Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Do You Do to Stay Warm?

On Wednesday it was a gorgeous, sunny, 65-degree day, perfect for my hike. On Thursday, the temperature fell like a hawk on a bull snake to 25 degrees. With the furnace kicking in every 20 minutes throughout the night to maintain a crisp 63-degree atmosphere, a memory floated to the surface from my days in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

In the autumn of 1979 I began my third year of college. Nick (Norma), Mel (Mary Lynn), Lynn, and I rented a small, dilapidated, old house on Niagara Street, or Niagra, depending on which sign you looked at. In the dark, musty basement of the place lived the Octopus, a huge-bodied furnace with about eight thick arms that could never reach the two bedrooms upstairs. From October till May that house was freezing, particularly Lynn’s and my bedroom, yet our heating-oil bills ran about $350 a month. I don’t think they insulated houses the year that place was built.

The memory was of my roomies and me arguing about who would wash the dishes. After all, there was only so much hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps we could drink and we all wanted to be warm. So we’d come back from classes, eat dinner, and then, almost in unison, shout, “I get to wash dishes!”

“No, I do!”

“No, me!”

Hands in hot water is one way we could keep warm.

That 30-year-old memory led me to thinking of what others do to keep warm. So I asked a few friends.

Anita, who turns her thermostat down to 59 degrees at night, covers with an extrawarm comforter, and probably blows steam rings from her pillow, uses a little space heater in her office to keep her toes toasty warm when working. Banjo Bill says he puts on a vest.

Sam can’t handle anything less than 70, except his women. When cold weather sets in, he aims the thermostat lever at 80 and books a flight bound for Florida or Mexico where he frolics for weeks till he thinks it’s warmer back in Colorado. If I look at my book, though, I’m pretty sure that every year he returns to cold weather. He should be like my relatives. Mom’s brother and his wife, as well as her sister and husband, each have a home in northern Wisconsin and another in a warmer climate: Jack and Becky winter in Arizona, Shirley and Duane, in Florida.

Cherri, who hails from and moved back to Miami, handled Colorado’s occasional cold weather quite well, even driving in snow, albeit way too slowly. One night we had a sleepover at her place and what she laid on top of us was not an ordinary quilt. It felt like a 300-pound concrete patio. It pushed the air out of my lungs and left me motionless all night. I don’t believe the weight added any more warmth than a light blanket would have, and it reminded me of something I was missing in my life.

In Wisconsin, I remember some gals would pack on weight and guys would grow beards. I guess I could let the hair on my legs grow, but if I ever wore pantyhose…ew! like hair in a hairnet. Joe Namath wearing pantyhose comes to mind—dressed in drag before it came in vogue.

Me, well, I enjoy my morning coffee, half milk with honey, and a vigorous hike after working a while. If it’s too cold to hike, I vacuum and stand on my hands, but not simultaneously. A hot computer sitting on my lap makes work less frigid, and throughout the day I sip tea or my warm, milky concoction. Hot soups, chili, and other tomato-based meals make cold days more tolerable. Even red meat starts sounding good if I can get past the thought of slaughterhouses. Before dinner I might slip into my appetite suppressant, the hot tub that keeps me warm for hours and contributes to a better night’s sleep.

During the day I wear up to four layers on top, two on the bottom, and at bedtime I quickly slip into stretchy pants, socks, and a cami while a heating pad warms my sheets and jammie top. My room probably smells more like America’s Test Kitchen than it does a bedroom.

One story I’ll never forget is when my daughter, Ivy, was four years old, five inches of snow had fallen and was still coming down. I stuffed her into snow pants with suspenders, matching coat, scarf, and boots, then put her toddler’s toboggan in the Trooper and headed for the park.

A long, flat stretch of land runs adjacent to the parking lot and sits only feet from a perfectly sloping hill, great for sliding. The snow was sort of sticky, so I had to push the toboggan several feet to get it going. After a few trips down the hill and trudges back up, the snow smoothed out, making the journey slider friendly.

Being considerate, Ivy offered the next trip down to me, so I climbed in, held on to the toboggan’s edge lips, and Ivy pushed. Halfway down and still not gaining momentum, I turned around to give Ivy a quizzical, I-don’t-get-it look and found her dragging behind me, holding on tightly to the toboggan’s back lip. My shocked look melted the tricky little red-cheeked prankster into a warm puddle of laughter.

We all have cold-weather stories, but what do you do to stay warm?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Conversions

Twenty-eleven has been a year of great change in my life and around our home. My daughter graduated from high school and now attends an out-of-state college. Our home’s atmosphere has gone from moody oscillation to subdued ventilation. I might finally be going through menopause (I’ve had a big pause in men). And though every day I have always repaired or maintained something in our house or yard so projects don’t accumulate, major repairs and maintenance were waving their hands saying, “pick me!” Overwhelmed by all these responsibilities, I listed them and fainted.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’d rather clean a toilet than paint, and indeed I have cleaned a house or two. Is this beneath me. Heck no. I enjoy it. Nevertheless, for the first time since my BGF and I did it in 1996, I painted the stucco portion of the house’s rear below the brick and it looks great! It has a golden glow that really warms the structure and blends beautifully with the brick. Now my neighbors to the south can enjoy the view even more than when I dance naked at night with the draperies open.

I also tricked myself into a lot of touch-up painting. To some that might seem as simple as popping open a can of Coors and guzzling it down, but for me, opening a can of Sherwin-Williams is akin to opening Gorgonzola. But I opened, chewed, and swallowed, and again, the place looked and even smelled better.

But there was the big project, the one for which I could sort of see my destination but couldn’t fathom the path to get there. Dots on a map with empty space in between. You see, two of my many friends who have recently passed away left me their libraries, so I wanted to honor them by creating a space for their books where people could peruse, then check out a book or two. It’s what we already do in a condensed space, and there was only one room in which to comfortable house these books. So I began interviewing every friend who walked into our home. “Come, let me show you my new library!” I’d say. Then I’d ask them for suggestions.

In the lower level of our home is a room with no windows. When we moved here in 1994, I dubbed it my daughter’s playroom, where I could lock her up when she was naughty. It was space in which she could be creative with her friends, keep her art supplies accessible, and hang projects on the cork walls. I believe the room had previously been a torture room, with its sink and long shelf for accommodating chemical baths, or maybe it was a darkroom.

As she got older, Ivy and I called the room her office. We set up a desk with shelves, bought a decent lamp with three movable bulb casings, tossed in her huge beanbag chair, and kept the table for doing projects. But when Cat Number Two came into our lives in 2007 (see “Tattoo and Piercing”), he laid claim to one part of Ivy’s office. He used the cork wall as his scratching post. At first I was bummed to see chunks of cork of the floor and bare spots on the wall, but eventually I just walked past the mess or vacuumed it.
One day in late summer 2011, a month after Cat Two returned from a two-and-a-half-month explore 18 pounds lighter and regained his scratching momentum, I decided to do some cork removal myself. Ed suggested taking not only the cork but the whole drywall off. Attempting this, I soon feared the entire house would collapse, plus I found a wire that I suspected was still hot (wrong again), so I ceased further activity and prayed for a handyman.

Sam suggested keeping the cork on the top half and paneling the bottom, but cork was missing from the top. Two other friends, Michael and Anita, separately suggested placing drywall or paneling over the cork, to which I replied, “I’d be losing square footage in my home.” Michael also suggested ripping out the sink, shelves, and anything fifties in my home. Realizing I’d have to move, I chose another option. My neighbor suggested razing the house and starting from scratch.

Mentally exasperated, I needed closure, so by late October I knew how to proceed. Using a four-inch broad knife, I removed the cork, leaving small bumps of cement and pieces of flesh on the wall. Taking a lesson from the cats, I covered the bumps with paint texture I found in the garage. Almost everything used for this project, I found in the garage: paint, molding, a door, timbers.

I decided on a southwest, rustic motif. Two tones of blue for the sky, terra cotta for the sunset. I previously painted the brick wall, the backdrop to my bookshelves, a latte color and used a blend of warm tan and white for the rest of the room. When the painting was almost complete, my neighbor made numerous cuts with his saws—table, jig, and circular. I was on my way home.

Using my former 36” x 76” front door for shelves and two landscape timbers for spacers, I built bookshelves.

A table frame with Pergo shelves houses my encyclopedias from 1970.

Two stretches of door molding became a chair rail of exactly the correct length on the former cork wall.

Rope light and a six-foot length of molding were all I had to buy.

How cool is that?

Newt Gingrich

Guess who just called me.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mormon Coffee—Chocolate

Humans can be so gullible.

I read a Parade interview with Mitt Romney in which he confirms that Mormons are not permitted to smoke, drink alcohol or coffee, or have premarital sex. Of these four directives, the least understandable is coffee abstention. Placing coffee in the same group as premarital sex is odd. I can’t imagine sending an 18-year-old off to college with the admonition, “You be careful now, honey. And be sure to avoid sex and coffee.” Then once the Mormon marries, he or she still can’t drink coffee. Why is this?

In response to the question, “Has it been hard to [not drink alcohol or coffee],” Mitt tells Parade, “My view is that the commandments of God…are not so much restricting as liberating.”

Now this little auntie has read the Bible several times, and there are a lot of drunk, adulterous, incestuous folks discussed. They lie, behead, pillage, and rape. But presently I do not recall a coffee restriction listed in the commandments.

Let’s check my Book of Mormon. Across from the inside cover reads “A Few Interesting Book of Mormon References.” Nothing about coffee, nor in the table of contents. In the index, coffee would be between Cockatrice and Cohor: the first stimulates my interest. Could it be that abstaining from coffee became law after 1948, the copyright date of this book? Checking Wikipedia’s entry for Book of Mormon indicates no word coffee in its contents.

What is so bad about drinking coffee aside from consequential bad breath? One answer is, given the number of kids Mormons usually have and how close two people need to maneuver to conceive all those offspring, a person’s breath is vital and should be fresh at all times, just in case.

Another thought is, coffee can be used as a stimulant, giving the drinker a kick-start in the morning after rolling over. I don’t see anything wrong with waking up before driving to work, but if you’re like me, you blend regular coffee with decaf in the coffeemaker and don’t experience any stimulating effects, just warmth and, of course, bad breath, but I don’t practice procreation. There’s usually not even enough caffeine to get my bowels moving. But with all those kids—they have five sons who’ve given rise to 16 more children—wouldn’t you think a stimulant would be a Mormon mandate?

From reading the entire article, I don’t believe stimulation or caffeine is the Mormon’s culprit, since Mitt’s wife, Ann, says he really likes chocolate—hot chocolate, chocolate milk, and specifically, Over the Moon Chocolate Milk, the low-fat kind. Chocolate has been known to have caffeine, so coffee’s naughtiness cannot be caffeine’s inherent crystalline compound.

Let’s ask my iBook Oxford what coffee really is: “a drink made from the roasted and ground beanlike seeds of a tropical shrub…of the bedstraw family that yields these seeds, two of which are contained in each red berry.” Hmm, it’s not made from beans, so Mitt can probably warm his insides with a piping hot bowl of chili during those cold Massachusetts winters without sin. Coffee is made from seeds. Further in the interview, Parade notes, “The Governor’s current favorite cereals are Brown Sugar Chex Bites and Quaker Oatmeal Squares.” Mormons, therefore, condone seed and bark eating, since seeds and spices are often cereal ingredients.

Not being permitted to drink coffee really has me baffled. What is this bedstraw shrub that bears coffee’s seeds? Oxford states it’s “a herbaceous plant with small, lightly perfumed white or yellow flowers and whorls of slender leaves. It was formerly used for stuffing mattresses.”

That’s it! Just when you thought I didn’t have a story. It’s the mattress component. If you drink coffee, particularly in the presence of an unmarried member of the opposite sex to whom you are attracted, the next step is obviously onto a mattress, with bad breath, no less.

Like to share a Hershey’s bar? Mine has nuts.

Excerpts from www.parade.com/news/2011/12/mitt-romney-family-man.html

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sexual Harassment

I get so sick of hearing about women telling the world their sexual harassment stories, the latest being Herman Cain’s two Six-figure Innuendo Girls. As I quickly turn off the radio or flip the newspaper page so I don’t have to ingest another bite, I wonder, Are these girls so lazy and desperate for attention that they pry their now-bruised knees off the floor or drag their sorry arses out of the hotel bed to drown us in their cesspools? Are the media so desperate for stories that this is the best they can do? It’s reverse carpe diem.

Sure there are going to be honest-to-god rapists, gropers, porn watchers, exhibitionists, and voyeurs, but those aren’t the guys the chicks are after. These slimy guys likely have no money, nor should they aspire politically.

Sex is natural. Teasing is natural, in America, at least. If I conjured up all the sexual innuendos, gestures, pats, bumps, and jokes throughout my lifetime—on men’s and my initiation—I could spend all day writing and blaming and living in the past. Sex is a vital part of the world, particularly in procreation and advertising. Sex might be better portrayed as a natural dimension of most human beings, like their needs to eat, sleep, and relieve themselves.

I’ve known of women who couldn’t live without food but could live without sex, too many in my opinion, and too many after they’ve landed their trophy husbands, had a couple kids, bought their minimansions, and who only worked if they wanted to. These women come from various religions or none, and because of their self-created, falsified frigidness, their husbands seek at least one of their needs elsewhere.

Is this seeking biblical? Yes, in the Old Testament; no, in the New Testament.

Is this Muslim? Absolutely, in some sects, where men may have numerous wives and concubines and treat them as chattel to use and discard at will.

Is seeking natural? Darn tootin’!

If I had a husband who wouldn’t put out, I’d be shopping too. Frankly, I wouldn’t need to gaze far to find the right fit either. Would I call demonstrating-interest behavior sexual harassment? Heck no. I’d call it a mutually beneficial exchange, as long as no diseases were involved. In younger years I’d say, “How can I work on self-actualization when my basic needs (food, shelter, and sex) aren’t met?” referring to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.[1]
It’s difficult to think clearly without some type of release, which lately has been hiking.

Sexual harassment takes two or, in less healthy maneuvers, more. But if sexual harassment presents as a joke, or “those pants look very nice on you, mm-mm,” or “lovely top you’re wearing today,” even in a certain tone, it doesn’t sound like harassment to me. Flirting, perhaps, but “aggressive pressure or intimidation” as Oxford states harassment, no. And don’t you have to be open to intimidation to actually receive it?

But “those slacks sure must be happy today,” or “if that blouse were cut much lower, the dam would be flowin’ and I’d be there with mouth wide open,” or “gee, those trousers sure sport a nice bulge.” These, in my mind, cross the aggressive border.

But often a person’s words aren’t as consequential as the listener’s feelings about the person saying them. If she likes the guy, his words might be taken lightly, even if off color. But if she views the speaker as repulsive, you can bet the guy is naked in the political arena with a pack of starving lions. We also need to factor in the listener’s perception. If a gal had been raped or sexually abused, any bodily comment or gesture might be perceived as harassment.

Feelings change over time, and perhaps the guy once liked becomes, 10 years later, a flirt, a lech, or a sexual harasser, the subject of an inquiry and media attention. Open the financial faucet and give her six figures and 15 minutes of fame. Once her intimations are public and people have mucked it into a diarrheal slurry, who really gives a crap? What does she really want? Another line on her résumé? Think about it. What is really behind the accusations? Does anyone really want to hear about the Polish blow-job girl on former President Clinton? Not me.

Maybe I got the Herman Cain story all wrong because I turned it off so quickly, but I’m guessing the people bringing forth vomitous detritus feel good today but will question their motives in later years. I know people who drag others down in a masturbatory attempt to make themselves feel more important. It has never worked for the betterment of the world. I doubt it ever will.

[1] An interpretation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs from
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Getting Religion

I am a sinner and my girlfriend is parting company with her mate of 26 years, so it is as good a time as any to get religion.

As with most men, her husband preferred spending an hour at a home-improvement store rather than at church, and as with most sinners, I preferred hanging out with other sinners to assure myself I wasn’t alone. For me that meant going to a bar or to church, and on Sunday mornings, well, going to a bar seemed very Irish and I’m French, preferring wine or a less fermented variety.

My girlfriend, Anita, got a head start church searching and ventured solo the week before. Though she was not impressed with the church’s misplaced and alternative political viewpoint, she had an overall good feeling about the place.

By next Sunday when I jumped on board, we’d decided to wade into nearby fellowship waters. Our goal was to stay in our area of the city, as well as to find a small church in which we felt community and where leadership provided guidance for good living, upheld positive values, and maintained cohesiveness within the congregation.

When we arrived for the 10:45 service, there wasn’t a car in the huge parking lot. This I took as a sign. Church hadn’t been a part of my life since my love and I split in 2006. Maybe, I thought, God had different plans for me, like communing at an Irish pub, though I’d probably have to move to Chicago to find an open bar on a Sunday morning. The sign on the church’s door read: Join us for our annual Labor Day picnic in Bear Creek Park.

Because we were all dressed up and needed somewhere to go, I exclaimed, “Let’s go to my old church!”

We arrived at Calvary after the other thousand congregants had and parked a distance from the new structure. In this new building that had risen since the fires of my relationship hell, ever more people needing the love and dynamism of Pastor Al swarmed to hear him preach. He makes people’s hands, voices, and hair rise. I love this guy. And I like that the congregation isn’t dominantly white. Yes, Pastor Al can put the fear of God into a soul, and my friend said she was one of them.

The Sunday next, we waded back into nearby fellowship waters. This time, September 11, the parking lot was full, as was the sanctuary with first-service attendees. Arriving early is my modus operandi, whether to a party or church. That way I can observe those coming in and, in this case, coming out. It’s education. As we walked out the door after the unchurchlike service, we glanced at each other knowingly. Next?

My neighbors for years encouraged me to attend a vibrant, open-minded downtown church. Though both neighbors were members of other downtown churches, they knew my spirited nature. Three times I had walked this church’s labyrinth, a structure indicating the church’s deeper walk with the mysterious. On September 18, Anita and I thoroughly enjoyed the Congregational church, their engaging, approachable pastor, and their music, particularly the handbell choir. Still fanning embers of tradition, such as singing from hymnals and having a choir, their members seemed very involved in contributing their time and talents to the communities, microcosmically and macrocosmically. Anita and I both felt it was a viable contender in our quest.

The following Sunday we headed north a few blocks to an extremely unprejudiced, unbiased, nondiscriminatory, liberal church.

The following Sunday, the first in November, the sisters took tradition a step further and visited a Methodist church. Anita’s neighbor joined us on this expedition because she was, in fact all of us were, raised with Midwest Methodist teachings. Time stood still in this space. The congregation was primarily white of hair, limited of hearing, and slow in communicating, except for a boy who slickly grabbed a plastic container of communion juice and downed it on his way to Sunday school. That’s the spirit! This kid I could relate to. In his wit, the pastor assured us, our communion time would also come.

Throughout our grand adventure, I learned that some churches say A-men and others say Ah-men. Nothing about women. They all say the Lord’s Prayer too, with variations on sins, trespasses, and transgressions. Why they all pointed their fingers at me I’ll never know.
Other neighbors are members of the Episcopal church, or the Western branch of the Church of England. I’d only been to this church a couple of times for a wedding, maybe a funeral—same thing, so I looked it up in my iBook’s Oxford dictionary. “Church of England: the English branch of the Western Christian Church, which combines Catholic and Protestant traditions, rejects the pope's authority, and has the monarch as its titular head.”

Rejecting the pope’s authority sounded good, and I love monarchs, even planted milkweed to attract them, but what’s this about a titular head?!

Neither Anita nor I had any proclivity to figuring out when Catholics sit, stand, kneel, or fall prostate, or is that prostrate, on the marble, yet this Episcopal church fell very close to Catholic ground. The people were the most welcoming, gracious, and all sang like the Vienna Boys’ Choir, even the choir itself, singing from the heavens behind us.

By this time we realized that all churches these days have Communion on the first Sunday of each month. Each serves its version of bread and wine, but this was the second Sunday of the month and the priest was wiping the cup. I turned around and asked the kind, educated man behind us if Communion is a weekly event, and he replied, “You can have Communion here three times a day.” Great!

As we were leaving the chapel’s beautiful property, vast and elaborate as it is, we averted our attention onward. My friend and neighbor had invited us to attend an evening service at her huge Presbyterian church, so Anita and I prepared to accept. We weighed our options: try a Lutheran church if one exists in Colorado Springs, look online for any small Bible-based churches nearby, or go to the first one she visited, where I’d only been for a wedding. And that is what we did.

Three gals, Anita, my neighbor across the street, and I were enveloped by handbell music when we walked into the sanctuary. In a gentle, flowing service, I felt peace, acceptance, and the presence of real love. The pastor talked about forgiveness in a way I’d never heard, wrapping his talk eloquently around Joseph’s story, using integral parts as meat and leaving some details for dessert. Lovely.

Had I been healthy, I would have been there with my friends the following Sunday, but I shall be there the next—and likely the one hereafter. Amen.

African sky © 2002 Bob Groat

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Between My Ears

Life is surreal. Throughout my life I’ve danced atop a fine thread, dipping my toes into dreaming reality then wakeful reality without a seam. I wonder if I’ve said or done something out loud and should pardon myself or if I’ve really had the experiences I have. Waking hours ebb and flow into alpha, theta, even delta, then back to beta, maybe because I’ve not been blessed with consistent spells of uninterrupted sleep, maybe because life is a dream.

To feel truly alive, alert, and awake, I hike—swiftly.
It’s my way of reducing the fat between my ears. After relocating to the Springs in January 1985, I would head toward the mountains Saturdays and Sundays. In 1990 we built a house in the mountain to provide no-drive-required trail access, and in semiretirement, I’ve walked the earth in all types of weather, breathing deeply and smiling, almost daily for 11 years. Hiking is therapy. Sanity. Cleansing. Sometimes social, usually solitary, full of flora and fauna, and today it was worth $100 plus compliments.

One week ago, Tuesday, I had a follow-up biopsy, 13 months after having a hole chiseled out of my head. The surgeon had sought to release my most secret, creative thoughts and unleash their vast potential, but all he found was cancer.* Morpheaform basal cell carcinoma isn’t a typical skin cancer. It can morph into organ, muscle, and bone. Months after surgery and sporting a lovely white gash on my forehead, a large bony bump grew below the scar—an unsightly, painful reminder of mid-September 2010.

Fearing the bump was more of the dreaded C word, I visited Dr. Sniezek again. He is my favorite doctor, despite his digging tendencies. I like him because he quickly and accurately responds to my rapid-fire questions. He’s intelligent, honest, and fun. By 10:30 on appointment day, eight patients sat comfortably around his waiting room zoning out on Halcyon and donning bulging, white gauze wraps, primarily on their faces. When it was my turn, he was 99.9 percent certain my bony growth was not cancer, even though I told him I’d been losing hair like a retriever for a month. But his proclivity to not sending a patient out of a room without a bandage led to a biopsy, just to eliminate the 0.1 percent worry variable. The sweet receptionist, with whom I have a great rapport, could barely look at me when I came out to pay my debt. Ugh. Results were to be available in two to three days, so Friday was the latest. Got home. Hiked. Rested.

I pushed my sorry self outdoors Wednesday before book club. We’re reading Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth about being fully conscious. Upon arrival, I became fully conscious that our host was very sick with a cold, coughing into her hand, blowing her nose and not immediately washing. One of her viruses got away from her and wiggled into my weak, submissive nasal passage. I felt its tingle. You know the feeling.

Thursday I was worried, depressed, and I failed miserably on my daily home repair job: moving two door lock strike plates needed to lock the front door of this constantly shifting house. I save a lot of money doing work myself, but I wonder how much of my work will have to be redone. No word from doc’s office, no person answering the phone, no ultrahigh vacuum for virus removal in an unsealed system. At my spiritual, consciousness meeting Thursday eve, friends bathed me in white light and healing. Everyone knew I was okay when I drowned in love.

By Friday, day three, I’d heard nothing. Hiking didn’t alleviate my fear, and resistance wavered. My anxiety level went from six to 10 on a five-point scale. Luckily my Friday friend came over and saved the day with his always-unconditionally loving presence and leaving a message with the doc’s office.

I later stepped out of phone range for a half hour when, of course, the nurse left a 3:59 p.m. message for me to call her at my earliest convenience. She gave no word on the results, even though I had granted permission to leave intimate, vital confidentialities on my machine. Just call, she said. At 4:23 p.m. I returned her call and found she was gone—till Monday. Fortunately a new gal informed me that my forehead nub was the start of a horny protuberance and soon I’d morph into a mythical animal.

Or maybe it was scar tissue. At that point I didn’t know if I was relieved or ticked off that I’d been left hanging.

By Saturday, I had my conscious friend’s cold, a sore throat, drippy nose, and 12 pounds of fat between my ears from four days of stress, 10 of which still lingered after running three miles on the trail. Not wanting to bless my Sunday friends with a virus, I opted out of church, hit the trail, and missed a great music program.

Monday arrived and I had a plan. I decided to advertise for a roommate to draw income and cancel my health insurance to save $200 monthly. First, errands. I used a car wash coupon my girlfriend gave me, then my shiny, dripping car and I headed toward the recycled-home-supplies store. It was closed on Mondays, so we trucked northward toward the grocery. A block farther, in front of office space I used to rent with Dennis, my friend and work mate of 22 years, a grated trailer disengaged from its fork, likely due to carelessness on the installer’s part, and bounced around two lanes of traffic and a sidewalk before coming to a halt. I was the first one behind the guy’s white truck, shocked. I drive about 2,000 miles per year and, fortunately, maintain supervigilance on these nightmarish streets.

In the grocery store parking lot, there was Dennis. Before I could tell him what happened, he announced that he had heart bypass surgery a month ago. When the doctor told him he had blockage and would immediately go into surgery, Dennis said it was surreal, like he was in a dream, a very bad dream. This is the same Dennis who for decades has biked 25 to 30 miles a day. Tears flowed from my eyes following our long conversation. What was God telling me?

Safely back home and groceries put away, I changed into shorts and sprinted out the door with Shiloh the Lab. What a relief it was to be outside, not contained in a two-ton shell. I said hi to a neighbor boy (he’s 46, six years my junior), who said I looked great. “Pardon?” I asked, so I could hear him say it again. I gratefully thanked him, touching my heart, and briskly strode up the street.

Twenty feet later, I saw a waterskiing partner and friend working on a neighbor’s house. “Hi, Tom!” I called.

“Hey!” he said. “You look great.”

Unreal. Life can be a dream, a sweet dream when you most need it. (Maybe hiking is all the insurance, ah, assurance I need ; )


* See http://auntieeartha.blogspot.com/2010/10/c-word.html

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Autumnal Changes

As autumn has arrived with crisp, cool days and colder nights, I’ve observed the shortening of our front porch rug. First a few threads of its yarn fringe seemed to be falling off the rug’s body, attributed to rain and windy weather, I surmised. The fringe, however, disappeared geometrically as the nights grew longer. By yesterday, a side of the rug had disintegrated too.

Yes, what used to look like one gal’s front rug has taken on a new life that probably looks very much like an ambitious squirrel’s living room.

Monday, September 19, 2011

In the Dark

I suck in a quick, sharp breath, waking suddenly from a noise outside my dream. My eyes pop open and my brain becomes alert as I start thinking, analyzing, wondering if I’d simply recalled a sound from the past that presented itself in my dream, yet I know that a person draws noises into dreams from present sounds.

Breathless and panicked, my mind jumps back a minute. It sounded like a creaking door. Which doors creak when moved? Slowly, silently, I raise my head from the pillow, exposing my other ear to the air. Petrified and alone, I wish my heart wouldn’t pound so loudly. The guy in my house will hear it and find me.

I finally muster enough courage to glance up at the clock. It’s 1:47 a.m. Four hours till dawn when I can see without switching on a light. My mouth is dry, and I have to pee. Do prowlers let you use the bathroom before they attack? After five minutes, only the memory of a noise remains in my mind and no others have taken its place. What sounded so close and clear is muffled, farther away, nonexistent.

Quietly, gently, I push myself away from the sheets, small flashlight in hand, and head for the bathroom. Playing it safe and taking the risk of wetting the floor, I grab my heavy Mag-Lite, hold my bladder, and case the upper level. The guy in my house could be waiting for the sound of trickling water and pounce when he hears the flush. Of course it’s a guy. Nighttime intruders are always guys—bad guys.

The coast is clear on the upper level, and Shiloh isn’t barking a warning downstairs. I feel relieved—well slightly, after all, it’s still dark—and head back to my scary, corner bedroom.

Strange sounds and thoughts live in the murky swamplands of a dark mind at two in the morning. Noises inside a head can be worse than those outside of it. Eerie nighttime creaks and groans bring chills, goose bumps, and make me pray for light. The thought of every bad thing that has ever happened and will happen, every scary tale or movie, especially when based on a true story, invades a normal, optimistic mind that’s now choking for oxygen as it lies comatose northward from my barely moving chest.

Realizing by this time that sleep and my brain won’t be making love, I continue my chilly, damp labyrinth walk alone. As high-pitched tinnitus waves ebb and flow, ambient sounds amplify and subside.
I recall a psychic, aura-seeing minister at my monthly meeting who asked me who the three figures in my music room were. He described the spirits as his wife added details. I felt, shall I say, uneasy for months, so upon awakening nights, I found it a better choice to keep my eyes closed rather than look at who might be watching me.

When I used to sleep with Satan, he’d be drunk on Jack Daniels and breathe his snoring breath on me throughout the night, and other times he’d think I was sleeping and whisper demonic names and evil things toward me—words I would never say out loud and try never to think. Ungodliness abounds in his fearful mind.

Silence clears the air. During the day, silence is a treasure far away from my home. In darkness, most of the camouflage of daytime noise is stripped as bare as I feel. Every creak, crack, and thump screams its sinister intent. Aches and pains grow uncontrollably, from knowing I worked too long in the yard to wondering if I’m dying of cancer. Incomplete projects morph into nefarious physical forms. Inner tumult from worry about money, kids, home repair, and relationships are all exacerbated while another part of my mind begs for stillness, tranquility, restoration, peace.

Relationship noise can be the worst. Like entering a dungeon, heavy iron gates slam behind me as I enter my room. Every word spoken between me and the other person is reinterpreted a hundred ways, each worse than the last. I see every twist of body language, feel desperate, smell my dank isolation. I know the other person hears my thoughts. He’s probably thinking the same thing under sweet, warm covers, smiling.

Strangely, a glow touches my eyelids. I realize I slept from 4:30 till 6:30.

And then, grrrrr-owl. What the… I realize, the freaky sound that awakened me at 1:47 was only my gut.

Guts. The only thing I lacked all night.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Contagious Painting

I caught something from my friend Anita, but I figure it’s nothing a few good bottles of Malbec can’t knock out of me. Not only did symptoms begin today, but I got the four-colored strain. And to think I’ve strived to stay so sane all these years.

Today I painted, the worst chore I can imagine. I actually opened four containers of paint at separate times throughout the day and appropriately applied their contents. I’d rather clean a toilet than paint, but since I’m not swimming in money, I tend to be a handyman, attempting projects I have no ability to be doing. But being po’ means you try stuff that those of mo’ means don’t have to unless they want.

My friend Anita is a paint precisionist. I’ll have to make her new business cards with a new title. (It currently just reads Wonderful Human Being and See Pee Accountant.) In painting her home, she has to have the tint or shade just so. And if it’s a bit off, which is often the case, she has no fear. This girl will leap onto a ladder twice her size, hold a roller twice her arm’s size, and gobble up almost as much paint as I do wine. But it’s not a contest.

So today my friend Norm was going to come over and help me paint the bottom half of my home’s rear—kind of like giving the house new panties. Well, ol’ Mother Nature offered us some much-needed moisture, so Norm didn’t come over, and as we were all praising the Lord and licking the grass, ol’ Auntie cracked open a tall one.

First, a can of warm something, like tan, the color of my kitchen, foyer, and hallway.

No wait. First, I must tell you how frightening it is for me to begin painting. In fact, last night I lay awake from 2 a.m. till 4 a.m. (normal) wondering why I am so scared of painting, and here’s what I came up with. When I was 17, I painted Nana’s house, a very large house. Aside from some brick, she wanted the color green, with white trim. The white was standard white; the green, well, right now I’d call it putrid green, because on the final day, as I listened to the Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz,” 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love,” and Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight,” I was reaching the pinnacle of the white trim, the crest, the tippy-top.

Ka-chunk-ka-splash! The damn white paint fell off my ladder and onto the slimy, bird-poop, I-don’t-give-a-shit-if-it is-environmentally green main color of the house. If I hadn’t sworn until that point, I certainly developed a liking to it that day. I was exhausted, in pain, frustrated, and really, really mad.

That is one reason why I hate painting.

The other is less dramatic. In 1990 I hired maids to clean the home Mr. Ex and I built, ’cause it was big and I was working from 40 to 65 hours per week, sometimes out of state and country. Every two weeks after the maids’ visit, I would have to drag out the paint can and touch up all the vacuum cleaner cord’s black marks on every smooth, hand-troweled corner of this big house. And I paid those people! And I fired them.

So I hate painting. Plus there’s the prep and cleanup, which stand on their own as being teenage-girl difficult.

But today I smoked a little sage. Actually I prayer-cleansed the home last night using salt and sage—it just smelled as though I’d smoked it. So I was primed. A little terra cotta touch up here, a little pinkish brown touch up there, and the Wall. I decided to take whatever color I already owned and brush it on a brick wall in my soon-to-be library. Just to get an idea, I artistically brushed strokes of terra cotta (after touching up my daughter’s wall) on the brick. I’ll admit, it looked cool. I was New York bound, or at least Santa Fe.
Then I remembered: I’m not that cool. So I grabbed the can of a soothing light brown and painted the brick. It took three point five hours, one huge helping of Chinese leftovers, and two cups of something white my sweetheart bought for me. But it looks great! Even Shiloh likes it.
So here it is, 8:20 p.m., and I feel good about wagging a brush at a wall.

And tomorrow? My home’s panties and afternoon delight.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gates, Girlfriends, and Nature

What an exciting few days ending with a somber canceling of a date with Angie and a simultaneous message to my client, “Microsoft, oh, Microsoft, it’s a good thing Bill Gates started a foundation, or I'd be really upset with him.” Why does Word have to be a necessary evil? Cannot all their social-disease-like bugs be vanquished, and can they not cease their busybody, ADHD upsets, aka upgrades? What a misnomer upgrade is for them.

I might be a geek, but is a person’s ingenuity continually required when using a single piece of software? ’Twould be cool to use something for a spell without a glitch. Que será, será. Let’s start with some fun.

Friday I escorted my down-in-the-dumps neighbor to my favorite towny pub, Johnny’s. Johnny Nolan is a guy who’s been serving me since 1989 at the Ritz. Though Rebecca had never been to Johnny’s, she knowingly greeted a fellow parent, whose child attended the same school as my now-social, maybe-not-so-shy-after-all girlfriend’s daughter. I then introduced her to a lady whom she’d seen walking her dogs. We were on a roll. The iced tea flowed and so did water from the heavens.

Wild ’n’ fun was the remainder of the eve, when alas! Saturday greeted me six hours later with slime. Good thing for two carpet shampooers, since dog puke was what I saw. Yippee, I thought, this is why God sent me to Earth, so I can clean up others’ messes. Sometimes I wonder.

During my morning therapy session, my daily check-in with nature, the reality that keeps me sane (my hike), I talked with my galfriend in Tacoma. This friend of 26 years went to high school with sculptor Dale Chihuly, famed glass blower (vs. some gas blowers I know). Quite a renowned artist herself, Nola vindicated me through our conversation about recent events that had left me underwhelmed. She reminded me of the hardworking, responsibility-taking, always-there human being I am, which, in this time of amnesia, was quite helpful and restorative, as justice ought to be.

After our conversation, I’d felt as if I’d dropped a 10-pound shit and was ready to start taking sustenance again. That afternoon after having read and listened to two books, I made a vibrant, colorful mahimahi dinner with pineapple, red pepper, and mango, intuitively appropriate for my next caller—from Miami.

Again, the heavens opened and cleansed the parched earth with heavy rains.
My sister, Cherri, rang from Florida, where the nightlife is hot, as are the Brazilians, Venezuelans, Dominican Republicans, and she. Known in Breckenridge for her unusual hats and bare feet, this girl needs to be rediscovered, and not just as the creative artist she is.

Comfortable in her own dark skin, you have to wonder why Oprah never found Cherri and her deep, warm voice speaking deeper, warmer words—unless she’s taking on a preacher’s role. Though we didn’t have a sleepover night when we’d fall asleep talking, we ended the night in peace, together.

Sunday’s puke free, sunny day refreshingly opened its arms. I developed a new set of greeting cards then set off on my explore. A hungry female coyote and red-tailed hawk being bullied by smaller species were my entertainment, less formidable than what I will see Wednesday morning.

My former high-tech-company colleague soon rang to wish me a happy belated and to impart news of her moving back to Colorado to share space with her daughter and grandson. I recalled little Stephanie groaning and whining as we scaled to the top of Mount Rosa 20 years ago.
I recalled Geri, our personnel manager, watching me vomit when I was pregnant, thinking I was dying of divorce. Friends. Good times and others, and always transitions.

After we ended our conversation, lightning shared time and space with heavy thunderous clouds drenching the receptive ground with water. At 10 p.m. a great horned owl hooted me to sleep from the southwest corner of my property. Ahh, nature.

A few hours after the robin pooped on me Monday morning, saintly Anita came over to help hem my new drapes—day two of her devoting life and talent to me. Long-time friend Joe had given me these enormous, new, burgundy window coverings after the Air Force Academy rejected them. Finally getting some of my 401(k) rollover tax dollars back. Thank you!

That eve, no storm, no owl, but a kind neighbor with a cold beer. Ahh, life.

Tuesday brought updates from Kelly in Wisconsin, Patrice in Virginia (soon to be Montana), and Bob, my old hiking bud. For the first time in 19 years, my life seemed normal in comparison. At 11 p.m. Thor reacquainted himself to those below in a fury. Torrential rain, lightning, and thunder pummeled those things earthbound. The household canine, whom I bought for protection and companionship, became a frightened lap dog and kept me awake all night bumping my bed. Try to move a 100-pound, growling Lab when he’s glued to the carpet. Just try.

Wednesday before therapy, my iBook powered itself off. I was as scared as Shiloh was last night but with no one to rescue me, as usual. The geek in me troubleshot four times until I hit the target, of course, then excused myself for a hike.

Halfway across large, open lower Bear Creek Park, I saw a juvenile cougar sprint across my path. In the two decades that I’ve hiked this vicinity, I’ve never seen, nor have I wanted to see, a mountain lion. I stopped, did an about-face, and walked, watching behind me for quite a stretch.

And when I finally reached home, I found that the only thunder was, well, think “scared ——less.”

Nola: nola.nobullart.com, nola.sumi.org, pacificgalleryartists.org/Tresslar.htm

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Poop

Shiloh’s a poop-on-demand dog. Granted, after seven and a half years of living with him, I know his schedule. But if I’m leaving the house for a few hours and want him to feel relieved, he senses some urgency and will produce the desired results at an alternate time.

Monday morning Shiloh went out at 6:30 before his breakfast—a meal that looks the same as his dinner, raw or canned meat with a dry food chaser. In recent weeks, an overprotective doe with a freshly birthed fawn has kicked, chased, and harassed Shiloh even when I position myself between the two, so Shiloh hasn’t been relaxed enough on his first trip out to muster number two. Although we haven’t seen the doe in a week, Shiloh’s recall is pretty good, and this morning he only wet the ground and returned for rations.

By 9:30 I figured all systems would be go, so I said, “Shiloh, do you have to go poopy?” He knows the word, so by my inciting his memory, I hoped his venture outside and back into the house would be a short one.

After we stepped onto the back patio, Shiloh conducted his normal surveillance to ensure he wouldn’t be in the midst of a personal moment when another creature interrupted his concentration. Once he determined the deck was clear, he moved forward.

While he sniffed every sprig of green, I tossed leftover cat food to the other side of the fence into my back forty. “Shiloh, go poopy,” I reminded him twice, pitching my request as if to a higher being. “Good dog,” I encouraged hopefully.

As if some cruel answer to prayer, I felt two dollops fall from the heavens onto my fresh, clean white robe. I looked skyward and saw a happily relieved robin swinging on the wire overhead. With a smile and a wink, he flew away in a hurry.

From now on, I’m going to think about the old adage and consider the consequences of my request when I’m in nature’s territory, because the fulfillment of my wish might come from a different angle than expected.

And as for looking toward the heavens and asking for a miracle, next time I’ll take an umbrella.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gravity

The New Oxford American dictionary on my iBook defines gravity as “the force that attracts a body toward the center of the earth, or toward any other physical body having mass,” or maybe just parts of a body. I’m still trying to figure out how gravity found my negative-AAA breasts, which by now could be called belly nipples.

I recently turned 52—yes, finally playing with a full deck—and discovered that, though somewhat slender, I’ve not been able to hide from gravity. For my birthday, I drove to Breckenridge, Colorado, in an attempt to defy gravity by ascending one mile in elevation, but climbing those peaks every morning still made me feel gravity’s embrace, particularly when I collapsed under the ski lift. My friend helped me up and remarked how I resembled a smashed bug on a windshield.
“You can’t escape me,” I heard Father Gravity murmur after John brushed the dirt from my negative-AAAs.

“Well, try this on, you ol’ FG,” I shook my fist at the ground. “I might be old, but I can reverse your bulge-inducing effects by standing on my hands.”

Standing on my hands. It all began during my grade-school years in a Montevideo, Minnesota, summertime. While my parents were at work, I watched Lunch with Casey, a kid’s variety program on WTCN-TV based in the Twin Cities. Casey Jones was a railroad engineer and Roundhouse Rodney acted as his sidekick.

A former Ice Capades skater, Roundhouse would occasionally walk around the set on his hands. I was impressed with his balance and decided to give it a go. I was hooked. From that time on, I could rarely just watch TV. I stood on my hands, did the splits, reverse-curved my spine to make a bridge, did front and back walkovers, and exercised whenever the tube was making noise. If I were to watch TV today, I would probably fall back into the same habit.

Fly forward 10 years and two cities later. I was living in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and still going to university. Rich, a college friend from Chicago, had graduated and moved to a Minneapolis suburb. He frequently invited me to visit on weekends, so in sunny or snowy weather, I’d tootle in my yellow-orange geometric form (Opel station wagon) two hours west.

One day while Rich was in the bathroom, I found a wide, open space in his apartment to secretly drop my hands onto the floor and sling my fuzzy-black-socked feet up to rest against the wall. A while later after he emerged from the loo, Rich glanced up at his wall and said, “What is that?!”

“What?” I asked.

“Look at these black marks on my clean, white wall!” Voiced raised, he appeared to be turning red.

Being insecure, and at this point, scared, I sheepishly looked up into his eyes and said, “I was standing on my hands,” and when he couldn’t calculate the connection, I hesitantly demonstrated.

Rich exhaled an exasperated sigh and handed me a lint remover, so I could pull sock fragments from the popcorn-finished wall.

These days I’m more conscientious about where I place my feet, but ol’ Father Gravity is going to have a tough time keeping them down.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mr. Boot

Have you ever been having a lovely time socializing when someone booted you into a tailspin? If so, while you were spiraling downward, did you catch yourself midair and realize that the object sticking out of your behind was actually a soft leather moccasin, so you asked for the other?

At May’s end, we threw a high-school graduation party for my daughter to celebrate the end of an epoch, the beginning of another—for Ivy as well as me. I’d looked forward to this day all Ivy’s life. We were blessed with good food, wonderful friends, an ex-husband, and Mr. Boot.

Mr. Boot is of failing health and aiming at gene therapy for his fix. A cigarette smoker since about 1961 and recent cigarillo puffer, his congestive heart failure and peripheral artery disease has steadily worsened. In years past, his lying-embedded-in-soft-skin Device that Injects a Cardio Kick (lessDICK) has on three different occasions shocked him as he fell toward the asphalt during tennis matches, scaring other players into the hospital.

For decades Mr. Boot has also enjoyed pot, made easier these days via marijuana’s legal, more lethal form that turns a cough into a lung-reversal procedure. But a deep inhale after lung expulsion draws them back into the chest cavity. (Another friend who smokes legal MMJ promised me he would quit after I mentioned his painful cough.)

So back to Mr. Boot. He seemed to be having a quiet, conversational time at the party talking with my ex, his former classmate, and meeting others. Eventually, though, I saw him move into the corner of the sofa, perhaps hoping he’d slip into the cracks. Soon after when I left the room, Mr. Boot slipped out of the house without a cough.

Upon my return and seeing neither him nor his car, I wondered if his premature ejection meant he had fallen ill—or worse. He could be going to play tennis. Researching, I didn’t find him between the sofa cushions, and his car hadn’t careened into the bush. My daughter said she saw him go outside to have a cigarette.

I immediately rang his number. No answer. I left a message for him to call me.

For four days, no call. No announcements in the obituaries. No word from his relatives. Had he really become debilitated or was he playing dead again? A couple weeks prior, he’d said, “Your number didn’t register on my iPhone.”

The more I stayed awake nights contemplating his vanishing act, the more memories I choked up, never swallowing again. In the 13 years of our acquaintance, he wouldn’t tell his longer-term galfriend that he spent time with me on Friday nights. I was treated like the paramour—by a single man. He’d toss chewed gum and lit cigarette butts out his car window. He could only perform on his guitar.

So on that fourth day I awakened rested, ready to tackle a procrastinated project: fixing my very large window blinds. This five-hour task was in the category of performing one’s own surgery without anesthesia, so when a friend of 25 years called to ask if I’d like to stroll around the Broadmoor Lake, I said yes, as long as he’d help me snap the blinds into place.

Within an hour, I was seeking solace, opening my guts to Ed about Mr. Boot. “He’s got you where he wants you,” Ed stated matter-of-factly.

“Where’s that?” I asked.

“He’s got you thinking about him. He’s got your attention,” without actually having to talk, I thought.

I realized that playing dead seemed most viable as Boot’s game of choice. He was really a zombie (pictured below). And just as Ed and I sat down in the hot sun to enjoy a cold brew, the clouds opened and a hailstorm of beeps pummeled my mobile phone—nine texts, six calls, plus two more at home, I later counted.


The departed’s feeble fingers finally pushed, pressed, and punished. Suddenly I became the only person Mr. Zombie wanted to talk to, and just when I was enjoying his silence. Why is it when someone wants to talk, he expects you to be ready and willing?

“Good beer! Refreshing. Lovely view.” I thanked Ed for being nonjudgmental through 25 years of friendship and my two marriages—one legal, one lethal.

At five o’clock we headed home, where Ed checkmated me three times. I steered him where I could win, outside into my backyard’s silence. Eyes closed, relaxed, I sensed a peeping presence. As I opened my eyes, there stood Mr. Zombie back from the dead, gazing accusingly, if not defeated in a small, weak way.

He was ready to talk but obviously not to listen. He coughed.

After realizing that the friend sitting with me was alive, Zombie man spewed pieces of his hardened heart toward me, missing every time, then he stomped to the front of my house and happened upon my daughter returning home. Blessed with a receptive audience, Zombie retched chunks of vile about all of my qualities from his dead perspective. She, in her teenage emotional tumult, swallowed his entire vomitous mass.

Feeling empowered because Zombie man had become her hate buddy and they shared a common enemy, she moved into her dad’s house and I haven’t seen her since.

Every opening creates space for something to take its place, hopefully something better. I love my daughter more than anyone and have given her 19 years of education, support, safety, love, and my life. She, I miss.

Filling the space left empty are focus, stability, peace, and people I’ve not seen nor really known well in my 26 Colorado years. I’m growing, sewing, reading, writing, and enjoying an adult life.

The morals of this story:

• If a person sees an imperfection and criticizes you, especially to your children, waste no time and excuse him or her from your presence.

• Enjoy life with those who like you.

God is good. There are plenty of wonderful people to share time and a cold beer with on a hot day. Ahh.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Addiction

An ad popped out from the page: “Addiction Kills.” It scared me, because I developed a habit 11 years ago, and at this point, I’d call it an addiction.

It began slowly and innocuously with a friend in 2000—no strings attached. Just two people, home alone most of the time, and no one else to do it with. He was twice divorced. Me, well, I was flying solo. We both seemed to need it and gently took our first step and then the next. After it was over, indeed, we both felt better, though, if we were to be completely honest, there were times when one or both of us might hurt a little.

“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful,” Mae West said, and my friend and I kept doing it year-round. Even in the depths of winter when it was an effort to get together, we’d be panting and hot when we were through. Though we were reluctant to partake when passing winds were so ferocious they’d almost bowl us over, we ignored the conditions as best we could and stayed on schedule. We were tenacious and aiming for the high.

I’ll admit, there were times when it would drag me down—usually when I hadn’t slept well, which made me emotionally and physically exhausted, but eventually it got to a point when I would feel high just thinking about it.

Then my friend had a stroke—not because of our activity, but a complication three days after his appendectomy. Since then, we’ve done it together only once because it wore him out.

So I started doing it alone. Performing solo is a completely different movement, but I’ve come to like it better. It’s much faster and less time consuming than waiting for my buddy to come.

Three months after his stroke, I had my own surgery, for cancer. Only three weeks afterward, I felt more energy coursing through my mind, body, and spirit. I gained momentum and increased my speed. Now I run three miles a day rather than just hike.

Does addiction kill? I hope not, but if it does, what a great way to go.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dawn’s Thongs

When I was growing up, a thong was one of two sandals I wore to protect my feet. They weren’t very comfortable and sometimes caused blisters where the narrow strip of rubber rubbed between my toes.

Things change, however, and from what I’ve seen, today’s thongs don’t protect much of anything, but they certainly look as if they could cause one heck of a blister. Each is about five square inches of fabric strapped 35 inches northward from the foot and covers nothing but an area a person doesn’t shave unless that person likes whiskers in new, exciting places.

Today’s thong seems more of a torture device for hanging a cat from a ceiling fan than an article of clothing.


(Neither cat was up for stunt duty, so they offered up the bear for sacrifice.)
Given a good meal of rice and beans, a person wearing a thong the next day could turn the article into a musical instrument—a sound akin to blowing a blade of grass stretched between two thumbs.

My daughter calls the threadlike undies “butt floss,” which makes me think twice each night before I draw the glossy white string toward my mouth—not the undies. And appropriate to their sound in motion, she calls the foot protectors “flip-flops.”

To her, butt floss is comfortable and sexy. Comfortable to me is a sundress with no panties, and sexy is a silk gown wrapping a ready body. Also sexy are two of my friends, Dawn and Mary. Mary is 17 years older than I, but has worn undie thongs for at least 15 years.

“Ew!” I said when she slipped into the itty-bitty thingie. “How can you stand that thing?”

“Ever tried one?” she sprang back at me.

Guess it’s like flan or crème brûlée: Just because each dessert looks like coagulated pus, doesn’t mean it tastes like it (even though it does, only a bit sweeter). And given a thong’s seating location, I suspect its appearance gives it away: It can’t be comfortable.

Well, Dawn came to visit me the other night for a sleepover. We hadn’t seen each other since my birthday last June, so I was downright excited to hear her say, “I’m comin’ your way!” I quickly changed the sheets and ensured the wine cellar was replenished.

When Dawn walked into my foyer, my eyes popped. She looked hot! Her hairstyle transformed her into a teenager, and most of her rear had fallen off. She’s a year older and has five more kids than I, yet Dawn looked like a 35-year-old virgin. If I didn’t love her so much, I‘d have been jealous.

We talked till 1:30 when I murmured, “I’m asleep.” Just like the olden days.

The next day we moved into a busy Tuesday, she on her phone, me on my computer, then she set off for an appointment. When she returned in the afternoon, she opened a bag and said, “Here. These are for you!”

With a quick glance and mouth agape, an “ew!” almost popped out, but I caught it in a gasp and accepted the two slingshots with attitude.

She said, “You’ll love ’em. I sure do!” Dawn’s so brave.

So I washed them, but I still haven’t had the guts or occasion to wear one. Oh, what the heck. Excuse me for a moment.

Hmm, I look like a sumo wrestler in a mawashi. My daughter would call me Muffin Top.

Maybe I didn’t put it on correctly. Oh! There.

Just like the olden days.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Is It Prayer?

Close your eyes and imagine him praying. The room is luxurious, yet simple. Plush latte-colored carpet rests atop thick padding to warm and insulate his sacred place. Woven artwork drapes the walls and matches the robe that wraps his body.

Diffused light glows from recessed, façade windows placed high on the walls, but whether the light is natural or artificial is indiscernible.

As he quietly and reverently speaks his consecrated words, he gently rocks back and forth over his knees on a meditation pillow. His focus is intent. Only an occasional presence and barely audible footsteps are heard outside the room.

A bird flying over the prayerful man’s anointed space chirps and swoops to capture his breakfast fare, then another that he dutifully carries to his brimming nest. Farther away, donkeys haul their burdens down a mountain, and men speak loudly as they travel.

Miles off in the distance through the cool, crisp air, screams can be heard—first that of a woman, then one from a child, followed by silence.

Still farther away bombs can be heard, shaking the earth like a quake. Missiles whistle through the air at lightning speed before making their resounding impact. Groans and cries from old men fill the air like thick smoke.

Thunderous noises envelop vast areas from range to mountain, earth to sky. All that once lived quietly dies. Animals cannot comprehend. Babies are terrified, a feeling that will not leave them in this lifetime—perhaps not the next.

While the holy one prays, he receives the death and destruction for which he asks. For all those who do not follow his beliefs as their own, he will destroy.

But first he will instill fear. Women to fear men. Children to fear their fathers. Former followers to fear rebellion. Christian to fear Muslim.

Fear will separate us, isolate us from each other. It is his hope. When we fear, we are suspicious, we react, we decide poorly, we destroy each other. He hopes we will do the destroying for him, so he won’t have to. He will stay home and have more babies with all his wives, all of whom will be as safe as he will allow.

If I were a Muslim, I would start a peaceful rebellion with all other decent Muslims and work together to cease the insane, destructive behavior of those giving our religion a bad name.

And so it is.


The idea for this story came from listening to Dina Temple-Raston’s story March 10, 2011, at http://www.npr.org/2011/03/10/134402971/muslim-americans-question-scrutiny-at-border

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thoroughly Modern Me (the giveaway!)

It’s February 13, and as promised, I am preparing to honor one of you with the CSN Stores $35 gift certificate code for answering
What is the craziest thing you have ever bought online?

My assistant and I are rating the only five answers on a scale of 1 to 10:
1 being “That’s not at all crazy.”
10 being “That person is a nut case!”

Domestic Diva bought a year’s supply of coconut butter, which we found normal. In fact, we’ve had enough of the stuff in our house to last, gosh, eight years. Honest! We gave her a 1.

Bill H. bought a third copy of a book he’d misplaced. I have him a 6. Not because the purchase was crazy, but because Bill must have been a bit nuts looking for the book. My assistant, on the other hand, gave him a 4, because the action wasn’t crazy. Average, 5.

Pkozuch bought an old telephone switchboard that weighed 400 pounds. Then the dinosaur had to be shipped, so someone had to pay for that. My assistant gave this nut an 8. “Who on earth would use a telephone switchboard? Then who’s going to unload the thing and move it around? Not even a treadmill weighs that much!”

I gave pkozuch a 7. If this object was to become a functional part of life, that’s not crazy but shipping it is. I’d guess shipping cost more than the switchboard itself. How does anyone rationalize that? If the thing wasn’t functional, I go for a 10, but I’m surmising and will stay with my 7. Average, 7.5.

Ashley usually buys clothes. I gave Ashley a 3, because she probably doesn’t need another thing clogging her closet. My assistant wonders why Ashley even responded.

Finally, Shala Darkstone “bought 50 bars of glycerin soap just to get free shipping.” My assistant said that’s a 7—“that’s a lot of soap, but it’s justified.” Since I would do the same thing and I don’t consider myself crazy, I’d go with a 2. Soap in a pair is a great gift placed in a basket on top of a couple of washcloths. Average, 4.5.

That means our winner is pkozuch! Congratulations! I’ll email your code shortly.

We would just like to know the story behind the switchboard—and its buyer, the nut.


I asked our winner to comment on the product she bought online, and here’s the scoop.
“We bought [the switchboard] for $450. Weighing in at 400 pounds, we found that shipping from Connecticut to Wisconsin was going to be $500 to $700. Then a resourceful TSI employee found a company that specialized in shipping computers and electronics.

When we told them it was an old telephone switchboard, it seemed to fall within their usual guidelines. We had to get the seller to haul it up out of their basement, because the trucking firm wouldn’t do that. Once it was in the garage, the trucking firm came and got it and it made the journey from Connecticut to Wisconsin.

We did a little restoration on some wood veneer and got a few new cords for it. If we hooked an incoming phone line to it, there would be some functionality (being able to answer it), although we couldn’t really transfer the call out to an extension.

It is the focal point of my Telephone Museum in our waiting area. Mostly serves as a conversation piece. I have a friend who just got an old phone booth for her birthday. It was an interior phone booth made of mahogany that came from an old hotel. I was excited for her. She told me I was the only person who ‘got it.’ Most of her friends were very puzzled when they asked, ‘Did you want a phone booth?’”

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Do You Live Up to Your Name?

Following a recent event involving a potential client and desperately needed income that didn’t materialize, I emailed an update to several interested friends. One scribed back that the prospect “has just lived up to his last name.”

Clever guy! Why hadn’t I thought of that?

I was still in shock.

My friend’s statement reminded me of a story I’d read in a 1988 USA Weekend about people’s careers coinciding with their last names. “Chiropractors named Bonebrake, doctors named Blood, ministers named Lord, dentists named Smiley and Brush, undertakers named Dye.” For that article, others submitted their names and related professions:

Barker, veterinarian
Burns, fire inspector
Hammer, hardware store owner
Looney, psychiatrist
Sparrowe, ornithologist
Lt. Speedy, state highway patrol
Suing, lawyer
Watts, power company official
Yawn, sleep disorder center manager

Thinking about this led me to draw upon a few friends’ names and their fields of expertise. For my female friends, I used their née names (sounds like a stammer, doesn’t it?), except for one, who said her married name suits her better. Let’s see if any could consider changing profession or name, as I did in ’86.

Surname (definition): former or current occupation [Auntie note]

Byers (dairy or other cattle farmer, one of the earliest recorded surnames): printing-business owner, marathoner, running-footwear specialist [one of my earliest Colorado friends; rather than rearing ruminants, he’s commingled with canines]
Craft (strength, skill): respected, conscious, skilled business owner, no matter which craft he has chosen
Farris (valiant warrior, farrier, blacksmith): she owned a horse, then a veterinary hospital [and valiantly raised three talented children]
Faucett (multicolored, flowery hillside): multitalented artist and spirited, enthusiastic teacher [who’s been one of my best influences for 33 years]
Fisher (fisher): software developer, troubleshooter extraordinaire, BGF, always fishing for solutions
Griffin (definitely a mythical creature): actor, producer, voice talent
Groat (silver coin worth four old pence): Harvard-educated marketeer, school bus driver [worth his weight in gold]
Hackworth (mystery name, first recorded in Devon, whose origin evades genealogists before 1663; probably a habitation name, Haca’s enclosure): landscape architect, business owner, pilot [has the need to escape his enclosure to explore the world]
Hall (one who lived in or near a large house, or hall): piano player, sound engineer, sound studio owner, composer of works for full orchestra, concertos, and chamber ensembles that are played in huge halls
Harloff (strong, brave wolf): U.S. Navy, genius, can do anything, notorious musician—banjo, concertina, fiddle, guitar—sounds like a dirty, ol’ wolf when he does his best Arte Johnson’s Tyrone F. Horneigh [whack!]
Hoffman (farmer): financial services advisor* [tills our fertile globe to grow investments]
Kugizaki (kugi means nail, zaki means point): artist, graphic designer, fine woodworker, cabinet maker [by viewing his new site,** his name hits the nail on the head, ahh, point]
Menza (middle, small stature): refueling, transport, and smaller jet pilot, USAFA Chinese History professor, attorney, writer, overall bright, shortish, fun guy
Mullin (monk, holy man, or if English, miller): musician, Mensa man, inventor, business owner, satellite communications [blessed with intelligence in more fields than a jealous God, but Mullin’s graciously humble]
Phillips (lover of horses): radio station manager, pilot, B-737 CFI, business owner [lover of things that fly, so his horse is a Boeing Pegasus]
Promack (no definitions found that aren’t Apple related, but she has deep meaning to me): dentist, massage therapist, Trager practitioner
Rice (ardour, enthusiastic): teacher, passionate manager of environmental discovery center
Roach (someone who lives by a rocky crag): cinematographer, pilot, sailor
Samolinski (hmm, salmon-shaped boards for strapping on feet and sliding down hills): nearly priest, electrician
Wolfe (cunning, ferocious wolf hunter): woodworking craftsman, ferocious sound engineer [he recently gave up hunting…anything]
Wood (forester, resident of the woods): math professor, systems engineer, symphony-notes writer, arts aficionado, and helper of this writer-editor to find the forest for the trees, to grasp the real issue whilst not overattending to details. How appropriate is that?

I hadn’t considered the prospect’s last name in doing my usual due diligence, but had I blended it with the statement, “My handshake is good,” after saying we didn’t need a written agreement, it might have piqued my mind.

And although my handshake is also good (from milking cows back in Wisconsin), so is my word.

* I will not spell it adviser unless someone pays me to.
** Great site! www.kugidesign.com [happy birthday, DK]

Name definitions came from the 2005 Oxford dictionary on my iBook and the following sites: www.surnamedb.com/Surname, www.ancestry.com

What about Them Packers, eh?

Yippee!! The Packers made it to the Super Bowl for the fifth time (the Steelers for their eighth)!

So Sunday, February 6, I’ll try to figure out how to turn on my old TV, which will probably be like turning on an old guy—just walk past with food and beer and press a button. I expect to see lots of action worth hootin’, hollerin’, and tootin’ for.

I’m an annual football viewer, only at Super Bowl time, and this year the game actually means something to me. I’m a Wisconsinite—born in Wausau, schooled in Eau Claire. Although I lived in Minnesota for seven and a half years in the late sixties to early seventies, the Vikings never elicited any emotion in me. Being a 26-year Coloradan, I’d root for the Broncos over the Vikings. But if the Broncos play the Packers, Green Bay definitely has my support.

While I was on my hike today, I thought, Aside from what Ed taught me a couple of Sundays ago, I know almost nothing about football, downs, defense, or offense. All I know is that a player needs to carry the pigskin across the goal.

From an amateur’s point of view, football appears ridiculous. A herd of huge guys dressed in pads and tights struggle to gain control of an oblong ball that each can easily crush with his hand. Then one guy grabs the ball and runs like hell while the other guys chase him.

So as I hiked, this amateur called her dad in Wisconsin. “So what about them Packers,” I said in my best Wisconsinian when he picked up the phone.

“Hey! Yeah!” I knew we were heading into a good conversation.

After talking about his beloved Vince Lombardi and listing all the old players and their jersey numbers, he filled me in on the rules. The good thing is, he replicated what Ed taught me, so the facts have less of a chance of escaping my skull. At our lesson’s conclusion, he mentioned that learning about football’s defensive strategies and each player’s job are important slices of information too. For another day.

So even though some entrepreneurial guy, Ralph Bruno,* concocted a foam cheesehead that crazy Packers fans wear, I’m not offended. Those folks have balls—something I also have. Mine just need a good pumping.

*http://www.npr.org/2011/02/02/133424492/Cheese-Head-Hat

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hungry for Chess

He left me. The emptiness I feel inside cannot be filled in any other way. I miss the occasional glances across the travertine marble table, the quiet comments, candles brightening the board, tumblers of Glenlivet Scotch.

Utterances such as “Oh no, I didn’t see that,” “Crap!” and “Can I take that back? My hand was only off the piece for a second” enveloping an otherwise peaceful environ added perfectly to the ambience.

Only once did it end in complete frustration, maybe twice. After all, it’s not about winning, it’s how you play the game.

He left me to move back to Delaware to be closer to his daughters. Although he loved Colorado, skiing, kayaking, gardening, and international travel from this centrally located state, he said, “If something happens to me, it makes more sense for me to be in Delaware than for both girls’ families to come here. You know, I’m almost 82.”

So the next thing I knew, we were throwing a love-filled farewell gathering for George and Jeanne. They had lived in Colorado for about 30 years: she, a retired school nurse, he, a navy guy with a PhD in chemistry who had worked until retirement for DuPont. In Telluride, he’d taken to gardening, and lucky for me, he taught me what I know in that department—and how to drink Scotch.

From spring till autumn, I’d garden with George—he in their gardens, me in mine, then his kindness drew him to help me, probably from pity. He could make a dirt pile become a terraced work of art. I’d pop a silk flower atop the pile and call it a day.

On warm summer afternoons, the three of us, which sometimes grew into eight or more, would enjoy happy hour in our back garden by the fire pit. Life couldn’t be better.

But all year round for about 10 years, George and I played chess together on Thursday nights. It is this game, the mental challenge, and his company I long for most. Unlike racquetball, whose competitiveness I quite enjoy, chess acts like fertilizer coursing through and enhancing my neurological pathways. Unlike golf when everyone’s eyes are on me, we closely watch the board, anticipating our challenger’s next move, and our own. And unlike sex, I don’t have to do it alone.
Our between-game conversations flowed with depth and humor, and our equally challenging Ping-Pong matches kept our hearts beating together. I have thanked Jeanne many times for loaning me her husband on Thursday evenings.

Concurrently and until recently, my daughter would challenge me to three games of chess a night, but as texting has become her favorite pastime, chess with her lacks appeal.

So the invitation is out: Join me for chess Thursday or Friday evenings. I might not be the best, but I’m up for a challenge, and maybe even a Scotch.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Television, Tennis Balls, and Kitties

In 1975 I quit watching TV because of something my high-school English teacher, Mr. Schumacher, said. “You girls, you cross your legs and nervously bob a leg up and down. Well, you’re just wasting energy.”

My mind immediately took that statement and nudged it a step further—into the living room. How much time and energy do humans waste doing nothing but staring at the box of movement, delighting in entertainment others have created for those less motivated? Perhaps you see the action of bobbing legs and the inaction of watching TV as unrelated, but you don’t live in my head.

After that English class, and except for occasional fixes of 60 Minutes and Saturday Night Live, I quit watching TV and soon became repulsed by the noise. By college, September 1977, I’d completely quit. Ironically, though, I was on TV as an evening news anchor for the college station, lights shining brightly, accentuating imperfections.

To this day, 35 years later, friends who’ve known me for two to nearly four decades will say, “Have you seen—? Ahh, right, you won’t know this, but on TV…,” and they’ll describe a show that has made an impact on them. Friends don’t mind sharing with me, and they respect my difference without rolling eyes.

Many of my Colorado friends don’t watch the telly, either. There are just too many outdoor, theater, arts, music, sports, literary, and social things to do. And don’t forget the book. God led two of my friends’ families to grant me their libraries after my friends passed, so when it’s cold and blustery outside, a hundred books raise their hands shouting “pick me!”

Of course, movies, tax preparation, and pussy cats cross my mind too. (Yes, it’s that time again to contact my preparer, aka my former.)

Last night before Ivy, 17, and I popped in the movie Pulp Fiction, our two puddy cats were rolling around the floor being fat, furry, and cute. It reminded me of when Ivy, herself, was still a scoop of mashed potatoes—a rolly, squishy, bubbly, babbling little dish. Her dad and I would watch her explore and learn, then pause and fill her diaper. It provided hours of aromatic entertainment.

So I ask, with all the creative things to do with time, who needs TV? And if simply watching a baby, cat, or dog doesn’t provide the needed excitement, try tossing a cat, three tennis balls, and a dryer sheet into the dryer (Ivy’s idea). It’s more fun to watch through a glass door (my two cents).

Just kidding.

It’s just as fun to have a metal door, then watch the cat stumble out after a few turns.
No, not really. Would I do that?

Author’s note: When I came upstairs after shooting the cat in the dryer, I said to Ivy, “That cat is such a sport. He handled the turns in the dryer so well.”

Ivy’s incredulous look said, “You didn’t. Did you?”