Mojave in my Heart

From a not-so childlike beginning in New York City to my child inspired world here and now


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experiencing inspiration on the solstice

 Nothing, I believe, can really teach us the nature and meaning of inspiration but personal experience of it. That we may all have such experience if we will but attend to the divine influences in our own hearts, is the cardinal doctrine of Quakerism.
~ Caroline Stephen, 1834-1909 (my italics on inspiration)

The winter solstice began beautifully and ended magically. First to the Meetinghouse for worship and lunch. While I craved more silence during the Meeting, I appreciated the words shared by fellow worshippers. Worship ended with the entrance of the children in a Christmas pageant. A & A were the two Marys– again 🙂  There were readings from Luke and singing of songs. The middle and high school children followed with their very own satirical and comical songs. We ended with an acting out /sing-along version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” The room was fun and festive– a contrast to what the space usually offers– silent gathering.

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The potluck spread was delicious and with the mild temperatures and sunny day, we sat outside.  I was so appreciative to have Stephen and the girls at my side, wonderful friends around, mountains ahead, gorgeous sun above. I really just wanted to go around and hug people! The Quaker Meeting has brought us so much joy, direction and confirmation of what I’ve been looking for–and it just seems to continue to grow and grow…

We putzed around at home for some much needed putzing before heading out for a solstice bonfire with a new friend — whom we met at a Mountain Quaker Meeting through another wonderful friend. His place is about 40 minutes from us, 10 minutes from Lyons. As we drove between enormous boulders it felt as if we were passing towering dinosaurs and their ancient eggs. It was gorgeous. Unlike other canyons, this one stands out, at least to me, geologically – not that I can explain it very well!  The canyon ascent is a gentler climb than the other canyon roads we’re familiar with–wider with what seems like a tranquil, meandering creek, the St. Vrain, flowing beside it. The same creek that flooded and caused massive destruction to Lyons and surrounding areas in 2013. Rather than forests and steep canyons here though, you’re met with sandstone, rock and sky. All together it evokes a silence, an inspiration…

We arrived early at our friend’s place so we could get the tour while there was still light on this, the very shortest day of the year 🙂 He is a minimalist, living with the motto: “use less so you have to earn less” or something close to it.  He works a lot on his property, improving the original cabin, building fences, and a lot of inventing- a self-taught millwright. We spent time with his flock of 30 chickens, feeding them popcorn, talking lots. We eventually headed to the bonfire spot, down a steep hill to a dry creek right up to a beautiful hill. Here you’re surrounded by lodgepole and ponderosa, hills and peace. At the opposite end of our bonfire spot, where the creek (dry now) tightens, a 60ft swing beckoned us. Comfort level with the swing grew with experience – rides were more adventurous by night’s end, like from a chair atop a table! We made friends with another family and their lovely daughters. Our conversations flowed smoothly, without much effort and we were all content there, together in the dark woods with the bright fire on a special solstice night.

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We ate, we talked, we played on the swing, watched the kids and warmed ourselves by the fire while fat, beautiful snowflakes fell all around us!  A simple string of lights made for some pretty ambience by the swing and the snowflakes falling perfected it. It was magical.

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The girls, typically slow to warm to new places, were right at home in these woods. They were confident and ambitious. More than once we had to remind them to stay together (strength in numbers!) and where we could see them. They seemed to want to climb higher and deeper into the woods each time I turned my back. Then they’d return to the swing, which made me nervous too, but a little less so than bears and lions!

I reveled in the new friendships and genuine inspirations from just this single day — all emanating from our precious Quaker world. The decision to explore the Quaker path has presented us with sweet friendships, wonderful opportunities and an inspiring path with direction. At our solstice gathering, I felt no hesitation in opening myself to these friends. I felt honored to listen to others’ stories– full of twists and turns, dreams and inspirations. Sitting, standing, being in the company of kind people, amongst the snow, the trees, the mountains, the fire, I was truly inspired, deep within me to continue to walk firmly toward our dreams.

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a look at how things looked, last week or so

They made decorative banners with beautiful feathers, pine branches and salt dough ornaments. They baked cookies, dog treats and scones. We played and walked around our neighborhood. Saw friends, wrapped gifts, and read lots. As I strayed, the girls brought me back, always offering their joy.

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Stephen and I held back the tears (of pure joy, excitement, pride) as they danced beautiful ballet at the holiday show in Louisville. It is an indescribable feeling watching your children out there in the world, on stage, DOING all on their own. Time completely stood still as I held Stephen’s hand, absorbing those precious moments.

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I made up a child-friendly version story of Saint Lucia. We talked about the light within and baked Santa Lucia bread. Regular sized and miniature.

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A photo taken by one of the girls. I love finding their world on my camera.

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The girls have the sweetest voices and this night was no different!

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We returned to the animal shelter bearing gifts for dogs and cats. We also spent time with doggies that needed a little extra love. Roxie is a super cute border collie available for adoption!

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Arlene as Mary at the live nativity. It was simple, genuine, magical– standing in the barn together, in the dark, singing, listening, young voices, old voices, llamas, sheep–all of us together.

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Girls night out — pizza down the street.

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st. nick, holiday happenings and joe, a former student of mine

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St. Nick came by our place in similar fashion as last year, leaving a sweet treat and a note about the weeks to come. Last year St. Nick wrote about the beauty of the 12 days of Christmas and we had a wonderful time celebrating it–  our first in Colorado, beginning on Christmas Eve and ending on the Epiphany. We enjoyed it so much it was hard to accept it just wouldn’t work out this year. St. Nick was very helpful with this conundrum. His note informed us that we would be celebrating with gifts on Christmas only, but he asked us to give to others during the 12 days. Immediately the girls were excited by the challenge, not disappointed by the change, of giving to others for “all those days!”

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Perhaps it is my Catholic background or my attraction to the organization, but we’ve embraced the Advent calendar and candle ritual these years, too. I’ve come up with themes for the weeks of Advent- this week, the second, has centered around giving to others. St. Nick kicks it off, inspiring us to give to others on the heels of his gift to us.  We started in earnest –our happy crafting time, leaving handmade gifts for neighbors, signed “mystery givers” and baking cookies for those near and far. Last night we went to a homeless shelter in Boulder where we helped give out medicine, band aids, cough drops, etc. The girls asked lots of questions which I ultimately think is healthy, although it certainly made me wonder and question my decision. The folks at the shelter were friendly and while the girls have been well aware of the homeless situation in Boulder, this was a far more intimate and realistic dose.

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Whenever there are multiple trips to the post office, things can get stressful. Yesterday, our second day to the post office in a week, was no different! We had a pretty unhappy meltdown on our way home– and it left everyone feeling unhappy. We all had a quiet time at home and then came back together for lunch. I was still feeling uncertain about our afternoon (we had a lot going on in the evening) and how to smooth things out. It was gorgeous out so I suggested we get some balls and go to the park. We were excited about heading out, but as we finished lunch they got sidetracked with a handmade figure a former student of mine named Joe made for me, many years ago. Joe was a unique, wonderful student of mine in North Carolina who also happened to be on the autism spectrum. One day, early on in my knowing Joe, I found him completely absorbed in making tiny figures with paperclips and thread. I nearly stopped him, but stopped myself instead. I gave him a smile and on we went. His “crafting” with found objects didn’t seem to distract him from the importance of the Renaissance or the Treaty of Versailles. ; ) He was prolific in his work and soon I was finding these figures on my desk after class. There were spiders, robots, animals, people and even portraits of me! I was distinguished from the others by a scarf, which he managed to incorporate with thread or pieces of yarn.

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It was one of these figures that the girls became curious about that diverted our afternoon, for so much the better. They asked lots of questions about the figures, Joe and my teaching. Can we make them? We pulled out paperclips and yarn and got to work. It was HARD and it left me with more appreciation for these tiny figures than I had before. Our fingers ached a little, but we managed to create self-portraits, paperclips only.

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Above: Joe’s figures

We staged our figures along with Joe’s and put some music on. Wednesdays, if we can get it in, we sing. With more activity and school this year, it has been harder to have a set, weekly singing time. Ah, but here we were! So we piled up on the couch and started singing! It was overwhelming in the most beautiful of ways. We were close and connected, present and soulful. We belted out our favorites– mostly gospel songs that are simple, powerful and beautiful– getting right to the truth of the matter.

We can do things, offer things, go places with our kids, but I know that times like these imprint deeply. They seem to fill the soul rather than create a specific memory. The feeling of closeness, singing these powerful words and the presence we all shared. These are the times I want more of, just sometimes they come after the stress of package making, post office tripping and low blood sugar, but I’ll take it.

One song in particular, “I’ll Fly Away” a hymn from the earlier part of the 20th century really spoke to me yesterday. With the passing of my cousin two days ago and today marking three years since my mother was diagnosed, I was left really wondering about it all…and full of gratitude that I got to wonder in the arms of these sweet little people.


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ecosystems – aquatic (day 4)

The balm of nature transformed several gravel pits in eastern Boulder into a thriving wetlands ecosystem, home to a variety of birds, small mammals, wildflowers and other plants. We decided to visit the ponds on our 4th and final day of ecosystems. It was an absolutely stunning day– classic blue skies and the omnipresent, warming sun. With only containers of fresh popcorn packed, we headed out and met some friends at the trail.

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Decades ago this area was mined for gravel.  In 1974, residents of the area wished to transform the open pits and puddles into a wildlife habitat- they had a vision. Rocks were added to the pits, creating several ponds. Trees and shrubs were planted, the ponds filled with groundwater and then stocked with fish. It was named Walden Ponds, not as I thought as a nod to Henry David Thoreau’s,, but in reference to the Boulder County Commissioner who helped launch the plan to convert the gravel pits to a wildlife habitat. His name was Walden “Wally” Toevs. While active pits do remain around the open space, you can get lost in the tall grasses and cattails, winding trails and various ponds. That is just what the girls (and friends) did when we visited the ponds on Friday. They completely immersed themselves in the work of building fishing rods, diverting water this way and that, digging holes, digging holes and digging some more.

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Even after 5 hours, their work was not done.  I knew they were hungry and tired.  We had an early dinner at 4:30 and slept deeply.

The contrasts between the environments of the week and that little bit of structure (parts of an ecosystem) really meant a lot to the girls. This was the easiest of the four ecosystems to discuss the soil (maybe because they played in for several hours). They felt its moisture and its pliability. Arlene mentioned on the way home that the dirt was much easier to dig in than at Mud Lake. They also talked about how the grasses were fun to play with although there weren’t many trees. I appreciated their awareness and was so grateful for the inspiration and time to have this week together– exploring and loving Colorado even more.

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ecosystems – montane (day 3)

Thursdays take us up to Nederland, a town 18 miles west of Boulder at about 8300 feet. We had a great morning at Wild Bear, an ecology center conveniently located  beside the wonderful Carousel of Happiness. Add to all that fun, a hike in the mountains. We love Caribou Ranch but because of time, we did an easier loop at Mud Lake. They enjoyed talking about all the places water comes from in this ecosystem, which paved the way for a good chat about the importance of snow at this altitude and why it is better suited to the land than rain.

I’m getting better at identifying the different conifers, too, so that’s helpful. It gets old saying I just don’t know, but I do know it is a conifer! All my life I called them pine trees, but not all conifers are pine trees! We saw Douglas fir, lodgepole pine and the beautiful ponderosa. We’ve seen areas where the conifers are more spaced out and that has to do with soil moisture and the direction of the slope. Here at Mud Lake, the forest trees grew closer together. The competition for sunlight yields long, slender trees.

IMG_9224Hiking around the lake. It was quiet and cool. We had all hoped for snow. My southern ladies do LOVE snow.

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A beautiful scene, clouds and all.

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ecosystems – foothills (day 2)

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Since we talked so much about the flat grasslands yesterday, today we started our ascent! We went to Rabbit Mountain in Lyons — the lower, initial part of our walk served as a refresher on yesterday’s ecosystem, grasslands. From there we climbed several hundred feet to more of a foothills ecosystem 5700-7000 feet above sea level. The foothills refers to a region of the Front Range where the mountains rise suddenly from flat, prairie, grasslands. The girls immediately noticed the rocks, the incline, the shrubs, the trees! It is pretty incredible that a few miles east or a few miles north yield different landscapes and biological environments to explore. It is challenging to explain that there are transition zones, meaning we’ll see evidence of one ecosystem in another, such as grasslands at Rabbit Mountain although it is “primarily” a foothills environment.

Incredible views since it is the easternmost part of the foothills in the area. It was stunning and the photos don’t begin to capture it. We picnicked under ponderosa pines and had great little talks about grasslands and foothills environments.

This place has a great vibe for the girls–they just love it there.

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