I Went to the Mountain

Leonard Knight with my dad a few years ago.
Leonard Knight with my dad in 2004.

I’m tracing my connection back to my father when I go to the desert.  I can be quiet there.  One of my best friends told me he understood me much better after meeting my father.  I assume he began to understand the introverted part of me, The Hermit.  It’s the part of me that loves to be alone and holed up in a cave.  Or driving in silence for hours through beautiful and desolate landscapes.

It surprises me to find this part of myself, the part that feels so at home in the middle of so little.  In those formative years of adolescence I imagined I would be very different –  very social, very graceful.  I have grown into a very different sort of person and I can say with an immense amount of gratitude, I am happy with the unusual, quiet, often awkward, very human and well-intentioned person that I am.

The desert seems to welcome this sort of person.  The awkward and well-intentioned have a history of seeking the solitude and solace of the desert.  It feels like the land will wrap her mountainous arms around you, and only you, when you are there.

I don’t know if this is what Leonard Knight loved about the desert but I definitely count him in the ranks of the awkward and well-intentioned and he certainly found his place in the desert.  His remarkable creation, Salvation Mountain, is well worth the pilgrimage to middle-of-nowhere-Niland, California.


My dad told me about Leonard Knight and Salvation Mountain years ago, after his own first visit.  A self-admitted atheist (I can sometimes cajole him to concede agnostic/atheist), my dad is not the type one might expect to visit Salvation Mountain but he is the one who first ignited my desire to visit.  Then I started to see references to it here and there — a visit in Into The Wild, photos on A Beautiful Mess.

And so somehow this year of great loss and great joy, I knew it was time to make the trek.  I knew it in the way I love and appreciate the most because it is such a rare thing: I just knew.

Following the Yellow Brick Road.
Following the Yellow Brick Road.

I expected to find a riot of cake-icing color in a sea of sand and sage.  Perhaps the displacement was part of the call although I would have wanted to see this candy mountain of bible verse and folk art anywhere.  The attraction to the strangeness of it, however, did not prepare me for the way I felt when I arrived and stood at the base of the fifty-foot mountain.  I marveled at it, and then I started to feel something.  A wave of something.  The impulse to cry.  To cry? This caught me by surprise! I slowed down and tried to understand what was passing over and through me.  And reader, the thing, I think, was a great humility and joy.  I was small, standing in front of an adobe mountain made by one man emboldened by passion and a belief in the goodness of what he was creating.  It is a simple and effusive way of creating and sharing joy.

Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain

It seems important to share, before I go further with my experience of having feelings at Salvation Mountain, that I also identify as Agnostic and find myself leaning ever closer to Agnostic/Atheist.  I was prepared to be there to appreciate a thing of beauty, not to feel validated about my experience of what is greater than I.  I don’t like the term “sinner.”  It reads as synonymous with “failure” to me and that starts us down the rabbit-hole of my personal cosmology; another subject entirely.  What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t expect to find much in common with Mr. Knight’s beliefs but I found myself loving his mountain.  I loved the feeling of being transported into a magical new place, a place that welcomes people to wander up the yellow brick road, past imaginary waterfalls, and through forests of trees that espouse traits of gentleness, goodness, and peace.

Exterior of the adobe museum.
Exterior of the adobe museum.
Interior of the museum, looking up at skylights.
Interior of the museum, looking up at skylights.

I loved walking into what felt like a hive constructed of adobe with skylights made of car windshields and door windows that sunlight shone down through.  I loved all the references to love and being loved.  My favorite message was painted on one of the beautified cars “God. Is. Love.  I love you also.”  Suddenly conceptual became personal.  I felt gently loved in the space, celebrated in a way I imagine I might feel if I had a belief in what some call God.  It was a really nice feeling and I started to wonder about it.  A lot.

Leonard Knight's art decorates everything at Salvation Mountain.  He used window caulk to create raised designs.
Leonard Knight’s art decorates everything at Salvation Mountain. He used window caulk to create raised designs.

This stranger created a space where I felt special.  Loved.  Surrounded by beauty that he created in an effort to help others find a personal connection to God: a greater sense of meaning and a feeling of being valued.  And he did it with desert clay and old house paint.

Interior of the museum.
Interior of the museum.
All People You Are Loved
All People You Are Loved

In one of his interviews (I’ve watched them all obsessively now — has anyone yet extolled the virtues of minor obsessions? Perhaps in a future post…) Leonard says that people seem to feel good when they visit his mountain.  I felt that too, before I knew much about who he was or why he made what he did.  His interviews are wonderful, by the way.  I could hardly believe the interviews Huell Howser did with Leonard because both men are bubbling over with excitement — Huell’s excitement about discovering Leonard’s creation and Leonard’s excitement about sharing Salvation Mountain.  I’m trying now to recall if I’ve ever seen two grown men more happily engaged in conversation about something they both love, and are unafraid to show such affection for.  I don’t think I have.  Have you?

Detail of car hood.
Detail of car hood.

When I returned home and shared my experience of visiting Salvation Mountain, my dad said he was sorry that Leonard was no longer there.  Leonard died in February 2014 and some of his ashes were returned to the “technicolor mountain” he built.  It was upon my homecoming that I began to reflect on how I’d felt at the mountain.  I watched all the YouTube videos I could find of the Mountain and Leonard.  The more I watched, the more touched I felt by who Leonard was as a person and how so many have been impacted by his art.  Then the question of how I contribute to our culture arose.  How can I share something that will help others feel celebrated and loved?  I am not religious, so I cannot make promises of God’s love.  The closest I can get is to say that I believe in the power of our individual uniqueness.  I believe that our own unlikely combinations of traits and thoughts and perspectives make us valuable beyond measure.  It’s a sort of Mr. Roger’s take on the world — I like you just the way you are, because of who you are.  Your authenticity makes the world a better and richer place.  That is the message I would like to share.  I’m still not sure how that message will make it out into the world.  Leonard’s original plan was to do it via hot air balloon.  How magical is that?

The front of Leonard's vintage firetruck home.
The front of Leonard’s vintage fire truck home.

Have you had the experience of being unexpectedly bowled over by something beautiful? Or loving? or both? Do you wonder about how to bring beauty and love to others, or how to enrich it? Or maybe you don’t wonder about it because you are already doing it? I would love to hear from you.

Salvation Mountain. March 2015.
Salvation Mountain. March 2015.

Project Life: I Caught the Fever!

It’s happened.  It’s no surprise, really.  The funny thing is that it has taken me this long to get started on some sort of album/scrapbook/memory book.  Or maybe it’s not funny at all, considering I’ve been running around after these cunning girls for the past four-and-a-half years.  In any case, I finally caught the fever and it’s the Project Life (or “ProLi” as I like to call it because it amuses me) variety.  It’s marketed as the fast and easy version of scrapbooking but I’ve managed to complicate things already.  You buy a book, filler pages, and a kit of cards and if you’re not me, throw a week’s worth of pictures together in mere minutes.  If you are me, you buy a partial set of cards and then use them as a template and cut pages out of magazines to use as backgrounds and gather materials from all your old projects and spend hours on each week’s layout.

Two of my favorite bloggers have ProLi projects they post about regularly.  Elise Blaha creates very beautiful, modern pages filled with her gorgeous photography.  Her pages feel like meditations.  She has also designed a line of journaling cards for ProLi… No surprise.

And Cameron’s blog Krug the Thinker, proves that ProLi can be done without throwing down a bunch of cash for a kit and its many accessories.  I LOVE that kind of creativity and resourcefulness!

So, based on those two models of excellence, I bought myself an old-school album at my favorite thrift store.

I love these old albums.
$3.99 and I got an extra 30% off because I bought it before noon on a Saturday.  Thanks ACTS!

It came with these photo pages which I’d originally planned on using but have since ditched in favor of the ProLi official pages.  At first I’d thought I could use them both together but my measuring skills were on vacation the day I calculated the pages to be the same size.  Boo.

Old school album pages.  Remember when 3x5 was standard?
Old school album pages. Remember when 3×5 was standard? Neither do I.

So here’s my first attempt at a layout.  I had some great input from my friend Bee, who encouraged me to let myself be scrappy rather than minimalist with this.  Despite loving Elise’s design, I tend to be more of a collector and this layout felt much more me once I’d started cutting and punching and layering.

ProLi.  Week 1.
ProLi. Week 1.

Another piece of it that makes this project time-consuming is the way I work.  This is what happens whenever I try to do a page:

Craft love.
Craft love.  It gets messy.

I even brought out the hair spray!!!

Reader beware! ProLi is highly contagious as is evidenced by M and R’s recent projects:

R's page
R’s page
M's page
M’s page

Before you know it, you may be dreaming about sliding photos and journaling cards into cute little slots in album pages!

Are you journaling or scrap booking? How do you keep up with it? I’m afraid I’ll lose steam with this and abandon it around week 20, which would be ok too.  19 weeks of organized photos is better than what I’ve got now.


Mr. Cartigan Assures Me That This Is Cute

The Clip Collection
The Clip Collection

Mr. Cartigan called me over to the bathroom with that something-very-cute-has-happened-and-as-a-parent-you-need-to-see-it tone of voice.  When I peeked, I saw the vignette pictured above.

“Oh.” I said flatly. “Is that cute?” I’d seen it earlier and all I could think was ‘Thanks a lot girls, for another random mess for me to sort out.  As if I didn’t have anything else to do.  Or five other piles of little things you’ve collected from other parts of the house and then left.  I can’t wait to re-sort your clip collection.’

“It’s totally cute!” he assured me.

“Huh…  Really?”  I’d seen the girls hovering over this collection earlier, working on it together very congenially.


“…Okay.”   I walked slump-shouldered to grab my phone and take a picture.

I had to take his word for it.

A day later, when I was feeling less overwhelmed, I asked the girls about it.

“We had to take all our clips down to count them!” They said cheerfully.

“Oh?” Said I.

They have 23 clips, according to R.  I’m not sure what the lip gloss counts towards.

Now I can sort of see it.  It was a little easier to see after Mr. Cartigan graciously put all the clips away for me. (Really we should have had the girls do that but give me a break people, this stuff is exhausting.)

And so I leave it to you, dear readers, to determine for yourselves if barrette collecting on the commode is indeed the stuff cuteness is made of.

I Admit…

I like to talk the talk (“Oh my God! She lets her kids eat ______???!!!! Does she know how much _______ is in that???!!!”).  And I know how to walk the walk (“Yes, you can have that juice-sweetened carob-chip cookie after you finish your lima beans and quinoa.”)

But sometimes, I hand my kids Lunchables.  And they are so happy.

Lunchables! M is high on Pasteurized Prepared American Cheese Product.


Chemical-laden products in flashy environment crippling packaging.  On sale!
Chemical laden products in flashy environment crippling packaging. On sale!

Oh You Chicky Chicky Bang Bang!!!

Our little flock.
Our little flock.

The rumors were true!  We did get little chick chicks (and yes, as I am typing this, my internal voice is two octaves higher than normal.  They’re so cute!!!)  We brought home four chickens from a nearby feed store.  Two are Buff Orpingons (“Diamond” and “Christmas Day”), one is a Welsummer (“Runaway Chicken”), and one is a Light Brahma (“Mama Brahma White Pajama”).  Though the guides I read recommend keeping chicks of different ages separate, we eded up with a flock of chicks ranging from one week to three weeks and it’s working out.

Christmas Day.
Christmas Day.
Maggie and Christmas Day.
M and Christmas Day.

True to her name, Mama is the oldest, biggest, and bossiest.  Christmas Day and Diamond, the babies, like to follow her around (in fact, they were all housed together in the feed store).  And don’t tell my kids, ’cause she’s M’s chick: Runaway Chicken is my favorite.  She spends a good amount of time looking around and checking things out.  She’s also the best forager and when we let the chicks play on our lawn, Runaway Chicken finds the best wild treats.  While the Orpingtons follow Mama around, Runaway Chicken blazes her own trail.  I like that in a chicken.

R and Diamond.
R and Diamond.
Maggie is a chicken lady, just like her mama.
Maggie is a chicken lady, just like her mama.

Dead Poppies Aren’t Much Fun…


I hesitated to share an update about our four poppy plants. Though my aim is to keep it real here on Humble Pie, I just couldn’t bring myself to show you the four little sun-baked poppy plant skeletons after espousing my great love for them. Watch out for Hillary, her love kills!!
I kind of expected Mr. Cartigan to transplant them because he’s the gardener and I’m guessing he thought I’d do it, since I’m the poppy-crazed one. See how good our communication is? I promise we do feed and water the kids regularly.
Mr. Cartigan kept those little poppy skeletons around, though I couldn’t figure out why and yesterday I was watering plants and noticed this:

and this:


Hurrah! The poppies are making a comeback!!!
So now that two are revived I am heartened enough to say, my love only half-kills and it is possible to survive it.

Clucking It Up!

The girls explore their new digs.
The girls explore their new digs.

Our neighbors recently announced that they had chickens on the way.  We’d all been talking about the possibility of chickens, building chicken coops together, getting all sustainable in the suburbs, yadda yadda, when suddenly, there were seven full-grown chickens living in their back yard!  Now we get to run out and throw our kitchen scraps over to them.  It’s way fun.  Yesterday we awoke to a rainstorm and the girls (my girls, not the chickens) ran out in pajamas and galoshes to see how the chickens fared in the downpour.  M & R reported the girls (the chickens, not my girls) were huddled together in their nests, keeping dry.

M & R meet the chickens.
M & R meet the girls.

The children next door have named the chickens Hermie, Claire, Dan, Dave, Chuckles, Molly, and my favorite, Bock Bock.

more exploring.
Chuckles, Hermie, Molly, and Bock Bock.

Fresh eggs! The screws and bamboo are not from the chickens.


Rumor has it that little chicks may come our way soon…

Dora Turns Ten!!!

Today is Dora’s tenth birthday, which means she is 70 in dog years!!! She is one spry septuagenarian. We haven’t ever celebrated her birthday in grand style before and because Dora has had to deal with less attention than anyone would like to admit since M & R came onto the scene, I thought we’d make this a big celebration for Dora.  My hope is that now Dora will start to see the happy returns of her investment.  Or she’ll just be more annoyed than ever, I’m not sure.  She’s a nervous dog and kids are too unpredictable for her — she can get a little nippy at times.  Still, she’s brave, loyal, and loving.  And entertaining.  And smart.  And cute!

Fun facts about Dora:  She thinks she’s a person and often seems offended when reminded she is a dog; she is a good swimmer but she hates to swim and will only do it if danger lurks behind her; she survived in the Montana wilderness for 12 days and returned tougher and with a taste for dandelions and flies; she does all sorts of bad stuff if we leave any food out or any trash accessible, we should put her on dog-shaming.com.

Fun fact about me: I can’t help but talk to her in that super weird baby talk that is two octaves above my regular voice.  Thank you, family and friends for putting up with it.  I know it’s obscene.

Dora taste tested lots of treats yesterday to make sure they were good enough for her birthday day. I taste tested them too… and so did M & R and we all agree they’re kind of good.  Don’t freak out, they were pumpkin, peanut butter, eggs and flour. Yum!

Pumpkin peanut butter dog treats.  Turns out humans like them pretty well too.
Pumpkin peanut butter dog treats.
Dora sat and smiled while I baked treats for her.
Dora sat and smiled while I baked treats for her.

I adopted Dora when I was living in Montana and we did lots and lots of driving and a little flying together.  She is an amazing traveller: she can go for hours without stopping and then will pee on command on the one blade of grass I point her toward when we’re in a city.

I *think* this is just outside of St. Ignatius, North of Missoula.
She’s also good at posing on large rocks.  This was just outside of St. Ignatius, Montana. 2004.

Here she is traveling through Las Vegas in July.  My a/c was on the fritz.  Oy.

Dora, my copilot on the road.
Dora, my copilot.
We didn't feed it to her, though it's probably no better that we ate it.
Breakfast on the road.  Mine, not hers!
Playing with Mr. Cartigan
Playing with Mr. Cartigan


Dora helping me make a snow angel. Canada 2006.
Dora helping me make a snow angel.
Even Dora knows when it's Christmas Day!!!
Even Dora knows when it’s Christmas Day!!!
Dora checks out the babies that she's heard so much about.  She is in my dad's arms.  He's her all-time favorite person.
Dora welcomes home the babies.  My dad is holding her, he’s her all-time favorite person. 

(Note that the two next photos were taken on different days but I am wearing the same pajamas in both.  And I’m in the same place on the couch. It was like I was doing a weird Groundhog Day exercise BUT IT WAS MY LIFE.)

"That used to be my lap!" Dora thought sadly.
“That used to be my lap!” Dora thought sadly.
"Oooh nevermind, this Boppy is great!"
“Oooh nevermind, this Boppy is great!”

At least I got up off the couch long enough for my brother to get some much-needed z’s.

Dora napping with my brother, another of her favorite people.
Dora napping with my brother, another of her favorite people.
Dora looking for bad guys.
Dora looking for bad guys while the skin on my legs looks for some, any, rays of the sun.
Dora will even listen to Dave telling stories to the girls!
Dora listening to my dad reading to the girls.

So today we’ll take Dora out hiking and love on her all day.  I *might* even make her a birthday hat.  Poor dog.

Happy Birthday little Dora May!