Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Five Things I Like about Minneapolis, um, actually, St.Paul

Gay humor and philosophy
I know I need to be very careful here. I have only a few gay friends. I live in a redneck, racist, sexist Midwestern town of old boys and their tractors. There is no way any of us escaped unscathed and unbiased. Me, prejudiced? I think not. Think again. My gay friends are tired, trying to stay afloat on an island surrounded by hostile judgmental waters. They are all old souls that have dodged the small town bullets. The first person that I knew was gay was Lance, brother to a friend of mine back in the 80's. I might have known other gay persons, but as Jane said, they are well hidden. Lance lived in Minneapolis and I always hustled to sit next to him whenever he visited. Once I was lamenting the loss of my ear lobe. A heavy 80's earring had quietly and bloodlessly tore through the skin and now I could only wear clip-ons like all the old ladies. Nonsense, he said, I love it when you take off your earring and massage the lobe, just like the film stars of the 40's. It's so-o-o sexy. He was a hairdresser and stylish and classy. How should I cut my hair, I asked him. We need to see more of your face, he said. Not understanding, I realized later it was a compliment. He was one of the early victims of AIDS, tearing out his IVs at the end.

Especially the cherry chicken pasta salad and cranberry walnut oatmeal cookies. Jane, Jill and I sat around the kitchen table sampling the cookie trying to figure out the recipe. It is sweet like a chocolate chip cookie recipe and possibly has more brown sugar to give it a darker color and a molasses taste. Look at these peppers, a work of art. "Designed by a starving artist," quipped the produce clerk.

Jane's veterinarian who sees only cats
Cats everywhere and even a wide screen TV showing film only a cat would appreciate: wild turkey chicks fluttering about a field. The receptionist Monica and I have a discussion about rabies shots and the fact that her sister had a bat in her attic and announced to the family, "send Monica to get it. She works for a vet and she has had her rabies shots."

The chicken and wild rice soup at Fabulous Fern's
Full of crunchy almonds and carrots. Jane has the beer brat and offers me a taste saying it is delicious. Note to self: next time Jane visits prepare her a Kremer's brat, spicy and sassy and much better than that slushy, tasteless thing some Norwegian came up with. Bruno, our waiter, laments that yes, it truly is his name bestowed on him by Brazilian parents.

Garrison Keillor's book store, Common Goods
"Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven." Usually, I find Mark Twain to be filled with laughs and dry sensibility but I am at a loss here. I have read articles by comedians that say they, too, draw their material from tragedy, comedy from tragedy. I do not understand this concept. Feel free to comment.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Of Like Mind

Jane, myself and Fabulous Fern

I met Jane in 1984 when the recession was in full swing and the State of Iowa decided they needed more eligibility workers to determine welfare benefits for the growing number of recipients. We both took jobs with the huge Human Services department and our lives changed forever. We were lugging our huge manuals around trying to find the next meeting and Jane introduced herself and she said I said, "I feel like an embryo being shaped and formed by forces beyond my control." Jane said she went away from that meeting thinking, I need to get to know that woman, such a compliment for me. As the months passed our friendship became safe and secure and we realized that we were women of like mind. A year later she was moving to a larger city and her reasons were two: Dubuque has too many hills (she had a near-accident one wintry morning) and the gays are too hidden. Who will be my friend, I asked her. Jane was the center of my social universe and I really had not cultivated any other relationships at work. She was enough. You will be all right, she said, and I was, but not for awhile.

We have maintained this friendship over twenty-six years, over several moves for Jane, relationship mishaps for the both of us, and job changes. It is a treasured, timeless letter-writing relationship and she is the oldest friend I have.

With my mother's death I hesitated about visiting. Jane's own mother had been a monster and Jane's background is a horror story of every kind of domestic abuse a social work text book could describe. I knew I could not help talking about my mother when I visited Jane and I didn't know if upon hearing those stories it would bring back painful remembrances of her own youth. I always talked sparingly about my parents because her own had been desperate, miserable souls and the contrast was of huge proportion. Jane has given me permission to tell some of her story and in fact, she says I may create things to make her appear more interesting, but that would be impossible to do. These things need to be said and then you can understand what an incredible woman she is.
Jane was abandoned by her mother as a newborn and sent to live with an older, alcoholic aunt and uncle in Lamont, Iowa. Her father had told her mother before Jane's birth that if she delivered another girl instead of a son that baby could not stay in the household. When Jane was 11 her mother and father decided to reunite and Jane was taken from her only recognizable home against her will. Two years later her mother left Jane's father for another man and they moved to California and later married. Jane was left with the father and an older abusive brother who attempted to make sexual advances towards her. She made it clear that should he prevail she would kill him. The father was a trucker gone during the week, mercifully, and Jane was alone as the brother had gone off on his own and she did not communicate this to her teachers or other adults. The father was a sadistic, mean loner who took out his anguish over his absent wife on Jane. He is still alive, 97 years old and living in a nursing home and the staff is terrified of him. Jane's mother died in California ten years ago of a lingering cancer and Jane had traveled there at the time to try and reconnect with her mother. She wanted to see if they could finally reestablish a mother-daughter relationship and the mother could answer all Jane's questions about why, why, why . . . I could not help but express anger when Jane told me of her planned trip. "Just because she is your mother, you do not have to love her," I told her. But Jane went and she stayed two weeks and then she had to return to work, and the old hag died the next day. Jane's stepfather is currently imprisoned for sexual abuse of Jane's younger sisters. When the stepfather left for work Jane's mother beat the girls if they had not resisted him and also if they had. Jane had rejoined her mother briefly and when she graduated from high school in her seventeenth year she came home to find that her mother had packed all of her belongings in garbage bags and left them sitting in the snow on the front porch.
Being in social services all these years I have seen the havoc abusive parenting has on the little innocents. Many are destined to be abusers themselves, never learning how to parent with patience and intelligence and love. They are convicted criminals, welfare manipulators, chronically unhappy and scared people. So I am always blown away when one of the innocents survives and on her own arrives at adulthood an incredible person.
And this would be Jane. She is a quiet, inward soul who is constantly striving to bring the shreds of her family back together. She is educated, well read, and loves her cats, her gardens, theatre and opera. She is a member of an adult choir of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender individuals who perform regularly around the state, including children's groups, in hopes of communicating to closeted young people that it's all right, it's all right to be homosexual. She is an advocate for the liberal left, animals' rights, women's rights, well, any body's rights. She talks to my grandchildren in an interested, uncondescending manner and together they share a love of Junnie B. books. I have never heard her utter an unkind word. In her year at Human Services she would freqently go outside her job description to help a welfare recepient, for example, plan a budget. Her younger sister, another victim, was recently released from prison for check forgery and choosing the wrong man. Jane invited her into her home and with Jane's encouragement Jill is completing a degree in social work next year and has been accepted for graduate study. The cruelty of Jane's heritage escaped her and she retains no trace of those hellish traits. She is in therapy and probably always will be looking for that lost little girl who never felt safe.
I salute you, Jane, for a life well lived. Continue to shine your light.
(Jane doesn't read my blogs, another commendable trait.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Up North With the Loons and the Geese

Up in Minnie-soda Jane and I check out Prairie Home Companion with bigger than life Garrison Keillor and yes, we were able to buy tickets in line just as we had the year before. We have unbelievably good luck and the ticket sellers seem drawn to us. They want to make us happy and we are. This is actually the annual fall festival outside the theatre after the show and Garrison is directing the loon-calling contest. Later there will be a Charleston contest. The big guy hosts this event every year and the meatloaf dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy and a
delightful milk powder biscuit woos me back every year. A truly fine meatloaf is a work of art.
Jane has an ongoing love affair with the SuperAmerica chains and their discount super soda deals. I ask her how many of the plastic glasses she owns, and she says, oh about 20. I know this to be incorrect as I count 28 on the counter including the two being used to dry the rubber gloves. Like all my friends, Jane is very creative about household tricks and fix-it ideas. I highly admire this trait in any human being. And after I count the glasses in the bag in the car it is over 40. But in her favor, she reuses the glasses and has not had to bring a new one into her home for quite some time. She does occasionally steal extra straws from McDonald's as they are much larger than the average bear, uh, straw. And that is the only character defect that the dear one has.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I open the cupboard last night and the little plastic do hickey holding up the shelf collapses and a barrage of hard, ceramic bowls come crashing on my head. Oh, hurt, hurt, hurt. I now have a giant goose egg on my forehead to match the ones on all four limbs from my shots. And tomorrow I get another one. I look like someone threw me down a stairwell. Dave worries people may think he beats me. I cry and whoop like - well, a motherless child and I realize this cry has been a long time coming. The next morning I accidentally flush a dish towel down the toilet. Don't ask. I forget that I did that and I use the commode again only to cause a flash flood coursing through my house. I do the only thing a person can do at this point. I jump in the car and head for East Dubuque and check into Mulgrew's for a foot long chili dog, no onions, please. I realize that I am emotionally and physically spent, a train wreck in human's clothing. I miss my mother so much I can't stand it. I am leaving for Minneapolis tomorrow to visit my good friend Jane and I am glad. She is a soft place to land and a source of maternal comfort for this poor old soul. We will see a Garrison Keillor show in St. Paul and taste the marvelous meat loaf and listen to the loon-calling contest during the street dance afterwards. It has become a custom for us. In Garrison's honor, I buy red tennis shoes. What do they say? Only prostitutes and children should wear red shoes. Well, there you go . . .

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chapter Two: The Rabies Chronicles


Animal Control calls and I am downstairs preparing to lift weights to a 45-minute DVD, my day off. I hear the machine pick up ( I am a true Giegerich and I do not answer the phone) and something tells me I need to take this call. The woman I talk to is named Jenny. She does not sound like a Jenny, more like a Sal or Madge. She is straight forward and on the ball and despite her bad news I think I like her. They did not find the dog, she says, they went to the address and there were no dogs. The owner of the animal, the mousy woman from Sunday evening didn't look smart enough to lie. I don't understand the concept of lying. Why deny the truth? That just complicates things. I am naive, I know that, and I tend to believe in the goodness and reliability of the human race. I made that comment to my bro Davie and he said, "you would think Auschwitz would have changed your mind on that one." I was raised by good and decent people who don't lie. I don't lie. I used to lie, but as I got older it didn't make any sense and now if I try to slide a quick little white one past Big Dave, it does not work. I am opaque and transparent. Oh, Davie Gie, note the little bat on this picture.

Jenny also said that the police did not forward the information to them until this day - three days later. The victim has a 72-hour window after the bite to begins the rabies shots. That left me just a few hours. Dave is not happy and he calls the police to get an explanation. We had a new dispatcher and she did not understand the communications process, was the reason. Still not satisfied he went down to the station and received a different excuse this time, and no, there was not a new dispatcher on duty that night. Every time I start to gain a measure of respect for the Dubuque police department an incident such as this happens that sets me back again. I cannot tolerate these Rambo personalities that do not accept responsibility for a botched job.

I am put in the worst category that I can imagine a human being inhabiting . . . VICTIM. I don't make a very good victim and I like that about myself.

I finish my exercise DVD - might as well get the stress release, shower, put on the good cologne and call my doctor. I am informed that doctor offices no longer do rabies shots. I maneuver through the Dubuque noon time traffic and I'm back at the Emergency Room. And as you can see, this is the SERIOUS exam room. I have an actual mattress with linen sheets. This is a lengthy procedure. I need a doctor's order for the medication and then the pharmacy needs to mix it up on the spot because it's the fresh stuff that works the best. A really perky, annoying clerk talks to me about payment procedures - I should not be paying this bill and she uses terms like "daddy's little girl" and "my honey" as she talks about her personal life and I finally say, whatever it takes to move things along.

I know, I know. This is how an arm looks after a rabies shot. Can you believe I took a picture of this? How far will I go to attract new readers to my blog? Hey, it distracted me, give me a break. I am disturbingly like my brother who takes his blog camera into the shower. And you know who you are. Even I'm getting sick looking at this.

The first two shots I receive - one in each hip - will cause my body to be truly interested in creating antibodies to fight this potential virus. There 's 3 millileters of the thick goopy stuff in each injection so therefore the arm is not a good retainer. The needles stay in awhile as the syrupy liquid takes time to slide downward.

I realize now that this strange little lady probably lied about everything . . . about her dogs being up to date on the shots. If they were truly from an abused home who would care about shots?
Cowboy Dave refuses to give up and he is on Carter Road, the alleged street of the liar, knocking on doors, grilling the neighborhood. It's the cowboy in him and he is reliving his posse days.
I feel the eternal innocent. Sad person, tonight. I really need to see a movie with a happy ending. Suggestions, anyone? I have four more shots scheduled to complete the series. And as if that was not enough, this little eight-year-old bugger beat me in Monopoly in sixty-eight minutes flat.
No mercy.

Chapter One: The Rabies Chronicles

Doing my walk on the flood wall the other night resulted in a most unpleasant incident. I was nearing the end of my exercise. I was winding down and moving slower for the cool-down. I see another pedestrian approaching with two lively dogs on leash. I nod my head and smile. Now I respect dogs. I pay them little attention and usually do not make eye contact. To do that interferes with the owner's ability to control their animal. Although there are times I would like to stop and make conservation with the little furry guys I cannot be sure what the relationship is between owner and pet. These dogs were coming at me in a frenzy, a whirling dervish, so to say, and I could tell the owner was having difficulty with the retractable leashes and instead of reeling them in they were coming at me at high speed. And they were barking. Not just yap,yap, yap but the kind of bark that involves growling and gnashing of teeth. A definite warning message of nastiness to come. They are circling me and all is chaos as I become tangled in the leashes. I am laughing nervously and the owner, a mousy little middle-aged lady does not

know how to rectify the situation. Then the miniature collie jumps at me and I feel teeth bite through my jeans and into my skin, behind the knee. I recoil and look at the owner unbelievably, your dog bit me! I am not understanding that this happened, not quite believing what happened. I am angry. "Your dog bit me! What is wrong with that dog? Your dog bit me! What if he goes after a child? Your dog bit me!" I keep repeating myself. The owner is flustered, "he's only bit one other person!" she says.

So let's wait until he bites - oh, say eight or nine people and then we'll talk. I can feel blood moving down my leg. She says the animals were abused in their last home and this is why he bites. Huh? I am thankful that kind folks take in formerly abused animals but this woman should not have done so. This dog needs a firm, consistent method and she is not capable of that kind of behavior. She is a milquetoast, irresponsible, excuse-making dolt who is clearly misguided. "You cannot control your animals and you shouldn't be walking them in public places," I tell her. She keeps coming toward me with the dogs and I back away trying to stay away from those crazy animals and those unreliable leashes. I can tell that this dog liked biting me. He is smiling wickedly and trying to leap at me for even more conflict. She wants to see my leg. She does not believe I was bit. I tell her she needs to stay back or I will kick the dog if he attacks me again. She looks at me alarmingly not understanding why I would hurt her baby. I gather my wits, get her identifying information and limp shakily to my car. She continues to walk her satanic hounds, looking for new victims. How did this happen? Back home I call the police and they will forward the information to Animal Control and pick up the animal for impoundment in the morning. I check myself into the ER - not how I wanted to spend my evening just back from vacation. "You haven't been here before," says the receptionist, "usually people that come to the ER have multiple admissions." I will try and not make this a routine. In the examining room the nurse chatters away. "Did you know that 90% of dog bites do not get infected and that 90% of cat bites do get infected?" Clearly cats are licking things they shouldn't be. Why is it that nobody can remember when they got their last tetanus shot? Back home with a sore arm and a bunch of paper work. Who needs a drink . . .
Three days later Animal Control calls, not good.
To be continued . . .

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Feeding Sonny

Feeding Sonny is a trip, literally a trip, and more so on an actual trip. In the past when my parents vacationed with us they would come equipped with a large cooler (yes, even larger than the one Dad takes to work for his lunch!) and it was filled with several kinds of muffins, fresh fruit, cheese, sausage - more stuff than I have in my own fridge.

My mother's life's commitment was the care and feeding of my father. We siblings would sometimes scoff when she wasn't around and sometimes when she was around. What is the purpose of promoting dependence and helplessness in a full-grown person? Where does that get you? But German farmer housewives of the 50's did those things and man, I am so glad we stepped away from that although there are some residual traits still evident in my own housekeeping. Thank you, mother. As all social workers know, the fruit don't fall too far from the tree.

Dad has to eat at certain times of the day, or else he would be - uncomfortable - is the word he used. No one questioned this or asked him to explain. It had to do with his GI tract and he preferred to take care of that procedure in the morning following breakfast and if that did not occur, everyone was uncomfortable. My father also cannot use public

restrooms for that before mentioned procedure and that can make a car trip a daunting experience. We tried to accommodate as best we could. We only had one tricky episode and nobody really wants to hear about that. Want to get to know someone, really know someone? Take a three thousand mile vacation and share a small cabin for a few nights.

Surprisingly, Dad wasn't a stickler about meal schedules this time. Every time I would ask - do you want to eat now or later? - he said he did not care, he wasn't hungry. This was unusual for him. He had bought Raisin Bran and instant coffee and

blackberry jam at the mart in Creede and he dutifully ate his breakfast at 7:00 every morning. Dave was suffering from a hellish cough and I was doing nights on the couch in the cabin. Dave and Dad made countless trips to the commode every night - I dubbed this the Parade of Enlarged Prostates - your turn's coming, I said to Jason. Did I get much sleep? Probably not. Did I sleep in the car? Usually I don't, but I did this trip.

One thing Dad kept talking about was homemade pie, pie, pie, pie. That's all he wanted for supper - that and a cuppa you-know-what. Homemade pies are difficult to come by, I think, in the restaurant industry and even though a menu may boast such a item I question this as the edging on that crust looks all too perfect. We didn't find much pie except for items like apples with caramely butter sauce and Dad does not do sweet. On the way home, I asked him, what kind of pie do you want, Sonny? Raspberry Jello pie, he said, right away. "Your mother's been promising two years to make that pie." I imagine she was waiting for the price of raspberries to go down which never happens and I was surprised he wanted a pie with jell-o, but I can do this. Coincidence that the recipe was first under PIES in Mom's 500-card recipe box? Okay, the raspberries were $3.49 a box and I needed four boxes. Cowboy Dave does not read these posts so I can get away with my naughty purchases. Life is short. Buy the raspberries.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cannibals and Frozen Dead Guys

This is a photo of a saloon in Lake City, Colorado, a town of about 250 people and as far as I can see, there is no lake. That is not Bret Favre in the #4 green jersey but a gentleman by the name of Alfred Packer. In February 1874 Al was commissioned to guide five men from Salt Lake City to an Indian agency. They were lost in a snowstorm and in mid-April our pal Al arrives alone at the destination with somebody else's hunting knife and rifle. Upon interrogation he claimed as each of the men died from exposure and starvation the others would eat his flesh. Al said he only killed one person and that was in self-defense. That summer the bodies were found at the site and each head had been crushed.

Al was arrested and convicted of murder and cannibalism and served jail time. He spent the rest of his life professing his innocence.
The saloon keeper made the comment when he heard of Al's interment, "You man-eating son of a -----! There was seven Democrats in Hinsdale county and you ate five of them."
Coloradoans like their quirky customs and Al was the inspiration for Lake City's Alfred Packer Jeep Tour and Barbecue and the University of Colorado-Boulder's Alfred Packer Grill.

Above the door of the Packer saloon is a plaque, "Like Alfred says, I never met a man I didn't like to eat."
Oh, yeah.

And you know, the People's Republic of Boulder - as the Boulder populace like to be known - are the only Democratic majority in the state. The rest of Colorado is Republican redneck cowboy. The kind that like to spit in the street and eat chicken-fried steak with a bottle of green chilies at their elbow.

Nederland is another owner of a wacky historical character celebration. Now Boulder has been heralded as the all-around hippie town, having discovered marijuana and the Grateful Dead in the 60's but things have changed as you walk through the city. Granted, the hippie influence is still apparent among some boomers and homeless guys but the city is pretty much the domain of young yuppies. You see mostly 30-somethings in their lambs' wool-lined suede vests with matching knee-high boots, fashionably bobbed hair, lattes and large dogs. After a few days you

may notice an absence of older citizens, and not too many children either and the percentage of African-Americans is in the low single digits. Plenty of Hispanic laborers as usual and they tend to reside in Denver. What you do have is a large concentration of domestic responsibility-free bikers and runners, hikers and boarders. They fill the outdoor cafes at night eating their sushi and pasta, swirling glasses of wine and laughing at their own secret jokes. Let have it, I say. So more importantly, where did the hippies go? To "Ned," a tiny little berg nestled in the hills seventeen miles west of Boulder, which means seventeen miles up winding mountain roads. On a frosty September morning there is a dusting of snow on all the cabins nestled up on the hillside and smoke from the wood-burning stoves is creating a marvelous smell. As Steve Knopper has observed, "the people who live here are taking a break from civilization, in a good way." Anyway,
every March the Ned folk celebrate Frozen Dead Guy Days. The dead guy was Bredo Morstoel and he suffered a fatal heart attack in Norway in 1989.

Bredo's nephew, Trygve (pronounce, please) Bauge lived in Boulder and is obsessed with frozen cryonic storage of dead bodies. Illegal in Norway Trygve has his grandfather shipped from Norway to a California cryonics facility and then to a freezer in a shack behind a local house in Nederland in 1993. That's when things got strange, Colorado strange. First the Ned town council decided they didn't want frozen dead guys around and passed a law banning such things on locals' property. But it was after the fact and Bredo was allowed to stay. All this created a lot of international buzz and he was eventually shipped back to Norway. What a great excuse for a festival, thus Frozen Dead Guy Days. There are coffin races, a plunge in an icy lake and Frozen Dead Guy ice cream: blue with gummy worms and crushed Oreo cookies.

And then there's Mike the Headless Chicken Days in Fruita, Colorado. A Wyandotte rooster named Mike was decapitated in 1945 and the story goes that it continued to live 18 months. The explanation was that the ax missed Mike's brain stem and a clot formed to stop the loss of blood. And there will be beer, chicken, drive in car shows and dance contests.
And don't forget Bolder Boulder: a 10K footrace x 3: the early one for elite runners around the world, the second race for the citizens (and many of them are quite fast) - and they dress up in goofy costumes like Father Time and Elvis Presley. The third is for wheelchairs.
Only in Colorado? Oh, yeah.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Beauty That is Colorado

Hello, people of Dubuque! Get in your car, leave the Burger King parking lot , and follow me into the beauty that is Whole Foods. It is an explosion of healthy, organic, wholesome and overly expensive food that is meant to enhance the body and bring a glow to your internal organs. We don't have one in Dubuque and I am estimating its eventual arrival at about 2045 or whenever every last redneck, sexist, mulligan-sporting resident would leave the city or politely, expire. If Whole Foods or Trader John's were in Dubuque I would be very poor but I would be very healthy. We buy veggie whole wheat pita chips and sandwiches of turkey and robust cheddar on sourdough and thinly sliced beef that bleeds into the crunchy ciabacca roll with spinach and sprouts. Jason wants cabbage dumplings and bean salad.

I buy organic lemonade and mint mineral water and feel very superior about my food choices. We travel south and see the lovely yellow aspens, their leaves twirlng and shivering like gold coins on strings. They make a strong contrast against the deep green of the Ponderosa pines.

This southern gentleman from Kentucky was overly friendly and yet a most resourceful and creative guy. He took a 1977 Scamp, whatever that is, and turned it into a cute little trailer. There were cupboards, a sink,

a bed, and a laundry rack and clear plastic Rubbermaid bins holding related things. Sonny, an overly organized person himself, was interested.

"At least we know who slept in our bed last night," added the wife. I try not to think about that as I leaf through the AAA book looking for our next night's accommodation. Typical southern folks, they craved human contact and conversation. Y'all probably can't see this, but the wording on the back side above the window says "Think Big."

We are officially out west. The men wear plaid shirts covering t-shirts covering big bellies over huge belt buckles, have unshaven faces and drive big, rusty Ford pick-ups. The women have long grey hair, wear plaid shirts and dusty jeans, I can see their round tobacco tins in back pockets and drive big, rusty Ford pick-ups. They are a quiet, reclusive folk. No one looks like they want to make conversation and they keep their eyes straight ahead.

We are in a vast treeless plain surrounded by mountains and Jason tells us that if we looked at a three-dimensional topical map this area would look like a huge bowl scooped out of the earth.
How can I ever leave this place, I wonder, and return to only mediocre landscapes? Sorry, my lovely Iowa, only a fleeting thought, I am sure.

Herds of cattle rendered tiny by the huge backdrops cluster around fiercely-turning windmills. All this emptiness leaves me feeling somewhat small and not a little lonely. I am not accustomed to such vastness and I find comfort in the rolling hills of my native Dubuque. I dated a guy, a real cowboy from a tiny town in North Dakota right over the Canadian border, and he was always anxious in the unflat territory of the Dubuque Driftless Area. Guess he couldn't see the enemy coming. He did find a house in Dubuque and it was on a very flat, very high plain.

We eat our incredibly nutritious lunch at Buena Vista, another vast plain bordered by the Collegiate Range. They are eight mountains, all 13,000-14,000 feet high and named after universities: Harvard, Princeton, Yale and so on. Jason climbs "fourteeners" on his days off and he has about twenty of them scaled as of this reading.

We ride through the little mountain towns nestled in the high regions: Del Norte, Saguacha, La Gorita. They are self-sustaining and their inhabitants look to be a tough and rugged crew undaunted by rigors of Colorado winters. A pleasant surprise - there are restaurants serving tasty and classic menus, theatres sponsored with traveling acting troupes, art galleries filled with local works.

We ramble into Creede, a dusty little town of early mining fame and only 250 inhabitants. Nicholas Creede and his partner were mining

here in 1889 and Nick hit a silver lode. "Holy Moses," he said, being a rather quiet and not too overly emotional mountain guy. And of course, there is a shop in town with that very same name and menu selections also have this moniker as in the Holy Moses Burger. And one more time, our cabin at the Antlers Lodge also bears the same tired title. Our cabin is on the ancient Rio Grande and we will fall asleep that night to its song. We have a back porch and a swing and oh, this is good. I feel I am on a dude ranch and I swear I am developing a cowboy swagger as I saunter down the dusty road. Our cabin is designed in Mountain Magic motif and everything is green and brown and decorated with moose, bear and pines including the toilet paper rack. (Jason and I have issues with this.) Problem with cabins: they come with cute little kitchens with cute little pans and dishes and the nesting mama in me wants to fill the shelves in the cupboards and make scrambled eggs in the morning. But then

that kind of falls apart when you are at the sink up to your elbows in suds and everybody else is on the porch watching the river and drinking tea out of mugs with cutsie bears on them. Most of our cabin neighbors are from Texas with big hair and gaudy, gold chain wardrobes and martinis complete with olives in their hands.

Sonny is feeling his oats and plays a couple of games of pool and pitches a few horseshoes.

That night we dine outdoors with tiny white lights in the tree above us and baskets of very purple petunias and zinnias. Flowers do well in this cool mountain air.
Our restaurant serves a mean Cabernet and I enjoy grilled mahi-mahi with pineapple salsa and I choose not to think of Jason back in the cabin preparing his meatless meal of quinoa, beets, avocado and spinach.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mountain Men Don't Bathe Too Often

Funny story. Some years ago we traveled to Boulder to visit Jason and we arrived early at his house in Lyons. He was still at Fatty J's but we were able to get inside the home as the landlord was there fixing the septic tank which couldn't seem to stay fixed. Jason comes home, landlord leaves and Jason has an idea. His roommate, Scott, also a Dubuque native, is back in Iowa visiting family so, hey, why don't you guys stay here? Hem haw, hem haw. Dave would miss his TV sports as Jason's TV is covered by a decorative blanket and nobody is sure whether it works or not. I would miss an evening of swimming but we agree, on one condition. I would need to wash the roommate's sheets. It is early spring and the boys have not put up the screens yet and the windows are propped open with sticks. I hear a scream coming down from the mountain and it sounds like a woman in a lot of distress. I am informed that it is a bobcat and he sounds hungry. There is a pile of catnip on the bedroom floor that the pet cat had knocked over and it had been there for awhile and I wondered if the bobcat would be attracted to this and could he get through the window? Keep busy. I take the sheets from the bed and I find a moth, a large caterpillar and the roommate's boxers. The sheets get washed, we go to bed, and I find it pleasant to listen to the wind high up in the mountain, the trees swaying, and the crickets,
very large crickets chirping.

Dave gets up sometime in the night and uses the toilet and he cannot flush it. In the morning Jason is scooping buckets of water out of the creek and pouring them down the useless toilet. It has not helped that Dave has left a substantial deposit in that toilet. Now what do we do, how do we go to the bathroom, Dave is anxious. Jason points to the front door and I thought Dave would faint. This does not bother me as I have dated guys that live like this, but Dave is traumatized. He cannot get past the moment. Later I take a shower and need to use a wrench to turn a handleless faucet. As I soap myself I can look out the window inside the shower stall and down the lane at Jason's neighbor's place. They have peacocks that sometimes jump on his roof and clamber around.

Jason has returned to the very same house with the very same roommate and Scott is now married. Jason has lived in California, Idaho, Wyoming and spent half a year in South America since he returned to this room. With a woman in the house the place doesn't feel so overly male as before. There is a lot of land attached to this property and Scott needs it for his extensive VW collection. Some of tthe bugs are scattered in the fields overgrown with weeds and if the city can't see them they won't complain. Good plan, Scott. He and Mary Ann raise sunflowers in an adjacent field and sell them for $1 a blossom - hey, made a couple of grand this season. There is also a table of homegrown produce for sale. Scott also collects blue glass, raises bees and occasionally paints something around the house.

Surveying the neighborhood with a cuppa tea in a Christmas mug

Collections. Scott also buys doilies at garage sales.

A cabin heated by pot bellies


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bolder Boulder

Colorado has beautiful skies. These clouds are not serious about being clouds. They are wispy and frothy, they remind me of that cottony fake snow cloth we see at Christmas time. Colorado has been granted extra sky space compared to other regions, a great background for the stern and sturdy mountain ranges.

We are a happy group and we have a lot of questions about the menu. It is like nothing we Midwesterners have ever seen. All our restaurants revolve around meat and now we need to think outside that box, that beefy box.

Look at this smiley guy. He aggressively dislikes having his picture taken. He did not allow me to use my camera last time I visited him. I say pooh! to all this and snap away. He has three pens in his sleeve pocket.

I love Boulder. I could live here. The city's dedication to clean air, outdoor exercise, and environmental beauty becomes a heady thing for me. Billboards are not allowed as it interferes with the natural views. "BusBikeWalk - it's the Boulder Way to go" is the city's logo. And runners and cyclists and hikers are everywhere. Everywhere. There are biker lanes on every street and on the busiest streets those lanes are as wide as the car lanes. It is state law that motorists yield to pedestrians and cyclists at all times. Outdoor exercise is revered - it is an art form, a philosophy, a religion. Cyclists have a different attitude in this city. They know they are the sacred cows and they can go anywhere they want to. And the fact that the winter's average temps are in the 40's and 50's and that most snow melts in the winter sunshine which is plentiful is also a persuading factor for me. I have been here many times over the fifteen years Jason has lived here - well, off and on, mostly. And I still get shivers when I see the mountains appear above the highway.

We see the ugly smoke cloud churning dirty and brown hundreds of feet in the air above Loveland which has just been evacuated. A truck backed into a propane tank and Colorado is burning. All that dry Ponderosa pine is ideal fire food. We are a messy, smelly, destructive group of animals, we humans.

Jason is working, of course, at Leaf, the vegetarian restaurant. We drive down to the Pearl Street pedestrian mall with its many quaint and quirky shops. Leaf is a lovely place with cool blue and camel- flecked slabs of stone on the wall. There are abundant natural plants and the walls are in cool shades of turquoise and pale green. The lights are encased in huge balls of wrapped cord and there are rocks in the bottom of the sinks in the bathroom. Don't quite understand that one yet. Our waitress sports long braids and long ocean blue earrings tipped in orange. She glows with good health. At last Jason comes out. He is wearing a bright green chef's smock over his t-shirt and it looks like he performed surgery with all the stains. Plaid bermuda shorts, black clogs and socks with a reindeer pattern. Typical Boulder garb. We are presented with the menu and every entree has a paragraph of explanation, a long list of veggies - some recognizable, some not - and later Dad admitted to Jason that when he first saw the menu, he felt frightened, silly papa. I see many things that I would like and I toy with the idea of the vegetable alfredo. Jason later brings me a sample of the cheese sauce and it is marvelous, cashew based but tasting like Italy's finest. So I order the butternut squash -walnut soup with pumpkin seeds sprinkled atop, a good autumn selection. I always loved the squash/pumpkin-based soups in Jamaica and there is nutmeg in this one, always a good contribution. I have a salad: greens with avocado, tomatoes, egg, crumbly bleu cheese, cucumber, and tempah: a compressed smoky-flavored soybean bar that (barely) passes for bacon - there are so many ingredients in each dish. Dad tries a Vegetable Wellington - turns out to be a puff pastry filled with vegetables and a very meaty-tasting gravy which is actually made from mushrooms and red wine. Dave tries a palento stack surrounded by tomatoes, artichokes, oh, many other things and everything was wonderful. My father says this is the most unusual meal he has ever had and he deems it very, very good. He says a new world has been opened to him, this at age 86.

The wait staff comes out one by one and introduce themselves. They seem genuinely glad to make our acquaintances and they all love Jason. That is the word they use. Our waiter, a graduate student from the University of Massachusetts, says Jason will come out and take orders when things get overwhelming. He seems amazed by that. Well, you know that good old Midwestern work ethic. Jason comes out every few minutes and talks to us but then needs to hurry back to his kitchen. His name is at the bottom of the menu, Jason Connelly - Executive Chef. Dad is pleased with the linen napkins.

We make plans to meet at Jason's house in the morning and start our exploration of western Colorado. Did I mention our toilets have a half flush/full flush option? I say good night to Dad at our doors and I know that the night hours alone in the hotel room are difficult for him.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

As We Ride Off into the Sunset

It is the land of red and black and people refer to themselves as corn huskers. We are starting to see boots and cowboy hats, elaborately carved belts, turquoise and silver jewelry and people who have spent too much time in the sun. We are headed west.

We are on the first leg of our Colorado trip and we sail down 80 trying to stay ahead of the Iowa State/Iowa craziness outside Iowa City. Dave stopped listening to his beloved Cyclones when they were losing 35-0. Why listen to anything that causes you such irritation? I do not understand the sports obsession.
As a child I always thought the whole state of Iowa was just like the Dubuque area. Rolling hills, stunning bluffs, a strong river running south in a wooded valley, the Driftless Land where glaciers found no foothold to crush and flatten. But no, Iowa is prairies, flatness and wind, endless acres of corn uninterrupted by water or cliff walls. And the land starts to stretch out as we near the Nebraska border like someone is straightening a large linen on a bed frame. The trees are becoming fewer and they are scrubby and dusty. The sky is huge and fills a large half a dome above us and we can see wispy clouds transparent and frothy passing over more solid looking embankments, a strange contrast. And then we cross into Nebraska and the corn is small and completely dry. Large irrigation machines like mammoth spiders creep across the fields. That night the sunset fills the whole sky with pale yellow and mauve and peach extending to even the eastern border.
We had stopped at Subway for our lunch, always my mother's choice. "Your mama's last meal was from Subway," Dad says. I had not heard the story. She wanted a roast beef sandwich but had eaten only two bites, Dad reports. And the sadness enters his eyes and his mouth tightens and he goes somewhere I cannot follow. I have my own such place and that is what I have discovered about grief. We are all sharing this experience but each of us has a unique perspective on my mother's death. Our grief is defined by our experiences, our personalities, our scope of what we have read and heard, what has come before. Her last meal was July 3 and she was hospitalized the next day, Sunday. I was in Michigan, comforted by my sister's report that it would be only a one night stay. Tuesday I was running back to Iowa fueled by my father and brother's conversations of nursing homes and deterioration.
I have never been impressed by Nebraska. It is basically a highway stretching the width of the state with dusty cornfields and empty prairies on either side. Kearney, where we park our car that night, was the site of an Indian fort. People stopped in Kearney in the early days to stave off Indian uprisings or to pack supplies and prepare for the Rockies crossing. Amelia Jenks Bloomer, a suffragette lived in Kearney and in her honor a piece of female underwear was named after her. Is that the best they could do? A few miles from us is Hastings, the home of the Kool-aid museum. Sigh. Tomorrow we will turn south and the land will turn into sunflower fields and then hard, brown soil. It is not a pretty state.
We dine at Red Lobster, another mother choice. She always had coupons. Dad and I order blackened tilapia and Dave, the maple-glazed chicken. And ooh, those cheddar garlic biscuits.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mountain Man

Garrison Keillor writes, "I lay in bed for an hour, looking at the ceiling, trying to figure out my problem with vacations. I would like to think that it's the obligation to have fun I find depressing. I dislike parties for the same reason: They're a conspiracy to be festive at a certain hour, and I don't know how to do that, any more than I can laugh on cue. New Year's Eve parties are the worst - a celebration of the passage of time - and the few I've attended were next to hellish, a lot of hard drinking by loud people in enclosed places. Vacations have the same insistent urgency about them: Play golf or die. And then, too, there is the fact that I enjoy my work." Yeah, that makes sense, but it doesn't apply to my time spent in Colorado. The cowboy and I leave Saturday and we are taking Sonny with us.

My son Jason lives in Boulder. Although it may be months between our visits I always feel as if we have only been parted a few hours. The conversation picks up where it left off. Jason is an extraordinary person as are my other two children but this story will be about him. He and I spent the first two years of his life pretty much on our own, living in the sleepy little college town of Cedar Falls, Iowa and watching the drama of Watergate every afternoon on a TV that got only two channels. His father, my former husband was working on a music degree at the University of Northern Iowa and working full-time at a shoe store owned by an abusive manager. I told Joe that he should not put up with that kind of treatment and the next day he came back to our $86-a-month apartment and announced that he had quit the job. We packed up the '59 Chevy and listening to Elton John's Daniel on the car radio, headed back to Dubuque and family. Car broke down and a semi driver picked us up - me, hiding my nursing infant behind a baby blanket.

Jason was born an old soul and he owns an intrinsic native intelligence. At the end of his junior year of high school he brought home a report card with almost perfect grades. Whose test did you copy, I asked, as up until then his reports showed mediocre, average work - always a mystery to me considering his apparent smartness. I thought it was time to start studying, he answered.

He took the year off after high school and worked three jobs. He'd bring home half-full bottles of shampoo from the Motel 6 where he was a housekeeper. He bought a 1976 blue Chevette with red and white striped seat covers. One night his brakes went out about twenty miles out of town and he coasted back home, at last parking the car at the top of our very steep hill and walking the rest of the way. He never took out a student loan due to his ability to work and save - a trait learned from his frugal father. He earned two years of credit from the local community college and then he left. Moved to Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, a massive, sprawling intellectual center smack dab in the middle of fields of corn and soybeans. Iowa City is an interesting place, and a friend of mine, an extremely hip friend of mine had commented, no matter how weird you think you are - you will find someone weirder in Iowa City. Jason worked because that is what Jason does. After an indeterminate amount of time I got a call from him. Yeah, he said, I ran into my counselor and he said that I could graduate - got enough credits. Jason would have kept on signing up for classes if he had not run into that counselor. Jason misses a lot of appointments. He does not need these middle people that keep popping up in our lives. Will you wear the cap and gown, is there a ceremony, do you want a party, questions, questions from his mother. Nope, he said, they'll send me the diploma in the mail, I'm going to Colorado.

Jason had made the obligatory trip out to Colorado with friends during a spring break. And like a lot of college students he said, after I graduate I am moving to Colorado. But unlike a lot of college students, Jason did.
He and a couple of friends moved into a ranch house on the rim of the Flat Irons and on my first inspection, I found earth worms on the basement steps, Yeah, Jason said, pulling his fingers through his long hair, somebody left the hose on in the basement and the worms just moved in.
He called me one night and asked for my recipe for spaghetti sauce. He and the college friends were going to start a pizza place. There was no taco pizza in Colorado and they would introduce the delicacy.

They called the place Fatty J's. The four partners in the business all had names that began with "J." Fatty is a label attached to snow. Like the Eskimos, the Coloradians have many adjectives for snow, and one of them is fat or phat. Fat means big, puffy flakes that make the best ground cover for boarders and skiers. It is light and airy and doesn't bog the board down. It is the perfect snow. Several years after Fatty J took off, my former son-in-law made the observation about the company logo: it's a joint, isn't it? And by god, it was. I have smoked my share but I had never seen the resemblance in the design. At first it appeared to be a fat pizza with rising steam but at second glance, yes, it was the notorious chubby reefer with a wisp of smoke curling up. By now Fatty J had bypassed the sweet scent behind the dorm rooms and had progressed into the businesses and catered lunches. It was a hectic schedule and as Jason and I walked into the mountains he was often on his cell, arranging work schedules and company softball games. Self employment is self destruction. After numerous disagreements among the partners Jason decided he wanted to do something else.

Anyway, now he is a chef, an - ahem - executive chef - at a vegetarian restaurant in the pedestrian mall in Boulder - which by the way - was designed by the same guy who planned the ped mall in good old Iowa City, Iowa. He makes pasta out of zucchini and carrots and even the soda pop is organic. Jason works so he can travel. He returned from an exploratory trip to South America a year and a half ago and he is planning another trip to the mid East, Viet Nam, India, Indonesia - a one-way ticket he says. It's all about adventure and inspiration. He wants to know how people who have so little can be so content and thus, the trip to India. He packs a large knapsack and he camps or lodges at a hostel. I often wish he lived closer to me, dropping in for some fresh corn on the cob and a conversation with my father. As much as Jason loves us, he needs to be away from us. We represent conformity and stability and he desires motion and mystery in his life. And besides, he has always wanted to live near beauty, and yes, the river and rolling hills of the driftless land are lovely, but whoa baby, wait until you see the Rockies.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I Forgot to Go to Work Last Week

A history lesson for my younger relatives: Leora - my stone faced great, great grandma is sitting on the left. Next to her are her daughters Carrie and Amanda, my great grandmother. The men behind the ladies starting from the left: Emanuel Shinoe - Leora's brother; Anthony Oglesby - her husband; Ray Bliss - Carrie's husband; Bertha, Leora's daughter and her illegitimate son;Henry Luttenberg - Amanda's husband, and we don't know this fella. Somebody get this party started . . .

I forgot to go to work last week. I logged onto my boss's email today to check what my hours were for tonight and there it was. I had agreed to work last Thursday with some kid named Matt who was to show me how the new evening activities program worked. Matt had to go it alone and I'm sorry about that, Matt. Me, who is so meticulous about schedules, I forgot. I am having trouble processing that. I mentioned that to my friend, Bernie,a great old German lady who rarely smiles. I grew up with women like Bernie. My great-great grandmother, Leora Oglesby, stares out of her photos, her hair severely pulled back, her lips a straight line and her eyes communicating her no nonsense, Puritan demeanor. It wasn't until her granddaughter, my grandmother Detta (Nana to us) was born that some color and life finally appeared in the family history. Well, Leora did work hard and was born in a log cabin "with chinks in the walls big enough to throw a cat through." You would have thought someone would have patched those up.

Bernie is 91 years old and she hems my shirts and pants. I know how to do these things but I don't like sewing, never did. I retired my 1975 sewing machine two years ago and bought a new portable model from Target and it sits in my closet, unused, unopened. The thing came with an instructional DVD that I would need to watch to figure out how to work the new fangled thing. I don't want to do that. Too much work. My mother sent me to Singer Sewing for lessons when I was eight and later my father's sister, Gloria taught me again over a long period of months. And I hated sewing. My seams would become gray and greasy from my constantly ripping them apart. Why go through all this work when we could just shop J.C.Penney and take a new dress home for a few dollars? Well, a few dollars was not all that easy to come by in my household as half my dad's salary was going back into the business in order to buy his share. That situation really reeked havoc with college financial aid applications later in my life. And besides, all the women in my family sewed and liked it.

But Bernie will do my alterations for a mere $2 each and they are finished the next day. Bernie likes to keep busy as she rambles around her immaculately clean ranch house . Bernie knew my mother and her sister, Leona . We are all short people and require a lot of alterations as the clothing manufacturers refuse to acknowledge that there are little people out there who need to be clothed. We are a naked minority. I met Bernie when I began taking my mother's clothing in to be altered. Like most Germans, Bernie never asks how I am and she doesn't really ask any rhetorical questions at all. The only words that comes out of her mouth are informational and useful. No extra words, I like that. Her attitude is short, to the point and might be mistaken for rudeness, but I know better.

Bernie says I was probably grieving for my mother when I forgot to go to work. She makes it sound like grieving is my job right now. I have been given this assignment and I must see it through to the end. I don't know about that. Grieving is new territory for me and I cannot separate my normal sometimes sad thoughts from what I am experiencing for my mother. My grieving can also be a tenant of my unconscious and sometimes I am unaware I am thinking of my mother until the thought breaks through to the surface and I need to acknowledge what has now become a very real pain. I'm not falling-down-to-the-floor sobbing kind of grieving. I just walk from room to room and pick things up and put them down again because that's what you do. So you cook the chicken and look at the mail and pull a brown leaf off the plant and forget to go to work.

Bernie has a kind face with gentle blue eyes and her delicate skin looks like very soft putty. I feel if I put my finger on her cheek I would leave an indentation that would remain. She wears a sleeveless house dress with a bib apron of pink roses and the handkerchief in the pocket. She has on white bobby socks and sensible brown leather shoes which she probably has resoled every other year. I feel exhausted and I just want to put my head on her shoulder. Bernie almost smiles and says that she is glad for the work. Otherwise, she would just sit in her rocker and look out the window. I leave knowing that I am going to go through my wardrobe tonight and make a pile of anything that might need even the slightest sewing job.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Canned Beef and Jesus

Labor Day weekend and finally, everybody can put away those damn white capris. My goal was to stay away from home as much as possible. I needed distraction and where better to find that then Dickeyville, Wisconsin. Cowboy Dave and I cross the state line and enter Green Bay Packer land. Not a fan of that particular cult but Wisconsin has beautiful rolling hills and excellent cheese and sausage shops. I will be spending the day with old ladies with pink, permed hair and old men in suspenders and John Deere caps.

We are headed for a church picnic because that is what we do on summer holidays in Iowa. We will be treated to fried chicken prepared by fine Catholic women, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a variety of German vinegar and mayo-based salads. There will be nothing served with any amount of nutritional value but it will be greasy and salty and tasty. We no longer work like farmers but we sure eat like them.
As soon as someone removed one of these dessert plates there were children waiting to fill the spot with another piece of pie. Catholic churches do a great job with crowd control and I think every citizen in town was in that gymnasium-turned-dining-room doling out coffee or picking up dirty plates. You couldn't find this kind of service in New York's finest eatery.

Outside I stroll through the grottoes, a truly interesting art form here in the middle of farms and silos. Father Matthias Wernerus was pastor in this parish eighty-plus years ago and he built the grottos from 1925 - 1930. He had collected materials from all over the world such as colored glass, gems, antique heirlooms of pottery or porcelain, stalagmites and stalactites, sea shells of all kinds, starfish, petrified sea urchins and fossils, and a variety of corals plus amber glass, agate, quartz, ores such as iron, copper and lead, fool's gold, rock crystals, onyx, amethyst and coal. Many items are antiques and even petrified wood and moss. Even the round balls which used to be found on the top of a stick shift in old cars. Evidently, there was a lack of sinners in this hardworking, German farming community because Father had a lot of time on his hands. His grotto was his blog: all kinds of clues to his personality, talent and spirit sticking out of the mortar for all of us to discover. Okay, it is kind of crazy, but in the middle of Wisconsin crazy may have to pass for art.

I enter the Grotto gift shop and this has to be the largest collection of Catholic paraphernalia I have ever encountered. Kind of scary for me, I have my issues with the Catholic church and I feel like a spy in a foreign country. Oh, I must buy something, I must. I choose a saints bracelet. Jason had brought one back from Peru but would not part with it, even for his mother, actually, I never asked. It has little pictures of saints and it's shiny and colorful and it has purple beads and it was $2.25 plus tax. Interesting part was I knew all the names of the saints. Sister Aloysius would be proud.
And then I descend into the church basement for the garage sale, all clothes $1.00. Don't need to even go in that room. Where else can you get a jar full of marbles, a Marilyn Monroe bust and canned beef for $12 a quart but in a church basement in Wisconsin?

Back across the bridge and I decide to take in George Clooney's new flick and then a trip to Wal-mart. That will involve a large amount of time away from home as our Wal-mart has decided to rearrange all their stuff. What demon CEO thought this would accomplish, I do not know. A great deal of my brain's memory storage had been dedicated to where things are located in Wal-mart. I took pride in this knowledge. I have a specific list and as I roll into the checkout lane and the clerk says, "Did you find everything you want?" I say, yes, believe it or not.