The School of Always Learning

By Donnell Ann Bell

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” ― George Eliot “

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” ― Andy Warhol

I didn’t go to Harvard. I write a character that enjoys a sterling curriculum vitae, but unlike him I didn’t have what I would call a crowning education. Growing up in a small town, I received the basics, doing well in English and science, things that interested me. But when it came to advanced math, I was lost. I knew it early on in Algebra class and certainly by the time I enrolled in Geometry.  It never occurred to me to seek out a guidance counselor, nor was it ever offered.

While my plight may sound pathetic, I was bright. I liked to write. I also made good grades. I enjoyed my humanities and sociology classes, and a favorite of mine was (forgive the age-old stereotype) Secretary Office Practice. I particularly loved Shorthand. I reached 120-words-per-minute and won awards, and to this day I use Greg shorthand to write my stories. After college, I became an administrative assistant in the Land Department, and when my boss, the Division Land Manager, was offered employment elsewhere, he invited me to join him. By doing so, I earned a substantial raise and more education. When he retired, I stayed at the company and became a supervisor in the division.

The reason I make this deep dark confession about my education is because I am reading repeatedly how the pandemic has set our children back and how public education is failing. I cannot argue either point. We are facing a crisis. According to the World Bank, literacy is trending backwards.

Still, I remain ever hopeful.

Years ago, a young woman came to my house with her two small boys. During our visit, she lamented the boys’ teacher had not taught her children to read. I was rather stunned that she felt she should leave such an important task up to one person. One of my greatest joys as a parent was reading to my children. As my kids grew older, I’d take one page, they’d take the next. It was solid gold, not only in spending time with my children but in educating them as well. A teacher is merely one cog in the learning machine.

Here’s another lesson I learned about education. It’s not stagnant. As human beings, we have the ability to learn and grow throughout our lifetimes.

My husband is a chemical engineer and enjoys giving back. He’s tutored students in math, and when my children were small, he became involved in Junior Achievement and a program called Math Counts. My children attended a small Catholic grade school, kindergarten through eighth grade. Les worked with the seventh and eighth graders on Math Counts and discovered the students in the upper grades were behind. He insisted we move our children, stating, “If a child falls behind in reading, they can catch up. In math, not so much.” We moved our kids to a more affluent school system. They did well. My son is a CPA. My daughter graduated with a B.S. in Business, emphasis in supply chain management. She now works in IT.

Was my husband correct in his assumption that those children who stayed behind could never catch up?  One student in his former Math Count’s program is a medical doctor in Denver and heads up her department, so you tell me.

I have a friend who barely graduated high school. At one time, he was so down on his luck, he missed car payments. His dad invited him to help him build a small golf course in Montana. My friend had never played golf in his life. His response? “I don’t know, Dad. Let me go play a round, and I’ll get back to you.” A long success story considerably shortened, that invitation led to my friend building and working for celebrated golf-course designers in the U.S. and internationally.

Back to me, after college and as a working adult, I used my love of shorthand to go to court reporting school. I learned English, anatomy, and, of course, medical, and legal terminology–courses that admittedly fascinated me.  Although I achieved speeds of 245 wpm and passed my state boards, my career was cut short by a hand injury. A window opened, however, and I left that career and went to work for a weekly business newspaper. My role as topic submission editor and in writing spotlight articles led to my fiction career.

Yes, 2020 and the Pandemic have put us behind. But while traditional K-12 education is a vital steppingstone to college, it’s not the only avenue for additional learning. There are numerous outreach organizations that support advancement, particularly in literacy.   The situation is bleak and for now that’s where the focus and headlines remain.

However, as parents, grandparents, and other caring individuals, I cannot believe all is lost. That opinion is bolstered each time I start a new book and am astounded by the additional knowledge I obtain in researching a novel.

How about you? Are you a member of The School of Always Learning? Do you have a story to share, and are you enrolled in my school?

About the Author:  Leaving international thrillers to world travelers, Donnell Ann Bell concentrates on suspense that might happen in her neck of the woods – writing SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. Traditionally published with Bell Bridge Books, she has written four Amazon single-title bestsellers, with her most current release Black Pearl, a Cold Case Suspense, book one of a series, and Until Dead, a Cold Case Suspense, book two, which was released May 31, 2022.

Donnell has won or been nominated for The Colorado Book Award, The Epic Award for Best Thriller Suspense, Greater Detroit’s Booksellers Best for Best First Book and Best Single Title, the Daphne du Maurier Award, and the Holt Medallion, among others. She co-owns Crimescenewriter, an online group, in which law enforcement, forensic experts, and a multitude of related professionals assist authors in getting those pesky facts right in our novels.

To learn more about her books, sign up for her newsletter or follow her on social media, check out



New Website

Welcome to the brand new website for the Stiletto Gang!

The Stiletto Gang is excited to announce our new website. We think you’re going to love it!

In fact, you are the reason we moved from Blogger to WordPress and created our new website. Readers were frustrated that they couldn’t get digest emails (sign up in the upper right corner!) And with more features, easier navigation, more info about each Gang member and our books, the new website is a breath of fresh air for our writers and readers alike.

We’ve moved the majority of our old posts over, so you can still find (and search) the old content and comment on the new posts.  In fact you check out all our posts in the Archives, read more about our author Gang, and check out our fabulous Books.

The gang is excited to be moving into this more technologically advanced era and we hope you are too!  Thank you to all of our past readers and welcome to any new ones.  We value your support and hope that we can provide entertaining and informative content.

Happy reading!

Evacuating from a Wildfire

By Kathryn Lane

I love the mountains in northern New Mexico. Nature in this
area constantly surprises me with beautiful vistas, wildflowers, and above all,
the wild animals. We have elk, deer, coyotes, wild turkeys, several varieties
of birds, Cooper hawks, and bears. Occasional wild cats and mountain lions also
roam the area. I’m mesmerized by the herds of elk and their calves. 

For some writers, the beach inspires them. For me, the
mountains clear my brain and let my creativity flow. This year our normally
peaceful mountain hideaway proved that nature can also be terrifying. A
horrific wildfire started when controlled burns in the Gallinas Canyon in the
Santa Fe National Forest near Las Vegas, NM, got out of hand and turned into
the most destructive wildfire in the state’s recorded history.

In May, evacuations began very close to where we live. We
could see the flames beyond the mountains in front of our cabin and the smoke
was so thick, we decided to pack up and leave. What to take with us became an
issue. Essential articles that we need for any trip is a given. Emergency items
came next. After that, it’s a conflict between sentimental items, such as
paintings, and what we could fit into our vehicle.

Two years ago, I’d given my husband, Bob, a bathrobe for the
cabin. He lost it after forgetting it on a trip last year. He’d spent at least
two months searching online for a replacement. For two months he grumbled about
the bad selection, grim colors, wrong fabric, incorrect length, and lack of
styling.  He finally ordered one and it
arrived two days before we evacuated. A thick, heavy terrycloth robe, I put it
in the car.

He immediately asked why we needed to take it.

“We’ll survive the evacuation,” I said, “but I can’t get
through two more months of you hunting for another bathrobe.”

Thankfully, we are back in our beloved mountains and our
cabin survived just fine.

I’d decided, before the wildfire started, to place my next
Nikki Garcia mystery in New Mexico.

Now I’m wondering if I should include a wildfire in the mix to
complicate the plot. One thing is for sure, Bob’s bathrobe will not be a
part of the story! Or maybe a bear will eat the robe!


Postscript: The fire is no longer a threat, but for many
families who lost their homes, their struggle is far from over.


Kathryn’s Nikki Garcia Mystery
– on Amazon

Amazon Paperback –

eBook –


Kathryn Lane started out as a painter in oils and quickly became a starving artist. To earn a living, she became a certified public accountant and embarked on a career in international finance with a major multinational corporation. After two decades, she left the corporate world to plunge into writing mystery and suspense thrillers. In her stories, Kathryn draws deeply from her Mexican background as well as her travels in over ninety countries.

Visit my website at

Sign up for my monthly newsletter on my website

Photo credits:

All photographs are used in an editorial and/or
educational manner

Elk and their Calves by Kathryn Lane

Firefighter – Taos News

Brown Bear by Kathryn Lane

Covers for the Nikki Garcia Mystery Series –
Heidi Dorey designs for Tortuga Publishing, LLC

Photo of Kathryn Lane by Bob Hurt

Off to camp…


Debra Sennefelder

I’m all packed for camp…but there’s one thing missing from this photo and that’s my laptop because the camp I’m participating in July is Camp Nanowrimo. 😆 Seriously…I don’t camp. Never had. Not even when I was a girl scout. 

So, what the heck am I doing?

Camp Nano (National Novel Writing Month) happens twice a year. It has a more chilled vibe than National Novel Writing Month, which is November (I never understood how that month was chosen). In November the goal is to write a 50,000 word manuscript. The Camp sessions, while they are still a month long, have more flexible goals. And this year my goal is to write two outlines and the first 50 pages of each new book. Yeah, a pretty lofty goal since my outlines tend to run 20-25 pages (single spaced). But I’m up for the challenge! If I keep repeating it, I’m sure I’ll believe it. 

So far, I am doing pretty good with the goals I’ve set. I’ve been working since last Monday (I arrived at camp early…that’s me!) and I’ve done pretty good with plotting this book. I’m on track to wrap up the outline by mid-week and then I can start writing the first 50 pages. I already wrote the opening paragraphs and I love this story!

Before I go (words need to be written), I wanted to share that Connie celebrated her third birthday on June 30th. I baked her a cake and then she went to her favorite shop to pick out a birthday toy. It was a fun day.

Have you participated in Camp Nano? Or, have you actually went camping? Please leave a comment down below. 

Have a wonderful July 4th.

Debra Sennefelder is the
author of the Food Blogger Mystery series and the Resale Boutique Mystery series.
She lives and writes in Connecticut. When she’s not writing, she enjoys baking,
exercising and taking long walks with her Shih-Tzu, Connie. You can keep in touch
with Debra through her website, on Facebook and Instagram.

What Love Really Means


Writer, humanist,

          dog-mom, horse servant and cat-slave,

       Lover of solitude

          and the company of good friends,

        new places, new ideas

           and old wisdom.

The answer to what love is has defied the best efforts of philosophers and poets, yet we know it when we see it, as these keen observations from children prove. 

“Karl, age 5: ‘Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.’ 

Billy, who is 4, had to think about it, but decided, ‘When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.’

And Rebecca observed, ‘When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So, my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.’”

And Teresa (TK) age. . . never mind . . . said, ‘Daddy is love–you can crawl onto his lap, and he will read the comics in the newspaper for you; you can crawl on his shoulders, and he will flip you over and over again! You can know you will always have a place to go if you need it; he will always be there.’

Thank you, Papa for everything and always. I love you . . . and that’s the most important thing.
T.K.Thorne is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her curiosity and imagination take her.  More at

Mi Chicana Garden

June 23, 2022

mi Chicana Garden Southern Colorado 2022

Dear Reader,

It is officially summer, and I spent the solstice riding on a quad runner with mi esposo in the Sangre de Cristos near the cell phone towers at 10,000 feet (about twice the elevation of Denver, Colorado). The air felt thin and caused me to get short of breath. But the oxygen was thick and smelled like wildflowers and mountain meadows and forests. Just what the doctor ordered. I am working on being a better human being and it begins with me and my happiness. A friend suggested I try MACA powder for my low energy and depression during the pandemic and damned if he was not right in his diagnosis and prescription. He is my friend of thirty-two years and my acupuncturist. He is a keeper. He goes ice fishing and hiking with mi esposo. They are like minded. Nature lovers and animal lovers.


I am planning a birthday party for a few relatives and celebrating the fourth of July, Independence Day. Whose independence you ask? Some people are saying we are free, but I say until we are all different but equal, until we are undocumented not illegal human beings, until the LGBTQ community and people of color are no longer afraid to walk with pride down main street, I say we are not free. We are all slaves. Slaves of greed, power, sex, drugs, rock, and roll. Lol.


That was my Independence Day rant. Every year I suffer through the holidays. Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, Winter Wonderland, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, etc. When is my holiday? I am going to celebrate this fourth of July as a sacred ceremony honoring my ancestors’ who lived and died on this soil in Southern Colorado, New Mexico, the New Mexico Territory, Mexico, los genizaros. The indigenous slaves. My ancestors were not free they were herded into missionaries and pueblos and became indentured servants and laborers. The truth hurts because it is the truth. Deal with it. If you do not want to learn this country’s history, you will never know the people who live here and what they have endured just to survive in a world of colonialism. You heard me. Decolonize your diet. Beans, rice, green chile, tortillas. But what do I know. I know after sixty-five years and a life of hard knocks and abundant blessings, that dying is easy; it is the living that is hard.


Lynette Aragon Patrick and Juliana Aragon Fatula at family home Southern Colorado



Untitled Post


Scouting for Good Reads

by Saralyn Richard


One of my most memorable activities from childhood was being
a part of the Girl Scouts. My Girl Scout troop was phenomenal. Our leaders,
Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Martin, made sure every meeting was a learning experience
and a social experience worth our time and effort. We went on several trips,
including one to the Alamo in San Antonio, the State Capitol in Austin, and to
a dude ranch in New Braunfels. Many of the girls in our troop are still among
my close friends today.

The scout program encouraged each girl to select an area to “specialize”
in, with the goal of earning a badge in that field. I earned many badges in my
time, but my favorite was—no surprise here—the reading badge. The reading badge
didn’t require me to go out into scorching hot, mosquito-infested campgrounds.
I didn’t have to prove proficiency at knot-tying (although I recall doing
something like that anyway), sharp-tool-wielding, or fire-starting. All I had
to do was chill with a book in the comfort of my house, which was my favorite
activity anyway.

The reading badge turned out not to be that easily obtained,
however. If memory serves me correctly, I had to read a hundred books, most of
them required. Lots of these books were Newbery Award winners. Many of them
were classics. Most were long. Some of the titles I remember were Hittie:  Her First Hundred Years, Desiree, King of the
Wind, Johnny Tremain, Adam of the Road, Caddie Woodlawn, Little Women, Black
Beauty, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Pippi Longstocking, Robinson Crusoe.
remember sitting in the elementary school library, reading every chance I could.

Even though I was an avid reading before I decided to work
on the badge, I benefitted in numerous ways from reading so many excellent books. My vocabulary increased, as did my understanding of diverse cultures and
themes. Most of all, my love of reading grew exponentially. The more I read,
the more I craved clever story lines, exquisite descriptions, fascinating

I’m sure the reading badge contributed to my choosing to
major in English and to teach high school English. More than likely, it inspired
me to try my hand at writing, too.

I decided to see what the requirements are for the reading
badge today, and here’s what I found out. Girl Scouts has modernized its “curriculum.”
The options for badges, awards, and pins include more practical topics, like
saving the environment, becoming financially literate, becoming a space science
researcher, and leading in the digital world. See
for a complete list. A scout can earn a reading diva patch (see here),
but so little is required that one could earn that in a week’s time.

At the risk of sounding like an anachronism, I’m sad that
the opportunities afforded by the rigorous reading badge no longer exist for
young girls. At the same time, I’m extremely grateful that I earned mine when I

Were you a big reader when you were younger? What were some
of your most memorable books read?


Richard’s award-winning humor- and romance-tinged mysteries and children’s book
pull back the curtain on people in settings as diverse as elite country manor
houses and disadvantaged urban high schools.
 Saralyn’s most recent release is Bad Blood Sisters. A
member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America,
Saralyn teaches creative writing and literature at the Osher Lifelong Learning
Institute, and continues to write mysteries. Her favorite thing about being an
author is interacting with readers like you.
here, on her
Amazon page 
here, or on Facebook here.



Getting Stronger

By Barbara J. Eikmeier

I lift weights. Twice a week my husband and I go to the gym.
The nutritionist at the army health clinic told me about the weight training
room. She said as we age it is important to do weight bearing exercises to keep
our bones strong and joints limber. “Just go twice a week. Go in the middle of
the day – there’s no one there at that time.”

Another year passed before I went. The catalyst was my
annual cholesterol check. I begged for 6 months of diet and lifestyle changes
before going on medication. Thus, the gym – and less wine and more veggies.

But there is another reason I started lifting weights. I had
become weak. When I travel to give quilt presentations, I bring multiple suitcases stuffed with quilts, pushing the airlines 50-pound weight limit with
those big bags. The check-in agent, eyeing my bags, would say, “put that up
here” motioning with their chin to the scale. I’d laugh and say, “It’s not over
50 pounds because I can’t lift 50 pounds.” Each spring, when my travel season
began it was true, I couldn’t lift 50 pounds, but as the trips added up, I
could feel myself getting stronger. Yes, that may have been me holding up the line
while pulling items from an overweight suitcase and stuffing them in my carry-on. Just by handling
those heavy bags I became stronger. Strong enough to lift more than 50 pounds
by the end of the season.

Then came Covid-19 and my work became a series of Zoom
presentations. And I grew weak.

When my travels resumed, I lifted my bag onto the scale that
first trip and it was heavy! I was visualizing what I could move to my carry-on
bag just as the scale settled on 43 pounds. Only 43 pounds? I quickly moved shoes and jeans from my carry-on to the checked bag. That’s
because I have another problem once I board the plane – getting my carry-on in
the overhead bin. My rule is, if I can’t lift it myself, I must check it. But
I’m 5’3” and it’s not a matter of strength as much as a matter of height. (At
least that’s what I always tell the nice tall man in the aisle seat who jumps
up to help me!)

The army gym is not a flashy place. It’s old, and kind of
run down. I wish someone would sweep the floor. It’s often only the two of us there.
It’s quiet, almost meditative. But when soldiers come in the atmosphere
changes. They are young, and strong, and physically fit. They sweat and grunt
and the weights come clanging down as they finish their routines. There’s a
demand for the best machines and a polite toe taping or pacing when they must wait. Among
the most popular machines is the leg press – it’s for the quads and glutes. I
like it. And the sit up machine. I like it too. And there is the Graviton
machine. It’s meant to condition your arms to do pull ups. I can’t do a pull
up. I’m not sure this machine can even help me get there. But I do it. Every

There is a less popular machine called the Overhead Press. My
husband skips it. He explained, “I don’t think there is much benefit in that
machine.” I said, “I hate this machine.” He asked, “Then why do you do it?” I said,
“Watch my arms.” I lifted the weights over my head. He watched. I lowered the
weights and said, “It’s the muscles used to put my carry-on in the overhead

The gym, even on the slowest days, is a good place to shop
for character traits. There’s another older couple who come in wearing street clothes,
and each do a few machines, talking the entire time. Their workout takes 10
minutes. Should that even count as a workout? Who am I to judge?

And there is a young woman who
runs on the treadmill in the cardio room before lifting weights. Her dark hair is
pulled back in a bouncy ponytail. I like following her on the weight circuit
because she is my height, so our settings are the same.  I don’t know anything about her but in my
writer’s mind she is an Army lawyer. She runs fast and lifts fast and is very focused.  

And there is a group of firefighters from the post fire station. They move from machine to machine keeping their hand radios within reach. Their big red firetruck is just outside the gym parked along the curb, ready to go at a moment’s notice. One of them wears a bandanna around his head, Karate Kid style. Another harasses his buddy to speed it up on the Biceps machine. His buddy’s response is to go slower.

And my favorite, the retired marine whose
shaved head glistens with sweat when he works out. He looks intimidating – all
muscle and sinew. He only does three machines but with many reps and huge
stacks of weights. One day I asked him, “Do you alternate upper body and lower
body workouts?” He smiled. Maybe you’ve heard the term ‘resting bitch face’?
This guy has resting ‘fierce face’. He looks scary. But when the marine smiles
his face will melt your heart a little. He shows his bright white teeth, his
double dimples dimple and the deep creases in his forehead relax. And over that
one question we became friends. He took me to the free weight room down the
hall and taught me how to use a standing machine for an intense abs’ workout.
He said, “You are a little short, but you are doing it perfectly.” He told me
it’s easy to talk yourself into skipping the gym, like 90% of the people he
knows. With that gorgeous grin he added, “Now if only I had a refrigerator that
automatically locked at 6 pm, I’d be in good shape!”

I lift weights. I’m getting stronger and my character file
is growing. What’s your favorite place to shop for characters?

Barbara J. Eikmeier is a quilter, writer, student of quilt
history, and lover of small-town America. Raised on a dairy farm in California,
she enjoys placing her characters in rural communities.

Mental Health and the Pandemic by Juliana Aragon Fatula

May 25, 2022

Dear Reader,

This year I’ve written book reviews, judged book contests, entered two manuscripts for publishing and started writing a new novel. My writing has been sporadic, and my submissions have been few, but I continue to write and read and do research and learn every day.

I’ve been writing for the Stiletto Gang for years and have written several posts about my life as a writer and educator. I’ve also written about my genealogy research and stories about my ancestors. I’ve posted book reviews and interviews. I’ve posted photos of my Chicana Garden and my flowers. I’ve written about my music therapy for the blues, and I’ve written about my dysfunctional family. I’ve told the stories of my life and how I ended up the Crazy Chicana in Catholic City in Red Canyon Falling on Churches, Colorado. My characters are based on the compilations of people I’ve known. Many of them are dead but I’m still here telling their stories. My imagination is wicked, and my sense of humor is dark and disturbing. I write from the heart and tell the truth, not the facts, the truth. 

My therapist tells me to get my joy back I need to think about the good things in my life and so I’m going to tell you about some of the good things that make me unique and adored. I am kind and generous and funny and smart and creative and silly. I like my eggs hard-boiled and with no runny yokes in my fried eggs. I only eat my meat well done never rare. I love children but have a soft spot for the elderly. I’ve rescued hundreds of at-risk teenagers and given them guidance and love. 

I’ve been married twice. Once when I was twenty-one. Divorced at twenty-two. It was a disaster. Married again and found my lifelong partner of 32 years and counting. I have one son, no daughters, no grandchildren, and lots of siblings, nieces, nephews, and cousins. All my aunts and uncles on both sides have died. My parents died on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve, many years apart. I am an orphan. 

I love zombies and werewolves and vampires and love stories about the unlovable. I listen to a variety of music but love Reggae and Dance music. I love to dance and have danced in too many saloons, dives, bars, and joints to count. When I was in my twenties, I played soccer in Colorado Springs and enjoyed running on the field playing fullback defense. 

I love animals and spoil my pets. My home is filled with houseplants and my garden is flowering from May to October with flowers and herbs. I grow my own cannabis for medication and make a salve for pain and edibles for dosing for my depression. I’ve had the same small-town country doctor for 40 plus years. I’ve known him longer than my husband. 

I began therapy again during the pandemic and am on my way to healing but it is a process, and you can’t rush or count on pharmaceuticals for a cure. It takes work. I’m working hard at healing and returning to my joyful self. I haven’t been joyful for a couple of years. I’ve stayed away from people and practiced social distancing to the extreme. I’ve been vaccinated, boosted, and boosted some more. I fear getting Covid or the Monkey Pox and avoid gatherings with people who are not vaccinated. My life has changed, and my joy has diminished but I’m striving for a better future where I travel and visit friends and enjoy going to writing workshops and comingling with strangers. 

Until I no longer fear the outside world, I’ll continue to hibernate in my comfy little house with my husband, Big Bad Baby Boy Bear, and Yogi. I’ll continue to write and read and submit my work and when my first novel gets published, I’ll celebrate. There is hope for me and I know I can be a better human being and that is what I’m working on. 

These photos of books in my library speak clearly about my choice of authors and subjects. I have a collection of poetry and novels by writers of color and it continues to grow. My skin color, brown, has been underrepresented for centuries and today that fact has changed. Please read books by writers of color and the LGBTQ community and broaden your understanding of the world. If you need any recommendations, I’m happy to suggest a book or two for you. Thank you and keep the faith. 

April 2022 the Year of the Miracle by Juliana

Louise Mondragon Aragon April 7, 1923-December 24, 2008 presente

 Dear Reader, 

I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but…

This is the writing prompt: I’m challenging you to write a page, paragraph, or sentence and tell me your story. I love this prompt because it forces me to think out of the box and be original,  innovative, and magical. Magic to me is the unexplainable, like finding a $20 bill in your glovebox in your 65 Mercedez Benz just when you ran out of gas and were broke and poor. 

Back in the 80’s I had a boyfriend named, the Caveman. He was a Viking with blue eyes and long ginger hair and beard. He drank a little. He drank a little a lot. We lived in his schoolbus hippy cave. It was a mancave on wheels, big wheels. We lived in his cave for a summer in the Colorado Rockies near Woodland Park up Ute Pass on Hwy 24. We roughed it for love. I was in crazy Chicana love. He was in Caveman Biker Dude love. Insane doesn’t begin to describe what it was. But it ended and I survived and learned valuable lessons about real love. That’s my story. What’s yours? 

I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but…

In 1995 I joined a group of musicians and comedians named the Latin Locomotions. It was three crazy Chicanos two women and one vato extraordinaire. We toured for the Department of Defense after Desert Storm. We started in Europe and traveled to the United Arab Emirates and ended at Camp Justice in the middle of the Indian Ocean between Africa and India on the island of Diego Garcia. We traveled with the military on cargo planes and treked through deserts, jungles, beaches, and cities. It was a magical time in my life where I left behind my mother, son, husband, friends, and colleagues to give back by entertaining the men and women who defend our country. I fell in love with the U.S.A. by leaving it and traveling to other places, meeting other people from different religions, cultures, languages, and ideas. I looked into the eyes of those people and knew that my life had meaning. I felt proud and small in a world filled with people who look like me and don’t look like me. 

Looking back on that time, I was blessed to have people in my life like Sherry and Manuel, the Latin Locomotions. They taught me to cherish the life I’ve been given and never take an opportunity for granted. I never went to graduate school. I gave my time and energy to learning about the world from traveling and meeting people. I lived my life. I’m the Crazy Chicana in Catholic City from Red Canyon Falling on Churches on the Road I Ride Bleeds

I probably shouldn’t tell you this but…

When I was a teenager I drank, smoked, and cussed like a sailor. I was a chingona. Still am to this day. I’m not all talk though. I can definitely hold my own in a bar fight, or cat fight, or wrestling match. I’m not passive, I’m not aggressive, but don’t piss me off. I stand for the underdog. I protect the weak and those unable to stand up for themselves. I stand for justice. I promote peace but know that in war many will die to fight for freedom. 

When I was fourteen I got knocked up. He was nineteen and had a Thunderbird. I was a child infatuated with a Chicano from San Francisco that arrived in my small town in Southern Colorado and blew my mind. I dropped out of highschool and rode in his Thunderbird all the way to California. Fifty years later, my son is grown, my ex is dead. 

I’ve graduated with a GED, a bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing, published several books of poetry and poems in anthologies, I’ve taught in my hometown in the building I used to attend junior high. I’ve taught writing workshops to countless children through Writers in the Schools, I’ve mentored young women in Building Bridges, a leadership program for disadvantaged girls. I’ve performed on stages all over the world. I’ve written my poetry, fiction, and memoirs and write for the Stiletto Gang. But what really makes me proud of myself is that I’ve never given up on my dreams to be successful, to graduate from college, to teach, to learn, to lead. 

Now I’m 65, my husband is 60, my son is 50 and we have all become eligible for AARP. I have survived long enough to witness this event and I’m so glad I didn’t give up, give in, fall down and not get back up again. I look forward to whatever comes and however many days I have left in this world. I learned that peace comes from not letting the bullies win. I’ve stood up to the bullies and they’ve beaten my head and kicked me in the gut, but I kept getting up until they gave up and left me with my resolve that nothing is going to keep me down, not even hate. 

I probably shouldn’t tell you this but…

I always wanted to be a grandmother. My mom was the best mom. Not perfect. Not even close. She was imperfect like me with flaws and humanity. She taught me to be a chingona and to fight for the less fortunate. She taught me to love the sinner and hate the sin, but sometimes I hate the sinner and the sin. She was a world class grandmother and great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother. She had lots of grandchildren. Some weren’t even related to her but called her grandma. 

My students called me Mama Fatula and still do to this day. I have a couple of soul sistas that share their grandchildren with me. They call be tia abuelita Juliana. So what if I never have my own grandchildren. There are enough children in the world that need love and don’t have grandmothers. I’ll be their abuela. I’ll love them as if they were my own. I used to tell my students goodbye after class by saying, Look both ways, have a nice day, hasta luego, te amo. They asked me do you mean it when you say I love you? I meant it.