Friday, May 01, 2015

Walking on the wrong side...


I had to drive Daughter #2 into the larger town this morning to be part of a group of high schoolers who would be giving advise to the graduating 8th graders  about what to expect entering as Freshmen in the Fall. All year she has been part of a county wide leadership program, involving the two smaller "villages" and large town's students.

Trying to be efficient, I decided to take the dogs and walk them around the neighborhood of the middle school, waiting for my daughter to get done with her talk and then I could drive her back to her school, located in a much smaller community about ten miles, up the highway.

I often do take the dogs "to town" to walk but had never walked them south of Main. I don't think I will be doing it again, either. All towns have a neighborhood where the property values aren't so high, but the police seem to be called there regularly. It's often referred to as the other side of the tracks. Sometimes its the southern part of town, or in the floodplains or lowlands. The hills and slopes reserved for those with nicer homes where the views are better.

Not even a block from the parking lot of the Middle School, I was greeted by a gauntlet of harassing dogs behind chain link fences and no trespassing signs. I had to hold back my two sizable dogs and zigzag from one side of the street to the other, or walk down the middle of the street. Dogs who never leave their yards are a special kind of crazy. In more than one yard there were three of them barking and rushing the fence, which also contained broken down cars and rubbish. I hurried past an old beat up truck, its cab being used for storage or as a place to sleep, both windows carefully blocked by blue towels from the inside as was the windshield.

I took the first street back up to Main and crossed at the light to the north side, where I spend most of my time, my church, the yoga studio, the soup kitchen and our favorite restaurants all right there. I breathed a sigh of relief and loosened up on the leash I had been holding firm to the last three blocks.

Passing the county offices, I was greeted by smartly dressed assistant DA's, their Oakley sunglasses and mountain bikes atop their SUV hints at what they would be doing on their lunch break or after work. One more block and I turned left to walk down the tree lined median of the boulevard  most towns in the West also have. The dogs, now relaxed, sniffed the grass to discover the paths of the dogs and walkers already past by.  On both sides of the grassy center, cars rolled by at a slow pace and beyond them were cute Victorian and Arts and Craft houses, well kept up, with blooming trees and tulips in their front yards

I often walk the boulevard, much easier then trying to keep two dogs, one blind, on a narrow side walk. But I usually walk it the opposite direction, able to go almost a mile down to the library and park. But this morning, I had to get back around to the Middle School to pick up my daughter. The dogs only had two blocks of grass to sniff, before I led them south again, navigating a horrible intersection of three converging streets, where the neighborhood quickly becomes not so desirable, pressed up against the highway and the edge of town.

Things went okay for a couple of blocks with little traffic, I walked on the edge of the street to avoid the narrow sidewalks again. Then it changed, when at an intersection, I was greeted by a older lady in a old Trans Am. Apparently I was walking right where she needed to park and she intended to push me off the street, slowly rolling towards me, not having the time to wait at the intersection for me to pass by. So facing a car, I pulled the dogs up on to the curb, no sidewalk available there and stepped around some xeriscaping, so she could get settled in her parking place.

Now this all seemed extra humorous to me because all week I have been researching, thanks to you-tube and Gopro-  road rage, that between road biker and cars for a project and then today I get pushed off the road by a car. Let me just say, never take a bike tour of New Zealand and I wouldn't ride a bike in London.

Crossing back to the south side of Main, I walked by a large vacant lot where street vendors sell out of their trucks produce or puppies and a guy has been selling those fuzzy sports logo blankets for years, but lucky it was too early for anyone to set up shop. Next to the lot, a chain link fence cut off a narrow sidewalk and the highway coming into town, from the sports fields of the Middle School. I made my way around, kept the dogs close, impressed with the green growth of the school's Farm to Table program I was passing, neatly in raised beds in front of a greenhouse. One of the many programs in our community that is trying to bridge the gap between the North and South sides. Sadly getting kids excited about real food even has to be done here in such a rural area.

Continuing around the curve of the track field and bleachers, I would soon be right next to the large semitruck making their way up Highway 491, the main  north south thoroughfare in the  Four Corners. The sidewalk was narrow, but at least there was one. Then I noticed the biker, coming towards me, on the sidewalk. Not a road biker, or a recreational biker, but a DUI biker or can't afford a car biker. But still a biker on the sidewalk, who had no intention of riding on the road, next to the semi trucks. Unfortunately he could hardly ride a bike for the way he was rocking this way and that and either did not see me or did not care that well, I was in front of him. So for the second time that day, I got out of the way of an on coming vehicle, but this time, stepped down onto the road and keeping one eye on the large blue semi rushing towards me, maneuvered  around the biker and back up on the sidewalk before the whoosh of the semi passed me by. The look on the bikers face, was either of a man who had never ridden a bike before and was trying to learn or was too hung over to remember how, but I was convinced if I held my ground on the sidewalk he would have hit me or one of the dogs.

Yesterday, I cooked at the soup kitchen. We fed about a 100. The day before at the other church who cooks lunch for the community, they fed 140. If I put too many vegetables and beans in things, I hear about it, If the salad is too fancy I hear about it. If we get fresh herbs donated, I have to use them, because no one else knows what to do with them.  We need the Farm to Table programs schools are offering and we need the leadership programs my daughter is a part of.
Disadvantages economically, socially and in education are part of poverty. But teaching rural kids for almost a decade, working with families through our church and schools, cooking at the soup kitchen I have seen people too often not take the opportunities they could have, seeming to not want to move away from all they know and that is a testament to how strong our heritage, where our families have come from is.  Something I have been pondering after  reading....


reviewed here in the Washington Post

I'm not the only one pondering such things. The large town's school district is on academic suspension, many of the parents driving their children to enroll their children in the two other rural/village  school districts who are doing much better. The latest superintendent took the gloves off in a meeting recently making the conclusion that it appeared to him many parents who remained in district did not want their kids to do better in school, afraid if they did they might leave the area. Farm to Table programs and leadership programs might not be enough?


Monday, April 27, 2015

"Someone has to decide something...."


Saturday, an earthquake hit Nepal, causing massive destruction and loss of life. An avalanche at Everest added to to the death toll, which will not be fully realized until relief help gets to outlining remote villages and recovery efforts in Kathmandu conclude their work. My heart and prayers go out to the people of Nepal.

Oddly, just a day before, on the TED Radio Hour on NPR, the subject was organization after natural disasters and other things and one of the interviews was that of Morgan and Caitria O'Neill, who after a "never happens in Massachusetts" tornado almost leveled their small town, they put their unique skill sets together to organize their community's recovery efforts...



I've talked before about my experience when my grandmother was in the Big Thompson Canyon's 100 year flood, the illustration above was inspired by that and have shared my frustration of being far away when less than forty years later in 2013 the canyons of North Central Colorado experienced a 1000 year flood and here over on the West Slope, I was glued to my laptop to get news of the places and people from my childhood. 

Not that long ago, we were evacuated when a fire burned in the canyon beside our homestead... 

We, along with our neighbors were advise in a briefing at a command post when and if we would have homes to return to and what  support and assistance was available in the meantime.Two years later, driving along the road, or walking in our forest we still will find plastic water bottles, donated along with snicker bars and such from the community, carried by the hotshots in the smoke and heat and dropped to the ground  when empty, Fire fighter and disaster workers are the only ones who I think should not be looked down upon for littering. 

The subject of the last weeks TED Radio Hour, wasn't about Disasters, but about Organizing and something one of the O'Neill's sisters said in the NPR interview hit a chord with me...

"Someone has to decide something..."

In their case, it was two barely twenty year old girls who rushed back to their hometown to help, ended up being "mostly" in charge because, they opened their mouths.

I have that problem too, I often am the one to, well, open my mouth and not be guarded and that trait, good or bad is why now, not even two years on, I'm the head cook of a soup kitchen...



 Caitria and Morgan talked of having to make quick decisions about a variety of things and that is something I often have to do...




What recipe will get rid of the most of our parishable items before they go bad? Based on the weather, the time of month, the time of year, how many patrons will show up today? What to do with the three large boxes of not trimmed and dirty produce which was starting to "bolt" that a local farm brought in a half an hour before lunch has to be ready to serve? How long are we going to stand at the counter and clean and trim the produce before we declare enough and toss the rest and go home and put our feet up after making lunch for a 100 people.
I burned out a $100 plus Cuisinart food processor trying to prep free sweet potatoes to put in the freezer. It is a constant struggle to balance what we have, both that is donated and bought, with the resources and time we have and often I get it wrong... 
I thing therein lies the trait that marks those of us who do start deciding things. We aren't afraid of the sky falling, the world falling off it's axis, or tossing a box of sweet potatoes if we get it wrong. We just move on, well sometime after a silent rant, but  keep making decisions, ready to factor in our mistakes the next time something similar comes along....




And like the O'Neill sisters who were amazed that someone would question if they were even out of high school but than take their orders as gospel, I have been amazed at how willing people, on the average fifteen years older than me, want someone else to make the decisions, even after I try and poll all who are involved, getting the response often that they do not want that responsibility, even if that responsibility is if we should have corn or green beans as a side. 
Now, the opinions and sometimes criticism does come after the fact or during, once the plan is committed to about why we are doing something a certain way. I try to be pleasant and patient but all that depends on how close to noon it is, how long the line is outside and how ready I am to be off my feet. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Begin Again...


The lack of snow on the distance mountains and the warm temps have confused the trees here in the West...



 It is worrisome when old apricot trees start to bloom as early as they did this year. It is also worrisome when there is no more snow or moisture forecasted when there hardly has been any, even if that means we have apricots.
But, the snow or lack of it, the blooms, along with the green grass, baby cows and chirping birds are far out of our control, Spring, as long as God is willing, is a time that everything begins again.
This spring has stirred several new beginnings for us, or the hints of new beginnings, looking at three universities for both Daughter #1 and #2, one undergraduate and one graduate...
First, we spent some time up in Salt Lake where the blossoms were in full bloom around the State Capitol...


 to look at the University of Utah...


 a beautiful old campus up in the foothills above the city, where pasture was allotted for milk cows, beginning as an institution in 1850, three years before the Salt Lake City Temple's ground breaking. While we were there the Mormon's most important site was surrounded in pink...




Then it was over to the East Slope of Colorado to check out the University of Colorado in Boulder where we enjoyed a tour of the campus, including the Old Main building...


where the entire university was housed when it opened in 1876, the same year as statehood.
Then it was up to Fort Collins where the flower beds were already full of blooming bulbs around the even older campus...

established when Colorado was just a territory, when six local farmers donated land.


Seeing my girls, and friends of my girls...


loving on the horses near Olde Town, Fort Collins, touring campuses and pondering where they want to live, apart from me, is joyous and heartbreaking as a mother. But for new things to begin, other things have to end.
Something that was in my, our control, and signals a very big new beginning for us, our church "called" a new pastor. To clear up confusion, I am actually a "gentile". We and a few dozen families started our church about twelve years ago, we called our first pastor about a decade ago, now we have asked another man to move his family across the country and settled here in the rural West with small children to start a new life and continue to build our church....yikes!
But he is willing and we, the congregation are willing, so if God is willing this will be a good, new beginning for all of us!



Monday, April 06, 2015

Proclaimed at almost 11,000 feet....





"Life wins!" 
Easter, Morning
San Sophia Station
above Telluride, Colorado 


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Peeking at the Past...


The first step to writing a novel is building a world and  in historical fiction it is more like having to recreate  a time and place that actually existed, a mighty undertaking. I love using photographs for my construction of Moonflower and I found a treasure trove in the Farm Security Administration photo archives from the Library of Congress. Taken during the depression and the war years and including much more  than Dorothea Lange's iconic images of a mother and her children...


Read this post from Yale's Photogrammar for why such wonderful photogrpahs were part of FDR's New Deal, but thank the powers that be that someone did document this hard time in our nation's history. 
The whole archive is on the Library of Congress site, but its is hard to navigate, best viewing is probably Google Images, here.

I could go on, well, I could go on with some kind of "words", but I won't just really look at the few below or in your own searching, of the fathers and mothers, the shacks and the dirty kids, the attempts to keep a sense of pride and the ones who gave up....these photos don't need words...







                             



But in writing Moonflower, I learned much from them, what was on the sparsest of diner tables, how long has Mircle Whip, a family favorite, been around, how men crouched in conversation, what they wore when they worked the farm. Apparantly, according to my mother, the reason men wore their overalls cuffed at the bottoms was to collect the ash from their cigarettes. Yup, my grandfather knocked his cigarette ash into the cuff of his overalls and it was a horrid thing if my mother or grandmother forgot to shake the ash out before washing the clothes. Can you imagine? I would have loved to include that in Moonflower, but the religious fundamentalists in the Four Corners definitely did not smoke and it just seemed out of character for Josh, ( whose Josh? read here).
My grandfather was also a dairy farmer and my mom was a little girl in the area of Moonflower, so much was learned from her stories of my grandpa in the dairy barn, with the strength to lift a container of milk into the separator with one hand and his tendency to talk naps hidden away in the hay.
My family did not have to move off their farms in the depression. They are not from the Four Corners there is no polygamy in our history, but my great grandparents really really liked each other and my grandmother was one of thirteen children with six brothers and I have always heard stories of when they were boys....


and worked the Minnesota farm with their dad...




Sadly, I knew many of  my great uncles longer than I knew my grandfather, who died when I was four, but my childhood was full of trips back to my grandmother's brothers' and my grandfather's brother's farms.
For Moonflower, I decided that one of the universal truths I was going to hold on to was, big families are big families whether they are big because your father has four wives or because your Danish great grandmother and grandfather were really nuts about each other, sibling dynamics are probably very similar. One thing my grandmother would always say was, " don't kid yourself, the older children raised the younger."
One oddity I did copy from my family was my great uncle Harry, my grandmother's oldest brother was the same age as his uncle, my great, great grandmother's youngest son. In the book, mother and daughter overlap having babies...
Even family pictures from the sixties, have proven to be helpful, my great uncles and grandfather helping fix up a old cabin in the foothills near Boulder with my dad, a cabin about the same age as the era of the forties of  my story....