Tuesday, June 27, 2017

High and Wholesome

It was a quick jaunt to Colorado while Brian and Amy slipped away for some hardcore bicycle racing interspersed with important business/social connections. Brian was riding the annual ‘Ride the Rockies’ biking event high in the Colorado Rockies. Amy was acting as his sag wagon, local transportation for Brian and two cohorts and social director for business events each evening. Sharon and I were in town to cover home base.

So, a new sheriff came to town and the grandkids couldn’t have been more thrilled. It was seven days of non-stop activities that left Nana and Papa totally exhausted and the kiddos exhilarated. A small price to pay for building quality memories with tons of experiences, events and silliness thrown in for good measure.

There were a few notable exceptions this time around. We wouldn’t in the mountains to watch the kids tearing down their favorite Black Diamond. We didn’t have a triathlon to cheer on our grandchildren like we did last year. Sadly, I didn’t have time to visit one of my favorite old hippie haunts, Boulder, Colorado. But we did find time for swim meets, starfish petting, artistic expressions, golf lessons, library stalking, stingray feeding and bourgeois-slumming. Oh, and not to leave out the most sacred of all rituals, hunting down garage sales as only Nana can orchestra it.

The first event on the first day was a huge swim meet that witnessed a gathering of all the aquatic tribes. Tent city had taken over the valuable real estate pool side but luckily we found shelter in our own neighborhood social center.

The kids clustered around books and devices. Visiting urchins came and went and no one seemed to notice. The adults watched the schedule of events while Sharon and I looked for guidance on getting our three competitors to the right lane at the right time.

Our reward for a morning of free style, breast strokes, and relays along with a half dozen ribbons was the kid’s favorite restaurant, Snooze.

It’s an annual tradition reserved only for Nana visits. We take the kids hunting for ‘mysteries’ and ‘surprises’ that only garage sales can provide. The pickings were slim this time around but that didn’t prevent us from finding a real treasure for Palm Springs.

There must be some friends in Palm Springs who would love this staged portrait. For only five dollars it was a steal and we’re determined to find a way to get it back home.

Ever encouraging our kids to read, we had to visit the newest library in town then begin the first of several art lessons.

Nana had the kids enthralled with the effects of alcohol ink. Just as Brennen and Charlotte had quickly grasped that creative process back home so too had the Colorado kids. Collectively all five grandchildren have now spread their creative wings and created some fascinating works of art. Pastel drawings were next on the list of paintings to explore.

After mass on Sunday, it was off to the Denver Aquarium and Maya’s favorite activity of petting the stingrays and Samantha’s goal of sketching the fish. Spencer just wanted to climb through every portal around.

Long before the advent of mass transportation and middle class solidarity there was an era of elegant travel and social dining reserved for the very few. Denver was no exception. ‘High Tea’ at the Brown Palace was one such event.

One of the oldest hotels in town, The Brown Palace, now offers high tea every afternoon. Amy thought it would be nice to introduce the kids to the event. While none of us is a fan of tea, I discovered several flavors to my liking and the kids loved the tiny sandwiches and pastries. What can I say, it was an experience and it didn’t hurt to introduce our grandchildren to elegant surroundings and a lesson in practicing their social graces.

The rest of our visit was a blur of swim practice every morning, golf lessons, piano lessons, Lacrosse practice and more painting lessons from Nana.

Yet we still found time for everyone to escape with their respective favorite book and just chill out. They had three boxes of books to choose from, all pre-shipped by Nana.

We set up an art gallery for the parents to see and a summary of the kid’s favorite events.

Brian had a great ride with colleagues from work, averaging fifty to seventy miles of challenging elevation each day. Amy charmed all the right people. The grandchildren had an exciting time with Nana and Papa and I only needed a couple of days to recover before planning the next sortie out west this September.

The days were non-stop as were the grandchildren. There’s a reason why only young people should have kids. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Our goal has always been to give the kiddos lots of experiences, time with their grandparents and a little advice thrown in when each grandchild gets to go on our traditional ‘Starbucks with Papa’ one per morning.

Realistically there is only a limited time available before they ‘grow up’ and move on with their lives. It’s a limited time capsule Sharon and I have tried to embrace and embellish and hold dear to our hearts.

Where else can a couple of oldsters teach and learn at the same time. We are truly blessed.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tip-Toe Through the Prickly Thorns

Headlines screamed and news anchors beamed at the news. The California drought was finally and officially over. One glance outside our window told us that weeks earlier. The hills were alive with a tapestry of many colors come alive.

January and February were another story with more than seven inches poured on our heads in less than sixty days.

Taken in perspective, the average rainfall the entire year before was less than five inches. The year before that it was even less. My patio and side yard attested to the standing desert pool that lasted all night and only slowly disappeared the following morning.

Yet it only took one hike up Oswalt Canyon in South Palm Springs to see just how alive the hills had become. Where dirt trails once clearly delineated the routes back into the canyon, now fields of grass blanketed the entire area and buried the trails along with rocks and boulders and scrub brush.

It reminded me of long walks in the woods back home. So, with canteen wrapped around my waist and camera in hand, I ventured back into that jungle of prickly grasses and got lost amid the splendor of desert floral.

Color like this only happens in the desert every ten years or so. It’s a wonderful reminder of the life that lies dormant among the rock and shale and gravel in quiet solitude until heavy rains bring their world to life once again.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Written Word

Mom and me as a kid

I grew up in a household without any books…or magazines…or newspapers. In fact it wasn’t until I started my paper route in Seventh grade that I even knew or understood what a newspaper was all about. I used to stop at the last house on my route and sit on their front stoop and read the headlines of the newspaper. I tried to read between the lines. There were stories in those words and I was trying to understand the truth of them. I guess that was the beginning of a lifetime of story-telling in one form or another.

I do the same daily research today…only now its perusing my ipad with a cup of coffee. I’m still filling my head with stories every morning. As I told my students in a workshop recently, story-telling is a one of the most effective ways to communicate because story-telling is really data and information wrapped up with emotion.

Truth be told, I am now a writer in my elder years. I tell stories that are often trapped inside my imagination. They may be recent incidents or relics from my past but they are all stories in need of telling. Perhaps Victor Hugo said it best:  ‘A writer is a world trapped inside a person.’

It wasn’t that long ago that I was riding out west alongside a drifter called Jeb Burns. His story came to me in 1974, was pounded out on an L.C. Smith antique typewriter only to languish for forty years before being resurrected by a high tech scanner and finally publication.

The same was true with another western born in 1975 and finally finding life not that long ago.
Back then I was riding shotgun on a stage coach out west, watching the cunning nature of a man, really a half-breed, by the name of Ree Bannon.

Another story was observing and writing down the adventures and life experiences of a young man much like myself back in the mid-sixties. A coming of age novel that explored driving ambition, class differences and youthful passion set in the turbulent 1960s.

Palm Springs is haunted by the rich and the famous and the broken. It was a concept I devoured in three books that followed the lives of a group of people living out their lives in Palm Springs.

‘Cobbler’ was born five years ago but only recently went under my editor’s surgical pen for release soon. It’s a suspense thriller that takes a couple around the world in search of an elusive icon called ‘The Cobbler.’

Story telling takes on many forms and for me, plays are a new and exciting medium in which to explore the human condition. ‘Riot at Sage Corner’ tells the story of an aging hippie trapped in a retirement community who is causing all kinds of problems.

Fifty year high school reunions are often replete with drama, boredom, assaults on self-confidence and memories unwanted and embraced. It can be a plethora of conflicting emotions. We’ll see what audiences think of my new play August 11th and 12th at the Steeple Center in Rosemount.

Another new play, still festering in my imagination and slowly finding release through my fingertips, is about old age and the inevitability of the end we must all face someday. It’s not a dark comedy but neither is it sad. Instead I hope it can be a celebration of all that makes us human and caring individuals…even if some of us need a nudge or two in that direction once in a while.

Turns out that over the years my blogs have become weekly story-telling on a wide variety of topics. My travels, my time living in Europe, time in the service, the kids growing up and past experiences that shaped my life.

The second truism often embraced about writing is that through the power of story-telling we can learn so much about ourselves and others. Stories are the fabric in our lives that keeps our world interesting. It is what stirs our imagination and keeps our kids and grandkids up late at night, pleading to hear just one more book read to them…or hiding under the covers because they can’t let go of their latest find from the library.

This is what I do. This is who I am.