Falling in Love with Cactus at the Torta Grill

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We were forty-five minutes early so we walked to the nearest restaurant to grab something to eat.  We went into a small shop with a counter and a smaller counter by the window.  An entrepreneur’s dream with open kitchen and a simple but dazzling menu.  Our first thought is that Shyanne would love this place.  She is an artist and draws the ladies from the Day of the Dead.  The décor would have pleased her.  The young woman and man behind the counter spoke easy Spanish and English.  They both were smiling and helpful, explaining what the sandwiches were and the options.

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The Torta Grill’s specialty is what they call “authentic Mexican sandwiches”.  Now, y’all know I am not a fan of sandwiches.  These were a far cry from the ham and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, or turkey and cheese of our culture.  We stood looking up at the menu on the wall, taking in the slight cool breeze from the sweltering outdoors, and tried to decide.  The first line I read was “Enrique- eggs, cactus, panela cheese, crushed red peppers, and more cheese.”  I needed to look no further.

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The bread was similar to ciabatta but a bit softer, grilled to a perfect brown on the open grill.  He layered on a smear of black beans to one side and light, sweet mayo on the other.  Juicy, cut very thin tomatoes and marinated red onion topped the mayo side.  Then cold avocado, fresh, and flavorful topped that.  On the other side of the grill he was busy sautéing the eggs, cactus, and cheese.  He placed them on the bread, put it all together and sliced it deftly.  It was a thing of messy beauty.

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I was five bites in before I just took a fork to the thing pulling out separate components and dipping them in a hot, smoky chipotle sauce.  The cactus tasted like a sweeter green pepper, and wrapped in hot cheese made it irresistible.  I had the mini sandwich that was under five bucks and it filled me up.  Doug had an egg, steak, and cheese sandwich that I would love to tell you about it but while I was savoring chipotle and cactuses in silent bliss Doug devoured his.  These sandwiches were good.

The highlight of the Torta Grill was the juice offerings.  We had been walking a lot in a hundred degree heat and those thirty-two ounce drinks caught our attention immediately.  Doug had cucumber lemonade, perfect for a summer day.  I fell for a huge thing of horchata.  The cinnamon spiked milky drink was cold and delicious.

One of the positives of our current homeless, jobless situation is that we have been able to enjoy summer.  Every day for the past six years we stood on hot pavement under a farmer’s market tent, or watering our gardens, or milking goats, or making products for our Apothecary, or running our store.  This summer, while we can, we are playing in sprinklers with our granddaughter, swimming, hiking, visiting friends, and eating new things in new places, like cactus and panela in chipotle.  You must try this place if you are downtown!

The Torta Grill

1818 East Colfax Avenue

Denver, Co

Searching for Home

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It is just an ordinary old building from the outside.  It was a feed store and a liquor store among other things.  Its basement is flooded and water rushes around the old, old boiler standing proudly, its ankles wading in the rainwater misplaced.  The large main floor is open with high ceilings, windows, wood floors, and my eyes gaze around in wonder as if I were designing a loft for a popular television show.  The upstairs is a rounded loft that would make a lovely bedroom.  The back room is really the gem.  A rustic blank slate of old brick and cement, a kitchen it must be.  I dream as the owner shows me around.  Lord, I could decorate anything.  Unfortunately we have to rent a year before we can buy and she could not afford to allow us that being too far behind.  The bank will likely have this unspoken masterpiece, unappreciated in its barrenness but too expensive in its needs.  I wished her luck.  I could have had supper clubs there and art openings and karaoke nights!  But alas, it is not for us though if could buy we could get it for a song.  I could even turn the outside strip into a garden oasis with chickens.

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So, Doug and I decided to head out to the building that holds the company that he is interviewing with tomorrow.  We are confident and hopeful.  We backtracked from the building to various neighborhoods, many with pristine grass and home owner’s associations written all over them as well as mighty confident price tags.  Because his work, should he get the job, is on the far north side of Colorado Springs we would be a mere ten minutes from the first bit of country.  A life Doug would like to hold onto.  Truth be told, so do I.  We still want the large gardens and chickens.  The views, the stars, the quiet, that life.

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We drove past the trees that were scarred by the fire I wrote about a few years ago.  The area is regrowing and beautiful.  To live in the trees would be magical even though the fire risk is always a possibility.  A few minutes further we get into the prairielands we know and adore.

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Oh where will our new home be?  And can it be somewhere we can stay?  To put down roots and apple trees without fear of being forced to move?  Can we find someone to help us get the house then buy it from them?  Or a place that we can rent then purchase later?  A place that we can call our own?  Dreaming of home is a bittersweet ordeal when you know not where home is.

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Home is by a hearth and fire, surrounded by our cats, and visited by our beloved ones.  It is where we find each other at the end of the day and at early dawn.  Where the rooster will crow and the pumpkins will grow.  We are searching.

Picking Personas (and cookin’)

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I knew it wouldn’t be long before I came up with another hair brained scheme.  It would take awhile to institute it and I have no idea how to make it happen but I do have a dream of a type of supper club.  Whether it be at a restaurant after hours or in our home once a month I can’t be sure.  It would include no more than three tables, very romantic, beautiful music, set five course meal for one price.  Wine pairings would be included and the meal would end with one of my daughter, Shyanne’s amazing baked confections.  All housemade specialties, local and seasonal produce and ingredients, nothing artificial, everything perfectly seasoned and paired.

I am not sure how so much complexity and personas can be in one person.  How can I be just as fascinated with being a mountain mama hermit as I am a high profile sommelier?  I am as comfortable in long dresses and old fashioned aprons as I am in stilettoes and a pencil skirt.  I love the entertainment of the city as well as the old farm truck and chickens in the country life.  I am a talented herbalist, have learned from shamans over the years, love food and wine and entertaining as well as gardening and chickens too.  I have taught, modeled, danced, and owned a quaint little shop.  I devour Country Living magazine and Food and Wine magazine each month with the same intensity.  Surely these things can all culminate into one lifestyle and profession?  Which persona to choose?  The vagabond hippie?  The chef that carries truffle oil around everywhere?  The music pastor?  The shaman/herbalist?  The food critic?  The housewife hermit?  Wouldn’t it be nice sometimes if we were a smidge simpler in design?

I was walking past a restaurant that is locally owned by a man that I have done farmer’s markets with for years.  We started the same time, sold similar products for a time, quit our jobs at the same time, moved to the country at the same time, now he still does lots of markets and runs a restaurant.  As with all the roving vendors at the market we had a bit of a love/hate relationship and hearty competitive nature as well as a reverent respect for each other’s craft.

Mark walked out of the restaurant and directly towards me and asked if I would like to cook at the restaurant.  I said no because I heard he yelled.

“Are you going to yell at me?” I asked.  He replied that he could not promise that he wouldn’t.  I told him that I cry if yelled at then throw sh#t. (Maybe I have been watching too much Hell’s Kitchen.)  He said fine.  I also told him I would be the worst employee because I never know my daughter’s schedule until the last minute and don’t know when I would be able to work.

“That’s fine,” he replied again.

I start Tuesday.

Act Two

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Our blessings come to the forefront of each day.  The days we watch our granddaughter, Maryjane, are full of laughter and fun.  We talk into the evening with the great friends we share home with.  We are going to a slumber party tonight at my cousin’s house.  It will be as if we were twelve again, except this time our parents won’t come roaring downstairs because of our inability to stop laughing.  Meals, karaoke, time with family, another break from the ordinary.  We know we would never be on the streets, so many great friends and family do we have.  All the light of our days made the focus now.  What beauty these days bring!

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In our time of renewed beginnings, our journey starts with rest and entertainment.  Things we missed out on for too long because of our focused life.  Our bodies don’t miss the intense gardening, farm work, and homesteading activities but my spirit does.  Filling my time with writing, hiking, visiting, sitting on the porch, playing with the baby, and dreaming of the next venture is surely a great way to begin the next half of my life.

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All of our experiences up to this point find themselves seamlessly woven in the book I am writing just as easily as folks I have known make themselves into characters, changed, altered, romanticized.  As if the last forty-plus years were an exercise in designing settings and characters for books.

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My future gardens await, my sewing room is out there, my large kitchen will be grand, my home will be mine, books to be written.  I read about a woman in her nineties who wrote her first book, an award winning compilation of poems.

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Friends, my best is yet to come.

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Walking at Dawn

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The hummingbirds flit around my hair on their way to sweetened nectar

their ringing sounds of bells in the early morning air.

The dawn shines clear and hopeful

brushing pink in its palette spread across the landscape fair.

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I walk across heavy laden needles and cacti, up steep inclines of bindweed and pine cones, through underbrush that crunches beneath a canopy of sweet Ponderosas I stop to smell.  Their caramel bark dissipating in the midsummer morn.  Sweet clover brushes against me and the birds sing to the heavens in great song as a mother deer brings her new fawn along.

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I sit atop a large stone above the sleepy town, crossed legged and facing the sun.  The world is quiet above the trees as Tiger Swallows catch the light breeze.  “I have all you need,” Nature whispers to me, food and medicine and shelter and more, there is no fear and nothing to fret for.

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And he dusted off the old resume restored, looking in closet for nice clothes long past, away to the office he will tread and to the city which was our dread.  But, the new house will be found and in it memories and laughter sounds.  Gardens to plant in the front yard for fun, and bike rides to local eateries and movie runs.  A new life ahead, still quite unseen, unknown, but one that will be filled with joy and journeys yet unsewn.

The Beautiful Chaotic Homestead

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We were welcomed into the home of a beautiful family yesterday evening for supper and company.  Another family is there camping out and between the two families there were nine little blondes running around between the ages of nine months and eight years.  The scene looked all the world like the movie “Yours, Mine and Ours” and the chaos was more intoxicating than the chilled glasses of Chardonnay.

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Christy and Kevin live on thirty-five acres in Elizabeth.  A place that Christy could only dream of.  She had hoped to find a place with four stalls and instead found a place with a riding arena and eight stalls!

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Their list of critters includes turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, sheep, goats, barn cats, Colorado Mountain dogs, and pigs.  I was surprised to see my friend, Faleena’s horse there too!

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The homestead was bustling, the women working with kabobs and babies in the kitchen and the men working to complete chores.  Doug and I jumped into our expected roles, he out in the barn with the men and I set a baby on my hip.  I do love the busyness of a kitchen and a large family.  I do find myself missing the days when my children were little and the house was wild with local kids and pets all waiting for dinner.

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We cooed over the baby Nubians and pet the friendly dogs and enjoyed the setting sun across the prairie as a hawk soared overhead.

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We realized that even though we are thrilled being around the type of homestead we always worked for and that type of work is genuine and fine, we are not looking for anything of that scale any longer.

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After we found out we were being forced off our farm we stopped.  Just stopped.  All of a sudden there was no more wood to chop, no more goats to milk, no more chickens to tend to, no more gardens to water, no more life.  We felt ourselves fall into a deep fatigue.  I am not sure how many years we would have been able to keep that kind of activity up as there are just two of us and the type of homestead we wanted really requires a family.  We are glad we experienced that lifestyle.  Moving forward it will be nice to rebuild and only allow in our very favorite parts of the life we loved.  I cannot imagine not having a garden.  I can do without the fiber arts.  I love cooking but I only want to preserve what I really enjoy, not thirty-seven quarts of carrots just to get through the winter.  We can enjoy a few chickens maybe but not the exorbitant feed bill that we had every month.

With that we will only buy things that we need.  Things that make our home home to us.  Bunk beds for visiting grandbabies.  A bed for guests.  An art room.  An office.  A large kitchen.  We know what we want because we have lived without and can decipher what really makes our life great to us.  The large bustling homestead was awesome.  Our last few homesteads were fun.  I suppose I won’t be considered a homesteader anymore.  More like a 1950’s housewife but that is okay with me.  I found it ironic that just when we thought we were nearly self reliant, we found ourselves 100% in need.  It will be fun reworking the next half of our life to include all the things we really, really love and schedule in rest and fun as well!

Saving the Ice Cream Maker (and dreams of adobes and cabins)

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Have you ever wondered what you would take if you had to leave your home?  Photographs seem to top the list and yes, I did grab three boxes of mine.  The other items now that I stand back and look made me laugh.  Granted I have been in a fog lately but my priorities must have come through anyway.  The highlight of my stash is as follows.  I grabbed the pottery pieces that my children have made for me over the years.  I packed a select number of books.  And the ice cream maker.  Seriously?  I grabbed the ice cream maker?

Jill gifted me with some milk yesterday if I goatsit for an hour tomorrow and my friend, Diana, gave me some farm fresh eggs so I will make some ice cream.  That might fix everything.

Another friend who lost everything in a fire aptly said that you find out that things do not make up who you are.  They do not define us.  My style represented me, gave glimpses of my personality, but are not what me and Doug are about.

I am a homemaker though.  That is my favorite job.  Taking care of my kids and now granddaughter, fixing supper, working in the garden, making sure the house is clean, mending, canning, day dreaming on the porch all bring me joy.  So, understandably I have swirls of possible houses and dreams of cabins and adobes and porches running through my mind.  Then I’ll think, ‘Oh crap!  I don’t have anything to put in the house (save for some fine art deco, books, photos, and an ice cream maker).’

I cannot imagine how this will all unfold.  How the heck will we get our own place?  But I know when that mystery unfolds then the things to fill a home will follow easily.  I had to give away so much for free that I know that there are ways to get things for a low price.  I don’t know why I ever bought new.  I will make sure that I do not accumulate as much stuff.  Lord, where does all our stuff come from?!  I think my new style will be Quaker style.  Of course there will be things that I miss but part of me is the slightest bit relieved to be free of so many items to care for.

I am, as usual, ahead of myself.  Job first.

What this journey is really teaching me thus far is to get out of my head.  My friend, Pat, is the most joyous creature, just full of energy and life.  She is rarely stuck in the cerebral but rather enjoying good food, drinks, her husband, life, adventures, and sensations.  I am always thinking.  It gets annoying and I miss the chance to be human.  I am so stuck in the spiritual/cerebral/can’t shut off my brain for two seconds that I forget to be in touch with right now and all the sensations that make being a human worthwhile.  I am learning to be present.  Well, I am thinking about learning to be present.  We’ll get there.

What would you take if you had to leave your home?