Thursday, February 23, 2017

A chance meeting between strangers

    Let’s do it.” My husband and I were driving a rental car in the Southwest somewhere – I think it was near Gallop, New Mexico – when we saw a tumbled down wooden shack of a place with a rusted sign, “Fossils and Other Assorted Adventures at Your Own Risk.”
     We looked at each other realizing we might be on to something.  With no pressing agenda that morning, we pulled over and stepped out of the car into at least two hours of fascinating conversation with an old crusty codger about his relics and dinosaur specimens. You’d have thought that he hadn’t talked to a living soul in days — or was he such an expert at the art of entertaining that we didn’t realize that we were been taken right in? Good storytellers can do that, you know.
     Then again, I might have been attracted by the crusty codger’s long white hair knotted with a thin Zuni string-like beaded decoration at the nape of his neck. His face was etched in deep creases and weathering had done a number on his complexion like anyone exposed to the sun’s rays for years.  Here was an artifact from the 60s living among his collections as if Jimi Hendrix and Purple Haze were there playing in the backroom. It could well have been, too.
     That’s the advantage when you don’t lock yourself into a tight schedule. A simple pleasure like pouring around a dusty barn for treasures and getting a little bit dirty is what I mean. It makes a vacation all the more memorable, too, and some trips work out in that way naturally.   

     Regardless, whether or not the crusty codger was leading us on a merry chase of talk, we never did figure out. Sometimes the fun is in playing along, too. All I know is that we saw an authentic bit of New Mexico, and if I remember correctly, we added a dinosaur bone to our collection to put on the shelf for the neighbor kids to discover on their next visit. Certain people have that witty capacity with language and everything coming out of their mouth is a pun. We recognized that we would never run across him again in this lifetime and no photos were needed to recreate that morning. I think we did take a couple pictures of the crusty codger’s relics, but he didn’t want one of himself. “I’m running from the law,” he grumbled with a twinkle in his eyes.  I would doubt that seriously.
     The crusty codger told us tales of life in the “golden” days – I’m not certain he was much older than us – and where he had found his specimens braving wild conditions and fighting off other competing collectors. He would get distracted from his main story and wind into another one like a bunny rabbit on a trail moving abruptly to keep his audience enthralled. His friendly beagle would wander in and out requiring appropriate attention from us until something outside else got his ears pricking up.
     Springtime in the desert is plush and the colors were peaking as far as we could see on the blooming cactus. The distant mountains shimmered and the last of the snow was dripping away into streams. The crusty codger took out his red workman’s hankie and blew his nose lamenting allergy season for him.

     Mostly, the old codger sat on a stool in his faded denim overalls and plaid shirt whittling away at a carving and directing us in one direction or another. Nothing was priced, or organized, and still, I would imagine that he knew where everything could be located if need be on a moment’s notice. You’ve watched the show, American Pickers, and those two entrepreneurs have the art of the deal down just right. We weren’t in that category, and I bet he surmised we were simply “lookers” before we walked in.
     Several times we thought we were finished and started edging toward the open door, when the crusty codger would weave us into another yarn. Back we would come inside, and listen again.
     Once my husband picked up a beauty of a specimen – he has a good eye - and immediately the old codger came limping over taking it right out of his hands abruptly. “It’s not for sale.” Supposedly, we were part of the shed that was his private collection even though he told us with a broad sweep of his hands upon our arrival, “everything is for sale including my dog.” I was expecting him to say also, “and my wife,” so he rose up a notch in my estimation.
     As we were about to leave we asked him where we would find good home cooking at a nearby diner on the road back to Gallop. We were hankering for a bowl of chili by then as our stomachs were growling. Breakfast – Huevos a la Mexicana, or Mexican scrambled eggs - seemed like hours ago. With all his wealth of knowledge, we could see that he had no clue about the practicalities of life outside his immediate space, so we dropped the subject.
     We thanked the crusty codger for his time, waved good-bye and drove off laughing about our impromptu visit with an authentic charmer. If we spent five dollars, it was worth it all. I rather doubt he was in dire need of funds either when I glanced back at his silver Mercedes parked behind his shack.  



Thursday, February 16, 2017

Oh, what a life...a writer's, that is

The only way I am going to write a solitary sentence right now is to literally tie myself to my office chair and not let up. I am a wicked taskmaster. No coffee. No fruit. No excuses.  For if I don’t, I will go off wandering into other pleasurable activities far away from my writing work and free my mind of commas, periods and all that stuff.

But my muse is playing games with me like trying to rope in a hesitant baby calf for branding, and I realize that if I only force a few words to come on the computer screen begrudgingly, I will be on a roll once more for the morning corralling those sentences one after the other tied into first-rate stories.

Don’t get me wrong, reader. I do love to write, but like the greats, it can be painful work. 

Kay Thomas writer, check me out. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Another round of snow

During the winter at 5:30 am, I make out a low rumbling sound that has come to be a comforting one in my small world. Its distinct sound builds up to a roar the closer it gets. Our snowplow driver is making his first round of the morning in preparation for the school bus run in less than an hour. It’s my automatic alarm clock for getting out of bed and starting my day. 

Our property is on a corner, and the plow stops there, backs up before turning around for another run. He doesn’t have much room to maneuver and on one side there is a deep gully. Once a newbie driver slipped into the "hole" and he had to be pulled out by a tow truck later in the morning. I warn visitors coming to the crest of the hill for the first time in snowy weather that when they turn the corner, stay closer to the center of the road. 

The snowplow’s headlights reflect off my bedroom walls in patterned dark lines as the deep-throated rumble of the engine gains speed. The driver is off to do the next set of roads further into the hills. “The higher elevations” is the term meteorologists use to describe the locations like ours where extra portions of snow accumulate on a regular basis. Often my cat will perk his ears at the sound and hover closer on the golden quilt knowing full well that he is free of worry inside with us. 

I will close in saying that I am grateful for the snowplow driver and all that he does to keep the roads safe and usable. It’s a most appreciated service in our neck of the woods.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

My royal obsession leaks out

      I can’t get enough of the British Royal Family. For years and years, I have followed their every regal move as faithfully as watching a television reality show.
     The pageantry and elegance captured my attention back when Queen Elizabeth II was a new ruler and her sister, Princess Margaret, was denied marrying the love of her life in 1953 because he was divorced man. I fretted over newspaper coverage or Life magazine articles, and I was crushed to a pulp. How a princess wasn’t above the Cabinet and the Church of England dictating to her that her dream man wasn’t an appropriate choice fitting of her station in life was beyond me. Margaret was third in line to the throne, and as unfair as it struck me, the rules couldn’t be bent. As a commoner, I still could pine away for my own prince charming – he sat behind me in band — without those regal complications.

     I don’t think that I am alone, though, by the looks of all the books written on the royal family lining bookshelves. Why, just yesterday I found a new one — The Game of Crowns by Christopher Anderson — at the library. It’s about the relationships between Elizabeth, Camilla and Kate. Sorry I am throwing names at you like a royal flush. The book is well written, although I believe it is a collection of assorted information from sources not sanctioned by the family. When Queen Elizabeth dies, will a fumbling, introverted Charles have the evil Camilla as his Queen, the accuser of breaking up his marriage to Diana, or will the monarchy become irrelevant? Could the younger royals save the monarchy from extinction in the second half of the 21-century? Stay tuned. I’m reading as fast as I can.
      Since we have nothing to compare it to in our country, I think the enchanted fairytale in Britain is what I have come to adore. We see our First Family for a short few years, and that is pretty much that without the fanfare.  
     Now my brother-in-law, British by birth, claims that the taxpayer is paying for a lot of the royals traipsing around. He can’t get too excited about it all. What a curmudgeon he was while we were out in California visiting when Will and Kate got married. Men are not so into weddings claimed my husband and he stayed in bed, too. I watched in the middle of the night (PST) all by myself wrapped in a Made in The British Isles coverlet and nibbling on English tea biscuits.  

     Last year for my birthday I gave myself a year’s subscription to Majesty magazine. Most of the pictures and news I already knew, and I guess I was hoping for more. Still, I keep the issues and pass them on to a friend, an admirer in all things royalty.
     I’ve been to London and each time I gawk at the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace hoping I am lucky and get a glimpse of a royal face through the window of a black limousine racing past.
      My mother visited my sister – she was living in England at the time – and they stood on the streets of London in 1981 waving to the royal carriage carrying newlyweds Diana and Charles.  My petit mother claimed that she saw Diana’s famous wave even though she was knee deep in the crowd towering above her. She brought home all sorts of memorabilia  - tea mugs, towels – embroidered with the date and official wedding picture. They are somewhere in my attic, and I suppose to a collector, I might have a commemorative selection of value.
     I binge watched the Netflix series, The Crown – it is historically accurate – and I admire how a young Queen Elizabeth worked with Winston Churchill to gain her footing as a ruler. I highly recommend the series.
     Look at the Queen today as an active 90-year old monarch and her emphasis on the work ethic. She has encouraged the younger members of the firm to step up to public obligations.

      Who doesn’t remember where he was when the news of Diana’s death came in 1997? That Sunday morning a group of us were tailgating at a Bills game – we had parked our RV’s there overnight – and it was a topic for conversation. Fortunately, rooting for the Bills displaced my sadness, and I do think it was a time when they were making a respectable showing the year after the end of the Jim Kelly era. Things were much rosier for the team and the fans…well, the fans always support Buffalo’s pride and joy.
     After Diana died, the world took on her boys, William and Harry, like their own, and how we have observed them grow into manhood. The most watched television program from the BBC was the wedding of Kate to William, and closely following was the birth of two adorable rosy-cheeked children.

      Along with the rest of the world, my eyes are on Harry, and if he will get engaged to Meghan Markle this year.  She appears to have a lot of strikes against her as suitable for a royal – American divorcee, biracial, movie star – but the crown has become much more lenient in the last few decades. I’ll rely on Twitter to break the news.
     In the meantime, let’s have a cup of Earl Gray English morning tea. I’m staying calm and carrying on my obsession amidst a reality check from time to time with our country’s ongoing experiment with freedom.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Early spring breezes

Jumping the gun so to speak, or just plain wishful thinking. Perhaps, I need to take a break from the news briefly. 

Early Spring Breezes
I left the front door
open today
in hopes of
catching a warm breeze
for airing out
winter’s coat
from inside out.
It circled around
in wisps and swirls
bending cobwebs and
inching dust balls
out of sight.
Fresh clean springtime
permeate the stale
withered lifelessness
of a house buttoned up
from winter’s cruelties.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Maintaining friendships in a virtual world

     Friendships come, and friendships go. No. Wait. That’s not how relationships are supposed to work.
     I am going to point the finger in Facebook’s direction.
     Social media has tried to get you to redefine friendship by “helping” you make your lists of close friends, acquaintances and people who got on your list because you grew up in the same hometown.

     Jim Morrison stated that a friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.
     That’s not how it is playing out on Facebook from what I read.   
     To be perfectly honest, Facebook isn’t the culprit, though. It’s only the tool.  How people use Facebook is the problem.
     One of my FB friends wrote, “ post about my concern [political] began to create division between many people I care about. The friends I have on FB all mean very much to me. I hope the divide we are all seeing, even on FB, doesn't erupt into something greater.”
     Those who go on a virtual rant day after day turn folks off. Rather than pay rapt attention, others scroll right past getting slightly agitated to say the least. Too often thoughts are accompanied by links to articles that are uncensored, unreliable or simply fake news.
    Sure, every once in awhile you have to let off steam, and what better place than with your FB friends. Everyone understands. You’ve retrieved your phone from being water logged and you need a virtual shoulder to cry on. Someone took up two parking spaces. Rant over.

     Facebook has become a forum or platform for anyone and his brother who has a point to make whether based on fact or hearsay. Perhaps, the person is more concerned with how many “likes” his post gets, and that is interpreted in his mind that he is “loved” and valued. You wonder if he is self-centered, lonely or known as the complainer in every crowd. Sometimes the language gets vulgar, too. Nobody needs to wake up to that on his computer screen.
      Frankly, there are people on Facebook that have surprised me with their eloquent prose, and I wish that they would put it to better use advocating for causes.
     I have been watching, and in some cases put my two cents in, when someone states their opinion on a political issue, and subsequently, he gets demolished literally by others who strongly disagree. It is brutal. Our country was established on the principles of controversy.
     Words in print on Facebook can be so easily misconstrued. Why, even those of us who are professional writers get misinterpreted in print at times, and later, when we look back at our pieces and see it through a different lens, we shake our heads.
     Don’t get me wrong. I am a firm believer in our First Amendment right to speak out.

     I am also one who favors a fair debate between two people face-to-face when both sides are armed with facts and agree to disagree for the sake of presenting their points. Debate was one of my favorite activities in college, and it has served me well throughout my lifetime gleaning information before making intelligent decisions.
     And thirdly, I believe that there is a time to stand up for one’s beliefs on social justice issues, which will have far reaching implications for future generations. Rolling back hard won victories for women’s rights would be disastrous in my opinion.
     Impassioned rhetoric is one thing. Hurtful and degrading another human being as being ignorant, or implying such, is wrong, wrong. Assuming by where someone lives, or his lifestyle, that he is of one party affiliation or the other is not the proper way to welcome angels unaware into your life.

     So to be on Facebook this year, you either have to have a tough skin or shy away from reading what makes you feel uncomfortable. A lot of folks took a break over the holidays and came back in January refreshed…well, they thought so, until verbal tirades started right back up.
     I observed people “unfriending” others of different political bents, and in one case, telling someone to unfriend him if by doing so it would make his life more comfortable.

     As in any society there are those right out there with their beliefs with no holes barred. Then there are the people sitting on the fence. There are the peacemakers. We need all kinds and a variety of opinions to live in a democratic society. Our citizens need to be proud AND critical simultaneously.
     Those of you that are familiar with Japanese culture know that one of the main attributes of the Japanese people is “group think.” Their reverence for their leaders, teachers and those in charge is honored with submission. The Japanese people simply don’t question. Those with creative minds live with their thoughts and ideas without making a fuss, and work underground so to speak.

     It is so opposite of our independent mindset in the United States. We don’t buy into “group think.” Our travel group in Japan learned that young children are not encouraged to ask questions in their learning process, and we realized that as much as we loved the serenity, beauty and efficiency of the country, we could not live there. We value our freedoms way too much.
     Facebook is still an important part of my life. The best advice I have is to don’t let the dialogue get to you.  Maintain the high road.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Not all pillows are created equal

     Sooner or later I knew that my private feelings would come out in print. Something like that is impossible to hide under the covers.     
     The truth of the matter is that pillows don’t cross my mind very often, nor do I have a love-hate relationship with my pillow like others known to obsess over buying the best on the market. For me, a pillow is just a necessary essential like shampoo, car maintenance and duct tape.
      I sleep like a baby floating in my dreams with an expensive pillow. On the other side, it takes a few whacks accompanied by a couple grumbles during the night and I survive with a lousy one.

     For discriminating folks, the size of the pillow and the fiber content matters, too. You’re up on the latest jargon - the fluff factor. The most common fills for pillows are down feathers, synthetic/polyester fibers and foam. Consider thread counts. Simply put, the higher the thread count in a pillow the more durable and plush it will feel.
     Sleeping position is relevant – back, side, stomach or mixed sleeping patterns ‒ so folks should give a scientific scrutiny to their normal habits. Choosing the wrong pillow can exacerbate headaches, neck and shoulder tension.

     Over the weekend while in the parking lot of a motel along a busy highway, I saw a young woman with a long ponytail under a Steelers cap clutching a bedroom pillow along with a large purse in one hand and her suitcase in the other. I gathered up my sole suitcase and followed her into the main lobby. Without being nosy and downright asking her, I assumed that she couldn’t leave home without her own pillow. It is something that I have heard others talk about, and more importantly, how their sleep is affected drastically without their usual headrest. For others, it is that creature comfort of having something from home in a strange and new place like carrying a stuffed animal or a special photo.
     Bringing your own pillow is fine, except it doesn’t work as efficiently at the airport TSA, although I’ve seen teens toting them along with oversized Vera Bradley duffels crammed to the gills. They need to be taught how to pack better in my opinion.

     Numerous times in hotels I have not had the ideal rest and I will blame it on the pillow; or should I say, the several oversized ones arranged to create a homey atmosphere. I feel like my head is wedged in like a vice and miss out on the benefit of the super duper deluxe mattress.  Still, no one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes back and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.

     When I was staying in a couple small rural Japanese spa retreats, I had the pleasure of resting my head on buckwheat pillows, and both times I ended up throwing them on the floor in disgust. I slept without.
     Buckwheat pillows are meant to be a natural sleep aid. It didn’t work for me. Buckwheat hulls have several advantages over traditional pillow fill like foam or feathers. Most significantly, buckwheat hull pillows do not collapse under the weight of your head. The buckwheat hull fill conforms perfectly to the unique shape of your head and neck providing support that most pillows lack.
     How many travel doughnut pillows have you left behind in one city or another?  They are visible looped to the outsides of luggage and certain people on long distance flights swear by them. I am a minimalist traveler and find them simply one more thing to carry. I can sleep sitting up or slumped over regardless. I will say that the person who invented those sleep aids was pretty smart, and analyzed his market well.
     Which brings me to the fact that I do like a sturdy pillow and I make sure that I keep mine in good condition at home. Before a pillow gets worn, I am not adverse to going out and getting a new one. I remember during my frugal years that I kept a pillow until I could fold it in half.  That was the final sign that the pillow was beyond dead and time for a replacement.

      A poll in the Daily Mail in the UK of nearly 2,200 men and women found that 82 per cent of people do not know how often they should replace their pillows. According to the Sleep Council, pillows should be replaced every two years, or more often if you have allergies or health issues.
     Anything will substitute for the real deal in an emergency. Travelers roll up jackets or rest their heads on their duffel bags in airport lounges.
      My friends who own large dogs use them for pillows when stretching out on the floor. They are so lucky for pet therapy and a quick snooze all rolled into an incomparable moment without the cost of a spa treatment.
     A wedding pillow designed and handcrafted by my late sister is the most priceless family heirloom that I have in my possession. As the matriarch, I am the pillow’s keeper for the time being before it will be passed on to the next generation.   It is a square ivory form with a lacey edge and it is dotted with dainty flowers holding several ribbon streamers in place. For all the cousins’ weddings, she carefully embroidered the name and dates on the back.
     All this hurry-up writing reminds me to buy a couple new pillows. Bring on the January White Sales.  


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Starting the new year off

A Traditional First Day Hike is my way of starting off a new year on a positive footing. Walking was a little tricky, and after a slip slide along the edge of the road, I gave up and went to the center. Fortunately, there was no traffic to contend with and all worked out. There was a complete stillness in the air except for the crunching under my feet, and therefore, it kept me focused on the present. Peace. Abiding peace. Country living at its finest. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A new year's wish

Wishing readers, writer friends and everyone best wishes for a HAPPY NEW YEAR filled with 

possibilities and challenges.

Thanks for your support. An incredible amount of words were written in 2016. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A new year of travel possibilities

     I’m hanging up a new wall calendar for 2017. There are blank squares waiting to be filled, and I am impatient to get on the trail.  
     You are either born with it, or not… that wanderlust of spirit for travel and adventure. Others get their kicks from the armchair variety along assorted, vicarious routes  - books, documentaries and storytelling. Neither way is right or wrong. It depends on your temperament. Physical ability. Pocketbook.

     However, money is secondary for those who have the urge to be off on an excursion. They figure it out. Take my two vagabond acquaintances. These young friends are not settled permanently anywhere and roam the world hopping from one continent to the next on an extremely limited budget making up for it with boundless energy. Sometimes they work for their keep, and stay in one spot for a season. They engage with locals in every possible way and have created an amazing set of pictures and writing to accompany their journey.
     Recently I caught up with my vagabonds via the Internet while they are in Southeast Asia, and their passion for exploration has not dimmed since I first met the wife several years ago in a local writers group when they were temporarily staying with relatives in our area. Their aim is to live on all seven continents – they are getting close - before they settle in to life somewhere. I didn’t want to tell them, but I expect that they won’t stop for long before the urge will take them off again seeing the world.

     For most wanderers, like those two vagabond rovers who brag on their minimalist lifestyle, it never ceases. Another good example from a different era is Jack Kerouac, who said,There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”  Kerouac was an American writer best known for the novel On the Road, which became an American classic, pioneering the Beat Generation in the 1950s. His spontaneous prose is a method that allows one’s muse to bring the thoughts out on paper without interruption from the writer.  I confess that reading his work gets me lost, and I wonder if I will see my way clear to a road sign. There is no direct path but wandering according to Kerouac.
     A local storyteller friend uses Kerouac’s broader theme for her presentations. Actually, it is “keep the wonder rolling,” and that says a great deal about those who travel in their minds as well as by other methods of transportation. Her folktales are from around the world and she deftly points out the cultural nuances of each before she begins to engage her audience into the characters and specific location inviting them to use their imaginations. Personally, I relish putting my mind to work and creating images in my head to go with the stories. Storytelling does that so well, and has for centuries, before literacy and its advances.
     A Native American storyteller quietly spreads his tales about Great Mother Earth without as much as a raised voice, and his audience remain at rapt attention. There’s a harmony evident and a rhyme to his message. It reminds me of traveling in the Southwest of our country, one of my favorite regions, and the natural beauty of lavender New Mexico sunsets, the Red Rocks near Sedona and life on native reservations. While the storyteller speaks, folks are traveling in their chairs and envisioning a different, more fruitful earth where water abounds and co-existing in nature is foremost. The Great Peacekeeper taught the community of Native American Nations to respect each other and all living things.

     My vagabonds manage quite frugally, but that doesn’t fit with others like newfound friends in the San Francisco Bay area who are going all over the world like mad women – their term - on a quest to see every possible highlight. I toured with them in Morocco and I was exhausted trying to keep up with their plans for 2017, 2018 and beyond. They are happy, though, and who am I to question their motive?  Some people don’t need the home base as much as others, and off they go emptying their bucket list in double time.
     There’s the couple from New Jersey I met on one of my trips that have disconnected themselves purposefully from their town and its activities and are letting their grown children fly to wherever they are to connect periodically. They live the retirement life as they dreamed it would be after spending grueling hours on the highway commuting from the suburbs back and forth to New York City teaching jobs. Or the recently widowed man who had planned a trip around the world with his wife only to have her die of complications of cancer before they could start out. There’s that rush for some people of a certain age to beat the clock.
     My vagabonds think that they have all the time in the world and push certain realities to the back of their mind. They haven’t come to the stage of having children…and grandchildren, if they ever choose that direction. Dealing with aging parents and health issues of their own isn’t in play for them right now either. Steady jobs in one place…well, that may not be in their cards.  
     As for my travel plans for 2017, you will have to wait and see.
May all of us fill our days at home, or on the road, with what matters to us. “Think and wonder. Wonder and think” – Dr. Seuss.  




Tuesday, December 20, 2016

With appreciation

     Thank you to those of you who took advantage of purchasing a free copy of Shimmering Japanese Sunlight. 

      And, a big thank you to all  who have been reading this blog throughout the year. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Keeping the memory

I decided to create a photo/essay book to keep the memory alive of my desert adventure, and iPhoto worked well. Not for sale.