Honoring Bob

This past weekend, a whole lot of people gathered to honor and celebrate my brother-in-law‘s life.

I’ve known for decades that Bob was a stellar human being (one of the very best on the planet), but it was still incredible to hear that sentiment expressed over and over again. Every single speaker mentioned the very things that made me love Bob so much: his kindness and lack of judgment, the way he listened so that you felt heard and valued. His generosity and tenacity in his lifelong fight for tenants’ rights and consumer protection. How he used his sense of humor and intellect to punch up, never down. His passion for life and love for his family. His enormous heart.

I laughed and cried throughout the program.

Many comments resonated throughout, but one theme in particular spoke to me: Bob never turned cynical or stopped hoping and believing in a better world.

I felt called-out because this country’s collapse and slide into fascism while the so-called “better party” is in power has made me hugely cynical. I’ve been tempted to give up. But Bob never gave up on justice. He continued fighting for society’s vulnerable and voiceless, up until the very end of his life. If I’m to truly honor Bob’s life,  I must do the same.

I love and miss you so much, Bobaloo. Rest in power, brother.

Sunday Confessional: not this time

It’s good I have photographic proof of flowers that bloomed in my garden over the past two Mays, because they’ll have a hard time showing up this year in my weed and grass-choked beds.

May 2, 2020

For the past month or so, I’ve either had to wear a splint on my left-hand ring finger or tape that finger to the middle finger in order to immobilize it. I strained the tendons badly (at least, that’s what I’m guessing) while trying to rotate our compost tumbler that sits on casters (the tumbler we built in order for me to know how to write a how-to book for young readers)  and so haven’t done any bed clean-up in front this spring. One-handed gardening is above my pay grade.

As we returned from a walk just now, I averted my gaze from our front yard. Poor little perennials, struggling to push through the dead and mess I can’t remove. Zippy has no time or energy for yard work because he’s working hard to finish the van build and the quotes we received from clean-up businesses were very high, so the mess will remain.

Lucky for me, vinca is a hardy little plant.

May 7, 2021

It always finds a way to make its presence known.

Tranquil memories

Despite the scattered evidence of beavers’ handiwork, I recall the tranquility of this spot. We didn’t see any beavers that day, but their lodge is visible where the water comes to a V at the center of this not-great photo.

Uncompahgre National Forest. July 29, 2019

That was a good hike and beautiful day with Zippy and Emma, and I’m grateful for the memories.

Bad news good news

Earlier this week, I wore my Marmot raincoat while walking in the rain and by the time I got home, my shirt collar was soaked. Turns out the inner coating is deteriorating. Bad news.

Good news: Marmot has a solid warranty policy.

Bad news: despite my obsessive habit of keeping ALL receipts (which came in handy several years ago when the tent we purchased from REI in the early 90s had a broken zipper and REI fixed it at no cost), I have no record of the Marmot raincoat purchase. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Not on paper or electronically.

Good(ish) news: I’ve narrowed down the year of purchase by locating a photo of me wearing said raincoat while camping on June 11, 2019. And while that photo was low-quality, this one was taken at the same time:

State Forest State Park. June 11, 2019.  (Photo by Zippy)

I may or may not get my raincoat replaced but, in the meanwhile, can gaze at this lovely image and relive some happy memories.

Update: Bad news…looking for that raincoat photo was too much focusing activity for my eyes and I’m now feeling sick to my stomach. The good news is that despite this setback, I am making progress with my various therapies.

Crowning glory

It’s snowy and gray out my window, so I went in search of a little color and warmth. Enter the Queen’s Crown.

August 28, 2019

I photographed this on a hike at Square Top Lakes and am warmed by its colorful and intricate self. My identification research tells me that the succulent leaves turn red in the fall and you can just see the tips beginning to turn. This wildflower is very lovely, but I’m glad we’re currently headed into spring rather than autumn.

Rest in power, brother

Late Wednesday night, my brother-in-law died peacefully after a six-year battle with illness. Bob has been in my life since I was 12 or 13 years old — the vast majority of my time on the planet — and I’m struggling to adjust to a world without him.  I last saw him in person in March 2020 right before the pandemic hit hard and while I don’t remember specifics of any conversations, I’m positive there was much laughter. Bob and I always laughed.

Well, not always. Back when I was still a kid, my younger brother and I took the train from Wisconsin to Minneapolis where Bob and my sister were living at the time. Within minutes of our arrival, I managed to knock the tea kettle off the stove and make a big mess. When Bob pretended to be mad, I took his gruffness seriously and withdrew into myself. It took a while for him to convince me he’d been joking and throughout the rest of our lives, he’d tease me about our Teapot Dome Scandal.

I found ways to get back at him, though. During one of the many trips he and my sister and sons made to Colorado, I snuck a random item in Bob’s luggage right before he left. Ha, joke was on him! Except the next time he visited, he returned with that random item and locked it to the rod in our coat closet. Eventually, he gave in and provided the combination.

Another trip, he caught a later flight to Denver than the rest of his family and while someone distracted Bob at the baggage claim area, I grabbed his duffel bag off the carousel, removed his contents, and replaced them. When Bob unzipped his “oddly light” bag, he discovered a plastic pig mask staring up at him from a bed of popcorn. (Full disclosure: Bob wasn’t quite as enthused by this prank as the rest of us.)

While our relationship was laughter-based, it was deeper than that. Bob was my safe refuge. Our interactions were stress-free because Bob accepted me for who and what I was, without judgment. (With the exceptions of giving me shit about wearing socks with my Tevas and never ironing my clothes). I gravitated toward him whenever we were in a group setting. Bob was friendly and easy to be around.

He could also be intense, as in his commitment to health and strength. We frequently ran together (Bob easily transitioned from sea level to exercise at Colorado elevation) but that wasn’t enough for him, not even on vacation. He’d also lift weights, do yoga, push-ups and sit-ups, and climb 14ers. Bob was lean and mean his entire life.

Bob mid-yoga pose in August 2007.

Bob was devoted to his family. Here he is with my sister and their sons in 1994. They came to Alaska to visit during the summer, but didn’t think to pack for winter.  🙂  (My sister and nephew are each wearing one of my hats, the other nephew is wearing Zippy’s hat, and I think that’s my oversized jean jacket on Bob — but note that he’s bare-headed and impervious to cold!) Two vivid non-Bob-specific memories from that visit: the younger nephew, who was only six, carried his own pack the entire steep hike up to the Harding Ice Field AND that hike included my only black bear sighting of the six years I lived in Alaska.

A chilly tour of Kenai Fjords

Bob loved kids — his own and everyone else’s. Here he is conversing with Zebu.

And patiently enduring the construction of a stuffed animal tower on top of his head.

Bob was also a fierce advocate for people he’d never met. He was a lawyer who used his powers for good. Even while undergoing treatment, he led tenant meetings and fought for housing justice. In myriad ways, Bob worked to make this world a better place. I admired him greatly. And loved him even more. A quick search didn’t turn up any photos of the two of us and I’m too raw right now to dig deeper. But that’s okay because his smile and voice are imprinted on my heart.

Rest in power, Bobaloo.

Round and round we go

Despite today’s frigid temperatures, spring is around the corner, and I’m warming myself with memories of a hike in the open space last June. We’d gotten lots of snow last winter and so the flowers were magnificent.

Here’s a burst of color from a type of blooming thistle that’s probably invasive and somewhat annoying when it scratches my legs as I run past on the trails. But pretty, right?

June 24, 2021

I don’t have the time to identify these yellow wildflowers because, well, there are sh*t-tons of yellow wildflowers. But it’s a lovely little wheel, isn’t it?

Here’s another probably-invasive thistle which is also scratchy-scratchy when I run past, but right now reminds me of a burst of warm, pink sunshine.

Lastly, here’s a delicate specimen that, despite its straight-forward appearance, defies identification. White and yellow wildflowers definitely test my skills.

This latest snowfall is priming the ground for another glorious wildflower display and I look forward to exploring with my camera in a few months.

Warm memories

We cut our neighborhood walk short today due to rapidly falling temperatures. When we left the house, it was about 39 degrees.  Approximately ten minutes later, it was 28 degrees. At least, that’s what Zippy’s phone said when he checked it. As for me, I couldn’t see much of anything because my cold nose was buried in my neck gator which then caused my glasses to steam up. All this to say, I’m craving warmer weather right now and making due with looking at summer hiking photos.

Here’s some flora and fauna from a Square Top Lakes hike:

Rocky Mountain Parnassian on a Wild Aster.  August 28, 2019

Ahh, I can practically feel that sunshine on my shoulders.

 

Sunday Confessional: lost and found

Today I took advantage of the last day of warm weather before the coming week of frigid temperatures and spent time outside cleaning flower beds. The last several years I’ve kinda been on a gardening strike and let things run wild. That laziness plus the neighbors’ enormous, beautiful pine trees that loom over our yard, distributing tons of boughs, needles, and pine cones, resulted in quite the mess.

In fact, as I excavated the debris I came across something I’d temporarily forgotten was there: our cat Lebowski‘s grave marker. I’d tried in vain to locate it in January when Zebu was here. Even though I knew where it was, I couldn’t find it beneath the layers of needles and cones. That saddened and made me feel a bit disloyal to my feline friend. So when my hand brushed against the slab of flagstone this afternoon, I experienced a moment of confusion followed by a flood of memories.

Lebowski was a wonderful cat.

The Dude in June of 2009

This photo is a bit misleading because he was an indoor cat although I let him outside with me now and again for supervised outings (and he spent his final months outside with me as much as possible). What isn’t misleading about this photo is that The Dude was a very large fellow.

I’m grateful to have located his grave again. Unfortunately, the words and dates we’d inscribed on the flagstone have worn away, but the marker is now in full sight and I intend to keep it that way. In honor of our magnificent Lebowski, temporarily lost and now found again.

Color me nostalgic

Here’s a little color for anyone who needs it right now. These photos were taken on July 15, 2021, on the Oh Be Joyful Trail outside Crested Butte, Colorado.  I don’t have the energy to research the first two species (so if anyone knows, educate me :)).

This last is Fireweed which I first grew to love while living in Alaska.

Another hiker was crouched next to a patch of them along the trail that day, photographing the blooms with the biggest smile on her face. “This is my favorite flower of all,” she said.

Joyful, indeed.

Still shining her light

Today is the selection meeting for the Writing Roosters Scholarship for the Michelle Begley Mentor Program. Michelle was a dear friend and critique partner who created an amazing mentor program for the Rocky Mountain kidlit community. When she tragically died in a car accident, our critique group established a scholarship fund in her name. Each year, we get together (zoom again…sigh), along with Michelle’s mother and two sisters, to discuss applications and select a mentee to receive the $500 scholarship.

This year, we have ten applicants! I’m still writing notes for our meeting that begins in less than an hour, but wanted to document this event.

July 3, 2021

The sunflower is nearly as beautiful as Michelle whose light still shines on through her legacy to our writing community.

Sunday Confessional: I invited myself over

It was 35 years ago today that Zippy and I had our first date. At the time, I lived in North Hollywood and he lived in Bakersfield. It was a tough time for me and I desperately needed to get away from my tiny apartment for a day or two, but was living in poverty and couldn’t afford anything. I knew Zippy through my brother (they’d gone to college together) and we’d recently reconnected via several  phone conversations, so I brazenly invited myself for a visit.

Bakersfield is no one’s idea of a getaway, but I was thrilled at the prospect of being somewhere else. When I arrived that Friday evening (knuckles scraped and bleeding as a result of my hand slipping while prying a very stubborn lid off a bottle of the engine additive needed to keep my poor old car running), Zippy suggested we go hear some live music. Chris “Hammer” Smith and his blues harp were at Suds Tavern which was located in the Wall Street Alley. The tiny place used to be a fire station and fire horse stable, and reeked of character. And cigarette smoke (of which I was a contributor, ahem). We had so much damn fun, drinking beer and dancing dancing dancing. During Hammer Smith’s break, we ran across the alley to Guthrie’s Alley Cat where there was a pool table and even cheaper beer, then dashed back for more live music.

Guthrie’s Alley Cat

Fast forward: I ended up moving to Bakersfield for two years (before we moved to Anchorage) and we logged a lot of hours dancing at Suds and shooting pool at Guthrie’s. Turns out, plenty of people thought that alley was in  “the bad part of town” and stayed away. To my mind, that scene was one of the shining lights of that hot, dry, and dusty city. I was thrilled when I met a fellow teacher who shared our love for that alley.

Alas, Suds is no more.  It’s apparently now a restaurant called Two Goats & The Goose and, because I couldn’t find a photo of Suds, I’m including this image to show the exterior (with an accessibility ramp that was not present in the 80s).

Turns out, Guthrie’s Alley Cat is still in business which makes me very happy. All these years later, I’m very glad Guthrie’s was part of my introduction to Bakersfield. Mostly, though, I’m grateful Zippy graciously accepted my self-invite.

Twofer Tuesday

Here are two of my favorite things: honey bees and lavender.

July 18, 2019

We still have a few late-blooming stalks of  lavender (this photo was taken a couple summers ago), but not a lot of bees around. Which is why I was surprised over the weekend while reading outside on a bench I’d pushed up against the side of the house to avoid the wind. Surrounded by concrete and brick, engrossed in the pages, I became aware of a faint buzzing that got louder and louder. A honey bee flew next to my outstretched leg before landing on my arm and then my chest. After a brief pause there, it flew to my collar. Much closer to my ear (bzzzz bzzzz ). And face.

Bees fascinate me more than freak me out, however, I admit to feeling a bit nervous about this buzzing visitor. Still, I maintained my calm, congratulating myself on the chill attitude. Until . . . the honey bee moved down to the end of my sleeve and crawled in my sleeve. Chill attitude officially over!  I shrieked and shook my arm to dislodge the bee, which seemed to take forever due to the layers I wore.

When the bee safely flew away-away, I chided myself for panicking. And then I remembered the terrifying bees-in-clothing experience I had years ago, and cut myself slack.

Fortunately, this latest bee interaction was entirely friendly and bees still rank among my very favorite things.

Twofer Tuesday: feathered friends

This Red-winged Blackbird and Mourning Dove shared a tree as the sun went down on our first day of camping in Moby, the Great White campervan, in late April. We were walking around Lake Hasty (John Martin Reservoir State Park) at the end of a lovely day when I spotted them.

April 28, 2021

We receive many doves (Mourning and Eurasian-collared) here at our backyard feeder, but Red-winged Blackbird sightings are more rare. I have childhood memories of them singing their beautiful song as they perched on cattails along the train tracks.

I’m posting this picture to commemorate the end of our camping season. Yesterday we unloaded Moby in preparation for a trip to the shop to have a pop-top installed. Next year, we’ll be able to stand up inside. Can’t wait to get back out there to bask in the glories of the natural world.

Because she loved sunflowers

Michelle would have been 51 years-old today. Here’s one of the many sunflowers in my yard that remind me of her spirit and generous heart.

July 3, 2021

Thank you for brightening my life with your friendship, Michelle. I’ll keep tilting my face to the sky and endless possibilities.

Wordful Wednesday

I photographed this Black-billed Magpie at the beginning of the pandemic when I escaped to the open space with a blanket, binoculars, and my camera. It’s not a particularly good photo, but it captures the elegance of a magpie’s flight feathers. I remember the emotional boost I experienced while watching and listening to this bird and the other magpies. They were so raucous that day and I felt honored when several gathered in a tree close to my blanket, squawking and carrying on.

April 1, 2020

Yesterday, I shared some sad magpie news. Today I’m filled with sorrow over that senseless death, but also gratitude for my many magpie sightings, visits, and interactions over the years. They never fail to enchant.

Farewell, old friend

Yesterday I bid farewell to our 17-year-old Prius, a reliable car that carried me and mine over 164,113 miles. We donated it to a local non-profit and I watched as it was loaded on the truck. Even though it was just a car, a possession, I choked up . So many memories.

  • I went to the dealership in November of 2003 to place an order for the 2004 Prius model (the first year with a hatchback) which were in high demand. Because Zippy was less enthused about buying a hybrid vehicle and was busy at work, off I went. Alone, but armed with a ton of research on buying a new vehicle. The two salesmen wanted to treat me like a joke, but I insisted they deduct various costs including fees for taking up space on the lot (since the car would go straight to me upon arrival), advertising, rust-proofing, and upholstery treatment. When they pushed back on one of those demands, I said if they couldn’t accommodate me I’d buy from another dealership in the area. One scoffed: “You’d drive across town to save $150?” I assured him I would. They dropped that fee and we made a deal. When I walked out, I was shaking with adrenaline. I also felt pretty kick-ass.
  • There were so few Priuses in those early years that whenever two passed on the street, the drivers always exchanged a grin and a wave.
  • The summer of 2004, we took a three-week vacation to drive the Prius across the country to visit family and friends. Wildebeest and Zebu were nine and seven. It turned out to be our very best family trip. Ever. No fighting. It was glorious.
  • As Zebu got older and became driving-age, he insisted the Prius had no guts. He was wrong. I could drive up Highway 93, from Golden to Boulder, and blow past most every other vehicle whenever there were passing lanes.
  • Zebu also disliked the Prius because he was too tall and his head touched the ceiling.
  • Wildebeest loved the Prius and its money-saving gas mileage (which averaged about 44 mpg over the years) and often offered to take it off our hands.
  • In those 17 years, we had to replace the battery two times with refurbished batteries.
  • I went through a phase in which I tried to convince Zippy we should start a battery refurbishing business. He never succumbed to my entrepreneurial pitch.
  • The Prius wasn’t great in snow and sometimes I had to abandon it on the side of our hilly street because it couldn’t quite make it to the driveway. We eventually bought snow tires which made a huge difference but some years, due to climate change, there wasn’t much snow so we didn’t bother putting them on. It was like a game of roulette: would we get huge snowfalls and regret the lack of traction?
  • Pre-snow tires I once got the carpool stuck and all four elementary-age kids had to get out to push the Prius from the snowy gutter where it’d slid.
  • Something about our silver Prius attracted accidents. Zippy and I were both rear-ended multiple times** and once I sat with Zebu at a stop sign in the rain and watched as an SUV turned right onto that street and slow-motion slid over to smack into the front of the Prius as Zebu and I yelled, “Noooo!”
  • (** one woman who rear-ended me was named C*rmen Riskey which somehow felt like a perfect name for the situation).
  • When the valiant Prius was taken away yesterday, it bore zip ties and packing tape on various parts of its body.
  • One of the times it got hit resulted in extensive damage that required a body shop. While the Prius looked good as new after that, the gas bladder was never the same and would only accept 5-6 gallons of gas at a time which meant that one of the greatest perks of owning a Prius –fewer trips to the gas station–was no longer the case. Over the years I swore even more than usual as the pump handle clicked off and on as I tried squeezing in a tiny bit more gas.
  • Once I loaned the Prius to a friend who’d only driven later models and she called me to say the fob wasn’t working. Apparently, the newer models would start if the fob was in the driver’s pocket so I had to explain that my Prius fob had to be inserted in a slot in the dashboard. (The same thing happened with the donation pick-up driver last night; when he couldn’t get it to start, he thought we were donating a dead car as opposed to just a seriously wounded car).
  • My brother-in-law drove it once and somehow triggered what Prius drivers refer to as the “red triangle of death.”  He was in a panic but we’d become somewhat nonchalant about its appearance over the years and talked him through it.
  • Several weeks ago, Zippy decided to have the snow tires put on rather than buy new tires. While the Prius was driving very well at that point, it was increasingly touchy so we didn’t want to invest in new tires. After paying an unbelievable $150 for that switch plus disposal of the old, bald tires, there was an immediate change. Like, immediate-immediate. The red triangle of death had returned. When Zippy floored the gas pedal to get up our hill, our beloved old Prius could only muster 10-miles-per-hour.
  • It was time to say goodbye.
  • That goodbye dragged on and on for a whole week because the pick-up company got WAY behind due to the blistering hot weather across Colorado. Several of their trucks died in the heat and one nearly caught fire. But at 6:30 last night, Eduardo arrived to carry my dear little car away.

Here’s the Prius making its final trip down our street. I’m not ashamed to admit there were tears in my eyes as I waved goodbye.

Refuge

Western Scrub Jay. June 21, 2020

This isn’t a great photo, but I resonate with its vibe. Grumpy-looking scrub jay hunkered down in a hideaway sheltered by green foliage. I spent lots of my childhood seeking these same kinds of spaces, whether I was grumpy or not. Unlike this bird, I’d usually have a book and peanut butter sandwich which always made everything seem better. Unfortunately, this picture was taken a year ago so it’s too late to offer a book or snack . . .