Friday, July 30, 2010

'Meet Me in St. Louis' reprise

On May 12, I posted a blog about four friends with whom I have a deep rapport based on many, many years of honest communication. I said times with them were my “Meet Me In St. Louis” moments. The reference was to the Judy Garland movie full of nostalgic Norman Rockwell family times – with inevitable happy endings.

Our group has been our group for more than 30 years. And we weren’t that young when we first got together. None of us has had a life replete with happy endings and all of us face the physical, mental and emotional challenges of growing older … and the even more difficult challenges of dealing with diminishing partners.

As I planned my trip to Indiana/Chicago, I of course factored in time with our group. I live in Colorado. They live (most of the time) in widely scattered regions in the Chicago area. This time, none of them had home situations that could accommodate a guest, even if that guest was me. I stayed in a Chicago hotel and we worked around that.

Over the course of four days, I had a chance to be with these women – sometimes all four, sometimes one or two. And it was, as it always is, fun and deep and full of mutual affection. We trooped around to many of Chicago’s wonders, delighting in what we were seeing and in the delight we saw each other taking in the day.

The facts of our respective lives – however difficult – were shared without apology or complaint. We gathered strength from each other.

One sort of bonus day, a lunch meeting in one of our homes, I asked a question that was imbedded in my psyche. A question I could not ask of any other acquaintances. A question that I needed answered before proceeding with my trip.

I asked, “Why do we let our children judge us?” Frankly, I thought I was the only mother who put herself through this ringer. I learned that I was not. To some degree, each of us sought to be ‘acceptable’ in the opinions of our grown children. That was amazingly reassuring. I was not the only one. And knowing that, smiling at that unnecessary vulnerability, made me less vulnerable – less likely to imagine condemning thoughts roiling in the minds of my sons.

It was a “Meet Me in St. Louis” moment – reassuring, reinforcing, re-energizing. Essential. And this little essay is my thank you note to the universe – a thank you for the presence of these women in my life.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I'm Back

Re-entry into routine after being away has its own traditions. Catching up on laundry. Going through the mail—both snail and electronic. Remedial attention to cats. Checking out the garden – weeding, looking for raspberries and tomatoes, deadheading pansies and roses. Re-stocking the refrigerator. Getting photos developed. Writing thank you notes. All of this takes time.

During this time, I have begun to sort out where I was and what happened. As usual, so much was packed in to each day away that there was little time to ponder significances.

My photos are back. They are surface reflections of all the worlds I visited. There were so many. This particular journey, more than prior trips, seemed to delineate all the separate worlds within which we move and have our being.

Appropriately, the first was an archeological dig in northwestern Indiana. Conducted by volunteers from the Kankakee Valley Historical Society supervised by Notre Dame anthropology professor Mark Schurr, the dig has been conducted for three weeks a summer for the past eight years. Sifting through debris on a small parcel of land that was never farmed, volunteers and grad students have unearthed artifacts ranging from 8,000-year-old arrowheads to 19th-century coins. This summer, I held pottery shards that were at least 1,000 years old. We never know how many worlds are under our feet.

While in Indiana, I stayed with friends, one of whom has been my friend since September 1959—almost 51 years. She and her husband have created their own world: a house facing a meadow and hugged by a curve of woods. A forest of bird feeders draws a rainbow of feathered creatures performing for whoever is lucky enough to be on their screened-in back porch. Deer, possums, raccoons, and wild turkey wander through the bird feeder clearing where corn is provided next to salt licks. And within the house, the accumulated love and struggles of two people dealing with their respective pasts and futures threatened by the challenges of getting older.

Twenty minutes away, a daughter and her family have created their own world full of gardens and music and all the complications of two adolescents. I am always welcome there; glad to share their vibrant lives and wonderful stories.

From Indiana, I took the South Shore train into Chicago – nearly 3 million in the city and at least 9 million including the surrounding suburbs. And every single one of those millions of people lives in her or his own world, with its own perspectives. I experienced about a half dozen of these – each rich with history and hope. More about those in my next posting.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Spanish Rose

This rose bloomed in the amazing Generalife gardens outside the incredible Alhambra complex in Granada, Spain.

I went to Spain to explore some of the Paleolithic caves in northern Spain -- settings for much of my manuscript: FAMILY TIME, A GENEALOGICAL MEMOIR.

The Alhambra is in southern Spain. I took a detour there just in case I might never get back to that country. One of the best detours I ever took. Perhaps I'll share more photos in the future.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

while I am away . . .

I am going to let my photographs fill in for my paragraphs.
These poppies exploded in my back yard this past June.
I'll return with more words circa Sunday, July 25.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Technically Isolated

Why do we avoid each other?

As an older (pre-cell phone) human, I am often amazed by couples walking down the street, each staring at some handheld device, oblivious to their surroundings or their partners. I am saddened by people at restaurants paying more attention to their cell phones or Ipods or videogames or Blackberries than to the other people at the table.

Is this new? Only technologically speaking.

A few years back, we avoided each other by watching television.

Before that, reading newspapers and listening to radio.

Before that, rigid social mores and restrictions kept servants, women and children seen but not – in any way -- heard.

All this avoidance is rather astounding to me (the older human) who over the last several decades of my life has come to understand that relationships with other humans (of whatever age) is what gives our lives richness and value.

Because I live alone, I have to work at making connections. But this would be true even if I did not live alone. Relationships are hard work. And no one is perpetually pleasing. So relationships are not always fun.

Still, the value of rubbing two (or more) perspectives together yields greater depth to our understanding of our life and times. [If we don’t insist upon being ‘right’ we can actually learn a great deal.]

Not that being alone is terrible. It is in fact a good idea to step out of the ‘race’ and figure out where you are going. But staying out, avoiding dialogue, locks you into your own mind and opinions.

Perpetual isolation is not just boring, it’s unhealthy. We are a gregarious species. Spread the word. [In person.]

Thursday, July 15, 2010


As a rule, Guinness is the funnier of my two cats. Because he is high energy and neurotic, his antics often make better stories. He plays a feline version of fetch and gets into trouble when he is bored. Like a very little boy, he also occasionally needs to be held and cuddled – usually just once a day.

But his adopted brother Herbie is indispensable. I’m about to go on a trip fraught with emotional challenges. Although I’ve traveled much of the world, I am more nervous about this particular journey – to a purely domestic destination -- than any in recent memory.

So when Herbie jumps up on my desk and strolls in front of the keyboard and onto my lap, I welcome his sensuous gratitude for my caresses. And when his purring vibrates against my chest, I am comforted.

And, it must be admitted, I am getting on in years (as they used to say) -- old (as they say now). Every once in a while, I just need to lay down – sort of nap. It doesn’t matter where I rest or where Herbie is when I decide to rest, he’ll find me, jump up on the bed, and find a good place to snuggle—resting his head in my upturned palm.

I am touched by this. Not just because it demonstrates affection but also, and mostly, because it is evidence of his complete and absolute trust. I am not just bigger than he is, and meaner, but I am also a member of an entirely different species. To me his trust is a signal honor.

Of course it’s not just me. Herbie loves all homo sapiens sapiens. Nothing perks him up more than company. He greets all my guests and salespeople, gently demanding full attention and attendant stroking.

On the advice of my vet, both he and Guinness are inside cats. Period.

Once when I was truly ill, I wobbled out to retrieve my mail and Herbie slipped out the door. Far too weak to chase him, I did the only thing I could think of to lure him back inside.

I rang the doorbell.

It worked. He trotted around the corner to see who was visiting and I whisked him inside.

Bless his furry heart.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Colorado Delicate Delights

Just a few strides away from the tree graveyard described in "Colorado Disaster" there was a small grove of aspens with a cluster of columbines at its base.

Colorado is still magnificent. Pine beetles don't destroy mountains. If you look for it, there is always beauty.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Tomorrow, July 11, will be a new moon -- a time many believe most propitious for starting new projects or redirecting energies. Yesterday I received, by email, a prayer written by Dr. Masaru Emoto, the Japanese scientist who has demonstrated the effect of emotions on water molecules. It has been suggested that sometime on Sunday, all of us who care about the Gulf of Mexico and the future of our planet stand, sit or kneel and repeat the following: GULF PRAYER

"I send the energy of love and gratitude to the water and all the living
creatures in the Gulf of Mexico and its surroundings.
To the whales, dolphins, pelicans, fish, shellfish, plankton, coral, algae,
and all living creatures . . . I am sorry.
Please forgive me.
Thank you.
I love you. "   Dr. Masaru Emoto

One of the things I like about this prayer is that it acknowledges our complicity. We are all guilty, if not of the Gulf disaster then certainly our own carelessness with the resources we can control.

I too am sorry and ask forgiveness.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Colorado Disasters

This photograph shows a small portion of the half acre in Silverthorne, CO which serves as the graveyard for tens of thousands of trees killed by the pine beetle.

It was impossible to capture the extent of the graveyard in one or even two photos. And to stand among these fallen trees was to be chilled, shot through with sorrow. I could have been standing in the last pages of Dr. Suess’s The Lorax (see post "Tarred with the Same Brush").

Is the pine beetle scurge a result of global warming, which is in turn caused by humans? I don’t know but I suspect we had something to do with it.

Recently, our local paper reported that there have been nearly 1,000 oil and gas spills in Colorado since January, 2008. “Collectively, those spills have released more than 5.2 million gallons of drilling liquids … into waters that both people and wildlife depend on.”

Colorado is not a big oil producing state. “States with greater production may likely have recorded even more small spills.”

WHAT are we doing to our planet?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


My friends with cats report rude awakenings on a daily basis. On or about 5 a.m. their cats will climb onto their beds, their chests, or their faces and make unmistakable feline remarks indicating that it is time for their breakfast.

Not so at my house. Cats are by nature nocturnal. But living with me has modified my cats’ behavior, perhaps even their DNA.

If Herbie has wandered from my bed during the evening, he will return sometime around 6 a.m. – but not to demand breakfast. I will become aware of a small wet nose gently bumping my nose. I think he uses the nose bump to gauge the most efficient way to flop. His ideal resting spot is curved into the curve of my neck and chest with his head resting on one of my hands (if they’re not under covers or pillows). So he wanders around, checking which way I lie, bumps noses for good measure then flops. He’s not always precise. Sometimes a large portion of his anatomy is pressed up against my face. Not acceptable. I move, he tries again. Once settled, he will stretch out, awaiting my sleepy caress and purring.

All of this of course brings me to some level of consciousness but it’s only a brief and usually pleasant interruption of the last half hour or so of slumber. That period of repose that some part of my brain – that portion indoctrinated with the puritan work ethic – believes is just slightly illegal, immoral or at least slothful. (And therefore pure luxury.) The rest of my brain ignores these twinges and Herbie and I sleep on.

And what is Guinness doing? He used to be more aggressive about arousing me to attend to his sustenance but he has given up.

During the night, he often sleeps at the end of the bed; I think because he doesn’t want to be left out. But sleeping mammals aren’t much fun. He usually wanders off and finds a comfortable spot next to an upstairs window where he can watch the rest of the world’s citizens – especially birds and squirrels – stir to begin their day.

When I’m ready to go downstairs to make breakfast, I’ll enter the study to let him know that, once again –when he is once again on the very verge of starvation – he will be fed. I don’t know much cat language but the meow with which he greets me could easily be interpreted to mean, “It’s about bloody time, you slothful creature.”

Our day has begun.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tarred with the same brush

Flowing longer than the Mississippi, the Niger River has, over hundreds and hundreds of years, created a vast delta at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean on the Gulf of Guinea.

Once the Niger Delta was rich with plant and animal life that in turn enriched the people living in the region. Great mangroves towered in swamps teeming with shrimp and crab. Local women supported themselves by gathering mollusks and shellfish. Fishermen could fill their skiffs close to home.

Now fishermen must row further and further out to sea. Now nothing living moves in a black and brown world dotted with dead mangroves. No birds sing. Children swim in the polluted estuary. They watch the giant flares of burning natural gas that waste a potential resource and pollute the skies.

What happened? Oil, exploited carelessly – not just for several months, but for fifty years. The New York Times reported that: “The oil spews from rusted and aging pipes, unchecked by what analysts say is ineffectual or collusive regulation, and abetted by deficient maintenance and sabotage.”

Those working for the foreign oil companies arm themselves with machine guns to fend off those who protest the degradation of life with their own weapons.

And the world does nothing.

We should look closely at what has happened, and is happening, to the Niger Delta. It is the future of the Mississippi River Delta, and of the Gulf of Mexico. UNLESS we who exploit the planet’s resources begin to do so carefully, prudently – with appropriate safeguards.

Not just in major waterways. Everywhere. Carrying cloth bags to the grocery store. Planting trees. Bicycling to work. Using metal water bottles. It’s all part of the same process, the same attitude.

Nearly 40 years ago, Dr. Seuss wrote The Lorax – a very unsubtle fable about the destruction of a pristine land brimming with Truffula trees, Swomee-Swans, Bar-ba-loots, and Humming Fish. All these wonders were destroyed by the Once-ler who exploited the trees over the objection of their guardian, the Lorax. When the whole environment lay in waste, the greedy but remorseful Once-ler told the little boy who asked, “UNLESS someone like you...cares a whole awful lot...nothing is going to get better...It's not."

Apparently, this is still true.