12mph America At The Speed Of Sanity

22Jan/122

The Snowball Team circa 1972

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!

 

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11Jan/120

A New Year……and a New Horizon!

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!

Diane

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29May/110

Observing Our 1st Year

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.

Love,

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!

 

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23Apr/110

April Showers bring….

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)

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9Apr/110

Dry Spell

Yes, we've been in a dry spell! Denver has experienced one of the driest winters on record with only 2.28 inches of precipitation for January-March. Many Denverites told us stories of past March snowstorms with it typically the snowiest month. Sadly, we didn't experience it (unless it is delayed until sometime in April or May this year). Beginning in March, fire forecasts have been on the local news most nights with numerous wildfires having already been fought on the plains and in the foothills over the past few weeks. On April 2, we set a new record high of 84 degrees. Ferocious winds literally shook our small rental home last week, swirling dust through the alleyway behind us. We had a very dry reading of 7% relative humidity a week ago. Clementines, apples, and tomatoes shrivel if not eaten within a few days, so we now keep them in plastic bags to preserve the precious moisture. I can only imagine what is happening to our skin!! Perhaps Denver is a perfect market for plastic shrink wrap!!

The weather folks tell us that along the Front Range we've experienced a "snow shadow" affect this winter. This happens when the bulk of the snow falls in the mountains, leaving little to no precipitation to fall along the long stretch of Rockies where they meet the plains. After 32 years in the Chicago area with the "lake effect" snow, this is a much different scenario. Although we have no complaints about the record snowfalls in the mountains during our first full ski-season in Colorado. Breckenridge Ski Resort had 476" of snow so far this season, with Vail at 466", and Loveland at 452".

The Climate Prediction Center has classified Denver with "drought to persist or to intensify between April and June." For now, we'll enjoy the blooming trees and spring bulbs before the summer heat returns. Within a few weeks, our sprinkler system will resume per our owner's wishes so that we'll have a lush, green lawn because dormancy isn't an option.

The dry spell also hit the blog over the past 5 weeks, hence the long period again between posts. Although, we are happy to report that our son, Jeremy, and daughter-in-law, Michelle, spent a week with us over our spring break. Michelle had not been in the mountains during the winter, and it had been 11 years since we skied with Jeremy out here. As part of their time in Colorado, we had a delightful two-day and one-night getaway in the Rocky Mountains together. A stay at Hot Sulphur Springs turned into a winter wonderland with fresh falling snow while we soaked in the hot springs. Neither Jeremy nor Michelle had snowshoed before, so we rented snowshoes at the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch in Fraser Valley for a 3.4 mile trek through the fresh powder. Incredible views with crystal blue skies, snow-flocked pine trees, and pencil-thin aspens provided for a lovely several hours in the snow.

Last weekend I spent 4 days in Illinois visiting Jeremy and Michelle as well as our daughter, Stephanie, and her fiance, Shane. Besides wonderful meals, book discussions, an Arboretum hike, shopping, and going to "The King's Speech", we also sat with the lights off one night to experience a good old-fashioned thunderstorm. The lightning flashed across the sky providing silhouettes of the leafless trees, the winds blew the distinct scent of the downpour through the window screens, and the pitter-patter sound of the rain seemed to dance as it hit the ground. All of this brought a flood of memories for us all as we reminisced about wonderful Midwestern thunderstorms.

Steve and I have finished the third week of the Spring 2011 term. Just as he did for his Fall 2010 term, Steve's Winter 2011 term was a great success. He continues to kick himself for not having returned to school earlier, so we know that he made the right decision. I have spent countless hours with my job search: sending out applications, attending interviews, participating in networking sessions, all to no avail. I have made the decision to take a break from job hunting to seek out meaningful volunteerism, which has always been an integral part of my life. I am in the third term of Spanish as well as in my 3rd week of a personal essay-memoir writing class. Both of these provide me with opportunities to meet new people and to continue honing my skills.

As new members of University Park United Methodist Church, we are seeking ways to get involved, but also not find ourselves overly committed. With classes, studying, and time to enjoy Steve's Mom in the area, we want to make sure we don't stretch ourselves too thin.

Hopefully the drought that I've experienced in keeping this blog updated will not persist and intensify like the predicted drought in Colorado. Until next time, make sure and enjoy a good thunderstorm if it comes your way!

Blessings,

Diane (and Steve)

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1Mar/110

My State of Wonder

My son, Jeremy, recently affirmed one of the notions that I've experienced quite intensely these last 6 1/2 months in Denver. He read several essays that inspired him to think of wonder. I told him that my life has been in a state of wonder since leaving suburban Chicago last summer. Habits are hard to break. I could practically drive through Batavia with my eyes closed, knowing what to anticipate on all sensory accounts. Thrown into a new community, the mold is broken and one begins anew. Every waking moment brings with it brand-spanking-new stimuli. By the end of some days, I am exhausted from keeping track of all the newness! It is exciting in many ways, but also disconcerting as I have gradually left behind the old and continue to assimilate to the new. My journey is not unique, for people do this all the time. It's just that Jeremy's reference to wonder really resonated with me.

Having been tucked tightly into a little cocoon of a suburban lifestyle for 32 years, one of the biggest adjustments accompanying our move to Denver has been a sensory one. If I close my eyes while sitting in a very quiet room, I can take myself back to our surroundings in Illinois and practically see my world there, my kids playing ghost-in-the-graveyard years ago throughout the neighborhood, the layout of the house, the warm Pottery Barn paint colors donning the interior walls, familiar nuances of a 20+ year-old home with its creaks and cracks, the drive through town with its usual stoplights, and the Congregational Church's steeple standing tall as a beacon to the community. I can breathe in the scent of the colorful flowers in the gardens throughout the yard, especially the frilly white peonies from Mom and Dad, the transplanted Easter Lily from church, or the sweet scent of the lilac given to me on Mother's Day in the early 1990s by Jeremy, Stephanie, and Steve. I can hear the familiar sounds of school children on the playground behind the "forest" on our street, the "Tuesdays at 10:00" tornado drill siren, a group of kids laughing themselves silly over a game in our rec room, or our friend, Bob, firing up his John Deere lawn tractor across the way. I can imagine the warm and delightful hugs of my children, whether as youngsters or now as adults, the soft touch of kitty Zane's little paws on my lap, or the feel of the earth between my fingers as I tend the gardens. Taste is sometimes challenging, but as I breathe in the fresh Midwest air, there is a very earthy flavor, one that comes from the rich Midwest soil and thick, green vegetation, and which transports me back to childhood and the freshly plowed fields on the family farm in Iowa or to the east-side trails of Morton Arboretum.

Now....My State of Wonder! Crank up the bass and give me a kettle-drum roll! Abruptly from my state of a fairly predictable daily rhythm, I am surrounded by the unfamiliar. (Yes, we've visited Denver and Colorado dozens of times to visit my in-laws or to vacation in the high country, but residing here is distinctly different.) Living in a high-desert within 25-60 minute proximity to the foothills and Rocky Mountains is in itself a huge contrast to the Midwest. Away from the immediate neighborhood and at a vantage point on Evans Avenue near the DU campus, I see the snow-capped reaches of the Mt. Evans Wilderness, 95 miles to the west and Long's Peak, 70 miles to the north. Out on the flats toward Denver International Airport, I see the massive chunk of rock known as Pikes Peak, 75 miles due south. When we're in the mountains, the sky is more brilliant than any blue Crayola could muster. Paired with the snowy peaks and flocked Lodgepole Pines, the Winter views while we're in the mountains, make a lasting impression. Closer to home, I see little white or pastel-toned bungalow houses all in a row lining Downing Street. Rocks are a mainstay in the landscape as is irrigation for 9 months out of the year. Our immediate environ of our rented home has the visual stimuli of peeling paint on our front porch, crumbling cement steps from the street level to our yard, and thousands of vehicles seen from our windows zipping along from north and south. Next door we occasionally see our neighbors and their little one, otherwise the neighborhood stays to themselves.

The sounds inside the house are not ones that I would aspire to have each day. The steady var-o-o-oom of passing buses and of vehicular tires begin as early morning commuter traffic, pick up pace over lunch, slow somewhat until mid-afternoon, crescendo in pace throughout the evening commute, and finally ebb to an occasional roll throughout the night. As I write this, the all-too-familiar sounds of loud sirens streak down the street from a firetruck. Fortunately, we have ways to enjoy our sense of hearing! The hiking trails at Highline Canal, Elk Meadow, Lookout Mountain, and Red Rocks Park bring with them the sweet tweets and chortles from feathered friends, the crunch under foot of the sandier soil, the soft neighing of a pony in its paddock, and the soothing sound of a mountain stream. Attending a recent DU hockey game, brought excited cheers from the DU fans. Hearing children playing at our neighborhood school is lovely and soothes my aching heart from missing the younger set at preschool. Recently, a gathering of Steve's graduate co-horts at our home brought the loud sounds of foosball enjoyment in our 8 X 8 rec room. However, the gentle swoosh-sound of our skis as we meander down the slopes is one of the finest sounds this season.

I have no flower beds to tend here or earth to work! The country girl goes into withdrawal! Rock-gardening has replaced flower-tending. Grasping each one of my rocks from my rock collection and placing them in a large Peace sign shape, has been the extent of my gardening and closeness to the earth. It took all of 30 minutes last fall. Task done. Each rock brought me back to its origin on travels hither and yon. Daily my fingertips keep me engaged, whether flipping through pages of the Denver Metro map book to find my destination or through my Spanish books as I study. I probably pass too much time clicking away at the keys on my laptop. Hugs with Steve's Mom are more frequent now that we live here. Gripping ski poles on several jaunts to the slopes has been the wonderful by-product of holding a season ski pass. Whether the poles are for skiing or hiking, I'm happy to have a reason to grip them as it means we're enjoying the great outdoors! The chill from the mountain air as we hike or ski is a reminder of the difference in temperature that I can experience with the change of elevation, sometimes in a matter of hours as we drive westward.

The scent of Colorado is different. It is arid and somewhat dusty in nature due to the lack of humidity. Of course, vehicular exhaust is annoyingly noticeable. A 25 minute drive westward brings us to the Ponderosa Pines at either Lookout Mountain or Elk Meadow Park with their accompanying wafts of pine scent. Once we make our way to higher elevations, the Rocky Mountain air is very refreshing. If it is on a hike, we get the added benefit of the alpine vegetation and its lovely and more earthy scent.

Taste. Hmmm....unless it is away from the city, I cannot say that I can breathe in and experience a distinct taste that would be welcomed. Rest assured that while chocolate is close at hand in the house, our neighborhood does have a diverse range of flavors through eateries: Mideastern, Austrian, American burgers and hotdogs, Greek, Thai, Pizza, Hand-dipped Chocolate, Bakeries, or Coffee. Three blocks away we have the first Chipotle restaurant. So, I believe that our gustatory needs are well-tended.

While this has been a state of wonder for me, I ask myself, "Could I make this a permanent state?" Now that I'm more familiar with the streets, the traffic patterns, and the light-rail system, can the wonder continue? As I have become more connected with my new community through campus events and networking, can the wonder continue? As I become more engaged as a new member of University Park church or once I am employed (hopefully soon), can the wonder continue?  As I  embrace the daily rhythm on Downing Street even with the traffic, can I seek wonder in my immediate environment? No matter where I reside, how long I've lived there, or with whom, I challenge myself to remain aware and open to wonder. Wonder....."in the eye of the beholder". May I continue to be the beholder!

Blessings,

Diane

 

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9Jan/110

We are Home!

Home. What is home? Is it a physical structure and safe haven with walls, a roof, cozy beds, warmth in the winter, and refreshing AC in the summer? For others, it may be an emotion or feeling where one receives unconditional love and acceptance or even experiences discomfort and distress. Perhaps for you it has more of a social meaning with gatherings of family and friends filled with laughter, memories, and conversation. Here is a bit of our journey to home that we recently experienced.

For us, winter break extended from Thanksgiving until January 3, 2011, when classes resumed. However, we began our journey home during a two week period in December. Driving away from Denver on Wednesday, 12/8 felt good in many ways, as we knew that we were headed home. Leaving the congestion of our neighborhood with its busy street, mostly small houses on small lots, and skinny alleys, was like a weight being lifted from our shoulders. A 10-hour drive brought us home to Steve's Uncle Jeff and Aunt Evonne's townhouse in Norfolk, Nebraska, even without them there. They were out of town and invited us to stay at their comfortable home while we were traveling through Nebraska. A note welcoming us and a garage door opener left for our use was left on the counter. Aunt Evonne had homemade muffins in the freezer, which we reheated the next morning. A comfy bed, warm shower, and gas-lit fireplace were very welcomed. The next day, we were home at Steve's Aunt Lorraine's in Wakefield, where she provided her lovely hospitality with a delicious lunch of comfort food including a baked macaroni and cheese casserole. Visiting with her and Aunt LaVonne around the dining room table in a warm and cozy house was home. We were also home over a meal and conversation with Steve's cousins Doug, Beata, Chelsea, and Myles that evening in Norfolk.

We left Friday, 12/10 from Nebraska for Pella, Iowa to visit my childhood friend, Kathi, who now lives in an apartment. Home at Kathi's was looking over scanned photos of our two families, reminiscing, and laughing about our childhood antics. Several hours later Steve and I climbed into our trusty Toyota to back-track to Des Moines, where we spent the night with his cousins Rick and Nancy. They welcomed us to their home with hugs and smiles. Cousins Tim and Denise brought in Godfather's Pizza and combined with the yummy appetizers from Rick and Nancy, we gathered around the table to reflect on life and the ties that bind.  No sooner did we finish our meal, Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Jack, stopped in for a brief visit. While sharing in our journey to Sweden with them, we all quickly slipped into tales of times past when we gathered as families for reunions and holidays.

Saturday, 12/11, brought with it colliding weather fronts with relentless rainfall, changing to sleet, and eventually snow. We crept along I-80 towards my hometown territory in East-Central Iowa. The status of the roads was a reminder of arriving in my home state with the challenges that are faced this time of year with wintry weather. Today we were on a memorable pilgrimage that began last June. (In June I discovered a small flat stone on my parents' tombstone, which I took with me and skipped on the waters of Slumbay in Lochcarron, Scotland. At the grave of my Great-Grandparents McLennan, I gathered an oak leaf, which I set free in Stromemeanach, Scotland.) While in Scotland last summer, I collected small stones at the ruins of Stromemeanach and shells from the shores of Slumbay to bring back to Iowa. Our first stop on today's pilgrimage was at Kent Cemetery, where my Great-Great Grandmother Catherine MacKay McLennan is buried along with some of her children. In the biting wind and falling snow, I left a small stone and shell at their grave sites. The next stop was at Rector Cemetery, roughly 4 miles away, where my parents Charles and Betty are buried. Country cemeteries have a quaintness and calm not found elsewhere. Because my mother had selected Rector for her burial place, I feel a sense of home and peace there. At my parents' grave, I left my gifts of a stone and shell along with a few tears that flowed out of love and respect. It was from their map that I discovered last winter, that we created our itinerary to Scotland. Onward to Belle Plaine, my home town, we trekked. (Steve did an awesome job of negotiating the snow-covered and slippery roads as well as the lanes through the cemeteries.) Along this stretch of the drive, we passed Kathi's childhood farm and I couldn't help but think of the times that my siblings and I joined my Dad to milk their cows while Kathi and her family was on vacation. I also thought back to some great 4-H hayrides through the old pioneer cemetery on the hillside adjacent to their property.

The final cemetery stop was at Oak Hill Cemetery, where we paused at my Grandparents McLennan's graves to leave the precious tokens from Scotland. It was at Great-Grandparents Lachlan and Lodosca's where I felt the deepest connections. If it wasn't for Lachlan's journal, I doubt we would have made the trip to Scotland. Knowing that he loved to skip stones on Slumbay and that he labored heavily in Stromeaneach alongside his parents and siblings, we were greatly indebted to him for his memoirs and his knack for story-telling, which gave us a greater appreciation of their home back in the Scottish Highlands. I felt incredible relief, knowing that from our ancestors' homeland of Scotland, minuscule treasures came home to them.

Frozen to the core, Steve and I stepped into my brother and sister-in-law's, Chuck and Annette's, warm and toasty home. Candles were burning with a soft glow and gentle scent. Hugs were exchanged. Excited conversations began as niece Hannah shared her list of 4-H projects. She also played the saxophone and piano for us. It was amazing to realize that in this same home 60 years ago, the gift of music abounded: Grandmother Geneva at the piano, my father Chuck on his clarinet, and my Aunt Virgina playing her violin! Sister Char and brother-in-law Dale soon joined us and laughter ensued thanks to the sense of humor that runs in the family. My slide show of our Scotland trip filled the evening. It meant a great deal to share our journey with family, as they have also been touched by Great-Grandfather's story. Memories of tobogganing and skating parties with gatherings of family and friends near the pond below Chuck and Annette's lulled me to sleep that night. I awakened to thoughts of gathering eggs with my grandmother as a 5 year old, mushroom hunting with my mother and siblings through the thick timber, and helping my Dad count the cattle with me at the wheel of the International pick up as a 10 year old.

Sunday, 12/12 arrived with single digit temperatures and fierce winds that began howling overnight. We waited for the sun to warm the black-top roads hoping that some of the snow would melt. Then we left for Illinois to spend a week with our grown children. The closer we came to Jeremy and Michelle's in Batavia, the more at home we felt. Familiar streets, the Jewel supermarket, our church, the public library, the Fox River, and Wilson Street bridge donned with lights for Christmas. Peace On Earth adorned the footbridge over the Fox. Twenty years in Batavia and this definitely felt like home.

The week flew past. Our stay back home in Illinois was split with 4 nights at Jeremy and Michelle's in Batavia and 5 nights at Stephanie and Shane's in Geneva. Their hospitality was superb with comfortable beds, warm surrounds, and hugs. Hugs with our kids were home enough for us! It was good to embrace them, tell them that we love them plus even have a family-huggle (group hug)! Two "Family Days" were savored. Meals, movies, games, an engagement breakfast for Steph and Shane with his family, and an early Christmas were cherished together. Visiting over coffee, lunch, dinner, our annual Ravioli gathering, or desserts with friends plus attending church on Sunday felt like home in many ways. Driving back to our former neighborhood and seeing our former house of 19 years, felt like a stroll down memory lane and quite natural as if returning home. Sadly, the largest disappointment and frustration about our trip, was that we were not able to see everyone. The weather also wrecked havoc in our plans, thus we didn't see several members of our family in Wisconsin and Iowa.

Monday, 12/20 arrived and the time had come to head for home. Since another winter storm blasted through Northern Illinois, we actually benefited from another lovely meal with Jeremy and Michelle and an extra night's stay with Stephanie and Shane. Now though, we pointed westward and began our journey to Colorado. A lunch break in Iowa City provided time to catch up with sister Sue, niece Shaundria, and nephew Jovonte. We felt at home visiting with them as we heard about their busy sports' schedules, good grades, and favorite subjects. Their hugs stayed with us along with all of the others that we gathered over the two weeks.

An overnight stay in Lincoln, Nebraska broke up the 17 hour drive between Illinois and Colorado. Crossing into our new home state with the "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" sign encouraged us over the last few hours. Finally, we arrived back at home where our familiar household of nearly 35 years (albeit downsized) greeted us. We quickly shifted gears and prepared for Christmas. Sister Laurie and brother-in-law Tom flew to Denver from Helena, MT on Christmas Day. The four of us along with Steve's sister Meriwether, niece Hailey, and friends filled the seats around two tables for Christmas dinner at Mom's home. We exchanged gifts and played Charades with great laughter and enjoyment.

We are Home! In retrospect, it seems that we almost needed to return to the Midwest, visiting family and friends, stepping back into life there to experience it as a visitor. We see how fabulously our kids are doing which soothes our "parent hearts". They are four phenomenal people, each with a unique personality, each with lovely qualities, and both couples pursuing beautiful lives together. Our Midwest visit confirmed that we have successfully made the transition to a more settled life here in Denver. Returning home we have resumed taking our familiar routes to walk to campus or to drive on errands. We continue appreciating the proximity we have to Steve's Mom so we can drop by for a visit, invite Mom for dinner, or have a movie night together. We have a family physician and a dentist. We have a lovely young family as neighbors. We have many friends here with whom we enjoy outings. We are beginning the steps to membership at University Park United Methodist. Winter term has begun. My resume is finalized, and I eagerly anticipate my job search. We have season ski passes for the first time ever, something that we would not do unless we lived here.

We thank our kids, our extended family, and our friends for helping us on this leg of life's journey. Between the countless conversations, prayers, and advice-sessions, we could not have accomplished this multi-layered transition without you.

From our home to your home, may you have a peace-filled 2011 with God's blessings.

Love,

Diane (and Steve)

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1Dec/100

November flew the coop!

Wow, nothing has been posted in November, so I guess that November flew the coop! It was a busy month as the fall quarter became more intense for Steve and me. Two weeks ago I managed to put together my presentation for my Spanish class. Then my lecture series ended last week. Throughout the term I was Steve's proofreader for his papers. HOWEVER, the biggest news is that Steve completed his first quarter of grad school. The even better news is that he did a marvelous job and is very pleased with his grades. The look on his face this evening when he opened his grades was one of joy and relief! Over the course of the quarter, Steve wrote several papers, read something like 14-15 books, met twice weekly with study groups, researched for his papers, and proceeded with his volunteer training at The Conflict Center. One of his most involved assignments was a Conflict Resolution role-play simulating negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He was in the Palestinian group. Each person in the class was to take the role of an actual individual who is currently involved in the real negotiations. Steve took on the role of Saeb Erakat, the senior chief negotiator for the Palestinians. Sadly and much like real life, they did not establish a peace accord.

At the end of October we volunteered for Project Homeless Connect. Denver's Road Home and the United Way of Denver have a goal of eradicating homelessness in Denver by 2015. They began five years ago so they are half way toward their goal. Twice a year a one-day effort is held which provides one-stop services for homeless individuals and their families. They come to one location and a multitude of services are provided for the day, saving them from getting around the city and county to locate these services. It was a very rewarding experience and if our schedule allows, we'll happily volunteer at future events. On our day of service, 1030 volunteers and 386 service providers served 957 people (102 of whom were children).

We've been to downtown Denver several times over the last 4 weeks. We attended two documentary films at the Starz Theatre: Budrus, which followed the efforts of a group of Palestinians, inspired by a teen girl's passion. They used non-violent means to keep their community's olive trees from being bulldozed by the Israelis in order to create a 20' wall between the two "sides". The other film, My So-Called Enemy, featured a group of Israeli and Palestinian teen girls who participated in Building Bridges for Peace, a summer camp to help seek common ground. The film continues to follow them after their return home and for another two years.  Both were promoted by Seeking Common Ground, an organization in Denver which promotes peace. Last Sunday night we went to A Christmas Carol at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts with Steve's Mom. It was a top-notch musical and a wonderful start to the Christmas season.

We attend the University Chaplain's book discussions that he offers each month. It is a nice way to read some thought-provoking and contemporary literature. Either the author or a spokesperson from the field are present to facilitate the discussion, much like any other book club might do. With DU on break until January, there will not be a book discussion in December, so we'll look forward to next quarter's offerings.

One of our biggest transitions that we've faced since moving to Denver has been to locate a place to worship. After 19 years at the Congregational Church of Batavia-UCC, we developed a very close bond with our congregation through friendships and ministry involvement. Since the end of July, we've attended several UCC churches, a Presbyterian church, and two United Methodist churches. Finally we feel that we have found a place which provides a nice balance: diversity in the congregation, contemporary issues are discussed, meaningful sermons and worship experience, and numerous community outreach efforts are offered. University Park United Methodist is right across the street from University of Denver (DU), which places it approximately a mile's walk from our home. It has close ties to both Iliff College of Theology and DU, with Iliff being adjacent to DU.

I've been attending DU's career services job club for the past 6 weeks. We meet every two weeks and cover most things pertaining to a job search. It is a wonderful group of people and I'm finding it another way to meet folks. My plans are to kick off my job search after the first of the year.

Thanksgiving was special as we shared brunch with a friend, played a game, and caught up on our lives. Later in the day our Iowa State friends who live near Steve's Mom, Denny, Bette, and Derek, came for dinner. We even uncovered the foosball table and played a few rounds of foosball. What a perfect day! We missed our kids so much, but with their work schedules and Steve's volunteer training, we were not able to make it to Illinois. Our friends, John and Karen, from Montana were to come to Denver over Thanksgiving, but a winter storm kept them huddling for warmth in Bozeman.

Today we took a day off from everything else we should be doing and went skiing. We didn't realize how much we needed to get away for the day! For our Christmas present to each other, we purchased season ski passes. We drove to Winter Park, spent 4 hours skiing, and were home by 4:40 this afternoon. The resort temps hovered in the mid-20s, a series of good snowfalls over the past few weeks made for perfect skiing conditions, crowds were sparse since it was mid-week and not a holiday, and the winds were of minimal consequence. The pine trees are flocked with snow, which always makes one think of Christmas!

Winter Park was where we have done the most skiing over the years with some of our most special times with Jeremy and Stephanie. We enrolled them in a combination of day care and ski lessons when they were little: Jeremy, 5 and Stephanie, 2. Each time we returned to Winter Park in the winter or made our way to another ski resort, they took lessons. We've shared in some wonderful ski vacations with them over the years. How grateful we are for the memories with them! Until 2002, Winter Park was owned and managed by the city and county of Denver. 1939-1940 was its first season as a ski resort so it has a long-standing presence in the Rocky Mountains. We've also enjoyed its summer activities including hiking, mountain biking, and taking the alpine slide.

We are having fun entertaining at our small "casita" when we can. It is just great to have our friends, Meghan and Colleen, in the area so we can share an occasional meal together. Our friend, Jenny, was in town last weekend from her AmeriCorps position at Red Cloud Indian School, Pine Ridge Reservation. We enjoyed an evening with her. Next Sunday afternoon, we will have Mom, Meghan, Colleen, and our friends from Denver, Dorothy and Gully, here for a Soup supper. We are truly blessed to have bonds here as they have helped to soften the transition to Denver.

We leave in one week for the Midwest. It will be wonderful to see family in Nebraska and Iowa on our way to spend a week in Illinois with Jeremy & Michelle, Stephanie & Shane. Our hugs are waiting for our "kids" and it will be fantastic to have some time with them!

Stay warm, stay safe, and make snow angels or snowmen when the opportunity arises!

With love from the Mile-High City of Denver,

Diane (& Steve)

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28Oct/100

Autumn Days

Autumn Days are here in Denver. After enjoying the colorful aspens in the mountains with daughter, Steph, and then our friend, Debi, two weeks later, autumn has finally arrived in Denver. The green ash, honey locust, cottonwood, apples, and crab apples are prolific in our University of Denver neighborhood. As a result, brilliant golds line the street on our way to campus. I feel a bit like Dorothy walking along the yellow-brick road!! This week we've reached lows of 24 degrees, but the highs still stretch into the 60s and this weekend we're headed to the mid-70s. In the higher altitude, temperatures tend to advance quickly with the sunshine and then cool off just as fast once the sun sneaks behind the Rocky Mountains by 6:30.

It seems like autumn also creates the need for some home details. The furnace is now in use. We added a small humidifier to our main level to raise the humidity to a more comfortable level. The 10%-25% humidity wrecks havoc on our skin, lips, and nasal passages! It will only worsen as it gets colder. The sprinkler company came out last week and blew out the irrigation lines so they won't freeze with dipping temperatures. Without the added moisture to the lawn, perhaps we won't have to mow anymore this season. Our management company's maintenance man came out today to add weather stripping to our back door. After rain or irrigation, worms would slither beneath the door and make their way down 2-3 basement steps before their demise. Wolf spiders also took advantage of the narrow passage to gain entry. Yucko!! I've begun the process of dismantling windows and cleaning them. The top sash has been painted shut, creating a challenge. It appears that the windows haven't been cleaned in many years for the cloths I use come away literally coated in black. To make the task easier, I purchased a cloth applicator, squeegee, and chamois. Saturday I will return to the windows like a pro!!

Three weeks ago my friend Debi arrived from Illinois. We had a perfect gal-pal time with many miles logged as part of our mountain road-trip adventure. I zipped out after my Spanish class to get her at the airport on Thursday night. On Friday we took a short drive up to Red Rock Park with its beautiful natural amphitheater. I knew that it would help to keep her close to mile-high for the day to adjust to the higher elevation. We had a fairly clear view of Denver from our vantage point at the top of the amphitheater. The storm clouds brewed and brought some rain, but mostly just added drama to the landscape against the red rocks and fall vegetation.

On Saturday we left by mid-morning on our mountain adventure. Debi had never been to the Colorado mountains so I was thrilled to introduce her to them. We took I-70 up to Loveland Pass. Driving U.S. 6 up and over Loveland Pass gave us daunting vistas of the valley with Loveland ski area, winding hairpin curves, and I-70 far below. The Pass was the highest point Debi has ever experienced at 11,990 feet. We managed to remain standing despite the gusty and frigid winds.

From Loveland Pass we drove by Arapahoe Basin and Keystone ski resorts to nab I-70 again. I decided to take her on a loop of sorts from that point. Up and over Vail Pass we drove past Copper Mountain and Vail Mountain ski areas. We lunched in Vail Village on some very yummy, spicy chili, which hit the spot since it was nippy outdoors. Vail Village is picturesque and designed much like a European mountain village. In some ways I felt like I was back in Austria and Germany with their chalets, colorful flowers in window boxes, cobblestone walkways, covered bridges, and hanging baskets of flowers. A Maypole brought back memories of Sweden, which Steve and I experienced just 4 months ago. Gore Creek runs through Vail so the sound of it moving through town added to the ambiance.

As the day was getting away from us, we drove onward to U.S. 24, pausing to capture photos of 13,100 Notch Mountain, an abandoned mining town, and the Red Cliff Bridge (built in 1940 and spans the Eagle River.) We traveled up and over Tennessee Pass to Leadville, where we caught route 19. This route took us over Fremont Pass. Many of the deciduous trees had already dropped their leaves, but occasionally we would note a stand of golden aspens. Descending Fremont Pass along Copper Mountain ski resort, the shadows were deepening and the gray day only accentuated the need to be done with our drive. Our overnight spot was Frisco Lodge in Frisco, where Steve and I stayed back in August. Only this time the leaves were gold and fluffy snowflakes were falling!

The next morning we savored our complimentary breakfast at the Lodge with homemade Belgian waffles. While it was mostly sunny, a line of clouds seemed to quickly stream from the north and along the top of the 10 mile Range between Frisco and Breckenridge. The day was young, so we decided that we needed to experience more passes on our way home. From Frisco and through Breckenridge, we soaked up the warm sunshine. Out of Breckenridge we paused along Blue River to snag some photo opportunities with Quandary Peak as the back drop with its rather angular peak. Hoosier Pass was the first pass for the day and the wind gusts made it challenging at best to hold our cameras steady for photos. The clouds literally appeared to be speed racing!

We descended Hoosier Pass through Alma (the highest developed municipality in the U.S.) and into Fairplay, where we stopped at the Java Moose for hot tea and coffee. Fairplay is on the fringe of South Park (many of you know of South Park from TV). South Park is an impressive, 1,000 square mile, high grassland basin that is rimmed in mountain ranges. Designated as a National Heritage Area, it was originally inhabited by the Ute Indians before miners and settlers came to the area. We climbed out of South Park on U.S. 285 and up yet another pass...our final one, this one Kenosha Pass. It is through here that the popular Colorado Trail passes and continues across the state. (Used by many outdoor enthusiasts).

Kenosha Pass gave way to a winding road with Sunday traffic that wanted to go at a rip-roarin' pace. As it was still early in the afternoon, we couldn't resist being adventurous and taking Hall Valley Road off of the main highway to investigate where it went. After bumping along on the gravel, negotiating occasional large cobblestones and eroded holes, and realizing the road was rapidly narrowing, we decided to turn around. The scenery was breathtaking with swatches of colorful trees and short willows in the valley. We took advantage of a pull-off spot to admire a small creek as it tumbled over and around boulders.

Our final stop was near Shawnee, which is surrounded by Pike National Forest. With the winding branch of the Platte River through the valley, the warm golds of the leaves, and the dramatic sky, we were able to satisfy our shutter-bug tendencies!! A stop for hot tea across the road at The Shawnee Tea Room provided the perfect ending for our mountain road-trip adventure. Needless to say, we had a most memorable weekend. I appreciate Debi who made the trip over her 4-day break from school. Monday came all too soon as I made the trip back to the airport for Debi to catch her flight.

Two weeks ago Steve and I headed to Orlando Florida for the wedding of Brent (who we've known since he was born in IL...he's like a nephew as are his brothers). Brent, the dashing groom, married Emma, who was a beautiful bride. We were honored to be included as guests. What a blessing to have known Holly, Rob, and their family since 1980. We met when Jeremy and Matt were nearly one year old. Holly and I were standing at a swing set at a park in Woodridge, Illinois, each pushing our little guys in the baby swings. The next thing you know...it's 30 years later and their youngest son has just married. We enjoyed time with Matt, Steph, Taylor, and Olivia as well as Tim. Seeing Holly and Rob's extended family was wonderful, since our lives have intersected at different points over the years. As part of our time over the wedding weekend, we also went to Sea World with the family. Now we have more great memories!

How grateful we are for friends!

Long-winded as always, I leave this post and hope that you are well and experiencing delightful autumn days too.

Blessings,

Diane

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6Oct/100

Denver Pioneers Explore New Frontier

Howdy from our New Frontier. Did you know that we are University of Denver Pioneers?! As a pioneer and thinking about frontier life, I couldn't help but do a little pondering. I was thinking about the Western Frontier as pioneers, miners, missionaries, and railways pressed their way westward back in the mid to late 1800's. Gold inspired many to rapidly leave their former places of employment and families as the promise for "get-rich" gold quickly lured them to points west. I also have images of women and children following behind carefully packed wagons as they headed west to stake their claim for a new homestead. As they walked behind, they were not only lessening the burden for the draft horses or cattle pulling the load, but they were also collecting cow or buffalo chips to fuel the evening fire. Men were likely busy steering the wagons, watching the horizon for the important landmarks along the trail, hunting for an occasional antelope, rabbit, or deer, and keeping a keen eye open for potential encounters with Native American Indian tribes or wily thieves out to ransack the belongings in the wagons. The elements were daunting as the 300 days of sunshine we claim to have in Denver may have only made for long and hot days. Wind storms brewed quickly over the Rocky Mountains and created dust and sand storms. Hailstorms can also wreck havoc. Even more, if a family misjudged their route, lack of water could be a real death sentence.

Our New Frontier is a much different place than 150 years ago. Although in May Steve and I felt a bit like the early pioneers, who left treasures behind and took only what was a necessity, yet our downsizing efforts (two trucks and a mini-van versus one small Conestoga wagon) paled in comparison. And, we certainly didn't have to retrieve manure chips for fuel or hunt for dinner each night (nor did Jeremy or Stephanie who joined us for the first trip to Denver). In some ways though, we do feel a bit like pioneers by striking westward with high hopes of discovering something new!

Each week we seem to discover something new whether it is the gold aspens along an unfamiliar and winding road in the mountains, the variety of bike trail options, or the diverse menu of different eateries nearby. We also feel a bit like explorers as we try different routes for getting to places whether by foot, on our two-wheeled wonders, on mass-transit, or in our trusty mini-van. I have discovered the need for humor with Denver streets. Going north-south on the map grid, Denver has many streets named for U.S. states, but they are not in alphabetical or regional order. Then going west-east from University most streets are in alphabetical order. Add a section of downtown Denver with streets that come at a 45 degree angle to further confuse folks. Throw in an assortment of one-way streets and riverbeds. The most gifted orienteer would certainly scratch his or her head. Thank goodness for the mountains. If one can see the mountains, then that is west.

Yesterday I opted to walk around our immediate neighborhood to explore since we've worn a path between home and campus with very little variance. Of the 79 different neighborhoods in Denver, ours is called the University Neighborhood (go figure, right?). Across the street from us is the Rosedale neighborhood. We have the Washington Park Neighborhood to the north and the Wellshire Neighborhood to the East. As near as I can tell, Cherry Village Neighborhood is to the south. Our neighborhood has many homes similar to ours: small 1500-1700 square feet bungalow, built in the late 1920's, detached garage accessed from alley, a shared alley with the people on the street behind, small yards, and irrigation systems. Probably a fourth of the original homes have been leveled and larger craftsman style two story homes have replaced them. Home prices for something like our home are roughly $350,000. The new homes are $600,000 and up. (Definitely not in our price range to purchase, so we'll be reluctantly content paying high rent for now). We could guess-timate that nearly 25% of people own at least one dog. I saw a variety in the home landscapes: cacti, impatiens, geraniums, sunflowers, herbs, vegetables, river rocks, pea gravel, and very messy crab apple trees. We have street names such as: Marion, Lafayette, Humboldt, Franklin, Gilpin, Williams, High, Buchtel, Iowa, Mexico, Colorado, Jewell, Asbury, and Evans. Approaching Buchtel 1/2 mile to the north of us, the traffic noise from I-25 becomes quite evident within a block of it. Fortunately from that point south, the trees and houses seem to buffer the noise. Asbury Elementary School is 1/2 block away to the east of us. I've enjoyed walking past the school on my way to campus and from the open windows hearing teachers instructing the students and students' voices asking questions. We are quite content with our New Frontier with only two exceptions. First, thousands of vehicles drive past our home each day so noise and fumes are issues. Secondly, the sidewalks are notoriously uneven and quite dangerous for walking after dark unless one carries a flashlight.

Fortunately we don't have to send Steve out to hunt or me to gather berries and acorns. (Although Safeway and King Sooper's Supermarkets are a close second). Eateries abound in our neighborhood as well as the Old Pearl Street and Gaylord Street neighborhoods. Jerusalem Restaurant has middle eastern food. Park Burgers has the thickest burgers. Pajama Baking Company has great baked goods and coffee. Crown Burgers Plus gets a high-five for their Greek combo platter (friends Mark and Carol would love it). Stella's Coffeehaus has great java and a deck outdoors (Steph enjoyed this spot too). Mustard's Last Stand is not Portillo's back in Illinois, but their Chicago-style hot dogs weren't too bad. Ben & Jerry's is good, but "Moo-ve" over 'cause Bonnie Brae Ice Cream gives them a good run for their money. Max Gill & Grill has great Cajun flavors. Pete's University Park and Jordan's Pub are two good options right across from the University.

Okay Partners, I hear the crickets' familiar nightly refrain (yes, we have loud crickets here) so guess that's a hint for these Pioneers to turn in for the night.

Until next time from the New Frontier!

Diane (& Steve)

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