Sunday, November 17, 2019

Louisiana State Penitentiary

Why on earth would a vacation tour stop at a maximum-security prison? I suspect that the state of Louisiana encouraged Road Scholar to include a visit to Angola to burnish the state’s reputation. It worked. 
I do not believe that we were shown all aspects of the Louisiana State Penitentiary.  Looking online, I saw reports and images that were more like what one would expect. Still, what we did see was encouraging, giving me a little more hope for our species.

The prison sprawls over 18,000 acres, housing some 5,000 male prisoners, most of whom are serving life sentences with no possibility of parole. At one time the prison had the reputation of being a bloody and dangerous place – the worst in the country.    
Now, not so much. The prisoners work: on the rich farmland and in cottage industries. They have their own television station, broadcasting throughout the complex. They have places of worship for most religions. They even have service clubs. And an annual rodeo. They have created a sort of alternate universe where they can have almost normal lives while incarcerated.

Our tour had come up the Mississippi from New Orleans on a paddlewheel boat. We disembarked and boarded  a bus that took us into the  vast prison complex. Our first stop was at the stables where we ‘met’ some horses. We drove through fields brimming with produce then we stopped in front of what looked like a chapel. 

Entering, sitting in the pews, we saw two men, each holding the leash for a dog. It turned out that the men, both prisoners, were training the dogs to be service dogs for veterans. Dogs are rescued from shelters and the offenders work with them over the course of a year until they are ready to help veterans restore their physical and emotional independence.


Friday, November 15, 2019

Amazing Grace

During any trip there are moments that are indelible. Something happens that is so special that you want to remember it forever.

Recently, I participated in a Road Scholar tour that included a visit to the Antioch Baptist Church outside Natchez, Mississippi.

When we entered the modest sanctuary, I was a little disappointed because there were only about a dozen congregants standing in the choir loft. Then the music began. Beautiful, rich voices, singing in terrific harmony.

Then they invited us to join them. The songs were songs like “Amazing Grace” which everyone knew. I hesitated, unsure of my ability to climb into the loft, but went as soon as I saw there was a railing I could use. I made it up and joined the performance. It filled me with joy.

Before I climbed into the loft, I saw a woman from the tour who had proceeded me and who was singing with her whole soul. She and her husband were a couple I had ‘connected’ with – often sitting with them at meals. I think her husband was a judge and she was a Chicago matron (possibly Jewish). I used my smart phone to take a rather dim photo of a stunning moment – one that I will treasure for a long time.

 ‘Amazing Grace’ indeed.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Pulley Bone

Pully Bone Natchez, Mississippi has a deep heritage. Named for the Indian nation that was defeated then expelled from the high bluffs along the river, it is said to be home to more millionaires than any other U.S. city.

The Natchez people were mound builders, reflecting a sophisticated spiritual tradition that did not survive repeated conflicts with the French (and Spanish). Many escaped into the Carolinas only to suffer the Trail of Tears. Later, cotton, harvested by slave labor, created the wealth that is still reflected in luxurious homes and plantations in the area.

I saw little of that. A medical problem prompted me to find transportation from the elegant paddle wheel boat docked at the river, to the local urgent care facility. I walked up the gangplank and into a red cab with white lettering identifying it as part of the Rock N’ Roll taxi company. It was driven by a slim older man who didn’t smile much. We ascended the bluff and drove to urgent care. The driver gave me his card (which I promptly lost) and left.

After an examination, I was told I could pick up a prescription at the Walgreen’s on the other side of a four-lane freeway. A cab was called for. The same one showed up. This time the driver pulled up to the drive-up window where we learned my prescription would be ready in about 15 minutes. So, we rode to the front of the store so I could get some necessities while waiting for the medication. With those in hand, I waited by the front door for the return of the Rock N’ Roll taxi. When it arrived, the driver, aware that I had missed the morning tour of Natchez’s mansions, drove me the long way back to the boat so I could at least get a glimpse of his city.

I wanted to pay him extra, but he refused. He only charges $10 no matter where he drives. This time, I kept his card, tucking it into my pocket as I walked down the gangplank and onto my boat. That card is now a treasured souvenir inscribed with his name “Pulley Bone”.

 I have no idea if that’s his real name … or if he was just pulling my leg.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Thanks Are In Order

When I awoke on Friday, I clearly needed medical attention. Thank you to my physician and his staff for working me into their Friday morning schedule.

Thank you to my pharmacist for promptly filling my prescription.

Thank you to my brother for driving up from Denver to take me into Rocky Mountain National Park. [We were totally unaware of the catastrophe in my house.]

Thank you to my housekeeper for sprucing things up … and having the presence of mind to call a neighbor when she discovered a foot of sewer water in my basement.

Thank you to my neighbor for shutting off the water.

Meanwhile, up in the mountains, wandering (after lunch) amid glorious aspen, several deer and one magnificent herd of elk, I apparently dropped the prescription bottle.

When I returned home to the mess, I looked everywhere for my prescription … to no avail. But the plumber came (thank goodness) and drained the basement, and turned the water back on … about 8:30 p.m. [He’s coming back to repair my sewer pipe … $$$.]

I still really needed my prescription. Then I discovered a voicemail message on my home phone from a mountain grocery store pharmacy, saying someone had turned in my prescription to the counter at a mountain gift shop (near where we had had lunch). 

Thanks to whoever turned in my prescription.

Thanks to the gift shop person who called the grocery store pharmacy.

And many, many thanks to my pharmacist who – thankfully – agreed to replace my prescription.

In a few days, and a lot of money, my basement will be okay.
In a few days, and the rest of my pills, I should be fine.
And I am grateful.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Memorial Games

When my cat Guinness died (more than three years ago) I let the veterinarian deal with his body. I kept his memory. 

 Later, when I moved my small couch, I discovered a cache of his favorite toys – little yarn or metallic balls (each slightly smaller than a ping pong ball). 

My other cat was not particularly interested in them, so I placed the collection in a heavy glass vase and taped a photo of Guinness on the front. That was my memorial. I put the vase behind a row of books on a living room shelf. No one need know it was there, but I knew and could occasionally smile at my memories of the crazy, loveable cat who loved only me. 

This year my grandson came to visit. Somehow, he found the vase full of cat toys. They were fun to throw. So he threw them. And the other people in the room threw them back. It was a perfect storm of cat toys and laughter. 

At first, I was taken aback. They were my Guinness memorial cat toys. But then I remembered how much Guinness loved to play. He would have approved. I joined the laughter.

After my guests were gone, I restored the Guinness memorial, ‘hidden’ behind the row of books. Until my grandson comes again.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Beyond Binary

Not too long ago I didn’t know what ‘binary’ meant. 

Not too long ago I didn’t know I knew any lesbians (although I was pretty sure I knew some gays). A long time ago I didn’t know (or know I knew) any African Americans … or Asians … or Native Americans … or Latinix … or Muslims … or Turks … or Germans … or Buddhists … or Catholics (well, maybe some Catholics … and Jews) … or motorcyclists … or hunters … or homeless people … or differently-abled people … or really old people… or any people other than white, middle class, privileged people. 

What a myopic view of the world! What an infinitesimal fragment of reality. 

Recently I went to a lesbian wedding. It was a beautiful celebration of two people who radiate joy in being together. I was honored to be there, to witness their acknowledgement of the miracle of their love. 

It is a miracle, you know… whenever it happens between/among whomever it happens. Right now it seems utterly foolish to inhibit, in any way, any smidgen of joy. 

When we open our eyes, minds, hearts to any* of our fellow passengers on this planet as it swirls within our galaxy, our heart is nourished … sustained. And we become more fully alive. [And increase the possibility of our own joy.] 

(*Even Republicans ***)
(***with one possible exception)

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Water Hazards

My house is now full of water hazards because my old cat has feline kidney disease and is therefore perpetually thirsty. 

In addition to the bowls of water next to his food bowl, there’s another tucked into a corner of the dining area . . . and a huge water pitcher in a corner of the kitchen. Upstairs, there are three water bowls in the bathroom. 

But that’s not enough. Not for my cat. 

After a while, he began following me into the bathroom. I permitted absolutely no toilet access. But he was still thirsty. Looking around, it occurred to me that the sink might do. 

Close the drain, fill the bowl, lift the animal onto the counter and voila! A remedy. 

My upstairs sink is surrounded by a counter. Not so the downstairs sink. One evening as I was sitting on the toilet, my cat wandered in, thirsty. What to do? He jumped into the bathtub, peering over the rim, looking longingly at the sink. ‘Oh no!’ I thought. ‘If he jumps, he will land in the water.’ He did jump but managed to balance on the rounded sink rim and drank. Amazing. 

So. When you come to visit, please watch out for water hazards; close the door behind you when you enter a bathroom; and, please, close the toilet lid when you leave.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Earth Day Birthday

Today, April 22, is my brother’s birthday. My mom chose this date for her caesarian delivery because April 22 was my uncle’s birthday.

My brother was born in 1943; my uncle, several decades before. ๐ŸŒŽEarth Day was created in 1970.

Noting this, my brother claims he is older than dirt. He has told this same joke every year for the past 49 years.

It’s still funny.

It is my careful, unbiased observation that people born on April 22 are exceptionally nice human beings.

 According to my cousins, my Uncle Jack was the best dad ever. [I only spent a little time with him but I enjoyed every minute of it.] He was even at my parents’ house when we celebrated my first-born son’s first birthday (Oct. 5, not April).

And of course, my brother is extraordinary … my favorite (and only) sibling.

So here’s to our amazing and fragile planet ๐ŸŒand to all those who work to protect it (and by so doing, protect the rest of us). They get it. We are co-dependent with Earth.

Celebrate it. Do everything in your power to allow every bug and bird and blossom and butte survive and flourish.

๐ŸŒŽ Hooray! For the interdependent web of all existence.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Colorado Spring

It’s sandals and snow boots time in Colorado. 

 Weather changes reign. Sometimes snow, sometimes sun. 

 All creatures adapt. Last week we went from a 70-degree day to a 7-inch blizzard. 

When the robins had no access to my birdbath, where they usually get their water, they took to the streets where traffic had reduced the snow to puddles. 
I had never seen that before. 

And I believe this is the first year that my dandelions have emerged before my tulips. 

At least they provide a spot of color as green seeps back into my world. 

Green is so welcome. Every day it gathers strength, first transforming beige lawns then gradually adding a haze of leaves on the trees. 

The pace of transformation accelerates. 

 And is so welcome. 


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Old Hair

Other than senior discounts and Medicare, one enormous perk of aging is the lack of hairy legs.
Oh, I do occasionally – about once every three or four months – have to harvest the meager crop, scattered sparsely on legs whose veins tend to make them look like maps of the London subway system.

Still. It’s a perk.

Hair is a contrary mammalian trait. It seems to grow where we don’t want it and disappear from places where it is fervently desired.

This is true for both men and women but I will deal only with the aging female here. [And I will not deal with all of the capillary ramifications – like moustaches (which is another dilemma altogether).]

When I was younger and more smug (smugness seems to be characteristic of youth) I would smirk disparagingly at men who had attempted to disguise a balding pate by combing longer locks over barren skulls.

No longer.

My once glorious tresses still exist but, like the earth’s aquifer, are diminished.

My hair is thinning.

From the front and the sides, I still look adequately ‘haired’. Not so much from the back.

Now I too must fluff the remains and try to guide them over my pink, pink scalp.

I even have some powder I can sprinkle over the too obvious hair barrenness. It helps.

So beware, oh youth. Avoid smugness and smirks. All too soon, that which you deride will be that with which you must contend.

Monday, March 18, 2019

A Recent Scribble

I recently attended an event for writers focusing on our respective heritages. [This is a photograph of  some of my ancestors]
We were encouraged to write a little something. I wrote a synopsis of my life:

Like most U.S. citizens, I am a mongrel 
Within my veins and chromosomes flows the heritage of 300,000 years 
Or more 
I, like all people, came out of Africa. 
According to DNA analysis, my Paleolithic ancestors lived in northern Spain. 
I do not remember this. 
Family conversations alluded to more recent ancestors from the British Isles and Germany 
I do not remember this 
I do remember stories of early California ranches and farms – 
Buckboards and stage coaches— 
Not from personal experience 
From stories. 
Then I began to act in my own drama. 
First, following the standard American script: 
School, college, marriage, children 
Cooking, cleaning, washing clothes. 
Eventually, divorce 
Jobs that took me to many lands 
Learning, absorbing, respecting. 
I am part of all that I have met and learned. 
All that I have met and learned are part of me 
And I have only just begun.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Hard Issues

On average, I delete about 90 emails a day. 

The algorithm that runs the show seems incapable of guessing my gender. I have in the past week, received two with the subject line: Men’s Health News (first sentence begins-- If you have ED). I don’t. 

Other subject lines: Impotence (How to Control Your Penis); Male Enhancement, Harder and Longer, Breaking Alert (Men, You Don’t Need Viagra), Hardness Issues, Hardness, etc. 

↑   I realize that this can be critically important in some relationships. I am glad there are resources available. 

But I want to know a couple of things. Is the problem so pervasive that random emails will reach thousands in need? 

And why, if the problem is so pervasive, are there stories of sexual assault in nearly every edition of the paper? 

 And why is there the “Me Too” movement? 

And why was there an article in today’s NY Times that more than 100,000 sexual assault cases have resulted in 1,000 arrests with more on the horizon? And “another 155,000 or more sex assault evidence kits still await testing.” 

And why are there 48,000 immigrants being held in ICE for-profit detention centers? Yes. That’s a related story. 

We need to start treating other human beings as if they are persons of value. 

Because they are.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Sweetheart City

I live in Loveland, Colorado. 

Predictably, the city goes crazy every Valentine’s Day. 

Citizens submit designs, verses, and cachet content and the winners are selected for the year's official Valentine’s components. 

The cards are sold in almost every local store. 

A Miss Loveland Valentine is selected from among comely high school students. Later the winner will have a special audience with the Colorado governor when she is introduced to the state legislators in Denver. 

Senior high school students paint ‘love notes’ on red wooden hearts that are hung from light posts on all major streets. The Loveland Thompson Valley Rotary Club sells ‘heart space’ as its major fundraiser. 

Volunteers gather to hand cancel mail with the official cachet before it enters the postal mainstream. 

And on the day itself, or close to it, a “Sweetheart Festival” is held in the city’s historic district. 

I’m probably leaving something out. It’s all kind of fun. 

Personally, I received some nice emails and had a lovely Skype visit with my grandson. But the only Valentine card I received was from the staff at my dentist’s office. 

It made me smile.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


After a month of 40-degree weather and sunshine, winter slammed into Colorado. When I walked toward the entrance for the event on the east side of town, the temperature was gentle, the wind calm. When I walked out, I saw the sidewalk was wet. Then I felt the rain. Then gusts of wind threatened to knock me down. I was teetering toward the parking lot when a couple passed me then turned and asked if I’d like some help. “Yes!” 

As we maneuvered off the sidewalk toward the parking lot, rain changed to sleet, driven horizontal by fierce wind. It was actually painful. As we struggled forward, the sleet mixed with snow. Visibility was minimal. The couple persevered, depositing me in my car, admonishing me to be careful. 

I turned the heater and windshield wipers on full blast, dried off my glasses and waited until most windows were clear. Not that it did much good. The snow was now falling in such thickness that roads, signs, and traffic were almost completely obscured. But I couldn’t stay there. 

I drove, inching my way toward what I hoped was the exit, letting others pass so I could follow their tracks. Slowly I made it back to the highway, getting into what I hoped was the slow lane. I headed west, choosing to get off the highway as soon as I could, grateful that increased traffic made the road more visible. 

Closer to home, I knew the way. My car knew the way. My garage door opener worked. I was home. And so grateful to the couple who turned back to help a tottering old lady. 

And to a car that warmed up and handled slippery streets and a cozy home to welcome me. A glass of wine and a little television numbed winter reality and I went to bed dreading the avalanche that I must assuredly deal with in the morning. 

There was no avalanche. Only about an inch of snow. By mid-morning the sun was out, and many sidewalks were clear. 

I love Colorado.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Dystopian Curse

My next substantial piece of writing is way overdue.

People keep asking me if I am writing a new book. No. But I should be.

The trouble is, I want it to be funny. I am pretty good at making people laugh, usually just by saying something unexpected. Something other than the “how are you?” “fine” kind of stuff.

These ambitions are daunted, subdued, quashed by two factors.
First, the enormously depressing news of what is going on in our world. It’s as if news reports were written by Margaret Atwood or George Orwell. It seems irresponsible to write something fluffy.
Second, I too often let the enormously depressing news quash my own sense of humor.

However, I do understand why Hollywood pumped out lots of lighthearted movies during the Depression. When they were so urgently needed. That’s an important precedent. But someone on the West Coast must have been buoyed by more ebullience than I can muster… most days.

Writing dystopian tales seems the only logical response to current events.
And they are not funny. At all.

Still, I keep trying. I’ve even invented a character, Gertrude, who (just a coincidence) is experiencing with ironic humor all the indignities of getting old… alone.

So I will persevere. I will take a walk and actually look at the beauty around me. I will eat a piece of chocolate. And snuggle with my cat. And write another damn paragraph full of wit and good cheer.


Thursday, January 3, 2019

I want a lion

This is Harlan’s lion. 

As Linus used a blanket, Harlan (age 3) uses his lion. It's something for him to hold on to when things (either good or bad) get overwhelming. 

Mostly the news is about something terrible ... every day: 
A pipeline . . . 
A wall . . .
A shooting or bombing . . .
A massive fire or tsunami . . .
Alliances shattered; treaties ignored . . .
Environmental safeguards dissolved . . .
Governments paralyzed or paranoid or predatory . . .
More than 260 million people wandering the planet with no home and little hope -- having left everything they have ever known ... Millions escaping the unacceptable, only to become unacceptable. 
All kinds of toxicity

All the time

I (considerably older than 3)want a lion