Dressing Up the Baby for Valentine’s Day

Where do you fall? Are you pro- or anti-Valentine’s Day? Does the way it glorifies love with all of its pink and red accouterments make you swoon? Or do you feel it’s a made-up holiday designed to make money and misery? Studies show only about half of Americans celebrate.


Or perhaps your feelings depend on your circumstances. Maybe you fall somewhere in the middle. You have a thing for cinnamon jelly hearts (I do) but don’t think homemade dinner in on Valentine’s Day means your spouse loves you any less (me as well).

But my sister who is 10 years older than me recently told me a story that really touched me. She said she came home from school on February 14 when I was a baby and my mom had dressed me up in a Valentine’s Day dress and tights. She asked my mom if we were going somewhere, but my mom said it was Valentine’s Day so she wanted to dress me up for the day.

To think of my mom of nine children taking the time to buy me a special dress and dressing me up for the day made me feel so loved. And it made me love Valentine’s Day even more. However you spend Valentine’s Day, whether it be with someone you love, doing something you love, or eating a bag of cinnamon hearts, I hope it’s filled with everythign you love.

line with heart

An Insider’s View of Publishing Memoir: Congratulations, Who Are You Again?

I recently read Congratulations, Who Are You Again? by Harrison Scott Key. If you are a memoir writer, you’ll want to read this book. It’s Key’s account of how he wrote his first book, The World’s Largest Man, which won the Thurber Prize for Humor in 2016.

You can read my overview of the book on Medium at Women Writing Memoir.

A Trip to the Far-out World of California Desert Art

Earlier this week I flew from the Southern California desert to the Polar Vortex of the upper Midwest. The difference in temperature was 100 degrees from the time I left to when I landed. Being in the desert was as if I was on another planet.

We were visiting the Palm Springs-area with trips to Joshua Tree National Park and areas around Slab City. In Joshua Tree we saw the mythical tree known to only grow in a few places on Earth and live for hundreds of years.

Joshua Trees

We were visiting the Palm Springs-area with trips to Joshua Tree National Park and areas around Slab City. In Joshua Tree we saw the mythical tree known to only grow in a few places on Earth and live for hundreds of years.

Info Booth Entrance to Slab City

Slab City was once used to train Marines but is now an encampment in the desert where campers, artists, snowbirds, and others live without running water, electricity, sewers, taxation, or government.

All of these areas had a feeling of intensity, whether it was the splashy mid-century modern architecture of residences that had once housed Hollywood’s stars, or the ramshackle huts of Slab City. But we also saw something we weren’t expecting. Art in the desert.

Salvation Mountain

In Slab City we also saw Salvation Mountain, the brainchild of Leonard Knight. If you saw Into the Wild about Chris McCandless, you remember the scene where the real Leonard Knight shows the actor playing Chris, staying at Slab City, his mountain.

Knight worked on Salvation Mountain for 30 years with no running water or electricity. He wanted to share the message that “God is Love” but did not belong to a particular religion. He passed away in 2014.

The structure is a massive colorful beacon in the desert. You can walk through a section of grottoes and passages and climb to the top of the 50-foot mountain and take in the vista. The structure is made of adobe, straw, tree trunks, telephone poles, and layers of paint. Volunteers carry on Knight’s vision and the day we were there were making touch-ups on the bottom portion of the mountain.

East Jesus

East Jesus, a community of artists who have created works of art from discarded items. The art here was funny and impressive featuring a number of fully decked-out cars, aliens and a huge mastodon.

East Jesus was the vision of Charles Stephen Russell. He left his tech job in 2007 and packed his belongings in a shipping container and set out to Slab City. Russell planned to work on Salvation Mountain, but began working on sculptures that would become the first East Jesus works. He built a complex for the site including hospitality, administrative and performance space.

Russell worked on East Jesus for five years before passing away in 2011 of a heart condition at the age of 46. A board of directors now leads East Jesus which founded The Chasterus Foundation in his honor. They are trying to raise money to lease the land so that the state of California does not buy it.

East Jesus is powered by solar panels and has cell and wifi, but no running water.

Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Museum

This outdoor museum was located near Joshua Tree National Park. Unlike the other two men, Purifoy was a trained artist.

Purifoy created a traveling exhibition with six other black artists after the Watts Rebellion in 1965. His work is featured in the Whitney Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and many others. He moved from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree in his later life and worked there from 1989 until his death in 2004.

Many of the exhibits are big enough to walk in and through. It reminded me a bit of Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron in that you could look at the larger piece and then when you looked closer you started to see what the individual bits and pieces were made of — toilets, half barrels, bowling balls, or whatever. As with East Jesus, since all the material was discarded it made me think about all the waste in our daily life.

As expected based on his background, Purifoy’s work was more political and made statements. There was a whites and colored-only water fountain piece where the colored water fountain was made of a toilet. There were shelters that seemed to have been lived in by the very poor and three crosses.

The complex was massive, covering 10 acres of land. It was at the end of a dusty road, with the desert beyond and houses that were weather worn across the street. It wasn’t exactly what we were expecting to find, but seemed to fit perfectly just like the other art in the desert.

How Long Does it Take to Write a Memoir?

I had a lot of questions for others as I wrote my memoir. When people found out I was writing a memoir, they also had questions for me. Probably the number one question I asked others and others asked me was: How long does it take to write a memoir?

boy at computer writing book not typing

For me, it was a long time or maybe not so long depending on what I consider to be the actual start. I would guess anywhere from 10 to three years. There was a lot of pre-writing and thinking and a lot of writing that didn’t turn out to be part of the final manuscript.

I wrote about it in at Women Writing Memoir on Medium. You can check it out using the link below.

Did you write a memoir or other book? How long did it take you? And What about the next step, publishing? How long did that take?


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I Was Moved: Inspirational Quotes from Anne Lamott’s Latest Book

A few months back I had an opportunity to see Anne Lamott speak in Madison. I was familiar with her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, but I wasn’t sure I ever read it. It was lumped in my mind with other texts, such as Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, both of which I had read. Anne Lamott Oct 26

These are books I classified as being about the writing practice. They were more inspirational than instructional, providing encouragement for writers to begin the practice of writing. I had been fortunate enough to take a workshop with Natalie Goldberg once and had done a longer seminar about Cameron’s book, where we worked through her suggestions week-by-week. I continued meeting with some of the women I met in the class for almost a decade after.

But I knew less about Anne Lamott. I followed her on Facebook as any “good” writer should, and attended her talk out of curiosity and I suppose duty. My friend and I were surprised when we arrived at the theater and the line wound down the street. The event didn’t even start on time because people were still taking their seat in the packed 1,500-seat theater long after she was supposed to begin. 

When she finally did speak, I knew why she had been such a star for so long. She spoke of ordinary things, but in a way that made them seem fresh. Lamotte read and talked from her new book  Almost Everything: Notes on Hope and in doing so provided advice to the audience about how to be a human in trying times.

She talked about writing, but also our troublesome government, loving difficult people, losing the people we love, and the struggles we face, such as her own past alcoholism. I was somewhat embarrassed to find myself crying through much of her speech. I needn’t have been, as I believe she was touching something deep inside me that needed attention.  

It was not a complex message, and I tend to be a cynic, but I guess it was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. Click To Tweet

It was not a complex message, and I tend to be a cynic, but I guess it was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. I have since read the book and found the messages there to be similarly helpful. I was even moved throughout to write down many of her quotes. 

The book is broken up into sections based on the type of advice she is giving, such as Hope, Death, and Food. She also includes a chapter on her advice on writing in which she paraphrases the lessons she gives to young children as well as adults. I am not sure how much of this section is similar to Bird by Bird,  but I felt as if I was copying almost all of it into my notebook. 

We also learn the origin of the phrase “bird by bird” which was something her father told her brother when he was stressing about writing a report about birds. He reportedly told him to just take it bird by bird. 

I even pulled out some of my favorite inspirational quotes from Anne Lamott’s Almost Everything book. I’ll be interested to hear from you if you’ve read this book, Bird by Bird, or any of the other books I’ve mentioned. Have you ever been moved by something that surprised you?