Thursday, November 5, 2015

Friends Who Help Us Grow

Relaxing on Adirondack chairs in the protected garden of my brain sit a handful of friends who have contributed to my personal growth. They don’t know this, of course, so they will remain anonymous. I believe everyone we encounter teaches us a lesson. These lessons help us grow as they multiply and spread to other gardens in life.

Phillip - Tolerance
I was active in the theatre group in high school and part of college. Phillip was a fellow actor and a friend. We acted in plays together, painted sets together, and traveled together with other drama students in a children’s theatre ensemble to elementary schools around the state. Phillip was gay. No one was supposed to know that he was gay because, after all, this was the 60’s…and that was just something no one talked about…but everyone knew, and nobody really cared. Phillip was a terrific dancer, and I loved to dance. We went to the Junior/Senior prom together, and made quite an impression with our unique twists and twirls on the dance floor. I learned tolerance from Phillip, and I learned to accept everyone no matter how they differed from me or from the norm – whatever the norm is. Phillip made the music sound sweeter. And when I think of Phillip sitting there in my mind’s garden, I have more tolerance for other people.

Kathy – Supportive
Kathy has been my friend since junior high school. We did a lot of crazy things together. She is the type of person who, after not seeing each other for a long period of time, can pick up the conversation where we left off without skipping a beat. The day after my mother died, I called Kathy to come over to my mother’s house because I just couldn’t stay in that big house by myself. She brought a bottle of wine, and we found a big fat cigar that my cousin had left behind. We sat on the back porch, drank wine, shared that cigar, and reminisced about all the craziness in our life growing up and in that house. We stayed in touch. I sent her birthday cards and Christmas cards, but for some reason she didn’t respond after awhile. I haven’t heard from, nor have I contacted, Kathy in a long time. I think about her often – every time I go to Albuquerque and whenever I see October 21st on the calendar – her birthday. I just don’t have the courage to call – strange isn’t it, since I’m using her as an example of being supportive. But there she sits in my memory garden reminding me of the night she came over to support me after my mother died, and I try to be supportive to others.

Dr. Emily – Ambitious, Gracious, Respectful
Emily held a respected and influential position at the state department of education. When I first heard Emily speak at a conference, I placed her high on a pedestal, much like the raised podium she spoke from. She had earned her PhD, she visited teachers around the state, ensuring that they were following the business and marketing curriculum, she was an excellent speaker, and she organized and directed teacher workshops to help us hone our teaching skills. She was untouchable, a queen . . . she was intimidating. I respected her for all that she had accomplished and was accomplishing. When she became the president of the state professional education association, I was elected treasurer. I was humbled. I wanted to do everything I could to please her. I taught myself Quickbooks so I could keep the organization’s books in order. I served on her committee to help organize the state conference. I busted my butt to impress her. Then, years later, we became friends, and I discovered that she was just a regular person, who had a dog. We actually played golf together, drank wine together, and went to a casino together in Reno . . . yes, this queen actually enjoyed playing craps. Here are the attributes I try to emulate to this day: Ambitious. Emily is ambitious, working her way up to be one of the top people at the department of education and earning her doctorate in mid life. Gracious. Emily is very gracious, always giving little gifts of gratitude to me and others if we have lunch together or gather at other ladies’ houses. Respectful. Emily respects all people and has never talked about anyone behind their backs. Emily is enjoying retirement in my little garden, and she sits there to remind me to be ambitious, gracious, and respectful.

Mary – Generous
Mary is the most generous person I know. She will do anything for you. She lavishes her grandchildren with wonderful gifts; she buys her daughters beautiful clothes and jewelry; and offers to pays when her friends cannot. When Mary came to visit me in MN last summer, she insisted on buying our wine for the weekend. Mary enjoys her expensive wine. We opened one that had turned to vinegar, so after Mary left, I took it back to the store for a refund and mailed Mary a check for the wine. After getting several month’s worth of bank statements without the check clearing, I asked her if she was going to cash my check. She simply said no. She always is gracious in opening up her house for friends and neighbors. One year after a Christmas party, and the wine had been flowing, I found myself curled up on her living room sofa, asleep. She was covering me up with a blanket. I asked her where my husband was, and she told me he’d left. Mary insisted that I go into her back bedroom to sleep until morning, and then call my husband to come pick me up. Mary enjoys toasting me in my mind’s garden, reminding me to be generous to others.

Sorority – Unconditional Love and Acceptance
One thing I’ve learned from joining the sisterhood of my social sorority is everyone’s unconditional love and acceptance. We all have different backgrounds and professions. We migrated from a variety of different locations around the United States. But none of the ladies are judgmental or catty. We share stories, we play cards, we support each other, we laugh until our sides hurt. I can truly say that they have contributed to my personal pleasure, making the music sound sweeter, the wine taste richer, and the laughter ring louder because they are there. My garden is blooming.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

She Grew a Garden of Life

She was barely visible to the eye
Growing on the barren tree…a tiny bud
Protected tightly in green layers….a sign of new life.

She was nurtured by the love of two
First loves of her life…ones who knew her best
Rain and sun…father and mother…sustenance of life.

She burst forth into a blossom
Discovering another love…her mate
Wind and air…husband and lover…breath of life.

She unfolded her petals to give birth
Loving unconditionally the new little bud
Sunshine…a child…blossoming from her love of life.

She spread her leaves beyond the grove
Forming friendships of sisterhood
Wrapped with the sun’s warmth…enhancing her life.

She lost her blooms…they fell to the soil
Scattering her love across the garden
By the wind…nurturing other young buds…full of life.

She disappeared from sight
Trailing after her a colorful aura

Beautiful flowers that had been touched by her life.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Autumn Memories

Autumn smells tickle wonderful memories of my childhood. My mother, father, brother, and I lived on a parcel of land near the Rio Grande in west Albuquerque. I know “down by the river” conjures a specific image by those who enjoyed the comedy of Chris Farley, rest his soul, but our cozy adobe, flat-roofed home was nestled under huge cottonwood trees. We referred to it as “the farm,” even though it wasn’t really a farm in the sense of boasting hundreds of acres of land. We had a stable with two horses, a mare and her foil, several banty chickens, three white ducks, and two Boxers - E, I, E, I, O. Two or three acres of alfalfa grew in our front yard. After the alfalfa had been cut, the bales were stacked, creating a huge haystack from which my brother, his friends, and I swung on a homemade tire and rope swing tied to a huge cottonwood that protected the hay. I loved the smells of the freshly harvested plant. The cottonwoods glowed with an aura of gorgeous yellow-gold in autumn, and with the cooler weather came winds that blew the leaves to the ground. In the 1950’s there were not many worries about air pollution or smoke inhalation, so the valley residents raked and burned the dry leaves. The aroma epitomizes Fall. Sounds also summon fond recollections of Fall. The constant cawing of crows always predicted cooler weather, and their calls remind me are of my early years on “the farm.”

            Fast forward 50 years to our summer home in Minnesota. As I walk around the lake, I spy puffs of smoke along the shore where lake-home owners burn their fallen leaves. The aroma brings back memories of Albuquerque along the Rio Grande. In addition, the caws of the crows fill the air with noisy contentment. When we first moved into our community, it was still under development, and I had a nice view of the lake across the street beyond a vacant lot. I enjoyed my coffee on the side porch every morning, listening to the Loons call and the crows caw. One day while fixing my coffee, I heard a loud bang against the window. I thought it was a hunter’s stray bullet at first and was afraid to venture outside. My curiosity peaked, so I gingerly opened the door and walked around the house. I noticed a crow pushing himself in circles on the ground in our front yard. Oh my god, he flew into the window and now he’s injured. I ran back into the house and called a neighbor to see if there was a bird refuge anywhere close by where I could take him. In Phoenix I’ve taken sparrows and hummingbirds to a nearby bird refuge in a shoe box after they have flown into the window, stunning themselves. My neighbor didn’t know of any facility, and chalked me up as a crazy city woman having a panic attack. I went back outside to inspect the injured bird when one of the construction workers drove by in his truck. I flagged him down and showed him the poor little dazed creature. Without saying a word, he stomped on the crow’s head and flung his body over into the field across the street. I gasped and clasped my hands to my face, tears welling up in my eyes. He turned to me and laughed, “Obviously you didn’t grow up on a farm. Crows are just scavengers, and I just put him out of his misery.” “Well, Mister,” I thought to myself, “I actually did grow up on a farm! I was just trying to save a little creature’s life.” After my emotional breakdown inside the house, I researched
crows on the Internet. I discovered that they are among the world’s most intelligent animals and have
demonstrated the ability to distinguish individual humans by recognizing facial features, and are able to transmit information about bad humans. My only solace is to hope they will hunt this construction worker down, hover over his head, and poop on his neck for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Practice for the Journey

The birds and waterfowl are starting their migration South for the winter. Geese are particularly noisy this time of year. One autumn after visiting Minnesota for the summer, our campground was adjacent to a cornfield. I was sitting in my lawn chair next to our trailer enjoying a cup of Joe and the crisp fall air when I heard multiple squawking noises in the distance. The sounds became louder and louder as I turned to look at the cornfield. Over the top flew 20 or more birds, which, after careful scrutiny, I determined to be geese. They flew in a wild manner - up and down - all over the place. They obviously didn’t have a plan; they just were flying haphazardly through the air and over the tassels on the corn. However, there was an air of determination as they tried to stay together in a group, flying in the same direction over the campground. I observed the same pattern with a variety of honks every day for a week. Each day, the geese became a little better at flying behind or next to one another, and harmonized a little better with their song. Then one day I heard the honking, but it sounded more like a musical instrument than random noise. Amazed, I watched the geese as they flew over the cornfield and across the sky in a perfect V formation. They had perfected their flight pattern, decided who would be the leader, and were ready for their journey South.

Once husband and I decided to pack up our trailer and head south to our home, it took four days to drive the 1,800 miles from Northern Minnesota to the middle of Arizona. Husband played golf several days after our arrival in Phoenix, and to his amazement, he watched as a gaggle of geese, in a perfectly formed V, swoop down for a landing on the lake in the middle of the golf course - home for the winter. I am certain it was the same group, who days before, practiced for their long flight to warmth for the winter.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Lawn art is abundant here in the Midwest. Take for example this lovely toilet garden I spotted next to someone’s mailbox. It takes on a whole different meaning of potted plant, and I’m sure the postman is sure to enjoy a whiff of sweet aroma as he deposits the letters and bills into the mailbox. Even though this picture was taken in autumn, it’s certain that spring and summer flowers beautified the white porcelain throne a few months prior. I would venture to make a few suggestions for next year’s toilet flower seating. Perhaps Aster, Tulips, Sweet Pea, Peony, or Poppy.

On our Sunday drives through the farmland we discover all kinds of lawn art adorning front yards. Take for example a white metal bed, turned at a gentle angle so all who drive by can admire the intricate ironwork and lovely array of colorful flowers. I can hear Sven and Ingrid now, “Sven, now that Solveig has moved out, vhat shall we do vit her bed?” “Vell, vhy don’t we put it in the front yard, doncha know, Ingrid.” “That’s a vonderful idea, Sven. I can plant Daisy’s in it.” And that’s how the white iron bed ended up in Sven and Ingrid’s front yard.

A house recently was built not too far from us. I had to walk by several times to fully realize what was sitting on their lawn. They created a lovely oval bedding area for flowers; however, there was a smattering of items that took me a few walk bys to figure out just what all was in there. I think it would have been too suspicious had I started taking pictures or staring like a hungry vagrant. First of all there is a mirror. Yes, a mirror sitting on a log table, about the size of a chest of drawers. Maybe it is a chest of drawers. What better place to put an old chest of drawers than in the front yard. It appears that the log table is actually a planter, because flowers are protruding from the top – then the mirror. I’m not understanding this. Is it a Norwegian custom to place a mirror in your front yard? Is it kind of like burying a St. Joseph statue when you want to sell your home? Perhaps the mirror is for the deer who want to admire themselves before they go on a feeding frenzy with the Impatiens. The other items in the “flowerbed” are a rusted pitchfork, a rusted metal wagon wheel, and a small rusted cart. Perhaps they are trying to infuse more iron into the soil.

And yes, deer love Impatiens. As soon as the last crackle of ice pushes away from shore, the home owners run to Wal-Mart, K-Mart, nursery’s, and Menard’s to buy colorful flowers for their planters, pots, gardens, and shepherd’s hooks. A favorite are red or pink Impatiens. One morning last summer I walked out my front door and said to myself, What happened to all my Impatiens? All the blossoms were gone and there was nothing left but the stems. Then I looked around the neighborhood and noticed everyone’s Impatiens were chewed down to the first leaf. A hungry momma deer obviously was showing her fawn around the community as they feasted on the little round flowers. Everybody’s Impatiens disappeared overnight. The caravan of cars headed out to Wal-Mart that afternoon.

Perhaps I should take up this lawn art tradition. My house is filled with items I don’t really have a use for anymore. The front yard is beckoning. The fishing net has a hole it in – it would make a perfect trellis for a climbing vine. I have a lamp without a shade – a unique bird feeder. My cooler’s lid doesn’t close anymore – a receptacle for Geraniums. The possibilities are endless. I don’t think our HOA would mind. After all, it’s art – on the lawn. (Get up, Art, it’s time for dinner.)

Saturday, April 4, 2015

It's Easter

I was in the bank yesterday and the teller, obviously wanting to make conversation, told me she liked Easter better than Christmas now that her son is older. “Christmas is for children.” She said. Apparently she has forgotten the true meaning of both these holidays.

When my children were little, I took them to all the Easter and Christmas services at church. I aroused them from their warm cozy beds, and we went to the Easter sunrise service outside in the chilly air. It was awesome. Daughter was a bit of a tomboy so the only dress that I could force her to wear was on Easter Sunday. During Christmas week I walked them through a living nativity in the evening at our church.

As teenagers, the last time I took them to a church service on Easter Sunday, something struck them funny and they got the giggles the rest of the hour.

We’ve always had an Easter egg hunt. The Easter bunny would come early on Easter morning and hide plastic eggs filled with jellybeans and chocolate eggs in the backyard. The hunt, and competition, was on. They even found an assortment of little items like sunglasses, fancy shoelaces, books, stuffed animals… It all had to even out, because you can bet they would count to see who got more stuff.

As adults at ages 33 and 38, the bunny still comes to hide plastic eggs in the backyard, this time containing gold dollar coins and quarters. The hunt begins whenever they both arrive at the house, usually mid afternoon. I used to buy lots of candy to put in their Easter baskets. This year is a healthy year. I went to Sprouts to buy treats such as fruit snacks, beef jerky, granola bars, cocoa dark chocolate, ginger candy, and chia squeeze vitality snack. Boy, are they in for a big surprise. It took me awhile to make my choices because I had to read all the ingredients. Daughter is a vegan, so I had to check for milk, and son just became allergic to peanuts, so I had to check for nuts. I think they will enjoy the six packs of IPA beer I hid in the refrigerator.

One year on the big hunt I finally understood a very important economic lesson, the law of diminishing returns. The bunny hid about 100 eggs. At first these two adult children went wild to see who could find the most eggs. After about the first 75, they started loosing interest. But it was fun watching them count the eggs in each other’s basket to see who would be the winner.

Easter is the beginning of new life…a renewed beginning for all. Enjoy the day, weekend, year…and remember what the holiday is all about.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


I am standing in a line with all the others. There are about 50 people in front of me, and thousands more behind me. I worry about what I am going to say. I practice my speech in my head, over and over again.

As if standing in line to buy tickets to a concert, the people around me quietly start chatting and sharing stories. We wonder what our fate is going to be when we finally reach the long white table.  Someone states that one of the questions will be, “What did you do yesterday, and what would you have done differently?” After thinking about it for a few minutes, this is what I prepare to say:

What did I do yesterday: I cleaned the bathrooms and vacuumed the living room. I fed the dog and prepared for my classes. I watered the garden and emptied the dishwasher. I watched the news on TV and drank a half bottle of wine.

What would I have done differently: I hijacked my son and daughter from work and drove them to the airport. They accepted this as though it were an every day excursion. We flew to Virginia Beach, Virginia so I could show them where their father and I used to go crabbing by tying a chicken leg on a string and enticing the crabs to join us on the sand. We watched the day dawn as it rose over the water and shivered in the cool morning air. We experienced a new beginning – a new adventure – the beginnings of a marriage and life together. We feasted on fresh crab legs, Pinot Gris, ice cream, and chocolate brownies.

We boarded another plane and flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was my beginning – where I was born. The Sandia Mountains are my fortress and my strength. They stand tall and emit an ever-
changing kaleidoscope of light, orchestrated by the sun as it sinks below the horizon – green, then pink, purple, then dark blue, then black. It will never falter and will always stand strong against adversity. We feasted on enchiladas, margaritas, and flan.

We drove to Lake Powell where family and childhood memories are etched into the red stone like the petroglyphs from years ago. The lake was man made, but the sheer cliffs were formed by a
greater force – much like our lives together. We watched the moon as it rose over Castle Rock and twinkling light crystals danced on the water beyond our reach. We feasted on baked potatoes, steak, and drank red beer.

I realize that I have finally reached the long white table. Everyone who was standing in line before me is gone. Beyond the white table are white clouds that are slowly disappearing into a vortex filled with yellow light. The clouds wrap around me and I move along with them.