Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Painted Lady


Wanting to believe it was Grandma in that painting drew me to the window in the mall every time I happened to go shopping or eat my lunch there. I would make a special trip upstairs to the art gallery tucked into a very quiet corner overlooking the cacophony of mothers corralling toddlers, of teenagers shyly flirting, and of weary men trudging behind their wives to Sears or J.C. Penney. So frequent were my trips to see that woman in the painting who looked frighteningly, yet, amazingly like her that I would ever so slowly, so as not to attract the attention of the staff inside, move my way window by window, painting by painting, to the shop case outside the doorway where the very large painting was displayed alone, leaning lazily against the metal easel.

To gaze at her, sitting in the wicker chair on the emerald lawn, watching the children playing tag around her, was to take me back to the visits with her when I was young. So enthralled with the scene, I would search that painting for the face of my mother amongst the women gathered near the picnic table, gingham cloth beneath the spread of potato salad, fried chicken and half-empty iced tea glasses.

 I would scrutinize the men too. Was that my father, head half-turned and throwing a comment over his shoulder as he threw the horseshoe towards the steel pin in the ground to the left near the bushes in the background? Perhaps. Maybe. It was possible, wasn't it?

And then my eyes would always return to the painted woman who was my Grandma, and I would carefully study the participants in that game of tag, and hope that this time I would see a child that looked like me.

But I never did. In fact none of us, save for my Grandma, was there on that emerald lawn, or at the picnic table, or in the horseshoe pit, or even on the covered porch of the farmhouse, to enjoy the curve of her lips as she smiled in that chair.

And I would feel a longing so great for her that I would have to close my eyes to see her again. To hear her laugh, to smell her cinnamon rolls, and to taste her creamed peas. I would visualize her black, cast iron skillet sitting on the back burner of the stove next to a covered tin labeled "Grease," and think about the meals she would prepare after she would reheat the grease, the farm way. I would remember the way I would watch my parents play pinochle with Grandma and Pappy, their laughter scattering across the linoleum as each heart was laid down at the kitchen table. I stood behind them stroking Peanuts, Grandma's mongrel dog, who had one lower tooth that stuck out past her shiny black lips, and would try to stay quiet so as not to be told to go outside and find something else to do. Eventually, either my curiosity would get me banned, or boredom would prevail, and I would scurry outside or into the living room to vie with my sister for the button organ to play Moonlight Sonata over and over, since that was the one song we had both perfected.

Then my thoughts would go back to the summer I spent an entire week in that little prairie town with Grandma and Pappy when I was in seventh grade, and remember feeling quite honored and finally oh-so-grown-up. She taught me to make pie crust from scratch one day that week, and then how to fill it with the creamy satin of the custard we had made together. We waited expectantly for the edges of the pie circle to brown, and I was thrilled when I was able to proudly remove it from the oven and serve it to my grandparents with the cream we had whipped by hand.
That week I was also privy to her much-coveted recipe for her home-made cinnamon rolls. The taste and smell of the sugar and cinnamon as we rolled the dough out on the kitchen table was mouthwatering, and to say that I was in dessert heaven that week is an enormous understatement. I loved that week getting to know my Grandma better, and was sad when it ended, even though I was getting a little homesick and, yes, missing my Mom and Dad and sisters.

However, heaven seems to come at a price here on earth. After I entered high school, I learned a secret about my Grandma that made me realize that all people have human frailties.

My Grandma was addicted to Valium.

Now, it was the belief of the medical community back in the late sixties and early seventies that Valium wasn't addictive, and could be dispensed at will. I don't know what circumstances first prompted my Grandma's doctor to prescribe the anti-anxiety pills so profusely, or even when, but it was later discovered that her need grew so great that she would visit more than one doctor to have her prescriptions renewed. After the family found out and tried to take them away from her, she became more secretive and would hide them in plastic bags in the toilet tank, or between the mattresses of her bed. Ironically, she did not die from her addiction but from a heart-attack many years later. Perhaps she overcame the need for the pills, I am not sure.

This is a Grandma I did not know - did not see.

To me, she is still the woman who fell in love with the much older man who had staked a claim with his brother, and had a farmstead on the wind-whipped prairie. Who married young and had nine children. Who lost two infant sons and survived the Great Depression. She had my mother and gave her the spit and fire of her spirit. She is that woman who taught me how to bake, who took me bowling for the first time, who proudly guided the family along the tawny ridge of a hill to see the "dinosaur tooth" she had discovered while arrow-head hunting with Pappy, and had to finally give up after weeks of trying to dig it up.

She is that painted woman in the wicker chair watching over her family with the smile on her face.

The painting is long gone. So is the mall. As is my youth.

But the vision of that emerald green lawn and the wicker chair lingers on.

I miss you, Grandma.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

In the Palm of Mother Earth

Red Rocks Park sits just west of the city, nestled in among the foothills, resplendent and unique for it's jutting conglomerate and sandstone ridges, as if Mother Earth has thrust her fingers up through the dust and clay of the world towards the sky.

Formed 300 million years ago when the Rocky Mountains were escaping their terrestrial bonds, the brick-colored slabs in the foothills are home to one of the grandest outdoor amphitheaters in the world.

Framed by Creation Rock on one side, and Ship Rock on the other, the stage lays at the foot of Stage Rock overlooking the eastern plains.

The tiered seating for 9,000 and the small stone buildings for back stage were built by the Civilian Conservation Corp* in 1941.

However, America's focus was redirected due to the United State's entrance into WWII in December of that year, and the amphitheater's official opening to concerts was postponed until 1947.

Since then, thousands of music lovers have enjoyed the joyous sounds of voices and instruments bounce about them in perfect acoustic synergy.

I think one of my favorite concerts was when Robert Plant was touring with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on the Non Stop Go Tour. I remember sitting in the cool summer evening of July 4th, and listening to the wonderful wailing of Mr. Plant as I watched in rapt attention as countless fireworks exploded in the sky below me, above the twinkling city lights disappearing into the dark horizon.

Another exceptional experience one can encounter is the Easter Sunrise Service. Held, rain or shine (or snow) every Easter, participants can watch in awe as the sun slips past the eastern horizon while they listen to the spiritual words of the non-denominational minister on the stage. Celtic talent, Moya Brennan, shared her angelic voice with several thousand worshippers as this year's music guest on the crisp morning of April 24.

Still, no matter who you are, be it star or stock, while standing center stage one can't help but wonder just how many soft gasps have escaped the parted lips of such acts as Jethro Tull, Rush, Barry Manilow, the Grateful Dead, U2, and the Beatles (on their first tour of the U.S. in 1964). The view is that impressive.

And one can certainly imagine the magic experienced by all in the fan-shaped amphitheater, looking out on the sweeping plains to the east, nestled in the brown palm of Mother Earth.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Daily Drive...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

If one were to look at a map that shows altitude, my present home sits well above any threat of flood from the river down below, as well as any upslope disturbance the foothills receive in the winter. However, having been born in this beautiful place, I still gasp in awe when I get my morning view...

After traveling about six city blocks south from my home, I start heading west towards the mountains (like any side view mirror, believe me when I say they are much MUCH closer than they appear)....

As I get closer to my turn to the south again....

After about six more blocks south, I am westbound once more....

After jogging south once again, I turn towards the beautiful mountains one more time...

And I get closer to the bridge over the light rail track....

(One morning where there weren't any mountains on my drive in!)

Beautiful autumn from the third floor balcony at work...

Look closely for the snow capped peaks, just beyond the foothills - many peaks are over 14,000 ft above sea level...

To the warmer south...

So many hills to go down (I count at least four towards the river valley) and where are the mountains in this one?

What? Is that a rainbow? In October????!!!!!

Still amazed with the rainbow...

Is it hiding?

Nope...I can still see it from the third floor balcony...

Lucky to see a full rainbow playing hide and seek with the foothills...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How The Wind Doth Blow

I dreamt about tornados again.

However, unlike the times at night that I vividly saw the dark mass of angry wind coming towards me when my life was so chaotic ten years ago, this swirling accumulation of black debris was blocked in levels - monstrous and roaring. And, as always before, my gripping, groping panic turned my feet into wings, and I gathered those who, and that which, are dear to me - and I fled to safety.

Yes, my life is a pandemonium of both detriment and delight, and I feel as though I am, once again, clutching, with every cell in my body, the frayed ends of the whip.

This time the air is buffeting me, trying mightily to knock me off my feet. I bend, sometimes nearly to the ground, but have not yet broken, and stare the roiling monster back. Deterred, the midnight coil deperately spawns its brood and, in multiplicity, they each pummel those who are standing around me as well.

I know that not all will withstand the onslaught, and will be brutalized with intensity so severe that they may be irrevocably damaged. Or not.

But I am calm in the knowledge that I will survive.

Friday, October 22, 2010


The drive to the wolf preserve in Divide took the line of four cars nearly an hour from our cabins in Manitou Springs. The vehicles were filled with old and new friends, and all were there to celebrate the 50th birthday of mutual friend, L.

Every one of the ladies there loved L, but none so much as V, who put the whole thing together as a surprise. This birthday was special to L in so many ways.

As I followed the car ahead of me, nestled between the yellow line on the left and the white line separating the highway from the shoulder on the right, my mind wandered to the evening before. While all of the ladies pitched in here and there with the dinner preparations, L had revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and had surgery planned in two weeks time.

Some already knew but I was startled with the news.  I watched L as she smiled and joked with everyone, her mood positive with life, and I began to relax despite myself. The margaritas and wine were flowing, the ambiance was joyous, female voices rose in song with the tunes coming from the stereo, and all was still well with the world. L's mood set the tone of the night and I was all too willing to follow. As I continued to watch, L led the group, now sitting or reclining on the assorted chairs and the hollowed-out old sofa, drinks in hand, in singing some old songs everyone seemed to know. Soon, the joyous voices were spent, and the conversation turned to mutual stories, each one more humorous than the last. Filled with liquid spirits and much joviality, the smiles and tear-stained cheeks in copious amounts left us all gasping with mirth. It had been years since I had experienced so much fun with such a wonderful group of women.

The car ahead of me suddenly signaled and turned left, and I turned as well. My car was almost immediately ensconced in a microburst of brown dust billowing out from the cars in front. After nearly a mile of twisting turns, the rise and the fall of the road came to an end in a small parking lot. Nine ladies brightly piled out of the four cars and headed in through the gate and up the dirt packed driveway to the preserve's entrance and visitor center.

Waiting for our tour time turned out to be quite easy as we browsed the gift shop selections of prints, stuffed animals, postcards, and other assorted "green" lupine items. Finally, our tour was ready.

However, before we were allowed through the door, we were given very strict parameters about viewing the still wild animals on the other side. Duly cautioned, the nine of us filed outside with a jumble of other expectant observers.

Before us lay very large fenced areas peppered with tall Blue Spruce pines, copses of shivering-leaved aspens, and stony humps of rock formations. We followed the tour guide carefully throughout the sanctuary, staying away from fences, and quietly keeping to the suggested sides of the wide path. All of us seemed to be in awe of the great regal beasts lounging or pacing their areas with watchful, golden eyes.

Domiciled in the enclosures were Arctic Wolves, Timber Wolves, Wolf-dogs, Mexican grey wolves, Coyotes, and Red Foxes. All of the inhabitants, mostly paired up in each compund, were astonishingly beautiful as well, and completely at ease in their new homes. While walking, we learned that the sanctuary had been started in 1993 when Darlene Kobobel rescued Chinook, a wolf dog (wolf-hybrids were popular back in the late 1980's and early 1990's) and promptly created a rescue center for the unwanted and unmanageable wolf-dogs.
This soon grew and,after some fits and jumps, money issues, and relocation obstacles, she opened the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in June 2003. It continues to expand with the need for the preservation of, and the education about, these misunderstood - feral, savage, tremendously remarkable and beautiful - creatures.

After walking the extent of the paths, the tour group was soon gathered tightly together by the enclosures near the exit. The tour guide gently asked the entire group to be totally silent for a moment, and to listen to the sounds of the inhabitants of the sanctuary.

Then she softly asked us to follow her lead as she said goodbye to the great beasts we had just visited. Her voice rose in a solitary wail, rising in both pitch and volume, and we heard the lonely return salutation of the coyote in front of us. As our voices joined hers, the most amazing sound greeted us - the bays and howls of all of the wolves, coyotes and foxes in the circle around us, started to rise and fall magically amidst the pine trees and aspens. As the choir of beasts and humans ebbed, we all stood quietly with our breaths held. We had just communed with primeval itself, and our joined voices were lifted off into the trees by the wind.

I still get goose bumps reliving that wonderful day, and of that magical weekend of women, bonded together by our mutual love, and respect for, L.

If you would like more information on the wolf sanctuary, please visit this link:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Hop, Skip and a Jump...

Good Bye Heart Home...
09-05-09 Saturday

Ah, perhaps it is time to head home. I wake up at 2:45 a.m. and whether it is because of my possible sighing/moaning/name-it, or whether it is because of my restless log roll trying to get comfortable, or even if it is because I am feeling bittersweet about leaving Scotland, I cannot get back to sleep. I turn the TV on to while away the morning hours and groggily try to find something on in this wee hour of the morning. CG wakes, asks if I am ok, and then goes back to sleep when I tell him yes. Finally, to the pleasant drone of British accents on the BBC, I fall asleep at 3:30, only to be re-awakened at 5:00 by the wakeup call placed last night through the front desk (ugh).

210049 luggage jpgWe are ready by 5:45 in anticipation of the shuttle at 6:00 and take advantage of the luggage scale in the lobby (thank goodness they are both well under the 50 lb limit – even with the spirited stones!). We are not the only ones on the shuttle this morning (it picks up more passengers the closer we get to the airport), and CG and I sit apart from each in the now crowded cab.

We extricate ourselves, grab our luggage and head inside. After walking nearly the length of the terminal, we realize that our airline’s ticket counter hasn’t opened yet, and we sit down and wait. Finally, as the line grows ahead of us, the lights go on over the KLM counter and we take our place behind the crowd.

AIRLINE 608 jpg MOD=AJPERESAfter getting our tickets we head towards the gate and, after locating it, we decide to do a little last souvenir shopping, and then grab some breakfast to pass the time before our flight leaves at 8:30. We are pleasantly surprised to find that the airport restaurant we have chosen has our favorite on the menu, and CG has one last full Scottish breakfast while I polish off a bacon/scrambled egg Panini. Then it’s back to Gate 33 where we mill around until our seats are called.

5706 jpgHowever, when the KLM employee comes out at 8:00, she has some bad news for all of us – due to technical difficulties, the flight from Amsterdam has been turned back and therefore our flight has been cancelled. We all have to be escorted by airport personnel back to reclaim our baggage and then stand in a queue for two hours before we are able to rebook our flight.

By the time we get back to our new gate, we don’t have much time to linger as the flight to Amsterdam leaves at 11:30 and, after landing in the Netherlands, we literally have to run to our next gate to catch our connecting flight to Detroit (instead of returning through Minneapolis). The flight seems doubly long this time and I take advantage of the in-flight movies to watch both Grand Torino (CG also watches that one from his seat) and Hairspray.

The flight home from Detroit seems shorter, but we are still anxious to get off of the airplane and back into the Saab waiting for us in the airport parking lot.

519491~Flying money Posters jpg
After paying a whopping $99 to leave the airport parking lot, we are home by 10:00 p.m. – some 15 hours and 7 time zones later. AM has left a somewhat frantic message for me to call back so I return her call. Seems as though she thought we were returning the day before, and she had been worried that she hadn’t heard from us. After putting her to ease, I am in bed by midnight and CG, still a bit keyed up and having missed his favorite home activity, plays World of Warcraft until 1:30 a.m.

We are home!
home sweet home jpg