Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rocky Pumpkin High

A couple of days ago, before our first big snowstorm made everything white, my world was primarily orange.

I'd volunteered to help sell pumpkins at the corner of Alameda and Carr in Lakewood. It was part of the Jeffco Partners for Interfaith Action (which means a bunch of churches of various religions) to benefit Habitat for Humanity. It was a sparkly, sunny, chilly Monday and I had a blast.

I joined a team of three manly volunteers from Jefferson Unitarian (I think that's what they said) and they were pretty jolly. At one point I said that the only thing missing from the day was candy corn. Jim, the handsome dude at right (please ignore my finger), then trekked off to get me what I needed. Alas, no candy corn was found so we had to make due with M&M's and Skittles, my favorite!

We were pretty busy all day long and customers tended to come in clumps. It's the same in retail and restaurants ... I'm sure there's a Important Marketing Study going on right now that will explain this eventually.

But the highlight of the day came when Jim leaned over to me and said, "The people that are coming up behind you now - be sure to give them a big discount."

I turned around and saw at least a dozen young adults who live at a group home for the mentally challenged. Led by two sweet blond lady chaperones, one had a walker, a few had helmets and all of them had gigantic smiles. I could actually feel my heart expand just by looking at them.

"PUMPKINS!!!" they exclaimed.

They were not picky. Several chose the first pumpkin they got their hands on and decided it was the most perfect thing they'd ever seen. A few of them told me excitedly about how they'd decorated their house together.

"We put up spiders EVERYWHERE!!!"

"And kitty cats!"

"And scary witches!"

OMG, it was cute squared. Eventually, they all had made their selections (about 13 pumpkins) and I only charged the lady $20. "God bless you," she said, with visible relief. I'm thinking their budget for outings like this must be slim.

I helped carry some pumpkins to their little bus and the fun continued. While the lead ladies loaded up a wheelchair-bound fellow, I helped buckle seat belts and situate new glorious pumpkins on grateful laps. A big, fluffy Huskie dog named Tawny (she lives at the home) sniffed over each child, making sure all were accounted for.

When it was time to leave I said, "Happy Halloween everybody!"

And almost in unison, they replied in high volume: "THANK YOU NICE LADY!!!!"

OMG, my heart just melted and I couldn't stop smiling. Even now, typing this, I am tearing up. I can't believe how much joy I got from being close to these kids for only 20 minutes or so. Such a pure feeling.

I can't shake the feeling that these kids are closer to God than I could ever hope to be.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Getting in the Spirits

While everyone else is battling H1N1, I've contracted some sort of Martha Stewart disease where I feel compelled to cook things from scratch every day. My condition is exacerbated by the oncoming holidays and snowy Sundays with football games on TV.

I just returned from a super fun pumpkin carving party, a tradition held by the hosts, Doug and Edie, for 25 years. Despite the snowy weather, they'd set up the backyard as a complete eating, drinking and pumpkin carving station. Tables covered in newspaper, tarps to keep our heads dry and space heaters to keep us from freezing - oh, it was cozy.

Also, TONS of food, goodies and desserts. Doug is an expert chili man, always a good thing to be in these parts. He had giant pots of spicy green chili, mild green chili, veggie chili and red chili. YUM. I scarfed down a bowl and am now regretting that I did not have seconds.

But I did not arrive empty handed. In fact, despite getting home late (and a tad tipsy) last night from a dinner party in Morrison, I use some of the leftover juice to make Grape Ice Cream. That's right, a new flavor has been brought into this world and I am its mother.

It turned out okay except the next batch will use less sugar and no vanilla - too much getting in the way of that powerful grape-y flavor.

I also spent the afternoon making a batch of over-the-top Halloween cookies. I recently came across a bag of cookie cutters (ghost, bat, pumpkin, cat) in my cupboard and decided to put them to use.

Such fun! Any day you get to play around with food coloring and rainbow sprinkles is a fine, fine day if you ask me. The result was 16 beautiful, perfect cookies (and one disaster cookie I call, 'Insecure Zombie Kitty Applies For A Job') worthy of photographing, suitable for framing and ideal for eating. They were a hit at the party.

And though I was the last person to finish carving, I ultimately completed my version of 'Devil's Advocate.' Behold:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Green Triangle

Beyond the scope of love, I realized this week why I like to stay in touch with old friends. Because they have witnessed the many versions of You and remain curious about who You are today. (See an earlier version of me at left, on the shores of Lake Malawi.)

This all dawned on me earlier this week after visiting with my old friend, Marie-Josee. (Skype, I love you!) Next week, it will be 15 years since we first met in Kenya. She was a 19-year-old, easily-bored girl who hailed from Montreal and thrived on risky adventure. I was 29 and had become too settled for my own comfort - a nice boyfriend, a great apartment and a swanky job as a food writer. Staring down the barrel of the big 3-0, I set out for the world and all its physical discomforts.

Once in Kenya, I met up with my overland crew and quickly realized I was the sole American. We gathered in a circle at that first campsite, Hell's Gate, alongside Lake Naivashu. Our roughly seasoned leader, Kevin, was giving instructions about Something Important. Unfortunately, his Kiwi accent was so thick, I couldn't understand one word he said. Something like, "Right, then. Grab ya mate, hack a sack and find some deht (dirt). She'll be royt (right)!"

All I could think was, "Uh-oh."

Next thing I know, people started pairing up, grabbing bright green canvas bags and wandering off. I didn't know what was going on. Eventually, I stood alone, save for one young girl who spoke to me in a heavy French accent: "Well, I don't know what he said but whatever it is, it's me and you." And just like that, MJ and I became tent-mates for the next three months.

Now, these were not the fancy REI tents that we all have today. These were very basic canvas tents made in the 60s, purchased from the German army who was probably going to through them out anyway. In real estate terms, they were 'cozy' and 'quaint.'

Sharing such a small space with another person under extreme conditions ... well, you get to know a person. (Not to mention the fact that your tentmate is also your cooking partner.) MJ and I came to lovingly refer to our home as, The Green Triangle. Just like any roomies, we laughed, we argued, we shared secrets and got used to one another's sleep talk. (Marie's was mostly in French, although one night she burst out in English: "My God, it's only a gun!")

The following year, MJ came to visit me at my wee beach apartment in California and we celebrated her 20th birthday. We have since kept in loose touch through letters and, eventually, email. I came close to flying to Montreal one weekend for her going away party a couple of years ago, but the planets did not align.

(MJ & I, with our porters, on the Zaire-Ugandan border, getting ready to track mountain gorillas. From our smiles, I can see that we have no clue how physically demanding it was going to be.)

Seeing her lovely face (see above for her classic 'I-am-bored' look) again and hearing that charming accent, it all came rushing back. Because MJ speaks something like five languages, her English phrasing is pretty hilarious. Some of my favorite excerpts from letters and conversations:

"You know how it is, sometimes life is black and other times it is pink. And other times, it is just nice having a husband with a house in the south of France."

Re: her divorce. "And dat was awful. Like washing machine stuck on spin."

"And den I left. I went to live somewhere hot."

My favorite, which came from out of nowhere: "And do you know what else I like about me?"

MJ is less impetuous now, more focused in her life and goals. She is working on her PhD in cultural linguistic history, or some such thing. She has lived in nearly every country in Europe but now has two rooms in Italy - one in the South and one in the North. "One for study, one for living," - typical MJ logic.

As our visit came to a close, I was unabashed in my affection. "I love you madly," I told her, and she squealed and laughed. She returned the love and we swore to visit again soon. And maybe ... just maybe ... someday... we would travel together again, perhaps with a bigger tent.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Long-Time Supporter Explodes

Sure, I got me a fancy office chair but a girl like me needs all the support she can get. And so, for the past 3+ years, I've put several old friends into action.

As I may have mentioned before, I'm not much of a consumer. Unless it's entertainment, food, booze or travel, I'm unlikely to pay for it. Especially if it has any practical uses.

My former college roomie, Laurianna, once visited me from Albuqurque and commented on my cooking skills. "I see you've learned a few things since college," she said, making me glow inside. "But you are still using the same pans and some of these puppies are dangerous." She held up one or two pans that had deep scrapes in them, the protective 'coating' long gone.

"Girlfriend, you need to buy yourself some new pans," she sternly advised. I nodded in full agreement.

Weeks later, a huge box was delivered to my door. In it, a full set of cooking pans and utensils. It was from Laurianna and the note read: "You need these and I KNOW YOU - you will never make the purchase yourself."

It's a great thing to have a friend that knows you so well and yet, loves you anyway.

ANYHOO, I acquired three pillows in 1997 when my San Francisco roomie, Michelle, moved out. They are not pretty so I'd kept them for practical purposes only. One a drab green, another a dirty maroon and the last a psychotic mix of the two colors.

For my entire Colorado life, the maroon pillow has served has my steady back support at ClizBiz Inc. It has held me up through numerous late-night conference calls with China, given me comfort through long editing sessions and selflessly provided bouncy support during various blogging episodes.

Sometime last week, it gave out. Actually, it exploded. I walked in one day and pillow guts were everywhere. Coarse white stuffing lay down around the chair, pillow seams opened like a murder victim's throat. If only I'd had crime scene tape ... oh, it was awful.

I've decided to keep using it until all the stuffing has exited the pillow, which should be sometime next week. Then I will discard the shell and can safely state: "I wore this pillow OUT.'

Monday, October 19, 2009

Old Style Thinkin'

The sky above Lyons on Sunday night was surreal. It was one of those sunsets that made you hear bluesy angels.

I'd been exploring land and lots with Reid, both pretending we had enough money to build a dream reality. I just want a 3-5 acre mini-spread. Big enough to have a yoga yurt, some chickens, a big-ass garden and dogs ... for starters. When I picture my dream future, I see lots of hard physical work (compared to now, anyway) and a great deal of dirt. I also see a great big smile on my face.

Yes, something is happening to me and I've become drawn into all things homespun. My brother even noticed it when we hung out at mom's recently. He was watching me cook and commented with some confusion, "Hey, what are you, Holly Hobbie?"

Just last week, I cooked up a fine, yellow batch of homemade mustard. Okay, so it was for an article I was writing but still, I was pretty gung-ho about it. The result was mind-blowing and tongue-transfixing. Truly. Me and store-bought mustard are through.

Just last Sunday I found myself listening to the Broncos game while making homemade grape jelly. (Photo above - pure grape juice on sugar.) Unlike a true domestica, I got impatient and ended up using too much water so it's somewhere between jelly and syrup. I call it 'jerup.' It's so damn good, I'm tempted to put it on everything. I'm told that grape-jelly-bacon sandwiches are the best ...

Today, I spent several hours today tearing up the '09 Garden (RIP) and it felt so wonderful to be messing about in the dirt again, even if it was a sad occasion. Meanwhile, I'm saving up my pennies for 'farm school' and with any luck, I'll start to become useful.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Green Grasshopper Goodbyes

About a month ago, I went out on my balcony to fetch the morning paper (so retro of me) and there on the ground was the most beautiful grasshopper ... dying. I managed to pick it up and looked right into that tiny green science fiction face. The mandibles were working but it looked like it had a busted leg and therefore, couldn't get anywhere to fend for itself.

It gave me a great opportunity to study the insect up close and notice how it brilliantly it had mimicked its leafy home, right down to the 'veins.' Mother Nature is so brilliant and always five steps ahead.

I placed it in a seashell and took it out back. Perhaps if I placed it on a big, flat leaf, it could rest up and recover? Wishful thinking. I managed to get it situated on a leaf and close to the moist earth. It went and hid, telling me that at least it was happy to be out of the bright sun. And there it died.

I was surprisingly sad about it. I mean, we'd just met! I said a little prayer and went on with my day, though I couldn't get that wee green face outta my mind.

Next morning, same exact thing. A gorgeous grasshopper was struggling on my welcome mat and near death. Since my mother was facing heart surgery at the time, I had to reject the "omen" word that kept flashing in my brain. I also neglected to post about it here.

Again, I grabbed the same sea shell and scooped up the new guy. "Is this going to be a regular thing?" I asked him. "Because I'm not sure I can be Dr. Snow White Kevorkian to the Insect World." His legs were also broken and he seemed weaker than the other, much closer to the end.

I took him to the same comforting plant out back and placed him on a leaf opposite the previous burial. Who wants to see the corpse of a fallen colleague as you yourself are dying? Nobody.

As I did the day before, I said a little green grasshopper prayer. Like the true dork that I am, I said that I was sorry that they had to leave, glad they stopped by on their final day, honored to meet them, etc. Yes, I am, without question, a Nature Nerd.

The next day, I was hesitant to fetch the paper. Would I be greeted by more brightly colored death? Thankfully, no dying grasshoppers appeared. But I guess the word is out - free no-fuss burials at my place. Anytime.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Home, Sweet (Dry), Home

While scientists proclaim Antarctica to be the driest place on Earth, I would have to insist that, in fact, my left eyeball is the driest location on the planet. True story.

Turns out, I am especially sensitive to altitude difference and moisture levels (or lack thereof) in the air. My skin, eyes, hair, nails, sleep patterns and appetite are all heavily affected by my current geographical location. Perhaps this is the price I pay for studying Nature as a hobby; I've gotten too close to my subject.

After two weeks at sea level - my body sucking in all the oxygen and slurping up all the moisture it can manage - I've returned home to Denver, where there are 18% fewer oxygen molecules and very little moisture. While my heart is happy to be home again in my beautiful adopted state, other parts of my body tend to rebel. The left eyeball, especially.

It is not happy here and does want to face facts. I try to point out that my right eyeball, which has endured numerous surgeries and dramas and therefore has much more of a reason to complain, does not. I also like to mention the clean air, which surely must be kinder to a certain mucous membrane I know. Then, I always point out the bevy of rugged Colorado men running-hiking-skiing-biking everywhere - they are most certainly are easy on the eyes.

No matter. Morning tantrums ensue and it refuses to stay open, even when I have important shit to do. I end up wearing sun glasses at church like a redemptive Jack Nicholson. Many a phone call I conduct with my eyes shut tight like a telephone psychic. Bright sun can feel a like a thousand white hot needles straight in my iris, giving me a special affection for snowy or rainy days. (I don't even want to talk about fluorescent lighting, which is pure sensory evil no matter where I am or how I'm feeling.)

When it is really bad, I have to pull the car over and wait out the excruciating episode. No amount of fish oil tablets (3x a day), doctor-prescribed eye drops (Restasis, 2x a day) or water gulping seems to help. One thing I've noticed, the tantrums rarely last beyond 1 p.m.

Thankfully, being half-blind actually helps my guitar playing. Now, if I could just loose some teeth, find a rickety porch and learn me some blues chords, I'd have a legitimate act.

(Eyeball Image Credit: Larry McFarland.)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Monday, October 05, 2009


In between my joyful reunions with old friends here in LA, I've been hanging out with some new friends that are, in fact, old-ish.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I set my iPhone alarm for 8:00 a.m. - still painfully early for me these days. I make the 1.2 mile drive - past my alma mater, Lakewood High School - and park at the Lakewood-Weingart YMCA, my new favorite place.

In the pool, I join the volleyball gang, a lively bunch of people who can spike, serve and tease with the best of 'em. Besides the joy of feeling bouyant in the water, I adore the ritual of victory. When a team wins, they gather hands in a circle, float on their backs and kick their feet in the middle while singing Village People: "Y-M-C-A!" The losing team usually just sulks. Then, we play a new game.

Then, I stay for another hour to do Water Aerobics with another set of seniors, some of whom - like Linda and Isabel - knew me as a baby.

I cannot overstate how inspiring it is to be with people who, although mostly decades older than I, are my kindred spirits. They believe as I do, that JOY can and should be a regular emotion, or at least a daily goal, and that exercise helps get you there.

Take the story of Ina, a 94-year-old pipsqueak who, up until 15 months ago, played v-ball regularly with the gang. One morning, Ina spiked the ball, urped out a quiet little "help" and went down. Her teammate, Bill, quickly got her out of the water and onto the pavement. They called 911 but Ina was gone. Heart attack.

Isn't that a fantastic death? I'd certainly rather end my days frolicking with friends than wearing a diaper in nursing home, that's for sure. I asked my new friend, Shirley, who was telling me the story as a witness, if Ina managed to get that final ball over the net.

She thought for a moment and smiled. "Yes. Yes, she did!" Ina won the Final Round, for sure.

(Statue photo shot in Colorado by Goomama.)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Ice Blockage

What is ice blocking you say? To my Colorado peeps, let me explain.

Y'see, in Southern California there are no seasons. (A rainy day here and there does - not count as a season. Also, "earthquake weather" - not a season.) Without snowmen to make and leaves to jump into, how do kids entertain themselves?

Frankly, one can only go to the beach so often and nobody is better at creating fun stuff out of nothing than bored suburban kids. This is how skateboarding down metal handrails and empty swimming pools became an art form. This is also how Ice Blocking was born.

It's very simple:

- Buy giant blocks of ice from supermarket, liquor store or iceman.
- Grab thick beach towels.
- Cruise parks and golf courses for grassy knolls.
- Carry the blocks to the top of the hill.
- Fold a towel and place on an ice block.
- Plant ass on the block.
- Slide down the hill, avoiding trees, and laugh.
- Carry the block back up the hill in the towel.
- Repeat until the cops come and tell you knock it off.

So, when I am in SoCal, I usually get to visit one of my favorite families, The Lawlers. I went to high school with Debbie, the ultimate surfer/skateboarder chick. I knew her husband, Greg, separately - still one of the funniest men I know. When they married, I knew that cool adorable kids would soon follow.

They did and now there are four extremely funny, talented and lovable people that I get to hang out with. That they live less than a mile from my mother's house makes it super easy.

Last time, we all went toiletpapering - another SoCal tradition and, in my day, intended as a compliment to the recipient. This time, it was Ice Blocking, something I haven't done since the mid-80s with Greg and his buddies. (Sadly, Greg was out of town for this adventure - bummer.)

I had such a blast with Debbie, Nate, Tanner, Hannah and Nate's friend, Jack, that my youthful flashbacks were energizing. Jack and I shared one block and ended up ass-over-head in one fabulous burnout. Hannah and I raced our blocks to the bottom and neither of us fell off! This was a personal best for me.

After many icy runs down the hill, I ducked into some dark bushes for a pee break. Walking out, young Hannah ran up to me, breathless and giggling: "IT'S THE FUZZ!!!" Aaaah, Johnny Law had finally arrived, right on time.  Even the gruff cop from the Cerritos Sheriff Department could not dim my mood, in fact, it made me nostalgic. If he hadn't arrived, the evening would not have been complete.

I'm looking forward to the next Lawler (lawless?) adventure pulled from my youth. Perhaps oil pump riding?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Two Great Snouts

I've been catching up with old friends right and left. All those big projects I brought with me? The ones I was going to complete with all my 'free time?' Yeah, I haven't touched 'em.

Instead, I've been visiting friends who have cute dogs. These are the kind of dogs that jump into my lap and make me want to sneak them in my purse, like Sophia here. She lives in Upland with three other dogs, six cats, my friend, Andrea, her husband, Barry, and two awesome teenagers. I kinda fell for her even though she was wearing a sweater.

This here is Rasputin, a cutie pie that hangs out with my friend, Heidi. He is a wonderful character and it's fun watching Heidi make scrunchy pet owner faces that I've never seen her make before.

I can't wait to meet my dog, wherever he or she might be. Sigh.