Monday, May 14, 2018

Lilacs Take Me Back to Old Places

The delicate sweet smell of lilacs take me back to old places. 

My grandmother's house had bushes taller than my five year old self. They imprinted their fragrance on me, and have always evoked feelings of security and pleasure. We moved from the midwest when I was nine to a brand new neighborhood in California with cloned ranch homes and nary a blade of grass, let alone lilacs. 

Perhaps they were too old fashioned. My parents planted other flowers and a small tree. The roses were the tallest thing in the yard when we moved again nine years later.

As a young adult we moved to Colorado and ended up in an established neighborhood of hundred year old two story brick homes with huge old lilacs hanging over into the alleys and over the fences. Every spring, I detoured my walks to enjoy the upside down purple, lilac, and white cones. 

And when we finally bought a house with a yard big enough for them, I planted six in a row and waited. And waited.

Colorado springs are brutal to even hardy perennials. Bushes and bulbs pop up with promise, only to be blackened and shriveled by late frost or snow. Over ten years I babied those lilacs, covering them with sheets, or stapling bubble wrap around the buds if the weather forecast spelled doom. Every blossom, no matter how puny,  made me gleeful. But I never had so many I could bear to cut and bring them inside.

This has been the most spectacular spring in Denver I’ve seen in our 28 years here. The warm early days of March got things going. April was cool, but warm enough for the flowering trees to bud and then open. I held my breath, expecting a deadly quick freeze, but the temperatures didn’t dip low enough to do damage. 

First the crabapples set the landscape ablaze. Then the few redbuds in town finished their cycle and fulfilled their potential. I only saw two magnolias, small compared to the beauties in North Carolina. I cherished them for their rarity.

But oh my, the lilacs have been glorious! Look at this hedge, and it is only half of the total length. I bet that owner has only seen them bloom so lavishly a handful of times in her life. I point them out when we drive around town like a bird watcher spots rare species.

I can’t see any from my apartment, but I know where to find them. I’ve threatened to raid a few isolated bushes in no-mans-land but Bill beat me to it.

As finicky as cut lilacs can be, these have not wilted in the vase. I stand in my windowless kitchen, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and pretend there’s a bush right outside.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

When "Have a good day" is Callous

"Have a good day."

I say it. You say it. Customer service representatives say it--sometimes mindlessly, which may feel callous.

A low-speed "bump" into a trailer hitch transformed our car into mangled origami. The car limped to a public parking lot. 

We called the insurance company.  The agent asked some questions and ended the conversation with "Have a good day."

Ding, ding, ding, ding. The alarms rang  in my head. Our car was disabled in an accident and it needed to be towed. So how good a day did she think I was having? 

Empathetic communication would have been "Gee, I'm sorry."  "That's tough, but we're going to ..."

Five hours later the first towing company said "it can't be loaded because the electrical system is dead. We have to arrange for a special wrecker which has a fork lift type system." He politely finished, "Have a good day."

More phone calls followed. The car was totaled. We'll have to replace a car we've for a short time and was a great deal. Or would have been, had it survived.

Bill calls these events "life taxes." Expensive garbage you have to deal with because you're alive and privileged enough to have "stuff."

The financial fall-out of the accident is a pain in the patootie. But Bill is unharmed, so I shouldn't fuss.

While I was still fuming I stopped to talk to my 76 year old neighbor.  I asked after her husband's health. He's 87 and in a care center "disappearing before my eyes" she said. I grabbed her hand and we both cried. 

Chatting with her sure put my complaints into perspective. She reminded me I was having a good day. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Ignite a Memory

Lighting a morning candle at my desk has become a ritual. It offers cheer while the sun comes up, and signals the beginning of my study and writing time. 

The other morning I pulled out a matchbook. Looking at the cover, I recalled the moment I snagged it from the restaurant greeter's podium in a large glass bowl.  We were at the Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington D.C.  Happy memories of the trip we took with our grandson three years ago were as close and bright as the shimmering flame.

How marvelous that our brains can store details and bring them to life in an instant. It only takes one stimulus to start a chain reaction.  Feeling the smooth, shiny cover of the matchbook spurred memory of the sounds of clinking silverware and lively conversation. I remember our table's placement in the dining room, and the painting of a nude woman hanging by our table.  My grandson, 10,  glanced at it and acted so cool, like he was used to naked ladies hanging on the walls.  My brain recreates a whiff of the grilled cauliflower “steak” on its past our  table. We enjoyed conversation about what we’d already seen and the Spy Museum we’d see after lunch. I proudly watched my grandson use his best manners, appropriate for a table covered in linen. All that, just from picking up the matches.

Recently I used up the last of the table favors from by daughter’s wedding in 2002. It evoked the conversation when she wondered why she ever ordered matches. I can see the vivid flowers on the tables, the beautiful blue sky, and  the perfect July temperature. I feel the joy when her dad in his tux lead her down the path in the rose garden, and her brother-in-law performed the ceremony. So many moments relived in a split second! I’m sorry to see the last of the matchbooks used up.

We non-smokers don’t have much use for match books, but they do make perfect souvenirs.

I think I’ll go digging around my drawers and see if I have any more of the little cardboard matches that fire the synapses in my brain.

Go rummage in the kitchen. Where are your matchbooks from? What do they set alight in you? 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Glorious Sprinter in Colorado

It’s glorious sprinter in Colorado. That’s one of our season combos, spring + winter = sprinter. Grass is brown, the shrubs have been chainsawed within a foot of the ground, and nothing is budding. Even though March is our snowiest month we have days in the high 60’s that make us forget that old man winter is hiding around the corner ready to pounce. 

Trader Joe's sold me daffodils with buds so tight they looked like they'd been picked that morning. Overnight they opened fully and their yellow splash is bringing life to the apartment. The flowers, plus the sun's creeping a little closer to our lanai every day make me crave spring. 

Friday, bright and balmy, I slid open the patio door and enjoyed fresh air. 
It must have been at least 65 degrees.

I jumped in the car headed for Nick’s Garden Center. The pansies were calling to me from the entrance. The highest shelf on the rack boasted bright purple blooms, then a shelf of my favorite apricot color, then yellow, burgundy, and the mixed packs. They were stacked like a layer cake.  

I grabbed a basket and choose a dozen healthy plants that will fill the pot on the slab outside our door that will get a couple hours of sun in another month. In the meantime, I will push the pot around to follow the light. The pansies will hold their own if I bring them in on cold nights. 

An aside, a we-need-hearing-aids conversation:   
Bill: Do you want me to bring in your pansies?  
Me: Bring in my panties
Bill: Pansies! It's gonna be cold tonight.
Me: Oh.

Back to the pansies. The squirrels have already dug up one plant out of the pot so it will have to be protected by bird mesh. But I’m thrilled! There is life and color outside my door. 

I’m grateful I don’t live in a place like Minnesota where winter is unrelenting until May. Nope, here we know March, April and May will sprint by! 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Age Restricted Community like Living in a Dorm

Any visitor would know I live in an age restricted community before they even rang my doorbell.

There are likely to be firetrucks and paramedics askew in the road with lights flashing. We have lots of folks in their 90's who really should be in assisted living. 

The buildings were built in the 1960's and all of the apartment doors open onto a two hundred foot long, dark, institutional hall that looks unchanged since it opened. 

Thank goodness our building doesn't have a lobby full of artificial plants and a questionable chair. (Too easy for bedbugs to be incubating there.) And some buildings have recessed doors that allow residents to "decorate" with tiny tables and seasonal kitsch. We're spared that too.

What our building does have is a narrow give-away shelf on the way to the laundry room. When people clean or move out they share household extras like trash cans and flower pots, and unopened food items. Once it was candy. I took the bag of Hershey miniature chocolates. Last week it was five packets of dry turkey gravy. There have been cookies and potato chips.  

Last night there were half a dozen packages of water-soluble fiber, oh so telling of a senior population. Bill and I joked about it on our way by. This morning he happened by again and told me there were only two left. For some reason we thought was really funny--probably because we didn't need it. 

Now I wonder, did one person take the other four, or were there several people who benefitted? Sometimes living here leads me down mental roads I really don't want to travel. 

It often feels like living in a dorm. I see the socks and underwear that got stuck in the washer and slung over a rack to be claimed. Sometimes I hear the man upstairs groaning. (I hope it's groaning.) I hear the feet of the dogs running past my door before they're leashed for their 5:30 am walk. 

On the upside I have found fellow music makers in the development.   Although the community center building has rooms that sit empty much of each day, they require a contract and rental fees.  So the banjo player, guitarist and I opted to jam in the living room. 

I sure hope no neighbor calls in a complaint to the community response office, since I'm already on record with them for another disagreement. 

This all reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld's parents' condo at Del Boca Vista.  Be sure to click on the link for a chuckle at homeowner association antics. 


Sunday, February 4, 2018

International Fun at Home

We took our grandchildren on an international field trip without leaving town.

We visited the huge Asian Pacific grocery store in town for a scavenger hunt.  I texted them the list of items they were to find. Once we were at the 40,000 square foot market, we paired off to explore. Then they took photos of each item from the list:

1. The biggest vegetable or fruit
2. Something you wouldn't eat
3. Items produced in foreign countries
4. A strange-to-you candy or pastry
5. An unusual drink
6. Some personal product - shampoo, soap, etc.
7. A fruit you've never seen
8. Some food you would like to try

We headed back to the fish department with live fish to buy and take home to eat. It prompted discussion about buying live things just to kill and eat them, in this case lobster or crabs. You can tell they don't have farm or hunting backgrounds.

The produce department was the most amazing. We saw things we'd just read just read about, like sugar cane and the durian fruit, the world's smelliest fruit. We found something that looked like a three pound grapefruit, and another that was so heavy I could barely lift it. 

Addie's drink of choice was a Japanese orange soda.

prepare the coconut
Our granddaughter decided to buy a fresh coconut, and got lots of free advice from the store clerks and other shoppers on how to open it.

An entire double sided aisle of tea attests to its popularity, and the immense variety. I brought home a box of cinnamon green tea which I've enjoyed.

Within the store was a sub-section for other international foods. We barely scraped the surface there.

We glimpsed different cultures in the goods and the shoppers. Our timing was right to be introduced to the upcoming celebration of Chinese New Year February 16th, the Year of the Dog. They had a huge display of coconut candies and fresh plants suitable for gifts for the holiday.

At stop number two, the middle eastern market, we found a flier for Persian New Year, which coincides with the beginning of spring.
One of their customs is to buy, or grow a small tray of sprouted wheatgrass.

I'm ready for some green already. I may try it!

By Anthon01 at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0,

So grab the kids and head to the nearest foreign-to-you market. Introduce them to a taste of the rest of the world. It may be as small as the local Mexican grocery, or a large as the Ocean Pacific Marketplace.  We need to be intentional about cultivating a sense of adventure and acceptance of new things in our kids. 

And if you come to visit, I promise to take you to one of these fascinating markets. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Cold weather but hot airfare sales!

Friends and travelers, the weather's cold (here), but the airline fares are hot!

In early December I flew Denver to North Carolina for $56.00 RT. 

And just this week I was able to fly Denver to Portland, Oregon for $90.00 RT. Of course, I don’t pay for checked luggage and only carry on what’s free. So what if I wear the same two outfits for five days? 

I also booked a one-way trip to a wedding coming up in May, even paying for one bag each. For the two of us it was $88.00–TOTAL. The return will be more, of course, but I've already saved so much I’m okay with full price later.

The trick? Sign up for travel alerts on websites like airfarewatchdog and GoLastMinute.
And always sign up for emails from airlines that fly your favorite destinations. They’ll send you the latest sales information. Be ready to book quickly because the window of opportunity is usually short.

Here's the formula:

Stay informed + Be decisive + Pack light = SAVE MONEY.