El Sanctuario de Chimayó

church in mountainsOne of the most popular pilgrimage sites in North America is El Sanctuario de Chimayó in New Mexico. It’s a small, unassuming adobe church nestled in the mountains north of Santa Fe.

We drove to Chimayó on a hot day and took turns visiting the church and the Stations of the Cross, since we had Dulcinea with us and couldn’t leave her alone in the heat.

The Sanctuario is famed for its soil, which is said to have healing properties: in fact, so much holy dirt is collected at the site by visitors yearlong and by the 300,000 pilgrims who visit during Holy Week, the diocese has to bring in 25 tons of additional dirt per year to be blessed.

Recently, the diocese added a new shrine dedicated to Our Lady of La Vang, shown below. My sister-in-law tells me that Vietnamese Catholics honor the Lady of La Vang because she appeared and offered aid when Catholics were being persecuted in Vietnam. It’s an ideal addition to the Sanctuario, modern in design but not out-of-place.

Chimayó is a small village, but somehow we missed seeing the town’s two famous weaving studios, which we’ll have to visit when we return. But the Sanctuario is a serene and special place–you can feel it all around you.

dog in riverAfter our visit, we enjoyed some prickly pear lemonade on a patio at the nearby Rancho de Chimayó, and then Dulcie got to cool off in a stream. I think we’ll come back when the trees turn gold.


Summer is retreating at last, and I’m very happy about that, as autumn and winter are my favorite seasons by far. (Winter equals wool and knitting, of course!) Since it’s scorching here in New Mexico, I’ve been busy with various indoor activities, including showing my quilt at the Modern Threads Exhibit in Albuquerque. “Alchemy” is a variation on Carolyn Friedlander’s famous Collection Quilt: being needle-turn applique, it’s entirely pieced and quilted by hand. I would like to say I received a number of compliments on my quilt, but to be honest, the most frequent comment was something along the lines of “Wow. I would never have the patience for that.” I have to laugh, because at this point in my life, I would never have the patience for that much hand stitching either.

I worked on “Alchemy” in the months after my friend Solveig died, and it kept me busy at a time when I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’m very honored that it’s included in the Modern Threads exhibit, which has some stunning modern quilts on display.

Despite the heat, this summer I steeked my first lopapeysa sweater, Mary Jane Mucklestone’s pretty Solbein design, knitted up in Icelandic wool. (Steeking is scary, because you’re basically cutting your knitting in half.) I still need to add button bands and button holes, but I’ve been putting that off until the weather cools down.

scissor cutting into wool sweater
It wasn’t too hot to make a small pair of Joy Mitts for Pride Month, so I knitted these up in Rauma wool from Norway and set them aside for cooler weather. They’re very cozy!
mittensOn a more summery note, the St. James Tea House featured a Jane Austen-themed summer tea, so we headed over there wearing fancy hats and gobbled up all the cucumber sandwiches. I was so inspired afterward that I went home and rewatched Colin Firth playing my favorite Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.

woman drinking teaWe also drove to Santa Fe to hear the SFO’s beautiful and innovative La Boheme, and we drank lots of champagne at the opera tailgate party and gobbled up all the cucumber sandwiches. I sense a theme developing . . .

people at picnicWhen my friend Sandy came to visit, we went to admire the ancient cliff dwellings at Bandelier, which I hadn’t seen since I was a child, and Steve was eager to climb the tallest of the ladders, and I was okay as long as I didn’t look down.

man climbing ladder in mountainsI can’t get over how tiny and ant-like the people on the ladders are–the Alcove House at Bandelier is very high up.

historic cliff dwellingsI’m continuing work on my fox-themed writing project, and after her visit Sandy was sweet enough to send me some inspiring foxy pieces for my kitchen. It means so much to have friends who understand you, who know your tastes and interests, and who support you in your goals. Sandy herself is working on an article about Ursula K. Le Guin, in which she mentions Le Guin’s travels in New Mexico, that may have influenced the novel Always Coming Home.

Besides working on my novel–and visiting my newborn godson–I’ve been running a book club this summer and trying to keep my garden alive. The ABQ Graphic Novel Book Club needed a new leader, so I stepped in, and I’m finding it really enjoyable. We read only graphic novels and comics in our book club, and this month we’re reading Joann Sfar’s delightful story The Rabbi’s Cat, about a cat in 1930’s Sephardic Algeria who eats a talking parrot, gains the power of speech, demands a bar mitzvah, and causes all sorts of mayhem.

As for the garden, I’m definitely adapting to desert gardening, but there have been some failures and there are likely to be more. This spring I planted a bunch of darling dwarf conifers, and only half of them are destined to survive.

small trees But the rainbow outside my gate definitely makes up for a few plant casualties, so I think we’re going to be okay.

rainbow above mountain


Convention Report: ICFA 40


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Spring has come and gone, and there have been some hard times recently, but it’s not too late to share a few photos from my favorite fantasy and science fiction convention. The International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts met as usual in Orlando during spring break, and it was a delight.

The theme this year was “Fantastic Literature and Politics.” Our Guest of Honor G. Willow Wilson talked about how her very existence as a female Muslim comic book author is sometimes marked as political by readers and people in the publishing industry. She read from her new novel The Bird King, which is set in Granada during the Spanish Inquisition, and she shared what it was like developing her comic Ms. Marvel, whose protagonist Kamala Khan is the first-ever millennial-immigrant-Pakastani-Muslim-teenage superhero from New Jersey. Wilson has just completed her groundbreaking run with Ms. Marvel, and Saladin Ahmed–who was the Guest of Honor last year at WisCon–has taken her place. (Also, Wilson has begun a new comic series called Invisible Kingdom, a space opera with space nuns. I’ve read only the first two issues, but I’m enjoying it immensely.)

I met Sarah Pinsker and the very sweet and lovely Fran Wilde, and both signed books for me. There were panels on fairy tales (including a very good one about different versions of Cinderella) and science fiction, lots of great readings, and the chance to support my friend Sandy, who moderated a panel and read an excellent paper.

At the scholar luncheon we sat with the nominees for the Dell Award, all of them brilliant and funny.

4 nominees for Dell award

Sadly, we did not see any alligators. However, I did get to go to the ocean with my friend Jeanne, and we watched the waves come in.

You can’t have a conference without conference knitting, of course, or fancy clothes. (A nice change from wearing yoga pants all the time.) I chose a beaded bronze evening gown for the banquet on Saturday and on Friday got to wear my gorgeous Dries Van Noten skirt and a lovely scarf made from vintage kimonos. I took a chance wearing all that silk to Harry’s Fish House, which specializes in fried everything, but my clothes survived, and so did I. Below, at Harry’s: Jeanne Griggs and her daughter Eleanor, Sandy and me, and Joan Slonczewski.

At the reception before the banquet, Bill Clemente snapped this picture of Sandy and me. Can you tell we had a great time?

The Cunning Little Vixen

I mentioned a recent vulpine obsession; as a result, my readers may have to endure a few fox-themed posts. We’ll begin with Leos Janáček’s masterpiece, The Cunning Little Vixen.

As an opera, The Cunning Little Vixen is extremely difficult to stage. (So I’m told. I’ve never actually produced an opera.) The New York Times, for example, claims that Janáček’s masterpiece has a “nightmarish reputation among opera companies.” Following the U.S. premiere in 1924, “Vixen” wasn’t staged professionally in the States until 1975, when the Santa Fe Opera gave it a go. One of the opera’s difficulties lies in its extensive, glorious orchestral interludes in which the vocalists have no lines to sing. And then there’s the matter of singing animals and insects interacting with humans. That requires imaginative staging, to say the least.

Quick opera summary: a resilient fox cub is captured and raised by a forester, escapes and finds true love and raises a family, then is shot and killed by an evil poacher. The forester, meanwhile, reflects on the circle of life and the connection between humanity and nature.

In December I had dinner with a friend who performs with the Cleveland Orchestra, and she told me about the innovative approach that Cleveland took with the opera a few years ago, which involved vocalists interacting with an animated screen. The BBC has also produced an animated film version, directed by Geoff Dunbar, musical direction by Kent Nagano. More about that in a moment.

Animating an opera is never a bad idea, and in the case of The Cunning Little Vixen, or Příhody Lišky Bystroušky (The Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears) such an approach is entirely appropriate, since Janáček based his opera on a 1920’s newspaper comic strip by Czech artist Stanislav Lolek and the subsequent novelization of Lolek’s work by Rudolf Těsnohlídek.

cartoon of fox













I recently reread Těsnohlídek’s story of Vixen Sharp-Ears (the 1980’s English translation with all the beautiful illustrations by Maurice Sendak) and I was struck by the fact that it was Janáček, not Těsnohlídek, who introduced the vixen’s death as a tragic plot element. Těsnohlídek certainly hinted that the vixen’s days of freedom might be numbered in the future, but he didn’t let the damn poacher get her. (Těsnohlídek, incidentally, has absolutely the saddest life story of any writer in history.)

illustration of fox













In Nagano and Dunbar’s animated production of the opera, the bold, freedom-loving Sharp-Ears may not survive, but she does insinuate her way into the audience’s collective heart.

Below, a few screencaps from my DVD. This isn’t the best production of “Vixen” ever–try this one directed by Sir Charles Mackerras for superb orchestral direction and singing–but I love it anyway. It’s in English! It has cartoon foxes! My favorite scenes include Sharp-Ears dreaming about her mother when she’s tied up in the forester’s yard; Sharp-Ears falling in love with a dashing fox (played here by a tenor, not the usual mezzo); and of course the forester’s exquisite reverie at the end, as his own life draws to a close.

fox and kit

2018: The Year in Reading

Despite being busy designing and building a new home–not to mention packing up 5,000 lbs of books (and this is after The Great Purge)–I did manage to read a few things in 2018.

lego figures and books

My birthday LEGO set: the legendary women of NASA

There are more YA (young adult) and MG (middle grade) novels on my bookshelf than usual, because I’ve been sending subscription book boxes to my nieces, and–being a conscientious auntie–I’ve screened all the books ahead of time. (Usually I can guess if something will be too mature for the girls, or not their style, although I have been spectacularly wrong on a few occasions, like the time I gave the younger one a copy of Holly Black’s Doll Bones, and she was “seriously creeped out.” But I digress.)

My very unscientific list of favorites, in no particular order:

  • Roses and Rot. The Tam Lin-inspired debut by Kat Howard, who edited my novel Arcanos Unraveled. It’s a story about sisters, the dangers of Faerie, and being an artist.
  • The Cruel Prince. Oh, Holly Black, you are a goddess. The first in a trilogy, this is about sisters, the dangers of Faerie, and being a badass.
  •  Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout. You know that the space dog Laika’s tragic story has got under your skin when you read a sweet and uplifting children’s book that references it and you cry and cry, even though there’s a happy ending.
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. A graphic novel about a cross-dressing prince? Yes, please!
  • Magic, Madness, and Mischief by Kelly McCullough. A middle grade adventure in the style of The Lightning Thief, but with a Minneapolis skyline and a sensitively drawn mother with mental health challenges.
  • Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones. Like my novel Arcanos Unraveled, this is a playful satire of a magic university. Scheming academics! Talking Griffins! I love this book so much.
  •  The Language of Spells by Garret Freymann-Wehr. About memory, and loss, and dragons resisting genocide in Vienna. You won’t read that book again, because the ending’s just too hard to take.

2018: The Year in Review

statue of bearI’ve already promised (or threatened) to create separate posts for recent adventure and wildlife photos, since I’m still catching up from the Great Blog Silence of 2018, so let’s just decide right now that our 2018 Year in Review will exclude anything having to do with climbing mountains.

2018 was a year of endings and new beginnings. We’ve embraced our new life in Albuquerque, but we’ve also said a lot of goodbyes.

The hardest goodbye was the one we should have expected. Our beloved kitty Snowy passed away this summer, and we miss her every single day. We’d hoped very much that she would live to see her new home in New Mexico–no stairs for her to manage!–but she was ready to say goodbye. We were not.

white catWe found each other at the Dunn County Humane Society in Wisconsin in 2002. Sporting ermine-soft fur and going by the unlikely name of Auntie Em, she was a street cat who’d just had a litter of kittens. Delicate and finicky, our girl purred softly, cuddled sweetly, and hated the smell of coffee. Snowy sat on my wrists while I wrote my novels, shamelessly drank from my water glasses, and imperiously did her own thing. We wouldn’t have had it any other way. She was our little Snowy Bubbles, our Snow Bunny, and we loved her.

Another goodbye took place near Pinewood Springs, Colorado. The week before I moved to New Mexico, my friends Takane and Betsy and I went up into the mountains above our friend Solveig’s childhood home, and we scattered Sol’s ashes to the winds. Solveig loved hiking, she felt ridiculously lucky to to live in Colorado, and it makes me happy to think that her mortal remains have become a part of the wilderness that she cherished. Solveig’s spirit is still with us, and I really believe she’s watching over me.

rocks and treesEven if a goodbye isn’t final, it’s always challenging to be parted from the people we care about. I miss all my Colorado friends–both the ones I met through Solveig, and the ones in the textile community that I found on my own. I’ve joined a new textile guild in Albuquerque, but the gals from the Denver Metro guild helped me become a modern quilter, and I’m grateful to them all.

2018 saw me working on two major projects: a charity quilt and a custom home. Since I figured I needed to exercise my skills as a project manager, I took charge of the Denver Metro guild’s QuiltCon Charity Challenge Quilt, working closely with over a dozen quilters to create “Enigma Variations.” Following the candy-bright color palette and “Modern Traditionalism” prompt assigned by the Modern Quilt Guild, I conceptualized the quilt, collected individual blocks from each contributor, commissioned the talented Amy Wade to do custom quilting, and then put it all together.

modern quiltHere’s the artist’s statement that I wrote for the QuiltCon show:

We take inspiration from Edward Elgar’s haunting orchestral suite known as the Enigma Variations, whose theme is a counterpoint to an unnamed melody that is never directly heard. Thus the true source material is an enigma. We aim to translate Elgar’s exquisite sense of mystery into fabric. This quilt contains several “Enigma” blocks that both convey and conceal our source material. Through the interplay of our variations, we seek to create a feeling of expansive potential, while retaining a sense of mystery at the core. Blocks by members of the Denver Metro Modern Quilt Guild. Quilting by Amy Wade.

I enjoyed designing “Enigma Variations” and seeing the project through to the end. It was a ton of work, but it felt good to make it happen. Project management also played a role in our other major accomplishment for the year: designing our new home.

house with table
Building a house is not unlike writing a novel (which is why I don’t have a new novel finished this year–the house took everything I had). You’re dealing with a huge, overwhelming project, and at all times you need to have your eye on both the big picture, and the smaller details. When you write a novel, you have to choose a genre and determine the scope of your undertaking. How many pages? What kind of a story? And then you actually have to write the thing, word by word. For house-building, you select the aesthetic style, the size, and the budget, and then you need to make hundreds of individual choices, just as you do when you’re writing a book.

Steve deserves all the credit for managing the budget and keeping track of our contractors and subcontractors. He’s an engineer, so spreadsheets are in his blood. But I will say that I spent a lot of time this year researching transitional Pueblo Revival houses, creating blueprints, selecting colors and finishes and fixtures and flooring, and designing landscapes. My Pinterest board was full of Spanish and Kiva-style corner fireplaces, and much more.

Steve mapped out the proportions for our fireplace using his excellent math skills. I, however, used LEGOS and painter’s tape.

It all worked out just fine.