Denver Day 3

Since the temps promised to be in the 90s and I haven’t be out in anything higher than UV3, Marcia and I decided to go to the Botanic Gardens before the sun climbed too high.

The first thing that hits are the small friendly army of staff and volunteers who weed, water, mulch, give directions, and generally keep the place gorgeous and humming.

We spent a couple of glorious hours looking at Calder: Monumental and other gems. The eight steel sculptures are of course captivating and gorgeous but not all displayed to full effect. One was partially hidden from the path by spiky evergreens so the full view required a walk out onto a wet lawn. Another sat at the base of a slope with a rose garden behind it, making it impossible to see the back. I didn’t get any decent photos because the sun was so bright I couldn’t see to fix the “display and brightness” setting on my phone. The sculpture above is my favorite because it’s kinetic with red on the back that comes into view when the wind blows.

We also caught a look at the Chihuly, which the Gardens purchased after his exhibition a couple of years ago. Wish I could have seen them lit at night.

The highlight from my perspective was the Japanese garden. The teahouse was closed, but the bonsai and views out to the coi pond more than made up for it. The pond had a special appeal as mama duck followed four babies who were doing relay races from the center to the edge.

The only true downer came from three women sitting in the wrought-iron and glass house. The one in the center turned to the Latina-looking one on her left, put her hand on the woman’s arm and said, “Now I know you voted for Trump…” I made a beeline for the exit.

After lunch we stopped at the grocery store, another entirely smooth experience. Everything here seems to flow. Marcia then succeeded in cleaning a layer of bugs off the front of the car that she and Susan had driven to New Mexico. It resembled a coat of armor even after the car had been through the carwash. Those New Mexico bugs must have guts of iron.

Laugh of the day: The cat Nead, pronounced “Ned,” made an appearance and acted like he wanted to sit on my lap but didn’t want to jump. He’s a fluffy Maine coon type, only with a pointy face. I hoisted him, expecting 10 pounds of cat under a mound of fur. He landed hard in my lap because I discovered on the way up that he was closer to 25 pounds! I gasped. He of course made a beeline for the corner. As a recovery from the shock, I laughed so hard I had trouble breathing. That set Marcia off. She laughed so hard she began to cry. It seemed he would never forgive me, but by the next day we’d made up, though he never did sit on my lap.

Denver Day 2

The day started by rediscovering the joys of French press coffee, which I stopped making at home because of caffeine overload. With a second coffee lover in the house, I revived my skills – and managed not to screw it up.

Marcia dropped me at Tattered Cover, Denver’s, oh, so satisfying bookstore. I could move in. The periodical collection alone is worth a visit with foreign-language newspapers and magazines, along with the best of U.S. publications. I had vowed not to make any purchases because 1) my luggage is heavy enough and 2) I have way too many books at home that require my attention.

The purpose of the visit was meeting Toni Tipton-Martin, author of The Jemima Code.

Once we started, we could have stayed all day. She’s working on a second book about the culture and attitudes surrounding recipes that she’s reconstructing from The Jemima Code. Now I’m too intimidated to try Malinda Russell’s Cream Cake. The new publication can’t arrive soon enough.

Toni and I share so much in terms of early experiences and reactions to our visits in the South. She has done a much better job of turning all these various strands into works of art that will serve to contribute to the greater understanding of the world we all inhabit.

We intend to continue our connection. I feel enriched and emboldened to expand my horizons beyond the intersection of food, culture, and the myriad contributions of African Americans to the country and the world at large.

After Toni left, I wandered around the store avoiding purchases. Marcia picked me up just as my self-control was running out.  We went to Trader Joe’s. The Denver version is so much more civilized than that zoo in New Britain/Farmington/West Hartford. Drivers  don’t try to run over pedestrians in the parking lot. People stand aside for each other and say hello in the store. Even the staff is more helpful.

Altogether a rewarding day.

Denver, Day One

Blog went on hiatus because I went to Denver to see my dear friend Marcia.

A terrific beginning with a nonstop flight. It was uneventful except for the flight attendant who pointed to two elderly nuns and said to the passengers in the row behind them, “If they misbehave, call their parole officer!” The good fortune continued as we arrived a half-hour early despite some bumpy places early on.

I did the usual and lost my voice upon entering the airport. It always returns, but the first minutes can be scary.

After lunch, Marcia and I took a good walk with Zoe the resident pooch. The highlight appeared in the form of a nearby lawn and verge just filled columbines, a riot of blooms. Aside from the color, they made it seem that clouds and pixie dust and butterflies had landed.

Because of all the rain Denver is almost as green as Connecticut except for the undeveloped places along the road from the airport. Nevertheless I found myself lathering on moisturizer and Blistex. Who wears lip moisturizer in 80-degree heat?!

A joyous first day!

Friday Follies

Upscale kitty condo

The “Cat Museum” headline indicated that the browser had found its way to the Onion homepage. But no. It’s a real place, and it actually has a serious purpose.

The Cat Museum in Minsk is a platinum-level shelter with a café and museum and all things feline added.

A favorite: the cats are “staff.” This counters the saying, “Dogs have owners. Cats have staff.”

What I’m Listening To

“Listening” may become a series. Stay tuned.

Maria Popova publishes a weekly online newsletter called Brain Pickings, a delightful and challenging dive into the worlds of writing, art, psychology and any number of other topics. This post about Neil Gaiman’s approach to telling true stories seemed excellent for the writing workshop.

This observation captivated me:

The best of our stories are those that transform and redeem us, ones that both ground us in ourselves by reminding us what it means to be human and elevate us by furnishing an instrument of self-transcendence.

Of course any critique of telling stories leads to The Moth, a podcast and radio show compiled from sessions produced around the country. As they say in the introduction, these are live stories told without notes or props. The program has grown to include video segments and two books.

In the Gaiman essay, Popova linked to what she considers the greatest Moth story ever told. I disagree. It is certainly makes listeners/readers think about life, love, and the universe. Transformation and redemption? Maybe for the author.

On the other hand, “Easter in a Texas Roadhouse” has all those (and I’m not including whatever redemption people might find in the  Easter story itself) and more –fear, grounding, and best of all, wild humor.

Happy listening.

What I’m Reading Now (Writing Down the Bones)

Another in the series. It is rare that in the very first pages of a book I know I’ll be marking passages and scribbling notes in the margins. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within is one such. Through two forewords and two prefaces, plus the first dozen or so pages, Natalie Goldberg and her introducers have dropped a number of gems and a few items that require commentary. Her writing instruction to Zen practice.

On page xxiv in the preface to the second edition, she quotes Kerouac:

Accept loss forever/Be submissive to everything, open, listening/No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language, and knowledge/Be in love with your life.

On the next pages, I came up with an idea for a writing prompt for the veterans’ workshop.

And I found reinforcement for my own observation that pen and paper are important: “You want to be able to feel that the connection and texture of the pen on the paper.” The paper should be large to encourage large thoughts. Ms. Goldberg suggests a large drawing pad. Or go even bigger: “Try skywriting.”

And there’s the reminder: “Inspiration means ‘breathing in.’ “

In “Writing as a Practice” she observes that the opening sentences, even chapters of each day, should be liberating. One is allowed to say, “I am free to write the worst junk in the world.”

And I did — by taking her suggestion to do the twenty-minute exercise. And, no, I’m not going to reproduce it because a few hours later, I can barely read the writing.

This book is an inspiration in every sense of the word.