So begins my retrospective of my almost year in Presidio, Texas.

Looking around Presidio, it seems desolate and often devoid of life. Nothing but dirt and scrub cactus in every direction.


Imagine having this to look at everyday. No, don’t.

In the cooler months, when the rattlesnakes were dormant, The Boy and I would walk in the foothills looking for treasures; centipede bodies hollowed out by voracious ants, butterfly wings and a backpack full of rocks. On our last outing my heart stuttered when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the stealthy peek of an animal head. I was half a mile from the safety of “civilization” with The Boy and two bite-size schnauzer snacks. Our safe, albeit very quick, return home was successful because it turned out to be a stray dog, and not a coyote. The dog packs that live in the surrounding desert grew daily, recruiting from both sides of the border, the language barrier non-existent for them. They circled on the fringes of a town without law because the animal control officers only lasted a few weeks. Nobody wants to be the executioner, no matter how steady the pay. After a while, it got so bad, we stopped leaving the compound. But even that wasn’t protection.

An adorable mutt came along and took up residence in my neighbor’s garage; kept comfortable in the heat by the inflated pool he cuddled up to and drank from. The dog was terrified of adults but the gang of stray children could get close enough to torture him with their love. They named him Hercules because if nothing else, Presidio is definitely a Sandlot for the kids.


I rescued him from their affection repeatedly by removing t-shirts and homemade collars. The kids would look at me with disappointment and say, “We don’t want him to get picked up! He’s our dog.” I would remind them that he wouldn’t stay their dog long if his collar got caught on something and he choked to death or he got over heated in the 100+ degree temperatures. Hercules disappeared once and my neighbor was relieved to no longer have him hanging around his “pool house”. Two months later Hercules seemed to rise from the dust, I was certain he’d become part of, and resumed his residence. I admit, I was just as happy as the children to see him because I couldn’t face the loss of life.

Except for those wild varieties, Presidio was death to dogs. My first neighbor, who moved out just weeks after we moved in, lost hers to a snake bite. She reported this information almost cheerfully and then detailed rushing him an hour and a half to the vet for blood transfusions and every measure money could buy to save him. Because I was new to town, it seemed crazy at the time to try and save a dog that obviously wasn’t going to make it and even crazier to not shed tears while recounting the event. Later, I understood. Presidio likes to take everything from you and the transplanted residents weren’t going down without a fight. It wasn’t cheerfulness in her voice, it was triumph and it came from the fact that she had an end date. She was getting out with her remaining dog and she wasn’t ever coming back. Our neighbor, Carlos, found his Pug, Candy, laying dead in his backyard, the cause never to be know. Another neighbor, Pete, lost his dog, Lulu, when her collar got stuck on their fence, hence the cautionary tale. “Lulu’s dead?” the children asked me, with as much hurt in their eyes as if she’d been theirs. Pete acquired two dogs in the following months, Lucas, a purebred golden lab puppy he found wandering fifty miles in the desert while out on patrol, and then a little toy poodle, Peppita a legitimate import from Meixco. The Boy and I basked in the joy of living next door to two puppies. They fell over each other in their efforts to greet and lick us every morning. Then, Peppita disappeared. And just a little while later, Lucas was gone too. I knew better than to ask.

It was only a matter of time before death came knocking on our door. One morning, one of the Schnauzers didn’t come rocketing down the hallway at the sound of food in his dish. When I picked him up and set him on his feet, he fell over. It would have been funny, if it wasn’t so terrifying. For an entire day, he never moved. The vet was an hour and a half away and she would cost money that I wasn’t sure we had. I syringe fed him water and chicken broth every couple of hours. I cried on the long road to the vet. X-rays were taken and blood tests sent out, but, she could only guess at what was wrong. She gave us some medicine, mail-ordered some others and hoped he would get better. I drove home without an indication that my dog would survive. I just had to wait and see. I cried and cried.

I was trapped in Prison and had nothing to distract me from a week of this.

I was trapped in Prison and had nothing to distract me from a week of this.

This dog was once named Marley but he became Moo when we realized Marley was too dignified for the likes of him. He is not one of those dogs that causes me to go into raptures over his loyalty and angelic qualities. He is a killing machine. Rats in Chicago. Birds in Presidio (I still haven’t figured out how he caught them.) He never comes when he’s called. Michael once had to chase him half a mile down the beach of lake Michigan and then a mile back in the other direction. I laughed the whole time because I had told him not to let that schnauzer off the leash. Moo barks so much that he continues to bark while I’m shouting for him to stop, while he’s eating and even when someone holds his mouth shut. It’s a talent I wish he didn’t have. He’s terrified of everything. Seriously. Wave a piece of paper at the dog and he shoots out of the room like a gun went off. Thunderstorms are not his favorite and unfortunately for him, the desert had a lot of those. He eats soap. He is a sweet and cuddly of the dumb variety, and definitely crazy. But, he’s my crazy. And I love him. I didn’t want him to die. A week and a half I cried and worried and syringed and prayed and hoped. Prison was bad enough, now it was going to kill my dog too? And then one morning, he got up by himself, just for a minute. A few days later, he was fine. We never knew what was wrong with him, just that the heavy antibiotics worked and Presidio was poison. We shut the door in death’s face that time, but he was still hovering around the neighborhood dogs. After all, snake season was just beginning.

On January 7th my great friend, Emily, who also happens to be my one fan, informed me that it had officially been a year since my last post. I thought about giving up this blog (like so many do) because there are so many other things that occupy my time but, how can I deny my one fan? 

I am Edward Scissorhands, in all of my pale, awkward and misunderstood glory.


I will one day meet somebody and I will tell them that I almost spent a year living in West Texas. The most frustrating almost-year of my life. I will tell them, as I am telling you now, that West Texas defeated me. It was where I learned that there are some things I just can’t do (even if someone else can) and no amount of willpower or positive thinking can alter reality.

Do you remember how I said I wanted to belong? I tried. I tried so hard that it literally (I do know how to use that word correctly) made me sick. Perhaps I cursed myself using the Edward Scissorhands analogy, but in the end, I didn’t just feel like Edward, I became Edward. And now, one year later, almost to the day, I have been given my opportunity to run back to my gothic mansion (actually, a cute little house) to sculpt my ice sculptures in the frozen north of The Twin Cities. Not chased by a mob. Not even noticed by them.

Now that I’m leaving, I don’t mind telling you, I lived in Prison. Literally. Well, it’s the literal English translation of Presidio. I lived in Prison, Texas. I lived there for at least six months, surrounded by native Spanish speakers before somebody bothered to tell me this. I guess when you live in a place called “prison” it becomes the orange-jumpsuit-wearing elephant in the room. When the translation was finally revealed, right about the time that everything was falling apart, I laughed. How fitting.

Kind of looks like Prison, doesn't it?

Kind of looks like Prison, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, Presidio is a nice little town full of nice people, many of whom are very happy there. I could have been happy there if not for the comedy of, not quite errors, more like misfortunes, that befell me. Nothing catastrophic, just a steady drip of frustration and mishap. At first seemingly innocuous, subtle in it’s ability to slowly break me down. Just like chinese water torture, after each drip, the next was that much harder to face.

I planned to recount my misadventures – some hilarious, and some painful – in one long blog post. A final farewell to Prison. But, as I began to do it, revisiting it made me physically sick. It was too much all at once. I recently finished reading Blackout by Connie Willis and although it is science fiction, it made me think about real survivors and veterans of wars, who don’t like to talk about what they experienced. I get it. On a very minuscule scale, but still, I get it. It was bad enough the first time, don’t make me live it again. Unfortunately, the rest of your life doesn’t make sense without that piece of your history. I am the way I am because of what I’ve lived through. We are all that way. That is why we cannot judge. We do not know the private heartache and adversity people around us have faced.

The Prison yard in the rain

The Prison yard in the rain. It doesn’t improve much in dry weather.

I want to blot out the Prison chapter of my life and never think about it again. But, if I did that, I might forget all of the things that I learned. The benefit of suffering is that you learn so much. Instead I will bravely face each water droplet one blogpost at a time. The only reason I can do this is because it’s over. I’m free. I hope you enjoy it, Emily.

The thing about the suburb depicted in Tim Burton’s film, Edward Scissorhands, is not that it’s wrong, it’s just that it’s weird. There is a surreal quality to it that is unsettling. The viewer enters the neighborhood like Edward, as an outsider. But, everything in life seen from the outside is slightly skewed because until you are on the inside, it’s impossible to understand what the reality, and not the perception of reality, actually is.

I am constantly reminding myself of that fact since my arrival on the border. In the past eleven years we have moved eleven times and to make those numbers even more impressive, six of those eleven years were spent in just two residences. I know that when you uproot yourself there is an adjustment before you feel like you belong, before weird seems normal. My adjustment here on the fringes of the country is going to take a bit longer.

Although Mikey warned me that Roswell, New Mexico was not impressive, I didn’t believe him. It was only as I drove down the main street through town that I realized how right he’d been. My disappointment was colossal. There was nothing supernatural or even campy about it, unless you consider endless concrete strip malls strange. To me it was simply wrong that they existed in that mythical place. The presence of their characterless uniformity made Roswell exactly like everywhere else when I had wanted it to be so much more. After The Boy and I arrived at our hotel I searched for an alien themed restaurant to treat myself and The Boy after our long trek and revive my fading romanticism of the town [probably rooted in this guilty pleasure from my teenage years.] I am sorry to tell you, there are none. I stopped on my way out the next morning to take a picture of Alien Zone, which is just a block down from the International Alien Museum and Research Center, but by then the damage had already been done, my disillusionment was complete. The flock of sheep standing beneath irrigation sprinklers in the thick morning fog a few miles outside of Roswell was the eeriest thing about it.


A couple of hours later I saw an animal dart into the street toward a truck a few yards ahead of me, I wasn’t sure what it was, but I saw it return to the side of the road after the truck swerved out of the way. As I drew up to the crouching form, a crazed looking dog ran straight at me as I was traveling 75 mph to, as I could best ascertain, herd my car. I slowed and then stopped, completely unnerved by the maniacal animal who stared straight into my eyes, challenging me. I was grateful there were large pieces of metal and glass between me and the possibly rabid dog. I slowly edged around it and, it let me, I guess satisfied that my little white car was not, in fact, a stray sheep. I looked in my rearview mirror as I drove away and saw that it resumed it’s ready-to-pounce stance on the side of the highway.

I spent hours on a badly paved two lane road passing oil drills bobbing up and down, kowtowing to imaginary Kings with only The Boy and semi trucks for company. At one point my directions became almost impossible to follow and I worried that I’d become lost. Then I remembered I was going to the border of Mexico, as long as I was driving south, I’d get there eventually.

I entered West Texas and things suddenly began to change. The flat expanse with no houses, towns or people spotted by spiky cactuses turned into rolling hills and then mountains with distant ranches tucked between them. It was a surprise and it was beautiful. We stopped on the side of the road to take a picture and when I stepped out of the car, the air was warm and fresh, more at home on a spring day than mid-December.


I wound through yellow fields of grass dotted with rocks and cacti. In a sunny valley, I gave a bicycle adventurer, who was literally 100 miles from anything, a wide berth as I passed him and he waved cheerfully wishing us well on our way.

It was strange, it was different, but I loved it.

Small towns with West Texas charm sprouted every 50 to 100 miles. Border Patrol trucks became more frequent and the grassy fields turned to beautiful tree-less deserts guarded by cows and to my amusement, a pair of camels. An ancient white-washed Mexican church appeared in a ghost town set between two hills, it’s bell tower rising high above a handful of foreign deciduous trees with bright yellow leaves. It is wide, open and beautiful here. I kept saying to myself, “West Texas, I think I love you.” I was unexpectedly elated.

The feeling continued until I turned at the mountains that led to our new town. Our town is . . . less picturesque than everything around it, but it is our new home. The Boy was very pleased when he realized, “We live in Radiator Springs!”

We spent our first night reunited as a family in a comfortable trailer but a house had recently become available and we would be moving the next day.

When we drove down the street of our new neighborhood for the first time I could not help but notice that the houses were all exactly the same, just with varying shades of what I considered odd color choices. The two other government neighborhoods have charming nicknames (the one directly behind us is “the snake pit”). I asked Mikey if this neighborhood had a name. There wasn’t one that he knew of. Edward Scissorhands, I told him.


My New Neighborhood

edward scissorhands - pastel houses[1]

Edward’s New Neighborhood

It isn’t just the neighborhood that feels reminiscent of the movie, it is my position as an outsider and the overwhelming novelty of my surroundings. Everything here is foreign to me. I am not only outside the culture of the town, but I am also new to the culture of the government law enforcement presence here. I really felt like I’d just come down from my secluded gothic mansion on the hill. The landscape, the people, the language is all so foreign. It is like I am living in another country, although Mexico is still another mile down the road.

Walking through our new, very comfortable, house felt like being on a movie set. I surmised the house had been built in the 60’s but later discovered that it’s only ten years old. The Army Corps, who built it, seemed to have mastered time travel, going back decades to find light fixtures, vent covers and bathroom tiles from eras long past. It seemed to fit perfectly in this odd world and I loved it.

At church on Sunday (it’s 90 miles away and we have to pass through a Border Patrol check point to get there) somebody said, “Oh, you live in the gated community?” I smiled inwardly, amused that anyone would consider an eight foot chain-link fence topped with barbed wire to be a “gated community.” I think the word “compound” is more accurate. The children, who abandon their bicycles everywhere, climb to the summit of the neighborhood rock pile with the Mexican mountains as the backdrop of their “King of the Mountain” victory.


(That’s Mexico in the distance.)

The night is often filled with the chorus of the three-legged Chihuahua gang that patrols our neighborhood during the day. They hobble around looking tiny but formidable, a thorn stuck in one of each of their paws, too macho to ask for help. (I am slightly concerned our resident Schnauzers are going to be peer pressured into joining them.)

The nearest big box store, a non-super Walmart, is 150 miles away, the nearest one after that is four hours in the opposite direction. But, we can “shop” at our own Prada store (100 miles away and actually just an art installation) and we only have to drive 60 miles to watch hipsters hobnobbing at art galleries.


It is a strange world we’ve entered. There is much to love, much to be amazed by, and much to learn. . . but the fish out of water feeling is still there. I still feel like Edward, wide-eyed and overwhelmed, completely naive to the way things work around here. Although I do not have scissors for hands, I am certainly as pale as Edward is to the majority of the town residents. Nearly everyone here speaks Spanish. The old Mexican cowboys frequently try to engage The Boy and I at the Post Office but the only thing I’ve been able to decipher, as I smile and nod, is, Feliz Año. The people of West Texas are very generous and friendly. We have happily been ambushed by two of our neighbors carrying impressive displays of cookies and friendly welcomes. At the library, the grocery store and the city offices they graciously (and impressively) switch to English for me but I know that as long as they do that, I will remain, like Edward, on the outside.

But, I don’t really want my life to emulate the end of that movie. I don’t want to run back to my gothic mansion with a mob of angry suburbanites . . . or cowboys after me. I want weird to become normal. I want to belong.

(If you have never seen Edward Scissorhands and want to see the entire plot of the movie in two minutes, check out this trailer here. The strangeness really captures my current fish out of water, surreal existence.)

One thing I know to be true is that life never turns out the way you expect it to. We wake up thinking our day is going to go a certain way, and sometimes it does, but more often there are those moments when the unexpected strikes.

The unexpected can be good, just ask anyone who had a “surprise” baby if they would send them back. It could be something small like a box filled with Hershey’s kisses sent by a friend who gifts you the opportunity to say that you got kisses from the UPS man you have a secret crush on. Or it could be discovering that your car has had barbecue sauce poured all over it because somebody doesn’t seem to understand that when you park on the city street and cars move around you it sometimes looks like you took two spaces when you didn’t actually. Good or bad, it’s not about what kind of “unexpected” it is, it’s about how we face those challenges. Do we laugh? Do we complain? Are we grateful? Do we cry? Or do we just keep going?

This month has not been unfolding as expected at all. Over the past few weeks I have gone on seemingly endless trips to stores (consuming and spending money are very nearly my least favorite things to do) to stock up on supplies for my rural desert life. Mattress buying, dentist and doctors appointments, a worrying medical condition in an extended family member, one flat tire (astutely spotted by my 3-year-old who is also excellent at spotting spiders, Ikea and Mule deer), cleaning, packing, teaching my lovely teenage girls at church and then saying goodbye over and over again.

In the midst of all of this, I was getting up between 3-5am to get my word count everyday. As always, there were days when the writing was quite painful and I just wasn’t happy about where it was going but, I kept doing it because I needed something to anchor myself in these stressful and surprising times. I wanted one good thing that I knew I could count on everyday. And what I unearthed from my imagination was perhaps the most unexpected of all, adventures, people, chases, and secrets I didn’t even know were there.

Not only did I “win” NaNoWriMo this year, but I finished a day early and 1,416 words over my 50,000.

About mid-month I began to worry because I knew that I wouldn’t be finished with my Novel at 50,000 words but, I was pleased to discover that according to the NaNoWriMo rules:

You will still win if you reach 50k but have not yet completed your novel. 


I did it! I am halfway through my second novel and once I’m settled into my little house in Texas, I’ll return to finishing my final draft of my first. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun. I’m really excited about this second book. I promise to share it with you . . . someday.

The very same day I won NaNoWriMo another unexpected event occurred. It was literally the day before Michael was supposed to fly home and our family would be reunited after 7 months apart. I noticed there was something not quite right about The Boy. The next day as Michael was getting off his plane and collecting his luggage The Boy and I were at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado being told that he needed surgery and we wouldn’t be moving to Texas two days later, as expected. There was a moment when I almost cried but instead I shrugged and was grateful that all of this happened before we moved to a place where the nearest children’s hospital would be four hours away. It was a blessing with perfect comic timing. So, Michael came, took all of my stuff and the dogs and he left me and The Boy behind. Sounds like a country song, right? Well, I’m writing a country song of my own, “Michael, we’re coming after you . . . just as soon as the doctor gives The Boy a clean bill of health.” It’s not very catchy.

All of this made me realize that life is made up of the unexpected and you should never put aside the things that are important to you simply because there is too much going on. It is those very things that keep you sane when the unexpected arises.

Life isn’t a chain of unexpected events, it is a chain of salvaged moments filled with the things and the people you love.

I apologize for my long absence. I have been traveling around the country, an interminable visitor everywhere I’ve arrived and departed, experiencing a small glimpse into what it must be like to be a refugee. I’ll tell you now, it’s not great to never be able to go home because you no longer have one. I haven’t written in months (on this blog or otherwise) because I realized the frustration of my current life is not at all conducive to creativity. It became painful to sit in front of my computer day after day, forcing words which refused to come. I decided to enjoy the other parts of my life for a little while, knowing that the writing would be good again one day. So, I let go.

Until the night of October 30th, when I was in the shower (like I’ve said, I get a lot of my inspiration in the shower). I was thinking over the coming weeks: my impending move to the border of Mexico, the reunion of my family after months apart, mattress shopping, and my slowly dying computer. November, it’s going to be a busy month, I thought. And then I felt a flutter that began in my stomach and stretched to my heart, National Novel Writing Month. I received the reminder email a few days ago telling me to, “Get your outlines ready and prepare for a busy November folks.” I sent it immediately to my trash, rationalizing that my life is too busy right now and I couldn’t possibly think about writing another novel because I still haven’t finished the revision of my first manuscript. But, the excitement I felt was overwhelming. I started thinking about what I would write and all of the unexpected adventures that were awaiting me. As crazy and impossible as it seemed, I wanted to do it.

And now a tangent, which I promise will come full circle if you stick with me.

I am not a marathoner and (sadly, for those of you who are) I am one of those people who had always believed that there is something wrong with people who choose to run marathons. It really does seem like a sickness to me, to choose to torture yourself. I like to recount to anyone willing to listen (really, nobody should) that the origins of modern-day marathons are based on the legend of Pheidippides who died after running his 25 miles. (I also like to leave out the part where he’d also just recently run 150 miles in 2 days because it kind of takes the sting out of the “take that!” aspect of my opinion.) In my limited experience, marathoners love to talk about their training, their races, their qualifying times and I love to not listen to them. They have stickers on their cars (26.2), they wear the t-shirts proudly advertising their races or begging “Ask me how many miles I ran today,” and they make sure that it is no secret they are that hardcore.

Whenever I’ve asked someone why they run marathons they always say, “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.” I would always think, Well, if I had a good enough reason to run 26.2 miles – armed gunmen chasing me or to save someone I love – I know that I could do it, or at least die trying. Then Michael, my husband, ran a half-marathon (which is only half as crazy) and afterward, while he was being sick, he declared that he was never, ever going to do it again. I felt vindicated in my opinions about long-distance dabblers but when I talked to him about it he said that even though he didn’t want to do it again, he was glad he did because of the feeling. The high he felt as he crossed that finish line was something he’d never experienced before, something that is impossible for anyone who has never done it (that’s me) to understand. Michael thought he could run 13.1 miles when he started training but knowing he could was quite another feeling. It was proof of what he had only believed himself to be capable of. He was a different person when he crossed that finish line. Not somebody who could possibly run a ridiculously long distance, but somebody who did. After listening to him I was finally able to admit that I was wrong. Just because people are doing things that I don’t want to do or experiencing things that I don’t understand, doesn’t make it any less of an accomplishment. I still won’t be joining them and I’m still not a fan of the t-shirts and the stickers but I am happy to accept that these crazy (I say this with affectionate awe) people are experiencing this amazingly elevated feeling that I will never experience.

Or so I thought, until I started writing my second novel (yesterday) on November 1st.

I was so excited that I woke up before my 5am alarm went off. I didn’t know what I was going to write but when I stared at the blank screen, I knew it didn’t matter. There was a story inside of me and it was bursting to come out. I typed a couple of words, paused, began again and I didn’t stop for three hours. I felt alive in the way that only writing can make me feel, but the weight of the goal was already in the back of my mind. I’ve done it once and I know how incredibly hard it is. I know what’s coming and this year, because of my living situation, it’s going to be harder than ever. I even allowed for the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I told myself I wouldn’t tell anybody, I would just “do it for me.” But as soon as those thoughts came into my mind I knew that if I wasn’t committed to really trying, I’d already failed. That’s when I realized that NaNoWriMo is my marathon (although it’s more like a sprint in terms of writing a novel.) The only way you can complete a marathon, or a novel in 30 days, is if you move forward as if you already have, as if the actual doing it is just a formality. It’s hard, painful, and you want to quit almost everyday but instead you drag yourself out of bed earlier and earlier to get those words on the page (or your miles on the road). Sometimes you hit a wall and you really believe you can’t go on, but then you push past it, and when you cross that finish line you know that you are the person you always believed you were. And, as soon as you recover, you’ll come back again for more, because you remember that feeling at the end and you know it’s worth the pain. So, I will once again be trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days (only 29 left) and I will consider myself in good company. Not just with other WriMos but with those runners who pass me on the street (as I’m walking leisurely), pounding the pavement, working just as torturously toward their next high at the marathon finish line.

But, I’m not going to go out and get myself a t-shirt that says, “Ask me how many words I’ve written today,” mostly because the answer would probably be embarrassingly small.

Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) the internet is not the fount of all knowledge. Sometimes if you really want to find out the truth about something, you have to read a book. Fortunately for me, I love to read. Unfortunately for me, the book I’ve recently been reading, Imagine by Jonah Lehrer (read this as a disclaimer about Mr. Lehrer’s less than ethical writing practices and the controversy about this particular book) is not as factual as most non-fiction books are required to be.

If we can trust that other than fabricating some Bob Dylan quotes, Jonah Lehrer’s book (which has been pulled from the market by the publisher) is generally factual, he has provided some substantial evidence to prove that not only is “The Shower Principle” (which I previously wrote about, here) a real thing, but it’s actually being studied by real scientists and not just Dr. Spaceman. (It turns out that the anterior superior temporal gyrus is a real part of the brain and not Jack Donaghy nonsense as I hastily suggested. But, it sounds made up, right?).

The reason I couldn’t find anything about “The Shower Principle” on the internet is because it is usually just referred to as insight, inspiration, the “Eureka!” moment, “Aha!” or creativity. This is what the publicly disgraced Jonah Lehrer had to say about these moments of spontaneous inspiration:

Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights? When our minds are at ease – when those alpha waves [the precursor measured on an EEG up to 8 seconds before the moment of insight] are rippling through the brain – we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations [between seemingly unconnected things, i.e. seeing the big picture instead of just the pieces] emanating from the right hemisphere. In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we’re trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving problems analytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the connections that lead to insights. “That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers,” Bhattacharya [one of the aforementioned real scientists – a psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London] says. “For many people, it’s the most relaxing part of the day.” It’s not until we’re being massaged by warm water, unable to check our email, that we’re finally able to hear the quiet voices in the backs of our heads telling us about the insight. The answers have been there all along – we just weren’t listening.

But, given Mr. Lehrer’s penchant for making up quotes, I wasn’t entirely sure that I could trust this information about “The Shower Principle”. So, I looked into Joydeep Bhattacharya and he is in fact a Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths and he is studying “Eureka/Aha!”. The same scientists; Joydeep Bhattacharya, Mark Beeman, and John Kounios, cited in Imagine, were also cited in these fascinating articles in the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and Scientific American, basically saying the same thing but without the reference to showering.

I suspected after watching “The Shower Principle” Episode of 30 Rock that it was a real thing, as I previously wrote about, but I could not find any evidence. I now have the opportunity to set the record straight, it’s not just true based on my own experience, there’s real science behind it too.

Now Jonah Lehrer has presented me with a new problem. I am a recent convert to non-fiction, having previously read strictly fiction. Lately though, I’ve devoured one non-fiction book after another (Quiet, Escape From Camp 14, Behind the Beautiful Forevers are all excellent, if you’re looking for something good to read.) But, if I can’t trust what I read to be true in a factual book, then I think I’d rather stick to books where I know that nothing I read is true.

The editing (or perhaps I should call it, “the total re-write”) continues slowly.

I am at the point of making serious decisions. Decisions so dire it makes editing feel like murder. But, sometimes I know that scenes and people have to go because they aren’t helping with the overall story (even if it makes me a serial killer.)

Mr. Griswald is one of those people. I met him several years ago and it was love at first sight (at least in my mind’s eye.) Then I had the unexpected opportunity of meeting the almost exact physical embodiment of Mr. Griswald in my neighborhood in Chicago. The real man was as delightful as the fictitious one.

Mr. Griswald’s small part in my book is one of my favorites. But, I fear he may have to go. And to come to terms with that, I’d like to introduce you to him.

Mr. Griswald, of The Gourmet

Cleo stepped into The Gourmet, the domain of Mr. Griswald. He peered at her through the fog appearing on his horn-rimmed glasses, a steaming teacup paused at lips hidden beneath an elaborate white mustache. He was a fixture of the culinary shop, a slight, but sturdy man who added a distinguished air to the atmosphere.

The Gourmet was not like any other shop. Mr. Griswald had paid quite a bit of money to be sure of that. People often spoke of flow and positive energy, and these were exactly the kind of people he wanted to patronize his establishment. Designers, decorators, and the odd spiritual guru had advised him on the proper form and function of nearly everything and as a result the shop was inviting and refined. Equal parts culinary delights and art; a place a person might never want to leave. The staff, like waiters in a fine restaurant, were ready to run down the nearest aisle to fetch almost any food imaginable. They advised the chefs in the finest homes and restaurants on the ingredients most appropriate for their creations; therapists for the culinary world.

As inviting as his shop was, Mr. Griswald was not. He was perpetually frowning and disapproved of nearly everyone, but he did like Cleo. And she liked him in return, especially his mustache, which he took great care to curl up at the ends each morning. She thought it made him look very literary; not like a real person, but a character with foibles and problems, threatening to nobody, least of all her. His approval of Cleo was not bestowed so generously. She had earned it.

Cleo had been there when Mr. Griswald had been viciously, as he saw it, assaulted by her neighbor, Roman Vance. Roman, who had previously been banned from the shop, stepped inside and shouted “Hey Gris, check out this tomato, it’s quite ripe!” It wasn’t very clever, but the entourage following him erupted in laughter as Roman launched the tomato into Mr. Griswald’s face, where it splattered and then slid down his front, defiling his fine tweed jacket. Cleo hadn’t laughed, which the gentlemen, as he believed himself to be, greatly appreciated. She simply walked over to him, lifted up onto her tiptoes, pulled the handkerchief from his jacket and gently wiped his face, all the while never taking her eyes out of her book. He stood there, frozen in his state of disbelief, insulted by what had just happened and confused by the absent-minded way this young girl was trying to help.

When Cleo did look up, she apologized, “It’s a very exciting part.”

Mr. Griswald laughed, releasing his terrified staff who joined in the revelry, and he decided he and Cleo were going to be very good friends. And friends were exactly what Cleo needed, because those hooligans who were constantly harassing Mr. Griswald did much worse to that poor little girl. He’d seen it with his own eyes.

Mr. Griswald decided early in his career, long before his elevated status as owner of The Gourmet, that it was the duty of grocers to stamp out hooliganism. He reasoned that hooligans, who were not gentle with people, would most certainly not be gentle with fruit. Mr. Griswald knew this lack of respect for proper food handling would cause bruising, and lead produce prices to plummet, which would inevitably lead to the downfall of civilization. Cleo, on the other hand, took great care with her fruit. He liked the way she gently handled each piece, examining every inch of its surface, smelling, and then tasting it after she’d made her purchase.

If Mr. Griswald caught anyone harassing her, he would deliver justice by refusing to sell goods to the chefs in their parent’s employ. “Why won’t I sell my goods to you this fine morning? Well, let me tell you . . .” Results were immediate. Telephone calls were made, apology notes delivered and sizable monetary gifts bestowed in Cleo’s name to feed starving children across the sea so that exotic dishes could be served on time.

Mr. Griswald knew of his great power but never spoke of it, out of propriety. Every good grocer knows, when you control the food, you control the world. And when you bruise the fruit, you will be made to pay.

Cleo picked up a pint of plump blueberries, packaged carefully on a bed of fine linen in a little metal tin, as she did every day. Mr. Griswald, as always, bristled her cheek with his mustache on her way out and watched her protectively as she made her way down the street. Roman Vance interrupted his vigil, suddenly appearing on the other side of the window in brightly colored sneakers and dark baggy clothes, his keen face, dark mirth-filled eyes, and unruly auburn hair just inches from Mr. Griswald’s face.

Mr. Griswald sputtered indignantly as Roman made a rude gesture at him before running down the street, laughing maniacally. By the time Mr. Griswald regained his composure, Cleo was gone, and so was his opportunity to observe the stranger following her.

At the Greyhound station in Denver panhandlers are very specific when they ask for money; $10 will do. Perhaps they need it to get to wherever they’re going to pan-handle next, or perhaps it’s to fund their chain smoking habit because riders of Greyhound all seem to fall into this category. These two reasons alone are probably why most of us have never used this form of travel. It’s crowded, boring and puts us in close proximity with people who have colorful life stories they believe need to be told. And you become their captive audience.

Unfortunately when you’re slated to move to a tiny border town four hours away from the nearest airport, Greyhound is your cheapest, fastest and maybe you’re only option. And so, my husband recently found himself bound for Texas on a crowded, hot and smelly bus, which was apparently on it’s last leg because it broke down just four hours into the 30 hour trip.

Eight hours later, he found himself on a replacement bus which got him to his first transfer, in Amarillo, then another, in Abilene, and his final one, in Odessa. Each bus was as equally crowded as the one before, making sleep impossible. He watched the flat nothingness (like Nebraska devoid of corn) pass by the window hour after hour. He was regaled by the tales of a man who claimed the passengers on his previous bus had wanted to beat him up because he wouldn’t stop talking. After a couple of hours of the one-sided conversation, Mikey began to understand why they’d felt that way.

I spoke to him once before he caught his last bus transfer headed for the borderland of Texas. We joked that perhaps it would be the most crowded of all; filled with goats and chickens, the way buses always seem to be in the movies. He was pleasantly surprised to find that he was only one of two people on the bus. He stretched out on the back seat, finally able to relax. There were now mountains just visible in the distance but it was getting dark. He felt a growing excitement when he drew closer to our future home, it was different than he’d expected and he hoped that I might actually like it.

A Kung Fu movie flickered across the screen above Mikey’s head compliments of the indomitable driver, a tiny middle-aged Hispanic man, bravely daring to go where we would be frightened to venture. They passed the closest towns to his final destination; 153 and 90 miles away. These towns contain the only hospitals, shopping centers and movie theaters, within reasonable driving distance, this side of the border. One of the theaters is said to have a tiny screen and ceiling fans to cool the patrons. I cannot help but wonder if there is a pianist who plays music to accompany the suspenseful scenes of the movies. And, will we need to call on The Three Amigos?

Mikey had been on the road for 40 hours and it was late. He planned to ask the bus driver if he would drop him off at his motel when they passed by it but then . . . he fell asleep.

This was one of those path altering moments. Some would say it caused him to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I like to believe it allowed him to be in the right place, at the right time . . . for adventure.

When he woke up he realized he’d missed the motel and decided to try his luck at getting the driver to turn around and drop him off, as they weren’t too far past it. “I’m going to that motel back there, in town,” he said.

The driver responded, “You should have told me! I would have dropped you off.” He seemed genuinely disappointed that he couldn’t help Mikey, but the driver couldn’t go back because he had to wait to pick up passengers for the return trip he explained. “But, the taxi will be by in a little while. You could wait for that.”

Mikey said it was only a mile and a half, it seemed silly to wait for a taxi to take him such a short distance so he unloaded his luggage and dragged it laboriously along the gravel road. It was 12:30am on a warm night completely devoid of any sounds. The stars were so bright that he could see by them. After twenty minutes headlights were visible in the distance. The “American Taxi” appeared in the form of a very old and slightly beat-up suburban, piloted by a a small Hispanic lady in her forties with a huge smile.

Did he want a ride, she asked. No, it was only another half a mile. She pressed him, insisted even, a flood of persuasive dialogue pouring out of her mouth. He relented, loaded his baggage in the back of the vehicle and then climbed into the truck. They drove about 100 feet and the engine died.

Silence settled for an imperceptible second and then, “Oh no! Not again!” The taxi driver said this with surprise, as if she was not aware that the car would continue to require gasoline for the duration of it’s life. “We have to go back to Mexico for a minute, we need gas.”

“I don’t have a passport.” Mikey explained.

“That’s okay, you have a driver’s license, right?”


“You’ll be fine!” The Taxi driver said this enthusiastically as she resurrected the suburban and they puttered off in the direction of the border.

Mikey was not at all sure but he heard the word “Okay,” fill the truck in his own voice.

She chattered happily in Spanish with the elderly Mexican woman in the back seat. The baggage was stacked so high on her lap she had to look around it to respond.

Things were certainly not going according to plan.

Mexico was, well, like another country.
The Texas side of the border was deadly silent and dark but the Mexican streets were filled with people talking, laughing and drinking at outdoor cafes. There was a street race between an old Mustang GTO and lowered Honda Accord, they accelerated around like they were stunt drivers for the Fast and the Furious, bass thumping, not rap, but mariachi music. Children were running in the streets. Stray dogs, which all seemed to look the same, were wandering and laying, as if dead, everywhere. The architecture was ramshackle and brightly painted; reds, oranges, pinks and yellows.

The truck stalled again and Mikey helped his friendly driver push it off the road. It was a moment of reflection for Mikey. He was pushing a battered Suburban off the road, in Mexico, in the middle of the night. What decision had brought him to this point? He could not help but laugh.

Mikey and the driver walked half a mile to the nearest gas station and the Mexican woman remained behind to guard her mountains of baggage. The driver chatted familiarly, explaining her situation to two men at the gas station. They didn’t have a gas can for her so she bought a liter of water and the old men filled it up with gas because apparently in Mexico you’re not allowed to pump your own; it’s a law. They put the liter of gas into the car, returned to the gas station, not fill up, but to put just enough fuel in the tank to allow the  driver another opportunity to declare, “Oh no, not again!” in the near future. They dropped the little Mexican woman at her home and Mikey politely helped her with her gigantic bags.

It was getting late at this point and he was growing worried, because the motel had already called him to see why he was eight hours late and gave the distinct impression that it was not the kind of establishment where he could show up at all hours of the night and expect a room. You know, like a regular hotel.

But, as they drove back to the bridge over the Rio Grande, his motel reservations became the least of his worries. He had to cross back over to the United States without a passport, in the middle of the night. In spite of what his driver said, he knew that it wouldn’t look good. They entered the lane and the CBP [Customs Border Protection] officer approached in his blue uniform, a gun strapped to his belt. He requested Mikey’s passport. Mikey sheepishly offered his driver’s license instead.

The officer spoke slowly. “You are from Illinois and you went to Meixco, without a passport? What were you doing there?” Mikey swallowed and explained his long trip, fraught with peril and adventure, to the borderland to be, “A CBP officer. I start tomorrow.” The officer’s eyebrows raised and he immediately ordered Mikey’s bags to be searched. The taxi driver found the whole ordeal tremendously entertaining and as Mikey was cleared and sent through to Texas she put the truck into gear and told him, with a chuckle, that she was going to write a book based on her adventures as a taxi driver. (I would read that book.)

At 1:30am they pulled up to the surprisingly half-decent looking motel. They walked up to the door where a sign hung declaring, “Ring bell for night clerk.”

There was a hole where the bell should have been.

They banged on doors and windows, like crazy people, trying to rouse somebody. Nobody came to their assistance. (I wouldn’t have answered either.) The taxi driver shrugged and suggested they try alternate lodgings. She drove him to the only other hotel in town, also much nicer than one would expect in the borderland of Texas. The people were friendly and accommodating, in spite of the late hour, and he was finally able to get four hours of sleep before reporting at the Port of Entry where he would begin his new job and our new life.

Have you ever noticed that people use the word, adventure, when they describe a potentially disagreeable situation you, and not they, are facing? I’ve been hearing it a lot lately when I tell people about my future home and life (which to me is not an adventure or a curse, it just is). What I hear in most of their voices behind that word adventure is, “I wouldn’t want to do that.” It seems when applied to my life adventure means “trouble is coming your way.” And maybe that’s true, maybe trouble is coming for me, but if my trouble comes in the form of midnight adventures in Mexico, I’m pretty sure I can get some good writing material from it.

I became completely preoccupied with our sudden removal from Chicago and I missed Dan Haring‘s (he’s my brother-in-law) big book release day on April 24th. I received a gentle reminder in the form of his book just a couple of days ago. Congratulations Dan!

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read it before I had to re-package it, along with my Dad’s book, and mail them off to my husband who is living in a tiny border town with only library internet access, no furniture and very little to do. I’ve flipped through it and it looks very exciting and action packed. I can’t wait to get it back from Mikey so I can read it! Here’s the description from the back cover:

Jason Gouvas doesn’t want to believe he has special abilities or that he’s an Oldsoul– a vessel for the souls of people who have passed away, but the dead girl in his mind can be very persuasive.

Her name is Erin, and through her Jason is able to access the knowledge and skills of the souls within him. And with a group of power-hungry immortals bent on destroying the Oldsouls and overthrowing humanity, he’s going to need them all.

Sounds like a great summer read. If you’re interested (and you should be), it’s available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon, and paperback and Nook at

In other exciting news, Congratulations to Michael Roueche (he’s my Dad) for being a finalist in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Regional Fiction!

I’ve read this one and it’s excellent. I highly recommend it (and not just because he’s my Dad), especially for book clubs (which he will happily make a skype appearance at, if you so desire, to answers questions about the book.) His book is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon or Nook at (or you can just contact me).

Now I just have to finish my manuscript so I have something to contribute at family gatherings.

Have you ever had an important moment occur in your life when you realized that a Muppet movie is perfectly applicable to your situation?

Two weeks ago I spent a wonderful night at a farewell dinner with my friends. We stayed until well after the restaurant was closed and someone even teased our waiter that we were going to follow him home when he discovered us still standing on the street corner, talking and laughing, as he left work. I just didn’t want to go home because I didn’t want to say goodbye. When I finally did I was comforted by the fact that those particular people are the kind of friends that . . . “somehow I know, we’ll meet again, not sure quite where and I don’t know just when.” For those of you who haven’t seen The Muppets Take Manhattan (it is quite delightful), those are the lyrics to one of the songs in the movie, Saying Goodbye. The day after the farewell dinner (just one among many goodbyes) I found myself unconsciously singing that song as I packed and then taped up boxes. I found this clip on Youtube and cried through the whole thing.

I love The Muppets, they always make me smile and in this particular scene they express my feelings perfectly. Chicago friends, this one’s for you. (I promise this is my last goodbye post.)

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye, going away
Seems like goodbye’s such a hard thing to say
Touching a hand, wondering why
It’s time for saying goodbye
Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Makes us remember the good times we’ve had
Much more to say, foolish to try
It’s time for saying goodbye
Dont want to leave, but we both know
Sometimes it’s better to go
Somehow I know we’ll meet again
Not sure quite where, and I dont know just when
You’re in my heart, so until then
Wanna smile, wanna cry
Saying goodbye
La la la la la la la la
It’s time for saying goodbye