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.