Flora and fauna reports a la The Artist’s Way

artistsway-t Tuesday morning, for the first time in a while, I woke up feeling energized and ready to face the day. This comes during week three of working through Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way, which is a fantastic course on getting your head straight as well as fostering creativity.

In it, Cameron writes about the importance of taking time to notice things. “Flora and fauna reports,” is her example, an aunt’s lengthy letters detailing the flowers blooming in her garden, the cottonwood’s leaves, and other snippets of beauty and joy. My ability to notice and enjoy the world around me is one of the things I like about myself—but when I get crazy busy, it’s one of the first things I stop doing. I duck my head and plow forward, trying to survive one day to the next.

So Monday night, I took a break from the endless to-do’s to spend a little time in my garden. Not long: I spent about half an hour watering flowers, pulling weeds, and collecting windfall apples from my lawn to compost. For half that time, I press-ganged my older son into picking apples with me as the sun sank behind the mountains. I got my hands wet and muddy; the smells of crushed mint and sage filled the air from the flower beds; and we ended up with a full compost bin and a colander full of red and green apples.

cookbook I spent the next half hour luxuriating in those apples, cutting and chopping (there were quite a few bad spots to remove) and plopping them into a few inches of water in my pressure cooker. I have a great pressure cooker cookbook by Lorna J. Sass, so I turned to it for guidance on how long to cook apples to make applesauce. Instead, I found a recipe for cranberry applesauce…and since I had a wayward bag of cranberries in my freezer, I decided to give it a try. I added one bag of frozen cranberries and about two cups of water to my apples (6 cups or so), brought the pot to pressure, and cooked for 5 minutes (the advantage of a pressure cooker!). Then I put it all through an applesauce maker (a sort of pot with a strainer on the bottom and a hand-turned crank that presses the soft fruit through the strainer while leaving peels and seeds behind), added a few tablespoons of chopped candied orange peel (the recipe called for orange zest, but I didn’t have any), a bit of sugar and a dollop of agave nectar…

applesauce …and the result was this jewel-toned creation. It satisfies the senses in every way: bright, colorful, tart, sweet, yummy.

And the next morning I awoke refreshed. Coincidence? I prefer to think of it as a sign that I’m on the right track.

:) Cheryl

Gusts, fire danger, beauty, and joy

Through the ruff timesIt’s Thursday night, 10:00 PM, as I write this, and it’s the kind of beautiful, blustery night that makes me want to stand face to the wind, arms outstretched, and let it blow through me. It’s the kind of night that’s fierce and wild and wonderful, gusting cool air through the halls and blowing papers free of the refrigerator and bulletin boards.

Earlier today, the Four Mile Canyon fire had been reported 30% contained and some of the homes reopened to their owners—but threats of incoming windy weather (this weather that’s currently rattling trees outside my window) prompted officials to reinstate the evacuation order. Firefighters entered the night worried that the gusting wind and dry air might fan the fire into a monster again and carry it past their line.

Late this afternoon, the city issued an announcement that people living on the west side of town should prepare for possible evacuation. Friends living on the mountain’s borders, even those who know it’s incredibly unlikely the fire would reach them, are gathering photos and keepsakes. Just in case. And when we drove back into town after an evening north of town, the smell of smoke once again filled the car.

These were the thoughts in my head as I pulled into my driveway tonight: that the fire might spread; that it’s touching so many people; that the night was this weird mix of beauty and power and fear. And in the midst of this, loud music comes from the bike path behind the house, where a stream of bicycles are passing with music and wheels decorated with Christmas lights and laughter—Boulder’s Thursday night bike ride. The kids come running to shout “Happy Thursday!” to them, because that’s what we do on Thursday when the ride passes our house, and the bikers all yell “Happy Thursday!” back to us, one after another, as they pass in a parade of color and light.

P1170851 “They make me happy,” my 11-year-old said. “I don’t know why, but they make me happy.”

And I guess that’s what keeps hitting me in the midst of this: tragedy brings out stories of heroism and compassion and a community coming together. Qwest, our local phone company with a reputation for poor service, sets up a generator-powered phone relay so that the mountain schools will have phone service as they reopen. A local woman buys piles of socks because she hears that one of the relief centers is in short supply. Others open their homes to evacuees and to their pets; or simply offer their garages to people looking for a place to store things until the fire danger passes. The Thursday bikers spread good cheer and grins.

Maybe it doesn’t put out the fire, but it helps.

:) Cheryl

PS: If you’re interested in helping those who have lost their homes, a donation site opened tonight in Boulder to collect gently used children’s clothing, size large adult clothing, personal hygiene items (unused), diapers and school supplies.

For those of you who live farther afield, Boulder’s Daily Camera has compiled a list of resources for how to help.

When the fire’s too close to home…

We returned from camping this weekend–and several days out of touch with the rest of the world–to see a plume of smoke rising from the direction of home.

By the time we reached Boulder, the sky was clouded with smoke, the sidewalk peppered with ash. The smoke came from Four Mile Canyon, where a fire started Monday morning and proceeded to grow into the 6000+ acre wildfire fire fighters are still battling three days later. More than 3000 families have been evacuated from the mountains west of town.

I feel this disaster more than you might expect, given that it’s not threatening my home or family. Every member of my family, though, knows people who have been evacuated: friends, teachers, other kids on the bus, other families from orchestra, fellow writers. It feels as if threads of connection run every direction, tying us to the families who have been uprooted.

I think it also hits hard because Four Mile Canyon is such a special place for me. We lived in a little cabin half a mile up the canyon for seven years and it felt like home in a way that our current "town" house never will. I wrote the book that brought me back to writing seated at a desk overlooking an immense lilac; I dreamed plot twists lying in a patch of sun on my bed, with the stream gurgling only ten feet from my window; I found inspiration in long hikes up the mountain behind the house. I still dream of this place and still hope, one day, to return. I still think of it as “my house” even though we haven’t lived there for more than eight years.

Today, some of the families are allowed to return home, although they’ve been warned they might have to leave again at any moment. Others’ homes remain in areas considered too volatile for non-fire fighters to enter. Meanwhile, in town we can hear the steady drone of slurry bombers shuttling back and forth with their fire-fighting cargo. It makes me wonder if this is something like what people felt during war times, hyper-alert for the noise of aircraft overhead and hyper-aware of what each different sound might mean.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those fighting the fire and those whose homes are threatened and lives in disarray.


I can’t remember…

  …the last time life crept up upon me and dealt me such a round of busy-ness. I expect the usual summer slide of time, when there are kids home and vacations and travel and other such time-consuming activities; but the last few weeks have brought such a slew of work and errands and writing and so on, that I’ve started to lose track of what day it is. Seriously.iStock_000011488510Medium

I saw the light at the end of the tunnel today, not because I reached the end of my to-do list (I didn’t) and not because I reached the bottom of my in box (not even close)—but today, I finally took the time to water my poor pots of flowers, which had been threatening to die completely in the end-of-summer heat. It might sound silly, but when I’m this busy even the two minutes required to water four flower pots becomes…overwhelming. Maybe it’s not really an unmanageable task, but there’s always some other task more urgent until I reach the dropping point.

Yes, I can be a bit all-or-nothing. I’m working on it.

The bad part about being so busy is that without some down time, I start to lose touch with my creativity. I don’t come up with blog ideas; my book rewrite seems hopeless and overwhelming; and I wonder why the heck I ever thought I could be a writer.

But today I saw the light. Even took a few minutes to show my face in the blog-o-sphere ((WAVES WILDLY)) whilst sitting on my front porch beside the afore-mentioned flower pots. They’re a little scant in the flower department, but hey, with a little water, they’ll be better in no time.

Kinda like me!

So—here’s hoping that all of you are finding time to write and time to recharge and time just to be, because sometimes that what the Muse requires before she doles out inspiration and delight. Being busy has its place, but in my life, at least, it’s time to slow down a bit!

:) Cheryl