Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas letter

Dear Niece,

This is your second Christmas. Hooray!

At this early stage in your Christmas history, you may be encountering certain frustrations, like:
  1. Aiming cookies at the correct orifice. 
  2. Getting boogers all over cookies. 
  3. Not being allowed to eat the Christmas lights
  4. Occasional abandonment by PARENT GODS OF ENTIRE UNIVERSE while they enjoy mulled wine or sitting down. 
  5. Lack of spaceship and control of entire universe. 
Fear not. There are certain advantages to being the magical age of one and a bit at Christmas. For instance:
  1. Santa must do your bidding. 
  2. Mama and Papa must do your bidding.
  3. Grandma must do your bidding. 
  4. Auntie and Uncle must do your bidding.
  5. The entire universe must do your bidding, just as soon as you find your spaceship.
Happy Christmas Nichte! May the year ahead bring you fewer boogers and more presents. 



Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

I should count my blessings more often. 

Four generations of pie. 
1. I am thankful for my beloved and for our shared life. 

2. I am thankful for our children, for our parents, and for our siblings. 

3. I am thankful for all the members and generations of my family, whether bound by blood or love. 

4. I am thankful for friendship.  

5. I am thankful for the neurosurgeon and the nurses who fixed what would have been a disfiguring condition, had my son been born a pilgrim.  
6. I am thankful for caffeine, my daily saviour against becoming a turkey. 

7. I am thankful for the alphabet, and for QWERTY keyboards. 

8. I am thankful that so many of my relatives excel at making pie. 

9. I am thankful for my village, because a parent does not live by caffeine and pie alone. 

10. I am thankful for the love and for the memory of those who used to sit around the table, and for the gift of the years that were. 

My cup runneth over, and I raise it in a toast to your families, and to your generations. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

My brain has turned into oatmeal...

This morning I forgot breakfast. Then I left my house with neither socks nor children. Clearly I am suffering from mama exhaustion.

Scientists agree that as many as 12 out of every 10 new mothers suffer from mama exhaustion. The other 6 who claim they have energy are simply lying.

By the end of this post, you may be suffering from it to. Here are the symptoms:
  1. Failure at socks. 
  2. A tendency to repeat yourself.
  3. An inability to perform basic calculations.
  4. A poor grasp of science.
  5. A desire to tell boring anecdotes, repeatedly.
  6. The consumption of unholy quantities of coffee to no avail. 
  7. A compulsion to binge on 'Homeland' and other TV oatmeal. 
  8. A verbal collapse to nothing but complaining language.  
  9. A tendency to repeat yourself. 
  10. A tendency to repeat yourself. 
These effects are temporary, which is a relief because I just walked outside unbreakfasted and sockless. 

There are other symptoms I'm forgetting to list, but I can't find the words right now. As Steve Martin once said: "Some people have a way with words. Other people...not have way." 

I'm told these effects are temporary. This is a relief because my feet are starting to turn blue. I could sure use some socks. Now...where are my children?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Things that go beep in the night

Hospitals are fever dreamscapes. Lights blink and machines bleep. Footsteps and meal trays fade in and out of morphine sleep and sober sleeplessness. Angels roam the hallways cleverly camouflaged in scrubs. You can hide anything in scrubs.

I've been here before. A hospital stay with a six-week old baby feels a lot like experiencing the birth again. My boy and I will have to relearn how to breastfeed, and remember how to hold each other comfortably. We will have to sleep when the other sleeps, and smile when the other smiles. 

Like the last time I found myself in hospital with a poorly baby, I am filled with the knowledge of how much worse it could be. I am amazed at how strong and brave my tiny child is, and I am so grateful for the angels in scrubs who make sense of all those bleeping machines attached to my son. 

One of the nurses tells me about a ritual of his: at the end of the night he returns home and turns off all the sound-making devices in his house. Then he sits in the pure silent dark for a good while. I can't think of a better way to return to the outside. 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The hundred-year flood

Perhaps Noah became New Mexico's most popular baby boy name through a collective yearning for rain during the drought. In hindsite, such an abundant crop of little Noahs seems like an omen.

The flood started with a gentle pitter-patter one evening. By midnight it was a steady tempest that took no tea breaks. If there are male rains and female rains, this was the mother of all downpours.

It just kept on raining.

By morning, the whimsical Pecos had become the mighty Mississippi. The river embraced dead meanders like old friends, etching out familiar pathways from the last great hundred-year flood.

It kept on raining.

Full-grown cottonwood trunks and oil barrels sailed past. The river ate the tractor over yonder, and devoured the swather in the field below. We prayed for marooned cows and lamented lost machines.

It kept raining.

There was nothing we could do but watch the water rise with an uneasy feeling in our guts.

By afternoon the road was an impassable mess, bisected by roaring washes. The acequia rose up, threatening to burst its banks and explore our house. Papa fended it off with a pick and shovel.

The rain let up for about an hour that evening, but it was neither olive branch nor rainbow sign. The clouds remained up there, regrouping. So we loaded up the kids and mud-shimmied down the road to higher ground, just making it through the deep washes.

The radar showed another big, black cloud on the way, so we pushed on to the city. Just over twenty-four hours later, the Little Guy was born.

It kept on raining. But we didn't call him Noah.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Birthday letter

Dear Niece,

You are one. Hooray!

At this age, you may be battling certain frustrations, like:
  1. Aiming a spoon at the correct orifice. 
    It gets better...and worse. 
  2. Copious boogers vs precious little nose space. 
  3. A damp backside that remains stubbornly damp, even when you crawl like hell away from it. 
  4. Occasional abandonment by PARENT-GODS OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. 
  5. Not having your own spaceship and CONTROL OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. 
You have my sympathy. But trust me - there are many advantages to being the magical age of one. For instance:
  1. Your lack of spoon precision means that anti-cake diets are many years off. 
  2. When your nose runs, it is somebody else's problem. 
  3. You can pee anywhere without being arrested. Take it from this pregnant non-boy: this gets very complicated later on. 
  4. When PARENT-GODS OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE momentarily abandon you to take a grown-up pee (see item 3), they are sure to come back soon because you are that darned cute. 
  5. You don't have to make car payments on the spaceship. And in practice, running the ENTIRE UNIVERSE mostly involves washing crap and filling in forms. 
Happy birthday Nichte! May the year ahead bring you more spoon precision and fewer boogers.

With love always,


Friday, 30 August 2013

A boy named Cate

Pregnancy is a journey down the rabbit hole. The wonderland of expectation rarely involves croquet or Cheshire cats, but it is chock full of characters telling you what to do based on crackers laudanum logic.

What to expect. 
Happily, pregnancy is also a journey into the kindness of strangers (not the Tennessee Williams kind).

Strangers regularly express sympathy over my frontal planet and offer directions to the nearest swimming hole. The random kindness phenomenon happens even in Britain, where late pregnancy is considered one of the only acceptable loopholes in the no-conversing-with-strangers rule.

Friends and family have again surrounded me with help, affection, celebration, delicious food (including suggestive cake...) and a plethora of lovely little boy-shaped clothes.

In my pre-ultrasound days, acquaintances proved surprisingly astute at detecting the presence of a boy, in spite of my insistence that I was carrying a girl called Cate. Apparently my shape (large beach ball) and that green pallor in my cheeks all indicated a male of the species.

My own predictive abilities are weaker. I have now thrice mispredicted the gender of my children, and twice mispredicted the birth date. So I've quit trying to predict anything. For the moment, all this generous good will it is a lovely way to pass time while I await my date with the inductioner (out with her baby!).

I know from experience that some of this voluntary kindness will will taper off when I am the proud owner of a screaming infant.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The mother of monsoon seasons

Sunflowers as high as an elephant's eye.
In the years I was gone, the grass fell away and the cows were sold. 'Monsoon' came to mean the memory of a teaspoon of rain that fell on a solitary August afternoon.

When I was a kid, monsoon meant a month of afternoon thundershowers, leading to tall green grass and fat black caterpillars by the end of summer.

In my wandering years more sand dunes were grown than grass. Then over a month ago, the clouds rolled in and it began to rain.

Perhaps fate declared revenge on the a nice man who offered to help us build a flagstone porch back in June, and has been waiting for a dry afternoon ever since. Perhaps we brought the rain back with us from England.

Whatever it is, you can hear the aquifers filling deep under the earth, and the plants singing on the
Growing puddles. 
surface. The river has risen and weird aquatic bugs tango on my porch at night. The awful weeds - nightshade, cockleburrs, tumbleweeds - have grown perilously high and are demanding voting rights.

Each year at the Taos Pueblo church, a statue of Mary on the alter wears a water-blue dress to mark the monsoon season. I wonder how many dust-colored summers she has hopefully weathered in blue.

When it is dry, it feels like it will never rain again. But a wise man once told me: "How do I know what the weather will do tomorrow? I don't even know what I will do tomorrow."

Sunday, 11 August 2013

While you were napping

By: Ali, resident three-year old

Scientists have shown that late pregnancy on the llano in August leads to severe afternoon narcolepsy in 110% of women, and occasionally men too. It's just that damn hot.

So what's a kid to do while mama's asleep at the wheel?

It's good to get precautions over first. Draw something on her face to see if she's faking. Grown-ups can be very sneaky like that. Then go for the chip bag. Most waking mamas can detect even the slightest disturbance in the crinkly forbidden snack bag force.

Lock and load. 
Snoozing tests successfully completed, you have clearence to move on to bigger fish. Go draw some fish on the bathroom mirror with a sharpie. Repeat process with crayon on the bathroom floor.

Even planetary mothers often have a stash of lipstick somewhere. Locate lipstick and reload.

It has now been several minutes since the chip crinkle test, and you may be getting hungry. Pantry spelunking is a good solution. Here you will find cake mix, bags of sugar, and boxes of flour. These are really great substances for filling up dresser drawers and recently-vacuumed rugs, ensuring that your naptime efforts will continue to be appreciated for days to come.

Ice cream is a great way to slake a thirst built up from lipstick and cake mix. Although designed by grown-ups to keep ice cream away from kids, freezer safes are pretty easy to crack. Once in, locate the Blue Bunny box. Make sure to dissect the cardboard container completely using scissors to ensure maximum chocolate goo coverage.

Next, conduct a scientific experiment: what happens to sunscreen if you spread it all over clean bedsheets? Add honey for good measure.

Pet your cat's fur in the wrong direction. Pull his tale once or twice. No one can stop you from sparring with the cat now, except for the cat.

By now you will probably be out of fun stuff to do and getting bored. Don't bother cleaning up or hiding the evidence. Say THE GHOST did it and Mama will love you anyway because she is a sucker.

Pass the remaining time by locating some good cartoons on any touch screen device you can find with chocolatey fingers. We all need a break right?

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Tomten's house

Once upon a time someone came to this place, deep in the middle of the forest, and built a home and a garden.

The Tomten lives in the middle of an old piñion tree in the woods. He only comes out at night when the humans are asleep. Sometimes they see his prints in the dirt, but no one has ever seen the Tomten.

He is an old, old Tomten, and no one knows when he came to the woods. Although no one has ever seen him, they know he is there.

On small silent feet, the Tomten moves about in the moonlight, making little tracks in the dirt. He talks to sleeping forest animals in Tomten language, a silent little language animals can understand.

"Droughts come and droughts go,
Thunderstorms come and thunderstorms go,
Soon the grass will grow green and tall again."

The house where the humans live is silent. The grown-ups sleep through the hours of cricket song, not knowing that the Tomten is there.

The Tomten tiptoes to the children's room, and stands silently wishing they would wake up so that he could speak to them in Tomten language, a silent little language that children can understand.

Night is brief here in the middle of summer. The Tomten leaves milk for the cat before returning to the pinion tree.

The grown-ups rise with the sun and go about their business, but the children see his tracks.

Every night here in the wood, everyone will be fast asleep. Everyone but one...

Year follows year, but as long as humans live near the old woods, the Tomten will traipse between the old piñion tree and their houses on his little silent feet.

- Credit for this Tomten flight of fancy goes firstly to Astrid Lindgren, secondly to the Randall Davey Audubon Center in Santa Fe for a wonderful summer camp week of bug-chasing, and thirdly to one three-year old's profoundly overactive imagination left to run wild in the woods, speaking only a language that Tomten's can understand. Although no one saw exactly where the imaginagion went, in the morning there were little tracks everywhere. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Little tent in the big woods

I make a rubbish pioneer woman. If I lived in a little house on the prairie 100+ years ago, my children would've surely been eaten by locusts and blizzards by now.

Chasing rain fairies. 
Since fortune has returned me to the land of carving one's destiny from Earth using only bare hands and duct tape, and I am doing my best to wade back out into the physical world without injury. Last weekend for instance, I returned to the mountains for the first time in many years.

And I am pleased to report that it all went wonderfully. As I discovered, the trick to happiness in the wild is this: go with contemporary pioneers. These are people who can tie knots in their sleep, assemble tents blindfolded, build campfires in hurricanes, and send even the most rabid of imaginary bears whimpering back into the woods with a mere nod.

I had forgotten how rain sounds on a tent flap, and the shape the mist takes when it munches up pine trees from top to bottom. I'd forgotten the smell of rich, black mountain dirt, strangely simlar to that of a new baby. Meadow flowers are taller than I had recalled, and brighter. Mountain streams are colder.

Ana tells me she wants to move to the mountains where the rain fairies live, and she never wants to return home. I seem to remember having this same thought years ago too, long before a fear of bears and tent-failure set in. 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The tortoise and the haircut

When in the course of human events:
  1. The scissors go missing
  2. Your kid decides to hide out in the bathroom for twenty minutes.
Call the SWAT team.

Do not - I repeat DO NOT - react like a lethargic turtle. Trust me.
Weapon of hair destruction. 

I blame our deforestation incident on Haircut Compulsion Disorder (HCD), which runs in my family.

In addition to HCD, babysitting karma has a long memory.

Years ago BC, I was entrusted with the care and feeding of someone else's kids for a mere hour. A haircut incident occurred about five minutes into my supervisory tenure, the result of which was about what Fozzie Bear would look like if he tried to give himself a modern art mohawk after drinking three bottles of gin.

Their unfortunate mother had to view the haircut without the help of gin, and was understandably not amused. In the silver linings department, after my experience this morning, I finally feel that have finally repaid my debt to society for that episode.

Of course, babysitting karma and me are not through with each other yet.

There was that other time I was on watch and the kids found a sharp implement with which to mow down all the plants in the backyard, the result of which was about what Fozzie Bear's yard would look like if he tried to give it a modern art mohawk after drinking three bottles of gin...

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The past is another country

Unlike other Royal Parks, the gates of Primrose Hill remain open long after dusk. Faux gaslights line the paths, enticing lovers and other nighttime eccentrics to come have a wander inside.

From the top, lights spill out into the distance, making London look less like a human financial services treadmill, and more like a magical fairy civilization in the region of Alpha Centauri.

Conversing with the memory moon. 
If you used to live here, this is the place to trace out the streets that correspond to the memories. This is the perfect spot to remember only the fond bits. 

Visiting one homeland from another is a strange feeling. On both sides, someone greets me with a smile and says: "Welcome home." And both greeters are correct. 

I hit the third trimester for the third time somewhere over the Atlantic, which means I won't be visiting Primrose Hill again for a spell. It also means that I will mostly be napping through the scorching hellfire summer I have returned to.  

But be it two or twenty years when I return, I know London will be precisely as I left it. This is because of the somewhat distressing reality that no person can ever change the fabric of such a humongous, crazy, fairyland.

Primrose Hill is covered in rain 98.9% of the time. But from the very top, William Blake speaks from the stonework: "I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill."

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


Like any over-reaching parent, I discuss career options with my offspring. And like true professionals, my children never limit their ambitions to tangible reality.

Ana wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. She wants to work with guard toads and battle toads, who sustain many injuries in their line of work. She would rather switch careers than work with bookworms (they are abominable).

Battle toad. 
Much of her current veterinary training takes the form of sketching unicorns and hundred-tailed cats with a purposefulness that any scatterbrained grown-up can admire (she formerly wanted to be an artist).

Ali wants to be Papa when she grows up. Upon graduation into life, she will promptly grow a beard and become a guitar ninja.

While this was Ali's standard answer for yonks, but it abruptly changed the other day:

Mama: 'So kid, what do you want to be when you grow up?'
Ali: 'I don't know.'

Aside from a lack of grey hair and a profound disinterest in the Financial Times, this new answer may mean that she has already grown up. I reckon the typical age cycle of the question goes about like this:

Q: 'So, what do you want to be when you grow up?'

Toddler: 'Astronaut!'
Adolescent: 'Rockstar!'
Grown-up: 'No clue. Better-rested?'

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The plunge less taken

Bloomin' miracle. 
The girls successfully completed their first joint flower girl gig over the weekend.

I don't mean 'successful' in a stage mom way, but rather that no lasting injuries were sustained and nothing was accidentally ignited. Petals were scattered in roughly the correct direction rather than being scoffed like potato chips.

Pre-ceremony, there were objections to footwear and walking. Both baskets were misplaced. But when the big moment came, they knew exactly what to do and they did it beautifully, making my kid-herding role entirely obsolete.* 

The carb tipping point.
Weddings conjure up talk of miracles: the faith to walk on water for another, man living on cake alone, water becoming wine (or in this case tequila), etc.

It was a grand weekend bordering on miraculous, and as such there were some awesome leftovers. I was sent home with a bathtub of flowers, and a literal bucket of pasta salad. Such a quantity of pasta salad in fact, that a warning label on the side proclaims it to be a toddler drowning hazard.

Pasta salad asphyxiation is surely a fate that only a miracle can save you from. As if - with childhood's many other potential sources of lasting injury and accidental ignition - I need another thing to worry about.

*There is an important parenting lesson to be learned in this, and I will ponder it further when I finish my pasta salad. 

Friday, 10 May 2013

Having kittens

Faced with impending kittens, the girls and I built Catwings a birthing house (straw-filled box).

The girls painted it with ornate murals of cats playing with mice, cats playing with dogs, cats playing with hedgehogs, etc. All depictions of play wound up being very peaceful and collaborative, which probably means that any brood raised in there will be vegetarian (an unusual condition for a cat).

Apparently Catwings had reservations about the utopian vibe. Two days after birthing house completion, she promptly started having kittens next to a dog, in the middle of the lawn, under a werewolf moon, with a blinking neon sign around her neck saying: "Hey there owls!"

Catwings clearly hadn't done this before and found it all a bit surprising. But let those amongst us who are super-awesome at first attempts cast the first stone.
Your adorable new pet, yes?

Luckily, it wasn't just the owls and the dog and werewolves who noticed, but also my obstetrician sister-in-law. She scooped the situation up into the birthing box, and sent the rest of us running for towels, hot water, and Nitronox. Catwings and the brood have been happily napping in the box ever since.

There are two stripey ones and two white ones. They are impeccably tiny and ever so cute.

Catwings takes her name from an Ursula Leguin story, in which a mama cat's brood is born with wings and flaps away into the great yonder. They alarm some finches, truly piss off an owl, and ultimately find a new home with kind hands and plates of food.

In spite of the lofty namesake and my girls' high hopes, these kittens show no sings of hatching wings yet, and appear to be completely inept at flight (not that we've pushed them from the nest or anything).

So, wouldn't you like one?

Because you see, I may otherwise become a cat lady. Last week I had three cats in the yard, and this week I have seven. By next week, it might be seven thousand unless we get some volunteers soon...

Friday, 3 May 2013

An allotment of futility

There was once a woman in rural New Mexico called - rather strangely - Sisyphus.

One day Sisyphus did a trivial that really ticked off the Gods. No one remembers exactly what it was. It may have been a dumb joke about sandals.

Mighty Zeus, having no day job, took it upon himself to invent the harshest punishment imaginable. After much cogitation, the most horrendous thing the king of lightening bolts could imagine was...gardening.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. 
Zeus gave his hellish curse to Sisyphus in the form of a wheel barrow, a mountain of manure, and a patch of desert.

From sunrise to sunset, Sisyphus pushed the manure-laden wheelbarrow towards her patch of desert like some kind of crazed idiot.

In spite of her efforts, each night found the manure pile and the patch of desert magically unchanged. This left poor Sisyphus to start from scratch again the next morning.

Some evenings, due to clinical optimism and dehydration, Sisyphus claimed she was progressing. She threatened to grow Eden on her desert patch. Or at least tomatoes.

The moral of the story is this: NEVER insult the gods. They may get super-peeved and turn you into a gardener. And there is no escape from a patch of desert and a wheel barrow.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Happy returns

The life I love is making music with my friends. 
I am a lax parent in ten ways, but I do try to teach my children important values. For instance: say yes to cake, don't kick puppies, and always support musicians.

My two favorite guitar slingers turn a little older this month: Papa and Willie Nelson.

With the exception of Papa, I don't see buskers in rural New Mexico with the same frequency as I used to in London. But even here, I do come across an unexpected one from time to time, and it always makes my day.

Musicians make grumpy people tap their toes. They are even more effective than powder milk biscuits at giving shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.

Musicians are the bringers of joy, which means you should give them your smiles and your pocket change. After all, joy is usually less remunerative than hedge fund management.

Monday, 22 April 2013

The crockery will go on

Yesterday at a Titanic exhibition, I was confronted by a set of nautical au graten dishes. Like more than fifteen-hundred souls, these dishes met with an unfortunate iceberg in 1912 and plummeted into the abyss.

Lifeless everlasting. 
The dishes did not break on descent, although the wooden cabinet that cushioned their fall quickly rotted away.

Time passed. Books were written and documentaries produced. The dishes formed no opinion whatsoever on the whopping blockbuster they had in small part inspired.

Then one day a robot reached into the deep and returned the au graten dishes to the light. They became very small artifacts in a very famous story, which of course didn't matter to them.

Yesterday, it wasn't the thought of cold water that resurrected goose-flesh on my arms. Rather, it was a pattern of burn marks on the bottoms of these dishes: the ghosts of where long-dead hands once warmed food in long-cold ovens.

Pointless material crap has such a cheeky habit of outliving humans. It does make you wonder why humans in all their brilliance and beauty are mostly obsessed with pointless material crap. In the future, perhaps only cockroaches, twinkies, and au graten dishes will remain.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Follow-up question

Does Earth have a living soul? Where's her face?

You there Gaia? It's me, Moon Unit. 
It's the best line of enquiry yet.

Sadly at the time, I could not think of a great answer. But upon reflection, I'm guessing the answer is yes, and I strongly suspect that her face is not located at Slough.

However, as a non-expert in planetary souls and geographic faces, I welcome thoughts on this matter from any readers out there in orbit.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Primary Kid's question time

"What does monster poo look like?"

It's a good question. Have you ever considered it?

Furthermore, goaded on by a five-year old, can you recall what jellyfish eat? Or what is saliva made of? Do vampires like steam baths? And what do you offer a zombie who shows up for tea?

Most parents know to fear the abstractions of "why," but I find our current phase of specific enquiry far more challenging. Like Alice in Wonderland, I am at constant risk of losing my head for the offense of being insufficiently surreal on my feet.

"The answer is clearly a bunch of crap." (PM's office)
Back to monster poo. What does it look like?

Me: "Maybe monsters don't need to poo. In place of bowels, they have really large, scary spleens."

Kid: "All living things eat, so all living things poo."

Nice one kid. Way to weaponize the potty training book from a past stage of tribulation.

Me: "Monster poo must look approximately like human poo, if we are dealing with roughly human-sized monsters."

Kid: "Monsters are much bigger than humans."

Me: "So like human poo, but huge?"

Kid is not amused. Draws finger slowly across throat.

Me: "Kid, I really don't know. I'm only an expert in zombie poo."

Kid: "Zombies don't need to poo. They are not living things."


Kid: "Why don't we go home and ask the internet?"

Oh dear. How to explain the dangers of this to a five-year old?

Thursday, 28 March 2013


Basket cases.  
My chickens are obsessed with Jemima Puddleduck and Benjamin Bunny.

I reckon if Beatrix were a screenwriter in 2013 instead of an eccentric in 1920, the previews for her work would come with this parental warning:

This film contains scenes of egg-based peril, plus what follows is mostly about pinafores, whatever the hell they are. The rest is just crazy narrative wandering. 

Happy chocolating to all those who partake in the seasonal egg wander.

Sunday, 24 March 2013


There is a sand dune on the road to Fort Sumner.

The surrounding terrain is a devil's playground of parched red dirt and parched blue sky, punctuated by the mesquite tentacles bursting from the Earth like petrified zombie fingers.

When I drive by the sand dune, I have to wonder where humans have gone, or if they still exist.

View from the dune (Susan Merle).
Fort Sumner is where William Antrim and pals returned to dust. There is a dry gulch and a dry lake; dry homestead ruins, and everywhere the ghosts of water. If NASA sent a probe here instead of to Mars, it would return the same result: ingredients to support life may have once existed. Almost. 

In a past life down a different road, I couldn't leave my door without running into masses of people. There were people in the hall, people in the lift, people on the sidewalk, people in the train. Somehow in all that heaving, rain-drenched sea of people I never got tired of people.

In a past life, I used to say that I had no interest in going to space. Visiting Mars would be silly, because there wouldn't be any people there. I couldn't imagine a more unspeakably lonely feeling than setting foot on the moon, then turning around to catch a glimpse of the human Earth so very far away.

In a past life, I didn't realize that you don't always have to leave the Earth to find yourself on the moon.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The waiting place

I'm a regular at the airport arrivals gate, because I'm married to a traveller.*

Home, where my love lies waiting (image by Smilla4).
While I wait, the heavens part. Megaliths to soar into the homeward blue, and tiny jets to brave the turbulence of time and space.

Above my head, plane-speak is dispensed without innuendo. Plastic tray tables dance the can-can, and deplanees lean forward in their seats to catch glimpses of familiar earth.

On the ground, landing crew ants scatter and jetways waltz. Runways jam, clear, jam, clear. Finally, as if by the grace of God, flood gates open and planes are de-planed.

I'm fond of the arrivals gate. Here I see grizzled cowboys grip returning sweeties with the most gentle tenderness imaginable. I see homebody grandmothers run like spring lambs into the waiting arms of wanderlust offspring. Here, I see kids get swept up into the stratosphere by their fathers, then showered with foreign chocolate and currency.

When someone loves you, they put up with all your crap. And if they really love you, they share all their own crap with you too. In this big lonely world of machines and logistics and efficiency, such a life of shared crap is truly a remarkable thing.

*I'm a traveller too, but I'm currently in remission.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Spring ramble

Yesterday I purchased an entire case of Samoas, the ultimate Girl Scout cookie, with no shame or regret.

Today is Mothering Sunday in Britain. On this one precious day per year, British mums are honored with flowers and pub lunch.

It had better be a good pub lunch, because it is meant to compensate for a lifelong commitment to having the precarious finances of a gambler, the mobility restrictions of a prison inmate, and the ruined figure of a Samoas-abuser.

I miss Britain in the spring: snowdrops, daffodils, crocuses, tentative returning smiles. I miss muddy walks, ale, grumpy publicans, and my children's vanished English accents. I don't miss handing over my kidneys to a landlord once a month, but I sure do miss the NHS.

In my new-ish land, I have access to Girl Scout cookies ad Boy Scout popcorn by the ton. So when I miss my other home, I can medicate with Samoas.

Happy Mothering Sunday to my friends across the water. Chin up. Go forth and multiply.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Molehillian Mountains

Out on an afternoon walk, I found an old friend in the dusty road.

In Britain, you call them 'dummies'. In America they are 'pacifiers'. For some reason, our family name became 'nuka'.

Fork stuck in the road.
Ali was addicted to nukas. Even devoted crackheads agreed that she needed to ease off, but the habit stayed strong even as she flew through her third birthday.

I devised a story about the Nuka Fairy - a cousin of the Tooth Fairy, who exchanged old nukas for sweets. Ali, never a turnip, knew it was rubbish.

Shrewdly, she began stashing nukas where the Nuka Fairy wouldn't find them. Less shrewdly, she forgot her own hiding places. In moments of panic, she screamed at mama for replacement nukas NOW.

Strangely soothing. 
One day, tired up to my eyeballs of being a nuka-slave, I snapped. I banished all nukas from the house and told my screaming kid to put a sock in it.

The kid only took a week or two to forgot all about the damn things, and I had to wonder why I agonized over the situation for so long.

A nuka is a pretty stupid nemesis. But in the surreal netherworld of parenting, there are so many tiny obstacles just like this, that feel for all the world like ginormous mountains at the time. Often I find it's only when I give up trying so damn hard that my tiny mountains blow away.

My nemesis nuka, once a destroyer of worlds with the power of Sauran and Satan combined, now it looked pretty wimpy to me. And quite delicious to my dogs.

Bear Dog chewed it to smithereens, proving that dogs have no taste...I mean, they will actually lick cow poo. This is fitting, because the only creature with possibly less taste than a dog is a cow.

Monday, 25 February 2013


What's the point of February? Surely the UN or someone else with an acronym should just replace it with another June.

It is a month with no commitment, and no balls. Little League, like everything else fun, is many weeks away.

Spoonful of sugar for the medicine. 
February is neither winter nor spring. February is a stale candy heart that mutters tepidly: "Be my valentine. Because I'm bored and cold, and so are you."

To the month's credit, there is Fat Tuesday and Pancake Day. But let us not forget that these joyful exploits into pastry and beer are mere sugar coating for the long Lenten season of chocolate neglect and doldrumery ahead.

Every year, I listen hopefully for a specific February phrase: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

A lot of normal people might get bummed out at such a sentiment, but I take it as a hopeful sign, like the return of the crocuses from the cold earth, that all this crap will soon be over.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

A kept man

In the days before Tom left me, he sat quietly by the window watching the world go by. He didn't say it, but I knew what he was thinking.

Freedom is just some people talking.
So when my Tom finally worked up the courage to walk out the door, I just let him go.

I went through the seven stages of grieving, spending items one through six on worry. When the one you love is a turnip, it's hard not to worry.

But I moved on. I told everyone that I didn't need Tom anymore.

Then one night I found Tom on my doorstep. He was cold and twitchy. He hadn't realized there'd be other Toms out there. He felt prepared to look on a warm hearth with renewed appreciation.

How could I say no?

So my Tom has returned to me. He spends most of his days at home, head contentedly on my shoulder. But whenever the fancy takes him, he goes walkabout in the wild world.

These days he always returns home before the owls and the ghosts skulk out of the riverbank at nightfall, because my lovely Ginger Tom Cat may be a turnip, but he's finally acquired some common sense.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The cows are restless

Gary Larson was right. Cows are more revolutionary than you might think.

Each morning, I rise to the sound of them clumping heavily across my porch. A peek out the window reveals them licking the ground with their fat tongues, slurping up every last morsel of spilt bird seed from the rafters.

Their appetites are infinite and boundless. They will eat mesquite and children's chalk with glee.

By afternoon they are lined up on the hill, lowing an ode to hugeness. They stare mournfully at the SHRINE OF ALL FOOD, wondering when the LORD GIVER OF FOOD will come out.

Should the LORD GIVER OF FOOD choose to cower indoors, the bovines mosey up to the SHRINE OF ALL FOOD and gloop their boogery noses across my living room window, gawping at the immense splendor of FOOD.

When I walk to my car, thereby leaving the SHRINE OF ALL FOOD unguarded, the bovines descend like paparazzi (but fatter).

I hate to be uncharitable to cows. Theirs is a rough lot. I have been told many times that they are benign, peaceful creatures. And I am in no position to condemn gluttony. For one thing, such condemnation might require me to drop this here cake and stand up, which is surely too drastic an action for the circumstances.

But I cannot ignore the growing FOOD conspiracy in my midst. There is the matter of their clandestine gatherings behind the barn, and their plans to build a secret bunker and tunnel into the SHRINE OF ALL FOOD.

How do I know about their plans? Well, because it's incredibly tricky to stash secret plans out of sight when you have fat hooves instead of opposable thumbs. Plus, looking casual about the notion of TAKING OVER ALL FOOD is impossible for cows.

So, should dispatches from mañana ever suddenly cease, you will know that the cows have won. In this instance, please don't delay in sending a rescue team. And food.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Fish tale

Ana closed her eyes and fell down, down, down into the belly of the deep blue sea. Jonah would have cried like a baby, but not she.

Dreamweaver. (Stewart Carrington) 
Swarms of silver fish snaked by, inches from her nose. Bright pink and blue jellies flitted around like glitter. Prankster fish nibbled her toes and made her giggle.

Beyond the little creatures loomed a giant fish, jaws yawning wide.

Jonah would've run away like a little girl, but Ana gave a great forward thrust of her arms and swam straight into the belly of the mighty fish.

Inside were treasures beyond imagination: chambers of gold, and roomfuls of jewels bright as the sun. Ana carried armful upon armful to the surface, where her mama was conveniently waiting with a wheelbarrow to take the loot away.

This is always how morning breaks in my house: she crawls under my covers in the still-darkness with cold toes and a tale to share. Her dream stories almost make up for the fact that I may never sleep in again.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Jacinto Frost

Cold came to windmill country in the night. It crept over the llano on a silent army of snowflakes, followed by a wind-born icicle plague.

Non-booger stalactites. 
There was nowhere to run. Cows grew booger stalactites from their frigid noses. Cacti developed gooseflesh. Coyotes wept in falsetto, and La Llorona moaned, for once with reasonable grounds for complaint.

While the great world outside churned in sub-zero turmoil under an ice cube moon, the sugar plum children slept snug in their beds.

It sure is nice to live indoors. Mostly because it's the only proven way to avoid booger stalactites.

But the cold stuck around after dawn, and for days. Even the indoor-dwellers started to complain, and La Lorona became insufferable.

This is all to say that I've had enough winter now. You?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Pretty good year

Into the shining sun. 
White Sands is a good place to spend the twilight hours of a dying year.

Above, there is pure blue sky and blinding white sun, punctuated by the odd missile. The dunes melt the structure and the mess of the world, stretching forever away in windswept symmetry. Missiles aside, I suspect this is what heaven looks like.

In this moonscape, grown-ups play like little children and children are in their element. Both are at peace - in such a world there is only the present.

I like White Sands. I like remembering that almost everything that seems to matter actually doesn't.

May the force be with you in this newborn year. Thank you for all years past.