Voices

imagesnotavailableShe wore a long black wool coat. It hung loosely on her body, hiding her size and figure. Her black hair was also long and a bit wild and matted, tinged in grey. I didn’t capture a complete image to bring home with me. Maybe that’s why I love to take pictures. I’m pretty terrible at remembering facial features. (I would be terrible as a witness to a crime.) If I had only had a Rolleiflex camera, I could have looked down into the glass and made one click to capture the beauty of her face.

The homeless. Her dirty backpack, which looked stuffed with her belongings, spoke of her homelessness. Bob noticed her first and asked if we should offer to buy her a beverage. Of course, easy to do as she was sitting at the table next to ours at Starbucks, a bit out of the baristas’ sight, feeling comfortable enough as a non-paying visitor that she took off her snow boots and slipped her feet into soft house slippers. Just a little respite from the cold.

She accepted my offer and requested iced tea. Twenty-five degrees outside and she wanted a cold drink: “Wouldn’t you like something hot?” I offered. “No, just iced tea please.”

She wasn’t surprised that we got her a drink and immediately broke out into conversation, one that I could barely understand. I understood every fourth word she said; later Bob said he got more of it. Children and grandchildren scattered, she hadn’t seen them for over eight years. Now I think of that and wonder if she has their phone numbers. I think of my unlimited calling plan and wonder if she could have used my phone there in Starbucks while I drank my hot mocha.

But I wanted her to have a hot drink.

We think we know what the needy, the homeless and poor need.We certainly think that we know what they need. But there are many reading this who have done mission work and have learned it doesn’t work that way.

She talked quite a lot, but her voice was a problem for me. An accent, years of smoking, an impediment. I couldn’t decipher much of the conversation. I wanted to get going as I was uncomfortable to not be able to respond to much of what she said. Only that she seemed positive about the New Year and said she hoped the last days of this year would also be good. I don’t always feel that hope, and there she was giving it to us in her gravelly, broken voice.

We walked away but I will remember her.

They all have voices. The ones we walk by and turn away from. The ones with signs, begging for change. The Denver homeless even have a newspaper that individuals sell on the 16th Street Mall for two dollars, entitled The Voice. That same day we were in the city I bought one as I always do, but I don’t always take time to read it. I might have even left it behind at one of our other stops.

I want a picture of her to share on this blog page, but I don’t have it. Yet I know the next time you’re in the city, any city, you will see her or him. I want to remember to take time to hear her voice again. Next time I know that I want to be different, be better.

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Friendship

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When I started typing tonight, I wrote “Friends,” because I have reasons to be thinking of friends and what they mean to me. And that word quickly turned into “Friendship.”

It sounds right: friends on a ship. I have a few friends on ships right now.

Tom called today. Our spouses were at a church meeting and maybe he was feeling alone. I sat outside in the warm winter Colorado sun to talk and listen. He talked about a possible move to be closer to his twin brother. We talked about how sad that would be for those of us who would miss him and Ann, but still he said what I was thinking, “It’s another adventure.”

Another couple from our church left Grand Lake in October. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. Maybe it was too painful for them to have a goodbye party. I think their ship, too, is taking them closer to family. And there’s Judy who I met soon after we arrived in this valley. As it turns out, we went to the same high school in Illinois. Our paths met here in the mountains, far from where we grew up. She’s gone now to be near her children.

I’ve met Cathy from high school days in the same way. We met at an Obama celebration party at our house. I asked her where she was from, and within minutes we learned that we were just a class year apart, perhaps even in a club together. Serendipity. And I met Fred at the same party. He was at Eastern Illinois University the same time I was there. We danced that night for gosh sakes! I think of that and it’s just unbelievable that two college kids would meet in their sixties, nine hundred miles from “home” and dance as if time had never passed.

And then there are friends waiting for a grandbaby to arrive. That feels like smooth sailing to me, waiting for a baby, knowing their hearts will be brimming with joy next spring.

Finally, I think of best friends who have sold their ranch and are on their way to new adventures. Of course, they are the reason for my thinking and writing about friendship. There’s a real emptiness in my soul lately, and I know it will be there for quite some time. I drive past their gate nearly every day, and it feels like a home place that is no longer open to me. I think they are going to love traveling, and I can truly imagine some of the adventures they will have. But I’m here. Not sailing toward anything new.

Yet maybe something new is coming. Maybe my next adventure is just around the bend. I will meet new people who are beginning retirement. I’ll meet the people who have bought my friends’ ranch and I will pretend to be happy for them. But if I’m lucky, maybe I will like them and feel true happiness that they are in the neighborhood.

Being open to new experiences, new happenings, new life, new people who step into our lives. Who knows who will step off of the boat next. And if we are willing to greet them and let them in, well, let the adventures begin.

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I Draw the Line At Pork Butt

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We live in a culture of food as king. The NYTimes Magazine just published an entire issue on food and kids, what to feed them. And last week I met a young man who is studying natural medicine. He said that our bodies begin in a perfect state, and if we only put the right things into them, there would be no disease, ailments, syndromes, etc. Well, I’m paraphrasing.

During my junior and senior year of high school I got an allowance every week for lunch. I don’t remember ever going through the cafeteria line to see what the hot meal of the day was. I lived on white milk (probably whole fat) and a wonderful chocolate cake with a white cream filling, rectangular shaped, sold in a cellophane package. Did I know what I was putting in my body? I didn’t think about it. I was saving my daily allowance to shop at Toppers. I was thinking about what to put on my teenaged body. Clothes were certainly more important than food for most of my young life.

Well, until the past several years. Now I think I am a foodie. I had the best quinoa salad yesterday, at the mall for gosh sakes! I bought organic pumpkin flax cereal at the market and naan, my new go-to base for pizza. And a couple of weeks ago I was at a good, not great, restaurant in Grand Lake where they were offering the Friday night special, all-the-shrimp-you-can-eat. I asked the young waiter, who certainly had been putting nicotine into his body, as I was almost put under by his breath, where the shrimp came from.

“You probably don’t know, but where is the shrimp from? I realize you probably don’t have this information,” I asked in an apologetic tone. And he humbly answered, “Well, it comes in a bag.”

Yes, a bag. But it is real, unprocessed food and the shrimp probably don’t cry out when they are scooped up out of their Vietnamese waters. Still, I try to stay away from Asian shrimp. I looked the menu over and thought about pasta. But watching my calories as I perpetually am, I decided on the tuna burger. Delicious. Only now as I write this morning do I realize that I didn’t think of that tuna’s origin. I didn’t even ask. But I bet it came in a bag.

So I’m not a perfect foodie. I love to cook and miss that part of my routine when I’m here in Illinois visiting Mom. Not always easy to maintain my standards in any part of my world, but more difficult here without an equipped kitchen and a husband to share a meal with. Each meal becomes a bit of a challenge.

I’m set for lunch, however. Just called an old high school friend and we’re going to the Cardinal café. Did they win last night? I don’t even know, but he will. We get along well and have lots to talk about it seems though I know when I was eating my devil’s food cake in the high school cafeteria, we didn’t often give each other the time of day.

The Red-Bird, Fred-Bird restaurant filled with all of its Cardinal memorabilia will be serving fried chicken, un-organic, and roast beef, not free-range, with mashed potatoes and gravy, iced tea and pie. Lots of choices. I’ll order without a twinge of guilt because I’m a survivor.

I’ll eat something with Mom at her place tomorrow—maybe. Today they are serving pork butt at lunch. I do have to draw the line somewhere: I draw it at pork butt.

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Alpacas

IMG_4586A few weeks ago one of the guests at Spirit Mountain Ranch asked if we still have llamas at the ranch. “We saw llamas on your website. Do you still have them?” Well, she obviously doesn’t know the difference between a llama and an alpaca, and of course, I don’t have the scientific information, but I do know that when you are traveling down a county road here in the West, you might see a herd of alpacas and one bigger, taller creature among the group. That taller guy is a llama, and he can do a lot of damage to an invading coyote or mountain lion that might want to feast on one of the smaller alpacas.

I had my first experience with the animals four years ago at Lonesome Stone. Linda and Marv are wonderful people who own an alpaca ranch. I always take our out-of-state visitors to their place. The wool in their shop is beautiful and the animals are very photogenic. Very sweet it seems.

Well, looks are deceiving, let me tell you.

After serving breakfast to the guests one morning at the b & b, I was ready to take water to the five alpacas, all boys, who are now residents in the front pasture, taking a holiday at the ranch having munched their way through too much grass at Lonesome Stone.

Bob helped, but in the end really didn’t. Due to his lack of agricultural training and a misunderstanding about the water container, we had to enter the pasture, lift the heavy bin into the field of five wild ones. Within seconds the tallest guy was chasing me. Did he think that I was a female alpaca with my short yellow/white hair?!

I screamed, “Bob, get him off of me.” This animal was six inches away from me the entire time that I was running and screaming toward the gate. Now where were the guests who wanted to see sweet alpacas?

Since then the alpacas have become celebrities in the pasture. Everyone who drives by enjoys seeing them. One of the recent wedding guests called them cute. And the little children at the wedding enjoyed talking to them. I don’t like the big one, obviously, so I warned the kids about him. Mozart is the name. An adult asked it they spit and I answered that they can.

And yes they do.

This morning at eight a.m. a call from Beth. She and Sandy are in Denver where they received a call that the black alpaca was out of the fenced pasture, in the driveway.

Bob and I threw on our jeans, grabbed a bucket to fill with food pellets so we could coax him back into his home. Drove to the ranch and easily got him back into the larger field. But we had to discover his escape route or the others would have eventually found their way out as well. Bob found it but had no tools to repair the break. The only solution was to move them all into the front part of the pasture. This was not a big problem, but the key in the operation was to prevent Mozart from going after me, no redo for me, please!

Of course, you know the inevitable happened. Bob got the food scattered, the boys were eager to get to it. Just as I reached for the holding gate to open it, Mozart made a throat-clearing noise and promptly spit and hissed his stuff onto the side of my face.

A couple of screams from me, the guys made their way to the food, and pronto we were on our way back home.

My first stop was the bathroom and when I looked in the mirror my most distinctive feature was my bed-head hair. I finally understood Mozart’s point of view. My hair, out of shape and certainly out of style, resembled his! I looked a bit like Mozart’s sister! Or a possible wife?!

Too much. Enough of the alpacas. No more trips inside the pasture for me. Cute? I don’t think so.   Maybe you, too, now have a new understanding of these animals.  And BTW these five are for sale. You can find the phone number to call on the little red sign just outside the front pasture at Spirit Mountain Ranch. It’s County Road 41; call for directions and hey, I think you can get them for a good price.

 

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An Advertisement For Good Reading

IMG_9231It’s been the summer of the b & b. Through all of the work of cleaning, weed-whacking, baking, working towards a wedding, helping my dear friends, I’ve been feeling the summer slip by. So little time on the lake, so little time to meander through the days.

But today, while one of the last loads of laundry spun, I read a wonderful story in Granta. Sitting in the shade of fluttering aspen leaves, I read ten pages and felt my inner world come back to me. Stop and smell the roses? I would say, better yet, stop and read a piece of literature. Then you just might reclaim what you thought you had lost.

Granta magazine is my go-to for short pieces, when a book is not at my fingertips or when I lack the energy to start something big. (Have you read the 700 + pages of The Gold Finch? Wonderful, but a real time commitment.)

So on this sunny day with monsoon rains left behind in August, I opened my new Granta, this edition entitled American Wild and read the first story, a piece of non-fiction by Anthony Doerr, “Thing With Feathers That Perches in the Soul.” What a beautiful title. This historical story set in Idaho is about love and making a home. With a lesson at the end:

“What lasts? Is there anything you’ve made in your life that will still be here 150 years from       now? . . . What does not last, if they are not retold, are the stories.. . . Stories need to be resurrected, revivified, reimagined; otherwise they get bundled with us into our graves: a hundred thousand of them going into the ground every hour.

Or maybe they float a while, suspended in the places we used to be, waiting, hidden in plain sight, until a day when the sky breaks and the lights come on and the right person is passing by.

Outside the warehouse, the air seems smokier than before. The sky glows an apocalyptic yellow. Beneath a locust tree at the edge of the parking lot, doves hop from foot to foot. My hands tremble on the steering wheel. I start the engine but for a long minute I cannot drive.

It’s not that the stuff is still here. It’s not that the house still stands. It’s that someone keeps the stuff on shelves. It’s that someone keeps the house standing (Doerr, 21).”

Wow! Doerr is an author for me to check out for winter reading. Fall is coming and with it our early snow. No more reading outdoors but instead I hope hours by the fire, discovering new thoughts and new twists on old ones. Closing this post by wishing all of you great moments of reading and maybe someday a subscription to Granta🙂

P.S.  The picture above is not the b & b!  It’s a structure in New Jersey that came to mind when I read this story about a family and their log cabin in Idaho built in 1863.

 

 

 

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Rocking in Grandpa’s Chair

IMG_3062I can never claim to be impartial when it comes to immigration issues. As a former ESL teacher, I have a soft spot in my heart for immigrants. Yet I know there is a reality that I am not a part of. If I were in a border state right now, I think I would be serving meals, offering a bed, or reading a story to a child who is seeking safety and a new home. Giving love and care in some fashion.

But I don’t know what I would do exactly. It is a complicated, difficult issue, yet compassion is called for in any case. But if I knew the resources of my town and county were stretched, hospitals and schools were overcrowded and too few jobs available, what would I do. Would I offer my own guest room. Would I help children get off of the bus if my neighbors were at the sideline yelling for the illegals to go home.

Now I don’t have to think about that. I’m in Grand County and I’m looking out over sparkling green aspen leaves. I hear the constant trill of the hummingbirds. I can gaze far out onto Gravel Mountain and watch the storm clouds gather. All I have to do within the next hours is fill up the bird feeder with sugar water, fix a fresh green salad for dinner, read my book. I’ve got it all right here.

Yet immigration is on my mind because I saw in the Dallas paper a wonderful picture of a little boy, gazing up at a border patrol agent who was looking over the child’s birth certificate. His name is Alejandro.

This child is on my mind because in my former life I worked with such children. Those children have grown up into successful young men and women. I see them on Facebook. Just a few weeks ago Melissa graduated with a degree as a medical assistant. Adriana served in the armed services and now has a baby. Naz is working at an exclusive Dior shop, and she looks so chic! Michelle has received several honors in college. Adnan has a beautiful baby girl. Gira is studying at NJIT. Maxina became a U.S. citizen last week.

All of these young adults are immigrants. Some experienced war. Some lost parents to violence in their native countries. Most lived in cramped apartments shared with siblings and cousins. All struggled to learn the English language. And one asked me once, “Mrs. Spaet, why don’t the Americans like us.” I experienced heartbreak with these kids. I gave what I could and they gave me a life that had meaning, beyond the joys that my own family gave.

So I sit in my grandfather’s chair today, on my deck in my little corner where there are no angry demonstrations or busses of illegals arriving. All that I can do at this moment is think of the immigrants whom I admire and whom I am so happy to hear from. I hope a few read this blog and know that I still care about them, that this American appreciates the difficult paths that they have traveled.

I sit in Grandpa’s chair and rock, knowing that my family, too, were immigrants, in 1848. They came across the Atlantic in a ship, intending to land in New York, but a hurricane

blew them off course; they ended up in New Orleans and then traveled up the Mississippi River. They started new and prosperous lives in the fertile farmland of the Midwest.   I come from that adventurous stock, a fact that makes me glad. My grandfather’s grandfather came to America as a child, filled with fear and excitement and hope.

Alejandro, whose picture no doubt touched many Americans this week, also has these emotions. He must be a strong boy to have made the journey without family. I rock in Grandpa’s chair on this beautiful, stormy Colorado afternoon and hope and pray for Alejandro and all of the children who are seeking a new life in America.

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Blue Fish

 

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A Costa Rican picture I didn’t capture: a blue fish at low tide. We were newly exploring the reef  just off the Playa Pelada. Wading into a tidal pool only several inches deep, I espied the edge of something bright blue, mostly hidden under a ledge. It looked like a pool toy, one of those puffy ones you throw in and dive for. But could it be something alive!

Bob went back to the beach to get a stick so we could poke at it. We didn’t dare touch it. Then a few minutes after he was gone, this inanimate object came to life and swam into the pool. Amazing.  A bright, bright, shocking blue fish with white dots. Of course, I was for once unencumbered by my camera, so no pictures this time. Only in my mind’s eye, and there it still remains very clearly.

On a hot, sunny Easter afternoon we saw this most beautiful fish, cooly swimming alone, a bright spot in the pool, so unexpected and such a treat for us. We returned several late afternoons at low tide and saw the same fishes—perhaps puffers—one yellow and one a duller blue. But that one crazy blue fish will always be a reminder to me of what surprises the world has to offer.

My lesson for this as I prepare to post my pictures may be this: the most vivid images are those that don’t end up on the digital card.  I, nevertheless, continue to try, carrying my camera over my shoulder almost everywhere I go.

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