Here I Go Again

So here I am again for the 900 millionth time rebuilding muscles from being sick. Sometimes it’s from being injured or having surgery. It’s amazing. One thing I notice is that the older I get the more difficult it is to rebuild muscle. Still, it happens, and I’ve already learned that life demands patience and the faith that things will improve.

An added incentive for me is that my amazing 97 year old artist friend, adopted mom, and mentor collapsed on the floor of her little cottage and was taken to the hospital. She’s now in a home because her legs gave out. She has no muscles in her legs. She is from a generation — my mom’s generation — one in which women in sports or female athleticism was not considered a good thing. “Muscles on women? Heaven forfend!” The goal of rehab was to help her get back behind her walker by helping her develop muscles in her legs. The last I heard it’s not going well, and she’s confronting the horror we in this country of “rugged individualists” face of figuring out a way to pay for a residential nursing home/rehab center.

“Yikes, Martha, if you live that long, it could be you!”

It matters for so many reasons, not the least of which for me is that I might face a knee replacement down the road (or in my own yard). First, I don’t want to. Strong legs take the pressure off of our knees. As for the surgery, I just don’t want to. I’ve managed to evade that particular knife for almost 20 years. But who knows? I’ve also learned how strong legs help reduce rehab time so IF…

Yesterday the Bike to Nowhere took me on a beautiful ride through the Austrian Alps to some high glaciers. I was finally able to ride at a normal speed and to enjoy myself. Those are two very very important things. People are motivated do what they enjoy, and there’s more to a work out than muscle. For me none of this has ever been a “should,” as in “you should exercise.” It’s something I have always loved to do. My friend’s recent experience has just brought home how important it is. I don’t want to think about that, but it isn’t like I don’t know.

I’ve always thought that legs are incredibly beautiful. Maybe this is because my dad’s didn’t work right or maybe it’s because I have always gotten so much joy from what my legs could bring me — forest trails, mountain trails, desert trails, boulders and rocks (up and down), races, bike rides, ski trails and more. Great stuff, wonderful stuff. When my right hip went south I learned about the structure of the leg and hip and wow. It’s a thing of beauty and subtle engineering. I figure I owe my legs a little something at this point in my life after all the pleasure they’ve given me.

Featured photo: My dad and I setting up my first bicycle to be a stationary bike for him. I was 12,

“So, uh, what’s your sign?”

What a hellacious year it’s been. The coming year is a Rabbit Year, and I’m a rabbit so hopping (see what I did there?) for better things. The Chinese part of me says, “What did you expect from a Tiger?”

Good point. A tiger is a tiger is a tiger and a rabbit? Dinner? A snack? An hors d’oeuvre? I’m prey until January 22 when, I hop, I can come out of hiding…

The featured photo is an illustration from my China book. The fan was painted by Ma Yue who was an artist in a small studio/shop in the Fragrant Hills near Beijing. I spent my very best day in China (that says a LOT) with him and his associate. Here is the OTHER side of the fan on which Ma Yue had painted the zodiac figures in the ancient style.

I don’t know much about any horoscope but I do know that in the Chinese zodiac, I am a Metal Rabbit. In the western zodiac, I’m a Capricorn with Venus rising and a lot of stuff in Sagittarius. You cannot be part of the “What’s your sign?” generation without a little knowledge about this stuff whether you want it or not. At one point someone drew my chart and let me know there are a lot of “squares” in it. Squares, apparently, mean things aren’t going to work — what’s not going to work according to their reading of my sign? Luv’, career, and other similarly minor things. BUT according to my chart I’m going to be a restless person and a deep thinker.

In the Castello Sforza in Milan is a room in which the ceiling is covered with the signs of the Zodiac. I remember what it looks like, how really beautiful the green is up there and the gray and white signs. I learned a little more about it today looking for a photo.

I realized last night how much I have missed traveling. It’s funny but now the places I want to visit are places I’ve already been. I would really like to return to Verona and pay attention to the Roman elements. When I was there 18 years ago I was all Medieval all the time. Now? Not really. Last night I learned that Catullus was from Verona, not that I know much about Catullus or his poetry, only that a looooonnnnnnggggg time ago I had a friend who was a Classics major at the University of Colorado. For his mom for Christmas he’d translated some of Catullus’ poems, but he didn’t think his translations “sounded” like poetry, so he gave them to me for “poetification.” It was fun and the poems were beautiful. I don’t know how well I did, but he was happy and I really liked the poems.

Well, enough about me. What’s YOUR sign?

Twittering Historians

This photo gleaned some interest in my Twitter feed and it got me thinking about history. People were genuinely interested in the photo and the people represented, especially young people. Older people chimed in answering questions. The original poster (who looked to be in her 20s) wrote:

  • My older female relatives never went anywhere without wearing a dress, hose and makeup. Gloves and hats were added for church and shopping downtown at the fancy stores.
  • It was a different time, it was 1970 before girls could wear pants to school, you wore your best clothes to travel, we could use a happy middle from the past and now.
  • I remember the first day I wore pants to school. It was so cool. Prior to that we were allowed to wear them under our skirts/dresses if it was below freezing.
  • Back when having a little respect for what other people had to look at wasn’t a concept to be laughed at. Yes, there was a time when it wasn’t always me me me me me me me. Shocking!


It was interesting to read the comments. Many made blanket statements about the era and who had “rights” ‘and who didn’t. Others made social comments on the superiority of the “goodle days.” Many young people mocked the family in the photo or laughed at the care they had put into their appearance JUST to go to the supermarket. Many young people were convinced that this family had gone shopping after church, not knowing that churches stores were closed on Sunday back in the “goodle days.” Others were sure that black people were not allowed in the store based on the fact that the photo shows a white family. Others were sure that the man would not let the woman shop by herself.

A few old people answered sincerely from their own experience in those days. I did. Someone wrote that it was unusual to see a man at the grocery story and I answered that my dad and I did the grocery shopping on Saturdays. This was answered by mild disbelief and comments that my dad must have been a very unusual man. Well, he was, but that wasn’t why he was shopping without my mom.He was shopping without my mom because pushing the cart up and down the aisles in the store was good exercise for him as his multiple sclerosis encroached more and more on his mobility. AND we got to hang out together, just us two, and do something useful for mom who didn’t drive. A lot of women didn’t drive in the “goodle days.” It was very cool to have a mom who did.

I didn’t spend the day reading all the comments this elicited, but I thought about it a lot afterwards, obviously. In my world my brother and I had a freedom and independence I don’t see kids having today, and peer-age friends have said the same thing to me. “When we were kids, we were out the door ‘by mom!'” I got a wrist watch for my 7th birthday so I could come home when they told me to. There were comments about this, too. I don’t remember many times going out with my whole family like this.

One thing I didn’t see mentioned was that supermarkets were comparatively new at this time. Many (most?) people still shopped at corner stores and butchers and bakers and and and. The centralized location for EVERYTHING was a comparatively novel idea. When I was a very small child, my dad came home with whatever mom was going to cook for supper because the butcher was next to the university where he worked. That style of shopping is still alive and well in Europe.

Most interesting to me was that posters were putting together a very useful view of the times depicted in the photo from varied points of view.

One, the questions the future might ask of the past will be based on its view of normal. Two, answers the past might offer the future are based on the limited direct experience of individuals. If the future really cared about life back in the “goodle days” they would have a treasure trove of authentic voices. The challenge I saw was the inability of the future to suspend its opinions and drop the lens of its own moment and perceive that the past was — as is the present — composed of individual people each responding to the imperatives imposed by his/her own life.

But not just that; these grownups had come of age during the Great Depression. The poverty of the Great Depression was pervasive, grueling. The prosperity they were experiencing? My mom even said, “Comb your hair and put on a dress. You don’t want people to think you just walked off the farm.” My mother’s vision of the farm? Flour sack dresses and hand-me-down shoes. The past brings with it the leavings of ITS own past and the blue jeans I wear every day were, in the sixties and seventies, a radical political statement and residue of “the farm.”

Family Thanksgiving, 1959, Three aunts and a cousin, our house in Englewood, CO


Looks like, clever person that I am, I’ll be growing food this summer. I hadn’t planned on it. My plan was to tear out the raised beds and reclaim my yard from the dogs (if possible) but given that going to the store is what it is in these days… Sadly, I missed the golden hour to order seeds, but they’re still on their way. I can’t put stuff outside until June 1, and I usually start seeds too soon. This year I won’t.

Yesterday I opened the composter (I didn’t even open it last year). It’s so dry here that the compost is more desiccated than decayed, kind of like the Dead Sea Scrolls. The banana peels are still legible in places…

I stirred it all around like burger in a skillet, pulling up the lower layers (2015) and pushing down the older layers (2018), dragging out indomitable strands of zucchini vines and the allegedly compostable bags from my kitchen composter (which I tossed). When I’d worked it over good, I decided it would be a good augmentation to the tired soil in the beds. I loaded up the Worx Aerocart (wheelbarrow) and went to work. The bed with more shade will have Swiss chard and salad veggies. The bed with more sunlight will have Scarlet Emperor beans, tomatoes and Genovese basil — and I will attempt again an Australian pumpkin ❤

Nasty weather here, though. Sunny, breezy, 60ish, dry, according to some people, “glorious spring weather.” I find it gruesome, but any good farmer knows there’s nothing to do about the weather. Bear isn’t faring so well. Some of her day is spent searching the yard for somewhere cool, reminiscent of a normal April. I’m putting ice cubes in a bag and saving them so when I get enough, I can make her a “happy place” out there. Three years ago we got a foot of snow at this point in the year. It was THE BEST for all of us as well as for the barley which is now emerging from the winter fields.

Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Family Ties

When I found myself writing fiction that was based on what was known of my family in Switzerland (not much is known; the stories are 98% fiction), I examined my ancestry. I’m not into genealogy, but that was the source of the answers to my questions. Had Rudolf von Lunkhofen had children? Who were they? Where did they live? How about later, during the Reformation in the 16th century? Was the family still there? Who were they? How many? By any remote chance had they been involved in the terrifying events of the time? Were any of them Anabaptists? Then, later, knowing by virtue of my BEING on this continent, that some of them had had to have emigrated, I began looking for THEM.

They were pretty easy to find, even down to the ship on which they sailed — and more.

Luckily, one of my cousins married a Mormon woman, and my mom had been a passionate genealogical researcher in the 1960s, and they’d exchanged information, so the great data base of the Mormon Church had fed into the vast number of places into which one can look for their ancestry. The fantastic Swiss Lexicon told me about my family during the Reformation. I was stunned to learn that two of the Schneebeli brothers had fought in the Second War of Kappel and one of them, the pastor, was killed. As for the rest? I was on my own — within certain parameters — to determine what might have been their lives.

Then, as I cleaned out the boxes in my garage, boxes that I inherited from my mom, I started to photograph (with my phone) pictures I knew I was going to throw out but that I wanted to keep with the thought of uploading them to the pretty extensive family tree I had built on Why did I do that?

For posterity. I did it very consciously for the kids of my cousins and my own niece. The photos — some old photos — are cool and the stories of the people are interesting. I truly love the family I’ve known. I’m proud of them and they interest me. I suspected they might interest the future.

And then came the DNA tests. I did it for fun and learned NOTHING new, but unknown to me, some of my relatives were taking it to. The upshot of that was I was emailed by the daughter of one of my cousins with some sincere and serious questions. I wasn’t as helpful as she might have wished, but at least I showed up on the other end of her messages.

That’s what I wanted. I want them to know those people. So when I find photos, I put them up. Because I knew them (not the very old ones, of course) and have a really amazing memory I feel a kind of responsibility to those people who aren’t here any more to share a bit of them to any of the future who asks. I’m a story teller, after all. ❤

The San Luis Valley and Me: the Mystery

LONG before I retired and moved back to Colorado I painted this painting:

It’s supposed to represent the phenomenon of writing about my actual Swiss ancestors before I knew anything about them, the sense I had that the whole earth is an immense grave and anywhere we go, any place we dig, we find people and stories — maybe our own people and our own stories. It’s a personal painting. I don’t show it if I hang my paintings anywhere. The figure in the painting is me. I am digging in the ground essentially for stories. The sprouts are “human beans.”

When I moved to Monte Vista several years later and hung the painting it wasn’t long before I realized that without ever having been here I had painted the landscape in which I now live, and very very accurately. Here. You can see it in these two photos my friend took last evening when we went out to see the cranes. In the first photo if you look at the silhouette of the mountains, it is what I painted. In the second, if you look at the far right facing of the sunset, it is what I painted. The mountain landscape is static; this sunset happens similarly often.

It really did happen when I wrote Savior that I wrote a novel about my family without knowing that it was my family. When a Swiss man who had read Martin of Gfen wrote me a kind of fan email and suggested I had Swiss ancestry, I finally did some patient genealogical research and found my own family, beginning in the 11th and 12th centuries, living on the exact mountain (small mountain) I had written of in my story. Their castle/fortress was as I had described it. Even their names — except for that of one character — were the same. It was so creepy, so eerie, so unbelievable that I didn’t sleep for a couple of nights.

Way too “Twilight Zone” for me.

So here I am, living in the very landscape I painted in 2012, two years before I ever saw this place.

Myopia (After a Sleepless Night)

Macro/micro — we are a microcosm in a macrocosm but the micro is so much easier to grasp. The immensity of immensity is too much for us and our little hands, which, in my case are about 7 inches from wrist to the tip of the bird finger. That we might have a role in the immensity is completely beyond our comprehension. We can’t even fathom our effect on our little microcosm, our planet.

In one of the books I’ve been reading (as part of evaluating books) I learned of a “cat killer” in Australia. Why does this guy have such a raging vendetta against cats? The domestic cat has done incredible damage to the native species in Australia, and this man is out to do his part in helping some of those endangered species come back. But what 18th century ship did NOT have cats aboard to help fight rat population? The author puts forth that the cats were brought to Australia as pets, and while that’s possible, I think a lot of them were stowaways, freeloaders. The ships were a huge rendition of a human body unwittingly transporting a contagious disease to an un-protected population.

People yammer on about “But look at the big picture!” or “The devil is in the details!” or “Pay attention to the small stuff!” and I honestly don’t know how we can ever tell whether the picture we’re looking at is a big picture or “small stuff.” It happens often that the entire big picture depends on the small stuff. And the big picture? Who’s to say it’s not small stuff?

Back in the 1950s, we didn’t have garbage disposals. We had a thing called “wet garbage” and a corollary called “dry garbage.” I think some of the wet garbage went into the garden and other wet garbage went into the 10 gallon trash can with a lid that sat outside the back fence and was picked up once a week by the trash guys. These guys lifted the trash can and tossed the trash in the back of the dump truck. That’s a trash can about the size of what most of us have in our kitchen. The dry trash was burned in a backyard incinerator. We didn’t have plastic everything. Plastic was an up-and-coming product whose uses were barely exploited. Nylon was still considered to be “fake silk.”

If you think about it, this was all what we would now term “responsible recycling,” but for my parents it was just daily life. For their parents? For my mom’s family, the disposal of trash was even MORE meticulous and what we would term “responsible.” They lived on a farm. The pigs and poultry got much of the “wet garbage.”

In the 70s the incinerators were “bad” because the smoke caused air pollution. Plastics were suddenly everywhere (thank god for plastic shampoo bottles, seriously, but…) and our trash cans became immense. Trash trucks developed into enormous beetles that lifted enormous bins over their backs and emptied them into a churning abyss to break things down for an overflowing landfill. The first time I saw one of these in action I was 22.

Each little person made these changes believing them to be for the “betterment” of the world and the safety of people. These are tiny changes, microcosm level changes. Where are we now? The macrocosm (relative to us) is in trouble, serious trouble.

My point is that we just don’t have any idea at ALL what we’re doing. We go through our lives like scurrying, near-sighted moles. The values of the future are predicated on the choices we make today, and I don’t think we have any idea what those choices will mean in fifty or one-hundred years.

In micro news, I changed my voter registration this morning. This person (me) who was originally a Libertarian, then a Republican, then an Independent is now a registered Democrat. What changed my mind? The “Tweet” posted as the featured photo.

Why? Porque, en mi vida, algunos de mis mejores amigos han sido hablantes nativos de español. I was horrified to hear some of the members of Offal’s “team” describe themselves as “true Americans” because they speak only English. Apropos to the “macro” theme of today’s prompt, we don’t live in a nation. We live on a world. Y, por eso, por tantos años, por lo major parte de mi vida, he creído que necesitábamos hablar más idiomas que nuestro idioma nativo. My Spanish is far from fluent or perfect (I used Google translate to check my sentences here) but I am happy to speak with anyone who allows me to or needs me to.

Anyway reading that Tweet it suddenly hit me. I may not like the Democrats all that much, but certain of my values align with the party line much better than with whatever the fuck it is the Republicans are doing now. I want leadership that recognizes that we are part of the WORLD. I want leadership that is open to others and the idea of conscientiously attacking the problems we’ve created along the way. While it might have been smarter to continue using incinerators (with filters to capture pollutants on the chimneys as we use on fireplaces), at least those people’s hearts were in the right place. BTW, Switzerland gets a large percentage of its electrical power from burning trash.

Back to the Future

A week or so after Thanksgiving I was at the BIG STORE in the BIG CITY (City Market in Alamosa). I really wanted to bake a mincemeat pie. Last year I made one for Thanksgiving dinner at my friend’s house and I had a dim idea of where the mincemeat might be — in a random temporary display someplace between the craft beer and the frozen pizza.

I looked everywhere and couldn’t find it.


At the check stand I asked, “Do you know where I would find mincemeat?”

Young checker gives me a blank look and says, “In the meat department.” Her eyes add, “You idiot.”

“It’s not meat. It’s pie filling.”

“Pie filling is on aisle 4.”

“It’s not there. Last year it had it’s own little display in a random place.”

The checker looks at me with that deer in the headlights expression. Meanwhile an elderly Hispanic farmer has taken a spot in line behind me. He’s wearing a black serape over his Carhart jacket and jeans. He is built like a bomb and has two teeth, but even so he has a beautiful smile. He says, in English, “I know what that is.” In Spanish he mentions two New Mexico — one empanadas — holiday pastries that use mincemeat. “I haven’t had that in a long time.”

The bagger, who’s 12, says, “I can find it,” and takes off. My groceries are checked through and I pay for them. The bagger comes back. “Look in the canned meat,” she says to me. I shrug.

As I am leaving, an older stock person says, “We might have it closer to Christmas.”

“Thanks,” I answer, seeing a future in which no one has eaten mincemeat pie.



Today I’m going to “do” some of the Christmas things there are to do here in the “hood.” My friend Lois is here from Colorado Springs to hear my reading, give me moral support and hang out. I sold three little paintings and I have to deliver them to their buyer who will be in South Fork today at an art and craft show, so Lois and I will go up there, deliver the goods, see what there is to see, then go to Del Norte in time for me to help at the museum if I’m needed and then I’ll read from Baby Duck and, I hope, a bit from Martin of Gfenn.

In preparation for Lois visit, I made a mincemeat pie. Lois said as we ate some pie, “I bet most people alive today have never tried this.” I think she’s right.

Take that, future. You won’t know what you’ll be missing.

P.S. In other news, yesterday I took the ankle brace off. I realized IT hurt more than my foot did, meaning, it was hurting my foot. My foot is finally doing better. I’m cautiously happy about this. I’d be jubilant, but that’s too risky.

Cross Country Ski Trail of My Dreams

Today we went up to Dick Boyce Cross Country Ski Area which is pretty close to my house — maybe 15 miles on paved and good gravel roads. I learned how to get there when, as I tell Bear, the good times return. The trail is totally within my range of abilities and is two miles RT. I had good cell service all the way along it. That matters since sometimes I’ll probably go alone.

We talked briefly about “What’s your next writing project?” and I said I had no idea.

One of my friends said, “Write about three ladies who go hiking together.”
I said I couldn’t because right now I’m in the middle of that story and it’s a very sweet one.

We’d had a kind of deep and earnest talk earlier about maybe we shouldn’t bitch about getting old(er). I said I don’t really bitch, and that sometimes remembering I’m 67 going on 68 helps me remember that I’m not 30, that I used my body hard, that stuff happened to it, and I have to figure out where I am now because I can’t go back even to what I was when I was fifty. I said I sometimes feel like a failure until I remember I’m nearly 70. In earlier days, before my hip surgery, when we took off together, many things were difficult for me, and my friends were there to witness and help. I told them today I can do anything now, but I have a problem with apprehension; I’m a little afraid.

Elizabeth said that’s natural and to be expected.

Karen says she feels like herself until she looks in the mirror. I laughed because the other day I looked in the mirror and said, “Well, I could be a lot uglier.”

I guess that’s kind of an affirmation.

Deep inside, for me, what matters is continuing to try to find wonderful things to do. I think I share that with my friends. Each of us found a treasure, too. 🙂

Hakuna Matata

As dog-pupils go, Teddy is definitely the most dedicated in the class. He’ll perform tricks over and over for the SAME rawhide pencil. For Teddy it’s about attention as much as it’s about treats. He LOVES learning, cares about getting things right and performs every chance he gets. He’s also very affectionate and lovable. It’s fun walking him when the kids are in their yard, particularly the little girl for whom a sight of Bear and Teddy is as good as a Fourth of July Parade. The other day we were coming back toward our street from a training circuit of the high school and Michelle saw us. She stood absolutely still in her yard until we got there. I’d taught her not to run toward the fence because Bear would pull me down.

“Hi Teddy Bear! Hi Polar Bear!”

The dogs are happy to see her, but their happiness does not compare to hers at seeing them.

Is there really anything better than two friendly dogs and an old lady who enjoys talking to you? On that particular day, Michelle had just gotten two little stuffed animals — Simba and Nala. We talked about films and she encouraged me to see Lion King Two. She also highly recommended The Incredibles but I’m not sure that’s my cup of, of, chocolate milk. I didn’t even see The Lion King until I was in my 50s and teaching “The Allegory of the Cave.” One of my students said, “Professor, ‘The Allegory of the Cave’ is like The Lion King.” She brought her DVD to class and she was right. I loved it.

“I like the Hakuna matata part,” said Michelle.

Those are words my brother used to say when I was upset at him on the phone. Of course, they came through the exchange in a drunken voice with an edge. His “No worries” meant, “Shut up and leave me alone.” It was all well and good for him to say, “No worries,” but I was working my ass off supporting him.

“What was the name of that pig?” I asked Michelle.

“I don’t remember.” She looked a little worried.

“It doesn’t matter. He was cool though, don’t you think?”


Bear and Teddy were hot so I said we had to go home. We all walked together along her fence and she held Teddy’s leash over the top of the fence.

I recently learned from a friend that her young grandson has “come out.” I’m glad he is alive now and not 40 years ago. I’m glad it won’t, probably, be as harrowing for him as it was for many of my friends — and my boyfriend — back then. While I don’t think LGBTQ rights are the biggest item on the national agenda, I’m glad people in many parts of this country take them seriously. At the same time I have never understood why anyone’s sexual preferences are anyone’s business, but that’s how we are. And, while I don’t understand why ANYONE would want to get married, I’m glad those who do want to can. At the same time, I’m sorry for him. Even in the most enlightened world, he will live a kind of exile. Even I, straight and all, have lived a kind of exile just from not having children, not being married, not making the usual choices. I couldn’t have made those choices. I tried. As my boyfriend back in the day, a great love, in fact, said, “Who would choose this? Who would choose to live outside the world where 99% of humanity lives?” That won’t have changed, but maybe…

I’m impressed at the self-knowledge of my friend’s grandson. I hope everything good for him. Hakuna matata.

Thinking about that I thought about Michelle and Connor. A few years away from puberty and homeschooled, they’re still in the Garden of Eden. Their big-for-them back yard, their loving (though struggling) parents, big events like me and my dogs, freedom for their imagination, nothing worse happening to them than “time out”. Childhood isn’t easy, and for some children it’s very, very hard, but it still has the filaments of Heaven attached to it, the capacity for wonder. One of my most beautiful memories, toward the end of this past beautiful winter, during the bleak moments when the snow had begun melting, 😦 was Connor running in excitement to the fence saying, “We still have a bit patch of snow for Bear to roll in!”