All posts by lenleatherwood

I am a native Texan who has lived for the past 21 years in Los Angeles. I am a published author of both short memoir and fiction, a 2015 Pushcart nominee, a nationally award-winning writing teacher, an editor, as well as a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas. In addition, I am the mother of three grown daughters of whom I am extremely proud, a grandmother of two darling children and the wife of a man I still love after 35 years.

Next Round of Birds Taking Flight

I am wrapping up with my college essay students.  Saying good-byes after several months of work. Several kids have already gotten the first of their acceptances if they applied Early Decision or Early Action.  Some will not hear until February or even March.  The work is over and the wait is on.

While I will miss these folks, I can see the exhaustion on their faces from all the work they’ve done over the past few months. I can also feel the momentum already propelling them out of their current lives and into their future ones. They are on the move, these kids. Ready for new adventures waiting down the road.  They are kind to me, sweet in their thanks, but I can see their eyes straining to make out what’s happening far beyond me, can sense their eagerness to dash forward and out of sight.

As for me, I’m happy they are happy and also ready to go.  This is intense work, very personal, and it requires a lot of me in the form of questioning and coaxing before we even get to the actual writing and editing.  By the time we are done, I am ready for a rest. Pleased with the experience, but also happy that another round of birds will be taking flight.

Besides, I know several will call me from college with a request for a little help with an essay or two and then we’ll get to work together again.  Some will even come visit after all their work is done just to chat and drink a cup of tea. I am always happy to see a familiar face at my door and hear the highlights of their new lives.

Camaraderie. Connection. Caring.  I feel grateful to have work that brings me such joy.








Godless – Well Worth Watching on Netflix

I’d like to put in a big plug for the 7-episode limited series, Godless, which can be found on Netflix.  This is the story of a New Mexico town of La Belle where almost all the men have died in a mining accident and the town is run by their widows. Unfortunately, La Belle comes into the crosshairs of a gang of ruthless men who are in search of one renegade from the gang because he wants to live a better life. That man, Roy Goode, is the adopted son of the gang leader, Frank Griffin, and Frank will stop at nothing to get revenge on the son who has now abandoned him. He has already made good on this by burning down another town, Creed, and killing all the residents. 

Roy Goode, after a shoot-out near Creed – and severing Frank Griffin’s arm – finds himself severely wounded. He ends up at a ranch run by a twice-widowed woman named Alice, her Native American mother-in-law and her half-Native American son. That ranch is near La Belle, and the plot is off and running since Frank Griffin will be coming that direction shortly on his hunt for Roy Goode.

This series is smartly written, depicts complicated relationships, and shows a whole different perspective of life in the Wild West. Jeff Daniels as Frank Griffin is believable and pretty darn evil. Roy Goode will melt your heart.  Alice and the women of La Belle will make you proud of the female gender. My friend Randy Oglesby has a recurring role, which is also quite a treat.

I was truly sorry to see this limited series end, which is a real compliment.  I highly recommend it.  Please let me know if you watch it.  I’ll be curious to hear what you think.

Happy television watching and we’ll talk again tomorrow.


Reflections on the Thomas Fire

On Saturday night after St. Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood’s Lessons and Carols service (which was glorious, by the way), one of my fellow acolytes, Anthony Palacios, came up and told me he had been worried about our orange grove up in Ojai because of the Thomas Fire. I let him know all was well – so far – to which he said, “Oh, I’m so glad to hear that since my parents, who live in Ojai, lost their home.”

I was taken aback.  “They lost their home?”

“Yes, they live up on Sulphur Mountain and they barely got out.  I called them several times over the day and evening, begging them to leave, then tried again around 1:30 in the morning.  My step-dad had already gone to bed.  My mom was reassuring me they were fine when she suddenly said, ‘Oh dear, our patio furniture is on fire.'”  Anthony went on to tell me that his mother and step-dad (both in their late 70s) hurriedly left the house, drove their family car and their motorhome a short distance down the road, then watched as their house burned to the ground within an hour.

Dear Lord in heaven.

Our neighbor in the river bottom below our orange grove told us that he’d planned to fight the fire with multiple fire hoses he had on hand should it come his way.  But then he said, “I heard a sound like I’ve never heard in my life and looked out the window.  A wall of fire, a hundred feet tall and three hundred feet wide, came roaring down the river bed three hundred feet away.  I knew right then that if the fire jumped that bank and came towards us, we were dead. There was no fighting a fire like that.”  Luckily, the fire didn’t jump the bank.  Our neighbor lamented that he had talked his family into staying down there with him. “Never again,” he said.  “It’s just pure luck that we’re still alive.  My bad idea could have killed not just me, but my whole family.”

I have struggled to put my thoughts on paper regarding the Thomas fire.  Ninety homes are gone in Ojai, over 1000 in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and over 230,000 acres have currently burned.  The fire is only 15% contained right now and is already the fifth largest wildfire in recorded California history.  I can’t even begin to imagine the emotional impact for those who have seen everything they own go up in flames.  I know even our small brush with the soot, ashes and bad air quality makes me realize in a very real way how fortunate we were the fire hovered on every side of us, but didn’t cross over onto our land and leave only charred remains.  I feel extremely grateful about that lucky turn of events.

There is a common saying in Alanon and AA that goes like this: If you don’t believe in a power greater than yourself, then just stick a knife into an electric socket and see how you feel then.” I found myself thinking of that saying as I walked through the ash-covered orange grove with my mask covering my face.  “Don’t believe in a power greater than yourself?  Well, let me just strike this match and you can hold your finger over it.”

Fire is formidable, mysterious, life-giving and life-taking.  A power truly greater than ourselves.  I feel certain every fight fighter who is out on those front lines carries a deep respect for the power of fire. I now look at those firefighters with a newfound respect.  Not that I didn’t appreciate them before now, but, at this point, I am much more aware of just exactly how brave and selfless they are. True heroes.

All of this made me think about our country and our world.  People all over this planet band together and help each other during times of trouble.  We fight side-by-side, do extraordinary things, share common sorrows.  Big problems make small difference fall away.  We are united. One. Decent. Kind. Compassionate.

Despite the hardship of the Thomas fire for so many, I can’t help but feel heartened about the human condition.  We are good people down deep.  Sometimes it takes something bigger than ourselves to remind us of our common humanity.

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Reconnaissance Mission to Ojai

Today, Ray, Sarah, Gregorio, Liz, Ron and I drove up to Ojai to assess the condition of our orange grove after the Thomas fire had raged so dangerously close this week.  Rachael and Ariel stayed home and watched Luna and Nico. This trip came after Ray and I decided to cancel a planned visit to Texas and Tennessee, which would have kept us out of town for over a week.  We just couldn’t justify leaving when the fires were so close and an evacuation order has sent Liz and Ron down here to LA since they couldn’ t remain at the orange grove.  This morning was a reconnaissance mission to determine the damage to our place and also see how the surrounding areas had fared.

The long and short of it: our place was ash-covered and sooty, but nothing was fire-damaged.  Every interior smelled smokey, but nothing significant beyond that. On the other hand, the surrounding forests up in the hills were completely burned out and black. In fact, there was a current fire in several places up in the hills, which was producing lots of smoke.

The air quality was also terrible.  We had to wear masks with a heavy-duty filter to even be there.  The air was filled with fine ash and the winds were stirring up.  The fires up in the hills grew larger while we were there, and once we headed back down Highway 33, we saw quite a blaze down a short road.  The firefighters were there, dealing with it. The valley was very smokey as well.  Once we reached Ventura, the ocean breeze cleared the air so visibility increased.  We heard online at that point, the firefighters had closed Highway 33 to through traffic.

I am very grateful that our orange grove has not sustained damage. That is a huge relief. Now, we have to continue hoping that the winds don’t crank back up and whip up all those smoldering embers.  Here’s to that prayer.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.  They are much appreciated.  I think we’re on the downhill slope. I guess we’ll see how we fare tonight. This is truly a one day at a time situation, at least for now.

Here is a photo of a fire plume in the western sky and several active blazes up in the hills.  Hopefully, this will settle down soon. A big thank you to our firefighters!



Happy Birthday, Brother Jim

Today is my brother Jim’s birthday.  He died of AIDS in 1994.  I wish he were around. I miss him.

Jim was one of those guys who was on the cutting edge of whatever he did.  He was the first person I knew who owned a car phone, he bought a laserdisc player when they first came out, and he became a laser surgeon at the very beginning of lasers. He loved technology and wanted to be among the first to try out whatever was new.  He was also an adventurer. He joined the Norwegian Merchant Marine when he was in his 20s and sailed around the world while peeling potatoes. He rode his Norton motorcycle from California to Texas and then back again.  He owned both a plane and a big sailboat and was often either up in the air or out on the ocean.  In other words, he was always stretching and growing; he was on the move.

Jim had a way of crinkling his eyes when he was happy to see you that read, “I love you,” loud and clear.  I appreciated that about him.  He also had a strong sense of loyalty. He could get mad at you one minute then be over it the next. “Water under the bridge” was one of his favorite sayings and he meant it.  Once he was over something, it was done.  No need to revisit it.

Here’s a picture of Jim (on the right) with our brother older brother, John.  They were best friends.  John also died of AIDS and Jim took care of him when he got sick. That was 1991. Jim died 4 years later in 1995.  Ray, our girls, and I took care of him when he was sick. I miss both of these guys every day.  I know they are looking down from heaven, urging me on, anytime I want to slow down and notice.  They were two of my biggest supporters in this life.  The feeling was mutual.

Happy birthday, Jim.  Here’s to your special day.

john and JIm

Game Time with Luna

I had the nicest time with my four-year-old granddaughter Luna on Sunday afternoon at the orange grove. Ray asked her if she’d like to stay for a few more hours and catch a ride home with Auntie Liz and Uncle Ron, who would be leaving later in the day.  Luna immediately said yes. So her parents took her 22-month-old little brother home and she sat for a long time at a table near the fire ring, drawing.  After I tidied up in the kitchen, I went over to where she was and she said, “Let’s play ‘Would You Rather’?”

I started with the question, “Would you rather parachute out of a plane or go scuba diving?”

“Scuba diving!” she said.  “Me too,” I said.

Her turn, “Would you rather eat ice cream or pie?”

“Pie,” I said. “Ice cream for me,” she said.

By now, Auntie Liz and our family friend Jared had joined the game, but she and I were still asking the questions.

“Would you rather go to a movie or watch television?” I asked.

“I have to say movies,” Luna said, “because I love movies.”

By now Uncle Ron and Grandpa were there too. “Television,” Ron said. “Movies,” Grandpa said. “Movies,” I said.  “Television,” Liz said.  “Movies,” Jared said.

On we went with question after question in the categories of entertainment, food, colors, seasons, animals, etc.  We must have spent at least an hour asking and answering questions.

Occasionally, someone would ask a clarifying point to a question such as, “Would you rather live in Alaska or on Mars?” Liz asked, “Okay, but do I ever get to leave Alaska?”

“No,” I said.

“So many months of darkness and cold?” 


“Then my answer is no to Alaska, yes to Mars.”

“Me too,” said, Ray, Jared and me.

“Alaska,” said Ron and Luna.

What was fun about this game was just how much you could learn about yourself and the other people playing. Not earth-shattering information, but the little stuff about individual preferences. Plus, it’s just one of those simple and innocent activities that makes you feel connected and heard.

Having Luna there all by herself and being just one more person in this game was so sweet.  She was completely attentive, tuned in, and engaged.  So grown up.  At four (five in April) she is pretty grown up.

Jared told me later that our “play-time” with Luna Sunday afternoon was his favorite part of the weekend.  It was mine too.  Relaxed, fun, and sweet.  What is better than that?

Here’s a photo of Luna with Auntie Liz, my nephew Jim, his wife, Karri, and their kids, Eli and Sophie. Jim is my sister Leslie’s son.


Their Eyes Were Watching God: My New Favorite Book

I have a student who will be writing an essay on Zora Neale Hurston’s book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, so I had the pleasure of reading for the first time this book that was published back in 1937.  I just finished it yesterday and I have to say that I fell in love with this book from the first lines.  Here they are just so you can see what I mean:

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember and remember everything they don’t want to forget.  That dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. 

Isn’t that beautiful? It is even more glorious once you’ve read the book and understand what the author is referencing.

This is the story of Janie Crawford, an African American woman who grows into her personhood over the course of the novel.  She is in pursuit of real love and it takes a while for her to find it and also to grow into herself.  The language is lyrical, the story riveting and the conclusion life-affirming.  This is not the traditional happily-ever-after story, but rather one that is filled with wisdom and poignancy.  I burst into tears at the ending just as I should with any novel worth its salt.

The novel is written partially in Black dialect, which has its challenges, but it’s not nearly as hard to read as Huck Finn, which I read out loud to one of my students with learning issues a few years ago. Now that had challenges!

One of the famous quotes that shows the richness of this book is this: “Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

Amen to that and amen to this book.  I am in love with Zora Neale Hurston’s words and feel deep respect for her work as an author.  She has written one of those special books that bridges time and demonstrates through richly-drawn characters the heartfelt wisdom of love and life.