Home Improvement Wheel of Fortune

Yesterday I was thinking about the Wheel of Fortune as it was envisioned in medieval times, how sometimes you’re on top, the king, and then — with for no explicable reason, you’re on the bottom, a beggar. “Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down.” “What goes around comes around.”

The home improvement projects are moving along. The kitchen sink drains have been repaired for less than I feared, but enough. The new garage door has been ordered and the cost is more than I hoped, but less than it could’ve been. The garage roof is the last remaining struggle. Just to get roofers to look at it has been the challenge, but now two “companies” have come out, one of them two Amish guys and their Hispanic driver. The Amish have had to make some adjustments so they can make a living in this vast valley. They were up on the roof, measured and diagnosed the problem in less than 5 minutes, proposed and explained the solution to me, and left. No small talk, no customer relations kind of thing, all business. I liked it.

Tomorrow an Irishman (Callahan) is coming out to look and I expect the opposite. Last week a “normal” roofing company came, but I have yet to see the estimate.

So it goes and I am somewhat imprisoned by this, but when it’s over, it will be good and I’ll be on a better spot on the “wheel.”


Spud Wonderful…

If you live in Monte Vista, Colorado, you can buy potatoes grown within half a mile of your house. That’s about as local as you can get without growing the potatoes yourself. Before I moved here, I thought there were red potatoes and white potatoes (and there are) but there are also gold potatoes and red potatoes with yellow “meat.” There are red, white and blue potatoes you can cook up for your 4th of July potato salad. This is truly a brave new potato world, for me, anyway.


Problem is, I don’t “get” potatoes. They fall into a category with rice of “tasteless white starches.” I’m a bread and/or pasta kind of person. Oatmeal.

My mom always said (of herself) “It’s not a meal unless there’s a potato on the table.” I got her a convincing ceramic potato to leave on her table at all times. She didn’t think it was funny, but it WAS funny. My aunts were fooled and said, “Helen, what’s this potato doing on your table?” or “Helen, there’s a potato on your table you forgot to put away.”

Pretty soon is the biggest local event of the year — the Ski (sky) Hi Stampede which is three days of rodeo, carnival and parades. Monte Vista is home to the first pro-rodeo in Colorado. I like rodeo but, so far, I haven’t been to this one. Maybe this year.


Swede Lane

Yesterday my neighbor and I went on adventure to the Rio Grande County (we live in Rio Grande County 🙂 ) museum in Del Norte. My friend is Swedish and my grandma was,  so when I heard of a Midsommar Celebration. I suggested we go. It was billed as a celebration of the Swedish heritage of the San Luis Valley. It was an all-day reception with a talk about the handful  of Swedish families who settled in the San Luis Valley.

Behind us, about a mile, is “Swede Lane.” Why? Well, as might be obvious, it’s where many Swedish immigrants settled toward the end of the 19th century.

Hundreds of thousands of Swedes left Sweden for America at the end of our Civil War, like my great-grandparents who settled in Minnesota. Of the families who came, here, one of them struck it rich in a gold mine but used his money to enrich his farm in Kansas. There’s something about those values that is solid and very sweet. Mostly they just put down their roots and farmed their farms.

After the talk, my friend and I wandered around the small and charming Rio Grande County Museum. Like a lot of small town, rural museums it has beautiful displays of things that are meaningful to the people here but that you’d never find in a big city museum. Among them was a huge quilt made of individual squares decorated by women of a Ladies Aid Society for the 50th wedding anniversary of another one of their members.

Only in a rural museum like this one would you find photos of the first doctors and their wives, books containing transcriptions of interviews of early settlers just there for people to read. It’s the kind of place a person could spend half a day to experience everything completely, not the kind of place you rush through. All the exhibits show affection, respect and even reverence.

In her talk, the presenter spoke about the families who have lived in the San Luis Valley for hundreds of years. She is a descendant of these families. Many of the names in the valley are the same names as those settlers — notably the Hispanic names, but not only. She was clearly proud of the deep roots – including Swedish roots – she has here and shares with others. As she talked I thought about human nature. Some of us can’t stay home, whatever that is. I don’t feel I have roots anywhere. Home has always been a base. Even when I thought I was “home” I wasn’t. For me it’s always been temporary. My family roots are in Montana, but I’m not.

Though this might be a rather cringe-worthy image, it seems that some of us are snails, carrying our psychic house with us wherever we go. Some of us are earthworms, digging in deep.






I listened to my friend recount a moment in her life — a long moment — but a moment that began with, had clearly been enhanced by, that potent potion, yearning — and I thought, “I know about that.”

“I had to stop it. It was a long distance relationship, you know? We didn’t see each other much. I had to figure out was it real? Or was it the adventure? The alcohol? What was it?”

She couldn’t see inside my head, to every little brain cell nodding in total comprehension, saying, “I know exactly what you mean.”

There is a belief in Hinduism that everything in our world, ourselves, our lives, is a kind of illusion. I thought about that for a while and then thought, “Yeah, but on a practical level, how is that useful? I still have to live here.” But there is the point that none of this is real, and there is reality somewhere.

The idea behind the Hindu notion of Maya, illusion, is that we exist as a dream in the mind of the universe. That makes all our squabbles and terrors and delights pretty minor as we are nothing but a dream in the mind of god. I get that. My life makes no more sense to me than do most of my dreams. In fact, last night — again — I dreamed about deception and subtle, sinister plots. It seemed very real that someone would have sewn scorpions, snakes and spiders into the hem of a skirt. Sure. Why not? And it seemed equally likely that when I was about to kill the scorpions, snakes and spiders with a heavy book, someone would have given me a different skirt and I would be left wondering if I had been wrong about the scorpions, snakes and spiders in the first place. Had I deceived myself? Had I been deceived?

Or is that idea just part of the illusion?

You’d think that if there is illusion there has to be reality, or illusion IS the reality. I thought about that seriously 25 years ago. And then I went nuts. Truly.

The difference between Truth and Belief is sometimes non-existent and sometimes as wide as the universe. Desire amplifies the power of illusion, “If wishes were horses…” I try to remember that though something feels “real,” and I believe in it with all my heart,it may still not be real.

These days, when I identify an illusion, I look at it and I ask this question, “Is this illusion useful to me as a human being? Does it improve my life and my interaction with other people? Does it hurt anyone and is it likely to hurt me? Do I KNOW — in full consciousness — what I am seeing and basing my actions on?” Why? Because some illusions are useful. 🙂





(Warning! Not the most interesting post you will ever read. It’s about a longterm relationship and as we know, they are long slogs from time to time.)

A garden is a commitment.

When I moved here nearly three years ago, I wasn’t sure about having a garden. First because there was a nice lawn all around the house, and, second, there is a sprinkler system. I thought, “Wow. Low maintenance. I’ll just have to mow.” This seemed like a break after the 1/4 acre of dirt and foxtails I’d been fighting with for eleven years in the mountains of Southern California. Out of that wilderness — populated by gophers — I’d managed to carve out couple of flower beds, but it was constant labor to keep things under some kind of control. And you can forget controlling gophers…

The first summer I learned I’d rather go at a plot of ground with a pick-axe than mow. I hate mowing the grass. I do it, but I’m out there pushing the mower, muttering, “I hate this, I f@*&ing hate this.”

I understand that a sprinkler system is a labor saving thing and so on, but it turned out that don’t like it. It means one cannot freely sling one’s pick-axe. One must worry about hitting a sprinkler. Raised beds seemed the answer, but what did I know about that?

The first spring, I tentatively made a commitment to a garden. I planted peonies and stargazer lilies that March. The lilies have done well every year (so far)

Stargazer lily, summer 2016

The peonies finally bloomed this year.

Pink Peony, June 2017

I needed to grow tomatoes and basil because I love caprese, and you can’t have that without tomatoes and basil. Home grown tomatoes are better than store bought (as everyone knows) and fresh basil is essential. That winter I had started tomatoes and some flowers in the house, so when spring arrived (or what, with my still-California mindset I thought was spring) I dug two flower beds in the back yard (now the dog’s yard) and put the tomatoes in containers. Everything grew. When fall arrived, I ordered a giant bulb assortment from Breck’s, dug more beds planted spring bulbs, daffodils and tulips and crocus and some other stuff but ran out of space and gave the rest of the bulbs away. Oh well…

Last summer I tried a big fabric raised bed and put flowers in it. I bought tomatoes at the nursery instead of starting them myself. The flowers were grand, but the tomatoes never really did anything.

Last year’s flowers, tomatoes, basil and Rosemary

Meanwhile I’d ordered fancy iris from Brecks and had iris last spring. When fall came around, my neighbor gave me dozens of iris and I had to plant them right away, so now the garden has iris that I will have to move this year, but that’s OK.


My next door neighbor — who is an amazingly talented gardener — gave me some plants so I dug more beds. Then, this week, I found a hardy hibiscus at the grocery store and decided to bring it home and put a little California in my Colorado garden. So far she seems happy.


This past winter I again started tomatoes in the house (I like growing things from seeds), a little too early, but they don’t seem to mind that. When it got (absurdly) warm in March and April, I decided to build the raised bed kits I ordered three years ago. The fabric raised bed looked pretty grim after the winter, so I shoveled out the dirt and tossed it.

I had big plans, but the big load of dirt to realize these big plans didn’t arrive, so it was A Little Lady dragging several 85 pound dirt bags into the back yard. Now there are two raised beds; one is wild flowers (it’s doing too well) and the other vegetables — tomatoes, basil, Swiss chard and zucchini. I’ve already eaten chard from my garden. I remember, now, why a vegetable garden is so great — it’s a supermarket in your backyard. Next year, I’m growing more vegetables.


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New Review of The Brothers Path

Really nice review. I appreciate this one very much. The Brothers Path is also now at the Tattered Cover in Denver, all three stores. The “party” will be August 19, from 2 to 4 pm.

The Brothers Path

From the book blog, “Deal Sharing Aunt,”

It is important to know who your ancestors are. It is even more important to know your siblings. They knew you when you were young and naive. They also know all your struggles to be who you are, and how you got there. That is what this book made me realize. Your past leads to your future, and no matter what path you choose you are definitely still tied to your family. This was such a bloody time in history. War and religious freedom are always tough. However it is the characters in this book that made the casualties of war so close to home. I enjoyed the ending and can not wait to read more from this author. I am giving this book a 4/5. I was given a copy, all opinions are my own,


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I know some things, but they are not especially useful. There are many, many more things I do not know. The things I don’t know, there are so many and most are practical, are sometimes overwhelming. I LIKE it when someone tells me what to do. Granted, I might not do what I’m told, but I appreciate it, even though — like everybody else, being told what to do when I KNOW what to do can raise my hackles. I try to put a good face on that.

A friend of mine — who’s owned many properties, does construction and home repairs and is professional gardener — came through Tuesday. I love seeing her. We spent our adolescence on the same street and her older brother was one of my two best friends. She wanted to see my garage. I wanted her to see my garage. My house is old, but it was built at a time when construction was done differently than it is now, in many ways, it is more solid. The walls of my garage are obviously square and there is a real foundation. Through all the leaky roof drama, I have never thought the garage had to be torn down or anything radical had to happen to it, but I was prepared to do that if that was what it was going to take to fix the door and the roof.

My friend stood in the garage, looked at the way it was built, looked at the leak and said, “You just need the roof fixed and a new door. This is a good, solid garage. Leaks are bad, though. You gotta’ fix that. Call a roofer and a garage door guy.”

It sounds so simple and obvious, but for me, somehow, that’s not simple. I was very, very grateful for being told what to do by someone who had knowledge. It was nice that the knowledge corroborated my instinct, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

So a garage door guy came out yesterday with a catalog and measured and then said, “What kind of door do you want?”

I said, “An economical one.”

“What color?”

“Uh, color? I don’t care.” I honestly do not care. My garage is in the alley. It’s ugly (in general but not for here), paneled in steel. It’s never going to win prizes or be featured in Architectural Digest.

“Do you want windows?”

“Windows are nice. I had a garage once with windows. I liked it.”

“Uh, I don’t want to sound stupid or anything,” he said, “but with a garage like this on an alley, I don’t think windows are a good idea.”

Thank you. I wouldn’t think of that. “Good call. No windows then.”

“How about this one, these squares and in white.”

“White’s good,” I said, idiotically but he agreed as we are both white haired.

All I want is something I can close and lock that’s weather tight and safe.


“We can do this with metal. You want a metal roof?”

“I like that idea. You can slope it more than this, right?”

“It’ll cost more.”

“That might be OK.”

They never asked me what color. 🙂

So, thanks to my friend, I might be getting somewhere with this. I hope so.


I love paper the way Imelda Marcos loved shoes and in my “art room” there is a pretty good — if small — collection of beautiful handmade papers. Paper is a miraculous thing.

When I started writing Martin of Gfenn, a novel about an artist set in 13th century Zürich, Martin had paper. Then I learned that he could not have had paper because Northern Europe did not have paper and even the exotic, cosmopolitain trading center of Venice had only two or three sheets brought in from Asia. Yep. It was very difficult for me to imagine being an artist without paper, but Martin had to succeed at that and I had to write so no one reading it would feel the absence, would feel — as I felt — that Martin had a big challenge. No one’s challenged by the absence of something that has not yet existed, right? I couldn’t really do it until I acquired my own small piece of parchment. Wow. I have kept it safe for a decade and don’t think I’ll ever do anything worthy of its surface.

THEN I had to consider that every animal back then was skinned and many of the skins were made into something to write on. Squirrel skin was especially prized for parchment. However, squirrel pelts were also highly valued for the linings of rich peoples cloaks… I began to imagine incredibly high prices for dead squirrels, and that led me to imagine a completely different economy. In fact, the problem of paper more than any other thing, awakened me to the fact that the 13th Century was an alien world.

When paper paper took off, the squirrels must have been really, really, really happy about it.

Early paper was made from something plentiful in medieval times — linen rags. There are echoes of this in some papers used for stationary (Classic Laid) and for charcoal drawings in which you can see the “laid,” the way the fibers were pressed. Laid paper was all there was for the first 500 years of European paper making.

I’ve made paper — recycled paper made from, uh, paper, and fibers and leaves. My brother taught me and I made it on my stove, using macaroni and/or rice for binder. It was fun and I did a few paintings with it. I didn’t have a lot of the fancy tools or expertise many other people have. I had only an old silkscreen and pressed the pulp by hand. I am pretty sure everything I made that way has disintegrated by now — I don’t have any of it. I sold the two or three pieces.

There is an art supply store in Denver — Meiningers — that in these days has, of course, branched out to more than one store, that sells more kinds of paper than any place I know, except the vast world of the Internet. I recently bought a selection of papers — and I think the most beautiful papers come from India and Japan. Since I’m not an artist any more, I don’t know what I’ll do with it, but it’s there, safely rolled and cared for.


Mi Familia Mexicana, un Sueño

“I should’ve found a nice Mexican guy, married him, had lots of kids, been part of a huge extended family, had great barbecues in the backyard with tequila and carne asada, and done the Mexican two-step under colored lights on the concrete patio. That’s what I should’ve done with my life.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It would have simplified things like getting my roof fixed. Chayo’s cousin would’ve been a roofer.”

“OK, seems a little nuts to me. You wouldn’t have been able to do the things you’ve done if you’d taken that road.”

“Yeah, but, here I am at the end of the day and all I’m worried about is a broken garage door and a hole in my garage roof. That has, by the way, been the story of my life.”

“What if Chayo’s brother wasn’t a roofer? What if he was, I dunno, a biochemist?”

“That’d be OK. Because Lupe’s cousin Tomás would’ve been a roofer.”

“Who’s Lupe?”

“You know Lupe. She’s my sister-in-law’s half sister?”

“Good god.”

“I love those families. Some of the best times of my middle years were at those parties, sitting around laughing at everything at nothing.”

“You understood them?”

“Hablo Español, dork. No muy bien, pues suficiente.”

“I forgot. I would’ve been out of the loop.”

“That’s your fault. Anyone can learn another language. I always thought it was funny when I sat between a grandma and her grandkid and translated.”

“I guess it must have been funny.”

“I loved it. Going to baby showers, drinking tequila, laughing. Lots, and lots of laughing.”

“From what you’ve told me, some of those parties got pretty violent.”

“The teenagers, but not when the whole family was there and a little kid was trying to bash a piñata. You don’t know. It’s an experience you never had. But I had it and I’m grateful for it. Amo la cultura Mexicana con todo mi corazon. And, I wish I’d married Chayo and SOMEONE in the family could fix my damned garage.”


P.S. Small political statement. I believe that our society is enriched by immigrants. My life would have been — and would be — much less if I had not had the chance to know people from many different cultures and nations. I believe that foreign languages should be taught in our schools starting in kindergarten and not as a “subject” but as a real language. I believe that isolating the US is one of the biggest mistakes of the current administration.



Curmudgeon du Jour

“Bye, bye missed American Pie, put the petal to the meddle but the Levis were dry.”

“What? Those aren’t the words.”

“They’re not?”

“I hate that song. In the first place it’s sappy. Second, it’s way too long and third, it’s an ear worm.”

“You’re in a great mood.”

“Shut up.”

“How’d you sleep?”

“Not great.”

“Leg cramps again?”

“Yeah. It could be worse. I am not going to say, ‘Getting old is not for sissies’.”

“No, please don’t say that.”

“You know, I thought retirement would be different.”


“I thought it would be time for me to be completely impractical most of the time, but no. It’s the same shit. Broken plumbing, car payment, a garage that needs work, lawn to mow, no money.”

“That’s just life. I don’t think you can get away from it — well you can, but…”

“Even that’s a problem. I had to organize all that ahead of time.”

“So did you?”

“Most of it. But, you know I live in a small town and…”


“You want some coffee?”

“Love some.”