Help, My House Is on (Fake) Fire!

Well, I think I’ve done it. I’ve narrowed my list of personal articles I’d save in the event of fire to 10 things.

Back when I was in my fire-terror phase, round about age 10, I thought about this a lot. Back then it was things like cassette tapes and wind-up music boxes and my ginger headed Cabbage Patch Kid with the fat leg (popped stitch) named Rorie Brianna, that I was saving.

Don’t worry, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys! I will save your cassette tape, much to all of my friends’ and parents’ dismay!

I know what you’re thinking…”How do you choose from the heirlooms, the collectibles, the handmades and sentimental vestiges of an entire life?” Well, it wasn’t easy. It was excruciating, actually, to look at each item in my house and imagine it bursting into flames and melting grotesquely, which is what I did.

Then I rated the strength of the feeling I had on a scale of “Good riddance, motha’ucker!” to “Nooooooo!!!!! I feel like my soul is being ripped out of my chest (or liver or stomach or brain, depending on which ancient culture’s physiospiritual beliefs you subscribe to) and burning to ash along with that thing I’m imagining on fire!!!!”

It took me a really long time to do this with every object in my house and then gauge my feelings on a scale of 1 (my ill-fitting swim goggles) to 10 (my monkey lamp) and then weigh that against all of my other feelings for every other object.

But I’m virtually unemployed so I did it.

Without further ado, here is My List of Pre-Determined Burning House Survivors:

1) My Monkey Lamp

This monkey has been carrying these fancy torches with silk shades for who knows how long. He’s wearing a fez so I guess he’s from North Africa. I got him at a garage sale and don’t expect to find another like him anywhere ever. I don’t think I’d want to live very long without my monkey lamp.


2) My Hungry Beaver Pencil Sharpener

I’ve had hungry-for-pencils beaver since the 4th grade, and now his legacy continues because I taught Lali how to sharpen pencils on him. The shavings go into his belly. His upper torso lifts off and then you dump him out.


3) This Baked Alaska

I can’t believe I actually made a baked Alaska and it’s all gonna melt and burn in a fire.


4) This picture

I took this picture of my twin cousins when I was 12 or so. As you can see, my cousin Monica is falling off this ledge adjoining my grandparents’ silo, while her sister Melissa looks on, paralyzed with fear. I am very proud that I captured this raw human moment on film and would not like to see it burnt up in a fire.


5) My Seashell Collection

Every other year my family goes to Cape May, New Jersey, and each time I buy a new seashell from the seashell store. A few of them I found myself in Mexico. When I pictured my seashells burning I felt very sick and dizzy.


6) My Ukulele

This ukulele is imported from Hawaii, which seems pretty special. It only cost me a hundred bucks, but the memories it holds are priceless. I remember sight reading “Molly Malone” and “The Streets of Laredo” for the first time. I remember when I came up with a whole new strum for “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine.” For a moment I considered letting it burn because it’s horribly out of tune, and if it burned I could get a new one that’s in tune, but then I felt so ashamed of myself,  that I ended up ranking my ukulele as a 9.5 on the combustion angst index.


7) My Bookshelf with All the Books Still on It:

Is this  cheating? Maybe. But no, I don’t think so. A bookshelf is one thing and since I’ll be having a massive adrenaline rush on account of the fire and all, I don’t see why I can’t carry the whole thing out on my back.


But If That Doesn’t Work:

I would just grab these books: Family Circus: Who Invented Rain? This book is actually pretty funny. Especially Jeffy, he’s the funniest. He’s the one asking who invented rain on the cover, which is funny because nobody “invented” rain, it is just a part of our planetary system, and really dependent on our distance from the sun.

IMG_3242Also “The Brothers K” because I borrowed it from Anne Liechty and though “My house burned down!” is probably an acceptable excuse not to return a borrowed book, I’d like to think I can do better than that.

IMG_3240Also this book written by Deborah Good, who is my friend and an author. I’d feel really bad if it burned up in a fire, even though I’m sure she has access to other copies.


7) My Garam Masala from Nepal

I bought this garam masala in Nepal four years ago while visiting my friend Jill. She recently was in town and saw it on my spice rack and said, “Gail, it is time to throw this away.” Okay, but it says “Flavour Forever” on it. And it reminds me of Bhatbhateni Super Store. And Jill will never believe that I rescued it from a fire, which would make it all worth it…just to see the look on her face.


8) This Baby Leg:

One of my daughter’s favorite babies lost a leg week, as I believe I mentioned in my last blog. Here it is. Would I save it from a fire? I think I would. But not the rest of the doll, which is quite homely.


9) My Family Heirloom Red Suspender Pants:

My mom sewed me these pants when I was in kindergarten. I want Lali to have to wear them too, as a multi-generational kindergarten hazing ritual.


10) My Homemade Sandwich Bag:

Kim Burkholder made me this reusable sandwich bag. What would be really great is if I had time to make a sandwich, put it in the bag and take the bag with a sandwich in it, since I will probably be hungry after watching the total, irreversible destruction of all of my material property.


11) My paperweight from Murano

I know what you’re thinking. Why isn’t she stopping at ten? She is only supposed to take ten items. Okay, sure. But let’s say it is a slowly smouldering fire, like an oven fire which was pretty contained or a chimney fire. Say I had double the time of one of those flash fires. Then I could also take this paperweight that my mom got in Murano, Italy, made of Italian glass.


12) And This Folder of TESL Papers I Borrowed from Laura Shank:


13) And My Unicorn Christmas Cards:


14) And Lord Forbid My Pants Fall Down While Wrapped in a Blanket and Drinking Hot Chocolate with Local Firemen, So, My Belt


15)  My Smitten Kitchen Cookbook


Or at Least These Two Pages:



16) My Easter Seal Stamps from 1985


17) This Two-Dollar Bill Valerie Sent Me in the Mail


18) My Soon-to-Be-Collectible Continental Airlines Playing Cards


19) This Fancy Jacket Thingy I Got at a Clothes Exchange but Never Wore


18) This Child’s Size Adirondack Basket Backpack That Carry Wilcox Custom Made for Lali and That She Could Tote Around When We’re Homeless Because Our House Burned Down.


So okay, I think that’s all I can get. By now things are really smoky and crackly and just unbearable. By now, Lali is crying for Momma, and Dave and my landlady are double-team physically restraining me from running back in for more stuff.

But look at all of the material possessions I saved! I rejoice at these earthly treasures and the happiness they have brought, and will continue to bring me!

Really the important thing is that everyone is okay, and that I got my stuff.


An Apology

Dear Spartan Holiday Readers,

I am ashamed. Very, very ashamed. Early today I posted a blog claiming that the Spartan Holiday offices were on fire.

I mostly did that because I had no time to post the history of balneotherapy as I promised last week. An encroaching forest fire seemed like a good excuse.

But then some people wondered if my office really was on fire. And they feared for my life.

I am ashamed of that. I’m also ashamed that I made light of a very serious problem facing our beleaguered state–namely long-term drought and devastation by forest fire.

The Spartan Holiday office is not really in the Valles Caldera. Some people, unfamiliar with preserve usage laws, believed that too.

Again, I was just trying to weasel out of my promise to blog about the history of spa treatments and healing waters. I did read about balneotherapy and discovered some sort of interesting things. But I just didn’t have the energy to write about it

The truth is I’m very busy. And frankly, a little stressed with deadlines and stuff. I had a plumbing issue and I can now only use single-ply toilet paper. My daughter’s favorite doll has checked-in to dolly hospital because her leg broke off. (Dolly hospital is inconveniently located on my dresser top.) Last night, I accidentally made a vegan recipe and realized too late in the game that it didn’t have cheese in it, but should have. It’s been a rough week, you know?

I also claimed in my last blog to have made a baked Alaska…which I did not. That is far, far above my skill level in the kitchen. I just liked the idea of it melting in the heat.

I’m sorry for making light of the plight of prairie dogs, many of whom probably lost their lives this past week.

I’m also sorry for posting that picture of those monkey-type animals soaking in the hot springs in Japan. Apparently that is an old picture that everyone has already seen.

Finally, I’m sorry I used so many exclamation points. It seemed like what a person about to run away from a forest fire would do.

So, no worries. I am alive and well. And Spartan Holiday will go on. And I won’t be blogging about spa treatments next week. Instead I will probably blog about my top ten items that I would save from a fire, because my phony fire got me thinking about that.



Spartan Holiday On Fire!

Dear Readers!


The Spartan Holiday offices have caught on fire!!! And are burning down as I type!!! I know!! It’s alarming! Maybe because you didn’t know the Spartan Holiday offices are located in the Valles Caldera National Preserve!!! And even though the fire is 90% contained, it turns out my blog shack is in the containment zone!! It looks like the blog on balneotherapy I promised last week may never be written!!!

The fire is being fueled by mixed conifer and ponderosa pine!! I know that because I’m here!!

Do you know who the true heroes are? Firefighters!

And also me because I’m taking time to write this when my life is in jeopardy!

Here’s a picture of macaques relaxing in some hot springs! Could be hydrotherapy or balneotherapy!! I wish I could tell you more but I can’t because of the forest fire!


Life is so unpredictable! One minute I’m enjoying my secret illegal blog shack in the Valles Caldera and the next I’m posting a picture of self-indulgent monkey-type animals wondering if it will be the last picture I post!

What will happen to my blog? Nobody knows, least of all me! All I know is that things will never ever be even remotely the same again!!!

Did you know people used to go to spas more to drink water than to bathe in it? To drink special mineral water!!! All day long!!!

I think that’s kind of funny!

Well, I should go! The prairie dog stampede has subsided and my baked Alaska is melting!! Two signs of impending doom!!!


So goodbye!!! Farewell blog shack, farewell New Mexican forest lands, farewell baked Alaska and Spartan Holiday as we once knew it!

Perchance a new blog will very soon be resurrected from the ashes…maybe next week! A new version of Spartan Holiday! Until then!!

Stay safe, New Mexicans!


Weddings, Dream Deaths and Balneotherapy: Part I

Spartan Holiday was on holiday last week. More specifically the staff of Spartan Holiday was sitting in the iron and arsenic tinged spa waters of Ojo Caliente with one Jill Landis Jha on the day Spartan Holiday staff usually writes Spartan Holiday’s blog.


This was all part of the build-up to the glorious, pine cone strewn nuptials of my beloved Holly Jill Herr, saver of babies, banger of djembes, the Bonnie to my Clyde.


What can we say about the wedding? In some way it was your standard wedding. It ended in a legal union. People wept and laughed and burnt their tender white skin. Children rolled around in dirt. The bride wore daisies in her hair. The groom accidentally vowed to take the bride as his husband.

In other ways it was atypical. The aisle was formed with pine cones. The father-of-the-bride got uncomfortable and changed into his running clothes during the reception. And there was this cupcake tower:


Other than being blasted with invisible waves of nuptial bliss, the cupcake tower was my favorite part of the day.

“As a plant produces its flower, so the psyche creates its symbols,” said Jung. I have done intense qualitative research (on myself) and discovered that frosted cakes are a symbol for restraint and longing; eros and death.

Why do you want to smash your face into cakes or, if displayed in tower formation, throw yourself at them? I asked myself.

Well, I long to but I restrain myself. Cakes are beautiful and energetic (eros) objects, yet I long to ravish them (for fear of death), I answered.

Further studies showed that I have fought this urge since early childhood.

Similarly I had a friend in college who had the urge to rip roses apart with her teeth. And I think we’ve all fantasized about going berserk in a china shop.


This reminds me of my dream death. Everyone should have a dream death, just in case, we ever live in a future dystopia that allows us to engineer our own demise. My dream death is to collapse at the dinner table, my face falling straight into a perfectly iced, layer cake or banana cream pie. Swiftly following my forward fall into a bed of frosting, the room I’m in explodes and I’m blown to bits. (Otherwise I have to be slowly liquified by bacterial colonies per the chapter I just read on decomposition in the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, which I won’t tell you about here, as some people are super sensitive about the material nature of their bodies.)

stiffTo achieve my dream death, It seems I’ll need to get myself into some sort of South American, el patron situation in which socialist radicals resent my decadent pastel-eating lifestyle and bomb my home, which would probably be a villa. OR I could forgo the politics and expatriation and just get a friend to drug me, bake me a cake, then blow up my house, which will probably be a two-bedroom apartment.


Also included in my dream death would be a Samuel Beckett-ish, End-Game-ish scene where various people from my past pop out of bins and make absurd pronouncements about life.

“Now I am baaahck,” Danielle Miller would say (in Swedish speedskater voice).

“People are stupid.” Neil Fencer would say.

Please may I may be excused?” Lali would ask.

“Punk not dead!” a random Nepali would shout.

“A bird pooped on my shirt,” Andy Gingerich would explain.

“Wink wink,” Jill Landis would wink.

This would go on for about 30 minutes. Until my heart fills with a bittersweet, honey-like liqueur and ruptures; my face falls into a cake and the room blows to cinders.


Dave’s dream death is to die in a surfing accident or a shark attack. I think his dream death is a terrible idea and I will not help coordinate it.

Back to Ojo Caliente. I’ve lived in New Mexico for 13 years now, but this was my first visit to the fabled “Hot Eye” hot springs. There’s plenty of free, back country natural hot springs in this state that make it seem kind of moronic to drive two hours to a place where you have to pay to soak.

labyrinth at Ojo Caliente

But it wasn’t moronic at all! My spa companion and good friend, Jill Landis Jha, agreed. It was far from moronic. Whether it was the ethereal native flute music piped through the loud speakers, or the desert cliff walls vaulting above us, or good conversation, or our brains getting all steamy and melty in the steam room, we didn’t feel like morons one bit. We felt cleansed and relaxed and cured of many ailments. Ailments that we didn’t even know we had, like bad skin, circulatory and immune deficiencies, arthritis, stomach ulcers and digestive problems. Such is the nature of healing waters.

Ojo Caliente claims on their website that SPA is the acronym for the Latin phrase, “Salus Per Aquas”, which translates to “health through water.” WRONG. “Spa” actually comes from the town of Spa, Belgium. Salus Per Aquas is a backronym.

Mud bath. Mercifully this Victorian is not wearing any clothes.

The history of balneotherapy, healing through soaking, is way more interesting than you might presume, beginning with the Greeks, sleazed-up by the Romans, falling out of favor in medieval times, reviving somewhat in the 1700’s and by the 19th century, turning into just another arena for Victorians to model their dopey swim togs.

Join me next week as I explore this ancient healing ritual in depth. We may also revisit Death. In memento mori and all that.

StillLifeWithASkull Philippe de Champaigne


“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.”

That’s what Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the five-stages-of-grief lady says.

If we could really accept this reality, there might be less cake smashing urges. We could merely look on the cake with tenderness and the serenity of ego-detachment, thinking, I am that cake. The cake is me and not me. The cake is life and youth and all fleeting things, forever renewing in perpetuity.


“Nothing human is foreign to me,” said Terence, the Roman playwright guy, who may or may not have taken a bite of this giant cupcake.

And that is all I have to say about that. Until next week.