Ritual

7:10 a.m. and I’ve slept through the night, the first time in months. This amazes and delights me. I hit the pillow at 10 last night feeling drugged. Maybe popcorn, white rice, M&Ms and Campari over ice make the perfect pre-sleep meal.

My dream lingers. I’m at my cousin’s funeral and there’s a young boy there talking incessantly, oblivious to his somber surroundings. I’m really irritated at this child, but there’s nothing I can do without making the situation worse.

I allowed myself the indulgence of waking without an alarm because my walking buddy isn’t available this morning. Typically we’re on the road at 7 and home by 8. I shake off the dream-webs and stretch my legs over the edge of the bed. Ranger stretches as well, yawns noisily and licks my toes.

After peeing like a rhino, I wash my face, slather on SPF 15 and fill in my gray-blonde eyebrows with brown eye shadow. “Don’t leave home without your eye-browns” is Mom’s beauty tip this year, as if anyone will notice my “eye-browns” under my visor and behind my mirrored glasses. I know it helps to frame my eyes, and I might as well do it now since I probably won’t shower today. It’s part of my morning ritual.

I throw on my walking clothes and let Ranger out the back door. I was too tired to take him for his routine evening stroll last night and I feel bad. He, too, pees like a rhino in the back yard and wants to come back in immediately. He’s my shadow.

I make the bed, though no one would notice that either. Admiral McRaven delivered a speech to UT graduates this year in which he told them to make their bed every morning. If you can’t do a little task like that each day, how can you expect to accomplish anything greater? It’s a simple concept, and I do like walking into a neat room.

Mike has already been working for an hour. I sip hot coffee with him and we chat about the upcoming day. I throw together rice and eggs and cheese before his first meeting, and since he can’t eat it all—he rarely eats breakfast—I finish it with a second cup of coffee. “Laurel never has a 2nd cup.” I think we should watch Airplane tonight to offset the sadness in the world.

By 8:30 Ranger and I are out the door and noticing the 90-minute-later temperature difference. I generally wear a light jacket and am comfortable until we get home, but this morning, I remove it almost immediately. Last week of July and it finally feels like summer in Leadville.

photo 3 (3)We hustle up the hill and Ranger is happy when I stop to take photos of whatever catches my eye: wispy grasses, sun pouring through bridge beams, clover patches buzzing with bees. Inappropriate Army cadences come to mind: “Roll me over in the clover do it again, do it again.”

Turning at the bridge to head back home, I check out the Mt. Massive skyline. It’s beautiful. It’s always beautiful, but by 9 a.m. the brightness of the day washes away the crispness of the earlier contrast between mountains and the just-rising sun.

“Beautiful dog!” someone yells from an ATV. I get that a lot.

Back home by 9:30, my beautiful dog pants in the shade out back while I tidy up in photo 4 (4)preparation for my writing group to arrive. I do a speed-vac of the downstairs, enough to pick up the dusty clumps of dog hair gathered in corners and around chair legs, and pour M&Ms and peanuts into bowls.

My group, two high school girls today, meets me on the deck and we write and chat and challenge one another for two hours. They don’t know it, but I’m honored by their presence each week. It’s something they don’t have to do. Much like my morning walk, it has become a ritual I relish.

Thunder clouds roll in early today and by 4 p.m. the ground is soaking up the drenching rain. The couch is calling me. Time for a nap.

BURN

Burn

Disappointment kills
Any hope I might have for
Our future success

Watching my husband
Work selflessly for others
Just to be shut down

Unsupported by
Frightened politicians who
Bow to ignorance

Things don’t burn, they say,
In fires at elevation
Above ten thousand

Are they serious?
Are they really serious?
Tell me it’s a dream

With silly people
Who selfishly get their way
At others’ expense

That tomorrow morn
I’ll wake to find my nightmare
Gladly unfounded

But I know the truth
Things will never change in town
When witlessness reigns

When those who can, won’t,
When, “We don’t want this to turn
Into Breckenridge”

Becomes our slogan
Though leveling town would not
Be enough to start

Transforming hovels
Into proudly-owned houses
With junk-free front yards

How will we move forth
When so few see our town is
Struggling to survive?

When so many look
Only through their front window,
Only at themselves?

Motivation drains
From those who try to improve
Where it’s not wanted

Resources wasted
Ignorant voices spew lies
Sad reality?

Fire mitigation
Project doused, so don’t call me
When flames lick your door

Friend’s book

I met Stacey Gustafson at this year’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and enjoyed her humor! If you’re looking for something entertaining this summer, check out her newly released book “Are You Kidding Me?”

Gustafson_Cover_FRONT_72dpi

Going to the Dogs

“My dog’s friendly!” That’s what they all say, right? So is the 85-pound German Shepherd we adopted from a shelter recently, and I’d like him to stay that way. I don’t want to get bitten. I don’t want my dog to get bitten. Even more so, I don’t want my dog to bite. Once a dog has to bite to defend itself or its owner, every approaching dog or person becomes a potential enemy.

This past week I called the Police Department after a close call with a snarling, barking, advancing dog on a dirt alleyway where I walk my dog routinely. The dog would not back off and it took a kind man carrying a big stick (I’ll call him Teddy) running from his backyard and hurling it to turn the dog away. Thank you, kind man.

Sitting in my front yard to calm down after this incident, I was then approached by the owner of the still-at-large dog. She proceeded to unload on me a verbal assault calling me every name in the book—including one that, if true, would secure my infamy alongside the wanton women of Leadville’s colorful past. After recovering from the fear she might jump over my fence and bite me, I pulled out my phone and managed to record a bit of her abuse. I included this with the report I submitted to the Police Department.

I would like people to know that living on a street or alley doesn’t give you or your dog free reign over that public space. I, and every other person in town regardless of dog ownership, should be able to walk down any public street or alley without fear of being accosted by someone’s unrestrained pet. We should also be able to enjoy the peace of our own property without fear of being accosted by unrestrained pet owners, some who believe it is our fault when their loose dogs attack.

Several people have mentioned to me that Leadville needs a dog park. I do my best to hold my tongue lately when I consider what our town needs. Having a dog park, however, will not solve the problem of irresponsible dog owners, who would likely open their front doors and tell their dogs to be home by dinnertime.

Sadly, I’ve seen what happens to victims of dog aggression who have defended themselves in the past. It’s not pretty. Victims have been put on deferred judgment and told to behave for a year, and they’ve gone to jail—for protecting themselves against vicious dogs.

But that won’t stop me from protecting myself should this happen again. Sure, dogs will get loose from time to time, and I know the difference between a goofball dog who tromps up ready to play and one that’s a menace. The next dog to approach with snarling teeth on public grounds will get a blast from my new pepper spray, and if that lands me in jail, well, I guess I’ll have another unique experience to write about.

Leadville is going to the dogs and it’s past time to take action. We have only one code enforcement officer doing the best he can, but there’s no way he can keep up with the number of blatant violations occurring with increased frequency on our streets and alleyways.

If you own a dog, friendly or not, it’s your responsibility to ensure that it remains secure on your property whether you are home or away. Even a friendly dog can be provoked under certain circumstances. If you witness roaming or neglected dogs, please report them immediately. Perhaps after a fine or two, irresponsible owners will think twice about neglecting their dogs.

I would suggest carrying something with you for protection when you are out walking, with or without a dog. I was thankful for the kind man with the stick who came to my rescue.

Even if you are walking your friendly dog on a leash, please don’t assume my dog wants his butt sniffed while we’re out taking care of business. I’ve witnessed friendly initial greetings escalate to aggression when one dog decides he’s had enough. And as a side-issue, there are no poop fairies in town, so please don’t pretend you’re unaware of the piles your dog dumps every day.

I won’t walk my dog again without pepper spray, so if you love your dog, keep him safe. If I end up in prison for defending myself, I might be authorized one call. It will be to someone who’s willing to walk my dog. Any takers? Don’t worry—my dog’s friendly.

Walking Away

Just like that, whatever that is, I’m walking away from Facebook.

Facebook was made for people like me. People who can’t walk away from a controversy without advocating their own opinion (as if my opinion will change the world). People who eat the entire bag of chocolate chips without making a single cookie. People who like people to like them. People who can’t not click on the latest adorable kitten video or clip of a five-year-old belting out the National Anthem like nobody’s business.

I’m no longer comfortable being one of those people.

My youngest son was the first person I ever knew to walk away from Facebook. I didn’t even know it was legal. “Too stressful,” he said, simply, and I’m beginning to understand.

I love my friends and family, and I’ve become accustomed to knowing their every thought every day. I’m accustomed to hitting the “Like” button—like a rat waiting for a pellet to drop—every time I read a status of see a fun photo. It has become too much.

I’ve stopped buying bags of chocolate chips. I will stop my addiction to wanting everyone to know what I think and what my dog is doing every day.

I’m sure Mark Zuckerberg will be calling any minute now asking what he can do to bring me back. Whatever will he do without me and my 611 friends visiting hourly? How will he survive without the possibility that I might click on one of the endless ads for Zappos shoes or Games I May Like, without my taking a quiz to determine which Harry Potter character I’m most like (Hermione, perhaps?), without letting the world know that I’ve just spilled red wine on my white cotton shirt: frowny-face emoticon?

How do I feel about deleting my Facebook life? Liberated. Free. Like I’ve lost 5 pounds without even trying. Sorry, Zuck. Hope your net worth won’t drop too much tomorrow when the world finds out I’m gone!

10 Lessons from Dad (in no particular order)

  1. Be a good girl and don’t be obnoxious. Having five daughters to raise, Dad was a strict overseer. He knew he’d have to marry us all off someday, and did his best to ensure there were no “Shrews” to worry about. He was successful, and each of us is still married to the men we first married.
  2. Use good manners. Chew with your mouth closed, eat everything on your plate (because of the starving children in Africa), sit up straight at the table, don’t interrupt, speak clearly (I appreciate this more and more each passing year!), say “please” and “thank you,” hold the door for others, cover your mouth when you sneeze . . . important lessons still!
  3. Learn to drive defensively. This skill is necessary because every other driver on the road is an asshole. Dad’s words, not mine.
  4. Dry off with a facecloth first after you bathe, and use only one square of toilet paper after going #1. The facecloth rule made sense. Post-shower squeegeeing saved on towel laundering. It took me a long time to get over the guilt of grabbing a whole towel from the shower when I got to make the rules. The one toilet square was a rule we neither understood nor followed, and I don’t remember if there was a rule for #2. Can’t imagine what the toilet paper bill was each month, but I’m sure Dad did his best to prevent costly plumbing issues. Did I mention five daughters?
  5. Don’t lie. Although it helped to have something legitimate to tell the priest during confession, our parents always discovered the lie, and the consequences were then doubled: disappointment plus anger. Still, we took chances on “getting away with it.”
  6. There are consequences for your actions. It might be a stern word or look, or even a spanking, or no dessert, or no use of the family car, but it made an impression, and made us think twice (well, sometimes!) before doing something we knew might end poorly.
  7. Say your prayers. Dad and Mom never wavered a day on their faith, and daily prayers were as routine as hand washing. Every night I would fall asleep with the litany of rote prayers ending with “…and God bless Mommy and Daddy and Christine and Susie and Charlene and me and Carol and Nana and Bupa and Grandma and Grandpa and . . .” everyone I knew in my life.
  8. Be generous to others. To this day I do not know how many charities Dad supported, but I know that he gave generously to his church routinely, and his extended family and friends as well whenever he saw a need. He was always private about his giving. It made him the richest man on Earth in my eyes.
  9. Respect your elders. I grew up with a healthy sense of fear/admiration/respect for my elders because they were the ones who taught me and loved me and kept me safe. I knew I needed them. Now that I am one, I believe every child should learn this lesson!
  10. Respect your partner. For 65 years Dad treated Mom with respect, love, admiration, and humor. Sure, they had their arguments, but I don’t believe they ever went to bed angry. They made time to be together, just the two of them, every evening. They talked. They laughed. They danced. They hugged. They provided each of us girls with a glimpse of a future that was possible for us.

mom and dad dancing_2

Missing and thinking of you this Father’s Day, Daddy-O.

 

Eating Christmas

My morning walk with a neighbor friend always brightens my mood. Yesterday he, my husband, my dog and I attended a 3-hour nature walk to learn about edibles in the wild—not the kind recently legalized in Colorado, but the kind that could keep you alive in an emergency.

Although Ranger was unimpressed by the presentation, he nevertheless nibbled on the succulent grasses surrounding us. Attendance was more than 30 people ranging from age 4 to about 74 and my 85-pound pup behaved beautifully. Still, I kept to the back of the group and didn’t learn as much as I could have. My hubby and friend would fill me in, and I thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of my surroundings.

This morning my friend and I searched along our route for the new growth at the end of pine branches, an excellent source of vitamin C. Sage bushes were everywhere and I started chewing a small sprig while searching for the new pine. Sage really packs a sensory punch, and when I finally added a few new pine needles to my mountain trail mix I was instantly transported to a childhood pre-Christmas day.

My little sister and I galloped around the living room to “Sleigh Ride” in our footie pajamas, our excitement for Christmas morning building. We had already found our longest knee-sock for the fireplace hearth; Santa always put a large piece of fruit in the toe on Christmas morning, so we wanted to ensure there was plenty of room for other surprises.

Mom was in the kitchen preparing the family feast for five girls and whatever extended family might arrive, and the smell of stuffing mixed with the fresh aroma of Christmas tree pine and happy holiday music wafting through the air . . . well, it just didn’t get any better than that.

My blast from the past was powerful on this very un-Christmas June morning and made me just a little homesick. I think I might have to squeeze in another visit this summer and forego the Boston lobsta for a turkey dinner. I’ll bring the sage.

Flying

I had never been on a horse before, and there I was–the magnificent beast towering above my 5th grade face–frightened and nervous and ridiculously excited.

I still don’t know why my teacher selected me to ride with her that day. I’d like to think it was because I had impressed her with my poetry.

With a little help, I was in the saddle and feeling the fear and freedom of my new vantage point. My teacher led me and another student on a gentle ride through a wildflower speckled meadow, and my confidence grew with each powerful step.

When she started to trot, I was petrified and exhilarated, hanging on for dear life, a smile on my face as wide as that glorious meadow. It was one of those don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry moments, and I laughed.

The adventure completed, I dismounted on noddle legs, adrenaline still surging through my little frame. Ms. B handed me a large brush and I groomed as much as I could reach on my patient new friend, looking into his soulful eyes whenever I could and feeling a connection I had never before felt with a non-human.

I have dreamt of flying several times in my life, and if I could choose a frivolous superpower, it would be flight. My gift of flight on the back of my first horse that day was as close as I may ever come to realizing my dream.

“ACTING!”

When I was a wee girl, my list of “What I want to be when I grow up” included singing, dancing, drawing, and working as a cashier. It did not include acting.

Mom likes to remind me that I cried a lot as a child, but I don’t remember much crying until I was a pimply teen with low self-esteem. They didn’t have drugs like Accutane back then, or if they did, we were unaware. If I cried as a child, it was probably because of my awareness that I was the funny-looking daughter of five, pudgy and freckle-faced among blonde and brunette beauties of sisters.

My older sisters tell me that I was a cute little “Look at me!” kid, so now I know that my most recent gigs as an actor were somehow predestined.

Two years ago, an acquaintance told me she had a screen play she was ready to film. Half joking, I asked if she needed an actor.

“Are you serious?” she asked, “because you might be perfect for the part.”

I convinced her that my life as an Army officer, a teacher, and a mom qualified as acting experience, and one year later in the fall of 2013, I co-starred (alongside a beautiful old dog) in her short film “Peace Pass.”

The film is a controversial piece about end of life decisions and premiered at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum on May 3rd, 2014 to a full house. In true “Look at me!” mode, I arrived stylishly late in my $20 red Goodwill evening gown and blew kisses to the crowd. I like making people laugh, and it was a good thing to do before starting the emotionally wrought film.

photo 3The film ended with sniffles throughout the audience, and the following Q&A session was thoughtful and provoking. My only challenge at the end of the evening was getting my head through the door, full as it was with music from A Star is Born.

Starring in my first official film has left me hungry for more, and although I was given speaking lines as an “extra” in an Audi car short film (shot here in Leadville April 29th), the final cut may not include those lines. We’ll know on Mother’s Day when it is scheduled to air online! In any case, it was a thrill to work with real actors and directors from California.

Yes, I will still write, but I think I might also have to pursue an acting career in my advancing years. “They” all say I’m a natural.

“Rake me!”

Oh! The instant gratification of the first yard raking of the season!

rake

Like matted knots in a young girl’s dirty hair, flattened wet leaves cling to the ground, unwilling to be pulled free by the insistent “c’mon, now” of the rhythmic plastic teeth. Little by little, however, they concede defeat, release their grip and roll with the rest into a heaping pile.

Little wisps of green grass appear with each pass of the rake.

They breathe in, and then out, a “thank you.”

When the job is done, like the freshly combed mane of a now clean child, the yard is a pleasure to gaze upon. We accept that the new order will not last long, however, and take what small joy we may in the day’s grooming.