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.