Musings and Amusings

Posts tagged ‘Creative Non-Fiction’

Five Favorites for Spring

It’s official.

After 64 years, I’m declaring spring my favorite season.


Before summer and autumn fool me once again into thinking I like them best.

Springtime in Michigan as a child was a time of joy and wonder; a time when each of my five senses came alive.

Robins chirping at dawn like a faithful alarm clock, and the ground springing to life as if stretching its giant arms after a long winter’s sleep.

What I remember most is the aroma of the newly awakening outdoors. The minute I stepped outside, the scent of rich, dark soil moistened by melting snow filled my nose. That raw, loamy aroma was as pungent as any singular bloom and lingered for several weeks, enhanced by occasional spring rains – the kind without wind, thunder or lightning when walking under an umbrella was novel and fun.

The sidewalks were littered with fat, juicy earthworms who’d wriggle their way out of the soaking soil, bringing with them an earthy scent all their own. The lucky ones made it back to the safety of their underground abodes before a robin gobbled them for lunch, or an inattentive human squashed the life juice right out of them, leaving a flattened, brown leathery string glued to the sidewalk.

While I can’t choose a favorite flora, I can pinpoint five that immediately transport me to my first spring memories. Just as the robins woke my ears and the soil twitched my nose, these plants gave me visual, touch and taste sensations.

Forsythia from Google Images

Forsythia from Google Images

Forsythia – An early spring bloomer, growing in the southwest corner of our “near” back yard. A four-foot shrub with long, gently drooping limbs and tiny brilliant yellow flowers running up and down the branches. Such delicate blooms that a hard, windy rain shower or a late-arriving snowstorm would prematurely knock the flowers from the limbs, leaving shocked naked branches quivering for a green leaf robe.

Daffodils Google Images

Daffodils Google Images

Daffodils – another early bloomer. We had a large back yard. In the 50’s there were few fences, although we had a wire fence along the southern edge of our “way back” yard. Mom grew daffodils along that fence. What seemed like hundreds of daffodils. Plain yellow was the only available variety and they bloomed in such abundance it was like sunshine beaming from the ground. I’ve tried, in vain, to grow them; alas I don’t have the ‘daffodil touch’.

Spirea from Google Images

Spirea from Google Images

Spirea – these 4-foot bushes formed a hedge that separated our ‘near’ back yard from our ‘way back’ yard. They have an abundance of small whitish blooms and dime-size, scallop-edged green leaves.  I haven’t found a spirea here in Colorado, which is a shame, because I can’t teach Sparks and Raqi one of my favorite youth pasttimes – picking a spirea leaf; placing it front-side down on my tongue; and pressing my teeth against my tongue while blowing air in such a way that the leaf vibrated against my tongue producing a shrill whistle. Simple pure kid-in-nature fun. Tasted kind of bitter but worth it for the whistle.

Lilacs from Google Images

Lilacs from Google Images

Lilacs – Giant shrubs, tall enough I could squeeze in between the vertical old-growth stems and the new shoots as a child and pretend I was in a mini-forest. Seven or eight lilacs formed the border of our ‘way back’ yard, with just enough space between them that I could scamper through for a short-cut to Teddy’s or Margie’s back yard; still within shouting distance if Mom needed me.

Many yards had lilacs – some white; some deep purple, but I liked ours best – the pale lavender ones with a fragrance so strong I’d get punch-drunk from the nectar scent and lie in the grass for hours … inhaling.

Red Buds

Red Buds

Red Buds – if you’ve never seen a red bud tree, you are missing one of God’s most beautiful gifts.

My maternal grandparents lived in a small town about twenty miles away, and the road between towns followed a river with undeveloped woods on both sides. That stretch was called ‘The Red Bud Trail’ because so many red buds grew naturally in the woods. They were quite small and fragile-looking, dwarfed by larger maples and oaks, but there was no mistaking that occasional flash of pink as we drove by.

People who don’t know might think – in landscaping – they are looking at a crabapple tree when, in fact, they are seeing a red bud in bloom. But for those who have taken red buds into their hearts, there’s no confusion. The red buds are much daintier blooms appearing well before any greenery and rationing themselves along the full length of their branches. From a distance, they have a distinctly fluorescent pink that no crabapple can imitate.

Red Buds Worth a 2nd Look

Red Buds Worth a 2nd Look

Red buds are also prized for their unique leaves – a light, bright green palm-size, heart shape that is all the more reason to love this tree.

I could name many more beloved spring blooms – magnolias, yes – but I’ll close with an anecdote about peonies because Luanne, poet and blogger at Writer Site, and I had a conversation about lilacs and peonies yesterday.

Don’t you love peonies?” Luanne asked.

Yes, Luanne, I do’

But Dad isn’t especially fond of them. When we moved to a property that included a farmhouse, barn, out-buildings and ten acres, Dad had a lot to manage when he got home from work. The previous owner had planted three rows of seven peonies – 21 peonies to mow around, weed, prop up during flowering season, and trim every fall. All which took time away from Dad’s vegetable and fruit gardening. One night, he bulldozed the lawn mower across those peonies, shredding them to the ground. He kept doing it until they finally died.

That’s the only living plant (besides poison ivy) I’ve seen Dad purposely murder!

Coffee and The Cycle of Life

If we were meeting for coffee this weekend, I’d order pain du chocolat to go with my coffee. Would you like one, too?

I like my coffee black and piping hot, and I bite off the corner of the pastry then dip the exposed chocolate in my coffee to melt it on the edges. I usually end up dribbling coffee and melted chocolate, along with pastry crumbs, down the front of my shirt. But remember, I have a clean one just like it to change into.

While sipping my coffee – which is rapidly cooling – I’d repeat how much I prefer almost-burn-your-tongue-hot coffee and how I hate going to restaurants for breakfast where the server places a plastic carafe of coffee on the table. Coffee which is barely lukewarm to begin with, and cool by the time it hits my cup is not the outta-bed jolt I’m looking for.

I’d tell you that Raqi is beyond herself with grief and excitement as she learns first-hand about the cycle of life. She and Sparks just lost their dear dog Kaleb Spencer (yes, our family dogs have middle names) to old age. Sparks bravely accompanied his Dad to the vet’s after they made the difficult family decision to end Kaleb’s pain and suffering. A week later little Briar Rose, their new Shorkie pup, arrived on their doorstep.

Plus, Raqi’s third grade class is currently incubating a whole slew of chicks – well, right now they’re eggs, but some will become chicks if we’re lucky.

Chicks Tangle

And there is nothing like baby chicks to make me think about Easter and spring being right around the corner!

If we were meeting for coffee, I would tell you about this little gem of a movie called The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and I’d hand you the DVD and urge you to watch it.

Wild Parrots

It’s a documentary about Mark Bittner – a gentle, unassuming ‘bohemian’ who lives in an unadorned one-room structure on the side of a very steep hill in San Francisco. There is a flock of parrots – escaped or let loose by owners – for whom Mark has become the unofficial caretaker. They forage ‘wild’ on the hill, and Mark records his observations as well as feeding and nursing them when they are wounded or ill. He has named them, and tracked their behavior, mating rituals and personalities for years.

The parrots are vibrantly colored, charming, scheming, cooperative, combative, blustery, vulnerable, and have a mutual love for Mark. I cry every time I watch this touching relationship that stretches the definition of ‘family’.

In one moving dialogue with the filmmaker, Mark likens our life cycle to the movement of a waterfall. He says before birth, we’re all part of the stream above the falls – moving en masse and indistinguishable. Once we reach and plunge over the falls – during the turbulent tumble (life) – we each travel as a single, unique drop of water experiencing our own pace, our own path.  We drops come together, we separate, we spin and dance to our own tune. At the bottom, we all become one again, in the same way death dissolves us.

If you love San Francisco, parrots with personality, watching a loving caretaker tend his flock, or living the ‘simple’ life we all say we yearn, you will enjoy meeting Mark.

I forgot to find out if he likes coffee.

PostScript: At the end of this 2005 documentary (available at Amazon), Mark reveals that the owner of Mark’s residence will be demolishing it (code requirements) and Mark will be moving. Further research indicates Mark still lives in the Bay area and the parrots still thrive on Telegraph Hill, all having moved on in their own cycles of life.

The Vision Thing

(Coincidentally, I wrote this post last week BEFORE  ‘what color is the dress’ set the world a-twitter!)

We see, look, view, observe, peer, watch, stare, examine, gaze …

How we characterize vision is unique to each of us – a combination of visual acuity, our level of awareness, and emotional reaction to what we are seeing.

I was reminded just how unique when I read Dan’s recent post about his color-blindness. Now I wonder if any of us see ‘true’ colors, or discern the same subtleties of hues, pastels and palettes when we look at something. How do we know? I haven’t a clue what colors you see and vice versa.

butterfly Tangle

Hint: There’s no lavender, Dan.

I’ve worn glasses or contacts since the tenth grade. Once I saw the world in high definition 20/20 rather than blurry 20/400, I never let those glasses out of my sight (no pun intended).

In hotels, I refuse to take the side of the bed without a nightstand because my glasses will be out of reach. I insisted that the nurse let me hold my glasses, through the night in the hospital, because I’d need them if I had to rush to a fire exit. I sit out fun times in the lake because I’m too scared not to be able to see the shore.

Despite my disappointment when my eye doctor told me recently my vision can no longer be corrected to 20/20, I remind myself that I’m seeing better than ever. Yes my visual acuity is deteriorating, but I am paying far more attention to what is around me – seeing light, shadows, patterns, colors, movement in ways I used to ignore.

Having to accept and adjust to changes in visual acuity reminds me of an episode when I first moved to Boulder in 1977 – a heady time for a Midwestern farm girl to be transported to a culture mix of Rocky Mountain outdoor living and Boulder earth muffin hippies. After devouring the menu of classes offered at the Community Free School, I registered for Vision Quest.

The first lecture was about how Westerners (non-Asia) interpret vision as visual acuity and strive to provide everyone with the same 20/20 corrected vision. Easterners, we were told, accept eyesight as it exists without correction, and interpret vision as what the mind and soul perceive.

Our first assignment was to take a walk and ignore visual acuity using our other senses and soul to guide us. We didn’t have to go as far as closing our eyes, but the instructor encouraged us to leave our glasses at home.

I lived north of downtown, and several miles separated me from my favorite Chautauqua Park up a steep hill at the south edge of Boulder. On a sunny, warm September afternoon, I set out on my ‘vision quest’ to walk without seeing to see what I could see. (Or something New-Age-y like that).

Although I was scared crossing streets, and somewhat intimidated that someone might be staring at me, I gained confidence with each block. The sun was warm – too hot almost – and I huffed and puffed my way up the long hill, not yet acclimated to Boulder’s altitude.

Breathless and triumphant, I reached the park entrance and headed up a familiar trail a short way before deciding to sit awhile and ‘invite vision into my soul’. I stepped off the trail, crossed my feet, bent my knees to lower myself to the ground, and sat squarely on top of a small prickly pear cactus.

So … yeah … The Vision Thing?

I find it a giant pain in the ass.

There Is A Crack In Everything

“Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget the perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything;

That’s how the light gets in.”

Thanks to Susan at Garden of Eden for this quote which is part of Anthem by Leonard Cohen.

Ever since Saturday morning when I read Kelli’s moving post and haiku about her family ties and her own adoption, I’ve been haunted by unsettling emotions.

Kelli wrote about her adoptive family in such loving terms; so full of confidence in belonging; pragmatic in her decision not to seek out her birth mother, yet clearly forgiving and appreciative of her birth mother’s decision.

I think it is Kelli’s statement that her adoption occurred in the 1970’s, and her haiku thanking her birth mother for carrying Kelli for nine months, that struck a chord with me. In our youth we gloss over, and bounce back from, events that only through the lens of life’s experiences do we realize have left lasting impacts, scars or emotional cracks.

I hesitated to refer to Kelli’s post, and asked her permission before doing so, because I don’t presume to comment on her birth mother or the circumstances surrounding Kelli’s birth.

But reading that 1970’s date was a jolt to my heart. Putting me smack dab in my college dorm in 1969-1972, a time when a perfect storm of mixed social messages, blossoming sexual appetites and unappealing consequences made me and many others behave and make decisions in ways we were too immature to handle.

Despite the burgeoning sexual revolution, ‘good girls’ – at least at my Midwestern university – were not supposed to want or engage in sexual activity. Because it was frowned upon, we could hardly make our first-ever visit to a male gynecologist; admit we were having sex; and ask him for birth control. Neither did we insist on condoms since diseases weren’t yet a significant issue, and carrying a condom implied an intention we weren’t willing to admit.

So we had sex; crossed our fingers; and waited with bated breath for our periods to appear. If they didn’t, we marched down the dorm hall to our Resident Assistant’s room and tearfully confessed. Fortunately for 95% of us, our teary confession was enough to get the blood flowing within a couple days.

While I made that dreaded march to my RA’s room a couple of times, I was very lucky to be in the 95% who never faced the choices of a young, terrified, unwed, pregnant college student. None of those choices would have been easy at the time. In retrospect, I find them even more untenable.

Abortion wasn’t yet legal, and carrying a baby to term as an unwed mother was not socially acceptable. Neither was raising a child as a single parent. Marrying for the wrong reasons was no more palatable.

If I had gotten pregnant in those years, I would have begged my RA to help me arrange an abortion – partly to spare the shame of telling my parents and partly because I would have mistakenly thought it a quick, inconsequential fix. Even though abortion was illegal, the channels were established and many girls used them.

Today, all these years later, I tearfully acknowledge how much I would have regretted choosing an abortion. Yet carrying a child to term then giving my baby away would have been unbearable. Either decision would have weighed forever heavy on my heart; I’m not sure I would be able to forgive my younger self.

Where am I going with this? I don’t know, except to acknowledge the bravery of women like Kelli’s birth mother and gratitude for adoptees like Kelli who forgive.

I was a lost child without guidance in those years, and I feel for every female – and male –  past and present who finds her/himself in difficult sexual circumstances.

Today’s sexual mores and pitfalls for young adults are no less confusing and risky than they were in the late 60’s. If anything, they might be more convoluted. Without debating specific issues like abortion or sexual assault on campus, I believe that young adults of all genders are as much at risk as I was of being thrust into situations in which they are ill-prepared to make decisions carrying lifelong consequences.

Research is providing more insights into how and when our brains develop, and why our teens and twenties can be fraught with impulsive behavior that, especially when hormonally driven, can be destructive physically and emotionally. I used to think young adults have become far too pampered (and I still do), but I also have come to realize how utterly vulnerable we all were/are at that age.

Two By Two

Dan put a name to it – Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon – while entertaining me with one of his literary adventures.

I just call it ‘a sign’. Those times when something appears at the exact – usually unexpected – moment to validate you are on the right track, nudge you to pay attention, or indicate you need to change direction. Or even to tell you your stars are aligned, if just for that instant.

I take creating titles for my posts seriously. The titles don’t have to be serious, but I want them to be enticing, imaginative, perhaps with a touch of whimsy. While it might be wasteful to spend much time creating titles – after all, it’s not as if readers are scrolling through a list of titles to choose their ‘reads’ – I get ‘juice’ from my titles, and they often help me organize my writing.

My daughter-in-law taught me her stress crutch – using a factor of Five to decide if what you are stressing about deserves the attention you are giving it.

Will it matter in 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days?

If not, let it go. It’s as simple as that.

It’s like letting the air out of an about-to-burst balloon.

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

I was recently berating myself for how much time I waste, and thinking about a tool I could apply to utilize my time more effectively  – without going all drill-sergeant on myself. Deciding I could extrapolate from DIL’s factor of Five concept, I came up with Two by Two: use time blocks of 2 minutes, 20 minutes and 2 hours. I thought Two by Two would work as a title, wondering where I had heard it before.

Was it a song? A movie?

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

Turns out it’s a 1970 Broadway musical, starring Danny Kaye, about Noah’s preparations for the Great Flood.

Bingo! It’s a sign!

If it was good enough for a Broadway musical, it’s good enough for me. Plus the Great Flood – a stressor that WOULD matter in five days – ties in nicely with DIL’s ‘does-this-particular-stress-need-my-attention’ segue into my Two by Two idea. Not to mention, those animals boarding the Ark two by two.

Hence I unveil my 2015 Two by Two plan for ‘re-purposing’ wasted time:

two minutes


If I have 2 minutes: empty half the dishwasher; vacuum one room; clean one toilet. Where is it written that housecleaning has to be a 2-4 hour slog? I hardly notice the effort when I use the 2-minute-drill.  DON’T ‘quickly’ check email or WordPress!

If I have 20 minutes: do some stretching; walk around the block; practice a tangle; read a chapter. DON’T ‘quickly’ check email or WordPress!

If I have 2 hours: practice keyboard; start an art project; practice writing craft. DON’T ‘quickly’ check email or WordPress!



If it’s 2am: sleep; dream; practice good health. DON’T ‘quickly’ check email or WordPress!

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