Monday, December 27, 2010


What was best? The houses bedecked and be-lighted. Singing the old carols at the Christmas Eve service. The oohs and ahs and smiles on the faces I love as their presents were revealed. The food (and coffee, thank heavens) throughout the day. Watching my grand nieces’ delight over every package. And their rapt attention as I opened the presents they had chosen for me. Then the pleasure of working with my nephew to prepare a triumphant Christmas dinner.

I loved my presents – every one. Especially the sacred carving by my brother. And the clutch of DVDs from my son that actually arrived before Christmas – fully (and imaginatively) wrapped. And the sweater and the candle and the wildflower seeds and the hand blown glass humming bird feeder and magic glass box and butterfly ring and … and … and ….

But most of all, an entire day in the company of my wonderful family.

It’s not over. Tomorrow and Wednesday I’ll have some one-on-one time with my nephew and an entire day with his 14-year-old daughter. And Thursday my dear friend and her doofus dog will arrive and stay until 2011. And other friends will join us for dinner. Then on Sunday, my other nephew will spend the day with me.

My heart is warmed. I am cocooned in layers of love and joy, ready to begin a new year.

So it was worth it – the hours decorating the house and tree, all the cards and purchases, wrapping and mailing, cooking and cleaning.

Most of the year, love is assumed or expressed in passing. But this particular grand slam holiday allows us to celebrate each other, honor each other, and shower tokens of our love on each other.

It’s a good thing. I am grateful.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Ending

The over-sized toy clown fish (see Dec. 21 post) has found a home.

When I shared my dilemma (custody of a large/plush/stuffed orange and white fish that was too scary to be a present for my grand niece) a friend came by to see for herself. She wasn't scared at all. She thought the thing was rather cute. Plus, she thought she knew someone who might like the thing.

Her daughter was waiting in the car. When her mom returned bearing the large/plus/stuffed orange and white fish, it was love at first sight.

The young woman happened to be a Nemo fan. She is also a girl/adult who has endured much. Ricocheted from family to family, never quite sure where she belonged, she is still not sure . . . about where she belongs or who she is. But at that moment, she knew one thing with certainty. The fish was hers and its name was Howard.

She sleeps with it. They comfort each other.

And the over-sized clown fish that was way too big and scary for my grand niece is just the right size for my friend's daughter.

I love happy endings.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ominous Dilemma

I give money to several wildlife protecting organizations because I believe that in protecting our wildlife we protect our sanity and ourselves. Many such organizations encourage you to 'adopt' an animal [donate money] and in return send you a plush/stuffed version of that animal. I adopted a polar bear mom and her two cubs and a clown fish (like Nemo) intending to give the toys to my five-year-old grand niece, Iris.

I have a problem. The polar bear group is small and cute -- fitting easily in my outstretched hands. The clown fish is as big as one of my cats (both of whom weigh about 13 pounds). It looks like the fish could eat the bears. It's scary.

I know (or assume) that my niece wouldn't care ... or think of the environmental implications. Still. The polar bears' habitat is melting and seas are warming. Might it be possible that, in adapting to changing conditions, polar bears could become increasingly smaller and clown  fish grow to giant proportions?

Is this plush anomaly a foreshadowing of doom?

Well, of course not. I'm just tired, a little overwhelmed by all the holiday hullabaloo. There's no need to read portents of disaster in these fluffy creatures.

Still. I don't think I'll give both species to Iris. Just one -- the little polar bears. I've got other things for her. It will be enough.

I have no idea what to do with the giant clown fish. Is anyone out there interested?

Friday, December 17, 2010

A New Tradition

It was my son’s idea. While here for Thanksgiving, he helped me put up my Christmas tree. After a few hours of putting on ornaments, he had a great suggestion: why not set a dozen or so aside and invite visitors to put them on – wherever they want.

So I did. And it’s been a delight. Older people want to know the ornaments’ stories. Younger people just proceed with big smiles and eyes, adding their own special magic to the tree. My tree now reflects not just my memories but also all the good vibrations of all of those who have added the ornaments they selected. And I have the fun of finding out where my favorites might be hiding.

I know I already posted something about my tree but this year, because so many have ‘had a hand in it’, it is the most wonderful tree I have ever had

AND I have just addressed and stamped my last Christmas card! Now the only holiday chores are wrapping and cooking.

Sometimes I wonder why I make it Christmas such a big deal. Then I remember … it’s just an excuse to tell and show the people you care about that you care about them – a chance to celebrate connections. And maybe even make so new ones.

So ho, ho, ho!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Memories in the Mailbox

Another thing I like about the holiday season are the memories that show up in my mailbox. One of the first cards I received this year was from a woman with whom I collaborated when we both worked for Rotary International (RI). About twelve years ago, when east/west tensions had eased dramatically, the organization’s leadership decided it was time to make serious overtures to the Russian government. It was going to be tough to explain a volunteer service organization. Especially since it was proving difficult for Rotary clubs outside the country to ship needed goods to Russian communities where clubs were just getting started. The shipments were regarded with suspicion and held up (in every sense of the word) by custom officials.

So it fell to me and to my counterpart in RI’s Zurich office to coordinate the delegation’s visit and design English/Russian literature that would confirm Rotary’s benign and beneficial intentions. That’s when Myla became more than a name. We worked for a while by email and occasional telephone conversations before she was brought to our Evanston, Illinois headquarters for more direct communication.

She stayed in a modest hotel apartment with her little girl. We worked together daily and often I’d have the two of them (and perhaps others) over for dinner. I remember driving them around a Chicago neighborhood known for its extravagant Christmas lighting displays. She was stunned by our excesses.

We grew to respect each other and to thoroughly enjoy encounters – both work-related and just for fun. We worked hard together, under considerable pressure. We did a good job. Too soon, she and her daughter went back to Zurich. The RI ‘mission’ went forward and was as successful as it could have been. And I have never seen her again.

Still, once a year, she sends a card updating me on her life and that of her daughter (now 14!). And I send her my news. Neither of us works for Rotary International any more. That’s irrelevant. We are still connected and probably will stay connected for many years to come.

To me, connections -- refreshed, restored, or launched -- are the whole point of all the holiday hullabaloo. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Obsession

All who really know me, know that I am totally obsessive about my Christmas tree. Not as bad as I once was (when each decorative element needed to go on in a precise order, in a precisely specified place on the tree – angels on the top, un-breakables on the bottom, etc.) I have mellowed a little. Still, I have amassed a formidable collection of ornaments. And they all have to go on the tree – just not in a particular place.

There are still a few ornaments from the early marriage trees -- some made by or evocative of the kids.

One year, I bought dozens of miniature instruments – trumpets that could actually make noise (they don’t any more) and curly French horns.

Then, way back when I was still married, I went on a business trip with my husband and, while in New York, saw the ornaments in the United Nations’ gift shop. Appropriately, they reflected most of the world’s cultures. And so it began. At first, landlocked – in Detroit, then in the Chicago area – I sought out baubles reflecting the nations of the world. Later, after my divorce, I had a job that took me to more than twenty different countries – all of which (even Turkey) have token symbols on my tree.

Then I decided the tree should be about light – so I gathered in reflecting ornaments. Then I decided it was too anthropocentric and birds and animals joined the holiday gang.

Because I put my tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving and often do not take it down until Epiphany, I have an artificial tree. It’s safer. When I bought my first pre-lighted tree (my sons no longer living close enough to string the lights) only all white lights were available. This year, for the first time, I found a multi-colored lighted tree in a catalog. I decided I was old enough. I gave the (deteriorating) one-note tree to Habitat for Humanity and now have a full-spectrum celebration.

And I have cut back a little. I only bought one (count it, one!) new ornament and actually gave away several vintage decorations.

My new Technicolor pagan shrub was a little tricky to put up but there was a number to call for assistance. My first tree requiring tech support! One of its advances is a remote control. When I go downstairs in the morning, I just click a little button and SHAZAAM – the tree and all its memories shines into my living room, and into my heart.

It may not be a magnificent obsession but it’s mine and I love it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Holiday Time Warp

What happens to time in December?

Every year, I try to do as many preparations as possible before Thanksgiving. I go into the family/friends/food holiday almost smug, thinking I have an entire month to finish the decorating, cooking, buying, wrapping, mailing, cards etc., etc. Plenty of time.


So here it is, the evening of Dec. 5. I’m late posting a blog. I’ve not wrapped a single present or written a single card. I have three (no, it’s actually four) special events to go to and/or prepare for in the week ahead. And I have already spent too much money.

Thank goodness the house is decorated. And the cats have not destroyed anything – not even an ornament on the Christmas tree. [One year they knocked the whole thing over – twice!] That’s done and helps keep me going.

The race is on.

With luck, I’ll stay focused enough to get everything done … and done with the love I intend.

I wish the same for you. And I know you will understand if this particular (and belated) blog is a bit skimpy.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


It is always a little sad when a visitor leaves. Especially when that visitor is your kid. (Especially since we are, finally, both grown up enough to enjoy each other.) My kid flew back to Chicago yesterday. A longer visit would have been better but, all in all, it was a good time. We shared good food and wine – time with other members of the family – cleaning up the yard -- putting up the tree -- seeing some movies -- playing some cards. Plus that amazing day when we saw elk and deer and magpies, a coyote and a big horn sheep.

So. I dropped him off at the airport and drove back, north up I25-- not the most spiritual of corridors – even on a brilliant sunny afternoon.

Just as I was about to exit, I noticed an unusually large bird soaring in the bright blue sky. It was heading south, just to the west of the highway. I could monitor its progress without endangering anyone.

‘Could that possibly be an eagle?’ I wondered. Most often, when I see something that might be an eagle, it turns out to be something a lot less glamorous – like a turkey buzzard.

Not this time. As it came closer, its astoundingly white head shone in the sunlight. It was not just an eagle, it was a bald eagle! Beautiful, rare and grand.

The eagle seemed both a benediction to Thanksgiving and my son’s visit and also, somehow, a promise that there will be other visits, other good times.

Hallelujah! And thanks

Saturday, November 27, 2010

For the Record

There are many strange and terrible things going on the world but, for the record, I wish to acknowledge a truly marvelous day.

My son is visiting from Chicago. Yesterday was bright and sunny. We decided not to drive directly north from Denver to Loveland. Instead, we headed northwest through Boulder into Lyons where we browsed a wonder-filled (if chilly) antique shop, finding amazing treasures at amazing prices. Continuing northeast, we arrived at the magnificent Stanley Hotel in time to get a great table for a late-ish, and quite delicious, lunch. We then drove into Rocky Mountain National Park absorbing mountain and meadow beauty.

If you ever drive in Colorado and see cars pulled over to the side of the road, pull over. Inevitably, there will be wildlife to view. We passed the first clutch of parked cars and found a stopping place in time to see two female elk dance/prance across the snow among a small group of more sedate fellows. Driving slowly on, we realized that there were great clusters of elk, on both sides of the road -- perhaps 75 or even 100. Many were sitting, apparently absorbing sunshine; others strolling majestically; and every once in a while, one or two dance/prancing grace notes.

Further on-- into the meadow where I usually view elk-- we saw a coyote! The first I’d ever seen in the park. We parked within a few yards of the creature – close enough to see how magnificently his multi-colored coat blended into his botanical surroundings. We watched him trot across a road then field then under a fence.

On the way out of the park, we saw a herd of white tail deer peering back at us with their consummate grace.

Are you counting --elk, coyote, deer? That’s three major mammals. Then as we drove down the mountains toward Loveland, we saw more cars pulled to the side. We stopped and peered at the cliffs across the road. Finally, we saw it: a splendid big horn sheep, climbing perpendicular rocks to pose briefly on a succession of precipices.

If I had planned for months to arrange a perfect day for a visitor from major metropolis, I could not have topped the day I had. I needed to go on record; to thank every single major mammal and the occasional flutter of magpies. You were wonderful.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve

Sometimes, American society is embarrassing. Especially as it is reflected on television. Especially recently. First it was the political ads – unrelenting and unrelentingly vicious. Now it’s the holiday shopping ads – unrelenting but not so vicious. And all the blood and gore on most of the programs. And lingerie ads. And ads for products enhancing the sexual experience or performance.

I’m not a prude – not really. But sometimes other societies’ criticisms: that we’re all about money (getting and spending -- politicians and whiter teeth) and violence and sex sometimes seems all too accurate.

But what they (other societies) see, as reflected on television or in movies or in revenue-generating headlines, is not what we are. Certainly not my life. Certainly not today. I’m sitting in my study with two cats on my left – one on the windowsill, the other in an open desk drawer. They’ll move soon, when the November sunshine gets too hot. My car is packed with the food I’m taking to a family gathering – mostly tomorrow but starting tonight. My son is flying in tomorrow. (Hooray!)

Nine of us will gather tomorrow: my son and I, my brother and sister-in-law, my nephew and his wife and two wonderful daughters, and a friend who has nowhere else to go on Thanksgiving. Plus, Camille, the dog. (That makes ten, I guess.)

And yes, we’ll have a feast but mostly we’ll just celebrate each other. And when the pandemonium subsides a little, we’ll remember how fortunate we are. Fortunate to live in a country where we can complain about politics and commercialism, where we can work to change things without fear of reprisals, where we can go (or not go) to any house of worship we choose, where most of us have clean water and doctors and friends and food … and some of us even have cats.

So, however flawed the result, I have to admit. The Pilgrims did good.


Sunday, November 21, 2010


It’s snowing. Earlier today, I deposited the almost-last-of-the fallen leaves into my now-battered yard waste container. Winter is creeping up on us.

Except for extensive raking and various attempts to compress the thousands upon thousands of leaves into the container, I didn’t really play with autumnal bounty. But I did enjoy walking through the crunchy terrain and kicking an occasional botanical flounce.

This time of year, there are interior transitions mirroring the weather changes. About two weeks ago, I replaced my summer-weight blanket with a comforter.

[Is there anything with a name more appropriate than comforter?]

The first night it was on the bed, my cat Guinness was intrigued. He sniffed it and eyed with just the slightest suspicion. We generally have a little play session before lights out and he seemed just a bit more circumspect than usual.

Sometime during the night, he got over it.

First he pounced on my toes, then my knees, then on anything that moved under the comforter. He’d go away for a while then return and pounce again. And again. I swear he was purring.

He only did that that one night (thank heavens). I guess I could have thrown him out of the bedroom but he seemed to be having so much fun.

It was, I think, the equivalent of jumping into a pile of leaves … for an inside cat. As long as it happens only once a year, it is okay. At least one of us played.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It Ain't Necessarily So

I got them almost a year ago, to serve as a centerpiece for a dinner party. They were the only flowers available that coordinated with the tablecloth and place settings. During the course of the evening, I bemoaned the fact that African violets were so fragile and virtually impossible to keep alive. I was immediately corrected, in tandem, by two of my guests.

“Nonsense! They are the simplest possible plants to keep alive,” said one.

“All you need to do is put them in an east window and water them every once in a while,” said the other.

I did not believe them. I distinctly remembered being told how difficult it was to harbor and nourish African violets. I had learned this at my mother’s knee, then waist, then shoulder, then eye to eye. She was unwavering in her conviction that these were the most vulnerable of all houseplants.

Still. I put the little plant on the ledge of an east window and watered it when I thought about it. It didn’t die. It didn’t flower but it didn’t die.

And now – look!

How many of the things we believe are impossible, aren’t? How many of the things we were told growing up are fallacy? How many of the things we believe we cannot do, we can?

Good questions all. And all answered by a blooming African violet.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Insufficient Comic Relief

Generally, I start reading the newspaper by reading the funnies – the comic strips. This practice eases me into the day. It avoids beginning my day with reports of atrocities and disasters. It is just a brief diversion. I go on to scan the local and national news, absorbing what I can.

There are days when this practice seems more essential than others. Take Friday, Nov. 12.

In Section D of my local paper there was an article about Anglican bishops converting to Catholicism “in part over their opposition to the Church of England’s decision to ordain female bishops.” In their official statement, they spoke of their distress about developments in the Anglican Church that they deemed “incompatible with the historic vocation of Anglicanism and the tradition of the Church for nearly two thousand years.” According to the item, the Vatican will make new arrangements for the defectors “upset by the acceptance of female priests and gay bishops.”


The headline of the next article: “Focus on the Family takes over program on sexual orientation.” The conservative Christian group will sponsor a day of dialogue in schools promoting “the message of freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.”


The last item in the column reported on the early retirement of an openly gay Episcopal bishop. As reasons, he cited the strain of constant controversy, including death threats.


Why is acknowledging the spiritual authority of women such a threat?

What is the disparity between homosexuality and spiritual authority?

When are we as a species finally going to discard narrow, bigoted views about our fellow humans?

Sometimes comics are not enough.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Saved by a Large Box

Often, after breakfast and morning chores, I’ll enter my study to find my two cats waiting for me. Sometimes they perch, one each, on the windowsills. Other times they will have found good vantage points on my desk. I turn on the computer and wait for them to go through their individual rituals.

Herbie may approach first, introducing the encounter with a head butt. He stands in front of the computer keyboard, expecting (and getting) caresses. [Both cats learned long ago that the keyboard itself is forbidden territory that, trespassed, transforms their usually mild-mannered human into a screaming terror.] It usually takes only a few moments to persuade Herbie onto my lap so I can at least see the screen and even maneuver the ‘mouse’ enough to check email. He’ll arch into my hand and sometimes stretch out his legs to brace himself against the desk so I can rub him harder. He is a very sensual creature.

Guinness has a slightly different technique. He’ll walk in front of the keyboard [cats remember] and then fall sideways toward my shoulder, prompting me to catch, hold, and pet him there. Purrs are my only reward. Eventually, I ease him onto my lap, first scratching his tummy then, eventually, coaxing him into a curled configuration that allows me to get to work.

This morning I began unobstructed. This morning a large box containing their new scratching post was delivered. Other contents included the spray that I use to protect my Christmas tree and some catnip. Which had spilled. They were, I believe, in the feline equivalent of hog heaven.

I decided to allow their orgy since it allowed me some unhindered computer time – time to write a new entry for my blog.

This is it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Pelicans have been passing through this area for a month or so now. They stop to rest (or sunbathe) at the north end of Lake Loveland. Every time I drove past them I thought that I really must photograph them. Illness and general busyness seemed to make that impossible. Their numbers were dwindling (as, I presume, the majority have already gone someplace south) and I was afraid I had missed my opportunity. But on a recent morning when I drove past the lake to an appointment, it looked like they were still there. I came home and did some dutiful computer stuff then just stopped, grabbed my camera and headed out.

From the shore, they mostly looked like big white lumps. (I was afraid for a moment that they might be geese.) Then one stood and was indeed a pelican. I was still far away from them. Lake Loveland is really a reservoir for Greeley's water supply. Evidently Greeley's been thirsty lately so the water level had dropped and there was a big swath of (mostly) dry lakebed. I eased down and walked on, taking pictures every four yards or so as I got closer and closer.

My approach awakened most of them. They got up, stretched, and moved closer to or in the water. There, they stretched and preened.

Every once in awhile, one of the pelicans would extend its amazing beak. That happened really fast. I was lucky to get a picture. I got pretty close but I didn't want to scare them away (or sink into the mud) so I stopped and walked back to the shore and my car.

It was the best hour I've spent in a long time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Praise for Petunias

Some of you may know that Mother's Day is hard for me since I pretty much flunked motherhood. But this year (see May 24 post for corroboration) the day was brightened considerably when a little girl presented me with a small pot of petunias during the after-church coffee hour. The petunias came with a note: "I love you, Grandma". (I still have the note). I planted the petunias of course. 

The amazing thing is that today, Nov. 3, those petunias are still flourishing. We've had frost. The dahlias and morning glories and tomatoes have died, slimed, and been buried in my giant plastic yard waste container.

But the petunias are still blooming. Like pansies, they don't seem to know when to quit.

They are islands of summer in the midst of frost-bitten (but beautiful) autumn. They are, somehow, inspiration.

So this simple little posting is a small celebration of everything that keeps on blooming in spite of all logic and common sense.  May we all go and do likewise.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dia de los Muertos

The last day of October 2010. After church and grocery shopping, I spent the remaining daylight hours with the dead:  dead dahlias, dead tomatoes, dead morning glories. And dead leaves – hundreds of thousands of dead leaves. All gathered and mushed into the giant plastic yard waste container and dutifully rolled out to curbside.

[My neighbor helped. She’s really good at standing in yard waste containers to compress the gathered debris.]

The huge maple in the front yard still has most of its leaves so there will be more dead to come, to fall, to be raked and gathered and compressed.

Later, as darkness fell, there were hundreds of doorbell rings heralding strange creatures of varying heights and finesse. Some forgot to say “trick or treat” but I could figure out what they wanted. Most of them – however terrifying their masks – remembered to say “thank you.”

When the wooden bowl that had been brimming with individually wrapped confections held only one more, I locked the front door and turned off the porch light.

It was enough.

Everything seemed so apt. The celebration of personal ancestors at church, gathering food for the week ahead, clearing the dead plants and leaves from my garden, and feeding the fantasies – and dental bills – of the next generation.

Okay. I’m ready for November.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Autumnal Tail

Overnight, the leaves on my towering redbud tree turned. And, in what seemed only 48 hours, my yard was paved with gold – about a foot deep.

Ah well. It had to be dealt with. I got out the blower and the rake and the giant plastic yard waste container.

It’s always fun in the beginning: swooshing up great piles, feeling the autumn sun on your shoulders. The pleasure begins to dim after an hour or so, when mountains of leaves seem infinite. I scooped great swaths of leaves into the container but mounds remained. Over and over I raked and scooped and raked some more, but seemed to make only infinitesimal progress. The giant yard waste container was getting full. Acres of leaves remained, uncontained.

Pressing the leaves down in the container with shovels and other implements created only a little more space. Then I remembered how in past years, standing in the container had made a significant impact. I got the stepstool from the pantry and proceeded, determined.

In one crazed moment, a thought flashed through my addled brain and I acted on it without the slightest consideration. “If standing in the container helps, wouldn’t sitting help even more?”

Ah foolish woman! I climbed. I sat. I sank.

I thought as I sank, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I couldn’t get out?”

Instantly, I realized that it wasn’t funny at all. I was indeed compressing the leaves but when I tried to get out, I only sank deeper, bottom first, ending (so to speak) in a fetal position. My bulk was now nearly three feet below the rim of the container, my legs curving at odd angles and nothing but the edges of the container to hang on to. Thank god I was in the back yard and out of the line of vision of all but the chattering squirrels and my cat, watching from the dining room window.

It took a very long time and, frankly, I don’t know how I managed it but at last I became semi-upright and managed to hook one leg, then the other, over the container’s edge and haul myself up and out without tipping over.

Don’t try this at home … or anywhere else.

Nothing was hurt but my dignity. I raked and scooped more leaves. I have lived to tell the tale. And to rake again tomorrow.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trying too hardo

When will I learn!? I wanted to fix a special celebratory dinner for a good friend, her fiance, and her fiance's brother. Menu planning was complicated by the fact that the brother is a vegetarian, the engaged couple is on a strict diet (I'm diabetic) and none of them drink wine.

I spent several hours reviewing recipes, ingredient by ingredient, trying to come up with good stuff that people could eat. Plus, I was to go to a potluck the night before. The potluck was easy. I made a goat cheese and fig tart that is always wonderful (and which I was pretty sure people on diets would not eat). I brought the leftovers home just so I'd have one more option for my three guests.

The 'starter' dish -- big mushroom caps filled with cheese dip -- was awful. I'm deleting the recipe from my computer. I wish I had deleted it from the menu.

It did get a little better. I served a bare-naked salad with a vinaigrette dressing I had made. That was okay. The leftover tart pretty much disappeared. But I created a butternut squash 'crumble' that had too much 'crumble' and am left with leftovers that I will be eating for a *#!* week. The roasted beets were appreciated. The non-vegetarians liked the baked fish. And the dessert-- strawberries covered with pureed raspberries was a hit. Are you counting? That's SEVEN separate dishes. That's crazy.

They drank Peligrino water and tea. I had a big glass of wine when they left ... and the last piece of tart because I was hungry.

It wasn't just the food. I had picked out CDs I thought they would like and was asked to turn down the volume. The fiance's brother got down on the floor to check out my book titles and asked how I liked Chaos, which I read 20 years ago and couldn't remember anything about. So I flunked that one -- the book is obviously a favorite of his.

Everyone left before 8:30. I had half hoped that the fiance's brother might find me interesting. Don't think that's a possibility. Ah well.

At least I won't have to cook for a while -- like a week.

Ah well indeed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Morning Glory Lesson

For much of the summer, I lamented the lack of blossoms on the morning glory vine climbing the trellis next to my neighbor's garage. The leaves were lush, abundant and green.  But there was not a single bloom.

Then, quite suddenly, they started coming. Wonderful blue and periwinkle flowers appeared -- first sparse, then profuse.

Every time I walked out my back door, their splendor greeted me, prompting a smile. Even now, as frost lurks around the edges of autumn days, they are their own celebration.

The lesson is simple if I would but pay attention. Things come in their own time. I've seen a raspberry ripen in the course of a day. The morning glories took three months to bloom. Who's to say which is better? Not I.

I create manuscripts and let them age on my shelves. Perhaps it is, once again, time to introduce them to agents and publishers. Perhaps, at long last, it is time for me to bloom.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I've started writing again!  I'm about a thousand words into a sequel to FAMILY TIME. Its working title: EQUAL TIME. I know its basic premise and how it will lead the reader around the world to a grand conclusion.

How did this happen? I'm not sure. The writing retreat (Oct. 15-17) was held at Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch on the most beautiful weekend we've had all fall. The setting was beautiful, the people were wonderful. There was magic everywhere. Evidence: stones balancing on stones were placed as river art by a prior guest.

I began by reading FAMILY TIME for the first time in many months. I spotted some flubs and failings but, overall, I really liked it. It's a good book. Transcending time and logic, nine women from my recent and ancient past join in my struggle to comprehend, forgive, then celebrate connections. EQUAL TIME will pay more attention to males and travel beyond the primary Colorado/northern Spain settings of its antecedent.

It feels as though I am coming back to life. On my last walk by the river I happened upon this butterfly -- my particular totem. 

It was an affirmation. I will carry on.

Friday, October 15, 2010


My manuscript, FAMILY TIME (the one that is NOT a genealogical memoir) has been finished for almost ten months. It has been thoroughly reviewed and endorsed by my writers group and read by about six others. Most of them thought it was worthy. When I pitched it at the March Northern Colorado Writers conference, I got an editor interested (although it was only temporary).

But I have done nothing more to market it.

I haven't even written anything new, other than my blog and the Labor Day Sunday church service and children's story.

I am in stasis.

Yet this afternoon I am going to a writers' retreat. I'm taking two notebooks and six pens (and FAMILY TIME). I do not know what I am going to do there ... perhaps read FAMILY TIME again. Perhaps work on the ideas that are just beginning to think about forming.

I will contemplate the completed pages. And the blank pages.

It is time to move forward. To reclaim the writing energy that has been part of me since I could read.

What has stopped me? I have always been writing something. Always. My articles have been published, my speeches spoken, my scripts performed.

But now, nothing, For so long.

I think part of the problem is my age. The path to publication is so daunting, so long. There's part of me that thinks I will die before I can find an agent.

Stopping is, of course, illogical. It's like cutting off my own circulation.

So I will go. And see what happens,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

three in one

This time turned out to be the right time to visit the doctor. She ordered something for my head, something for my lungs, and something for my gut. I am hoping all of them begin working immediately.

With luck, I should be healthy soon and fully able to savor the last incredible days before the first frost (and all the subsequent beautiful days ... and leaves). Every day, I watch the weather -- in the paper and online ... and out the window. Night temperatures are getting lower and lower. Not yet, not yet! I plead. My giant dahlias are still blooming. Dozens of tomatoes -- stubbornly green -- cling to their vines. My raspberries are just beginning to bet the idea -- yielding a few more every day.

This afternoon when I went out to check my little harvest, I noticed that one or more squirrels had evidently chosen my patio furniture as the very location on which to enjoy two large walnuts from my neighbor's tree. They did not clean up after themselves. Even as I removed the debris, I had to smile at the mental picture of the furry rodents dining on the glass-topped table. And to be grateful that, this time, they did not bury their feast under my tulip bulbs.

I had to sweep walnut debris off my front walk as well. I'd really resent the squirrels' shenanigans if my cats did not take such pleasure in them.

Herbie and Guinness have been a great comfort for me during these long days of un-health. They'll both cozy up when I rest and/or read. Herbie in particular curls and smiles. Guinness gets pretty bored. He almost jumps up and down when I actually move around.

I end this as the day is ending, looking out my study window at scarlet, bronze, green and golden leaves illumined by slanting sunlight. It is good

Saturday, October 9, 2010

a little perspective

I have had a series of autumnal maladies since 4 a.m., Sept. 23. By my count, that's 16 and a half days -- about 16 days too many. I still try to do things -- go to church and to meetings and to the grocery store and to my nephew's birthday celebration. Things necessary or otherwise essential.

When you are using too many Kleenexes or spending too much time in the bathroom, it is pretty easy to feel sorry for yourself.

When my brother called to invite me to the birthday party, I told him I had been ill for more than a week and was very tired of being sick.

All he said was, "We know what you mean."

Good lord! He and his wife most assuredly know what I mean. They have been dealing with her progressive Parkinson's disease for nearly THREE YEARS. She is now pretty much confined to a wheelchair. My brother has had to learn to cook -- and go to the grocery store -- and generally do all the things necessary to keep their house in working order . . . plus keep 24-hour watch over my sister-in-law.

Another friend is caretaker for her husband, also a Parkinson's victim. Another 24-7 responsibility.

It's the old "I cried when I had no shoes ..." story.  At least I have Kleenex and indoor plumbing and cats to comfort me.

It is so hard to look beyond our own perimeters. And when ill, it is far too easy to condense our world around our own skeletons.

We all do this. When we get a flat tire, or break a fingernail, or lose our keys. Are these things really catastrophes? Or inconveniences.

My blunder-- a short whine to someone facing real problems--was an important reminder. Yes, it's unpleasant to have the flu or a cold, but it's a temporary setback.

I will (I hope) get better.

And I am grateful.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Autumn Ritual

The first time I heard it, I was addicted. Now, every year, I try very hard to drive up into Rocky Mountain National Park in time to hear it again. 

The bull elk in this snapshot is 'bugling' -- the sound akin to what I imagine a donkey would make if someone poked him unexpectedly. Except that instead of hee-haw, the elk makes a long heeee that rises another octave to finish. It's not a pretty sound. But it pierces my civilized heart with primal awe. 

Interestingly, the annual rutting season is the only time that male elks are boss. The rest of the time, herds are matriarchal. But for a few weeks, mostly in September, bulls gather and service harems of females using their distinctive bellow to warn off competitors and corral their true loves. Younger males, unable to triumph, watch and learn. Their turn will come, as Cubs' fans say -- maybe next year.

The great annual drama plays out before your very eyes. And the sound echoes through gold-beige meadows and bounces off autumnal glory.

Rimming the meadows with cameras, binoculars -- and sometimes folding chairs, legions of humans watch and listen in awe. Like me, they are there to witness the ritual; to be connected, however briefly, with the rhythms of the natural world. 


Sunday, October 3, 2010


My neighborhood is one of the few remaining that actually has fairly regular block parties (the 'block' includes amiable people within a wide radius). There is always food and, often, entertainment. They tend to be fun. The theme of the most recent get-together was "Fiesta" and each family was to bring a dish large enough to serve ten people.

For various reasons, I was assigned to bring guacamole. I had never made guacamole. When I stayed with one of my sons last summer, he made guacamole for a gathering of his friends. Since it was very good, I called (several times) and left messages asking for instructions. Then I received an email from my other son, who had been 'silent' for quite a while. In my delighted response, I chattered on about a variety of things and, in passing, asked if he had a recipe for guacamole. He responded almost immediately. Then, on the very eve of the event, the younger son called back and shared his list of ingredients and very different methodology.

By that time, I had acquired most of the ingredients. I printed out the recipe and variations, pondered my resources, and proceeded. What resulted was an amalgam. Using the suggestions from both sons (and a few ideas of my own) I created an impressive pale green mound dotted with intriguing chunks of all kinds of things.

One of the block party's organizers is, among other things, a professional chef --an intimidating factor. And I couldn't slip in late. Guacamole needs to begin at the beginning. So. Only a few minutes after the official starting time, I placed my premier guacamole on the table that was just beginning to accumulate elements of the feast.

Immediately, the chef/host approached, welcomed me, noted the guacamole, took a chip and dipped (as did my heart). His verdict? Nice!


Later, someone said that you can never go wrong with guacamole. I'm not sure that's true. I think it's possible to screw up even an avocado concoction. But the wide variety of possible ingredients must certainly produce a vast array of quite palatable variations.

Still, I like to think that my first batch was a good batch because I combined the suggestions of my two sons. Bravo! And thanks.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


It is important when you write (or do anything for that matter) to be as accurate as possible. Accordingly, I need to correct the impression I might have given in previous postings that my house's exterior is any shade of green -- not even Thunderbird Green.

After the paint dried and aged a little, it settled into a moderate shade of aqua -- precisely halfway between green and blue. Aqua is, noticeably, one of my favorite colors. Many of my clothes are aqua and my bedroom is painted a deep aqua. It's becoming.

The color choice may be an example of auto-synthesis (I'm not sure that's a word) my word for the phenomenon that I have found most noticeable in people and their dogs -- tall slender people with greyhounds and short dumpy people with short dumpy dogs.

Maybe that happens with houses too. My house is filled with me -- favorite colors, mementos of favorite people and places. Even favorite photographs clinging to magnets on my refrigerator.

It is also filled with little pleasures that enrich my days: the rainbows created by prisms hung in sunny windows, the stone fireplace, the windowsills just the right width for cats to repose while bird or squirrel watching. Cozy nooks for writing and reading. The view of my garden from the dining room table.

My favorite thing is something no one else sees. It's the view of the night sky from my bed. My bungalow is just a story higher than the house to the east. My town restricts night lighting so there's little light pollution. On recent nights, I have seen the moon (now waning) rise and bathe me in its light before moving on, leaving star tracks -- including something I think is the big dipper. It is so beautiful. Like a blessing.

And in the morning, the sun prompts my rising and a quick glance reveals whether the day will be typically Colorado clear or stormy.

All of this is ephemeral. I know that. Houses and prisms and even cats do not last. But while they are here, where I am, I am grateful. And that is an accurate statement.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thunderbird Green

This is the story of my house color. About eight years ago, I purchased a bungalow built in 1921. After awhile, I needed to admit that it needed a new coat of paint. Something different than the shades of gray that were fast fading away. Walking in the mountains with a new friend, I saw stones accessorized with lichen that was a pale green with a hint of blue. That, I thought, would be the perfect color for my house.

Later, my neighbor Kim stopped by with her suitcase of paint chips (she does interior decorating) and we found a chip (named gentle green) that looked like my lichen, and a darker green for the trim, and I chose a bright, bright turquoise green for my front door.

Then I found a fabulous painter named Harold who did a meticulous job for a reasonable price. He favored painting things white. When he first tried the lichen green, he had strong reservations (as, to be honest, did I). It looked pretty damned bright. He said he’d seen worse. He also said that it was a late 1960s, early 1970s color that was usually used on interiors not, heaven-forefend, on exteriors. He also said it was the color of vintage Thunderbird convertibles.

So we dubbed the color Thunderbird Green. Amazingly, the more of the house that was covered, the better it looked. And then with the trim and the bright front door, it was perfect – Thunderbird Green and all.

To my dismay, I learned that soon after suffering the indignity of painting things green instead of white, Harold retired, never to paint again. I need to believe that he was going to retire anyway and that he is happy. Wherever he is, I thank him for a fine job and great, great tolerance. And a great, great green house.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Title Suggestions

After 40,000 words in the wrong direction I started over and kept going until I had a finished manuscript.

My problem was that I didn’t know what to call it. I didn’t even know its genre. The title that appears on my cards and on my website is Family Time – A Genealogical Memoir. The problem with that is that it isn’t a memoir. Most of the book’s events never happened.

What I did was trace the histories of two great grandmothers, two grandmothers, three great aunts and my mom – all of whom I knew when I was growing up – and bring them back through time to interact with me and … The ‘and’ is a mitochondrial DNA ancestor who lived 12,000 years ago.

I’ve let several people read it. Some liked it. Some didn’t. And one pointed out that it wasn’t a memoir. Finally admitting this, I relayed that fact to my writers group, asking for new titles.

They all knew the story – having listened chapter by chapter as it developed. They came up with several alternatives: “Family Journey”, “Family Visitors”, "Tea with the Ancestors", “Beneath the Family Tree”, “The Ghosts in My Parlor”, and “A Family Haunting”.

Then I pointed out that all nine (ten if you count me) main characters are women. So they came up with: “The Women Within Me”, “The Ladies of My Line”, "Moms, Grands, and GreatxN Grands" [I think they were getting tired], “Women to the 100th Power”, and “Exponential Women.”

All of these ideas were zapped through emails. When we met in person, we finally agreed. “Family Time” all by itself is just fine, especially since the manuscript seriously considers time – past, present, etc.

At the end of our meeting, we also agreed that our decision doesn't really matter. A publisher will probably change the title anyway.

So. Its title is simply: Family Time.

I still don’t know what its genre is.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cat Stairs

My bungalow, like most bungalows, has a partial second floor. The stairs to get up there (and back down) are well built and carpeted; the banister, sturdy and bolted to the wall. They are just fine for a relatively mobile adult, of any age. And not bad for kids who can bounce down them safely.

What I didn’t realize when I bought the house, was that they are actually cat stairs. More particularly, Guinness cat stairs. [Herbie has historically used them simply as the logical path to get from one level to another.]

If, for example, I toss one of Guinness’s favorite little balls up to him, he will bat it back; on occasion even jumping up to reach it. He will volley with me five or six times before he allows the ball to reach the upstairs landing. Then, of course, he awaits, alert, for me to throw it back down. He’ll shoot down after it, sometimes bringing it back up, more often tucking it into a favorite hiding place ready for future games.

That’s his agenda when I go up the stairs. When I go down – even if I have armloads in transition – he will race two steps ahead; throw himself across a stair and wait. My mandate is unmistakable. I must (carefully) step around him and, one or two steps below, turn and rub his magnificent tummy. If I fail a to pay my toll of affection, he will scoot past and try it on a lower level. I usually ‘pay.’

All of this now firmly established routine has, over the past nearly eight years, been carefully observed by my other cat, Herbie.

In recent days, he has begun to pause – going up or going down – and ease himself across a step. More gracefully, more gently than Guinness but the expectation is patently the same.

I may never escape.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Americans seemed to be obsessed by violence. [Maybe it is as American as apple pie.] Rare are movies and television shows without explosions, gunshots, chase scenes, car crashes, blood, gore and the general abuse of one or more human beings by one or more other human beings.


I often use PBS as a refuge and was appalled [perhaps I was just having an oversensitive day] when my local public station proudly promoted an opportunity for me to see World War II in color. [Why would that be so much better than black and white? Would the blood stand out more?]


It’s not just physical violence, it’s verbal violence -- the endless epithets and acrimony shouted into media microphones. The name calling, the obdurate stands.


Like Jon Stewart, I think, “shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat.” And “feel that the loudest voices shouldn't be the only ones that get heard” and I believe “that the only time it's appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler."

There’s a lot to be said – quietly -- for courtesy, reasonableness, respect, and rationality.

The 24-hour media seems to have helped create a nation divided against itself … and I can’t stand it any longer.

I’m seriously thinking of being in Washington, D.C. on October 30, 2010 to participate in the Daily Show's “Rally to Restore Sanity.”

Perhaps you’d like to join me.

Friday, September 17, 2010


This was taken in Denver's Botanical Gardens.
May it serve as an apology
for my posting lapse.
More words tomorrow.
I promise.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Zen of Opening

It all began 28 years ago, in the fall of 1982, when seven people died after taking Tylenol capsules. The capsules had been laced with potassium cyanide. The case has never been solved. No suspects have been charged. And the $100,000 reward that Johnson & Johnson offered for the capture and conviction of the “Tylenol Killer” has never been claimed.

It is because of that incident that I cannot open anything easily.

Everything I use -- from olive oil to medicines to makeup -- is packaged in such a way that I am protected from all lunatics who might squirt evil substances into these things. And most of the time, it seems as though I also am protected from my olive oil, medicines, and makeup.

To open anything now requires the focusing equivalent of high Zen. The container needs to be examined, slowly and carefully. Are there any perforations that hint at an expedited entry? Any little tags that, when pulled, might reveal the contents I seek? Usually not. In the absence of these aids, I must use whatever logic (and patience) I can muster to determine whether I can simply push down and twist my way in or (as is usually the case) I will need either a sharp implement or heavy blunt instrument to force the issuing.

I am (sometimes) grateful for all the care that has gone into protecting me. And I know that complete focus – mindfulness as it were – is good for the soul. To be truly present to the container and its contents, excluding all other concerns (with the possible exception of a few choice epithets) is excellent discipline.


I often long for the days of easy opening, carefree access, and generously flowing olive oil, medications and make up.

The Tylenol Killer has, it seems, not only killed seven people in the Chicago area. He or she has made the little details of our lives more challenging . . . forevermore.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Enough Said

Sometime yesterday, I learned that the Florida idiot who had threatened to burn the Quran had changed his -- giving him the benefit of the doubt-- mind.

My first reaction was: “Thank God!”

Then I had an internal dialogue about which god. I decided I’d thank them all – and all the goddesses and un-gendered spirits that may or may not exist. Thank you.

But how do we atone for the media circus that made one idiot’s thoughtless words a global issue?

It cannot be undone. I remember a parable about gossip, likening it to cutting open a feather pillow on a windy day. It is not possible to retrieve all the feathers . . . or undo all the damage that heedless words can cause.

In this case, when both Christians and Muslims are so over-sensitive about every syllable and comma, I believe the only logical reparation is to allow the Islamic community center to be built as planned, a few blocks away from the infamous Ground Zero.

The numbers 9/11 are seared into my memory and my heart. I honor all those who died nine years ago tomorrow. And all those who worked to rescue and restore them. And all their families.

They were the victims of irrational hatred.

So let’s let the center be built … as a monument to irrational love.

Amen and Shalom and As-Salāmu `Alayku

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Scrapping a Metaphor

On several occasions on this particular blog site, I have referred to my connections with good friends as ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ moments. The metaphor was meant to conjure the warm, happy family/community life depicted in that 1944 movie starring Judy Garland.

Recently commissioned to create a Labor Day Sunday service for my congregation, I launched intensive research into life in this country between the time the first national Labor Day was established, in 1894, and the creation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (circa 1940).

I no longer believe that the film was/is an accurate depiction of American life in 1904. Or at least it was/is not a comprehensive depiction. In 1904, the vast majority of Americans were, if they had jobs, dealing with low wages, dangerous working environments and deplorable living conditions. Children were working in factories, fields, mines, and on the streets. Women’s roles were constricted. Blacks and Native Americans were considered sub-human. … Among other social ills.

And the St. Louis World’s Fair, so ballyhooed in the movie, reflected our society at that time. The most blatant example was the fair’s “ethnology exhibit”. Geronimo, the former Apache war chief was on display in a teepee in that exhibit which also showcased Pygmies, as examples of ‘primitive’ and ‘inferior’ people. One of the Pygmies was later featured in a human exhibit in the Bronx Zoo.

The U.S. government staged a “Philippine Exposition” on 47 acres that included several small ‘villages’ housing various Filipino tribal peoples. Groups of these natives were arranged to demonstrate their degrees of ‘civilization’. One of objectives of these exhibits was to justify our country’s ‘annexation’ of the Philippines as a result of the Spanish-American War. The government hoped to show how the United States would improve the lot of all Filipinos by ‘sharing’ its culture, values, and political and economic systems.

I have a problem with all of this. I understand that judging social circumstances more than 100 years later is a bit unfair. I understand that “Meet Me in St. Louis” was probably an accurate depiction of a small segment of our society.

Still, I’m not going to use that metaphor again.

Even though I still like the movie.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Children's story for Labor Day

If you happen to read this and happen to be with kids on Labor Day, you might want to use this little composition to help explain what it's all about.

I'm going to tell you the stories of three children who lived in different parts of the United States during the last century – in the 1900s.

Hazel lived in Massachusetts (in the northeastern part of this country). When she was seven years old, she had to go to work in a big, crowded factory where they made all kinds of cloth. This factory was several stories high and on each floor there were hundreds of machines, clanging and banging and weaving threads together. It was a scary place to work but Lizzie’s family needed more money for food and clothes so Lizzie went there every morning at 7 a.m. She would put new spools of thread on machines so there was always thread to make into cloth. She had to do it fast or the machines would stop running. She would work until 9 o’clock at night. Even though she was very, very tired she was proud to give her mother the 75 cents her supervisor had paid her. What was really hard was getting up the next day to do it all over again. The only day she could rest was Sunday when the owners closed the factory.

A little boy named Joe lived in Colorado, in one of the coal mining towns along the Front Range. He was only five so he didn’t work in the mines. His older brother did. Every day, his older brother would go with their father, deep into the tunnels in the hillside. His father would chop the coal out of the mine walls and Joe’s brother would shovel it into a big cart then, when it was full, help his dad push it back up into the sunshine. While this was going on, Joe would sometimes go with his mom to the company store. They didn’t have real money. They had what was called scrip that the owners gave to the miners instead of money. It could only be used in the company store where everything cost much more than it would at a real store, in a real town. Lots of times Joe and his family were hungry. When there was no more food in their kitchen, his mom would send Joe to the soup kitchen. Any family who had a spare vegetable or piece of meat would give it to the soup kitchen to go into a big pot of soup for the hungry miners’ children.

In another part of the country, somewhere in a vast valley in central California, Maria and her little brother Jose would get up before dawn and go with their parents into the fields to pick cabbages. Jose was only four so he didn’t really pick any cabbages. He’d just sit on the ground while his mom and dad and big sister spent hours and hours bending over cabbage plants and throwing heads of cabbage into sacks. At the end of the day, Maria’s family would turn in their sacks and some big boss man would write down how much they had picked and give her father a few dollars. It was always dark by the time the family walked back to the rows of flimsy houses to find the one where they slept, and eat a little dinner before falling asleep, exhausted. The place where they slept wasn’t their home. It was just a place to stay when it was time to pick cabbages then when the cabbages were gone, they’d walk to another field or orchard to pick something else.

None of these kids – Hazel or Joe or Maria -- had vacations or weekends or even decent schools. And none of them had much time for fun. And there were kids like these everywhere in this country.

[Not every kid in America had such hard lives but lots and lots of them did.]

A lot of people thought this wasn’t a good way to grow up and a lot of people worked very hard to change things. And, finally, about 50 years ago, things did change. So now none of you has to work in a factory, or mine, or field. You have good schools and you get summer vacations and weekends and, in September, you never have to go to school on Labor Day – that’s tomorrow.

So tomorrow, whatever else you may do – hike or barbeque or picnic or just play Frisbee with your family – if you happen to remember, think for a minute of Hazel and Joe and Maria. And maybe just smile a little smile to thank all those people who changed things for the better.

That would be a great way to celebrate Labor Day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Labor Day

In 1894, President Grover Cleveland pushed legislation through Congress making Labor Day a national holiday. His top priority was reconciliation with Labor. He, like many Americans, was scared. Just six days before, US marshals and soldiers had forcibly ended the Pullman Strike in Chicago, killing many workers. And there was trouble brewing throughout the country.


Because things were in a mess. In the northwest woods and northeast textile mills, in mines in Colorado and Kentucky, in the vast fields of grain and on the docks of every shore, workers were fed up with bad pay, dangerous workplaces and deplorable living conditions.

The mess had been building for a long time. Urbanization, industrialization, unchecked monopolies and corporate exploitation of both people and resources had resulted in endemic poverty. On assembly lines, in mines, in forests and fields throughout the country, owners’ first objective was profit. Surging population growth and mass immigration made the labor supply seem unlimited. Some 3.5 million men roamed the West searching for work. They would take anything.

Not everyone was having a hard time. Some ten percent of the population was prosperous and content. But most people were struggling for survival.

In 1907, striking steel workers told reporters: “We live underneath America.” What they meant was that they lived under the line of vision of people with nice houses, steady jobs and Norman Rockwell lives. People sitting on their middle class porches tended to believe that anyone who worked hard enough could ‘make it’. And all those who didn’t, who might be unemployed, standing in breadlines, living in shacks or tent cities or under bridges were simply weak, lazy, shiftless and somehow unworthy.

Among those ‘unworthies’ were hundreds and hundreds of people working to change things. Unions were formed. Reforms introduced. Assistance provided. In the nearly 50 years between 1894 and 1936, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed, thousands of heroes worked to make things better.

It would be a good idea to remember that the privileges we have today – the eight-hour day, weekends, vacations, sick pay, maternity leave – privileges to which we feel entitled – are privileges gained because a lot of people worked to make them happen. Labor Day would be a good time to do that.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Noble Silence

I was on a retreat last week. It was held at the Rocky Mountain YMCA near Estes Park, Colorado and led by nuns and monks from two monasteries in the United States. They practice the form of Buddhism taught by exiled Vietnamese priest Thich Nhat Hahn.

There were elements of the retreat I thought I might have problems with.

First was the fact that we were to rise at 5 a.m. and be dressed and participating in group movements by 5:30. That was to be followed by a walking meditation, observing the sunrise, which was in turn to be followed by sitting meditation. Then, finally, about 7:30 a.m., breakfast. I am not a morning person. This schedule did not appeal to me. But I did it. And liked it.

Then there was the fact that we were to eat a vegan diet. I am a diabetic omnivore. I thought I would perish. I didn’t. In fact, I enjoyed the food.

But most frightening of all was that we were to spend great portions of each day and evening – and all meals – in absolute silence. I had done this once before, at a similar retreat five years ago. I knew I could do it, and could learn to be comfortable with it. What I did not know, or had perhaps forgotten, was that this pervading silence was quite powerful. As it begins to settle itself around and in you, you find yourself paying more attention to facial expressions, sunrises, and food. Most important, the stillness begins to pervade your being, clearing out the monkey-mind thoughts with which we tend to distract ourselves and allowing us to discover the pains we try to avoid acknowledging and the solutions that we have within us.

That last sentence should have been written in the first person. As the silence stilled my thoughts, I could feel my mind clear. It was an almost physical sensation, quite pleasant, beginning on the inside of my forehead and extending back about 1.5 inches. It opened my consciousness, making me aware of some unresolved pain. Then, in meditation and in discussion groups (where we could talk) and in the teaching (Dharma) sessions, I found within myself an answer – a way to heal.

It occurred to me that such silences are essential. We can create them in our days primarily through meditation. I’m bringing that practice home. I may never regularly arise at 5 a.m. but I now will regularly enter the silence that helps me get in touch with who I am and what I have to offer. They call it a Noble Silence. I recommend it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Peruvian Confetti

Littering is against just about everything I value but, quite recently, I was guilty of doing just that.

Preparing for a retreat at the YMCA of the Rockies, I dug out a Sierra Club backpack that I thought I had never used (it was a ‘gift’ for a donation). The retreat’s crowded schedule seemed to require carrying all that I might need when I left my room each morning and a backpack seemed a good idea.

When I opened the backpack to fill it with the necessities for the retreat’s first full day, a sprinkle of yellow confetti fell to the floor. I was puzzled. Where did that come from? Then I remembered. When I was in Peru in December 2007 and January 2008, yellow confetti was part of the celebrations for both the Summer Solstice and New Year. It was a good luck blessing. I did not think I had taken my backpack to Peru so was a little mystified about how the confetti got there. And a little embarrassed to have littered my dorm room. I picked up as much as I could but left the rest. Good luck blessings are good things.

That night I tried to clean out the backpack but was unsuccessful. Throughout the retreat, whenever I extracted a jacket or mug or notebook, a small flurry of confetti followed. In the dining room, in the meditation hall, on the trails around events, I left tiny little polka dots of litter. [I did pick them up when I could.]

Each time I saw them (I almost wrote ‘spotted’) I thought of my 22 days in Peru (described on my website: Our group of eleven had stayed in the town of Yucay in the Incan sacred valley. We traveled to ancient sacred places throughout the valley and near Cusco as well as spending a full day in Machu Picchu. At the end of my stay I had a better understanding of ancient civilizations and of a living people. And a better understanding of the relationship of the sacred and the every day.

Perhaps not so coincidently, that was what the retreat was about.

Sometimes litter is appropriate.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Funny thing about deadlines. They are good discipline. They keep us ‘on task’ and help us track accomplishments. Now that I’m mostly working for myself – creating manuscripts, writing essays, posting blogs – I have found it necessary to create my own deadlines. No one told me, for example, that I needed to create a new post every three days. It is not required by any cyberspace deity. But if I didn’t set that schedule for myself, a week or more would wander by and nothing new would be added. Whatever interest there may have been would fade and I would lose my connection with my unseen audience.

Some of the things I do have their own deadlines. I write an occasional service for my local congregation and supply information on all our services to our newsletter.

If you’re doing a service on Sept. 5, it is absolutely necessary to have all the components prepared by Sept. 1 (or 2nd). And come Labor Day Sunday morning, you had better be prepared to ‘go on.’ [I will be.]

The newsletter item for which I’m responsible is created after those leading or coordinating each service relay descriptions to me. I then compile these descriptions into one coherent document with parallel structures for each service. It’s not rocket science. Not even close.

This month, the editor gave us five extra days. Instead of the 15th, we had until the 20th to send our news to her. Funny thing about extra time. When it is given, we take it. And, sometimes just let the later deadline pass us by, unnoticed.

If you have gathered that I did not receive the needed components for one little newsletter item, you have gathered correctly. It’s not a big deal. The congregation and I will survive. But it’s interesting to notice what happens when more time is given. All of a sudden, it isn’t enough.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Getting Lost

This year, for the first time, I planted dahlias. Now I feel a little like Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk. I’ve never grown anything so tall, with flowers so big you can get lost in them. They keep growing and blooming and one is enough for a table and yet there are more.

I am not complaining. In fact, I have decided that getting lost in a dahlia blossom is a very good thing to do.

Try it some time. Try it now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In Memoriam

Saturday I was sitting outside with friends when I noticed him – a perfectly round robin … just a youngster, with telltale freckles across his chest. I pointed him out to my brother because the bird just sat there, on the edge of the garden. We moved. He didn’t. We walked back to check the raspberries’ progress. He still didn’t move even though we were only inches away.

Our attention turned to other things (like my opening presents!) and the three of us forgot about him. Later, I looked out my back window, just checking. The fat little bird was on the lawn, pulling up a worm I think. I didn’t see him that night.

Sunday, I was showing my giant dahlias to a friend and there he was again. This time he was on the cement sort of patio. Not as many worms there. We tried to scare him back onto the lawn but he didn’t go. Instead, he seemed to follow us. Little hops toward my friend, then little hops toward me.  Protestations to the effect that neither of us was his mother did not faze him. His focus remained on one pair of feet, then the other. We tried to lead him onto the grass but, I guess, it was too far away. My friend had to leave. I had chores to do. For a while the robin was forgotten.

Around 6 p.m. one of my (indoor) cats, Guinness, demanded his dinner so I came downstairs to fix it. While waiting to be served, Guinness looked out the back window and froze. Every fiber of his feline being was focused on something outside. I guessed it was the robin. I was right. Guinness barely touched his dinner then returned to the window, intent.

It occurred to me that his pose would make a good picture. I almost got my camera but was distracted by indoor cat number two, Herbie. His dinner. My dinner. Dishes. The evening slipped away.

The next morning a quick scan of the backyard revealed nothing in particular. It wasn’t until I went outside that I saw the scramble of feathers on the concrete. The flies around the feathers and a smear of brown, the little white spots that dotted the patio seemed clear. The robin had been eaten.

As I hosed everything down, I thought of a million what ifs – what if I had lifted him onto the lawn, or into the tree or something. Even taken a picture. But I had done none of those and now there is nothing to mark the little robin’s existence -- our momentary, tangential connection.

Nothing except a little essay on my blog.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

New Moon

Driving home Thursday night, my friend and I spotted a beautiful crescent moon. To millions of people around the world that sliver of light signaled the start of Ramadan. To me, it signaled the start of another year of my life. Thursday was my birthday. No need for you to know which.

Over the years I have learned to initiate celebrations if I suspect that others might not remember. So I had asked a friend to go out to dinner with me (dutch) at a wonderful restaurant with great food served on a beautiful patio where we, and others, would be serenaded by great jazz.

After I had set up the Thursday event, I received invitations first from another friend, then from my brother and sister-in-law. So I celebrated Friday and will celebrate again later today. That should do it.

During the day on Thursday, I spent much of my time responding to cyber “Happy Birthdays” – from people I had worked with, people I had done ceremony with, and people I had learned from and taught. Most astounding: the South African connection restored. But each had great significance, each reflecting different strands of my adult life. I felt rich indeed.

[It would have been nice if my kids had remembered … but they’re male. They’ll probably think of it next month. They mean well.]

I like the idea that my ‘new year’ and Ramadan started at the same time this year (or about the same time). Ramadan is the holiest of months in the Islamic calendar. By fasting from dawn to sunset, Muslims believe they burn away their sins – clean their personal slates. Obviously with special meals three days in a row, I’m not fasting. However, I am using this particular birthday to think seriously about where I go from here. Wherever that might be, it will be enriched by all the personal connections I have made and will make in whatever time is left for me.

So for me, for all my connections, and why not -- when they celebrate ‘Eid-ul-Fitr’ in about a month -- for the millions of Muslims around the world: Happy New Year!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Christmas returned

A couple of days ago I received a Christmas card in the mail. Yes, in early August. It was the one I had sent to a friend in Cape Town, South Africa. Postmarked Dec. 5, it twice crossed the Atlantic, returning to me with the only notation: P.O. Box closed.
I’d been afraid of that – afaid that I no longer had the correct address for Jane Kennedy, the woman I’d worked with when I worked at the Parliament of World Religions in December 1999.

Both us had worked flat out for months, trying to help ensure the success – the impact – of an event we thought would shift the consciousness of the planet’s people. [We were, perhaps, just a little optimistic.] Actually Jane worked ten times harder than me. She had been part of the struggle against apartheid; she knew that consciousness could be shifted.

When the Parliament ended – in debt and largely ignored by the rest of the world – we were devastated. Not just because our jobs had ended but, even more, because we thought that all our efforts had been in vain.

But they were not. In honest, wrenching emails sent through cyberspace, Jane and I helped hoist each other up, finding new ways to use whatever talent, whatever faith we might have, to make more people more aware of the interconnectedness of all life. And Parliaments continued to be held; weaving together people of disparate faiths but common spirits in work to mend the planet.

She went on to produce films. I worked on my books. The inside note on my Christmas card was funny, reflecting a time when she had visited my Chicago apartment. “Dear Jane: I think of you every time I make toast. (I still have the toaster you didn’t like.) My manuscript will be finished before Christmas. One of the novel’s characters lived 12,000 years ago in northern Spain … so of course I had to go there – what wonders! (There’s a brief report on my website What wonders are you creating? Please stay connected.”

She did. Last March she sent an email with her new address. And the we that we were in December 1999 was confirmed, still strong. Still important. Hallelujah!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Loosen Up!

Sometimes I dip down --sort of touch depression, stay there 24 hours or so, then pick up.

It happened just the other day. I was down … but out taking an evening walk. A neighbor of mine – in the next block but still a neighbor – spotted me and invited me to get in her car and go with her to listen to a local outdoor concert.

I didn’t.

About half an hour later I realized that was a very stupid decision.

Sure my purse was right by my unlocked front door. Sure it was late, I looked pretty scruffy, and there were things I should be doing … but really … why didn’t I go?

Part of it is the (expletive deleted) Puritan work ethic that was force-fed to me as I was growing up: every activity should be purposeful. Every activity should be in its appropriate time slot.


And the rest of it is that no one ever taught me how to PLAY – how to be spontaneous – how to throw caution (and all of the ‘shoulds’ that surround us) to the winds.

I am actually better at spontaneity and having fun than I used to be . . . but, BOY, do I have a long way to go.

At least I ‘played’ a little this weekend. Did things just for the fun of them. And discovered  (for the upteenth time) that I am energized by other people. That’s progress. And it explains why this particular post is more than 12 hours ‘late.’

Better late (in learning how to play) than never. Go have fun!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Confession of a Luddite

Down in the right hand corner of this blog is a little box of text about me entitled, “Schizophrenic Luddite”.
You may question that description. After all, someone who has a website and a blog and uses email on a daily basis cannot possibly be a Luddite.


The word “Luddite” describes a person ‘who is opposed to industrialization, automation, computerization or new technologies in general.’ That’s me … selectively.

Anyone who writes anything has to love computers. Remember typewriters and carbon paper and whiteout and the tedious agony of revisions? All gone. God bless computers.

And research? The hours spent in libraries, searching card catalogues and dusty shelves for the specific, tiny reference crucial to whatever point you were making … gone. Or you’re zooming along with a powerful essay but all of a sudden you cannot remember the years when telephones became commonly used. Another trip to the library? Nope. Just a simple Internet search and there’s your answer. Hallelujah.

And email allows you to share news and thoughts and sympathy – or whatever you want to share - knowing that your message will be read at the recipient’s convenience and never cause them to leap naked from a warm bath in response to a ringing telephone or doorbell.

Websites and blogs are canvasses on which you can create a picture of who you are and how you think and what you write.

These are good things. I embrace them. When I called myself a Schizophrenic Luddite, I was acknowledging that I did indeed appreciate the many benefits of certain technologies ... HOWEVER I regard others with considerable trepidation … and awesome resistance.

Like cell phones. Lured by popular culture and the omnipresence of perfectly intelligent people walking around holding one hand over an ear while talking into space, I actually purchased a cell phone. Last October.

It sat in its box nine months. I knew it was there but I didn’t want to use it. I wanted to restrict my electronic (or whatever) communication. Keep it confined to my home/office. I did not want to sit at restaurant ignoring a companion in order to answer a call from someone else. Or any of that kind of thing.

But then I planned a trip the components of which required mobile communications. So I asked my 14-year-old grand niece to show me cell phone basics. And this July I actually used the thing. And I probably will again.

And someday, perhaps, I will master Facebook, and iPods, and even Blackberries or whatever other device someone somewhere – probably in California – is probably creating at this very moment.


One or two things at a time. With great reluctance.

Sincerely yours, the Schizophrenic Luddite.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Passport to the Future

In this country more than in some others, when a child becomes an adult she or he moves out of her or his parental orbit, veers off into the galaxy and may (or may not) create her or his own world.

If parent-child relations are cordial, the parent may get news from this world; descriptions of what it is like, who lives there with the child-now-adult, and (an expurgated version) of what kinds of things go on.

Typically, the child-now-adult may visit her/his parental world and exist there, cordially, on a very temporary basis. What they experience during these visits is polished a little brighter than the parent’s ordinary surroundings, the food substantially finer, and the social/cultural phenomena a little richer than whatever the parent usually experiences (or eats).

None of this is bad but it is constricted. Neither parent nor child really knows the whole cloth of the other’s world – only selected strands.

Once all the perceived traumas and tragedies of a particular childhood have healed, it may become possible for the child-now-adult to admit her/his parent into the world they have created.

It is, in my opinion, the highest honor – the greatest respect – that a child (now adult) can show a parent.

It happened to me just two weeks ago. I visited Chicago – not the sectors where once I lived and worked and had my being but my son’s sectors. I stayed in his apartment in an area of Chicago that before I had only vaguely known about. I walked the streets he walks, ate the food he eats, took the buses he takes. I saw the richness of this formerly foreign neighborhood – its flashes of art and music – the languages spoken, the eddies of community within the general flow. More than that, I dined with his friends – knew them in person rather than by hearsay; met the people with whom he creates musical and visual art; visited his workplace and met his co-workers.

Finally, I was able to piece together a picture of his life; not complete by any means, but exponentially greater that the fragments I had earlier concocted.

It was like seeing my DNA evolve-- seeing the possibilities inherent in a subsequent generation. His generation, making its own world, creating its own values, exploring its own truths.

It is good. I had always suspected it was good. Now I know. And this little essay is a kind of thank you note to my son.