Return to a Place

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This weekend, as my beloved Rocky Mountains tip-toe lightly into SPRING, careful to sidestep any more major snow and wind events,  I was fortunate enough to return to a favorite mountain hideaway. A place isolated from the circus of everyday life; up a long, lethargic driveway, meandering around Aspen groves and pines, hidden high on a sunny south slope enfolded by trees, commanding a place of importance under gigantic rocky outcroppings. This place is a sanctuary for me and I am its’ grateful guest. In my absence of six hard winter months, I dreamed often of its hand-worked beauty and primitive silence. It is a place like no other. When I could not sleep I would wander its rooms, imagining how strongly the wind was rattling the roof, wondering how many mice families were frolicking there, riding out the winter in its relatively balmy interior. Hoping no trees were uprooted. Looking forward to seeing the wildflowers that were planted last summer just outside the kitchen door.

I have spoken before of the significance of PLACE. If you are someone who has an extraordinary place to go to – one that gives you back your sanity and holds the rest of the world at more than an arm’s length for you as you regroup – well – if you have that you are indeed blessed. This special place need not be grand; it could be a humble chair in a tiny space by a fire, could be a beach, a trek, a restaurant, a cabin, an art studio or a journey to St. Peter’s Basilica. But if it always without fail gives you the gift of peace and comfort, it is a home place.

Walking in the door was like returning from an enforced confinement somewhere else. A home without a family comes alive again when a door is finally opened, after long days and nights signifying nothing but the passage of time on empty rooms, and people arrive.  Everything looked bright in the noon sun. The dust motes danced in swirls as we entered, instantly transforming the stagnant internal climate with our human presence. Piles of dead bugs were neatly arranged in corners as if they all knew where the graveyard was and went there when the end was in sight. Cobwebs swinging like iridescent threads with the breeze of our movements, the smell of powdery, dry dust – it was all perfect. We smiled and embraced the beauty.

Getting water back in the pipes. Turning on the heat. Cleaning the bugs out of the sinks and bathtubs, then discovering a small bathroom window that had been accidentally left half open all winter long! Through record-breaking snows and roaring wind racing through the pines at break-neck speed this window gave old man Winter access to the house. Why didn’t a raccoon tear through the screen seeking warm shelter? I wonder how much snow had piled up on that floor….what the temperature plummeted to in that area of the house – mysteries we will never have answers to.

A builder of fine homes once told me that houses need people in them – they deteriorate rapidly when they are empty for long stretches of time. The materials that go into the construction and the interior finishes need the warmth and humidity that people provide, doing all the things that people do. Cooking, washing clothes, taking showers – all that and more is what houses need. Houses are almost alive. Wood needs to breathe. Call me crazy but I firmly believe that houses need love, laughter and conversation too. If you do not believe that houses have a heart, a soul, and a need for human companionship then I am sorry for you – you have missed a key point somewhere along the road of life. Several of my very best friends have been magnificent old houses, weathered, wrinkled and wise…

Your special place need not be a house, of course. The discovery is yours. But do find yourself a unique footprint that you can return to for re-fueling. It will keep you sane, prolong your life, listen intently to your thoughts and that place will watch for your frequent return.

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The Creative Epiphany – Refrigerator Wisdom in the USA

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I love to entertain, and when I do my guests spend time in the kitchen reading my frig art. I do believe this is an American art form too long overlooked – each and every frig magnet selection is unique and timely and informative…..it  reveals the philosophy of the household and the mood of the decade. It is a barometer of the times, so to speak, unless your magnets and clippings are so old that they should be replaced. You do want your frig art to be timely, for Pete’s sake. It is  a passive-aggressive message board, saying everything you would not or could not say out loud, in a sort of  “ok read it at your own risk” kind of way….”I don’t know how it got up there but….” and then “well of course it’s my house but sometimes other people just…”

And people do give me magnets all the time, and purposely walk in the door, then into the kitchen and boldly post something on my frig. They are too chicken to put it on their own damn frig.  So I am an enabler. I took down some of the more suggestive, but hilarious ones for the noble cause of this blog post.

Are you a neat display freak or do you slap stuff up there all willy-nilly? I am both, depending on the day and what kind of hurry I am in. Sometimes I take it all down and edit it in an attempt to make sense of it all. I am an eclectic frig displayer – I like a frisky assortment of messages.

What’s on your frig?  Are you leaning toward political statements or the literary, wisdom themes or the sexy themes or what?

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Of course Jack Kerouac is always great – and Rumi has certainly stood the test of time. You cannot find a more fascinating author of life’s lessons than Rumi. I wish I could put 100 of his quotes on my frig.

My current favorite by far is the menacing bird, saying “I would sell you to Satan for one corn chip.” Such a great message about life – watch out for those who can be cheaply bought, and be careful of the simple offer disguised as a good deal. You never know who you are dealing with, or who he represents…..are you the corn chip or the devil? All of the bird quotes on my frig are from  www.mincingmockingbirds.com – a website that is crazy and kinda sick – love it. The Satan bird is positioned right in the middle of a group of timeless Matisse images which makes no sense but who cares.

Another one that shows up in the group photo – about the tomato – is a great hit at my house, indicative of a person we all know who shall go nameless and had a legendary tendency to tell everyone what to do about every single teeny little detail of life. My sister gave me the magnet and assertively slapped in on the frig when she came to visit one time…..a not so subtle suggestion that did not actually go over very well but made most of us feel better that we had done something to express our disapproval.

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I think an international art exhibit of frig art is long overdue, and so let’s think about doing that…wouldn’t we all know each other better if we could just walk into kitchens around the world and read everyone’s frig art?

The Creative Epiphany – It’s 15 Below Zero in Colorado Tonight…don’t be like the bull

th[3] photo courtesy of nation.time.com/2013/12/4/snowy-day-expected

This Colorado weather and its record low temperatures takes some practice and I have not gotten the hang of it yet after moving back here from living in northern California for the past six or seven years. My internal California thermostat re-set itself at a higher comfort level while I was out there. I was happiest at 70 degrees. I had forgotten that in Colorado most people wear layers all winter long and setting one’s indoor household thermostat at 67 for daytime and 65 for night is common. Coloradans are a hardy bunch, and energy conscious too. So now my first authentically cold winter in years has arrived with a blast –  and the first day or so of it I am so stunned and intimidated that if at all possible I decide not to go outside for even one little minute. Then there is another night of bitter cold at 15 below followed by today that brings a high of 7 above and I begin to realize that life must go on. I cannot shrink like a spring violet under the winter cold – it is only December and there is a long way to go. So I gathered my best version of how I used to be when I was a Colorado girl and I ventured out. I was out doing errands, sort of, within a small perimeter of my house. That is progress. Everybody else was out there too. Looking just fine I might add. I was dressed and layered as if I were on that Antarctic expedition with Prince Harry.

I dare not walk for my usual daily mile and a half because I can’t manage to get a deep breath of air in this deep freeze, so I went to the neighborhood gym. That requires practice as well, since I dislike exercising within a swarm of sweating specimens, all riding or propelling humming machines yet going nowhere. I prefer to actually go somewhere when I make the motions of walking.

My friend called yesterday and said she had slept with her PJ bottoms tucked into the tops of big wool socks so that the legs would not ride up during the night. Don’t you hate that? You turn over just once and your legs are bare up past the knee. The bed is damn cold in the parts that are not under you, and so it is a shock to reposition a leg or an arm if they are not totally shrouded in pajamas. This is what they call a 3-dog night because you need 3 huge dogs in bed with you to keep you warm. No wonder the people in the middle ages slept in the same room as all their livestock, but talk about sweating, smelly specimens – yuk.

And another thing. Can you imagine sitting down on a toilet seat in the night in this weather? Of course it is inside the house, but it is like an ice cube even so. We are supposed to open all the cabinet doors under all the sinks so that the pipes have full access to the heat within our homes and theoretically they will not freeze. Have you ever had frozen pipes? Ever heard the creaks and groans that plumbing makes at night when it’s this cold? That keeps you on alert. Ever heard a pipe pop open and spew water like a hydrant as it warms up and thaws? When we lived in the mountains of Evergreen, CO. as the kids were growing up, frozen pipes were almost a yearly thing. And when the electricity went off during storms, our well water was inaccessible. We had a wood stove for back-up and used it several times  to cook a sort of dinner. Wood had to be chopped for the fireplace as well as the stove. We chose to live in the country with all the fun and inconveniences of that lovely lifestyle…oh the kids could tell you some wild stories.

Mr. D. our neighbor in Evergreen had cattle who were lucky enough to pasture at 8300 feet amid Aspens and pines, grazing on fresh grass in bucolic meadows surrounded by mountains. One late fall a freakish blizzard blew in and it snowed big hunky flakes that accumulated at an inch every hour and by morning of the next day we had over two feet. Mr. D’s cattle had not made it back to the barn and had been huddled against the wind and the snowfall all night in the leaf-less  Aspen grove, just about a hundred yards from the road. The next morning as we drove by in the car we saw quite a spectacle for the eyes of my two young children. Mr. D. and his ranch hands were cutting up the bull of the herd and sliding out  huge chunks of blood-red meat on tarps across the snow. The crimson splattered snow was unmistakably  the scene of a killing. But why?

Did the coyotes kill the bull? Or a bear? I called Mr. D. and got the full story from him so that we’d all rest easier knowing the truth. When a bull’s testicles freeze, he must be shot or he will die a slow agonizing death from gangrene. A bull’s testicles hang pretty low, and in two or more feet of snow it becomes impossible for him to escape his fate. Right then and there he was shot and cut into edible pieces to be frozen and eaten later in many a meal. The scraps were left under the trees for the coyotes and we could hear them howling all night with their good fortune.

The local news here has coverage of the livestock and how the farmers care for their animals. People are foolish enough to leave dogs and cats outside…what are they thinking? It is cruel and inhuman.

This story and others come to mind as I experience a grand weather event such as this. If you follow this blog you remember that last fall we had a five-hundred year flood event here, all along the front range of the Rocky Mountains. We were underwater! They said that if it had been snow instead of rain we’d be digging out for days. Now the snowy weather has begun and  unusually cold temps are here. I think it’s going to be a doozy of a winter! And I am pretty excited about it.

PS – I know the picture above is not a BULL but it is the best I could do.

The Creative Epiphany – Sunday Mornings in America

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Norman Rockwell’s (1894-1978) Paintings, titled TRIPLE SELF-PORTRAIT,  SUNDAY MORNING and ART CONNOISSEUR, www.nrm.org

 

For many people I know Sunday mornings are special. Sundays mean various things to various people but without fail they are different than any other day of the week. It is not a religious thing to which I am referring, although certainly that is an important component of many people’s Sunday mornings, but for me Sunday mornings do seem very much a spiritual thing. A loosely structured ritual, worshiping a way of life. It is a renewal of sorts – a chance to catch up on a little sleep, a chance to linger in bed which is a treat in the coldness of a winter morning, listening to the quiet sounds outside your window. You might decide to turn on TV and watch SUNDAY MORNING with Charles Osgood, a lovely program that always feeds my soul with stories of art, literature, film, food, music and other uplifting information. It renews my appreciation of creativity and often I am inspired to paint the afternoon away after watching it, or go see a film that has been discussed.

Scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and jelly – or maybe blueberry pancakes and syrup – the kitchen comes alive and the smells are better than any other morning of the week. You allow yourself time to enjoy it, reading the paper, maybe you stay in your PJ’s until noon. Football! Ahhh – what will we have for snacks during the game? The Broncos come on at 2:25 against the Chiefs! Nachos? Burgers? A big hearty pot of chili with all the toppings? Brownies and ice cream for desert…who can we call to see if they want to come over and watch the game? We can have a pre-game football game out in the yard so tell them to get ready for that and dress warm. If it snows we’ll go sledding instead.

In my mind, since I speak the language of art, I always visualize Sundays as Norman Rockwell occasions. For me, that fine gentleman artist whose illustrations graced the covers of the  SATURDAY EVENING POST magazine captured the essence of how we live, what we do, what occupies our thoughts and what things warm our hearts. He was a true American artist who chronicled our lives in realistic, emotional images that will live forever. I have at times lived a Norman Rockwell kind of life – difficult to sustain but never the less do-able at certain moments in time. Memories are made of this, as the song goes. Sundays are for the best of friends and family. When I count life’s blessings, I will always remember Sunday mornings and the people I spent the best ones with. You all know who you are.

The Creative Epiphany – Coping With Absence During the Holidays

20-Time-Generations  Mixed Media Collage by Jo Ann Brown-Scott titled TIMES

Everybody talks about friends and family gatherings during the holiday season, the fun, the food, the reunions, the surprises, and yet you hear very little about the hollow feeling that settles in when you are one of the ones who knows that the key people in your life will be missing. I don’t know what it feels like anymore to not be coping with the absence of my key people. I try not to discuss it much – it’is a downer. And I do not like spreaders of doom and gloom. I refuse to be one of those. Denial is a powerful coping mechanism that seldom does the trick in these circumstances, because you cannot deny an empty chair or an unset table on Christmas Day. Other people attempt to fill in the hole in your life by inviting you to join them and thank goodness for that. And yet…

Absence is a harsh reality to cope with that brings strong feelings along the sensitive lines of abandonment. Absence brings nagging feelings of unworthiness on the part of the one left behind. Rationally you do not want to believe that, but a tiny voice nags at you. You wonder if you are not worth the visit. Are the reasons for the absences valid.

Oh the circumstances of the absences are valid. They really are. The reasons are logical, mostly. Issues of geography, money, demanding jobs – you know the reasons you think are valid and ones that you believe are not. But logic is irrelevant at various times in life when you, me and others like us are counting the number of holiday seasons, summers, winters, birthdays, that might be left to us. My favorite Thanksgiving of all time was the one when my daughter appeared at the front door, during an epic blizzard, having flown home from college at a time when we decided we should not spend the money for her to come home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The doorbell rang and I opened it to her smiling face, snowflakes as big as cotton balls swirling around. Logic became irrelevant at that point in time, because I was nuts with happiness. Sometimes you just have to do stuff against all reason. Those times are the memorable ones, obviously – quite obviously. So who the hell cares what the reasons are, for your inability to be home, and what has happened to that timeless belief that you make it home for the holidays no matter what? Just like the mailman – you deliver the goods come rain, hail, sleet or snow, and you are happy and honored to be able to do it. In support of this “old-fashioned” theory, witness the thousands of people at the airports, the train stations, the bus stations and on the highways trying to get home. In time. For the big day. No excuse. People want to be with the people they love the most. It is a strong pull – love is a universal magnet.

There are many ways that compensation can be made for absences during the holidays and for birthdays. A special time spent together doing something else is always good. You and those you love learn the best of the tricks, hopefully, getting creative and crafty with what you offer and employ as “substitutes” if such a thing exists, and memories are made at other places and times that might actually work out to being better overall, sort of. Maybe. Christmas does not have to happen on the 25th, because hopefully you can make it happen in your heart on whatever day works. Birthdays are the type of party that can last for days, with celebrations strung out and enjoyed over time. Children, lovers, friends, parents, grandchildren and other favorite people in your life whom you care for deeply are often very good at “making up” for days when they could not be present in your life. Any and all substitutions help, but the actual day of importance remains empty of their happy companionship. And so there you are. You get up in the morning alone and you do the best you can all day long to display a half-assed crazy looking fake smile and you go to bed alone at night, just like any other damn day. You heave a sigh of relief the next morning that the red letter day is over for another year. Really. You can forget about it.

That is no way to live. Wishing away the holidays and the birthdays and the special times that are not so special is no way to live.

My only advice here is to fill your life with the people who are geographically near to you. I grant you, they are not the actual people you would rank as the number one people in your life, and they already know that, but usually they are nice enough and humble enough to offer themselves up as warm bodies with pulses, lending some fun and food and happiness and they do care about you. They want to be used. They are selfless and giving. And they are present. They are with you.

It is a heavy load to carry, being away from your key people on life’s special days. But remember the load is carried at both ends – the ones absent feel it as well. So you gather your strength, you count your blessings, you offer thanks for all that is good, true and beautiful in your life and you carry on. If at some point it is all too much, you pack your little bag and you do the traveling to them, showing up at their door. Happy surprise!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Creative Epiphany – Thanksgiving is a Week Away

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photo courtesy of dechive.blogspot.com/2010/12/proud-as-a-peacock

th[11] I AM SO HANDSOME I WILL BE PARDONED

photo courtesy of breedsavers.blogspot.com

It is 13 degrees here in Denver tonight and Thanksgiving is a week away. The snow is coming down in  large cotton balls and people are in the holiday mood – planning menus, already buying gifts, decorating homes and usually shopping for turkeys right about now. I will never forget the time we were living in Great Falls, Montana at Thanksgiving time – it was about 42 degrees below zero ( not kidding) and after choosing the turkey at the grocery we put it in the trunk of the car and did some other errands. When we got home, I lifted the turkey out of the car and it was so heavy I lost my grip and dropped it on the garage floor concrete where it immediately shattered into several huge pieces, having gotten so cold that it was like a giant ice cube. We gathered up the fragments and roasted them all like turkey puzzle pieces in the roasting pan.

It isn’t difficult to find humor in turkeys. If you have ever visited a turkey farm, as I have, although for some strange reason I do not remember where that was  or why I was there, (I also saw pigs slaughtered one Saturday morning when I was a kid and immediately realized that my parents had used bad judgment in thinking I was old enough at age 8 to witness that murderous scene) you have probably heard all the jokes and true stories about what stupid fowls turkeys are. I guess  probably you have heard it all without even visiting a turkey farm and that would be the best route to take since my memories of the turkey farm are not the type of info I’d want to share with you. Not as gruesome as the pigs but still unpleasantly memorable, for an entire lifetime. They are humorous birds and yet they endure a lot of human-inflicted misery. Then they arrive at their final destination – a kitchen.

Cleaning a turkey for roasting is rather disgusting if you allow yourself to think clearly for just one minute about what you are really doing to an enormous bird that could no longer get his body off the ground to fly because it got so fat at the hands of its keeper (certainly through no fault of his own) and that he probably was no longer able support his weight even to walk at a brisk pace, and so he gobbled and  hobbled and sort of semi-strutted  around a pen with his feet constantly squishing through filth. No I am not on a crusade here – I am not speaking for PETA or some other turkey related “Save the Turkey” type of organization. I speak only from my own experience, purely as a turkey fixer at Thanksgiving.

Live turkeys are not what I would call a pretty sight either – except for turkey lovers – but I guess I would agree that they are fascinating in a squawky  kind of way.  But raw turkeys are much worse. That neck of theirs, once it is cut off and naked of feathers, is especially awful. To see the drumstick-legs brings to mind the bird feet that were attached to them and what they spent their lives stepping in. The heart, the liver, the gizzard – no thanks. Hopefully you got your bird from a place that cleaned it really well before you took it home, because through the years I have found some sloppy surprise remnants of turkey parts in with the edible stuff, so keep your eyes open and aware.

It is a great thing that Thanksgiving is the one holiday of the year that allows us to simply be thankful for friends, family, food, shelter and all the other blessings of life. It is the perfect day for finding comfort and pleasure in being at home with a home-cooked meal, or a place that feels like home and enfolds you. Usually there is enough going on,  with all the people you love the most arriving, that it takes your mind off what just happened in the kitchen, and most of the guests are happy to see only the finished product turkey as he is paraded out all browned and roasty and smelling of herbs and butter.

I am wishing all of you a truly wonderful Thanksgiving Day – one that warms your heart and reminds you of everything that is good about families and friends, and even total strangers who sometimes show up as “strays” as we call the them – invited by us to share the meal although we barely know them at all. It is a day for sharing the love as well as the meal.

Best Wishes and Thanks to all of you – my readers.

I am thankful that you care enough to follow what I have to say. I am blessed with your time and attention.

 

 

The Creative Epiphany – Report from Colorado – A LuLu of a Storm

          photos courtesy of www.dailymail.co.uk

Phew. I feel dryer today and more relaxed too. The weather is  now  sunny and warm with scattered showers expected tomorrow but a general forecast of better days on the way for the next week. When the storm was raging last week, they started out by calling it a 100 year flood; by about the third day of incessant hard driving rain and many damage reports coming in it was re-accessed as a 500 year flood of Biblical proportions, but this morning Al Roker of the NBC TODAY show pronounced it a 1000 year flood. I am just calling it a LuLu of a storm the likes of which I hope to never see again. Of course the water did not come gently, but  raced down the many creeks and rivers audibly snarling through the canyons of the Rocky Mountains and then widening out along creeks and rivers in an amazing path of destruction below – the South Platte is now 10 times as wide as it normally is and still spreading in a lot of places. Our gorgeous parks have suffered, huge chunks of asphalt have been ripped from dozens of highways, nearly 18,000 homes are destroyed and hundreds of people still missing. Babies were born during this flood as other folks were washed away in their cars and unaccounted for. The U. of Colorado is conducting classes again, but hundreds of businesses in Boulder, Estes Park, Evergreen and other quaint mountain communities are devastated. Sink holes are beginning to happen – OMG! those things. Rivers and streams have cut new erratic paths that were never there before and I can already imagine people saying, “Well I remember when the river ran in that direction until that damn flood of 2013.”

One quite elderly man was swept away, stripped of all his clothes by the angry water and left shivering and clinging to a limb high in a tree. They found his wife, who had also been swept away but survived with a broken leg, and asked her if she knew the naked man they had just rescued from a tree far away….”Well yes,” she gasped, “that is my husband.”

The local early news report is doing a story on Mail Delivery and stranded animals right now – regarding mail, thousands of people who have had to evacuate their homes are expecting medical prescriptions, SS checks, payments of all kinds and even deliveries of the animal variety that come to farmers on the plains east of Denver . Baby chicks, turkeys and even many insects used for pest control are delivered to farmers by US Mail. All those live things are being held at small town post offices, including accompanying responsibilities for keeping things alive as they have sleep-overs there while waiting to be delivered, belong now to the USPS.

There are countless images on TV of stranded animals – the lucky ones who have found some small patch of higher ground to rest on until help arrives. Many were not so fortunate. Helicopters are rescuing and evacuating as fast as they can, both animals and human beings alike. One lone horse stirred the compassion of all viewers, standing by himself in hip deep water and cold temperatures, tied to a small portion of a wooden fence within eyesight of the barn but unable to go there. No food, no clean water, for 3 days he stood there. Finally yesterday he got some help. The cows in the next corral finally made it through the water to a huge soggy mound of hay and burrowed inside to eat the edible innards of the mess. Some of them ate enough to practically walk inside it, nearly disappearing from view. They had not eaten for about 3 days. These are just a couple examples that we have seen – think of all the other unfortunate creatures who are struggling to survive.

I have survivor guilt – I don’t know how I have been so fortunate. I feel like I have dodged a bullet. Just 3 months ago I was in Denver prior to my move from northern California, looking for a nice place to live. I seriously considered a couple of the areas hardest hit. I chose this area instead, because I love being on hills or in the mountains. I thrive on constantly changing vistas, and this community of Palomino Park is on a rise overlooking the magnificent view of our Rocky mountain range to the west. I will now feel more at home here than I would have before, dry and safe as I am….but I feel the pain of the others who could not escape the wrath of the water. The power of the water is beyond our imagination. I have never witnessed such weather drama.

Mother Nature has been in a bitchy mood this week.

You can go to this website to help, as well as the Red Cross, but be sure to specify on your check or in your instructions that the money must be used to help Colorado, otherwise it will go into the general fund….

http://www.helpcoloradonow.com

Go to BING.com and search Colorado Flood Images for more visual info.