I love the whole idea of a National Day on Writing, which is today, October 19, 2012. Writing has a big-time presence in my life as I launch my personal historian business where I am capturing stories and legacies. Admittedly, I am going to reveal my era! As I look back to my childhood, some of the first memories I have of writing will forever be etched in my mind. The thick leaded pencil with its forest green exterior and topped with a hardy pink eraser was paired with a red Big Chief tablet of ruled paper in preparing me to learn the craft of writing. As a kindergartener, I toted these trusty items in my brown zippered portfolio (no I did not have a pocket protector as a teen) and clamored aboard the big yellow school bus, taking these writing tools to and from school with me. Admittedly, they frequently came out on the school bus, where I would doodle with a neighbor girl to create some pretty silly pictures by the time I dismounted the bus. Fast-forward to 2012 and in contrast, I carefully zip my personal computer laptop into its protective padded fabric “skin” and then slip it into my canvas briefcase to accompany me to a nearby coffee shop for a writing session. On long road trips, I have the appropriate adapter that keeps my laptop powered to 100% so that I may write or even edit photos while in the passenger seat.
In retrospect, I received so much satisfaction in carefully printing my name across the top of a sheet of paper. It was indeed a proud achievement, and especially when Miss Foster, my kindergarten teacher, would display it along with my classmates’ work, on the cinder block walls of Longfellow Elementary School in time for parent visits. As time passed, words and sentences accompanied colorful Crayola-created illustrations, which helped to enrich my story or thoughts. It would be a generation later that I would also see my children do so in similar fashion until they approached 2nd-5th grades. It was at this pivotal time that our world moved to computer technology in the schools. While their messages were there, instead of the typical lead-pencil renditions, perfectly printed letters in thick font captured the story. Then the stories were printed off on the classroom printer through the magic of software. Today, my grown children and I often stay in touch via text messages, Facebook posts, or emails. These are nearly instantaneous forms of letter-writing and communication, but of course without the pencil and paper method. Instead of illustrations to accompany their messages, I look forward to Instagrams or forwarded images saved from memory disks.
On this National Day on Writing, I would like to express my gratitude for those who trained me in the gift of writing as a way to communicate with others. My parents and elementary teachers, who helped me carefully master the capital and lower-case alphabet letters in my name. My junior high teacher, Miss Abel, who patiently reviewed the important structures of a sentence through laborious sentence diagrams. My college professors, who instilled the desire to write as a form of expression, whether sharing my opinion or my research. And, lastly, to my memoir writing instructor in Denver, who encouraged a thoughtful approach for capturing life stories.
Alas, here is to the gift of writing! Writing as with reading can take one on adventures to places near or far, to scenes simple or involved, and to spaces in our minds or in our hearts.
As you look back over your life, feel free to share recollections of learning to write. I'd love to learn your story!
Today I came across the notes from a travel writing class that I took last June. Feeling a need to regain some sanity in the mix of the hustle-bustle of late, I decided to spend the day writing a few more stories for my memoir and using some of the tips that my writing instructor shared. I continually add to my memoir by writing short-stories of 500-1500 words that are based on my experiences or observations. This one happens to be of our day on the Isle of Skye back in June 2010. If you ever get an urge to travel, I would highly encourage you to consider Scotland. Here goes my story, Travels with Crayolas. I've included a few photos to accompany this story. Enjoy!
Crossing to the Isle of Skye from Rosshire seemed like we were entering a magical, fairy-tale world. During my childhood, I had relished tales of Scotland from my Grandpa Horace McLennan. While he never journeyed to Scotland, his father, Lachlan, immigrated from Lochcarron in 1869. Thus, Grandpa heard many a tale from his father, including what likely were heavily embellished stories and quite characteristic of good Scottish storytelling. As I gazed through the windshield, the colors of the day’s journey reminded me of my Crayola crayons that accompanied me to grade school each fall. In fact I close my eyes now and think back to June 29, 2010, with the range of colors that Steve and I discovered on the Isle of Skye.
First to greet us was the Highland bagpiper with his tartan of blues and reds. He played mournful tunes near the mainland side of the Skye Bridge. We pulled off to admire the songs with their full sound emanating from the bagpipes. In response to my presence, the piper shared a friendly smile between tunes, but offered no conversation. I quickly realized that this gentle soul was blind. Adhering to a customary and respectful gesture, we left some coins in the plaid hat at his feet as a thank you prior to requesting a photo. Behind this gifted musician, the purple heather and spikes of Scottish thistles grew in clusters and clumps. Tarrying no longer, Steve and I continued our journey over the sleek toll-free bridge as it crossed the deep blue Kyle of Lochalsh.
Stark white dots moving along the green pastures were recognizable as the all-too-familiar grazing sheep. Countless times during our 10 days in the Scottish Highlands, we frequently waited for these fleecy creatures to clear the road in front of our compact rental car. Admittedly, I couldn’t help but feel pensive by their presence for they were a sad reminder of the Highland Clearances that prevailed in the 1800s, where the land lords found they could reap more money from raising sheep than their poor tenant crofters could make for them. Many a Highland crofter and his family were forced from their meager means to flee to larger cities for work or to seek a new life in a foreign land, such as my McLennan ancestors did. As we made our way on the gray, winding and narrow road, we came within feet of the sheep, with their bellowing BLEATS.
I continued to mentally select crayons from the Crayola box of my childhood as we drove through the rocky hills of the Isle. In Elgol Along the Sea, I stood on the rocky shore with its smooth yellow-green seaweed covered rocks. The fresh sea breeze swept my black bangs from my forehead, letting the gold sunlight warm my skin. Light-blue seal watching tour boats with red trim created V-ripples behind them in the teal salt water as they approached the small weathered pier. On the horizon, the Cuillin Hills stood grandly with their deep shadows and forest green hues enhanced by the overhead clouds. In the cold water at my feet, the Cuillins’ shimmering reflections joined those of the brilliant sky blue heavens and meandering white clouds, causing me to pause in awe.
Stepping carefully from one slippery damp stone to another and avoiding several colorful purple and rust jelly fish, I peered into the clear tidal pools to see tiny red-orange crabs feeling their way with crustacean pincers through the tan granules of sand. Were they in search of dinner? White and gray cawing sea gulls certainly were. Though they playfully swooped in wide circles above Steve and me as the incoming wind currents urged them upward toward the azul sky over the little village. Looking at the hillside community that laced back and forth across the hill, I could see a few cozy cottages of white-washed stone. Even in late June, dark gray curls of smoke wafted from one of the blackened stone chimneys, likely from a peat fire used to remove the chill of its stone interior for the family. Along the pier was a dozen neatly stacked lobster traps with bright orange netting, dull silver linked chains, black and white buoys, and a few stray strands of silky green seaweed clinging to the buoys. The traps were ready for the next day’s trip to harvest lobsters from the sandy sea floor. Surely, coast side eateries would quickly serve them up to diners for a hefty price.
Making our way from sea level up the inclined 25%-grade road, we lingered for a moment so I could capture a rather humorous snapshot. Looking as if it stopped in its tracks with a final load, an old blue Land Rover pick-up truck with dimpled dents was parked along the road side. The black tires had thick heavy-duty treads ready to handle a nasty winter storm or a rugged Highland road. The back wheels rested in a pile of chalky gravel, perhaps truly its final load after years of toil. Poor “Old Blue” as I would have named him. Along the nearby ditch, a stony-gray fence about 3 feet high and created from the rocks cleared from the pastured fields followed the road.
Heading inland and in a remote place between villages, we approached a bright red telephone booth along the roadside complete with a gravel pull-out. There was nary a home, business, or soul nearby, simply this pause in the landscape to offer a quick phone call to a passing motorist. It seemed such an oddity to encounter this funny sight, but it was one that was repeated throughout the Highlands. We were reminded of the comforts of home to which we’d grown accustomed in a country filled with infrastructure and ease of communication.
Desiring a hike on the Isle of Skye, we read about the custom of being free to walk or hike wherever one would like. The only stipulations are that the hikers not disrupt the livestock or the vegetation. My berry red camera case in hand, I wound through the passage gate and followed Steve on the rugged footpath. The Cullihin Hills still in the distance served as our horizon marker. Certainly we could walk for the nearly 10 miles and reach them! However, being ones who like to stop for flora and views (or perhaps I should clarify that my shutterbug tendency creates the need to stop), we managed to walk a mere 2 miles due to a lack of time. Two outstanding highlights were experienced by Steve and me, and needed to be photographed: delicate purple heather juxtaposed against angled rocks and the light brown strand of an inlet where a white seaside home stood below us.
Upon completing our short trek and with stomachs growling from hunger pangs, Steve and I drove winding A87 to an equally picturesque location on the Isle, that of Sligachan. The Sligachan Inn sported Seumas’ Bar. Perfect for wayfarers, it was brimming with laughter, music, warmth from a fireplace, and the amazing scent of food. Steve and I ordered what served as a perfect late lunch. One large battered fillet was served, gold and crispy, and definitely delicate to the palate. Scooped along-side the fish was a generous helping of bright green peas, cooked to perfection, which means not mushy in my book. The thick golden chips had the same nice texture on the outside as the fillet. Sprinkled with a little dark vinegar, our lunch was one that we continue to recall to this day!
Alas, it was time to bid farewell to this magical Isle. After crossing the Skye Bridge and driving through Plockton, we were halted by a small herd of massive Highland cattle with their long mangy burnt-orange fur and wide-spanning horns. Like the annoying sheep, we couldn’t budge until they lumbered from the road and into the ditch. Our route took us around the gentle curve of Loch Carron. A monochromatic scheme of blues seem to fill all of the spaces between the water, the landscape, the mountains, and the sky.
Twenty minutes later Steve pulled into the parking space at the Old Manse Inn in Slumbay along the shores of Loch Carron. The tide was gradually advancing. The evening began to cast its hushed and lower light resulting in a pastel palette that broke free from the range of blues. Hand in hand, we stood and watched as pink, peach, periwinkle, and violet crept into the sky above us. Then the twinkle of lights in cottage windows through the village of Lochcarron became evident, one by one.
At that moment, I felt like I was carefully placing each one of my crayons back into my school bus gold and hunter green cardboard box with the word Crayola stamped on front, back, and top. With their waxy tips pointed up and placed in a neat row, I whispered a thank you for the many colors of the day. Then as I’ve done a multitude of times, I tucked the flap inside, closing the top. I set my Crayola box aside until I could break them free once again to cast their brilliant hues across the Highland landscape as we continued our color-filled journey.
This past Friday, busting with admiration and filled with thanksgiving, I watched my husband, Steve, graduate with his Master of Art degree in Conflict Resolution. Do you ever feel like you need to be pinched in order to double-check reality? The need for pinching really began when Steve slipped on his black commencement regalia with the folds draping to mid-calf and then added his colorful academic collar, its crimson and gold satins representing the University of Denver and the soft white fabric edge designating the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.
From our rented bungalow last Friday, we walked to campus hand-in-hand together down Asbury as we have done countless times over the past 22 months. This time I was plodding along in uncomfortable shoes and at a much slower pace than usual, feeling the need to be pinched back to reality. Dressed in a long-sleeve shirt and dress slacks, Steve was baking in the abundant sunshine with perspiration beading on his forehead, carrying his regalia draped over one arm. Our conversation was hit and miss, likely because we were both focused on this moment, which always seemed to be embedded in the future, but was now 60 minutes away. For me, my tears of pride and relief seemed to hide just behind my eyelids, though could easily streak down my face with very little prompting.
Once on campus and in the shade of a young tree, Steve donned his regalia, posed for the requisite photo from this endearing fan, gave me a quick kiss, and walked toward the graduates' entrance. Walking alone to nab seven seats for our family, I saw other excited graduates heading for their entrance. Along with me were parents, grandparents, and likely other spouses and children filing into Magness Arena hoping to find prime seating. Feeling overwhelmed by the number of people already in seats, my quick reaction was to simply stop and ask a kind usher where I would find a good spot for myself and six others to watch my husband graduate. He pointed to a section that seemed to repel people for very few guests were seated there. Most people were packing into the auditorium directly behind where the graduates would be seated. I slipped through the crowd, walked to the sixth row of the sparsely populated section, and easily grabbed enough seats for our family.
Through the wonders of texting, the rest of the family joined me as if on cue. The usual pomp and circumstance filled the arena that was thick with black robes, colorful academic collars, and great anticipation. The graduate candidates filed into the arena while families shouted and cheered from the surrounding sides of the arena. Those of us with cameras behaved more like the paparazzi as flashes flickered repeatedly. Amazingly, Steve's college was seated in front of our section, so we could not have planned our seating arrangements better. The big screens that hung from the arena's ceiling were a perfect way to see the graduates who one by one stepped forward to be congratulated with handshakes. When the name "Steven Felt" was called out, our entourage of seven gave a shout out to him. His smile reached from ear to ear as he moved the 2012 tassel from one side of his black mortarboard to the other, signifying the rite of passage from Master's Candidate to Master's Graduate. In a blink of the eye, he was off the stage, back at his seat, and waving to us.
Celebrations go hand-in-hand with graduations. We attended a recognition reception last Thursday and a morning breakfast on Friday. The open house that we hosted on Friday evening directly following graduation was a fantastic time to say thank you to family and friends who gathered to help us rejoice with Steve on his wonderful accomplishment. We are especially grateful for our family for their support: our son, Jeremy; daughter-in-law, Michelle; daughter, Stephanie; son-in-law, Shane; and, Steve's Mom, Lois.
Now, with great joy and gratitude, Steve and I find the corner of the final page of this chapter of our book, carefully bringing it to the left to join the preceding pages. Time to pause, reflect, and begin our next chapter.
Finally....I met Mary! She’s the sweet lady who I wrote about in my February blog (we met due to my former neighbors’ Christmas display of a cross and manger and the photo that I took of this moving display). An idea soon bubbled up, which my daughter Stephanie felt I should act upon. I gave Mary a call and asked her if I may stop and see her while traveling through Kansas City. Typically, our driving route across the Great Plains is done quickly on I-80. This time, though, my intention was to avoid I-80 with its zooming traffic, and instead opt to take I-70, which provides a much calmer drive across Kansas. I was thinking along the lines of taking Mary to dinner. Though once I shared my idea with Mary, I not only had an invitation to stop, but a welcome to spend the night and to speak at her “Wildwood House of Prayer” ministry the morning following my stay with her.
Upon arriving at Mary’s, it hit me that I was only familiar with her voice, having just enjoyed phone conversations up to this point. As the door to her lovely estate home swung open, there stood an attractive woman with a big smile on her face and snow-white hair. We exchanged hugs and smiles, standing in disbelief that finally were seeing each other. The evening flew by quickly as we seemed to converse almost non-stop. Mary took me to one of her favorite dining spots, which offered good home-style cooking. As I left early that morning from Salina with several stops in Kansas City en route to Mary’s, I didn’t allow time for a proper breakfast and only taking time for a handful of walnuts and almonds to go along with a cereal bar for lunch.
The next morning I was up before dawn to finalize the talk that I would give later than morning at the Wildwood House of Prayer. The House of Prayer is Mary’s ministry to people in the Parkville, Missouri area. Mary offers Bible studies and provides guest speakers. As their Wednesday guest speaker, I decided to share my faith journey and passion for photography with the ladies. Despite having been with Mary for less than 20 hours, I left filled with such respect and admiration for her. She is quite a lady, who is passionate about her faith. I am delighted that I finally met Mary!
This morning I received a call from Mary, an 83 year old woman, who I have never met face to face and who lives in Parkville, Missouri. For roughly 45 minutes, we talked about our faith, Steve and my possible endeavors on the horizon, and a couple of stories from her life (for instance, she picked cotton in Mississippi as a girl). In today's call, she mentioned that she was re-reading our Christmas letter and was so touched by the last paragraph, which Steve penned. Could she please use it as a message to share with others in her House of Prayer Ministry? Steve was quick to say yes, trusting my friendship with Mary.
How is it that I've never had the pleasure of meeting Mary in person? She's not on Facebook and doesn't use a computer, so it isn't as if we met through electronic media. Well, we met through a photo! In 2007 I took a photo of a cross and manger scene that graced the front yard of our Batavia friends, Bob and Lois. The December snowfall quietly came down that evening with streetlight and floodlight providing the "light" needed to bring the cross and manger its warm welcoming glow. I had been sitting at my desk on the second floor of our Batavia house, when I glanced out the window to be instantly wooed by the scene across the street. I grabbed my Nikon D-80, tripod, and remote, quickly donned my winter coat, and called Bob and Lois, "Could I please take some photos of your cross and manger scene?" I asked.
From the resulting image, I ordered a 5X7 for them as a thank you for providing this beautiful scene. In fact, they enjoyed the photo so much that they asked to use it for their 2008 Christmas card. Then in October 2009, Mary, a friend of Bob and Lois' who received their Christmas card in 2008 contacted them for my phone number. Mary wanted permission to use my photo for her Christmas card, which I granted and provided her with the digital file. She sent out the card along with a poem that she was inspired to write about the powerful image and dozens of people now have it. As the result of her initial call back in 2009, I've had numerous and lovely phone calls with her.
In November 2011 she called me after an absence in contact of 18 months. Fortunately, she had my cell phone number as Steve and I had moved to Denver since our last conversation. Mary wanted to order an 8X10 and a 5X7 of the photo for her House of Prayer Ministry in Parkville. This is a ministry that she runs out of her former home on an acreage, which when rented years before sustained thousands of dollars of damage due to the tenants' intentional vandalism before vacating. Despite her son's initial reaction to tear the house down and start over, she and her family renovated it from the "ashes" (the tenants even went so far as to set the wood flooring on fire) and created a ministry. She found inspiration from God that she should do something special with the home. Thus, she began the House of Prayer, which provides a weekly program, a refuge for those out of work or for visiting missionaries, a library of inspirational books, and a special place for hospitality.
I thank God for inspiring me to take the photo back in 2007, for Bob and Lois in sending a card to Mary, and the building friendship that I've enjoyed with Mary over the last two years. She is such an inspiration as well. I may just drive through Missouri on the way back from Steph and Shane's wedding in March. I believe it is time to meet Mary!
We had another productive Saturday work session with Steve's cousins on their parents' (who passed away in September and December) home today. However, the realization is that there is so much more to do. We feel a sense of accomplishment in what we've done, but the reality is that there is so much more to address. Their approach to setting aside a concrete time-frame together on a Saturday morning, every 4-6 weeks, is a great way to tackle it, for upon entering the home and seeing all of the "stuff" can immediately feel overwhelming.
If you have "stuff" that you never use anymore, please do not save it for your family to deal with later, unless you think it has sentimental value or monetary value. If you think it has monetary value, do the legwork for them and substantiate the value by getting the item appraised or providing a receipt. If you have an item of sentimental value, please write down the sentimental story. Why? It could easily be considered just another item in the plethora of items in your household.
Another way to look at the "stuff" in life, is that it's not necessarily the "stuff" in life that we should cling to, but rather the relationships or having more free time for yourself. Freeing yourself or your descendants to enjoy the relationships or extra time may be one of the biggest gifts you can provide yourself or them one day! Each item that you possess takes some time from you. For example, when you dust your house, how many objects do you have to lift or shift to dust your furniture? The time it takes to lift or shift, is time away from a relationship or your doing something you really want to do. Consider all of the time that would eventually accumulate? Or, how many times have you moved, only to pack, load, move, unload, and unpack? Why not invest your time with your family or friends?
What techniques do you have for getting rid of stuff? I'd love to have you share your ideas.
As part of writing classes last year through University of Denver's University College and Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver I began writing some short stories as part of my memoir. I've decided to take it to this blog as a fun way to share it with others. I will occasionally share my stories.
An easy way to write your own memoir is simply through short stories that come to mind from your life. Sometimes a quick write of 500-1000 words covers a story. While I cannot recall each detail specifically, I use some creative license and personality traits to add depth, as I write. May you reflect on what your story may look like and the chapters that you might include. Stories are not unique, in fact, it is amazing how similar our stories can be, which makes them even more special.
What is your favorite story involving a snowfall as a kid, if you lived near snow? Please respond, I'd love to hear from you. Here is mine:
The Snowball Team, circa 1972
By Diane McLennan Felt
The early March snow fell in big wet snowflakes. With mouths opened wide, I, being the oldest at 17, along with my siblings, Charlene, Laurie, Susan, and Charles tried to capture the cold, moist flakes somewhat like baby robins with opened mouths eagerly anticipating wiggly worms. We had just arrived home on the bright gold school bus which Daddy drove for one of the Belle Plaine School District’s rural routes. Having endured a longer than normal bus ride due to the falling snow, we were all ready to engage in some playtime in the fresh snow.
Daddy always had a gift for throwing balls, since baseball was a childhood passion of his. To him it seemed second nature then to scoop up that wet snow and mold it into heavy snowballs, the size of baseballs. We quickly snapped our mouths shut when we heard his chuckle following the throw of his first snowball. It was as if he gave us the license to break the rules which we heard at recess during the elementary years on snowy days. “Do NOT throw snowballs”, the teachers and principals would warn through their cardboard megaphones. “You could hurt someone or something!”
Quickly Charlene scooped up her wad of snow, shaped it into a ball, and threw it at the old maple tree. Laurie shot hers at the side of the 70-year-old garage, where the snow held firmly in place like plaster. We continued making our way down the farmhouse driveway toward the barnyard where literally all hell broke loose. Susan’s snowball smacked against the scale house. The icy bomb that Charles threw landed on the corn crib’s corrugated metal roof. My throw made its mark on the rusty-red siding of the hay barn. As our snowballs whizzed back and forth they shot through the air like icy streaks. Pock marks in the half-foot of snow were evidence of many of our packed missiles.
The quietness of the falling snow enveloped us, making our cheerful laughter appear muffled and close. Large snowflakes came plummeting straight down from the heavens. Thuds, like launching fireworks, continued to resonate off of the corn crib, the scale house, and the hay barn with each throw of a snowball. With Daddy’s chuckles serving as encouragement, we worked our way around the barnyard and at the same time we were careful not to aim for one another. Daddy reminded us, “This snow is so wet, kids, that it would hurt if it hit someone.” We all chimed back, “Okay, Daddy, don’t worry, we’ll be careful.”
As if on cue, the five of us kids stopped to watch Daddy scoop up yet another handful of snow. He firmly molded it between his two large mittened hands. Then he swung back his right arm and lobbed it high as if throwing a fly ball. This particular snowball seemed to be suspended as it hit its apogee near the outer edges of the earth’s atmosphere. All eyes watched this spectacular throw with mouths open in awe. “Whish-h-h-h!” went the snowball as it hit the two black electric wires that crossed the barnyard to the farmhouse. “Sputter-sputter-sputter,” went the sparks that flew as the wires twisted.
A new silence fell on the six of us as we stood in amazement. However, the silence was quickly broken by a clear voice coming from the house. “Chuck, we have lost power Dear!” Mama called out. Daddy’s reaction included his throwing his Funk’s G hat onto the snow in frustration. Our reaction was to stop throwing snowballs. The six of us made our way to the house like scolded puppies with tails between their legs. In chagrin, Daddy admitted to the grievance at hand as we reached the house, telling everyone that he should have known better and apologizing to Mama.
As the five of us children entered the cold front porch, we quietly stripped off our wet winter coats, snow-clad mittens, and damp boots. Between our sweaty bodies and the damp wool, we were a smelly sight to behold. Typically we would look forward to some hot cocoa on a chilly day like this. However, today a soothing hot drink wasn’t to be enjoyed. Mama quickly made a fire in the black Franklin Stove in the family room. We warmed our tingling fingers, chilled toes, and rosy cheeks, sitting shoulder to shoulder at the stove. With dusk quickly approaching, all Mama could think about was a night without lights, without a hot meal for the family, and without warm heat from our furnace. Mama was always one for adventure, but undoubtedly this type of adventure wasn’t one she anticipated on this snowy and chilly March day.
The daylight minutes were quickly passing so Daddy got to work in resolving the power outage. First, he turned off the main power switch to the place, next he drove the stock truck so it was beneath the twisted wires in the middle of the barnyard, then he carefully leaned a long ladder against the truck. Climbing the ladder, he was able to reach the wires safely and untangle them. Fortunately, with the flip of the main switch, power was restored and so were all relationships, especially between Mama and Daddy. The lights came back to life, the refrigerator hummed, and the oil furnace kicked on. Most importantly, Mama shared a smile with all of us, announcing, “Looks like Daddy got things fixed!” The five of us kids cheered, “Yeah Daddy!”
As Daddy entered the front porch stomping the snow off of his boots and unzipping his heavy winter coat, Mama greeted him at the kitchen door, winked at him, gave him a quick kiss, and said, “Chuck Darling, sometimes you don’t know your own power!” Then off she went to make some hot cocoa for her playful snowball team!
Having not fallen off the face of the earth, but allowing life to side-track me and not to blog, I now look beyond to a New Horizon in 2012. We anticipate several delightful occasions this year and several key transitions. The significant events which we will savor include the marriage of our daughter, Stephanie, to her wonderful fiance, Shane, in a late March ceremony with their families. In June Steve will graduate with his masters degree in Conflict Resolution. In early July we hope to attend at least a portion of the Sesquicentennial (150th) celebration of my hometown, Belle Plaine, Iowa. In October our nephew, Drew, will marry his lovely fiancee, Tiffany, in Amana, Iowa.
Ah yes, the transitions that await us this year will provide the impetus to "gettin' on the move" once again! The $64,000 question is, "Will we remain in the Denver area?" Later this spring, I will resume my job search with hopes of finding meaningful work in Denver with health insurance benefits (of key importance). Sometime after graduation, Steve will begin his job search or begin consulting. By July 31, we need to have our next living arrangement in place, so yet another move will occur by that date. Having downsized thrice in as many years, we will continue to discern what else no longer remains a possession, but would be better sold or donated.
Reflecting back on 2011, I'd like to update. At the last writing in May, we reached the one year mark since driving away from Batavia. In May we delighted in travel updates from our son, Jeremy, and daughter-in-law, Michelle, who were traveling Europe. In June Steve and I hiked in the hills (Rocky Mountains and foothills) a couple of times, some paths still greeting us with snow and others providing dry sandier paths. On June 5 we drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park only to come to a natural road block as 12 feet of snow stood firmly on the road in front of us with a parking lot providing a handy U-turn. Large industrial-sized snow blowers were busily working at shifting the snow from the roadways to an adjacent mountain lake as the National Park was determined to open Trail Ridge Road for the season, albeit later than typical from the record-setting snowfall in Colorado. Also in June a call came from our traveling duo in Europe, informing us of their desire to return to the U.S. Having spent time in Ireland, Wales, England, France, and Spain, they were satisfied with their two months abroad, including several days of walking on the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James).
Over an extended July 4th weekend, we met our long-time fun-buddies, John and Karen (from Bozeman, Montana), in the Heber Valley of Utah with spectacular views of the Wasatch Range. Hiking, biking, eating local fare, and stargazing were at the top of the list of favorites with them. By mid-July, Steve and I were off to Arizona to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary belatedly, with a 2-day stay in Tucson to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins. Going north to Sedona, we remained a week playing in the dry Arizona heat. Whether it was hiking into picturesque red-rock canyons or madly negotiating single tracks on our mountain bikes, the week flew past beneath the deep blue skies of Arizona. The three predominant colors in the vista each day, "Tres Colores", as I called them, were red, green, and blue. In observance of our 35th anniversary and the traditional gift being coral, we stopped in the Monument Valley area of the Navajo Nation, where we commissioned Lawrence Crank, a Navajo artist, to craft an intricately designed coral-colored Navajo wedding vase with a beautiful story crafted from Navajo native symbols. From Monument Valley we made our way to Arches National Park, where we witnessed a spectacular sunset and had a cabin stay in Moab for the night.
Returning home, we were greeted by Jeremy and Michelle, who stopped in Denver for two weeks to visit Grandma and us as part of their moving journey from Illinois to Portland, Oregon. (Here we go....another part of our family moves from Illinois.) Time together with them was too brief, yet lovely. Within days, Steve and I were off again on another driving trek across the Midwest, while at the same time Jeremy and Michelle were en route to Portland. Steve and I drove across the Great Plains with stops to visit family members and friends in Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Two days were spent along the shores of Lake Michigan in Door County, Wisconsin with Stephanie and Shane. At the end of July, and just days prior to leaving on our Midwest trip, Stephanie and Shane made the decision to leave Illinois and move to Denver (yes...more moves from the Felt family). Thus, part of our trip to Illinois included loading our mini-van to the hilt with some of their prized possessions, which we brought back to our home. Steph and Shane arrived later in September with their car loaded, having sold all of their furniture and remaining household possessions. Needless to say, we are all living in cozy style in our rented Denver bungalow as a two-generation home.
September arrived as did Steve's second year of graduate school. He hit the ground running with 15 credit hours, his on-going internship at the Denver Court Mediation Services, and teaching a weekly class at The Conflict Center. Sadly, we lost Steve's Aunt Nomy from Denver in September after a lengthy decline. In October extended family arrived, providing several opportunities to gather surrounding Aunt Nomy's memorial service. By the end of October, I managed to fulfill my role on an Event Planning Team for the annual fundraiser gala for Seeking Common Ground. It was a very successful event and one which I enjoyed immensely.
November was filled with paper writing and project completion for Steve. My volunteer focus shifted to interviewing church members as part of a Narrative Legacy (story-telling) project. My side work has been that of family archivist, so I have been imbedded in the archives, sorting, purging extraneous items, and scanning. I've created several albums using Snapfish. Most recently I've devoted many hours to writing and creating updates for my Patterson-McLennan and Plumb-McLennan lineage, which will be shared with family and my hometown for the upcoming Sesquicentennial. In December we took advantage of frequent flyer mileage, about to expire, and took a 6-day trip to Portland. We thoroughly delighted in the time with Jeremy and Michelle as they excitedly shared their new environs and introduced their new friends to us. One day Jeremy drove us to the Pacific Coast, where we were captured by its stunning beauty and curiosities, including the tidal pools at low-tide and basalt rock formations called sea stacks.
Returning to Denver, we were coming off such a cherished time with Jeremy and Michelle in Portland, only to return to more sadness, as Uncle Cliff died during our Oregon trip. Having suffered from a grieving heart of having lost his dear Nomy 10 weeks prior, he could now be at peace. Thus Christmas was bittersweet as we played games, shared in meals, and engaged in great laughter, only to feel sadness at the passing of another family member and seeing cousins grapple with a the loss of a second parent in such a short span. This year we also lost dear friends, which only reminds us of the fragile nature of life.
As I write this, snowfall is gracing us with a new 3 inch coat of white. Steve is doing laundry during breaks from reading books for his course. Jeremy is working for a virtual company in web development, while sitting in the comfort of his home-office in Portland. Michelle continues to create the most delicious raw-ingredient dishes and keeping her Feed Your Skull website updated. Stephanie arrived home from her job at an ice arena's Starbucks shop to inform us of being promoted to manager. And, Shane has shoveled the walks yet again.
Happy New Year.....and may you have a New Horizon on which to set your gaze!
One year ago today, we drove west out of Batavia with our household loaded onto two "move-yourself" trucks. The prior day Jeremy and Stephanie went into major support mode when they learned that we needed a 2nd truck at the last minute and no one to spell Steve and I from our 1,000 mile drive. Fortunately, they shifted gears, re-arranged their schedules, and accompanied us. Not only was it a relief to not have solo drives ahead of us in those big trucks, it was a gift of time with our son and daughter.
Yes, it is 365 days later...1 year...and I sit at my desk in our rental home in Denver on this sun-filled day listening to Nick Drake music (thanks to Steph), watching traffic zipping past, bikes cruising with tidy baskets strapped to their handlebars, and walkers strolling along our sidewalk, which is 15 feet away. Today Steve and I celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary, making it feel almost surreal to realize where life has taken us from a cozy and oft-times more predictable lifestyle in Chicagoland's suburbia after 32 years to student life and no employment in Denver. We are truly grateful beyond words for this past year and all that we've experienced. On April 1, 2010, we still didn't know if Steve would go to school in Oregon, Virginia, or Colorado. By mid-April we knew our destination, and I quickly scrambled to reserve moving trucks, storage space, and gave no thought to where we would live in Denver since the summer was filled with travels to faraway lands first. In early May we held a bang-up garage sale which left us very much downsized. Steve's final day at INSTEC was on May 15. Goodbyes and farewells took place, many with heart-felt tears as we knew that the distance and time would make it more difficult to remain in touch. And now, a year later, we can look back and say that we survived our first year away from "home" a.k.a. Illinois!
Okay....update time! I'm happy to report that last Thursday was my last and 30th Spanish class of the year. While I've appreciated this Spanish brush-up, the last quarter was a bit lackluster as we went from 15 students during my 2nd quarter to 4 students, including a newcomer with very little Spanish background. The pace slowed like a bug wading through molasses. Needless to say, I'm reconsidering my options next year and may opt for something different. I'm enthralled by variety in life, something that I'm realizing is a trait I may have inherited from my Mom! Recently I took a full-day writing workshop through Lighthouse Writers Workshop of Denver and I'm scheduled for another one in 10 days. I will engage in some soul-searching over the summer as to whether I take any classes in the fall.
With the shelving of my job search temporarily, I've acquired some exciting volunteer opportunities. I've met with our associate pastor twice as we begin to put together a spiritual life-review process to conduct with our congregation's oldest members. She tells me that we have several folks who are centenarians. Our goal is to interview them and preserve their stories as a legacy for the church community. If this is well-received, it could feasibly grow into something more expansive.
A second opportunity is leading the planning committee of Seeking Common Ground's annual awards breakfast, held in October. SCG is a non-profit which promotes "building peaceful communities personally, locally, and globally." They reach out to Israeli and Palestinian teens, bringing them to Colorado each summer to be paired with American teens for a two-week time period through SCG's Building Bridges for Peace program. The goal is to provide an avenue for the Israeli and Palestinian teens to gain respect for one another and to teach them an approach which they can share back in their home communities. The American teens gain an awareness regarding global peace plus building bridges across cultures.
The third volunteer opportunity is actually a short-term commitment through Lunch Box Express. Once a week for the next 4 weeks, I'll be passing out boxed lunches to children up to 18 years of age. The Food Bank of the Rockies runs a summer program for children across Colorado who typically receive lunch and sometimes breakfast at school during the year. They are passionate about providing lunch to as many children as possible so the kids can at least receive one meal each day. The Lunch Box Express is a sub-group of this effort, targeting specific schools in one of the neediest school districts in the Denver Metro area. We will load up a van with lunches and drive it to three-to-four different schools each day. Needless to say, it takes committed volunteers, training to cover state and federal guidelines, and a ton of logistics.
Unbelievably, Steve is in the final stretch of his first year of graduate school at the University of Denver (DU). His last class was on Friday. Today he has stationed himself in his outdoor office after discovering that our wi-fi works on our covered patio! Due this week are four papers of varying lengths. Needless to say, he considers this a crunch week. By Friday evening, he should have all of his papers submitted. During this quarter he's had a practicum, which takes him to Jefferson County's justice system in Golden. He engages in co-mediations with established mediators. A few weeks ago he also added an internship to the mix. He co-mediates in Denver County's justice system in downtown Denver. Here he'll eventually experience solo-mediating as the summer goes along. Between landlord-tenant disputes, child-custody issues, divorce settlements, and a plethora of other cases, human behavior is quite interesting to say the least. One divorce mediation in which Steve was involved, lasted 6 hours and pleasantly ended in resolution, where the parties agreed to the terms of the divorce without a judge's intervention. Mediation can save the justice systems thousands of hours and dollars each year! Unfortunately, mediation is almost all volunteer-based at this level. Nonetheless, it is good experience.
Steve continues to volunteer at The Conflict Center once a week. He's co-teaching his second series of classes as part of the rigorous volunteer training program at The Conflict Center. Probably this fall he'll be able to teach solo. The Conflict Center essentially provides anger management training to teens and their parents, which is either court- or school-appointed. After so many years as a volunteer in youth ministry, Steve has an excellent rapport with the kids and creative approach to getting them involved in discussions. Thus, he looks forward to solo teaching.
Jeremy and Michelle left on April 18 for their open-ended European trip. They had two weeks in Ireland together before two weeks in Wales and England with their friends, Alma and Yangling. Last week Jeremy and Michelle caught a flight to Montpelier, France. Within days, the Mediterranean's beauty drew them closer to the sea. They've spent the last few days in Agde, France, soaking up the sunshine, exploring the gorgeous beaches, wading in the crystal clear sea, and savoring delicious produce from the markets. They called this morning, giving us a chance to catch up before they leave in the morning on a train for Bayonne, France. Sometime this week, they'll begin their walking pilgrimage across Spain on the Camino de Santiago route from southeast France. This walk will take them roughly 40-45 days. They initially planned to update their web-blog: http://rawtravels.com/ but as of yet have not posted frequently. You may still enjoy checking it out. They've discovered that it is actually easier to update their facebook status from their iPhones. If you'd like to "friend" them on facebook to more closely follow them, please get in touch with them directly.
We just hung up from a great phone call with Stephanie and Shane a few minutes ago. It sounds like they are weathering the Midwest storms and her time without employment as best as they can. They have endured quite a bit of rain over the past weeks and tomorrow it'll be 90. Now, that sounds like a muggy day ahead of them. They admitted that they'll probably seek refuge in a movie theater to enjoy the air conditioning! Stephanie keeps busy looking for employment. Applications, interviews, and 2nd interviews have all come and gone, but she bravely continues the job-seeking adventure! Steph and Shane originally wanted to take a vacation out to the Southwest. However, it looks like we'll head back their way later this summer to have some time with them. Perhaps we can slip away for a couple of days together while we're back there.
My apologies are due. Goodness, I should post updates more often so they don't turn into books. May you enjoy June, which is just around the corner.
Diane (& Steve)
P.S. I just hit me that 6 years ago today, Steve dipped the rear tire of his bicycle in the Pacific as he began his cross-country bike ride! I credit that bike ride for getting the wheels whirling in our minds toward downsizing, which in turn became this move to Colorado!
May flowers....What do Mayflowers bring?.... Pilgrims! Sorry, I couldn't resist! It's April 23 and we're one month into spring! The grass is greening and a few grape hyacinths appeared around our metal mailbox post and by one downspout. Several tulips have leaves, but no blossoms. The cloudiest stretch of weather for us seemed to arrive this week. Even more welcomed were the sustained stretches of rain rather than cloudbursts.
We're at the end of the 5th week of the spring quarter, which means that the term is half-way over already. Steve's schedule seems to grow by the week, almost as quickly as the blossoms on the neighborhood crab-apple trees! This term he has Restorative Justice and Grant Writing classes as well as his Practicum and Practicum class. The newest addition has been an Internship...unpaid of course. He continues to volunteer at The Conflict Center, where he co-teaches Saturday sessions in a type of "anger management" for teens.
I have 5 weeks left of Spanish. Sadly the size of my class has dwindled to three, making it difficult to have a very dynamic, conversational setting. I have yet to decide as to whether I'll continue next year. Something I've never done before was attend a Career Fair, so indeed I went to my first one on Wednesday. I am blessed with several friends who keep passing along recommendations. We'll see where this goes!
On Monday I drove our ski rentals back to Winter Park Resort. We had a good deal for the season that we couldn't pass up since we no longer own skis. With our schedule, we knew that our skiing was done for the season. I thoroughly savored my solo drive with sunshine, blue skies, snow-covered slopes, and no radio reception. It made a peaceful drive. I actually couldn't resist adding a few extra miles, so I drove on north to the YMCA's Snow Mountain Ranch. Just last month we were snowshoeing there with Jeremy and Michelle. Now the Nordic Center is closed as the snow is melting and great swatches of grass are evident.
Jeremy and Michelle flew to Dublin, Ireland on Monday night. They spent several days touring highlights of Dublin and getting settled into the new time zone. Today they took a bus to Wicklow, where they'll at least spend the weekend. Sounds like hiking in the Wicklow Mountains will be in order for them. And so, their open-ended European trip begins. We've received numerous updates already via texting and facebook messages. It is quite impressive that within seconds we can be in touch some 5,000 miles away!
Last night Steve and I went to a lecture presenting Noam Chomsky. He gave us cause for pause when it comes to some of the dilemmas in foreign policy. It is amazing what we've enjoyed on campus this year: many lectures, documentary films, concerts, a Pioneer Hockey game, and other events. Having not lived here over the summer, we are not sure what to anticipate for campus activities.
As today is Good Friday, I walked to Observatory Park about 1.5 miles from our home to attend an ecumenical service based on the Stations of the Cross. With 250 people from several churches, it made for a meaningful observance. On Easter Steve and I will walk to church in time for a courtyard celebration. Following that time, we'll have breakfast to support the youth ministry. Then at 9:00 Steve's Mom will join us for worship. The three of us have reservations at the Pearl Street Grill, a neighborhood restaurant for lunch. We are so pleased that we can spend this Easter with Mom.
Stephanie and Shane will spend Easter together with most of his family in Effingham, Illinois. I'm sure that everyone will thoroughly enjoy Shane's little nephew and niece. For Steph, she'll also be meeting some of Shane's extended family for the first time. How I treasure looking back at those first introductions to Steve's family.
Safe travels to those of you traveling over the weekend. May you all have a blessed Easter!
Diane (& Steve)