book being back in the car.


There was no bird activity save three Turkey Vultures way off in the distance. Were they taking up a pool on how long it would take the two tourists to succumb while trudging uphill in the heat of midday?

Finally we spotted movement in some Junipers. I may have jumped up and down when I realized there were at least three Juniper Titmice flitting from evergreen to evergreen out there in the heat. That species had eluded me for the last two or three stops, and seeing them made the wild goose chase worth it.


We turned back after what may have been a mile or more. Next time we’ll read the guide more carefully before starting a hike.

Back at the car we did spy a Western Scrub Jay, and flushed a Cooper’s Hawk from a tree, but neither time–arriving or departing–did zig-zagging through the adjacent residential area  render any bird sightings. Going in the early morning or evening might have proved more fruitful.

Finally it was time to check out the hot spot right next to the rendezvous place for meeting my little cousins that evening: Ojito de San Antonio Open Space. We found the old church on the corner of two unpaved roads using our usual navigational combination of GPS, iPhone maps app and directions provided in the book. We parked next to a pickup truck, noting “Someone is already here.” We were swapping out our sandals for hiking boots when the man sitting in the truck started to speak to us. He informed us that the open space was not open at all; we could not go in.  I then noticed the sign chained to the open gate.  Soon a second man in another pickup truck came back out the gate, and that man closed and locked the gate.

With a bit of a thumb to nose attitude, I said something to the effect of, “FINE, then! We’ll just go to my cousin’s house up the road and bird her PRIVATE PROPERTY.  Hrmph.”

And that we did, arriving much earlier than we were expected to.  Hence the bewildered teenager answering the door.  Hence our staring at one another until a quick phone call to his mom cleared things up and resulted in a gracious invitation to come in, join him in front of the television and have something cool to drink.

It wasn’t long before my late cousin’s ex arrived on the scene and we were soon in the midst of new cousins, old cousins, new husbands, uncles of cousins from the other side of the family and more people than we could keep up with as we shook hands or hugged our way through them all.

G had made up a crock pot of buffalo stew, which hit the spot and gave me energy for more birding around their gorgeous hilltop property.


delicious buffalo stew

G’s husband heard our story of the closed gate and advised us that locals just ignore that and sneak through the bars of the gate, something I’m sure the authors of our guide would never condone.

Gate or no gate, the problem of the recent drought could not be circumvented. G’s husband told us that they had just had a 50-year drought two years in a row. There was no water trickling through the acequia.


We followed the dry creek bed to its source, but there was no water there, either.  The location was not totally devoid of birds, though. A Broad-tailed Hummingbird followed Chuck and his red cap around, and I got a good look at a Say’s Phoebe before we gave up the hunt.

Our host was not comfortable leaving us to wander around the apple orchard without some way to scare away bears.  I am not going to blog about what one of the men carried throughout our hike. (We’re not in Canada anymore, Toto!)

Determined to find running water, our host took us to a spring on his property, but it was also dry as a bone. Poor birdies.  There were a couple species of hummingbirds visiting their garden, but other than that there was nothing to distract me when my two little cousins arrived around supper time.

I spent the rest of the evening getting to know six-year-old J and eight-year-old M, both darling children with whom I can now begin a correspondence and relationship. Chuck spent the evening deep in conversation with the children’s father.  It was a delightful time; we didn’t start back to our hotel in Albuquerque until late in the night.

We would need to rise early the next day in preparation for our alien encounters in Roswell!

….to be continued…

It All Seems to Flow (Road Trip part 2)

…continued from the previous post…

In New Mexico there were not only many bird species I’d never seen but also two little cousins, Little M and J (first cousins twice removed), that I’d never met. I’d received periodic stories, school pictures, and family portraits, but had never been in the same room with these quickly growing up little people.

In addition to that, it was probably 1994 the last time I had seen my first cousin L, her husband G and their son C. In fact C was barely out of diapers the last time I’d seen him, and now he’s finishing up his university degree. Sigh.

I had a set of first cousins once removed to whom I had sent birthday and Christmas gifts throughout their growing up, but whom I had not seen in just as long.  I had never met M’s husband–the father in all those family portraits with little M and J. So in addition to birding, I was hoping to hit each of their towns on days when they would neither be away on vacation nor too busy to visit with us. Adding to the complications was the fact that Chuck and I moved this trip up by at least three weeks after he learned of his earlier-than-expected lay-off from the refinery job.

Somehow, though, it all worked out rather well.  The children I was hoping to meet were being brought to the home of one of their grandmother’s for babysitting while their parents took their yearly vacation to Las Vegas. If we timed it right, we could arrange to be at that grandma’s house the evening their parents delivered them there. All I knew was that this grandma lived in or near Albuquerque, and our birding route was bringing us right to Albuquerque just one day before that rendezvous was to take place.  After that we would pass through cousin L’s town after her horse’s vet appointment but before she had a job to do at 3:00. And we would arrive at my aunt’s house down near the Texas border after her Monday medical appointment but before the Friday one. It was all coming together perfectly.

So we booked ourselves into an Albuquerque hotel for two nights, enjoying the rare luxury of not having to search out new lodging the next night. We would hit a few more of the birding hot spots that day and then find out where to be that evening to see the children.

Each time we had emailed or texted updates on our E.T.A. as we approached Albuquerque, we had gotten more details. Yes, my cousin’s ex wife and her new husband welcomed us to visit the children in their home.  Now I had an email address for them. Next I got a number at which I could call or text them. Finally it was time to get an address.

Using Chuck’s lap top and Google Maps, I found G and G’s house in the eastern mountains outside Albuquerque. They lived on a dirt road near an old church. San Antonio mission church, in fact. Huh? The church and the map of the roads around it looked mighty familiar to me.  Um.  What?  I found myself looking at the exact same map that I had studied all last year in my book about birding Central New Mexico. Behind this old mission church was supposed to be a hot spot called Ojito de San Antonio Open Space.  My cousin’s ex, it turned out, lived right up the hill (maybe a quarter mile) from the gurgling spring that attracted so many birds.

Jazzed by this crazy coincidence, we made a birding agenda for the day that would end at the Ojito de San Antonio Open Space. From there we could retreat to our host’s home to recover from a day spent birding in the desert heat and, hopefully, hug and kiss and visit with a lot of dear people I’d either never met or had not seen in almost twenty years.

…to be continued…

Grace All Along the Way

I made Sundays at Moosewood rusks; they are great to take on a road trip, hiking or camping because they are tasty (cinnamon, almond, vanilla) lightweight and will not spoil for weeks.


19 July 2013

We stopped on the south side of Chicago for my first ever Maxwell Street Polish.

When a disheveled gentleman with a hospital bracelet asked if anyone in line would buy him a pop, someone did.



20 July 2013



20 July 2013 Double rainbow

Crossing America’s heartland, we search out quaint diners like Pheasant Run in Hays, KS with gingham curtains and duck hunting prints for sale on the wall.


21 July 2013


21 July 2013

Sugar City, Colorado Population 279

Sugar City, Colorado
Population 279


We found a place where pop is just sixty cents and a full home style meal is $5.50.  A fellow birder at the next table volunteered information about local birds when the server alerted her to my field guide. The bird soaring low over the neighbourhood was a Mississippi Kite.




21 July 2013

Swainson’s Hawks preened atop many power poles while Western Kingbirds did their fly-catching air dance. We had a few Eurasian Collared Doves, too. In Colorado we had a Loggerhead Shrike and passed a group of Mule Deer. Herds of wild horses grazed or galloped freely, their black manes and tales contrasting with their shiny sorrel coats and blazed foreheads.


watch out for elk

Got to tick an item off my bucket list: see Taos, New Mexico. Black-billed Magpies welcomed us to town.

…and meet a longtime blogosphere friend for the first time face-to-face.


We broke bread together at Old Martina’s Hall across from San Francisco de Asis mission church. Construction on the church began in 1772. I was happy to find that two adjacent gift shop / galleries were still open, though the church itself was not.


We drove on after supper in order to be able to wake up very early in Santa Fe. It was my fiftieth birthday, and what a birthday it would turn out to be!

Many birthday presents awaited me in the gardens around the visitors’ center of this sanctuary: Black-chinned, Rufous, Broad-tailed and Calliope Hummingbirds buzzed from feeder to feeder, from one bush full of tube-shaped, jewel-hued flowers to another. One or two tried to drink from the eyelets in Chuck’s red cap, a thrill we might have captured on video had it not been for the arrival of a group of school children. It turned out that the high-pitched jingle bell sound in the air was being produced by the wings of the male Broad-tailed hummingbird.

Coming to the trickling fountain and other bird baths were Evening and Black-headed Grosbeaks. Several Spotted Towhees and a couple of Canyon Towhees scratched in the mulch around the shrubs and flowering bushes.

Pine Siskins and Lesser Goldfinches enjoyed the seed silos while White-winged Doves cooed in the branches of trees over our heads. House Finches were everywhere. A Grey Flycatcher was kind enough to show itself while I was checking off life birds.

After the gardens, we took the trails that wind through a few different habitats in hopes of seeing Juniper Titmouse or Mountain Chickadee. We didn’t get either of those, but the hike was beautiful.


Before lunch we visited the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Asisi. Was it just a coincidence that my favorite Saint seemed to greet us at every turn?




In search of authentic local fare the whole trip, for lunch we passed up an opportunity to eat at Cafe Pasqual’s in favour of The Shed: Creative Cooking, where we waited a long time for a table and were told by others in line that it was “worth the wait.”

my first New Mexican posole

my first New Mexican posole

A kind stranger at the next table offered to snap our picture. Nice people are everywhere.


I had spent many weeks leading up to the summer of 2012 (before postponing this trip by a year) going through The Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico with a yellow highlighter.  I had then plotted potential stops using Google’s “MyTrips” app. On each stop I had loaded the names of target bird species. Many hot spots were centered in and around the Turquoise Trail, which links Santa Fe and Albuquerque, specifically along the Sandia Crest highway that winds its way through five life zones up to the peak of Sandia Crest where one can see 100 miles in every direction on a clear day, and where all three Rosy Finches can be seen at the feeders of the Crest House in winter.

After lunch in Santa Fe, we set out to bird the Sandia Crest.


As soon as we got out of the car at the first stop I’d highlighted in the book, we could hear high-pitched bird noise above our heads. Ignoring an offer from a passerby in a pickup truck to point out the trail head, we started following the bird sounds high up in some conifers. I was slipping in my Blunnies as I tried to climb a woodland embankment.  Finally we caught bird movement and discovered the source of the sound: a baby Red-naped Sapsucker being fed by a busy parent bird. We watched the hungry nestling stick its head out of the tree cavity during the adult’s absences. What a nice birthday present that was!

After finding the trailhead and reading up on how to avoid confrontation with bears, we did a good portion of the trail. White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches foraged on tree trunks very high above us. The quick glimpse I may have gotten of a Pygmy Nuthatch wasn’t good enough for me to count that species on my life list, but Mountain Chickadees were more cooperative, as were the Cordilleran Flycatchers. A female Calliope Hummingbird made an appearance, and Virginia’s Warbler did as well.

My favourite mammal sighting of the whole trip may have been Albert’s Squirrel with its skunk-like tail, tufted black ears and black nose.

As Chuck drove, I buried my head in the Hot Spots of Central New Mexico guide. Our next goal would be to find “the log,” a natural watering trough attracting dozens of bird and mammal species each hour. Even though Common Raven, Albert’s and Red Squirrels and Red-breasted Nuthatches were the only creatures to appear for a drink during our time sitting there, it was a pleasant stop. I would definitely recommend it to anyone with time to sit there and wait for the birds to arrive.


sitting on a log watching THE log

We continued to drive the switchbacks up, up, up to the top of the crest. At one point Chuck suggested we stop at a scenic lookout point and get out. Though a stand of trees blocked our view of the valley below, we began to notice a lot of little birds moving over the ground on the shrubby mountain slopes in front of us. They were scratch-hopping the way towhees and Fox Sparrows do and had deep rufous crowns. After much deliberation, I decided they had to be Green-tailed Towhees!

We had been trying to make it to the top of the Crest before the sun went down and stole the breathtaking view; dusk was quickly approaching when we started to head back to the parked car. Just then I noticed a few black and white swallow-like birds careening through the sky just off the mountainside. Could they be one of my target birds for the trip? Yes. They were White-throated Swifts.

We arrived at the Crest House after it had closed, but the view was still free. A Rock Wren was feeding on the rocks at our feet while we took in the incredible vista.



What a topper to an amazing BIRTH day. It couldn’t have been more special.

…to be continued…

Grace in Small Things 250

  • I think I’ve found someone responsible to take care of my plants and bird feeders while we’re away
  • the landlord provided a window unit with this apartment – – hallelujah!
  • the VW place was able to squeeze me in tomorrow for regular maintenance and to make sure the car is ready for a long trip
  • the zinnias I’d thought were crispy came back after a good watering
  • a friendly and helpful bank teller with a nice smile