The more things change

I enjoy looking at photos from the same date in earlier years, just to see what I was about to at the time. Apparently, I’m very much a creature of habit.

Here’s what I was thinking about and photographing exactly one year ago today:

And here’s my photographic muse on January 21, 2020:

Clearly, I’ve got robins on the brain. And what about January 21, 2021? Well, I didn’t take any photos that day. However, tomorrow it’ll be exactly two years since I photographed this Cooper’s Hawk which, by the way, is staring quite intently in the direction of the bird bath.

How about you . . . do you check out your photos from earlier years? And if so, do you have a more diverse repertoire than me?

Sunday Confessional: my theory doesn’t withstand scrutiny

I grew up in a big house my parents built out in the country and for much of my childhood, they wanted to sell the house (in part, I’d guess, because they couldn’t afford to heat it). As a result of their desire to move, I had to do even more cleaning than was already required by a mother who prioritized a clean house over most everything else. All that cleaning felt like a never-ending cycle of drudgery.

Dusting all the furniture, including every single chair rung. Vacuuming upstairs and downstairs plus two flights of carpeted stairs. Applying lemon oil to the paneling. Washing windows. Mopping the slate foyer. Cleaning bathrooms. Lather rinse repeat.

Oddly enough, as an adult I really dislike cleaning. 🙃 I married someone who isn’t much interested in it, either, and our various homes have always been messy. Part of that’s because we’ve always had dogs and cats which means hair gets everywhere. Today, Zippy and I did a thorough cleaning (there’s already animal hair on the floors!) which got me thinking about my friend Rebecca who I taught with in California.

Rebecca grew up in a household completely different from mine: her parents were more like Zippy and me, and their home was a bit on the chaotic side. That bugged the hell out of Rebecca who grew up to be an adult with a spotless home. And when she heard my tale of childhood woe, she suggested cleaning for me. Initially, I felt really uncomfortable on several levels, but she assured me that (a) she sincerely enjoyed cleaning and (b) I’d be doing her a favor because she needed to make more money.

So, Rebecca cleaned our house and, as far as I know, she never became enraged when the overstretched vacuum cord unplugged itself or the bag needed emptying or the handle came loose and slammed her in the leg. She never cried tears of frustration at the streaks on the window that would not go away, no matter how many times she washed and dried it. Rebecca whistled while she worked.

I thought about her today as I cleaned (without whistling although I was thrilled to NOT be pushing around the approximately 80-pound Kirby vacuum of my childhood) and remembered our theory about why we had such different outlooks on housekeeping. We both believed she became a clean freak because of her upbringing and that I’m a messy-mess because of mine. And then it hit me: while my two sons were required to do weekly cleaning, they were raised in an environment in which most every activity took priority over a clean house, and neither one of them is a clean freak. Not even close.

My theory doesn’t hold up.

Maybe I need more data. How about you? Are you neat and tidy or do you lean more to messy? What kind of upbringing did you have in regards to cleaning? It’s possible your experience will bolster my faltering theory but even if it doesn’t, I’d love to hear from you. Spill, please.

Bee back soon

Our neighborhood streets are treacherous right now — icy ruts surrounded by berms of frozen snow. I’ve been wearing Yaktrax for our daily walks with Emma, but they’re uncomfortable when walking on clear pavement, so today I convinced myself there’d been enough meltage that they weren’t necessary.

Wrong. Just minutes from home and the end of our two-mile walk, I was suddenly on my butt in the street. And now I’m grumpy. My left knee is sore from being twisted and my neck and shoulders have that jammed-up feeling that comes from trying to break a fall.

So what’s the remedy? A little yoga plus a warm memory from last June:

I remember sitting next to the Lamb’s Ear that day, photographing the busy bees as they went about their pollinating business. Someday soon, I’ll be back in my happy place in the backyard. It’ll be me, the perennials, and a whole lot of bees.

But no ice.

Giving new life to old stuff

On Saturday, we waved goodbye to my mother-in-law‘s furniture and miscellaneous items. There’d been an estate sale at the end of September, but much remained. We didn’t want to add to the landfill so put a FREE STUFF ad on Craigslist and let people know they could come from 10AM-2PM to claim whatever they wanted. Zippy and I went early to set up (including our Corsi-Rosenthal Box and free N95 masks) and to vacuum and dust off furniture. When we arrived at 9:15, a pickup/camper with a trailer was already in the driveway. As we unloaded our car, the man got out to approach us but I shouted to him that the doors would open at 10AM. Zippy and I hurried inside to get set.

At 10:00, there was a short line at the door. Turned out, they were all there for the same piece of furniture (which ended up going to the first in line). In the bustle of dealing with those folks (plus the several who came to check out the exercise bike), I lost track of the man in the pickup. A while later, I realized he was still in his vehicle and waved him inside. He came into the house and quietly began looking at what was available. When I asked if there was anything in particular he was looking for (because the furniture was spread throughout the house), I realized he spoke Spanish and not a lot of English. And then it hit me that he probably hadn’t caught what I’d yelled across the driveway to him when we arrived, and quite possibly hung back at 10:00 due to shyness/intimidation/uncertainty. He’d been the first to arrive yet an English-speaking person claimed a lovely buffet he may very well have wanted. I wished I could rewind and avoid the miscommunication.

But there were no do-overs.

After that initial rush of people was over, no one else showed up for our little giveaway. Not one more person. That’s the bad news. The good news? El hombre found much that he wanted to take! We spent the next couple hours loading three sofas, a freezer, two bed frames and mattresses, the exercise bike, lamps, tables, chairs, clothing, and a whole lot of miscellaneous stuff on his trailer and in the camper. The best part? We became so comfortable with each other that Estevao corrected my Spanish. “Uno más,” he said after I incorrectly announced “Un más” while shuttling bed frame pieces to his trailer. Unfortunately, much of my Spanish vocabulary eluded me and I found myself saying, “Lo siento,  no entiendo” more than I would’ve liked, but we managed.  Moving mattresses in narrow hallways and low-ceilinged stairways has a way of unifying people. It was kind of sad saying goodbye.

As Estevao headed out the driveway on his way to Chihuahua, Mexico, I hurriedly took pictures with my crappy phone camera.

I’d felt some anxiety as we prepared for Saturday. Despite the detailed information included in the Craigslist post earlier that week, I was getting emails asking questions about availability, taking stuff earlier, reserving items. Questions that were clearly answered in the post. Zippy and I don’t do indoor gatherings (in order to protect our health and that of others), so the thought of being in a house with a whole bunch of people wearing masks under their noses wasn’t appealing. But Saturday turned out to be a good experience.

Yes, there were lots of emotions being in my mother-in-law’s nearly empty home, watching it become even more empty. Knowing we’d never again gather there as a family brought tears. But Zippy and I got to spend time with a kind, properly-masked man who saw a use for items we no longer wanted or needed. He was breathing new life into my mother-in-law’s belongings.

Days later, I keep thinking about Estevao, hoping he had a safe journey to Mexico. It wasn’t until he was in the driver’s seat that my brain kicked in and I remembered “¡Buen viaje!” which I shouted too late. He probably didn’t hear my words, but I hope he felt the sentiment. I wish him nothing but the best.

#Caturday memories

Last year, I took a series of photos of Loki and Marcel so I could make a birthday card for our neighbor who takes care of them while we’re away. I went back to them now in search of a #Caturday image, and couldn’t resist this one of them half-heartedly struggling to be free of Zippy’s grip:

Or this image of weary resignation:

Or this photo of the brothers looking off in the distance, as if hoping help was on the way:

Ah, memories.

My mother-in-law was no stereotype

Monday evening, my mother-in-law died.

Bouquet from yard in vase made by young Wildebeest, given to Alice on day before her death.

Contrary to what books and movies would have us believe, not all mothers-in-law are control freaks who believe no one is good enough for their sons. Some are kind, loving, and supportive.

It didn’t feel that way at the start. The first time I met Alice was when Zippy brought me to his parents’ home in Colorado for Christmas in 1988. At the time, he and I had a long-distance relationship between our two California cities. When it was bedtime, Alice showed me where I’d sleep, which wasn’t where Zippy was sleeping. I remember the depths of loneliness I felt lying in that room in an unfamiliar house filled with people I didn’t know. Loneliness plus resentment for the uptight mother of my boyfriend.

That’s the first and last thing she ever did to upset me. No exaggeration. And after I got to know Alice, I realized her decision to put me in that bedroom by myself wasn’t a comment on me or my relationship with her son, but because she didn’t want to make assumptions.

Alice welcomed me with open arms and later extended her endless love to Wildebeest and Zebu. If Alice was a stereotype, it was as a devoted grandmother. She genuinely loved spending time with her grandchildren. Wildebeest told me a story yesterday about the time Alice and Stu took care of Zebu and him for a weekend while Zippy and I went out-of-state for my high school reunion. He’s foggy on the details — maybe he and his brother were fighting over a toy or complaining of boredom — but he remembers it was the only time Grandma got mad at them.

I believe it. Alice was the queen of easy-going. She loved family and friends, and was always the first to laugh at herself. She’d do something — such as accidentally sitting on her camera in the church pew at her other son’s wedding — then let out her trademark “woooo,” followed by a giggle. One time, she agreed to help me make curtains for the boys’ bedroom. After many, many laughter-filled minutes trying to figure out how to thread the sewing machine needle and bobbin, we gave up and called her capable seamstress neighbor who set things right while Alice and I laughed some more.

Once, Alice agreed to accompany me to a doctor’s appointment where she stayed out in the car with the boys. Toddler Zebu was still very attached to me and didn’t handle separation well. When he began crying, Alice struggled to get him out of the car seat, growing more confused as his wailing reached epic proportions. In later years, Alice told the story of how Wildebeest leaned in at that moment to say, “Read the directions, Grandma.” She then read the instructions on the car seat and was able to release Zebu and calm him. But in her telling, all credit went to Wildebeest.

Alice was generous to a fault. She feared and disliked cats, yet cut out cat pictures for the birthday cards she’d make me. When she flew to Alaska to help out after Zebu was born, she told me to let her know if any of her behavior bothered me. She said this knowing that the recent visit from my own mother had caused more problems than it alleviated. Once, after Stu and I had a spirited conversation about our differing political views, in which he was literally hopping mad and called me a communist, Alice forced him to phone me the next day to apologize. Honestly, I thought it was pretty funny seeing my father-in-law so wound up, but Alice didn’t want to risk hurt feelings. Family mattered.

Alice was nineteen when she had Zippy (Stu was twenty-one). Alice had four children by the time she was thirty, a mind-boggling realization when I had my first child at 30 years and barely considered myself mature enough to be a parent. Over the years, Alice and Stu apologized to their kids for supposed mistakes they’d made and opportunities they hadn’t provided. But from my perspective, that young and very poor couple accomplished a miracle: they raised four well-adjusted children who not only loved their parents very much, but also love and support each other.

Over the three weeks following Alice’s heart surgery at the end of July, those four children worked together to help their ailing mother. They coordinated efforts so Alice, who was deaf and suffering dementia, would never be alone in an unfamiliar place. Under increasingly scary and difficult circumstances, those four hung together in their shared goal to ease their mother’s discomfort.

And now Alice’s smile and laughter are only memories. Our hearts are shattered, but I’m deeply grateful for the years I had with my mother-in-law. My wish for her now, wherever she is, is that there are buffets rather than menus. Because for her many fine qualities, Alice struggled to make decisions. Eating out with her was a study in patience. But maybe there are menus and waitstaff. In which case, as Alice was fond of saying, “I hope it all works out.”

Recycled memories

Years ago, I used to begin each day writing three pages in longhand,  per Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages.” It was stream of consciousness writing done via a fountain pen and legal pad that usually morphed from scribblings about my life to the plot and characters of the novel (my very first) I was working on. I loved that ritual and don’t remember why I stopped in the early 2000s. But because I struggle to throw out “documentation” of my life (in large part because my parents saved very few items from my childhood), I stored those years of legal pads in a filing cabinet in our basement where they remained until today when I took an empty cardboard box into the storage room and began emptying the contents of that file drawer.

Image by Dmitriy Gutarev from Pixabay

At first, I averted my gaze, knowing how easy it would be for me to get lost in my words. Instead, I focused on tearing sections of paper away from the cardboard backing. Pad after pad was disassembled before my gaze somehow landed on the bottom of a page where I’d written about Wildebeest’s last day in soccer the day before. Apparently, in addition to ordering a team photo we’d also ordered a trophy for him despite misgivings about participation trophies. I wrote how Wildebeest was so thankful for the trophy he nearly cried as he said, “it makes me so happy.” Or maybe he said “it’s perfect.”

I’ve already forgotten the exact wording.

And that’s what panicked me as I stood this morning in the storage room next to the half-filled box of loose Morning Pages: the knowledge that I was about to recycle so many memories. For a moment, I considered going back through all those pages to extract every one that offered glimpses into my life with Zippy and our two sons. Such as the (May 1999) pages written the morning I’d gotten up at 5:00 a.m. in order to go to the Fillmore Auditorium to get in line for Bob Dylan concert tickets, and the next day’s pages in which I recounted how Zippy and the boys brought me croissants to where I waited in line and that it was Bob Dylan’s 58th birthday which I was celebrating by happily gazing upon the tickets I’d just scored. All those pieces of my life there on those legal pads.

But it wasn’t only highlights I came across as I tore paper from pads. I also read some angry words about Zippy. A scathing unsent letter to my father. And a shame-filled accounting of how I’d temporarily kept our sick dog, who was wet and muddy, outside our tent before coming to my senses and bringing her inside. Those Morning Pages also had the power to pull me back into places I didn’t need to revisit. Deep down, I knew there was no need to reopen wounds.

It’s all a moot point because as I write this, Zippy returned from the recycling center. Those six or so years of documentation are now officially gone from my life. I’m mostly at peace with my decision to let it all go, but admit to still having some twinges of regret. Undoubtedly, I’d documented some funny things the kids said. Fortunately, I don’t need those Morning Pages to remember Zebu pulling off his socks and saying “Mell my dinky toes.”

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.