Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

Palm Sunday in Santa Fe

It was about 10:30 a.m. when I heard an enthusiastic if not entirely accurate trumpet version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and a few faint voices singing along coming from the direction of the normally quiet street outside. That got my attention.

I opened the front door to see the end of a procession of perhaps twenty elderly women, each no taller than 5’2″, holding palm branches, trailed by one frail man who looked to be in his 90s aided by a younger man in his late 70s, all following the man blowing the trumpet.

I leaned against the wall to watch.

I guessed they had walked from the church less than a block away. When the church was built in the 1950s, this area was a barrio, a closely knit community of people who, on hearing the clarion call of the trumpet, would have emerged from their homes and happily joined the merry band of palm waivers.

They were five houses down from me when they all stopped. The leader announced, “I guess we can’t wake them up. No one is coming out.” Just as he completed that sentence, his eyes met mine and he bellowed, “Except for her!” All eyes turned to look at me. With big smiles on their faces, the group did a slow pivot, held those palms high, and sang a rousing, “Alle alle luuuuuia! Alle alle luuuuuia”  as they converged around me. Several handed me their palms. When the song was over, we exchanged greetings and hugs for a happy Palm Sunday. Then the leader fired up another round of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and they were off toward the church with renewed energy.

I wish the people in the neighborhood had flung open their doors and joined in the spirit of the procession. I truly do. But I was graced with all the smiles and love they hoped to give to many that Palm Sunday, and I was moved.


I Salute A Few of My Favorite Santa Fe Businesses

Santa Fe is a town largely comprised of local, privately owned businesses whose owners work darn hard for their money. It is a tough town. On this last day of 2015, I want to thank just a few of the local business owners who enriched my life this year, first by their heartfelt presence in this community and second by the services and products they offer.

First up, The Video Library. The Vid was opened by owner/operator/counselor/cat activist/chocolate chip cookie lover  Lisa Harris and buyer Casey St. Charnez in 1981, the very first video store in the state of New Mexico. You can find mainstream releases as well as rare, out of print and hard to find movies. And you will find Lisa, who has one of the biggest hearts on the planet, and her great staff who are all walking encyclopedias of cinema, ready to offer suggestions that fit your mood. Go. Browse. Chat. Rent.

Downtown Subscription, located a block from Canyon, has great coffee, pastries, the best selection of magazines in Santa Fe, a front patio where you can bring your dog and a back patio with a fountain and lovely flowers. And they have the nicest team of baristas. On Sundays I often buy my New York Times, order a cappuccino and sit for an unseemly length of time reading the paper and inevitably chatting with someone I never met before. Before heading home, I head to Garcia Street Books which is located on the other side of the wall from DTS. A real bookstore where you can browse, ask folks what they are reading and discover the exact book you needed that day but had never heard of five minutes before you walked into the place. Amazon is not the be all and end all, folks.

Kristin Mader, muse/proprietor/artist/creative spirit/witty woman of Wild Hare salon,  patiently and beautifully tends my mass of hair with a smile on her face, no small feat. The salon is gorgeous with its crystal chandelier and art, the staff is talented and the products smell delightful. Kristin and Wild Hare are simply the best. Anywhere.

Ranger owns the New Old Trail Garage. He has been praying over and maintaining my 1998 Ford Explorer since I road into town in, well, 1998. Where else can you drive up as I did Tuesday, ask him to please check the antifreeze level (it just occurred to me after two weeks of freezing cold) and replace the wiper blade I accidently shredded when I ripped it too vigorously from the icy windshield, and the owner stops what he is doing and does it, plus checks the tires and adds more windshield wiper fluid. And he neither shames me nor charges more than a fair fee.

When I go to the Farmers’ Market, I buy from farmers who are now my friends. They picked the flowers or lettuce or spinach and boxed the eggs or made the bread the day before. No vegetables grown in South America wrapped in plastic. Farm to table, a community.

Rand and Cindy Cook, two of the nicest people I know, own The Candyman Strings & Things, which really has become a little community center. They were named (drum roll) Dealer of the Year at the National Association of Music Merchants Top 100 Dealer Awards. Number One in the entire US! And they are right here in Santa Fe! They have everything you could want from guitars and drums and amps and keyboards to ukuleles, one of which has my name on it, and classes to learn how to play your chosen instrument. The staff will help you select the instrument for you or yours. Check out their Summer Rock Camp, too, and all of their other services on their website. They can also work with you over the phone.

I thank Harry’s Roadhouse for the occasional hit of cheese enchiladas drenched in red and green chile, aka Christmas. I leave a happy woman.

And on a personal note, I thank all of my writing students for sitting around my table and sharing their unique stories. I think it is an act of bravery as well as creativity. I thank all the clients who have trusted me to edit their manuscripts and those who have asked me to write their stories for them. It is my honor, my privilege, my delight.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays

Every day, I am filled with gratitude for the friends I have in my life. I’m talking about head shaking astonishment that I should be so fortunate. As the poet David Whyte wrote: “The ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the self nor of the other, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”

So this holiday season, I wish you all the gift of friendship, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

With love,


CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment
and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
© David Whyte & Many Rivers Press

Photo of Santa Fe Plaza from santafe.org

Abandoned, Tortured, and Starved!

It started like any other day. I was hanging out with My Person in the kitchen, watching her make coffee, when her cell phone rang. I hear: “Yes, thanks for returning my call. I need someone to pet sit over a long weekend.” Oh no. “I have a cat and two small dogs,” she says. “One of the dogs, Georgia, is a little shy.” Well, that was more kindly put than the groomer, who said with an edge, “Georgia has an attitude!”, but I digress.

At some point later that day, Sofie starts barking her lungs off. I awaken and naturally decide to join in because I know that is what dogs are suppose to do. In walks a woman who I would judge to be in her late seventies with preternaturally dark  hair.

“Well, hi! Aren’t you two the cutest puppies.” Sycophant Sofie jumps up to be petted. I give a small wag to be polite. Just as The Woman leans her face into mine and starts to reach for me, My Person says, “Don’t pet Georgia, remember, she will scream.” The Woman’s hand hovers over my head for a second, then, as if a child told not to touch the hot iron, she goes for my head and I let out the most ear piercing scream I can muster and run under the table. “Oh,” she says. “She really does scream.” Idiot.

My Person proceeds to explain the ins and out of the care and feeding of the three of us. She goes on and on and on but she also has typed it all down on paper, because that is her way. I hear snippets of what My Person says from my post under the table: “Harry is an indoor cat. Never let him out….No, please don’t sleep over…Last call outside should be about 7pm then off you go… Sure you can make breakfast here…Oh, no, no need to vacuum, it is a bit temperamental…Please don’t go into my office because I have things piled all over the room for a project…”

Then My Person says, “If Georgia hides under the bed, do not feed her under the bed or she will never come out. Lead her out with pieces of dried chicken.” YES! I love dried chicken. Note to self: Hide under the bed.

Then The Woman says, “Where is your TV?”

“I don’t have one. It broke this summer and I decided not to get a new one until the lead up to the political conventions is over.”

“Good idea! It is so stressful. I saw the Guan Yin statue on the patio so you must be a Democrat and I am a Republican, but don’t worry I hate Trump, he is a clown. I support Rubio.”

“Well, ok then, ” My Person says as she composes her face, “good to know.”

“I’ll need to use your computer over the weekend if that’s ok. I have bills to pay,” says The Woman, as if she were asking to use the toilet.

“I’m sorry, but no. And please, again, don’t go into the office.”

I am thinking she has to go so I sneak over to the carpet in front of the couch and do what I have never done in the eight years My Person and I have lived together: I make a very small, really fairly discreet deposit. Not two seconds later The Woman eyes my social statement and tells My Person who exclaims, “Georgia! Let’s go outside. What the heck was that about?”

GUESS, I want to say. Take one guess. You have a law degree for goodness sakes, but seeing this is a feckless effort (and yes, dogs know the word feckless), I run under the bed, shaking my head at the futility of it all.

The Woman then asks how to use the radio. “Not a radio,” My Person explains. “It is an iPod.” The Woman does not know how to use it, so My Person shows her.

“Is that a second iPod on the shelf? What’s in that?”

“Classical music. It works the same way as the other one.”

The Woman finally leaves. We go about our lives. I have dodged a bullet. Until one morning before sunrise, My Person feeds us, picks up a bag and walks out the door. I know this is not good.


A few hours later, in walks The Woman carrying several bags. I run under the bed. During the next few hours, I hear the sound of pots and pans, the smell of oatmeal, the sound of coffee beans being poured into the burr grinder and the grinder crunching the beans, I smell coffee, I hear stuff being moved around in the freezer, the sound of the contents of a kitchen drawer being dumped out on the counter. I hear Sofie and my names called to go outside, a call I ignore under my post. I hear our food, my food, being poured into my bowl. I do not move. I hear music. I fall asleep.

When it is dark outside, The Woman calls My Person. I hear: “Georgia has not come out all day. She is under the bed….no I did not try the chicken…ok I will roll up the rug…ok…ok…yes, Harry and Sofie have been great…Ok…Bye.”

So I am thinking we are going to do the dried chicken thing and I will fly out the door to pee and back to eat my dinner before heading under the bed, but no. The Woman says goodnight and leaves.


The second day is best explained by The Woman’s call to My Person late in the day: “I got Georgia outside! I am exhausted and shaking. I just made myself a cup of tea. Well, this morning she was in the office. I shut the bedroom and bathroom doors, took two chairs and trapped her. It took eight hours but slowly I pushed her inside the chairs to the patio door. I opened the door. It took 15 minutes of my pushing and her screaming twice, but she finally went outside and pooped. Where was Harry when the door was open for 15 minutes? Oh, he was on the couch encouraging her to go outside. Well, I knew it was a risk Harry might run outside but I thought I could catch him. Ok. I won’t do it again. Ok. No, I did not try the chicken. Ok. No more trapping her in the chairs. Where is she now? Oh, she ran like hell and is hiding in the furthest corner under the bed. Ok. Ok. Have a great time! Bye bye!”

Then she placed a bowl of water and a bowl of dry food near the end of the bed and  left the house.

What The Woman did not say is that she pulled up the bed skirt and planted a huge, industrial strength flashlight under the bed, aimed straight at me. Why? I do not know, but I am a deer in headlights. I don’t dare budge.


I have lost all sense of time. The Woman arrives. She sticks her evil face under the bed, hoping, I think, to find me dead. My hope is the battery will die before I do so I can die in peace.

Speaking of dying, I hear her turn on the vacuum cleaner in the office. Two strikes. Then I hear silence. The vacuum, il est mort. Dead. Broken. From under the bed, even with the light in my eyes, I watch her spread the body parts in the hall.


I no longer know if it is summer or fall. Hope is vanishing. I am hungry and boy do I have to pee. The Woman’s cell phone rings and I hear: “You landed! Great. Ok. An hour? Ok. Well, I usually like to be here when people return, but ok. Ok.  It’s been great! Thanks again!” And The Friggin Woman leaves.

I run out as fast as I can and pee a rivulet where the rug use to be.

Not too long after, I hear My Person’s car coming down the driveway and Sofie hears it too and Harry jumps on his perch and we are barking and twirling and wagging our tails as our precious Person walks in the door, saying, “Hi there! Let’s go outside Georgia and Sofie! How are you guys?” I run outside, knowing in about five seconds she is going to find my river of shame, but I do not care because she is home!

Footnote: For the next day or so I watch My Person as she finds the detritus of the weekend: the broken vacuum lying in state in the hall, the silent coffee grinder no longer able to move its burrs, the kitchen drawer rearranged, rubber bands placed around the can openers, the freezer containers placed in a bin, the jar of coffee beans now beanless. At one point she leans down and picks me up. Holding me close she says, “I am so sorry, Georgia. The Woman is off the list.” And I wag my tail.

Eat A Meal, Spread Some Kindness!

Tomorrow,  Tuesday, November 17, is the big day to eat out at Joe’s Dining! Joe’s Dining will contribute 20% of the cost of your meal to the nonprofit Listening Horse Therapeutic Riding.

By my conservative guesstimation, over 1,500 of you reading this missive live in the Santa Fe/Northern New Mexico area. Let’s say one-fourth of you saddle on up to Joe’s Dining tomorrow.  (The other three-fourths of you better have a good excuse.) The money Joe’s Dining will contribute to Listening Horse will buy a whole bunch of apples and grain and whatever else Listening Horse needs to care for the sweet horses who are the heart of their program.

So, eat a meal. Spread some kindness. See you there.

Listening Horse Fundraiser

Save the date! On Tuesday, November 17, Joe’s Dining will contribute 20% of the cost of your meal to the amazing nonprofit Listening Horse Therapeutic Riding. All you need to do is eat! So saddle on up to Joe’s Dining, put on the feed bag (I couldn’t resist this horsey stuff) and contribute to a great organization.


Story Telling 101 This Saturday!

Not too late to sign up for Story Telling 101 this Saturday. Details below.


Santa Fe in Autumn

Saturday morning I put down the manuscript I was editing for a client, walked out the front door without Georgia and Sofie and headed for the Farmers’ Market about two blocks away. It had been too long. And it is autumn.

About a block away I ran into Carol who is normally attached to her Scottie named Nessie on a leash and a small white parrot named José on her shoulder. She had neither. Seems not too long ago she was on a walk with José when he fell heavy as a stone from her shoulder and bounced on the sidewalk. Poor José had a stroke. He survived, but no longer perches from on high. Nessie was home because Carol, too, was headed for the Farmers’ Market where dogs are not allowed. Her mission? Buy hot, fresh, crispy chiles for José. Seems José is a devotee of hot, only fresh and crispy, green chiles. Give that boy an even slightly soft one, and he does not entertain the idea of taking a bite.

First stop, the farmer who grows José’s favorite chiles. The farmer was out in front of his booth turning the chile roaster. Carol scored for José.

Another man who works for the owner was offering samples of a carrot dish. So simple. Cubed purple, yellow and orange carrots stir fried in oil with garlic and a few chiles. I took a bite and took the bait. I am now the proud ower of three carrots of three different colors.

Next stop The Tomato Lady. All these years and I had never stopped at her booth. Big mistake for me. She has earned her name. Carol said to her, “Susan is from the South so she knows her tomatoes.” With that, the woman brought out her secret stash, and I made the quick decision not to say something like, I dunno, seems where ever I have lived, and that would be about ten cities,  people know their tomatoes. I partook.

Carol and I both spotted Pilar at the same time. Pilar lives north of Santa Fe on the Rio Grande. The woman works hard for her money. I met her on my first visit to Santa Fe in 1990. She has been through hell and back. Normally her booth is filled with ristras and wreathes and angels made of straw. Not today. She only had on  display a few small wreathes and a straw cross decorated with dried flowers with vibrant colors. She gave us both a hug. Good day? I asked. “Sold out!” Carol asked the price of the cross. “For you and Susan, everything $20.” Carol bought the cross. One more round of hugs and we walked on.

And there he was. I about cried. For 17 years I have bought eggs and fruit and vegetables from this couple. He is in his 80s. I adore that man. She is a few years younger. This year, for the first time, I had not seen him in the booth.  Some young stranger stood by her. I am ashamed to say that I avoided the booth because I wanted to avoid the conversation.  How could I say in the middle of the Market, so, where is your husband, and she would say, “Ah, mija, he died over the winter,” and I would tear up, and she would tear up, and customers would be there. So I was a chicken.

But today he was sitting in a chair by the truck. Not up front as he was in the past, but there he was. I about screamed, Hi! You are here! I missed you.  As he rose to give me a hug, he said he had a bad heart attack over the winter, a slow recovery and this was his first time back at Market. The Mrs. told him to sit back down and he did. I tasted two of the three varieties of apples and settled on a pint sized basket of red delicious. After I paid, he got up from his chair and pointed to the little red ones with a few black spots. “My grandfather planted these trees, mija. Try these.” Those apples were spectacular. “Give her a pint,” he said to his wife. “She is a good woman.” One more hug and we headed home.

There is a line in one of the songs in “Camelot” that goes, “But if I’d ever leave you, how could it be in autumn?” I feel that way about Santa Fe. How could it be in autumn?



It’s Time

A reader dropped me a note recently asking for more information about the work I do in general and, specifically,  my writing memoirs, personal histories and family histories for clients.  The reader said there was just something about fall that made him…once again…think about writing down some of his family stories as well as his own. I agree with the impulse.  More than spring, I associate autumn with beginnings. Maybe all those years of school left an imprint, a Pavlov’s dog reaction: The morning air turns crisp, and I am energized to begin anew.

After we spoke, I reviewed the About section and decided it was time to amp it up a bit. So I did. In case you, too, are giving some thought to taking pen in hand or placing fingers on the computer, or having me do that on your behalf or as a gift to another, I have reprinted part of the revised About section below. “The Universe is made of stories, not atoms,” wrote Muriel Rukeyser. Write your stories. Let me know how I may assist you. I would be honored.

We all have a story to tell. Whether you have lived your life quietly or on a more public stage, writing your memoir, life stories, family stories and family histories offers you the opportunity to observe the past with fresh eyes, reflect on your life’s purpose, clarify your future path and preserve your unique stories. Here is the bonus: When you are open to telling your individual stories in the most authentic, truth seeking way, you will touch the universal truths that have the power to transform both you and the reader.

I teach writing classes privately and for organizations such as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the Santa Fe retirement community El Castillo, assisting them with shaping their stories and honing their craft. I edit completed manuscripts and assist with development editing when you are not quite sure how to proceed or whether you are on the right track.

I produce memoirs, life stories, family stories and family histories from recorded interviews which I transcribe, edit and develop into a story well told. My clients are from all walks of life, people who have built businesses, raised families, fought in wars, championed a cause, taught school, designed buildings, traveled the world or chose to stay close to the fabric of their communities. While their life stories are unique, they all value their heritage and share a desire to preserve their personal stories and family stories for generations to come. Since each project is unique, I offer a free one hour consultation to discuss the story you wish to tell, outline the process and determine a fee which will fit within your budget. Drop me a note and let’s get started. It’s time.