Winter Break road trip episode 2: Alamogordo to Carlsbad Caverns

2019-12-27 17.06.52.jpgAt the end of the first episode, Winter Break road trip 1: Flagstaff to Phoenix to White Sands, your intrepid blogger had survived a minor dust storm, depressing country music (is there any other kind?), and a drive across a missile range. Yeah, your intrepid blogger knows how to take a vacation.

After spending an uneventful night in Alamogordo (is there such a thing as an eventful night in Alamogordo? Well, maybe – depending on what’s being tested at the missile range), we drove over the mountains and through the desert to grandma’s house Carlsbad Caverns.

Cloudcroft, NM: Cloudcroft is a cute mountain village at over 8000′ elevation. It was also a convenient bathroom stop after we’d overcaffeinated in Alamogordo. We stopped at the Dusty Boots Cafe, where we were “welcomed” by the following:

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I have a snarky sense of humor, and I’m not easily deterred when my bladder is full, so in we went. Inside we found clean bathrooms, friendly staff–and the owner’s collection of mammy jars. My husband and I are as white as the snow currently piled up on my driveway, and we were cringing. Pro tip for restaurant owners: décor is for making *all* of your customers feel welcome, not for advertising your racism.

Carlsbad Caverns: If you haven’t been to Carlsbad Caverns, go. Go now. Seriously, go. It is the most spectacular cave I’ve ever visited, and I’ve visited quite a few. I’ve included a few pictures below, but as a rule, pictures taken inside caves really don’t do justice to the formations or to the overall experience of being 800 feet underground.

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Underground pool
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Formation reflected in another underground pool
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Your intrepid (and blurry) blogger on a trail 800 feet underground

We got to the cavern later than planned and managed to snag tickets on the last tour of the day. We emerged from the magical underworld at sunset.

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Join me later this week for episode 3, in which your intrepid blogger goes alien hunting in Roswell. Spoiler alert: the only thing that got probed was my wallet.

Winter Break road trip 1: Flagstaff to Phoenix to White Sands

White Sands, New Mexico, at sunset

It’s Winter Break for most of us academics in the US. Work is quiet, lots of holidays, so it’s the perfect time to:

  1. Get caught up on work.
  2. Get lots of writing done.
  3. Catch up on house chores, maybe clean some closets.
  4. Cook and freeze some meals for next semester.
  5. Say to hell with responsibilities and take a road trip!

Guess which option the hubs and I chose?

I’m writing this on Sunday morning from an old motel in the booming metropolis of Carrizozo, New Mexico (population 996 according to this Wikipedia article). I don’t have any pictures of Carrizozo yet, because we skidded into town (almost literally) in the middle of a snowstorm after dark last night.

What I do have are pictures from the previous days of our adventures, which I’ll break up into multiple posts.

Day 1: Flagstaff to Phoenix

Our first order of business was to drop our son in Phoenix to catch a flight for his Winter Break trip. I don’t have pictures from this leg, because this is a trip we make about 6 times per year for various reasons, so it’s not very interesting to us anymore. What made it interesting this time was 1) some dicey driving leaving Flagstaff on a slick, snowy freeway, and 2) some dude who decided it would be a good idea to drive north on the southbound side of I17. I’d lay you very good odds alcohol was involved in that decision.

Day 2: Phoenix to White Sands

Thursday we drove—and drove, and drove, and drove–across what felt like an endless expanse of desert. Rocks! Cactus! Dust storms! It was a thrill, I tell ya.

Lordsburg, NM: We drove through a mild dust storm just over the New Mexico border and decided to stop in Lordsburg for a late breakfast. All was well except for the incredibly depressing old school country music playing on the speakers… in the women’s restroom. Like, I’m sorry your wife left you with hungry children and crops to harvest, but I’m just trying to pee. I don’t have any pictures of Lordsburg, because the musical tales of woe sapped my will to live.

Rockhound State Park, NM: We were lured here with the promise of finding jasper and thundereggs. No such luck, but we had a nice hike on a rocky, cactus-studded hillside.

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Our primary destination was White Sands National Monument, a collection of gypsum dunes inside the White Sands Missile Range. Yes, children, we went on vacation in a missile range, because we know how to party.

We arrived just before sunset, which made for some lovely conditions for picture-taking.

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We spent the night in Alamogordo before heading south through more endless desert to Carlsbad Caverns. But that’s a topic for my next post.

Is anyone else celebrating the holidays by wandering around in the desert like the Old Testament Israelites? Just hubs and me then? OK.

Feel free to share your own wanderings (or holiday dramas or whatever else is on your mind this time of year) in the comments.

Christmas past–with Krylon

christmas_ornamentNote: A version of this piece first appeared on my garden blog three years ago. I’ve mostly retired that blog to focus on this one, but I hope to share a few pieces from it—and from other past blogs—on here from time to time. I’m busy preparing for a long-awaited holiday road trip, so this seems like a good time to recycle something from the past. I hope you enjoy it.

Christmas is one of those times when past and present converge in a strange time warp. Memories haunt this time of year, resurrected by the familiar sights, sounds, and scents of Christmas: happy memories we try to recreate for our kids and grandkids (often at the cost of our own sanity) and sad memories of loneliness, dysfunctional families, or loved ones no longer with us. The ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present blur together in a muddle of memory and emotion and nostalgia. It’s no wonder people drink a lot this time of year.

But this isn’t going to be an essay on the joy or heartbreak of Christmas or (heaven forbid) how to do Christmas right (damn you, Martha Stewart!) Instead, I’m going to share one of my Christmas stories with you, the first memory of Christmas I have. So come on in, find a comfy chair, and join me for a visit to my Christmas Past.

The first Christmas I remember was when I was somewhere between 4 and 6 years old, so sometime between 1971 and 1973. We lived in the country in Northern California, and we were, ahem, dirt poor (garden jokes = dad jokes with dirt, not to be confused with dirty dad jokes). I don’t remember the presents I got that year, though I’m sure there were one or two. What I do remember are the ornaments. My mother bought a dozen royal blue Christmas balls, and those were the only ornaments we had. So my mother, being the creative problem-solver she was, decided we would make more. We cut up styrofoam meat trays and some other sort of packaging we had lying around, glued bits of eucalyptus to them (California, remember? Not a lot of evergreens where we lived except for juniper), and coated the results in silver spray paint. A Krylon Christmas! See? When I describe myself as a California redneck, I’m not lyin’.

Somehow my parents had found the money for an artificial tree, and that year it was festooned with blue globes and silver eucalyptus meat tray parts. Awesome, huh?

The last of the blue balls (ho ho ho – I said, “blue balls”) broke about 20 years ago, but I still have a few of the Krylon-coated meat tray ornaments. There’s a picture of one of them at the beginning of this post. Here are some more:

They don’t have much eucalyptus left–it’s worn off over the last nearly 50 years of loving use–but they’re still around, and I still hang them on the Christmas tree. Each time I do, I think of my mother, doing the best she could, making something beautiful out of what she had and could afford–and teaching me to do the same.

I’m not poor now. We aren’t rich, but we have what we need and some of what we want, and that is a blessing beyond measure. But the lesson I learned that Christmas, cutting out scraps and gathering bits of eucalyptus, has stuck with me. For me, it’s part of the allure of gardening. You can start with almost nothing–a tiny seed, a fragile transplant, a cutting–and nurture it into something beautiful. Growing things is a form of magic to me, a way to make something out of (almost) nothing. Gardening also teaches me to find clever uses for stuff that other people throw away: garden art from recycled materials, pots from yogurt containers, winter-sowing containers from takeout boxes, and, of course, compost from kitchen scraps and yard debris. Reuse and repurpose and recycle–and make something beautiful. Thanks, Mom, for teaching me a lesson that has shaped my life all these many years. It’s the best Christmas gift you ever gave me.

2019 update: My mother passed away in late September. May this post and the one I wrote last Christmas stand in tribute to the woman who gave me more than I can ever say. I miss you, Mom.


Lessons from #NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo 2019 winner's badgeSo I managed to write 50,000 words in November. See that shiny NaNoWriMo winner’s badge? Yeah, I earned that. Yeah. I did. Me. Winner. [thumps chest]

I won NaNo once previously, in 2014 when I was drafting a novel called Vanishing, Inc. that still isn’t quite done yet because I’ve been revising it since 2015. sigh Anyway, I was proud of myself then, but this NaNo feels even more satisfying, because it was so much harder. Some days it felt like I was doing nothing more than spewing verbal vomit all over my screen, solely because I wanted to get those damn 50,000 words (Which I did. Me. Winner. Thumps chest.) Sure, some days my muse showed up, and the words flowed like a mountain stream after a thunderstorm. Most days, though, my muse was holed up in her crappy, roach-infested apartment, swigging tequila and passing out on the bathroom floor instead of showing up for work like a responsible adult. My muse has issues. And therefore so did I, all through November.

I can’t say I enjoyed NaNo this year, because, truth be told, I didn’t. Most mornings I faced my screen and keyboard with a sense of mild despair. I’d looked forward to writing this novel for years, and it Just. Wouldn’t. Come. But each day I dutifully assumed the position and start typing. Sometimes I felt better after writing, but a lot of times I left my office more discouraged than I was when I started, because I was convinced that my muse had deserted me–the drunken floozy—and left me with only the Demon of Suckitude for company. I couldn’t think of character names. I couldn’t think of strong verbs. My vocabulary had been reduced to that of a baboon on ‘ludes.

But a funny thing happened as I went along. I still fought for every word some days, but other days I’d read a bit of what I’d already written and think, “Ya know, that’s not too bad for a baboon on ‘ludes.” And I’d write with a little less angst and a little more hope that I wasn’t a huge failure permanently possessed by the Demon of Suckitude.

So I learned some valuable lessons last month, the most significant of which were:

  • Just keep writing. Let the words suck. You can always revise later. I’d heard this advice, even given this advice, but I’d never needed it more than I did last month. And I took that advice. And it worked.
  • Show up every day, even you really don’t feel like it, even when your muse (the drunken floozy) can’t be bothered. Put your butt in the chair and keep it there till you’ve met your goal for the day. Sometimes the words will come, and sometimes they won’t, but you likely won’t know which will be the case beforehand. On several days, I woke up literally dreading the morning’s writing, but once I got going, the words flowed, and I had fun. Your mood is not an accurate gauge of whether you’ll have a productive writing session, so just sit down and write.
  • Don’t assume your work sucks just because you think it does. Your mood may be coloring your view of your work. Just write, even when you feel like you’re wasting time and electrons. You may be pleasantly surprised later.

I know these lessons are common advice in the writing community, but this year, for the first time, I learned the value of actually following that advice. It worked. I wrote 50,000 words, at least some of which didn’t suck.

Me. Winner. (thumps chest)


Living the Dream

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The December question for the Insecure Writers Support Group Blog Hop is:


Let’s play a game. Imagine. Role-play. How would you describe your future writer self, your life and what it looks and feels like if you were living the dream? Or if you are already there, what does it look and feel like? Tell the rest of us. What would you change or improve?

I imagine this a lot. Usually when I should be writing. While other middle-aged straight women fantasize about Brad Pitt or The Rock and a bathtub full of Jell-O, I daydream about hitting it big as a writer. Book tours! Interviews! Swanky cocktail parties! Appearing on the Stephen Colbert show! (Psst… Stephen. I’m currently accepting bookings. I can even be witty and charming if sufficiently caffeinated. Have your people call my people.)

Being the hopeless nerd that I am, I also fantasize about being able to write full time. I even have a schedule worked out:

  • 7:00–9:00: Write
  • 9:00–10:00: Gym or walk/run in the neighborhood
  • 10:00–12:00: Write
  • 12:00–1:00: Eat a nutritious, delicious lunch and take a walk (Note: in my fantasy world, it’s always sunny and 70F with no wind, so I can take long, meandering walks outside whenever I feel like it. In reality, I live in Flagstaff, where it’s currently 18F with 2 feet of snow on the ground.)
  • 1:00–3:00: Corresponding with my agent and editor, social media marketing, blogging, and—my favorite—answering my fan mail. Paging Gilderoy Lockhart…
  • 3:00–5:00: Gardening, napping, reading, journaling. Maybe a little laundry thrown in to keep me in touch with how the common people live so my head doesn’t swell too much.
  • 5:00–6:00: Lounging in the hot tub until my meal service delivers a hot, delicious yet healthy dinner.
  • 7:00–10:00: More reading, journaling, maybe some knitting, a little Twitter.

Sounds lovely, right? Right. However…

I was off work from Wednesday afternoon through Sunday, so theoretically I could have tried out at least some of this ideal schedule. I also take staycations occasionally, which offer a full week in which to road test my dream career. Yet, funnily enough, fantasy and reality never quite align. Let’s take Friday as an example, since I didn’t really have anything I had to do that day. Here’s roughly how it went:

  • 7:45–10:00: Writing (OK, so far, so good, even if I did sleep a bit later than planned)
  • 10:00–11:30: Stuff face with Thanksgiving leftovers, then complain about stomachache
  • 11:30 am – 10:00 pm: Scroll through r/AmItheAsshole on Reddit, smugly convinced that I would never be the asshole in any of the posted scenarios. Nope. Never. The weather is just fine way up here on my high horse, thanks.

And here’s Saturday:

  • 7:45–9:30: Reading about houseboats on the internet, because my current novel-in-progress will have at least one scene set on a houseboat. Children, this is what we writers call, “research.” No, it only sounds like farting around on the internet. If a writer does it, it’s research. And thanks to all that research, I now know that you can buy DIY plans on the internet for a houseboat or something called a shanty boat, which is exactly what it sounds like, and I want one.
  • 9:30–10:00: Writing (not a dang word involved houseboats)
  • 10:00–10:45: Spend another 45 minutes feeling superior to the other assholes on Reddit.
  • 10:45–11:30: Stuff face. Get stomachache.
  • Photo of snow in foreground with blue spruce and San Francisco Peaks in background
    Dead tauntaun or pile o’ weeds. You make the call.

    11:30–5:30: Tunnel through snow to car, excavate car, make several unfunny jokes about tauntauns and AT-AT Walkers, and trudge through snow with husband and camera in tow. Fork over $80 for someone to plow driveways, then go to town, because we’re almost out of milk, and I’m starting to feel like I’m in a sequel to The Shining even though I’ve only been snowed in for 2 whole days.

    Photo of garden sign and small tree covered in snow
    I really want to Photoshop a tauntaun or AT-AT in here. Too bad I don’t know how to use Photoshop. Sounds like a job for… Research!

Yet despite all of this evidence to the contrary, I remain convinced that I could lead a life of genteel literariness if only I had enough money to quit my job and write full-time. I probably have a better shot with Brad or Dwayne and the bathtub full of Jell-O.

Want to see some other great IWSG posts? Check out the list of participants here. (Powered by Linky Tools).