QUAIL MUTTERINGS #48. A Caribbean Jaunt (December 2017)





A Caribbean Jaunt

Monkeys and lizards and frogs, Oh my!

The place is exotic and foreign and nice.

White sands, warm weather and beautiful seas

Don’t have to remain such an elusive tease.

Just a few thousand miles

But don’t get too riled.

You’ll make it to the alluring Caribbean.


Pirates and sailboats and snorkeling galore

Bring pleasure, excitement and dreams of more

Sunbathing and drinking incredible rum

Can leave one a bum

But only if succumbing to a snore.


So much to soak in

From those tropical rays

Where they follow you into the aqua marine.


Locals selling their handmade wares

Haggling prices is never that rare

And then you’ll be caught in their invisible snare.


Musical languages heard all around

From vendors to surfers to waiters then bound

To bounce together in a grand tide of sound.


Singing frogs serenade throughout the night

And continue long after you give up the fight

Chanting their chorus toward the Southern Cross.



An After Thought

Beautiful beaches,

Red reefs submerged in crystal clear waters,

Warm, easy breezes brushing over tropical islands

Dotted with Palm trees.

Friendly hellos and helpful advice

And breadfruit prepared into numerous delights.

What’s not to like?

About visiting a place so peaceful and welcoming?


Oh, and by the way –

Dorothy was right after all.

That there’s really no place like home.

There’s no place like home!



Chi Varnado’s memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.

You can follow us on www.Facebook.com/gnomewoodcanyon



QUAIL MUTTERINGS #47. Writing: Navigating the Obstacles (September 2017)

I must admit that I’ve been negligent about writing Quail Mutterings lately. My excuse is the same as everyone else’s: no time. But the fact of the matter is we all have the same amount of time available to us in a day and, for the most part, we simply decide, either consciously or unconsciously, how to spend it. For me, besides following my usual “to-do” lists, I’ve chosen to work on my other writing for the time being.

After retiring from The Dance Centre over a year ago, I’ve begun writing a fictional series about a dance studio. Each novel will focus on a different story ballet and include the adventures of some of the dancers. There doesn’t seem to be much available, in this vein, for eight to fourteen-year-old ballet-obsessed girls. There are plenty of books for horse-crazy kids so why not for dancers? They’re just as rabid for stories about their passion and so, I figured, who better to tackle this project than me? Thirty-seven years of fodder ought to keep me going for quite a while, I should think.

Last spring, when I had the rough draft of the first few chapters done, I met with a group of young dancers at a local elementary school. Each followed along on their pages as I, or a former student of mine, read aloud. We had the best time. Some of them contributed ideas about things they would like to see included in the story or ways to make it more interesting. It was a win/win. I got tips from my target audience and they got “extra credit” for participating.

Since finishing the full rough draft of the manuscript I, once again, am attending writer’s groups and classes. Having my work read and critiqued is essential in this process. The endless details to address in the re-writing and editing phases, such as believability, character point of view and arc of plotting, are next to impossible to get right without other’s feedback.

So now, back to the quail for a moment. I can only afford brief visits to mental wanderings while entrenched in my chosen endeavor. There are literally hundreds of quail in the canyon these days. Yesterday morning, during my run, I accidentally flushed out dozens of them from the sumac bushes lining the trail. I panted my apologies and carried on. After cooling down I took a cold shower. Not by choice, just no hot water. I suppose I’ll have to turn away from the writing project again and attend to the demands of a no-longer-functioning water heater. Things were going so well! Why now?

This morning, after a short writing session, it was time for a break. I headed down to the kitchen for a drink of water. Before taking a sip I noticed a fairly large bird lying in the dirt outside. It reminded me of a Porwil, but it was late morning, so that wasn’t right. I guess it startled when I went outside and it took off. Through the leaves of the Red Berry bush I noticed movement on the other side. I held still and watched. It was a big, beautiful doe. While watching her walk toward the trail I looked around for the two fawns who usually come around with their mother. Perhaps this was a different doe. Anyway, she made my day.

Since I’ve committed to this writing project for now, I’m not going to lead any of the docent-led hikes out at Ramona Grasslands Old Survey Road this fall. I will, instead, take walks on my own when I feel the need to break up the writing concentration sessions. Power hikes, walking meditations, trail running… whatever it takes. Plus working, of course. That goes without saying. And then, after looking up the mountain at the wet boulder beneath our water tank, I hiked up there to play detective. Great. It’s just what I thought it was. Our water storage vessel has sprung a leak! The fun never stops. The writing goes on hold once again.


Chi Varnado’s memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.

You can follow us on www.Facebook.com/gnomewoodcanyon


QUAIL MUTTERINGS #36. An Imperfect Wedding (July 13, 2015)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #36.  An Imperfect Wedding (July 13, 2015)

There’s that saying about when bad things happen: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I can lean one way or the other depending on the situation, but I still pretty much straddle the fence on that one. One thing is clear though, life is full of those events which can fall into that category. For each and every one of us. Often there is some sliver of a silver lining even if it’s obscured, delayed or presents itself years later in an altered attitude in some distantly related way.
Our beloved canyon was, once again, home to a beautiful wedding between Kali and Edwin. Months of planning and extensive yard work occupied us yet again. Two years ago, Jessie and Sean tied the knot here, providing the stage for her sister and his cousin to kindle their romance. Several of us had noticed the two of them, rocking chairs pushed close together on the front porch. Getting to know each other after the main festivities were winding down.
The magical day arrived on Saturday as our log cabin bustled with the bridal party and helping friends and relatives. Kent and I did our best trying to keep ahead of the game: providing food and scrambling under the avalanche of details, crossing things off our own list of things to get done and adding new ones as they presented themselves. Two hours before ‘Show Time’ our parking attendants were already directing cars up the side of the canyon to the cleared fields. But the flowers had not arrived yet. The bridal bouquets and boutonnieres were to be delivered by the florist at noon and it was now after 12:30.
The photographers wove through the house arranging varying groups of individuals together for digital preservation. The loft was strewn with the remnants of the morning’s hair and make-up scene, furniture pushed aside to make room for artful gatherings of the bridesmaids. Out front, a few guests milled around under the oaks listening to the music coming from the speakers of Kali’s dad’s band.
An hour later, the flowers still had not arrived. Kali had just confirmed with the florist two days before and everything had been set. She’s extremely organized and on top of things. Nikki, my assistant; my sister, Bo; and Jessie and I brainstormed and made phone calls as we were getting dressed. I then decided to get Susan and Dina to pick up whatever they could find on their way back from town. The two of them had already spent all morning decorating the split-rail fence as well as the front porch entry and had gone back to the motel to shower and change. Of all the people involved, Susan would be the one most likely able to pull this off on such short notice. The minutes ticked by as we continued to get ready while trying to not appear too concerned – for Kali’s sake.
It was now ‘Show Time,’ but still, no flowers. I know it’s not a huge deal in the scheme of life, but we were finding it more and more difficult to simply smile and enjoy the moment. When I called Susan again they were just leaving the store. I sent Bo out to grab our cousins and my artist friend Helen, who was also serving as the officiator for the ceremony, joined the flower team. I asked Kent and Chance to meet Susan and Dina as soon as they drove in as I laid out scissors and leftover ribbons and accessories on the dining room table. Nikki apologized to the guests and explained the reason for our delayed start.
Kali came into the kitchen holding an assorted bouquet of fresh-cut, colorful flowers. “Look what Edwin gave me. He wandered around the yard and picked them himself. They’re perfect.” She carefully wiped her tears with the corner of a tissue, touched by her soon-to-be- husband’s thoughtfulness.
“They’re beautiful!”
“I wish my husband would do that for me.”
“That’s the most meaningful bouquet of flowers.”
“Far better than a florist would do…” We all shared the specialness of the moment.
“This is what you’ll remember,” I told her.
Helen added, “You have to have at least one thing go wrong at a wedding or it’s bad luck.”
Susan and Dina stormed in the door and the group sprang into action. As they arranged, clipped, pinned and tied ribbons I pointed out to Deborah, Sean’s mom and the groom’s aunt, the number of actual working artists in that magical circle surrounding the table. It wasn’t exactly an assembly line, but the creative efficiency was miraculous to witness.
Better late than never, we sashayed in to Vivaldi’s The Four Season’s, down the aisle on the wood chippings and found our seats. Edwin and his best man danced in to The Imperial March, Darth Vader’s theme, and laughter erupted. And then we all stood when Kali and seven-year-old- Ian came down together to A Thousand Years played by The Piano Guys, bringing tears to our eyes.
A special seat was left vacant, except for some flowers, for those special, close relatives who had passed on before this very special day. Hopefully, they too felt included in this blending of our families. I was struck by how beautifully elegant and simple the bridesmaids’ uncluttered, white flowers were. So appropriate, I thought, for this occasion. And Kali’s special, hand-picked by the groom, bridal bouquet. An unexpected upgrade had come out of the failed, best-laid plans to create an even better image to deposit into our memory banks.
Three of us: Edwin’s two aunts, Lori and Deborah, and I read special passages. Kali, Edwin and Helen performed a sand ceremony layering the different colors into a glass frame. Ian took his rightful spot joining his mom and Edwin in the pact. They had written their own vows and, of course, more tears. And laughter.
The band played. Tacos were served. Hilarious, tear-jerking toasts were made. For about an hour several of us searched, off and on, for the missing garter. Again, not a huge deal in the scheme of things, but another funny little glitch in an amazingly well planned wedding. By this time, Kali really didn’t care, as someone had handed her a left-over ribbon to use in lieu of. It was finally discovered by two members of the bridal party, in the dumpster, still wrapped in its zip-locked bag. Another one for the memory banks.
Earlier, during dinner, while talking with a long-time family friend, I watched as one end of our split-rail fence toppled over after one of the groom’s cousins had attempted to vault over it after being summoned by the photographer. I turned away shaking my head, not wanting to see the damage. I turned back to watch Kent prop it back up.
“You know, Chi,” my friend said. “You really have a blessed life.”
I studied her face and thought about it. “I guess I do,” I answered. “I have a pretty bitchin’ life.” I looked around and surveyed the scene. Friends and family eating, talking and laughing together. At peace under the oak tree canopy.

Chi Varnado is a contributing writer for The San Diego Reader. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Chi directs the Ramona Dance Centre. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.