Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"To Rest" is a Verb, or Confessions of a List Maker

I'm a list maker. Not just a grocery list maker--a To-Do List maker. On Sunday evening I make a To Do list for the week ahead. It's stream-of-consciousness with tasks going on paper as they pop into my head. Once they're all on paper I prioritize the tasks and assign each one a day. Each I morning, O look at my tasks for the day, and jot down a.m. or p.m. At the end of the day, I cross off what got done. Anything I didn't accomplish is assigned a new day. But here's the kicker--if I accomplished something that wasn't on the list, I write it down so I can cross it off. I look at all the tasks crossed off and declare it a productive day. Crazy or just silly? I suppose it depends on your perspective.

I grew up in a family that valued productivity. I don't remember the incident because I was two when it happened, but I remember the story--and the laughter it got every time my father told it. "Your mother and I were in the living room," he would say. "We couldn't see or hear you, and we got a little worried about what you were up to. Mother called out, 'Suzanne, what are you doing?' You answered, 'Breathing.'" Breathing--that was the punchline. Gales of laughter always followed. Get it? If not, here's the moral to the story: Breathing is not doing something. A person should always do more than just breathe.

I don't know when I started making to-do lists and evaluating my days by them, But it was a process that worked for years--until Multiple Sclerosis caught up with me. If you know someone with MS, you know MS fatigue is unlike any other fatigue. It comes on without warning, and when it hits, negotiation is impossible. I can't push through the fatigue or keep going "just a little longer." When it hits, I feel like I've walked into a glass wall. One minute I'm functioning, and the next minute all systems shut down. I can't think, much less continue working. You can imagine the impact of MS fatigue on a to-do list.

I'll give you an example. Yesterday one of the tasks on my list was "Get groceries." It was right after "Pick up prescriptions." My grocery list only had four items on it, and the store was less than two miles from the pharmacy. But as I was coming out of the pharmacy, I walked into that glass wall. It was all I could do to drive fifteen minutes to get home. I considered pulling off and having a nap in the car, but finding a safe place to pull off was too difficult.

Over the last few years MS fatigue turned my list making from a celebration of work accomplished into a frustrating exercise of pushing task after task onto a later day and recopying one week's list onto the next week. I tried giving up my to-do lists, but I drifted through the days like a ship without a rudder. Then I remembered that "to rest" is a verb.

In case you've forgotten your high school grammar lessons, a verb is an action word. My lists have always consisted of words like shop, write, call, vacuum: action words. But there's another kind of verb, a word that represents a "state of being." Be in all its forms (am, was, will be) is the most common state of being verb: I am busy; I am content; I am exhausted, even I am resting. To rest, it turns out, is an honorable activity. Remember the seventh day? God rested. These days rest goes on my to-do list--right after breathe.

Friday, September 11, 2015


Last weekend I brought a cardboard box labeled Old Publications in from the garage. I packed the box in Flagstaff, AZ eleven years ago when I moved to Colorado. I hadn't opened it since. What fun it was to look back at poems and stories I've published over the years. What an encouragement to see that most of them were pretty well-written. So I've decided to use a few of them as occasional blog posts. This morning I'll share a story that won a "flash fiction" (in this case 1500 words or less) contest in a publication called Inklings.The date was Fall, 1997.

                      "Of Pinyon Jays and Miracles"
       by Susanne Larkin [a name with echoes from the past]

    As soon as Pat Johnson said, "My name is Patricia" to her husband, the legion of fears that had possessed her for ten years rushed out of her soul. No swine being available, the demons went into a flock of pinyon jays that had come to gorge themselves with sunflower seeds. The jays cried with loud voices and flew up from the aluminum pie plate, a raucous tangle of iridescent blue feathers and silver beaks.
   Of course it was years later that Pat put this interpretation on what happened. A curious art dealer pointed to a watercolor of a flock of suicidal pinyon jays diving three and four at a time into an undefined body of water. "What," he asked, "can I say about this one? Something you saw?"
   "No," said Pat slowly, not remembering at first. "No. Nothing I saw. A dream perhaps."
   That night she remembered. Not a dream. A memory. Mr. Gonzalez fishing drowned jays out of stagnant leaf-covered water with his long-handled pool net, crossing himself, muttering fearfully in Spanish. The memory of a miracle
   At the time Pat didn't even notice the birds. She simply wondered where the strength to say the words out loud had come from. It wasn't as if she hadn't been working up to it--practicing in front of a mirror to say the words clearly, performing for her therapist to say them with conviction, thinking them to overcome her fear whenever Charles called her "P.P." She'd had the words for a long time. she just hadn't had the courage. Not until that moment.
   They were standing outside Pat's apartment under the iron and concrete staircase that went to the second floor. Charles wanted to come in. He wanted to make her French toast. He said something like, "I miss my little P.P."
   Without planning it or even getting ready, Pat said clearly and with conviction, "My name is Patricia."
   Charles laughed. "You really should try to develop a sense of humor," he said. "You'll never have any friends if you can't take a joke."
   "It's not a joke," said Pat. "It's disrespectful." As she said these words, new ones she'd never practiced, she was dimly aware of a confusion of jays overhead.
   The nickname had started out as a joke, at least Pat was willing to think it had. They'd gone to Ardrey Auditorium to hear Beethoven, the Symphonie Pathtique. She'd loved it, and Charles had picked up on her enthusiasm. On the way back tot he car, he'd laughed about it and, giving her an affectionate hug, had called her "my darling Pathetic Pat." In the darkness she'd smiled. Later, though, when he called her "my Pathetic Pat," she'd protested. He laughed again and called her "my little P.P. instead." After weeks or months or years, Pat got tired of fighting about it, just like she got tired of fighting about how to button shirts on hangers and where to keep the skillet.
   When the fears left her and went into the pinyon jays, Pat felt strangely light, so light she thought her feet might leave the earth, and she might have to grab the top of the golden cottonwood to keep herself from floating away into the clear, blue morning. Charles didn't notice how light Pat had become or how strangely the pinyon jays were acting. He kept on talking. Something about how appropriate the nickname had gotten since she'd left him to try to find herself. Something about how pathetically thin she was, about how pathetic her attempts to take art classes at night were.
   Savoring the lightness and her new courage, Pat turned her back, went into the apartment, and shut the door. Furious, Charles started to open the door to follow her in. As light as she was, Pat discovered she was stronger than she'd ever been before, as strong as some kind of space-age metal, lighter than air but with the tensile strength require to escape the pull of gravity. She pushed against the door with all her new strength and turned the dead bolt. Charles pounded on the door and shouted obscenities.
   Behind the door, Pat didn't care. That was part of the new lightness. Before the demons fled, she'd cared about everything. About whether the microwave bell in her kitchen would wake the neighbor's baby next door. About whether her art teacher was bored with inept students like her. About whether Charles would be able to do his own laundry while she was gone.
   Now she leaned against the door, feeling it shake from Charles' fists, hearing the ugly words he was screaming, even hearing the jays screeching. Instead of caring, she breathed in the stale air of the apartment slowly, one breath at a time. As she breathed, the apartment expanded around her into a vast spacious place where Charles couldn't come.
   Pat Johnson didn't know much more than her name as she leaned there against that door. She didn't know she would learn to draw birds so well the museum would hire her to do their avian exhibit. She didn't know that eventually she would learn to paint so well that people would buy her pictures. She didn't even know the pinyon jays had been part of a miracle. But as she leaned there, her light soul, free of the demons the jays had taken, opened up like a pale yellow forsythia bud the first day of spring.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


November, 2013 

WHY ARKANSAS? Hot Springs Village [HSV]—That’s Why!
When I was looking for a place to set up shop for these lovely autumn years, I went where we all go these days—to the internet. A variety of communities came up in my search: in Florida (too humid), in Arizona (been there, done that), in California (too expensive). When one popped up Arkansas, I was intrigued. 

I visited the Ozarks with my grandparents when I was a kid, and it was love at first sight. I thought it was the most spectacular place I’d ever seen. But that was 50 years (give or take a few). Since then I’ve been a few other places besides Kentucky, Texas, and Illinois, so I wasn’t sure if I’d react with such enthusiasm. Still, I decided it was worth checking into—particularly after I checked on home prices. I bought an airplane ticket.

When I arrived in HSV, I found a community of 12,000 nestled in a forest of mixed hardwoods and evergreens. I found lakes, golf courses, and nature trails. I also found a fitness center with a good-sized swimming pool and state of the art workout equipment as well as a a performing arts center with a variety of shows throughout the year. The surrounding area appealed as well. Hot Springs, with its national park and shopping mall, is about 20 miles away. Little Rock, with its symphony orchestra and airport, is about an hour away.

If I liked HSV, I planned to rent for a year and then make a careful decision. But Arkansas worked its magic on me the way it did when I was ten: I was in love all over again. The third day I was here I walked into a townhome that seemed to have been built for me. What can I say? I made an offer.

I’ve been here fifteen months, and I’m still in love. I’ve found friends and more clubs and interest groups that I want to join than I can fit into my schedule. HSV has to be the best kept secret in lifestyle communities. If you want to see why I moved to Arkansas, come see!

Fall has come late to Arkansas this year. Here it is the end of the first week of November, and we’ve just reached the peak of the leaf season. Many years ago a friend informed me that he divided humanity into two large categories: “namers” and “normals”—people who can enjoy something without knowing its name. (I’m a namer; guess what he was.) As a namer, I’m eager to learn the names of the trees that surround me in the Ouachita Mountains.

This time of year is ideal for that task because not only are the leaves of nameless trees different in shape, they’re also different colors. Imagine my excitement, then, when I found a slim guidebook called Autumn Leaves and Winter Berries in Arkansas (Carl G. Hunter, 1995). Leaves are divided by color, and wonderful photos help the reader identify specific trees. So far I’ve learned flowering dogwood (shades of red and orange), sweet gum (red or yellow star-shaped leaves that have the most color variation of any tree in Arkansas, elm (yellow). Many more to go, so I’m a happy leaf watcher.

The preface to the book explains an everyday mysteries about which people often pool their ignorance: what causes leaves to change color in the autumn. More than that Mr. Hunter explains what causes the leaves of different trees to turn different colors. It seems that leaves contain many pigments that are hidden by the green cholorophyll required for photosynthesis. As the tree goes dormant for the winter, the cholorophyll recedes and the other pigments come out. A good growing season results in a spectacular fall, and frost actually dulls the colors.

Armed with these scraps of fact (factlets?), I’m wondering about applying this knowledge: Because my crepe myrtle contains a good bit of carotene, would tossing the leaves in a salad be as beneficial for my eyes as eating carrots? Because my Japanese cherry contains xanthophyll, (also found in egg yolks) could I scramble those leaves with egg whites into a heart-healthy omelette?

I just finished reading a book by Danae Horn I won’t soon forget—Chronic Resilience: Ten Sanity-Saving Strategies for Women Coping with the Stress of Illness.
1.      Take ownership of your wellness
2.      Identify and live your life values
3.      Set attainable, inspiring goals
4.      Nourish your mind
5.      Reassess the space you keep
6.      Call in the troops and put them through boot camp
7.      Empower yourself with research
8.      Live what needs to be lived today
9.      Cultivate discipline
10.  Find gratitude
None of these strategies is new, but Horn offers a plan for implementing each one that makes it eminently doable. More than the strategies, what makes the book memorable is the interviews from women who deal on a daily basis with chronic illness all the way from stage 4 cancer to kidney failure. Their comments are honest about the challenges they face but also life-affirming and hopeful.

While the book is aimed at women with chronic illness, it strikes me that almost everyone faces chronic stress—a condition that impedes their progress toward life goals. For example, I have a friend whose grown children keep returning home (chronic family). I have another friend who is continually underemployed (chronic economy). A third friend has a parent who is battling Alzheimer’s (chronic care-taking). Whatever your chronic condition is, you might be encouraged by this book. I certainly was.

CAT TALES: Just the Facts, Ma’am
My cat is Gabby. I’m SJ, and I carry a flashlight.
The place was Hot Springs Village, Arkansas.
The date was Friday, October 24; the time 8:13 p.m.

8:13   Strident caterwauling on Lanza Court.
8:23   More caterwauling. Gabby squares off with Tom, who weighs in at three times her size.
8:30   SJ, in jeans and sweatshirt, attempts to break up the stand-off with broom.
8:31  Tom goes for Gabby. Gabby darts just out of reach, sprints into the night. Tom gives chase.
8:32   SJ sweeps the yard with flashlight, calls for Gabby. No response.
9:30   SJ repeats sweep of the yard, calls a 2nd time. No response.
10:30  SJ goes to the street, sweeps with flashlight, calls. No response.
11:00  SJ goes to the street, shakes a bag of cat treats. Calls loudly. No response.
11:30  SJ, in bathrobe and slippers, calls for Gabby. Faint response.
11:31  SJ goes to the street, shakes bag of cat treats, calls again. Faint response.    
11:35  SJ, now in bathrobe and tennis shoes, calls. Faint but unmistakable cry.
11:38  SJ follows cries across Lanza Ct, across drainage ditch, into wooded common area.
11:49  Gabby located at the 20 foot level of slender pine tree. Frightened but uninjured.
11:50  SJ calls; with flashlight guides Gabby down, limb by limb.
11:54  At the 10 foot level Gabby reaches the last branch, balks. SJ encourages Gabby.
11:55  Gabby considers jumping, refuses. SJ encourages Gabby.
11:57  Gabby embraces tree trunk , inches down backwards. SJ continues encouragement.
11:59  Gabby, visibly proud, reaches 4 foot level, jumps to the ground.
Saturday, October 25
12:01 a.m. Gabby restored to home and family. Cuddles, cat treats, and chocolate.

Over three hundred years ago John Milton wrote the line “They also serve who only stand and wait.” He was working his way through the inactivity blindness saddled him with, but a paraphrase of that line would sum up the last couple of months for me: We also write who only sit and wait. Winning the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Genesis contest in romantic suspense was a thrill. Invitations from a top literary agent and an editor to submit my manuscript were even more exciting.

Then the waiting began. And the questions—What will they think? (When will I hear?) Did my manuscript make it past the first reader? (When will I hear?) What will I do if I’m told “Yes”? What will I do if I’m told “No”? (When will I hear?) What to do meanwhile? It turns out there’s one answer to all of these questions: keep writing.  

Christmas 2014

On the 11th day of Christmas Suzanne sent to me 11 pipers piping…and 1 overdue letter

                        2014: A Patchwork Review


“Roman Stripe”—a scrap quilt I made this year      

On January 1 I resolved to not get on an airplane in 2014. Yet…
In February I flew to Durham, NC for my father’s wedding.            

In May I flew to Phoenix to see Jorie’s new home.

In September I flew to to St. Louis for my annual writers’ conference.
In October I flew to Kentucky for my dad’s 90th birthday.
In December I flew back to Phoenix for Christmas.

Maybe 2015 will be the year I don’t get on an airplane—if Amtrak puts a station in Hot Springs.


Most people who have pets that wandered into their lives wish the pet could tell its story. This year (after 3 years with me) Gabby the hunter has become Gabby the house cat (mostly, anyway). The changes have given me clues to her story. The first change was not running out the door every time I open it. Lately she sticks her nose out the door first. If it’s cold, she backs away and shakes herself like a dog that’s been swimming. Rain is the same: she no longer crawls under the couch when it rains, as if the roof wasn’t enough protection. Now she braves the rain in the living room, occasionally even looking at it out the window. And the toys—she actually plays with them. Then there’s her taste for bagels. When I open a bag of them, she comes running. Most remarkable is every time I sit down, she leaps in my lap, curls up, and begins to purr—a new sound for her. So what’s Gabby’s story? I suspect the vet was right: Gabby was a feral cat. It’s taken three years, but she’s now a tame little beast. At least most of the time. A couple of days ago, I opened my front door and found a bird’s head and a few tail feathers. You can imagine where the rest of the bird was (even the feet?).

APP OF THE YEAR:  Pandora One
Jorie upgraded her smart phone and gave me her “old” one, so this year I’ve learned about texting, checking email on my phone, and Apps. A friend first told me about Pandora, a free music app that allows the user to create a themed collection of songs you like (a “radio station”). Of course, since nothing is really free, you can upgrade to Pandora One and eliminate the ads. But for $3.99 a month, it’s been well worth it to me. I now have several stations—New Age solo piano, classical, Christian (If you think you don’t like Christian music, try Michael Card, John Michael Talbot, and Matt Redman.) I even had a Christmas station from which I could exclude grocery store songs.

FALL, 2014
Autumn slipped late into
the forest this year, waiting
until almost November to take
the stage. No russet rainbow
worked in oils on a robin’s egg
sky this year, just disappointing
shades of brown. Yet today I 
stepped off the path to shelter 
from a sudden shower. In a hidden 
glade a sweet gum, each leaf a ruby
star suspended by an indigo 
thread; a sugar maple, shimmered
gold against a silver cloud; low
to the ground, a blackberry vine
dappled ginger and jade.
Nothing more.
But it was, like a newly discovered 
canvas of an old master, it was

I don’t take naps. I take horizontal life pauses.

The Voice New Testament
Recently I discovered this new translation of the New Testament, and I’m really excited about it. The process was different from previous translations because the committee paired each Bible scholar/translator with a writer. (What a concept! I wonder why no one has thought of this before…) The result is a translation that sticks to the original meaning but is rendered in well-written English prose. The process was quite a bit more complex than that, but if you’re interested, it’s explained in the introduction.

One characteristic I like is that instead of explanatory footnotes, the writers have added boxes in the text that give the background of what’s being said in a way that makes sense to 21st century readers. There are several reading lists offered at the beginning. I read the Advent passages, and I began the 24 week reading plan 1/1. The interesting thing about the reading plan is that it’s arranged thematically, rather than following the order of the books. So we begin with Matthew, not because it begins on page 1 of the New Testament but because Jesus came first to the Jews and this gospel begins from that perspective. After Matthew’s narrative of the life of Jesus, we read Hebrews that shows how Jesus fulfilled the promises of the Old Covenant to the Jews. The next reading is Paul’s letter to the Romans, the very foundation of Christian theology.

In any case, the Voice provides a new way of reading scripture that makes sense to those of us living in the 21st century. If you have any interest in scripture, I highly recommend this library of ancient books translated and explained for a modern audience.

If, like most people, you have difficulty getting in the recommended 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables, here’s a good way to do it.

Many variations to play with, but the basic recipe (1 serving) is
1/3 c unsweetened coconut milk (Thai)
1/2 c water
1/2 c (really packed in tightly) kale (or baby kale or chard) 
1/2 c (packed as above) spinach (fresh or frozen)

Blend (high speed) 1st 3 ingredients until green liquid
1/2 banana (really ripe--almost ready for banana bread)*
1/2 c blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 c strawberries (fresh or frozen)
[OR chopped pineapple, apple, peaches, avocado—whatever you like and have on hand.]

Blend one at a time if frozen or just toss it in if fresh.
Optional: plant-based protein powder as needed for 10-20 g of protein
    2 T flaxseed or 1 T chia seed
    1 T coconut oil (melted: 35 seconds in the microwave)
I'm finding green smoothies are a bit like stir fry—more a concept than a recipe. They’re not cheap or low-calorie, but they taste good and help out bodies that have passed 100,000 miles. I've been drinking one instead of lunch, and I don't get quite the afternoon slump.
*Green bananas are constipating, but ripe ones have lots of good fiber. I've been letting my bananas get to the almost mushy stage and then freezing them.

MY WIP (Work in Progress)
I came away from my writing conference with a better understanding of the business of writing. In today’s digital world, the competition is stiffer than ever. With only 4 companies now owning all the traditional imprints, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for unknown authors to publish. Many writers are self-publishing, but the problem with that route for me is it also means self-promotion, self-advertising, and self-distribution—none of which I have energy for.

So I’m trying a new approach. I’m writing a book following a template used by Love-Inspired-Suspense. It’s quite a departure for me as their books are equal parts romance and suspense. Because I’m accustomed to writing mysteries, it’s a challenge for me to tell the story with the villain in plain sight. The other challenge is the romance. I’m learning to invent fairy tales—a genre I’ve always loved. The surprise is that writing to this template is improving my writing, and I’m actually having fun with the romance (think Castle). I’m about 2/3 of the way through Grand Canyon Peril—my working title. Maybe 2015 will be the year I get a contract!

It’s 8:45 p.m., so with the magic of the internet, I think I’m going to beat the twelve drummers drumming, which will be quite a relief to all of you, I know. So—a breathless Merry Christmas and slightly tardy wishes for a new year filled with contentment (a much under-rated state of being) and flashes of joy.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Oops--it's January 12, 2014. I missed all twelve days of Christmas and even Epiphany for posting my Christmas letter. So I've decided to call this missive a  "year-in-review" letter.  Rather than attempt a summary of activities, I've tried to give you the flavor of my year season by season.


Like most people, I live with paradox. I love watching birds. To entice them into my yard, I feed them. No paradox there. Enter Gabby. Or better--In slinks Gabby. Not only is Gabby a cat; she was feral for probably at least two of her approximately 4 years--which means she learned to hunt. To complicate matters, Gabby is a double polydactyl, giving her the equivalent of an opposable thumb on each foot. So... not only is Gabby a hunter, she's an expert. In the 18 months we've been in Arkansas, she's brought me lizards, mice (some dead, one alive), the occasional vole, chipmunks, squirrels, a bat (alive), and, of course, birds. You understand the paradox.

My love of birds and cats is not a new paradox for me. As my then eight-year-old daughter said to me twenty-some years ago, “Mom! You’re luring the birds to their death!” This spring, haunted by that long-ago exclamation, I decided to take the challenge: Who’s smarter than a cat? 

Stage 1: Suspend bird feeders from swing arms to keep the feeders three feet away from the deck. Unfortunately, birds are not highly intellectual beings. They extracted seeds from the feeders and brought them to the deck railing to eat. You can guess what Gabby did. 

Stage 2: Attach a six-inch garden fence to the inside of the deck railing. As before, the birds failed to grasp the situation and used the fence as a convenient feeding perch. Gabby simply proved she can jump higher than I thought she could.

Stage 3: Attach four feet of chicken wire to the garden fence. This worked for a few days--until Gabby found a good place to blend into the scenery behind a flower pot. Feeling safe, the birds crossed the wire and landed on the deck. They didn't stay long. The slower ones never left.

By this time I wasn't sure that I was smarter than a cat, particularly when you factor in the low intelligence of birds. Then my now-grown daughter said, "Mom, why don't you figure out a way to keep Gabby off the deck?"

Why not, indeed?

Stage 4: Attach chicken wire to both sides of the deck stairs all the way up. Attach a recycled screen door at the bottom in place of a gate. Take down stages 2 and 3. Enjoy an unobstructed view of happily feeding birds. For approximately two weeks. Then Gabby figured out how to climb through the openings underneath the deck stairs and prance on up.

Stage 5: Euthanize cat--just kidding. (Don't think I didn't consider it!) Enclose the deck stairs with chicken wire from the bottom. By now my deck looked like the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, but peace descended.

It was early June, and all summer and fall I enjoyed my birds. Occasionally one would try to fly into the reflected trees on my window (this despite "bird safe" decals), but usually after a few stunned moments, the bird would fly drunkenly away. I relaxed, content in the knowledge that I am smarter than a cat.**


The Victorians (British 1837-1901) lived with a paradox as great as a cat coexisting with birds: they experienced the same emotions as everyone else, but social custom forbade talking openly about feelings. I have no idea what stages they might have gone through to arrive at a "language of flowers" to communicate emotions. A few examples follow: 

      Pimpernel = change
      Violet = love
      Lilac =  first love
      Yellow tulip =  sunshine in your smile
      Jasmine = grace
      Baby's breath = purity

So if a young girl received a nosegay of baby's breath and lilac from a young man, she would know he was telling her, "You are my first  love." However, a nosegay of pimpernel and yellow tulips delivered to a mature woman might suggest taking a friendship to the next level. Eventually the language of flowers became so complex it required a dictionary of 400 pages to decode messages.

This summer I contemplated a language of feathers. I've only just begun a lexicon:

Bluebird = hope
Blue Jay = ingenuity
Cardinal = elegance
Chickadee = curiosity
Goldfinch = friends
Hummingbird = travel
Raven = remembrance
Red-headed woodpecker = drama
Red-tailed hawk = patience
Robin = optimism
Wren = home
Yellow warbler = music
  • For my daughter I offer a dream-catcher with feathers from a bluebird, a hummingbird, and a wren. 
  • For my adopted sister I offer a decorative fan made with feathers from a blue jay, a goldfinch, and a red-tailed hawk.
  • In memory of my mother I will weave a traditional royal Hawaiian cloak from every feather in my collection and line it with raven feathers.

Fall was a time of exploring for me. Days were sunny and cool, and the colors were the most brilliant people had seen in twenty years. One of the things I love about Hot Springs Village is the many trails. They range in length from 8 to 0.3 miles and vary in difficulty. 

One thing I've learned to count on is finding a bench every three or four hundred yards. One of my favorite benches looks out across Lake Balboa. The inscription reads, "In memory of Amanda, my daughter, 2008." It's always decorated, and whenever I rest there, I remember how blessed I am to have my daughter Jorie.
Some of the trails follow a lake shoreline while others wind through the woods. Whenever I went walking, I was bound to meet someone else on the trail. My hiking poles often elicited the comment, "Where's the snow?" I'm still wracking my brains for a good response, but no matter what I muttered, the exchange usually started a friendly conversation. I've decided "Where's the snow?" means something like "How are you?": it's a question with no answer expected.

This fall I walked five of the dozen or so trails, eventually extending my range to about a mile round-trip--in sixty minutes flat (with occasional bench stops). Not what I used to do, but I enjoy being able to walk in natural areas again. "Momentum" is the MS motto: keep moving.


Winter in this part of the country brings ice more often than snow. While at first that seems a milder symptom, ice is every bit as effective as snow at shutting things down. So winter here is often a time of waiting: we wait for the electricity to come back on, for the black ice that covers the roads and sidewalks to melt, for activities to be rescheduled--for life to start again. This winter I've been waiting for a response to my writing. Winning the Genesis contest was exciting, but it didn't guarantee publication for my novel or even representation by an agent. So I send a proposal to an agent and wait.

Still--along with waiting, ice brings surprises. Ever heard of "frost flowers"? It turns out that there's a "frost flower weed" (actual name) that grows in swampy places around here. Evidently these weeds are filled with fluid, and when the temperatures go down far enough, they simply burst into "flowers."  This phenomenon only happens once to each plant, so you have to watch for the first or second hard freeze of the season. (When it warms up, the "flowers" melt.) The time to search is early in the morning in swamps where the weeds grow. When I heard about frost flowers, I was fascinated, so the night before the weatherman promised the first hard freeze (28 degrees), I set my alarm for 7:00 (sunrise this time of year) and went in search of frost flowers. I found them right where I'd been told to look!



Last year Jorie and Joe came to Arkansas, so this year it was my turn to go to Phoenix. No frost flowers--just balmy sunny days for sitting on the deck and reading. One evening we went to see the Phoenix Ballet perform The Nutcracker. I have no idea how many times I've seen that ballet, but the story never gets old. This performance was outstanding because of the sets and the costumes. We also found a candlelight Christmas Eve service--another story that never gets old. 

After Christmas I spent a couple of days in Prescott with Vaughn (from Writing Project days) and her husband Ron as well as a day in Fountain Hills with Mary and Jeff (my Guam family). As I look back, I see that friends have been a consistent blessing in my life. While I've usually had a few friends at any given time, over the years, I've collected an amazing crowd of friends. I love the saying "Friends are the family you choose." So to all of my family, I wish you a new year of paradoxes, exploring, surprises, and love.  

While I was in Phoenix, I received a text from my house sitter: “Gabby showed up on the deck this morning with a mouthful of feathers.” I came home determined to find the hole in the chicken wire. Nothing--every bit of it was intact. So this morning after I let Gabby out the front door, I stood by the window that overlooks the deck and watched. After a few minutes she sauntered around the side of the house and stopped by the deck stairs. From a standing pose, she leapt 5 feet over the fortifications. This afternoon I installed stage 6: