Monday, October 17, 2011

When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall

Chet Atkins playing Autumn Leaves is the perfect accompaniment for the photos I took yesterday when John drove us up the road to Rocky Mountain National Park to see the changing colors. The aspen trees always look splendid, but their Fall colors are my favorites.

It was a long day, since it began with me singing at both services at our church, First Christian in Loveland. We were there from about eight in the morning, or somewhat before that actually, until nearly one in the afternoon by the time we cleared the parking lot. I was wishing I had eaten breakfast, but I keep crackers in the back seat of the car and had two of those between services (great crackers, by the way—Crackerfuls, Four Cheese flavor). We took a lunch up the hill about twenty minutes to the park entrance, just the other side of Estes Park. We know how lucky we are to live that close.

The drive up along the canyon, following Big Thompson River was beautiful, but I always love rivers, and this one is popular with fly fishermen. On our way back down later we stopped and talked with one who said he was having a very good day, and didn't mind that I included his photo in my blog. He said the fish were biting, but not as much as he had hoped. Still, any day on the river is a good day. 

When we arrived in Rocky Mountain National Park we knew we were a couple of weeks too late to get the best of the fall colors, but it's taken the physical therapist a couple of weeks to get me to the point where I could get in and out of the car, climbing around taking pictures. We were lucky we made it when we did, since a storm front came in last night, and I understand the rain and snow pretty much did in most of the last of the leaves. If we hadn't made it last night, it would have had to wait for next year. I think we went through that last year, didn't we? 

My hip was a little extra sore this morning, but when I look at photos like this, it's worth it. I took about 300 photos, but lucky you... I've condensed my favorites into a short slideshow for you. And since nobody does it better, I downloaded Chet Atkins' version of Autumn Leaves as the accompanying music. He played as crisp and clear as the autumn air.

Friday, October 14, 2011

St. Petersburg, Russia, and Cruising

I grew up in a generation that feared the Russians. In the early 90s I was in the Thousand Oaks, California audience for the performance of the Red Star Army Chorus when they brought the audience to its feet, and most of us to tears by singing God Bless America. Even then, I never expected to walk the streets of a Russian city, tasting its beauty and photographing the extravagance of its culture.

As always, sharing the adventure with family made it so much more special. The cruise ship's second stop was St. Petersburg, Russia. Ben and I were both in pain, and everything we wanted to see seemed miles away, but we walked for hours, and the weather held off from its expected downpour until we returned to the ship. People in costume posed with tourists like us for a small sum, and we thought it was worth it a couple of times.

There are many photos that show John looking back, and that was because I continually limped along behind the group. I guess he figured they'd eventually lose me, but they never did. 

The buildings were amazing, a blend of spectacular and military grey. There was enough gold on some of them to fund a third world country. It will never be scraped off the buildings, of course, since it is their country's heritage in many ways, but it still astounded me to see the glitter next to the somber darkness of some of the older buildings. It is a country of contrasts, if St. Petersburg is anything to go by. Here's your Slideshow.

After wearing ourselves out trying to see everything possible in the city, we made our way back to the cruise ship, and I enjoyed my "daily spa treatment." I should explain that. The first night on board ship, Ben let us know he was going to the ship's spa for a drawing. Hardly anyone knows about this sort of thing, as they're off drinking and exploring. Ben always checks things out, and had learned that there was a "have to be there to win" drawing for products and services in the ship's spa. I invited myself along and got in on the draw. Ben and I sat there and listened to name after name being called, with the people not being present. It ended up with Ben and me each winning $250 in spa services. He used his for a couples massage with Ruth, but I split mine up for the daily massage specials, which meant I got a massage and facial every day we were on the ship, except for the day we disembarked. Sweet. Thanks, Ben. I've never used a ship's spa before. I'd never had a facial before—good things, both.

I spent the next day either with the kids or on deck photographing the Baltic as we went through the passage. It was beautiful, and sunset that night was incredible. I love being on the ocean, and a day at sea is a pleasure for me. 

The next morning, as we made our way through the small inhabited islands of the Baltic approaching Sweden once again, I enjoyed the early morning fog and mist that rose from homes and churches dotting what I believe was Finland for a time. It was remote and beautiful, and it appeared that people came and went by boat. 
There were few people out as early as I was, but I didn't miss having them in my photos. Some of the islands were tiny, and some were fairly large. You'll see a larger sampling on the Cruise Slideshow

We pulled into Stockholm at the end of the trip and were among the first to return to land. I have already shared photos of Sweden before and after the cruise, but there's one little side trip I failed to include. We went to a mall for ice cream, and I have to admit it was one of the most interesting presentations I've ever had. They split open an absolutely delicious cupcake or muffin, at the choice of the one ordering, and filled the split with an ice cream or frozen yogurt of your choice. It was way too much, I thought, for one person to eat alone, and the girls had cones instead, which they loved, but Ruth showed us the truth of the old verse: Where there's a will, there's a way.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tallinn, Estonia—First Cruise Stop

Each of the three years we've gone to visit the kids in Amsterdam, we've gone on an adventure together. This year our adventure was a trip to Sweden, followed by a cruise to Tallinn, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia, then a day cruising in the Baltic Sea, returning to Stockholm.

I've been working on a slide show for the Tallinn, Estonia portion of our trip this morning, while I'm "fresh." Physical Therapy yesterday took a lot out of me, but gave me hope that there's light at the end of the tunnel. There's just no replacement for a great physical therapist. I'm not sure how many years of training they have to go through, but the good ones, and I know I have one of the best, have magic hands and an incredible font of knowledge.

Estonia, at least the corner we visited, wore its age well. I would have loved to see it without all the tourists, but since we were part of the horde, I shouldn't complain. Everything in America seems fresh and young by comparison to cities and countries in Europe. They treasure their history, at least in the places we've visited. You'll see a modern building, something from the last fifty years or later, next to a building hundreds of years old that's been preserved and is still in use. They exist side by side and add character to the city.

As always, seeing these places with family make them more special, and going through the photos brought the memories back to life. I remember Kate having a melt down and wanting to be held, and how Ben picked her up and walked with her, even though his back was beyond painful. Ruth was so upset that he wasn't taking care of himself, I thought she'd grab the child away from him, but she allowed him to do what he felt he must. Their respect for each other, as always, melted something inside me—and Kate calmed down instantly.

Ben always researches thoroughly whatever places we'll visit and finds the most interesting things. Tallinn happens to have an out of the way romantic spot... a kissing statue that's said to be good luck for couples who stand and kiss next to it. They couldn't resist. We were coerced. Let's say we couldn't resist them. The photos of that are proof enough, and are in the slide show.

After walking back to the cruise ship and making arrangements to meet for dinner, I took something for pain and headed for the ship's spa and a massage. I was counting my blessings with every step. Enjoy the slide show. They represent precious memories to me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Family Time in Holland

Before and after our trip to Sweden and the cruise, we spent days of love and laughter with Ben, Ruth, and our grandchildren. We enjoyed Kate's 3rd birthday, highlighted with laughter and the joy of watching how beautifully she knew how to share with Ashley. We were still there for the first day of the school year for Ashley and for Kate, starting preschool for the first time. We were there when Aiden turned 6th months old, and knew joy day by day. 

When I think of our travels, these are the first days that come to mind. It's not the monuments and tourist sites that made August memories the most special of treasures. It's the time spent with family. It's true that it's not where you go in life, but who you share it with that makes it special. 

There were times spent at the local play area near their home, when the girls ran from swings to other playground equipment. It's a nice place for children, and a great place for a nap, as Grandpa demonstrated. 

Ashley showed off her skill on a bicycle and the girls played in the sandbox. Ruth's patience seems endless. You can't hide the kind of parents you are when you invite the folks to spend a month. These are solid, loving parents—consistent and deserving of as many children as they can handle. I realize I've said this before, if not on my blog, then at least to friends: I'm so glad they're raising my grandchildren. I know my other sons well enough to believe they'll be good parents, too, when they're so blessed.

Just in time to see us before we returned home, our oldest son, Tighe, flew in to Amsterdam on a business trip and was able to join the family for a visit before getting down to work. It was such a wonderful time, and I loved hearing the girls count down the days before Uncle Tighe's arrival. They adore him, and it's no wonder why. He's so willing to get down on their level and play, almost tirelessly. Most importantly, he loves them back in the same way.

He had his arms and lap full almost from the moment of his arrival, it seemed, whenever he sat down. Standing up, someone was climbing one of his legs or dancing around him. Uncle must sound like a word of delight to him, the way their sweet voices sang it out.

Our time with the family was sweet, and here's a short slide show to share some of our favorite photos of those days.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Two Visits to Stockholm, Sweden

After a few wonderful days with Ben & Ruth and the grandchildren in The Netherlands, the trip to Paris, and a few more days in their home after our return from that marvelous trip, we all flew from Amsterdam to Stockholm, Sweden. Each time we visit their family in Europe, we have an adventure together, and this was the beginning of this year's journey.

It started and ended in Stockholm, but I'm combining the two visits to save myself a little confusion. My camera, unlike Benjamin's, doesn't have a GPS locator in it, and I was (again) a little careless about resetting the camera's date and time function. There you have it. My younger brain wouldn't have forgotten. Now I'm just happy to take good photos and sort through them later.

Because Ben hurt his back just before leaving for Sweden, he was in considerable pain and unable to lift anything, including children or luggage. In fact, he had all he could do to walk for a few days. At one point, Ruth looked at the kids, the luggage, and Ben. He was hunched over like an old man, his face twisted in pain. We were preparing to leave the house for a flight, a cruise, and another flight. "Are we nuts?" she asked me. "Probably," I answered, but none of us wanted to scrap the travel plans he had worked so hard months ago to put in place. Besides, we'd already paid for everything, so—carry on!

In Stockholm Benjamin bought walking sticks to help him get around in a fairly upright position. Ruth and John took up most of the slack with carrying the kids and luggage as needed. Until my shoulders are repaired or rebuilt, I'm very limited on what I can do without causing further damage, and my left hip hurts worse than either shoulder, so I was nearly as bad as my son. We were a motley crew, but together we managed everything. John is a trooper, with never a complaint. It's no wonder I call him my Sherpa.

The sights and sounds of Stockholm will stay with me forever. The weather was supposed to be heavy with rain and thunderstorms, but we got just a few drizzles and some glorious clouds. It was cool and bright most of the time, which made all the walking so much easier. I've mentioned before that I do not do heat gracefully. It's all I can do to be nice when the temperatures "soars" beyond 80°. Yes, I said 80. I love it around 60-65°. Even 70-75° is fine. That's about what we got.

Trust me. You've never been shopping until you window shop with grandchildren. They had so much fun trying on hats and wigs, playing with little wind toys and looking at things, I spent the one afternoon of shopping just laughing until my cheeks hurt. It amazed me how few times they expected to be allowed to keep anything. Once in awhile they'd ask, but it was never with the expectation of hearing a yes. Good parenting. You can't ask the grandparents to come for a month and hide what kind of parents you are, or what kind of relationship you really have. It's solid and beautiful.

The churches (or should I call them cathedrals?), theaters, canals and gardens were spectacular. If my slideshow seems long, rest assured you're not seeing one in thirty of the photos I took—especially of the children. 

I know it's not politically correct to say "my grandchildren are the cutest, the smartest," etc., and I always swore I wouldn't be that kind of grandma. Blame Ben and Ruth for having the children they have. I can't help it if I'm honest enough to admit that they are the cutest and smartest kids I've been around. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Paris for Two

Just the two of us? But we don't speak French... I really wasn't in favor of this trip at the beginning. I could picture getting lost and people laughing at us as we tried to communicate in sign language. I don't know sign language.

But Benjamin told me that Paris was the number one tourist destination in Europe for a reason, and this would probably be our last opportunity to see it. We should go. Alone. The two of us together. An early 35th anniversary trip.

I was excited, yet I was moderately terrified. I thought of the Louvre. I thought about walking along the Seine and seeing the Arc de Triomphe. Going up in the Eiffel Tower sounded like something I could force myself to do. Maybe. I found out it wasn't scary at all.

Most of all, I wanted to go to mass at Notre Dame. We did that, and although I didn't get much out of the sermon, not speaking any French besides ferme la buche (probably spelled wrong, but means shut your mouth) which I don't think the priest had call to use, it was beautiful. And the organ music was enough to make angels weep. Before leaving I was able to light a candle for my mom and Papa John in front of the rose window.

A little warning...if you ever want to go to church there, make sure to arrive at least an hour before service starts so you can actually get a seat.

John and I went on a wonderful cruise of the river Seine, ate crepes along the way (chocolate) and took photos. The bridges are amazing. We saw a bride and groom walking along, him fussing with her dress, and it seemed a sweet moment in time to me. There was also a boat accident that confused us, since nobody else on our boat seemed at all concerned about it, even though divers were going under the water and an ambulance was racing along the shore toward the craft. We never found out what had happened.

I'm not sure what kind of ceremony was going on at the Arc de Triomphe the day we were there, but they rather quickly closed it off from regular tourists and a bunch of military types swarmed in with flowers and such. It would have been so nice if I hadn't run my battery out of juice just at that moment.

We loved our time in Paris, and it amazed me how easy it was to get around on their rapid transit lines. Their metro is slick and well organized. I imagine anyone who can read any language using the same alphabet could very quickly learn their way around the city. Each stop has bullet points that show which connections can be made from there, so if you know what line you need to get to, it's easy to see where you need to transfer. They've made it simple.

I loved their train terminal. After having gotten lost and making it to our train by only three minutes in Amsterdam, where you absolutely must ask someone where your train is, since there's no sign telling you, this was pure pleasure. Everything was big, bright and very obvious. Yes, my slideshow is somewhat long, but maybe you can tell me later what I could have cut out. I couldn't decide.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

July in California—Family Gatherings

July only seems like ages ago because so much has happened since. My camera is the best indicator. I've taken over 2,500 photos since then. No, I'm not going to share them all. Don't you feel lucky? Here are some of my treasures, though, and a short slide show of moments and memories we shared.

We arrived in California on the Fourth of July and our first stop was at Aunt Lisa's home in Simi Valley. She's our Ruth's sister, Aunt to our grandchildren. We shared a pot luck and went on to their church's big grassy yard to watch the children play until the fireworks started. There were the requisite oohs and aahs, of course, and then we split up for our own beds. It was the first time we'd met our newest Grandson, Aiden. It had also been ages since we'd enjoyed a face to face visit with our granddaughters or our youngest son Ben and his wife Ruth. Simply put, it was a splendid evening together.

The week had a couple of other events I'll share. Beach day was a special memory. I know, I don't much care for the beach, even though I love the ocean. I just don't love the sand. It's hard to walk on and gets everywhere you don't want it to be. It's fun to watch the kids play in it, though, and I think you can do anything with grandchildren and have a blast.

The other really special day was visiting Great Grandma Zimmerman, my mom. Papa John spent most of the time we were there in another room. His eyes were bothering him, and the flash of the camera was upsetting him, so he didn't get in any photos that day. I'm more sorry about that than I can express, especially since he's gone now. The pictures we got were wonderful, though, and I'll share those. The girls loved picking oranges from Great Grandma's trees.

Finally, if you have time, I put togethe
r a little slideshow. This one isn't too long. As I progress through our European holiday later in the coming weeks, they might get out of control, but for now I'm using restraint.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Last Night of Vacation

We've been gone nearly a month now, and tomorrow morning we'll head back to the airport and take flight back across the Atlantic Ocean toward home. There will be many hours in the air, eight time zones crossed, and a few hours and customs to pass through in Washington D.C. before the final flight to Colorado.

So much has happened this month, it will take many posts to share it all. The first step, once we return home, will be to download my camera of all the priceless photos I've taken. I'm grateful for the digital camera we have, since I already know we have beautiful images to share, and I'll do some slide shows that capture the best of our memories—I hope.

Our first week with the kids and grandkids was wonderful, and then John and I left for Paris together. It surpassed any expectations I had. I can honestly say it was one of the more remarkable cities I've visited, and I didn't feel hampered by my ignorance of the language. People treated us beautifully. I did learn to say "Good day, do you speak English?" in French, which probably helped quite a bit. Most people did, at least enough for our needs. I can hardly wait to share our visit to Paris with you all.

Shortly after our return to The Netherlands, we all boarded a jet together and flew to Stockholm, Sweden. Ben put his back out just before we left, so he was in a considerable amount of pain. It made getting baggage and children from place to place a little crazy. That's part of the Sweden story, but it's just a side bar to several days that were great despite Ben's pain and rainy weather.

We took a cruise from there, and the story will continue with tales of Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia. What an amazing city that was! You'll see by the photos. We walked our legs off, but there was so much to see that it was worth it.

Our day at sea would seem to have been a time when the camera might not be used, but my photos that day were wonderful as well, from the grandchildren, to photos of the fiords we were passing through, and capped off by a spectacular sunset. It was heavenly.

We returned for another couple of days in Stockholm, where we got the news that my step father of 30 years had been transfered to a Hospice Home for his final days. I knew we wouldn't be able to make it back to my Mom before he passed away, and it saddened me. We waited and prayed as we continued on, flying back to Amsterdam on the 20th, four days before Papa John passed away.

So it's been a long month, and we'll be taking another trip to California to see Mom after we get home. The memorial service is being delayed so family can gather. It'll be on the 16th of September. Hopefully our jet lag and laundry will be memories by the time we pull out of the driveway to head out there. And I'll have at least one or two cities posted. Tomorrow is for flying. Tonight is for sleeping. Goodnight, Moon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We're Not In Kansas Anymore

No. We're not in Colorado, either. We're back in Amsterdam after three days in Paris. I'll do a city by city detailed account with photos when we return home, but I did want to update you on some of the highlights while they're fresh.

We had no reason to fear being Americans without any French language skills. The people we met were charming and friendly. Our time there was beyond special, if not without trials. Getting out of Amsterdam proved to be a trial because the metro line we were to take no longer connected to our destination due to work on the line. None of us knew that, however, and every time we got on one of the trams, it let us off at the next stop. We made it to Amsterdam Central Station with 30 minutes to spare, but there are no signs telling people where to go for which train, so you have to ask. No one knew—and John needed a bathroom. We finally decided to stop looking for one of those and continue looking for the train.

We wound up on a track that I was sure was the right place. Someone in a uniform came along, and I thought I'd verify with him by showing him our tickets. He said, No, go over there and pointed across the rails to the other side of the track. We had ten minutes before the train was to leave, so we rushed down the track, a set of stairs, a concourse, then up another set of stairs and down that track. It took five minutes to get to the top. No one was there. I looked across to where we had been and saw a train was now boarding. I yelled across at a different man in uniform. Is that the train to Paris? Yes, he said. It leaves in four minutes. Hurry! We ran all the way back, suitcases bumping down the stairs, and were out of breath, and the last the board the train before it pulled out 30 seconds after we got on. John got to use the W.C. on board.

The train station in Paris is very different. Everything is well marked. You would have to be an idiot to get lost there, I think. We had no trouble finding our way from the train to the metro, nor did I have any difficulty buying tickets for two two-day Metro passes and a one way Metro ticket each for our trip that evening to the hotel.

Some of the images I'll keep in my head forever from Paris are the man playing violin in the Metro station while he waited for his train to come. The trio practicing with keyboard, sax, and horn that we rode with long enough one of the days to hear Blue Moon and Hello Dolly. They were really good. Reading signs and realizing I could understand some of them. Watching John try to find a cup of American coffee. He'd end up drinking espresso and being polite about it, but he never did find what he was looking for. The bread! I'll probably dream about the breads we ate... baguettes, croissants, breads I have no idea what their sweet little French names were. They'll all live in my heart forever, absolutely delicious.

One thing we realized when we got on the train is that my beautiful raincoat got lost somewhere—probably on the last train they crammed us into on our way to Central Station. It was standing room only, and they were starting and stopping at full speed. People were falling into each other, and John took my hat and raincoat along with all the baggage to keep me from getting hurt, so I'd have two hands to hold onto the pole with. He's a good guy like that. We met a wonderful clerk in a boutique next to the hotel after getting caught in a rainstorm. She had nothing under 400 euros, and I told her that was over my means. She gave me directions to a store near the Louvre. Wait until you see my Paris raincoat! I've never had anything so beautifully made. And that kind lady was right. We paid 68 euros for it. I can't get over the detailing on it.

When I revisit the cities one by one (with photos) I'll go into details on The Louvre and The Eiffel Tower, the Arch de Triumphe and Notre Dame. Meanwhile, just know that I wouldn't trade these memories. And I'm so grateful I have John for my traveling companion. He's the best.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Happy Days

We've been enjoying our first few days in The Netherlands with the kids. Unfortunately, Ben has had to work, since it's been mid-week, but we've seen him in the evenings for dinner and usually a movie and conversation at night. One of the highlights is always their bedtime routine with the children. We're lucky to have them raising our grandchildren. They're great parents.

What makes their bedtime routine so special is that it's a family affair. In most homes, including ours when the children were small, bedtime involves parents telling the children it's time to go to bed and the little ones arguing about it and bouncing out of bed for a while until both children and parents are exhausted. While this is going on, the parents attempt to talk or watch television.

Here, bedtime is something to look forward to. They climb the stairs together, Mama and Daddy supervise the choice of pajamas and help with brushing of teeth and other necessary chores. Then the fun begins. First they read a scripture, followed by a story. The children take turns picking out what story is going to be read. Then they each choose two songs to sing together, and everyone sings along. After that, each one takes a turn describing the most special part of their day. This is followed up with bedtime prayers and tucking in the little ones. Daddy then produces a children's travel type spill-proof bottle of water for each of them, and it goes on the corner of their headboards. A final kiss goodnight, the covers are pulled up, and the children are down for the count. It's really beautiful.

During the day Ruth is constantly picking up toys, cooking, and doing craft projects with the girls. Day before yesterday she let us sort colors from a box of Fruit Loops into little cups. Then we transferred each color into a plastic baggie and mashed them up with a rolling pin, then put them back into the cups. Each of us (yes, Grandma made a picture, too) got a sheet of construction paper. We'd paint with glue and sprinkle Fruit Loops onto it. Shake the extra back into the bowl and then glue paint where you want the next color. It was really fun. The pictures, once dry, got hung in the entry way for Daddy's loud exclamations of amazement.

Today John and I will travel (alone!) to Paris. We're taking the train, and we're both moderately terrified. Neither of us speak French, of course. I get lost really easily, so can't be left alone anywhere. It wasn't always this way, but certainly is now. (Have a few seizures and see what changes for you...) Ben made all the travel arrangements—train and hotel, so that's half the battle. We just have to figure out how to get from the train station to the hotel, and from there to everything we want to see.

You'll probably get updates, since the Concorde La Fayette, our hotel, has free WiFi. I wish we had thought to pack the GPS. Or maybe it wouldn't work over here. I think we would have had to buy maps. Probably worth it. At least I've got the iPad to help now. I think I can find anything on it that I could on a computer. Oh. It is a computer. It's so small and portable I almost forgot. The whole house is sleeping, and I'm sitting at the kitchen table posting a blog on my iPad. How sweet it is. Thank you, John. He thought it was a smart decision for my writing, and he's definitely be correct.

So as you are all heading into the end of your Friday, we're starting our Saturday here. Blessings to us all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Early to Bed

I actually went to bed at 8 o'clock tonight. We leave the house at 4:15 a.m. tomorrow to catch a ride with our good neighbor Doug to the local bus connection that will take us to Denver International Airport. From there we'll be on the 10:03 United flight to Houston where we'll change planes and continue on to The Netherlands. We'll land the next morning in Amsterdam at 8:20 in the morning.

Now it's almost 10, two hours later, and sleep has evaded me. I have mental images of grandchildren running up to greet me, warm hugs from my son and daughter-in-law warming my soul. I guess I can sleep on the plane. I've got a Karen Kingsbury novel all queued up on my iPod to keep me company on the plane if I don't sleep, but since we arrive in the morning, I hope I'll drift off at some point. Still, I'm sure an afternoon nap will be in order the day we arrive.

Swallowing my pride, I decided to take along my cane for use in the airport. My hip has been giving me fits lately. It's painful, which I'm used to, but it's also been collapsing under me unexpectedly at times, which is disconcerting to say the least. It won't hurt to have the extra support if I need it. The can is light weight and collapsable for when it's not in use. If there are stairs, or we hit rough weather on the cruise ship, I may find I'm glad I took it. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. I'm also taking along some extra empty zip lock baggies so I can ask for ice if the hip or my shoulders get really bad on the plane.

I'm asking myself the same pre-travel question as always. What am I forgetting? The only thing I'm sure of this time (so far) is wrapping paper for Kate's 3rd birthday gifts. I already warned Ruth, and she says we'll handle that when we arrive. At least I'm happy with the presents, and I can always use tin foil. My mom often used tin foil with pennies taped onto it. As a kid, I thought that was awesome.

We had friends from church over tonight, and it made me think about how difficult it is for me, as an adult, to make close friends. I can count on my fingers the number of tight friendships I have. Still, those I count as friends remain that way indefinitely, because I don't put up a mask. What they see is what they get. Tammy and Matt didn't stay long, but we made plans for S'Mores when we get back. We originally met them through the Financial Peace class we took. That class was a blessing in many ways. Matt is one of the men John works with now in the sound booth at church. It's so nice when both halves of the couples really like each other. I'm glad we got to see each other before we leave.

It'll be difficult to post much while we're gone, but I'll try to write once in a while. Photos of the trip will come after our return on the 27th, most likely few if any earlier than that. I hope you each have blessings in your life during this next month. I know I will—new places to visit, and my arms full of grandchildren.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Advising the Baby Deer

Our yard is graced by woodland creatures. We see red fox, very timid, who race away through the cool morning twilight whenever they see me head out for the newspaper. There are bunnies and a few people swear they've seen mountain lions, but we've never spotted one in five years, or any sign of one. We get the most joy from the regular visits from the deer. It's especially wonderful when their fawns are born.

This year our herd only had three new babies, twins from one of the does and a single baby from another. Until today, they've only visited with their mothers. Today the three came together to our yard to play without any adult supervision. I guess they're growing up, but haven't lost their spots yet. I went out to sit on the deck after dinner and they all scampered through the pines away from me, then stopped at a safe distance. There they turned and stood looking at me.

I moved slowly, sitting at the table on the deck and said, "Hello, deer. Don't you all look wonderful tonight!"

I always talk to them, using my most nonthreatening voice. I treat them like they should expect people to talk to them. Gradually they wandered back until they stood in a wary group about ten feet from me, heads canted, listening. I told them we were planning to take a trip, and would be gone a month. I asked them not to forget me while we were gone. To take care of each other, and keep growing strong. I suggested they listen to their mothers, even when they didn't like what they were hearing.

Have fun together, I said, and be glad you have family and cousins around. That's important now, but will be more important in the future. And make sure you take care of yourselves, because winter is coming. I know it's been hot lately, but when the snow starts to fall, it will balance it out. I explained that I clomp around in the yard once the snow covers the ground, so they should get used to seeing me around the yard, and not just on the deck.

With a rustle and a bark, one of the mothers came through the shrubbery and pines. She stood and watched for a minute, then turned to leave. "Hi there, Mama," I called. She looked back, but kept moving. I wondered if she is one of the babies from the last five years, all grown up. Impossible to tell.

As the three from this year's generation fell into line behind her, I realized how contented I am to be living here. The feeling comes over me often.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

When I'm Not Writing

At the Crested Butte Writers Conference I attended recently, I was fortunate to meet many wonderful writers. They touched and inspired me in many ways. One evening we had a reader's night. Sitting in a large circle, we took turns reading some of our work. (No, I didn't read. I did, however, join one of the others playing guitar at the end of the evening.)

There were a wide variety of genres being read. I sat with notepad open, taking names so I'd know who I wanted to buy from the published authors, and follow from the pre-published ones. Some, I felt sure, would soon wind up on my book store shelves—they were that good. (I do realize there is no such thing as soon in the publication business...)

Tonight I want to mention one writer in particular. Marcie Telander had slipped through the conference days without my noticing her. We'd never sat at the same table, or shared a meal together. Suddenly I became totally mesmerized listening to her read a poem entitled "When I'm Not Writing." It was such a clear view of the dichotomy of a writer's life that afterwards I asked permission to reprint it on my blog. She said I could, but then we failed to connect for me to get a copy.

Today she emailed it to me. I reprint it here and recommend you visit her website to enjoy more of her work. Just click the link. And thanks, Marcie. This is such a keeper.

When I Am Not Writing by Marcie Telander

When I am not writing

I am sure that constellations, galaxies,

whole universes are


When I am not writing I starve

and the scent of forbidden

fruit, in the form of feasts,

fetishes, the phantasmagoria

of words

are being served up

and devoured by others,

not I.

When I am not writing,

I always bore


When I am not writing

I am grieving—

I am the Orphan.

When I am not writing

my characters are

planning to run away

or worse, write me out of

the plot.

When I am not writing

I can take time

to stare at my cat,

lie across my horse’s warm

lazy body,

make long slow hours of love,

with a real human being.

When I am not writing

I can actually listen to you,

and not be seduced by

the dialogue in my head.

When I am not writing I am

a devoted partner, a fabulous gardener

an ironer of sheets,

an arranger of flowers, a harvester of wild plants,

a dancer of tangos, a greedy reader of books,

a sultry singer of scat,

adventurous explorer, and peaceful, pausing

Madonna in the sun.

When I am not writing

I am glad, guilty,

despondent, elated

clanking with envy—

I may drink too much, I rage—

I yearn, I feel divorced and

set free, at last! And--

I am always seeking

that lover

who left me last chapter, last

week, and is still,

if I am worthy,

waiting just around the

next parenthetical bend.

When I am not writing I am calm, still,

myself at last---

but, do not trust me for a second.

Deep inside there lurks the

desperate lover who

is ready to kill or die

for all those characters, voices,

terrible, wonderful relationships

that could,

should be born—

when at last,

I am

writing again.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Are We There Yet?

As difficult as this trip has been, there have been bright spots of joy blended into the mix. I'll begin with those, then explain the current predicament and when we plan to return home.

We've spent time with our youngest son, his beautiful wife and their children—our grandchildren. I got real giggles from Aiden when I called him a "cheap date" at the frozen yogurt store. We met up there for an evening treat. Grandpa decided to buy for everyone, but Aiden is only four months old. He didn't get any. He was happily watching everyone enjoying their choices when I told him he was a cheap date, and he must have thought that was the funniest thing I had ever said. Laughing babies are such a blessing. Granddaughters enjoying frozen desserts are, as well.

It was more fun with a cold delicious bowl than I ever remember having before. By the way, I chose banana with miniature Reece's Cups on the top. From my point of view, it was perfect. We went from there to Target, where we walked around and the girls got to pick out their new backpacks and lunch boxes. They both wanted the same ones, so Ruth is going to have fun making sure each girl gets the right bag and box when it's time to leave home. Maybe she'll put names on them. Disney Princess bags and Tinkerbell lunch boxes won the competition in both little hearts.

Yesterday morning the local theatre had a free showing of How to Train Your Dragon. Neither of the girls had ever been to a show in public before, although they watch movies at home with the family. They did beautifully. John and I joined them, and Ben bought a huge bag of popcorn to share. It was a movie John and I had seen before, but it was much more fun with the girls. I was amazed at just how respectful and quiet they were. Kate isn't three yet. Ashley is just four. I figured their first trip to the movies would entail some hushed whispering about behavior. It never needed to happen.

Some memories are worth more than gold. Near the end of the movie, when things were getting really exciting, Kate reached up and kissed my cheek. I looked over and she smiled at me. I held out my arms and she climbed on my lap for the last ten or so minutes of the film. It reminds me of that wonderful old hymn... "Precious memories, how they linger. How they ever flood my soul."

These moments have kept us sane. We return to the home where my mom is dealing with deterioration and dementia. My step father is not doing well. It appears he has had new small strokes that effect his balance, and he can no longer walk properly. He keeps falling and wants no one to help but her. She can no longer leave the house. He won't cooperate with anyone else. He barely eats. Doesn't want the walker. Refused assistance from the nurses (2) and physical therapist who have come to the house to help Mom.

It's been a nightmare for her, and an exercise in frustration and patience for us. We can keep her grocery list filled. I can change her bandage twice a day while she heals from her surgery. I make sure she's not spending her energy on cooking or clean-up. I can lend an ear and a shoulder to lean on. What needs most to be done is beyond me. I cannot make her see the need for him to be in a care facility. I can't show her how emotionally fragile she's become without upsetting her more.

Big brother to the rescue. We'll leave for home Sunday after church. Pat and his wife will arrive Sunday afternoon. Already I know we've stayed beyond what is wise. I run out of my medications five doses before arriving home. It's the seizure medication that worries me most. I'll call my neurologist today and see if he can phone in a small prescription to get us home. The blessing, all problems aside, is knowing Pat & Betty will be here to support Mom. You can get a clear image of them. Think salt of the earth.

We can head for home knowing Mom won't be left alone to make impossible decisions.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Caretakers Have it Tough

Until you're in the same house for days at a time, it's impossible to realize how very difficult it is to be caretaker for a loved one who has dementia. There are the obvious problems, but there are hidden ones as well.

If you try to explain something to them and go beyond two sentences, they cannot remember the first sentence when you get to sentence three. Neither do they care. Trying to have a serious discussion with someone who sits there grinning at you with a "talk to the hand" look on his face makes me want to scream and slap. You can't do that. It wouldn't help anyway. It wouldn't work with a two year old, and it wouldn't work with a 97 year old with dementia.

The current crises, and of course we're having one or I wouldn't be up at 5 a.m. writing, should be classified as, "I won't do that. People will think I'm old." Again, when you're 97, why would you care? Your years should be counted as memories or milestones, badges of honor. Not demerits. He's decided that he can't use a cane. Physical progression of age has determined that he cannot walk without it. He grips walls and furniture as he makes his way through the rooms. Walls work quite well. Furniture tips over, pulling him down and crashing on top of him.

He's a big guy, well over six feet tall. My mom is about five foot two. She can't pick him up. He refuses help from anyone else. He has fallen three times in the last two days. Each time he swears at my husband, who "must have pushed me." After all, it has to be someone's fault, and can't be his. He won't allow my big strapping husband to assist him from the floor. He wants my little mother to do it.

On Monday she'll call a visiting nurse. She's afraid to take him out of the house without the cane he refuses to use. She can't even continue sending him to the Senior Concerns adult day care center if he can't walk without falling.

We'll be here another five days. It's not enough. She refuses our offer to stay. She needs more support than a visit can provide. No wonder I'm not sleeping. There are no easy answers for a caretaker. Apparently there aren't any for a daughter who lives so far away, either.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Difficult Decisions

The call came from my son just as Mom and I walked into the pharmacy to purchase more bandages. She had another skin cancer surgery on on Wednesday.

The good news is that it was basil cell. The bad news is that the Mohs surgery took three rounds to get all the cancer, and when they were done the surgeon needed to remove part of her ear lobe to do a skin graft, replacing part of the ear he had needed to remove. It was a painful process, leaving her swollen and unable to wear her hearing aid in the only ear with any hearing.

It needs to be cleaned and re-bandaged twice a day. I've never seen her so needy. I'm used to her being strong and opinionated, independent. My heart is with the kids and grandkids. This was their last day at the beach. When Ben called to invite us to the beach I told him the truth, as far as it went. John didn't want to get back in the sun today. He would prefer to go after the worst heat of the day was past. Could we head out there around sunset? No, they'd be putting the kids down right after dinner, since they were leaving the beach in the morning.

Mom had already asked me to take her to Bingo today to see her friends—a little sympathy, a little fun, she said. My step-father has severe dementia and this was one of the days the bus took him to the adult day care program to give her (and other care givers) a breather from their difficult routines. She wanted to make the most of it. I waited hours before agreeing. The next three hours were already promised. My heart was torn. I have so little time with these sweet grandchildren, but how much do I have left with my mother? She turned 90 in December. There was no decision to make.

Ben will call me when they get back to town from the beach. Mom's already talking about Saturday bingo. Her John will have to go along, so if my John (my mother, sister and I all married men named John, so it sometimes gets confusing) and I come along, they can play pool together while we play bingo. Four hours is all she's asking from my day, counting travel time. Will it work out? I'll have to hope Ben calls early and invites us over early or late, rather than in the afternoon. Children nap in the afternoon, right? That's what Mom said, hopefully suggesting just one more day at bingo together at the senior center in town.

I've often thought of the quandary I'd be in if given the choice between an out of mind and an out of body experience. If I could be in two places at once, it would be so much easier. Since it's not my choice, I guess an out of mind experience will have to do me. It'll last longer, anyway.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Day at the Beach

I honestly cannot remember the last time I spent on the beach before today. Whenever it was, I guarantee it wasn't nearly as much fun. There's something magical about grandchildren. Sharing anything with them enhances the experience, bringing it up a level.

My perfect day at the beach before would probably include sitting in the parking lot listening to the waves and watching them roll in. I don't like sand. It makes walking painful and difficult, and gets in any crevice available. I do, however, love the sound the ocean makes as it breaks along the shore.

My iPod has a few different CDs burned onto it that help me enjoy the sounds without the sand, even without leaving Colorado. One has the beach sounds during a storm. You hear the waves as a storm comes in, with rain and then thunder added to the pulsing of the ocean. It's a super nature CD. I have a few others that just have the sound of waves, or waves and seagulls, whales, or whatever sea life is within microphone range.

None of them bring me quite the same level of contentment as ocean sounds and grandchildren, though. There's something quite unique about the sound of a child's laughter coming in with the tide. I love watching their sturdy legs running along the edge of the foamy waves, daring them to douse their legs as they race.

Kites fly overhead. Babies sleep beneath the shelter of makeshift awnings. The newest of those belongs to me—grandchild number three from son number three. Surfers paddle in mediocre waves, proving this is California, while Kate pauses to rest and accidentally falls asleep in the sand, a smile on her not quite three year old face. Cousins come and peek at her and whisper "be quiet" in voices I can't believe she sleeps through. Her good mama pulls a towel over her so she won't sunburn. It's a sweet scene.

Watching my tall son, a father three times over, patiently and with great pleasure dig a huge hole in the sand to fit several children was more fun than digging it myself. Duh. All the children love Ben and Ruth. I can see why. They're fun. And when a couple of the older cousins dug a trench around the side and collapsed their hole (with them still in it) no one got upset. It was that kind of day. Maybe I do like the beach after all.

Ode To So Cal Friends

After a couple of days in California, I've stopped to think about my attitude toward the State. People I love live here, and many of those who have moved away can't wait to visit. If I could get the people I love to visit us in Colorado instead, I probably wouldn't come back unless we were going to Disneyland. I do love Disneyland, especially on a drizzly day when there aren't too many people around.

I'm not sure how a person can live somewhere for over 35 years and never feel like that's where their roots are. It was home, but my heart wasn't in it. We had some wonderful years in California. Friends worth driving two days to see still live here and have never driven out to see us—yet. Sooner or later they will also retire, and travel will undoubtedly go both ways. It's beside the point.

What I'm trying to discern is my emotional distance from an area that holds so many ties for me. I have friends, relatives and a history here. I drive past the home where we lived from 1976 until 2006, and there isn't even a twinge of nostalgia. We raised three sons there, and I feel all the emotional impact imaginable when I think of them, but looking at that house that used to be our home? I feel nothing beyond what I would feel staring at an old piggy bank used to save up to buy what you really wanted.

We used to drive through Hidden Valley together, John and I, and he'd say, "Someday I want an acre of my own." Even then John felt about the suburbs the way I did. Now we have that acre and a little more. One of the things we first liked about the home we chose in 1976 was that it was at the end of a dead end road, turn right, and pass three vacant lots. They put the road through, made it a major traffic artery, and put homes so close together on all those vacant lots there were twice as many students in the classrooms at the local school.

Crowding, of course, combined with traffic is bad. Weather is something very few people complain about in Southern California. Except me. I always did. I think you have to have seasons. I don't like Summer to begin with. If I don't get a Winter to balance it, then I'm really cranky. If it's just one of four seasons, then I can deal with it (as long as I have air conditioning.) The rumor in Southern California is that it really doesn't get that hot, so you don't need a/c. Lies, I tell you—lies! You need it. My air conditioning system was about four showers a day and a fan in every room. my friend Sherrie (one of the people worth a 20 hour road trip to see) took me for a drive. We saw Lake Sherwood and Hidden Valley. She drove me up Potrero Road, and we saw the old hills where John and I used to drive and dream together of our 'someday' acre. The beauty is still there. It was hot, but it's Summer, so it's probably hot at home, too. There was traffic, but there's traffic aplenty in Denver. I wouldn't be able to live in Denver, either.

As always, I come to a point where I know that I'm glad I came. Even though I never managed to grow roots here, so many wonderful people did, that part of my heart will always feel welcome to visit.