For the past five years we have lived in a garage. With a port-a-potty outside, a tiny little cook stove, and limited running water. A minimum half hour drive for a shower at the local YMCA. A wood stove for heat (meaning spending summers chopping and stacking). Just think about that for a moment before reading on. Could you do that? I have a lot of strong friends who could, and have done so.

At first it was difficult. Especially during the two years or so that I was ‘insane’. Meaning after radiation treatments to my head ended, and I endured the emotional fallout.

I found myself oddly craving a home. I studied them as I drove by, the shapes of dormers and doorways, decks with grills, curtains. My poor husband lived with stress and guilt, feeling like he could not give me a place like that.

But I wasn’t unhappy where we were. I felt ashamed when people came to visit, but then, very few did anyway, so it wasn’t bad. I learned what ‘house-pride’ meant, and became humble. And then one hot summer day a friend said to me that she’d give anything for a home where she could open up one whole wall to the breeze. I had the garage door open at the time. It made me look around differently.

We had a roof over our heads. We were toasty warm in the winter, in spite of the frosty outhouse seat. We had food on the table, and each other. Isn’t that what a home is? Protection from the elements, loved ones, safety, a fixed place in a crazy world?

Then a few months ago friends offered to sell us our old house back. Life turned into a stressful whirlwind as we decided to give up on our dream of building, and sold the property. Now we’re in transition, renting a tiny A-frame while we wait to see if the purchase goes through.

In this A-frame, we have the same furniture we had in the garage. The same…things. Of course there’s a flushing toilet and a shower, which is an upgrade. But still. It’s the same family unit, the same dogs. The A-frame is comfortable. I miss being able to hear the rain on the metal roof. I don’t get outside nearly as much as I did when I had to go into the weather for everything. Again, think about this for a moment. If we had to pee in the middle of the night, we had to put on shoes, sometimes a coat, get a flashlight, and go out into a very dark mountain night. With owls and mysterious noises in the woods. I found it fun most of the time; one friend in particular probably didn’t. You know who you are, Jenni.

Seriously though, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a home means. What makes this A-frame any different from our garage, other than a few material comforts? What will make the place we purchase any different from the garage? Well, a lot less stress and work for my husband, that’s for sure. A more comfortable space and more privacy for our son. But other than those things, what is the difference? I don’t know.

It’s nice having a kitchen. I’m thrilled to have an oven again. I’m even enjoying having a toilet to clean, though I had to buy a toilet bowl brush. Five years with no need for one. I imagine eventually the novelty will wear off. Again though, does that make a home?

I can’t answer that question and I refuse to resort to clichés such as ‘home is where your heart is’. That’s not enough.

Maybe it’s simply a light in the window when you come home from work. Space to claim. Possessions around you. All things we had in the garage. Why then did that feel like camping?

What is a home to you?



The cabin.

The cabin.

Is home a couch?

Is home a couch?

Or matching curtains?

Or matching curtains?

Or simply a place to lay your head?

Or simply a place to lay your head?

Where There’s Smoke…

The 1910 forest fire in Idaho was so devastating it’s still known as the Big Blowup. Ten thousand forest rangers, miners, and farmers became firefighters. Many died and were buried where they fell. Some towns were evacuated by trains racing ahead of flames.

This history figures in the plot of book three, which is in process, and because of it I’ve been thinking a lot about fire. What it would have been like to face it, how it comforts and terrifies, warms and burns, provides safety, and destroys. And memories of my own firefighter days. But on a lighter note I thought I’d share a story that is nothing like the 1910 fire.

Once, we camped our way across Montana and found a beautiful, secluded campground on the Black Foot River. We had the place completely to ourselves and set up camp under huge old pine trees right alongside the river. My husband stood out there in the sunset fly fishing while I followed our young son, tossing rocks. Peaceful and perfect.

Until the wind started up, and kept coming, roaring over the mountain, bringing with it the smell of smoke and hot ash that burned holes in our tent. We had a camper on our truck so we retreated as thunder and lightning joined the wind. Pitching a tent with metal poles right under very tall trees suddenly seemed vulnerable.

In order to keep our son from being too scared, we resorted to happy voices. “Wow! Isn’t that cool how the wind tosses the tent?” and “Look at those tent poles break! Isn’t that funny! Let’s play Monopoly!” and “Bet you didn’t think tree branches could make such a loud crash when they hit the camper!”

The storm was violent enough that it blew the thought of ash, and what might be causing it, from our brains. Just like our tent blew away, along with the heavy-duty stakes.

After a long night in which our son slept soundly and we didn’t, we got up with the beautiful dawn illuminating the Black Foot. we packed up and pulled out. Rounding a corner not even a quarter-mile from the campground, we came across hundreds of identical tents in many, many rows. Firefighters.

There was a huge forest fire nearby. Everyone except those fighting the flames had been evacuated. Someone, on the way out, forgot to put a ‘closed’ sign at the campground. The high winds the night before had whipped the fire into a frenzy, but somehow the mountain had kept it from raging our way.

A good friend, Paul, was at the time a forest ranger who fought fires. As we drove by all those identical tents, a happy voice from the back seat piped up. “Let’s find Paul!”

Someday I want to return to that campground because it really was beautiful. Doubt we’ll have it to ourselves though.

Wonder if there’s still pieces of tent hanging from the trees.

One of my favorite camping pictures of Arthur.

One of my favorite camping pictures of Arthur.


I’ve been thinking about fear for a scary story. Thinking about what scares me and why, what scares people I know, and why. For instance, a sister and a friend are afraid of spiders. Personally, when I find a spider I put it outside. Why are spiders frightening? Is it the way they run so fast, the fact that they have so many legs? But why are those things scary? When people talk about spiders they use words like ‘scuttle’ and ‘dart’. I think it’s the unpredictability, the feeling of being not in control. Well, my sister says spiders have hairy legs but then so does her husband and he doesn’t scare her.

The same friend (I’ll let her identify herself in comments if she wishes) told me she’d be uncomfortable house sitting for us because she’d be afraid to go outside. I assume it’s the lack of any light, the surrounding woods, the wild animals. Those things that I rarely give consideration to. But this is the same friend who managed to walk a lonely road through the woods late at night with no flashlight, because she had no choice. So she has the courage to function in spite of fear. I still wonder though, what is at the root of that fear of the dark. The unknown? The unseen?

This same friend lives in the city and thinks nothing of standing at a bus stop late at night. Now that would scare me. Why? Strangers, noise, crowds. And what is the root of that? Unpredictability, lack of control.

Thinking more about this I realize we also fool ourselves into thinking we are safe. Like the following scenario, which happened to me.

You’re in a tent on a camping trip with your husband and small child. It’s late in the season, few campers, cold at night. Your food is stored in iron ‘bear boxes’ with padlocks to keep the bears out of your food. It’s late, pitch black. You’re cozy in the tent, snug in your sleeping bag, safe. Until you hear the clanging of something banging on the bear box. And hear loud snuffling. And see the wall of the tent bulge inward. At that moment you realize that the safe ‘home’ is simply canvas material, easily ripped. And your snug sleeping bag is simply a trap you cannot get out of fast enough. Finally, you realize that by locking all your food in a bear box, the hungry bear must look elsewhere. And now you’re terrified.

In our case all worked out well, of course. But what was terrifying? Again, at the very root, vulnerability, lack of control. And for me, the sudden terror that I might not be able to keep my child safe. Which could be interpreted yet again as lack of control.

So in this story I’m working on, it doesn’t seem to matter what the character is afraid of so much as why they are afraid. If I figure out the why, then maybe the reader will feel that same fear.

So what are you afraid of, and have you ever wondered why?

The photo below is a bronze maple leaf that hangs in a yew tree. My son says it’s creepy because the eyes ‘follow’ him when he walks by. A fear of something inanimate acting like something animate? Who knows.

And okay, I added a spider for my friend. Couldn’t resist.

Do the eyes follow you?

Do the eyes follow you?

Peppermint - looking spider on a peony.

Peppermint – looking spider on a peony.