Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

Memoir Monday: “Me, Dale and Buttermilk” by Drew Scott

Every fall a group of Houston businessmen host the Houston Live Stock Show and Rodeo. The entertainment over the years has ranged from Gene Autry to Elvis Presley, Mary Chapin Carpenter to Garth Brooks. They came, they sang, they left with their money, never to give their stay in Houston a second thought. Perhaps 1952 was a different story.

In 1952, the headline attraction was Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. I was five years old, and Roy Rogers was my idol. I had RR chaps, cap gun, boots, hat and, well, you get the picture. I sang “Happy Trails to You” all the time, even in the conservative presence of our Episcopal Minister W. Peter Nye, a tall skinny man with a long neck and bald head who cared not at all for children in general or their precocious behavior. He did love to come to our house on Sunday afternoon, not for the visitation of flock, but for the strong martinis my Father made. Happy Trails to you!

Back to Roy and Dale. My Grandmother Mumum bought tickets to the Rodeo and kept the performance a surprise until a week or so before the event. She left a flyer for the Rodeo announcing Roy and Dale’s appearance on my Mother’s dining table. She knew I was always searching for food, and the table was the first place I looked. I spotted the flyer and ran into the kitchen pretending to be Roy astride Trigger. Was I excited? Yep! My Father explained Roy and Dale were appearing at the Rodeo and Mumum had tickets for her and me to go. The event was five days away. I barely slept.

The morning I was to see my idols in the flesh, I woke up early and put on every article of cowboy duds I possessed. I was ready.

Because Mumum loved to shop and dine in Houston, she knew her way over the thirty miles from her home in Goose Creek to the towers of downtown Houston with her eyes closed. She parked her 1950 Plymouth Deluxe sedan in the Houston Coliseum parking lot, and we walked the short distance to the arena. I still remember entering the Coliseum and seeing the caverness floor of the arena covered in sand. And it smelled a little funny, but I did not care the least. It was not long before the fun began when the horses and riders of the Harris County Mounted Posse galloped around the arena. The riders held large flags and the sand was flying.

The first event was bull riding, enjoyable enough, but I wanted Roy and Dale. Mumum knew I was not at all present, so she hailed a vendor to joggle my attention with a hot dog and a huge soda. The hot dog went quickly. The soda took a little longer until the suction sound reverberated on the bottom of the cup.

I returned to my seat just in time to see the spotlight focus on the center of the arena. As the opening lines of a song I did not recognize rang out, they appeared. Roy on Trigger and Dale on Buttermilk. I was on the verge of delirium tremens and high on sugar. I don’t remember much of the performance, but I do remember what followed.

Roy and Dale started riding against the wall of the arena shaking hands with all the little Buckaroos. I was just a few rows from the wall, so I positioned myself perfectly to be seen and touched by my Stars. Slowly they made their way around the arena, Dale in front on Buttermilk and Roy following on Trigger. When the procession was half-way around the arena and just feet from me, I reached out my hand as far as I could. I was ready. I was going to touch THEM! They were right in front of me when Buttermilk brushed my hand with her nose and looked straight at me! I was beside myself. And then, for reasons better known by my five year old self, I responded by poking my index finger straight into Buttermilk’s right nostril.

All hell broke loose. Roy and Dale shouted. The horses whinnied. The Duo departed.

As a record played “Happy Trails,” they rode to the center of the arena and rode out of my life forever. But that was not the end of it. Next came the collective moans of kids at the rail waiting to be touched by the Stars. “What did you do? You made them leave!” they cried and pointed to me.

I commenced my walk of shame back to my seat. Mumum had not seen what happened, but a man said to her gesturing to me, “Did you see what the kid did to that horse?” I was numb. Mumum knew what we needed to do. We promptly exited the arena

That ended my rodeo experience, but not my devotion to Roy and Dale.  Puberty took care of that.

©2014 Drew Scott 

Drew Scott was raised in Goose Creek, Texas. He and his wife Jane Scott live in Santa Fe with their two poodles. “With each story, I allow myself to visit the people and places who helped make me the man I am today at age sixty-seven,” says Drew. “Pretty cool stuff!”

A New Day

Greetings!  Time and tides pretty much picked me up and turned me around for the last few months, but I have landed now, ready to reboot Under Santa Fe Skies, if you will have me. Here is the plan.

Every Monday is now officially Memoir Monday when I will post a story written by one of my writing students. Trust me, you will thank me. My Thursday-ish post will focus on Santa Fe and environs. And blog star Georgia the Dog will put paws to keys and write her Ask Georgia column whenever she feels the urge or you send her a question.

I made one resolution for 2014:  Be happy. I know cultivating happiness is an inside job. I do. I also know that writing and reading the stories of others gets me half the way there.

So Happier New Year to you all. See you on Memoir Monday.



In writing class we talk about writing one vivid memory at a time, those moments that pop up on your memory screen like a photograph or a scene from a movie. At some point along the way I started calling them M&M’s as in, just pick one M&M from the jar, one vivid memory and write that up. Then do it again.

One way to gather those M&M’s is to walk around the world in the moment with eyes wide open. Notice the moments that shine out at you and grab your attention.

For example, Harry the Cat long ago out grew the house he slept in when he was a kitten. I now use it to store the dogs’ stuffed toys: four big dirty ducks, a pig, a bear wearing a Santa hat and a rabbit. At some point each day, Georgia and Sofie get all excited and take turns pulling each one from the house. Then they toss the animals in the air and run around like the silly dogs they are.

Last week I watched as Sofie extracted each toy, stood for a moment and stared at the empty house and then proceeded to cram her seventeen pound body into the small entrance. She literally was curled upside down for a few minutes. After rolling around like a ball all over the kitchen floor, she fell asleep with her head sticking out.

Just a little moment that became a vivid memory that became the M&M I grabbed out of the jar this morning.

Memoir, Family Memoir and Revision Workshops: Back to School!


It’s back to school time! Time to put away the flip flops and get out your pen and paper or computer to work on your writing project. Ask not for whom that school bell tolls. It tolls for you!

The early September date for the six week Write Your Memoir or Family Stories workshop filled in a heart beat, so I am offering a new Write Your Memoir or Family Stories workshop to start Saturday, September 21 from 3-4:30 PM.  In addition, I am offering a six week Revision Workshop to start Friday, September 20, from 3-4:30 PM.

Through writing exercises, discussion and story review, I will provide you the tools you need to capture your stories, one vivid memory at a time. In both workshops we will focus on the basics of good prose writing: structure, voice, narrative, scene, theme, tension, metaphor and setting. No experience required. A sense of humor mandatory. Call me at 505.577.8132 or email me at susan@susantungate.com to sign up or for further details.

I also offer editing services and work with people privately as a writing coach. Heck, I will write your family stories for you. We can work together  in person, via skype or telephone.

So take out your box of photos, story ideas and yellowing manuscript. It is time.


Advice to Your Younger Self

In my memoir writing and family memoir writing classes, I often ask participants to pause for a moment and remember some of the turning points of their lives after which everything changed. You may not have known at the time the moment was pivotal, but it became clear afterwards: a favorite English teacher praised your writing in third grade, your parents moved you to another state, you declined a marriage proposal, you spent a year abroad, you became ill, you lost your job, you became a parent, you wanted to be a doctor but you learned one summer you couldn’t handle the sight of blood.

Then I ask this question: What advice would you give to your younger self? I ask this question to bring them back in time to their younger selves and to give the experienced self something to ponder as they move forward. Mostly I ask the question because I want to know the answer.

In one class, a 97 year old woman offered this answer to the question of what advice would you give your 18 year old self: “Well first, I would run up to her and give her a big hug. I would tell her I LOVE YOU. Then I would tell her not to be afraid. I would tell her to go ahead, just do what you need to do despite what everyone else is telling you to do.”

How about today you ask yourself the question and listen to your answer. Then ask one person to answer the question and share his or her response with you. The answers will touch your heart and get you thinking. I promise.

Writing Your Memoir, Writing Your Family History and Revision Workshop: New July Classes


Time for a little self promotion. I wanted you to know about the new classes scheduled for July. In addition to a new series of memoir and personal essay writing classes, I am offering classes on writing your family history and on revising your draft memoir or personal essays. Let me know if you would like further information or, even better, to sign up. Many thanks. And here is the flyer:


You have a story to tell. Memoir writing offers the opportunity to observe the past with fresh eyes, reflect on the major events of your life and 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. Through writing exercises and discussion, Susan will provide the tools you need to capture the stories of your life, one small vivid story at a time. Susan believes in holding a safe space for students to explore their voices and work on the craft of writing. Classes meet once a week on Wednesdays from 3-4:30pm for six weeks beginning July 17. Cost is $150 plus tax if paid prior to the first class, and $165 plus tax if paid the first day of class.



Have you been thinking (forever) about writing your family’s history or writing down a few classic family stories, but are daunted by the task?  Do you struggle with how best to tell an engaging story? Help has arrived! In this workshop, we will explore techniques to turn your research, family vignettes and trunk full of documents into a lively family tale that will honor the past, bond the generations and provide a story well told for generations to come. Workshop meets Sunday, July 14 from 4:30-6:30pm. Cost is $50 plus tax if paid prior to the class and $65 the day of class.



You have completed a rough draft of your memoir or a collection of personal essays. Now what? How do you shape and revise your work into a story well told? In this  workshop, we will focus on the basics of good prose writing:  structure, voice, narrative, scene, theme, tension, metaphor, setting, honesty and illuminating the universal from the specific. Workshop meets Tuesday, July 16 and Tuesday, July 23 from 3-5pm. Cost is $100 plus tax if paid prior to the first class, and $115 plus tax if paid the first day of class.

Honey Harris of KBAC Radio 98.1 Interviews….Me


Honey Harris, KBAC Radio 98.1 ©Hutton Broadcasting

Honey Harris of KBAC Radio Free Santa Fe 98.1 and I had a fun chat on Thursday. How did that come about? The radio station is owned by Hutton Broadcasting which also publishes a website of all things Santa Fe at santafe.com.  Under Santa Fe Skies is posted here and there.

In any event, Honey and I talked about my CNN days, my memoir writing classes, my blog, my memoir Macon: A Memoir, A Murder and a whole lot of other nonsense. If you are interested in hearing the interview or need a little help falling asleep tonight, just click here.

Have a safe Memorial Day weekend.


Eat, Pray, Write, Relax: A Rejuvenating Weekend in Santa Fe


It’s Spring! What better time and what better place than Santa Fe to nurture, center, and revitalize body, mind and spirit than a weekend in April or May immersed in the inspirational beauty of Santa Fe, New Mexico. My friend and Southwest tour guide extraordinaire Patrizia Antonicelli, who owns Seven Directions Tours, is offering this Santa Fe experience in April and May.

Offered the weekends of  April 13-14, April 27-28, May 11-12, and May 25-26, the Seven Directions Tours experience begins on Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. with my writing class “Writing Your Memoir: One Vivid Story at a Time.”

Memoir writing offers you the opportunity to observe the past with fresh eyes, reflect on your life purpose, clarify your future path and preserve your unique stories. Always with humor, I promise to demystify the process of memoir writing and provide the simple tools you need to begin. The class will end at noon.

From 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., you will be immersed in Native American culture by spending this afternoon with a Native American healer who will offer a blessing and healing ceremony which is sure to nourish and renew the spirit.

Saturday dinner, held from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., will be a memorable experience. A premiere Native American chef will prepare centuries old traditional dishes for you in her home using organic ingredients. The history of each dish will be explained. To end the evening, her Navajo sous chef will drum and sing for you.

Sunday morning from 10:00 a.m. to noon will be spent writing with me.

The experience will end Sunday afternoon with an herbal massage and flower and mineral essences with the Native American healer. Massage sessions will begin at 2:00 p.m. You will return home with flower and mineral essences as a remembrance of this special weekend.

I urge you to make this peaceful, revitalizing weekend a gift to yourself. Patrizia will not disappoint, and I would love to write with you. Locals are welcome to join in, too.  You may even get to meet the beautiful and talented Georgia the Dog!

You will stay in town at a typical southwestern accommodation. Upon request, for this weekend, Seven Directions Tours will provide ideas and itineraries for anyone wanting also to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and the art and culture for which Santa Fe is famous.

For further information and media inquiries call Patrizia Antonicelli at 505.820.3305 or visit www.sevendirections.net .

Memoir Writing Classes for March, April: It’s Promo Time!


You have a story to tell. Whether you have lived your life quietly or on a more public stage, memoir writing offers you the opportunity to observe the past with fresh eyes, reflect on the major events of your life and 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.

So often people feel called to write their life stories but have no idea how to begin. Let me be your guide:

  • With compassion and humor, I will demystify the process of memoir writing.
  • Through writing exercises and discussion, I will provide the simple tools you need to capture the stories of your life, one small vivid story at a time.
  • While the classes are specifically structured to teach memoir writing, participants will gain helpful information for writing informal family histories as well.
  • Both beginning and seasoned writers are welcome.
  • A sense of humor is mandatory.

This is a gift to yourself, an opportunity to get in touch with your purpose, your story.  The classes will offer you a sense of inquiry and focus.

“Susan is a storyteller of unparalleled substance. She will help you find the unique threads of your life and teach you how to weave them into a beautiful tapestry. You will not be disappointed.”  Elizabeth  M.

“Susan’s class really turned me loose!” Susan M.

For information about new workshops in March and April, please email me at susan@susantungate.com. 

Let Your Inner Muse Run Free!

True confession: I have slacked off  writing my posts for Under Santa Fe Skies as I complete my manuscript for Macon: A Memoir, A Murder.  I have never written a bucket list of things I want to accomplish before I pass into the great beyond, but if I did, the only material project on the list would be “finish and publish Macon.” People, it is time. 

For  those of you living in Santa Fe or visiting soon, I present to you today two opportunities to bring forth your very own inner muse in a relaxed, never competitive, always supportive environment. 

First up is my new memoir writing class which begins Wednesday, February 13.  Writing Your Memoir: One Vivid Story at A Time will meet from 3-4:30 for 6 consecutive Wednesdays. Each class has its own personality. This one, so far, has a professional photographer, a bestselling author and a man who has been scribbling down ideas for years and is finally ready to write the book. I have vetted the group and can assure you each has a sense of humor. Please contact me via Contact Susan if you would like to join our merry group starting a week from today. There is still room at the table. 

The second opportunity is a workshop titled “A Pilgrimage Home” which will be held February 26 from 6-8 pm at the O’Keeffe Museum’s Museum Education Annex located on 123 Grant Ave. in Santa Fe. The workshop is offered in conjunction with the new exhibit of Annie Leibowitz photographs from her book Pilgrimage that opens February 15. 

During a challenging time in her life, Annie Leibowitz embarked on her own personal pilgrimage, focusing her camera on objects, rooms, and landscapes which held meaning for her. The resulting collection of photographs in Pilgrimage offer, in her own words,  ”a meditation on how to live.” 

In this workshop you will gain insight into your own vision of the meaning of home and a life well lived. Through writing prompts, art examples, and demonstrations, you will be guided on your own personal pilgrimage to create both a written reflection and a collage-and-mixed-media work of art on panel board. I will co-lead the workshop with Catherine Trapani, visual artist, printmaker, and teacher. The workshop is part of the Museum’s Art & Leadership for Adults. I should add, the workshop is free! To learn more, please click here.

Silence your inner critic. Join a class. Let your little muse run free.