It’s a red-flag kind of day

Today is one of those days that puts Coloradans on edge. It will be first of many this year.

It’s not our first Red Flag Warning (high fire danger) day, though I think it’s the second day with humidity <5%. One thing is for sure: the gusts have whipped up tonight. And my lips feel like paper.

While we’re adjusting quickly to the drier weather – following a wet winter, even – this early need to water everything has got us scratching our heads, licking our lips and crossing our fingers.

In fact, this fire just flared up today, one county west of here (in a rural mountain town). Thankfully, evacuations have lifted, though containment data is unknown (containment means the firefighters have been able to hold a line of the fire at least 24 hours).

I find myself praying for the right moisture at the right time and that we (residents and our many visitors) will be wise enough to:

  • Completely put out campfires in public parks and forests (if they’re even allowed);
  • Properly and responsibly dispose of cigarette butts; and
  • Refrain from burning leaves or trash on windy days, etc.

Sounds like common sense, but every year, we are amazed. We can’t be careful enough.

Most lives spared, but not their homes

640px-Waldo_fire_approaching_Mountain_Shadows_2

The west side of Colorado Springs. “Waldo fire approaching Mountain Shadows 2” by ttcosprings. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thankfully, casualties were minimal in the last two Colorado fires, but nearly 1000 families were displaced for at least a year, if not longer. Some still are figuring out how to rebuild.

The Waldo Canyon Fire scar stares drivers in the face as we sit, facing west at traffic lights. The Black Forest Fire scar, across the highway to the northeast, is Waldo’s quiet counterpart.

And both are part of us now.

The obstacle is the path
I love the Zen proverb quoted by fellow #YourTurnChallenge blogger Patrick Smith, that the obstacle is the path. Challenge, adversity, any kind of obstacle, really – they not only build character in us; they build beauty and identity.

The weather the last few years has been crazy nearly everywhere. I guess it’s our turn to brace ourselves for the season ahead, pray for the best and prepare for the worst – including the resulting beauty.

30 days and going strong

waze iconsI’m a huge fan of Waze. For my commute to Denver for work a couple of years ago, I relied on this traffic app to know when I needed to take an alternate route, when a cop was in the area or when it was going to be an extra-long drive home.

I still use it for local driving, because it’s great not just for telling you where you’re going but when you can expect to arrive. Of course, it first has to understand where you are now.

Thankfully, when it comes to blogging, I don’t need Waze to tell me where I am now. After 30 days straight of shipping, I have a pretty good idea.

Now, I’m excited about where I go from here.

Lessons learned

After 30 days of blogging, I discovered I can do it. I can blog regularly and reliably. Some days, it’s meaningful. Other days, I don’t feel like shipping at all. But I know now I can push over those hurdles. That stopped me many times before.

I’ve also discovered I have something (lots, actually) to say. And I’m discovering new things to learn and share. Not necessarily out of my initial scope for my blog, but different angles than I expected.

I am HERE

For the record, here’s where I am on my little journey now:

  • Completing a demanding commitment through #YourTurnChallenge (I did it!)
  • Inspired to keep going and keep learning
  • Freed up – liberated – to move forward
Where to go from here

From here, while I’m not exactly certain where my blog will end up, I am excited about the journey. It will probably be someplace I’ve never even imagined for myself.

Encouraged by a wonderful group of companions* on this journey, I am gaining confidence daily through what I learn from and through them. I love that part.

Going forward, I want to go deeper. That may mean blogging less frequently so I can plan content with greater precision. Maybe it means punctuating more thought-out content with abbreviated posts.

But my big Aha! is that, while there are many professional blogs out there designed, down to a science, to monetize content, for once I don’t feel I have to be among them.

And now, moving on.

* Estelle, Ann, Steve, Nancy, Mona and Gwen, to name a few

The give-and-take of creative critique

diver is midair, headed for lake water with companions in background

Asking for others’ critique could just be the thing that sets your work free. (Good thing, it goes both ways.)

I used to hate having my work critiqued. It made me itchy.

Over the years, I’ve learned to love it. In fact, I’m usually much more proud of my work as a result of others’ critique.

A little backstory: I lost my job in 2012 and it took a year to get back into the workplace. Yet another year later, I was job hunting again. Since the freelance and consulting work found me, I decided it was probably what I should be doing.

But one thing I’ve missed about the workplace is being with people. I’m an ENTP (read: extrovert who likes to start stuff), I love being, working with and learning from others. That includes critique of my work.

Because un-critiqued work is almost never the best possible work.

In my view, it’s work that no one really cares about. I get it that people are busy and may not have extra bandwidth, but getting someone’s input on your work is critical, not only to quality but to buy-in, especially if your work proposes changes that affect others. Socializing ideas is always easier when others have seen the preliminary work and have an opportunity to contribute their thoughts.

The fear of feedback

It’s understandable to fear critique like the plague, since it can feel like a personal jab to something that’s a part of you…like kicking your dog or something. Consider instead that you can get a lot of satisfaction knowing the core idea is yours. Others will just help you polish it up a bit.

In the end, critique is about collaboration. If you’re a believer that “together we’re better,” it’s a lot easier to swallow.

When giving or receiving critique on creative work, try the following:

Take a dispassionate approach to the critique.

  • Don’t take things personally.
  • Take your emotions out of the equation and consider, “If this were someone else’s work, might I have asked similar questions?”
  • Consider the role – rather than the personality – behind the critic’s feedback. What bases or interests are they trying to cover or represent? Does it help more to include it than it would hurt to leave it out?

Take every piece of feedback and put it into a checklist.

  • This isn’t so much so that every single suggested change is made, but so you can see the range and scope of changes and how they can impact your end product. Maybe there’s a pattern in that feedback that begs your attention.
  • Do the suggested changes make sense individually? Do they stand on their own?
  • More importantly, would the feedback make sense if it were all applied?

Consider the end user.

  • Will they understand the work as is? What questions are they likely to have, with or without the applied feedback?
  • Does the input provide more answers than questions? If No, there’s more work to do.

Give others the benefit of the doubt.

  • It’s true, there’s a kook in nearly every bunch who wants to throw you under the bus. Ignore them. But don’t necessarily toss out their feedback. If you’re on the same page regarding end-product quality, it’s worth considering others’ insights before assuming they’d just rather see us burn in hell.

Ultimately, it’s your work and, at the end of the day, the feedback is yours to take or leave.

But there’s one more question that if you ask nothing else, you must ask, it’s this:

Will this input make the end product better? This is the most liberating question of all, because it forces us to let go of “ownership,” releasing our work into a larger community.

  • No? Nix it.
  • If Yes, the rest should be a piece of cake.

Now, go make some great stuff!

The truth of the matter

I’m coming up on 30 days solid of blogging – shipping each and every day.

Granted, it hasn’t felt like it was great shipping, but it was keeping a commitment to just do it. For that, I am very happy. I’ve built both a new habit and a new discipline, and I couldn’t be happier abot it.

What I didn’t realize is how this process will play out in stages of maturity.

While I’m getting over the fear now of “just doing it,” I find that, in this process, it is still hard for me to open up. It’s still hard to crack the nut of what hurts and what really makes me vulnerable.

So this will be my one of my new goals for Phase 2 of my personal Your Turn Challenge:

My happy, happy Valentine’s heart

heartWhat a wonderful weekend.

It wasn’t eventful, but it was full.

It wasn’t fancy, but it was lovely.

It wasn’t full of fanfare, but it was full of joy.

It wasn’t hysterical, but it was funny.

It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, and that’s what made it special.

A new book, a new secret decoder pen

Today felt more like Christmas than Valentine’s Day.

finding-your-mexican-ancestorsMy mailman brought me a reference book I’d ordered to help with my family history research. Great timing, since Finding Your Mexican Ancestors is like my secret decoder pen for unlocking key records about when my grandfather and grandmother came to the U.S.

Along with increasingly available online resources, this book (and anything by Ryskamp) offers so much context, I’ll now have a better idea of why, how and where I’ll find records to fill in some of our gaps.

I can’t help but be more amazed every time I turn around to learn how genealogy has evolved technologically since I last worked on my family’s history. But sometimes analog is still the best way to go to find answers to lingering questions.

In any case, it makes for a great Christmas Valentine’s Day present.

A picture worth a biography (or four)

cabello-kids-being-themselvesI found this photo the other day of my brothers and me, plus a couple of our cousins, during one of our visits to South Texas from the Midwest. Vintage 1975 in every way.

We were in my grandma’s kitchen, where pretty much where all socializing took place.

Times haven’t really changed much, have they?

Only a handful of years later, we would move there, and I would spend a lot more time in that kitchen watching Chespirito, Sábado Gigante or whatever telenovela was blaring from Grandma’s TV.

The funny thing is, this snapshot perfectly captures our personalities.

My oldest brother, Noe (Spanish for “Noah”) is in back, holding our younger cousin. Noe has always been the quiet, loving caregiver and nurturer, taking his love for babies and kids from our dad.

In front, from left to right: My brother Edgar, looking sly (as usual), is eyeing whatever Eddy is about to bite into.

And me, in my Ernie-and-Bert shirt, well, I’m posing for – I don’t know, another camera? My only explanation I have is that one of my aunts used to call me “Miss America,” and I was probably working hard to live up to her prediction. (The closest I ever got was Barbie-doll boot camp at Pan Am. We know how that went.)

Behind me is our other little cousin, about 2 years younger than her brother Noe is carrying. I suspect she’s standing on the oversized, bell-bottomed pants Noe is undoubtedly wearing. Which can only mean one thing: platform shoes.

On the blessings of tomatillos

Little green, stony fruit with a soft underbelly…but only after a little fire.

I can’t put my finger on it, but tomatillos have always scared the heck out of me in the culinary sense. Last summer, we got a garden full of them, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Imagine that – a Mexican who didn’t know what do with tomatillos. Embarrassing but true.

That was before spending a week with my mom. She makes cooking good food look so easy.

For that visit, I took about a dozen tomatillos with me so she could use them to make enchiladas, salsa or whatever.

With only a couple of days left in my visit, while we ate dinner one evening, she left them on a griddle to soften and brown. I kept one eye on my dinner plate while watching them suspiciously with the other.

I mean, how the heck could something that came out of the ground nearly as hard as a rock produce that beautiful, tangy flavor I loved so much?

And then they came off the grill. Hot, kind of smoky and now translucent and soft – definitely transformed.

“Dump those in here, mija.” In they went to the blender — those and a few little red tomatoes.

Ok, we’d already eaten dinner, so no one was hungry enough to taste this stuff, right? Wrong. I could taste salsa verde any time of day or night and never be too full to perform the taste test.

So I did. OHMYGAWD.

Basically, nature and garlic salt had performed a miracle. And it’s just like French cooking – the simplest ingredients make the most delicious food, or at least they make most food delicious.

roasting tomatillos on a skillet

Miracles happen to these little green suckers when they’re placed under intense heat.

Lesson learned
But those stinking tomatillos taught me a lesson I don’t think I really was ready for: That I’d been so hardened lately in my heart from recent hurts and failures, that nothing short of a hot fire could soften me. Nothing short of a season of deep personal challenge had the ability to show me what really is, let alone what could be.

I was so far gone – kind of wasted, really, emotionally and spiritually speaking.

I’ve been taught since I was little to cast my cares on God, because he cares for me. The last few months, I honestly lost sight of that. To the point, at times, of not believing it anymore.

But a few things – I’ll call them gifts – that have been instruments in winning me over: my husband, my mom and brothers and extended family. And tomatillos.

No kidding. Who knew a little green fruit with a soft, squishy underbelly could point me to my True North?

What’s on your bucket list?

whats-on-your-bucket-listSo I’m curious: What’s on your bucket list?

A couple of years ago, I decided I’d make up for lost time and rekindle my love for music. I played piano and violin growing up and, conveniently for me, when we moved to South Texas from the Midwest, I “forgot” to enroll in orchestra classes.

Amidst the confusion and transition of the move, my mom probably forgot about it. And then she didn’t. But by then it was a year or two too late, and I only played on occasion at church or for other gatherings.

Ever since I started playing violin in the 4th grade, all I really wanted was to play the cello. Trouble was, it was a lot bigger than I was, and I had a mile to walk to school, each way. So there went that.

I’ve grown a couple of inches taller since then, and I’m feeling pretty good about returning to playing a stringed instrument again. Only this time, it’s going to be a lot bigger.