Thursday, December 9, 2010


“Village People” connotations notwithstanding, I love the YMCA. It’s the best health club I’ve ever found.

My YMCA, the Shelby County Family Branch in Pelham, Alabama, is housed in the most architecturally-interesting modern building I’ve seen in this county. It has a good-sized, well-configured weight room, a bright, spacious exercise room, a spinning room, a stationary cycling/treadmill room, a tiled steam room, a wood sauna, an indoor pool and an outdoor pool!

There are day and evening adult classes in Spinning and Water Aerobics (high and low intensity), along with high-energy Aerobics classes with names like Bodypump, Bodyjam, Bodystep and Bodyflow, plus Pilates and Yoga! The locker rooms are clean and well-appointed. The staff is friendly and professional, and the clientele are a cordial and like-minded community of people who like to exercise.

My husband and I pay $56 a month to be members. This, my friends, is a deal.

I swim at the Y a few times a week. I started when I was engaged in the battle to lose 30 pounds -- a battle I won, thanks in part to the swimming. I’m not a great swimmer, but I love to swim. In the winter months when the frigid air discourages me from walking, I swim laps for exercise.

I start my regimen in the steam room where the moist heat soaks into my creaky joints and hydrates my skin and my breathing passages. Then I return to the locker room and do my stretches at the barre in front of the full-wall mirror. Based on the yoga I learned back in the day, my stretching routine is as important to me as the cardio and muscle workout I get from swimming or walking. Stretching makes me more flexible and improves my posture. I like to think it makes me more graceful – it certainly makes me more relaxed.

After the stretch, I swim my laps, interspersed with a couple of sets of a Deb-designed water exercise that tones my residual ab-flab. Last, I sit in the sauna and soak up the heat. The whole routine takes about an hour, and I always leave feeling great.

Depending on the timing, sometimes I share the pool with the kids on the YMCA swim teams. They inspire me – they’re fast and they’re strong. It pleases me to see young people committed to the discipline of a strenuous exercise program, and I commend the parents who facilitate this.

If you’re thinking you could stand to lose a few pounds – or a lot of pounds -- may I recommend the YMCA? If you’ve been thinking it for some time, saying it to friends and family, making excuses to yourself and everyone else, and feeling lousy because you can’t catch your breath, move without a twinge, or zip up your jeans – then may I say, “Quit whining and do what you know is good for you.”

Exercise, sensible eating habits, and perseverance are all it takes.

Follow these two simple steps:

1) Start.

2) Don’t stop.

You’ll feel and look better, I promise. Give it 3 weeks and you can call me to complain if you don’t see a difference.

Whatever your exercise of choice, you’ll find what you need at the YMCA. It’s affordable and there are branches everywhere. See you at the Y!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Something New Under the Sun

To celebrate November 23, 2010, the first birthday of my granddaughter Myra Laine, I'm posting an essay I wrote shortly after she was born. All I can add is aptly summed up in this lyric by Marshall Barer from the Broadway show "Once Upon a Mattress."

Yesterday I loved you as never before,
But please don't think me strange;
I've undergone a change,
And today I love you even more...

OK, it's happened to me. I've heard about it, read about it, seen the effects on others, and even wondered what all the fuss was about. Now I know. It's happened to me: I've beheld my first grandchild for the first time.

Myra Laine Layman. Myra Laine, as dainty and perfect as a baby girl can be. Tiny - only five pounds -- with ballerina legs and pianist fingers and a mouth like a rosebud. And I'm smitten.

Her grandfather calls her Zuzu (go figure) and it suits her. Now Zuzu populates my thoughts as I cook ("Zuzu will like this casserole because Zuzu is going to be a girl who loves vegetables"), shop ("Wouldn't that little dress look cute on Zuzu?"), clean out closets ("Zuzu can dress up in this hat"), read the paper ("I have to save this cartoon for Zuzu"), walk the dog ("I'll take Zuzu here and show her this dogwood tree"), and on and on. I'll tell her stories, make up songs for her, dress her up in scarves and pearls, teach her how to bake Challah and custard pie, and read and read and read to her. I'll teach her big words and funny rhymes and how to tap dance and crochet and harmonize.

I remember when my mother saw Myra Laine's daddy for the first time. Just one week old. She flew down from New York to Richmond and my husband picked her up at the airport. She rushed into the house with a hug and a kiss for me, then tiptoed into the bedroom where the baby lay sleeping in his bassinet. She approached him. When she beheld him, I heard an intake of breath, and then she uttered a sound I had never heard before: it was both a sigh and an exclamation of the deepest awe and satisfaction, as if she had lived every day of her life just to see that face and to make that newly-minted sound. The sound of a first-time grandmother. I heard myself make that sound when I beheld Myra Laine.

My husband's respected friend and mentor used to tell him, "There's nothing new under the sun." My husband recalled this the other night as we were talking about our Zuzu. "He was wrong," my husband realized, "Every time a baby is born, there is something new under the sun." A new life to be lived, a new little creature that has never been before, a new being infused with God's special purposes and designs and treasures. For our pleasure, for His glory -- something new under the sun.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Curtis Files - The Last Song

Curtis Files was in the audience at Dream Mecca Studio at the Daniel Day Gallery on Friday night. I was there to hear 2Blu & The Lucky Stiffs, and they were making some beautiful music for the full house at the stylish, offbeat venue on 6th Avenue South in Birmingham.

Curtis, an old-time blues singer -- 81 years old, I'm told -- was introduced as the upcoming act for next Friday night. Later, when the band invited guests to sit in, Curtis took the floor. "I'm ready," he said, "At least I've got to hope I'm ready."

The band laid down a rhythm, but Curtis said, "I'm not feeling it." He turned to the band, raised his hand, and they became his. "Give me a twelve-bar blues in A." The drummer laid it down and the bass and guitar started the slow, familiar progression that settles deeper in your soul every time it comes around. "Put some B.B. King in it," Curtis directed, and the guitarist did. We were all feeling it.

Curtis started to sing:

"I have had my fun if I never get well no more.
I have had my fun if I never get well no more.
All of my health is failing;
Lord, I'm going down slow,
I'm going down slow."

His voice was a little tight -- he hadn't had time to warm up -- but it was strong and melodic. He sang another verse:

"Please write my mother and tell her the shape I'm in.
Please write my mother and tell her the shape I'm in.
Tell her to pray for me,
Forgive me for my sin,
For all of my sin."

Curtis turned and handed it off to George Dudley, the guitarist, who took it up a notch. It was good. Curtis was leading and the room followed. His groove was immediate and visceral, and we all went there with him. He was in it with all his heart. Then his heart gave out.

We watched as he bent forward from the waist, then continued forward and down, grasping the speaker as he reached the floor. He rolled onto his back. He was still.

The audience sat aghast for a frozen moment.

911 was called. A pillow was placed under his head. A small group gathered around him, holding his hands and speaking to him. People prayed. A man and a young woman stepped up and performed CPR. We heard a ragged breath. Hope filled the room.

The paramedics arrived and did their job. Their poker faces didn't tell us anything. They took Curtis to the hospital.

Stunned and subdued, we talked quietly for some time. Then the band took the stage again and began to play. The music was good. It was passionate and powerful. Bruce Andrews' harmonica told the story. The room was a single-minded congregation.

The phone call came: Curtis didn't make it.

The music stopped. A woman sobbed. People gathered in twos and threes to comfort one another. We drifted out into the night, burdened and, somehow, blessed by what we had witnessed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Presentation at "Darkness into Life" Opening Reception

Here is the text of my presentation at the opening reception for the Darkness into Life Holocaust education exhibit at Parnell Memorial Library in Montevallo, Alabama on Nov. 7, 2010:

I grew up Jewish in New York City, and my own back ground is Ashkenazic -- Eastern European. My grandparents grew up in shtetls -- little villages -- in Poland. They came to this country in the early 1900's, so they were safe during the Holocaust. My family never spoke of the ones who stayed behind and I don't know their stories. I wish I did.

The culture I was raised in was the culture of the Eastern European Jews. It's a passionate culture that traveled with us to Ellis Island and to cities around the globe, and it took root wherever we were planted. I'd like to share a little bit of that culture with you today.

My grandparents spoke Yiddish, a richly idiomatic language with elements of both German and Hebrew. Yiddish words like chutzpah, glitch, shmooze and oy vay have worked their way into the American vernacular, so most of us speak a little Yiddish without even realizing it. I never really learned the language as a child, except for what I picked up around the dinner table. My parents both spoke Yiddish, but usually when they didn't want the kinderlach -- the children -- to understand what they were saying.

The music of the shtetls was Klezmer, a style that is distinctive in its upbeat wildness, yet the songs are almost always in a minor key. It's folk music that borders on jazz in its spirit, and it always makes us want to dance. You'll experience Klezmer music this afternoon, thanks to our band led by Alan Goldspiel. By the way, Alan is open to suggestions for a name for this new band. The current frontrunner is "Goldspiel and the Gefilte Fishes." You can see why he needs some input.

Gefilte Fish, by the way, is fish cakes cooked in broth and served with horseradish. It's a standard on Jewish holidays.

What can I say about Jewish food? It's made with the simplest ingredients -- a chicken, a carrot, a potato, an onion -- the foods that were available in the shtetls. Savory dishes that are slow-cooked to bring out all the goodness. Rich pastry doughs filled with fruit and nuts. Oh, the flavors! Smoked whitefish. Pickled herring. Golden braided loaves of challah on Shabbos - the Sabbath. And you haven't had brisket until you've had Jewish-style brisket.

Today we'll have some nosharei -- little snacks -- so you can get a taste of Jewish cooking. You'll sample mandelbrot -- almond bread (my mother's recipe), rugelach --- little pastry rolls with sweet fillings (a friend's recipe), and apple kuchen -- apple cake squares (my grandmother's recipe) -- all prepared for us today with a little help from my friends. And no, I'm not planning to open a Jewish bakery in Montevallo, but would it be such a bad idea?

Humor is one of the things that gets us through the hard times, and we've had some hard times. But we can still laugh, and we often laugh at ourselves. For a wonderful overview of Jewish humor and the Yiddish language, I recommend the book The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten. He uses classic Jewish jokes and anecdotes to illustrate the meanings of Yiddish words. It's very entertaining!

And while you're at the library -- the wonderful stories of 19th century writer Sholom Aleichem tell the tales of life in the shtetls. One of his stories, "Tevye the Milkman," became Fiddler on the Roof. His stories about the town of Chelm -- a shtetl populated entirely by fools -- are classics of Jewish folklore. Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer also told the tales of the shtetls in his short stories. One of his stories, "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy," became the movie Yentl.

Learning was a priority for my family and for all the Jewish families we knew. The educational accomplishments of our children make Jewish parents and grandparents kvell -- be filled with pride, and Jewish children take on the mantle of learning with enthusiasm and dedication. We like to make our elders kvell.

In talking about Jewish culture, I've saved Jewish mothers for last because I could write a book, and someday I probably will. I am a Jewish mother and -- what can I say? Everything you've heard -- it's all true. We're so passionate about our children that it sometimes makes us -- and them -- a little neurotic. But at the heart of the Jewish mother is a woman who just wants all good things for her children, and like the writer Elizabeth Stone, feels that becoming a mother means having your heart walking around outside your body.

A friend of mine pointed out to me that it's a trait shared by all mothers. Yes, I agree, but I think we're just more vocal about it. My own sons can fill you in if you want details. Of course, they have a wonderful Gentile father who helped balance some of the mishegas - the craziness -- and I think they've turned out OK.

I know some of you had Jewish mothers. And I know some of you are Jewish mothers. You know who you are. And here in Alabama there's another category -- the honorary Jewish mother. And you know who you are.

Our Jewish mothers sang Yiddish lullabies to us, they fed us chicken soup with matzoh balls floating like clouds on golden broth, they told us to study hard and stand up straight and wear a sweater. They kvelled over us and they blessed us. I'd like to dedicate this occasion to the memory of my own mother and to the Jewish mothers who were lost in the Holocaust. Zichronam l'vracha -- May their remembrance be for a blessing.

And I hope you'll feel at home in our celebration of Jewish culture this afternoon. You're certainly welcome to partake.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Home Again, Home Again

As much as I love visiting Denver, there's no place like home. Sweet home, Alabama. (Could she be any more trite?) Trite but true. There's that little surge of sugar-laced adrenaline that fills me when I get home to my house in the country. There's just something about coming home.

After Labor Day weekend at the beach, I accompanied my granddaughter Myra and her parents back to their home in Orlando. A six-hour car trip took ten with all the Myra-stops, but that was to be expected. When weary nine-month-old Myra was finally carried into her house, into her room, she started grinning and squealing like a slide-whistle as she looked all around. It was as if she was saying, "Hello, bed! I'm home! Oh, hello mirror! Oh, Horsie and Lamb, hello! I'm home, I'm home!"

It made me think of summers as a kid in New York City, when my family would take off in our household-packed Chevrolet to the bungalow colony in the Catskills where we spent the hottest months. Jewish families from all over the city were regulars at these places. The moms and kids would stay all summer, and the dads would come up on weekends. I know it's where I got my taste for country living.

After Labor Day, we would pack everything up, tearfully say good-bye to our summer friends, and shlep back to the city. As my dad pulled the car up in front of our apartment building, the four of us would say, together, "And here....we....ARE!" The final sound of our little chant would be accompanied by the sound of the car engine turning off. While Dad started to unload, my mother and sister and I would carry a few things up to the apartment. Mom would unlock the big Yale deadbolt and as the door opened, we would be hit with the airless heat of a top floor apartment sitting right under the steaming tar of the roof. Mom would rush around opening windows, and I would greedily breathe in the heavy, still air smelling of woolen carpet and furniture polish. I'm home! I'm home!

Coming home to Alabama is not so much about my house, although I love my house. My "I'm home!" moment came when I walked around the yard, visiting the special places that make up my enchanted garden. there's the "Three Sisters" -- a tree that fell in Hurricane Ivan and whose limbs sprouted up into three new trees not grounded in the earth but connected only to the horizontal trunk. The giant spread of roots that rose out of the ground is a backdrop for a place where I love to sit. The trunk is my balance beam and my barre.

Then there's the Viney Wood -- a little, hidden wood filled with curling vines that we're cultivating into a place where I plan to sit with my grandchildren, telling them stories and challenging them to find the secret treasure in the wood. You won't get it out of me, so don't ask.

The Pyracantha bush which has been here as long as we have, has come into its own this year. Twelve feet tall with huge graceful branches heavy with bright berries, she's the queen of the garden right now.

And the little cedar tree that sprang up in the volunteer garden that evolved behind the back deck is almost ready for her close-up. My husband turned over that earth right after my father passed away, with the thought of making a memorial garden. Dealing at the same time with our son's surgery following a car accident, we never planted anything. Things just started to grow there, and over the last few years we weeded and supplemented until the memorial garden we envisioned took shape without our even noticing. Today, a perfect little cedar stand at the front of the garden. It will probably have to move to another spot where it can grow unhindered, but this year it will be a Christmas tree for Myra, right where it stands.

I'm home! I'm home!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why I Love Housework

I wasn't trained in housework. "Why?" you ask. "How can a young woman not be trained in housework?" My husband has been asking that question for over 30 years. My mother taught me many things, but housework wasn't one of them. Although our apartment was always impeccable, my mother had other priorities. A lovely woman named Leona came over every week to clean the apartment and do the ironing.

Housework wasn't required of me, so I didn't learn it. Of course, I helped wash and dry the supper dishes, and I took the garbage down the hall to the incinerator. I often hung the wash on the clotheslines on the roof and brought it in when it was dry. In winter the sheets and towels were rigid and smelled like icicles and New York soot. Sometimes I dusted and ran the carpet sweeper, but I never learned how to clean a house.

What did I do? I read a lot and wrote stories and poems. I had a tape recorder (newfangled for a ten-year-old in the fifties), and I did "radio shows" with my friends and my little sister, the natural comedian. I played on the school playground and roller-skated around the neighborhood, skate-key on a string around my neck, until the street lights came on. And when my father was home, I sat at his feet and listened to his stories and lessons. So that's why I never learned to mop a floor or clean a toilet or scour a bathtub. My mom did the daily maintenance, and then she was busy with projects and volunteer work, mah jongg and shopping. That's what she taught me, in a nutshell.

My husband taught me to clean a house. (Everyone say, "Bless his heart.") My husband's mother required it of her children -- son and daughter -- and I must say they're two of the most capable and industrious people I've ever known. My hat's off to my mother-in-law. She knew how to leverage chores into character.

So, why do I love housework? I love housework because putting my house in order and making it shine grounds me. It's a way to quiet my mind and focus on physical tasks that bring, at their completion, a sense of peace and wholeness. A clean house feels good. I love housework because there's a memory attached to every photograph I dust and every bathtub I scrub. Memories from years ago and memories from last weekend. The family gatherings and the laughs. The little boys that were, and the new baby girl.

It's a pleasure to keep house, even though it's not my full-time occupation. Like my mother, I have many other priorities. But housework -- necessary and ever-present -- never fails to satisfy. It pleases me to think that all over Alabama, young people are still being raised in the fine tradition of chores that my mother-in-law taught to her children. Not to say that I fault my mother for this gap in my education. It was fine with me. And every time I find that impossible bargain dress or pair of shoes, I tip my hat to the woman who taught me the finer points of dressing well on a budget.

I'm just glad I learned to love housework, too.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"We're Gonna find a Cure for You!"

There's an old Jewish saying that humankind was created because God loves stories. That's one thing all humans have in common -- we all have a story. Stories with happy endings and stories with sad endings. Stories that make you laugh and stories that make you cry. Stories that make you avert your eyes and stories that make you clasp your hands to your heart because they touch your inner core.

At the Susan G. Komen Race For the Cure in Birmingham yesterday, there was a sea of stories. All kinds. My story hardly counts. Just a biopsy, last October, of a suspicious lump that turned out to be benign. The bravery required to walk through that experience was just a drop in the bucket of bravery, by my estimation. I've seen real bravery in this arena. But it opened my eyes and made me aware, right at the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, of breast cancer. Suddenly, it was my own breast under scrutiny. It made me part of a sisterhood, and sisterhood is powerful.

We came from all over the greater Birmingham area -- an army in pink and white converging on Linn Park from all directions. I walk for exercise and I think of myself as a fast walker, but I've never entered a race before and I hoped I was up for the challenge. The 3.1 mile race started at Boutwell Auditorium, went around the back of the Civic Center and across 11th Ave. North to 19th St., then all the way up 19th St. to 5th Ave. South, over to 20th, and then back to the finish line at the entrance to Linn Park.

It was a LONG walk with some long uphill inclines. All the walking I do had prepared me, but it's not an easy walk. Some of us ran - the swift ones -- some of them pushing babies in jogging rigs. Some strolled arm in arm, the pink signs on their backs bearing the names of the ones who bind them: Mother, Grandmother, Sister, Aunt, Daughter, Cousin, Friend. It was a lovely mixed bag of sisters and their kin, all moving together toward the finish line at our own pace while bystanders cheered us on. "We're gonna find a cure for you -- Keep going!" chanted one group of young women on the sidelines. "Keep going!"

Legs tired? Keep going. Thirsty? Keep going. Feet hurt? Keep going. I felt the burn, and "keep going" was what I needed to hear, but I thought about the women who keep going through surgery and radiation and chemotherapy. I thought about their daughters and granddaughters -- the ones at high risk for breast cancer. We need to find a cure, and money is the first step. Birmingham's Race For the Cure was a huge success -- over 16,000 paid an entrance fee and many raised additional support. There's also the Breast Cancer Research Foundation here in Birmingham which raises seed money to acquire research grants for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and has leveraged $2.5 million in donations into over $18 million in grants.

We all crossed the finish line at different times -- my time was 52 minutes. My goal was to do it in under an hour, so I was pleased. Maybe I can do it faster next year. I stayed by the finish line for a long time, cheering the ones who finished after me. I talked to women and heard their stories. There's an element of loss in many of the stories, but there's an element of hope in all of them. "We're gonna find a cure for you -- Keep going!"

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Au Revoir, My Denver

As my second sojourn in Denver comes to an end, I begin to feel homesick already. I'll miss the sun setting over the Rockies at the cocktail hour. I'll miss my neighborhood. I'll miss downtown with its eclectic and harmonious mix of the old and the new. I'll miss driving high into the mountains, top down in a fast and flashy red Firebird, and I'll miss hiking up into the clear, thin air and indescribable vistas of the Rockies. I'll miss all this, but it's the people I'll miss most of all. My heart has connected with this town.

On my first visit, I met Melanie Miller at the lounge at the Burnsley Hotel. My husband and I had come to hear Teresa Carroll sing, accompanied by Doug Roche on the piano. Teresa is a jazz vocalist whose delivery and interpretation of a song weave a spell that touches the emotional core of her audience. Doug's piano accompaniment takes the magic to the another level. Melanie, a charmingly gregarious and knowledgeable regular on the jazz scene in Denver, recognized us as fellow jazz-lovers and chatted us up. She even bought us a copy of Doug's CD so we could hear his solo work, and his music has provided the soundtrack for many mountain drives.

Melanie shared with me her vision for a benefit concert that would showcase some of the outstanding jazz musicians in Denver and raise money to help the homeless and the hungry in the city. I caught her vision and agreed to help her make it a reality. We started making the rounds of the clubs to hear the remarkable talent this town has to offer. I met Billy Wallace, an 80+ year old jazz pianist who looks nowhere near his age but whose music is imbued with the wisdom and easy grace of a man who has played it all and seen it all and whose peaceful demeanor comes from navigating a life that was, perhaps, not always so peaceful.

I met Ron Bland, an extraordinary bass player who balances a family, teaching at three colleges, and a mind-boggling schedule of gigs, and who still found time to meet me for coffee to talk about the music scene in Denver. I met Don Grove, a remarkable drummer whose solos galvanize a room and get the adrenaline pumping, Colin Gieg, a bassist whose rendition of Satin Doll is a must-hear, and Charlie Zanichelli, a smooth saxophonist who moves from style to style with elegant ease. I'll miss these guys -- the music and the conversation. And I'll miss Melanie, a classy broad with a heart for Denver, who will be, I sense, a lifelong friend and partner in crime.

In my wanderings about town I've met people who are passionate about making a difference. Looking for a place to eat lunch one day, I spotted an intriguing looking cafe on Broadway in Englewood and pulled in. The menu at Cafe 180 is flatbread pizza made with whole-grain flour that's hand-ground daily, homemade soups, and fresh, fresh salads. When I offered my debit card to pay for my order, I was surprised to learn that it's a "pay what you can" set-up: you pay what you can afford, or a little extra, or nothing at all. The cafe is a non-profit staffed entirely by volunteers. Cathy Matthews, the founder and Executive Director, explained to me that this is the second restaurant of its type in the Denver area and that it's becoming a model for similar restaurants in other cities. About 30-40% of the people who eat lunch there pay nothing for their meals, volunteering an hour of their time instead. It all averages out, and after being open for two months, Cafe 180 is operating in the black.

There's Michael, a Clinical Case Manager for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, who provides one-on-one help for the down and out in Denver, juggling a monumental case load and diminishing funding. With winter approaching like a freight train, the Coalition has a backlog of 2,000 on a waiting list, and Michael approaches each long day with the calm perseverance of a professional and the heartfelt frustration of a compassionate man who can't meet every need, pursuing his passion for family counseling in his "free time."

There's Louie, the mail carrier who deals daily with the rudeness of an entitled generation of young people who vandalize mailboxes and intentionally block her parked USPS vehicle. Louie is a single mother who is raising her 17-year-old son to be obedient, responsible, and respectful of his elders because, as she says, "You have to start somewhere to make a difference."

Then there are the new friends who have welcomed me into their homes for a meal, a glass of wine, an afternoon in the garden, an introduction to their friends, a stimulating conversation. Dennis, my husband's offbeat and always entertaining friend, and Joy, opera buff and my role-model for being a grandmother in the 21st century, have given me a sense of belonging.

Au revoir, my Denver. I'll miss you and, God willing, I'll be back for more.

Deb recommends:
Cafe 180
Broadway and Floyd
Tues. - Sat., 11-2

Friday, September 24, 2010

Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

It's been a long time since I've lived in a city neighborhood where everything you need is within walking distance and the folks on the street greet you with a smile of recognition. Twenty years of living on a country road in Alabama have lulled me into the contented quietude of lush green landscapes and dark night skies where the nearest neighbor is half a mile away and every errand involves getting in the car. But dormant within has been the girl who grew up on the streets of New York City, walking the pavement with long-legged strides that never counted the miles while making the rounds of bodegas, dry cleaners and cafes where all the faces were familiar.

In Denver, where my husband now lives and works and where I visit for a month at a time, I've laid claim to a neighborhood: my walkable section of Capitol Hill, from 6th to 13th, from Broadway to Cheesman Park. My first visit to Denver was in the heat of July, and while many Coloradans stayed indoors and complained about the unusually high temperatures, I leashed up my little Shih Tzu, armed myself with sunscreen and a bottle of water, and took to the streets. The sun, a mile closer than in Alabama, felt good as I walked, and freed from the suffocating humidity of the deep South, I soaked it up like a tonic.

The neighborhood charmed me. I loved the small, stylish apartment buildings with names like "Bermuda," "Gaucho," and "Doris." I loved the big, grand corner houses with wrought iron gates and curved turrets. I loved the carefully-tended gardens with profusions of hollyhocks and purple sage, coneflowers and black-eyed Susans. Returning in September, I found the gardens evolving towards fall with golden marigold, mums and late-blooming roses.

And then there's Poet's Row, a one-block stretch of Sherman Street that has captured my fancy. A showcase of Art Deco and Art Moderne styles built mostly in the 1930s, nine of the apartment buildings on this block are named for great American writers -- seven of them designed by the same architect, Charles Dunwoody Strong, a lover of literature and poetry. From the "Mark Twain" to the "Emily Dickinson," each three-story building is an eye-pleasing gem of fine proportions and elegant detail.

Walking east on 11th, the neighborhood changes to a family flavor. Along with the joggers and dog-walkers and bicyclists, I now pass parents carrying babies in papoose sacks and pushing toddlers in strollers. This is my favorite part. I like to see children growing up in friendly, diverse neighborhoods where they can learn tolerance, self-expression and good-citizenship -- the fundamentals of true community. As we neighborhood elders watch the little saplings grow and thrive they become, somehow, the responsibility and the hope of us all. Walking the track in Cheesman Park, I always swing through the playground where the sturdy little bodies and tousled heads remind me of my granddaughter Myra Laine, my family's first contribution to the generation that will take the reins halfway through this century.

As I walked to the park on a recent Saturday, a gentleman sitting in his lovely yard with a frosty pitcher of lemonade on a little table and an extra, empty chair beside it invited me to stop and have a cold drink. I map the neighborhood with feet on pavement, still an outsider, always ready for a conversation that will allow me to enter in, to connect, to hear a story. This gentleman, a neighborhood fixture, draws the neighborhood to him with an inviting tableau of refreshment and the aura of a benign spider in a friendly and welcoming web. I sat down to a cool glass of lemonade and a delightfully interesting conversation which I hope to continue.

From Tony's Market to Buffalo Exchange to Penn Street Perk to Cheesman Park, I've found everything I need in a nicely walkable neighborhood where cars yield to pedestrians and people greet one another with a smile. I like to think that, should I stay here for any length of time, I would be recognized as a neighborhood regular. "The fast-walking woman with the long legs and the little Shih Tzu keeping pace? Oh yeah, I've seen her around the neighborhood."

Photos of Poet's Row by Nik Layman
(Robert Browning, Mark Twain, detail of Louisa May Alcott)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rat in the House

Twelve-year-old Pearl, cat in residence, has earned her reputation as a critter-catcher. One night, as my husband and I sat on the deck enjoying a starry sky, Pearl slipped into the house with her mouth full of something dark and furry.

"Chipmunk," my husband guessed, just as Pearl released her toy in the house and resumed the game on her home turf. "She'll get it, "my husband assured me as I groaned about having a chipmunk running loose in the house.

By morning, Pearl was showing no interest in the pursuit, and there was no evidence that the deed had been done. I wondered whether this episode would end with a rodent running across my path or with a smell that would require a search and recovery mission. I didn't like either scenario.

That evening, as my husband worked at his desk in his study, he called out ominously, "It's not a chipmunk." Oh dear. We locked the cat in the study and hoped for the best. No luck. "Call an exterminator," my husband advised.

I called first thing in the morning and waited for his scheduled afternoon visit. About lunchtime, as I walked to the front door to let the dog out, a plump and panicked gray field rat scurried down the hall toward the door. I rushed to open the door and let it out, but by this time the dog was ready to pick up the chase, so off they went into the living room.

It was a blur of frantic skittering and galloping and sliding. I can only imagine my personal soundtrack in the midst of this. Squealing and shrieking come to mind. There may also have been some jumping up and down and arm-waving. I know my adrenaline was in full gear and it was, for heaven's sake, a rat in the house!

The rat took refuge behind a heavy credenza, so I put the dog out in the yard and scrambled to find something to keep the rodent where it was. I plugged the spaces between credenza and wall on both sides with rolled up towels and called my husband to give him an update. "Rats can climb over towels, " he cautioned.

Okay, okay, what could I use to fill the narrow gaps between the credenza and the wall? I scanned the house looking for something rectangular and solid. Eureka. I build barricades with cereal boxes and books, and by the time I was done, that rat was not going anywhere. I figured the worst that could happen was he would eat some cereal while we waited for the exterminator.

For the next two hours I guarded the rat with a broom at the ready. I checked on him every few minutes, and he really wasn't bad-looking for a rat. Certainly he was nothing like the scabrous, vicious predators that are infamous in New York, my home town. He was clean and roly-poly and actually sort of cute.

When the exterminator came, he dismantled the cereal-box barricades and guided the rat into a bucket. "He's a nice healthy-looking rat," I said, "Just let him out somewhere -- but not in my yard."

"Yes, ma'am," the cheerful exterminator assured me, "I'll take him to a field and release him. He'll be fine."

I felt good about the outcome until I related the tale to my husband. He laughed and reminded me how his Dad used to catch chipmunks and mice in a Have-a-Heart trap. Our boys always wanted to know what Granddaddy was going to do with the critters he caught. "I'm going to teach them how to swim," he replied. This satisfied the boys' gentle compassion for little furry things. They never knew that Granddaddy also said, under his breath, "I've never found one yet that could swim."

So now I wonder if my rat is happily roaming the countryside, or if my exterminator has just had lots of practice dealing with soft-hearted housewives.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Gulf That Unites Us

Labor Day weekend on the Gulf Coast is traditionally the final family gathering of the summer for folks from Alabama, Georgia and beyond. We pack up our children and our coolers, our umbrellas, floats and kites, and we converge on the white sand beaches from Gulf Shores to Panama City.

A few months ago, we all wondered if BP had brought an end to life as we know it on the Gulf. Would we spend this Labor Day on fouled, empty beaches, scraping up oil and washing sea birds in tubs of soapy water? But God in His infinite wisdom and mercy had an army of oil-eating bacteria ready to take care of the worst of the clean-up and a disaster was averted, praise His Name.

So our family gathered for a long Labor Day holiday on the famous sugar-white sands of a pristine and perfect Panama City Beach. The occasional patch of black, on closer inspection, was sand that had been carried in by the tide, we fancied, from the black beaches of the Isle of Pines in Cuba. Under a cloudless sky, the water was shimmering green Roman glass. The sun was hot and the Gulf, which I like to think of as a huge mineral bath, worked its healing on our bones as we surrendered to its gently buoyant embrace.

We arrived early in the week -- twelve of us in all --and we had the beach to ourselves at first. As the weekend approached more families started arriving. The early-comers would stake out their spot and hoist their beach tents and umbrellas. Soon little family groups would join them as they pulled in, road-weary and ready to unwind. I watched as parents my age greeted their grown children and welcomed the newest babies to the gathering for the first time. I watched as little cousins hugged littler cousins and ran off to play together, and I watched as sisters and brothers sat close and caught up on each others' lives.

Remember the opening and closing scenes of the movie Love Actually? They're montages of reunions at airports -- fathers and sons, grandmothers and babies, sisters, lovers, best friends -- all captured in that moment when they behold each others' faces and embrace with the longing and fervor engendered by separation. The banked embers of the heart ignite as we enfold the ones we love in our arms and press our cheeks against theirs once again.

Our family was no exception to this orgy of delighted togetherness, and this year our tableau had a new centerpiece: nine-month-old Myra Laine, who took to the water like a tadpole, voraciously licking the salt water off her floatie and squealing with joy when the little waves splashed her face. Around the big dinner gatherings, we passed her from hand to hand and she greeted each face with an expectant smile, knowing she would be entertained in some new way. A beard here, a chunky necklace there, a tickle, a funny noise. It was surely sensory overload, but she was game.

Myra's parents, for whom this first vacation with a baby was really no vacation at all, stoically did the schlepping and the maintenance while the rest of us provided the babysitting and the diversions. "It does get easier," I assured my son when he seemed, at one point, overwhelmed at the amount of work it takes to have a nine-month-old at the beach. "Look at Dad and me," I pointed out as he surveyed the mountain of baby paraphernalia under his umbrella while Myra's mom fed her and got her settled for a nap. "At this stage in our lives, all we need is a towel, some sunscreen, and a bottle of water, and we're good to go."

"Thanks for rubbing it in, Mom," he snorted as I ran off, unencumbered, to play in the Gulf. I've paid my dues; his time will come.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Saturday Night at the VFW

With my husband working out of town, I'm always looking for entertainment on the weekends that he doesn't fly home. My criteria: fun, affordable, and wholesome. When my girlfriend invited me to Saturday night ballroom dancing at the VFW downtown, I was intrigued, but skeptical. "Seriously," I asked, "the VFW?" I was picturing old geezers in faded army uniforms pushing walkers and oxygen tanks around the floor. But my friend, a very hip 50-something single, assured me that I would enjoy it. She knows I love to dance.

Dancing is in my blood. I even have a couple of chorus girls and a Rockette in my lineage. My parents were the Fred and Ginger of their social set, and my dad started me on the fox trot as soon as I was tall enough to dance with him without standing on his feet. My husband loves to dance too, but he's more of a freestyler. He wooed me on disco dance floors, and he still moves like no one I've ever seen, but every once in a while I long for the structure and predictability of ballroom dancing. So I took the opportunity, put on my dancing shoes, and went to meet my friend.

For ambiance, the VFW has next to nothing to recommend it. The dance was in a big institutional hall with a bandstand at one end and a bar at the other. The dance floor was huge, with a perimeter of long tables and chairs, and the place was packed. Scanning the crowd, I saw mostly 50 and 60-somethings: totally my demographic. A really good live band, the Archers (also 50 and 60-somethings) filled the air with covers of everything from Rock to Swing to Latin. And people were dancing. Really dancing.

I spotted a few couples who had surely been dancing together for years -- they floated from move to move with practiced familiarity and grace. But even the dancers who weren't polished had obviously taken some ballroom lessons. Everybody knew the steps, the turns, the variations, the footwork. The guys knew how to lead, and the girls knew how to follow. I was in my element and I couldn't wait for someone to ask me to dance.

I stood at the edge of the dance floor tapping my foot to the music and trying to look approachable and friendly, but after ten minutes I started to feel, again, like the skinny, pimpled adolescent with glasses and braces who had wallflowered at lots of high school dances. I forced myself to stand up straight and not look desperate. My heart sank a little more with each song that saw me standing, partnerless, on the sidelines. Was I destined to always be a wallflower at a dance with my peers?

Finally, one of my friend's regular dance partners approached me and asked me to dance. Did she put him up to it? I didn't care. Out on the dance floor I easily followed his lead, adding a few flourishes learned years ago at the many Bar Mitzvahs and wedding receptions where I had honed my skills. I must have completed some kind of unspoken initiation, because once I demonstrated that I could indeed dance, my dance card filled up and I didn't sit down until the band quit at midnight.

Some of my partners were experts, some were beginners, but they were all serious about dancing. They led me through fox trots, rhumbas, two-steps, and cha-chas. They twirled me through energetic swing dances. They waltzed me around the floor and I imagined myself in a hoop skirt and crinoline. Each gentleman politely thanked me after our dance and led me back to where he had found me. I felt, finally, like one of the popular girls.

At the end of the night, I ducked into the ladies' room and glanced at my reflection in the mirror. I was flushed and disheveled. My hair was damp and my clothes clung wetly. I was out of breath. My feet hurt. And I was utterly spent and happy. So, if you're looking for me on Saturday night, you'll probably find me at the VFW. I'll save a dance for you.

Deb recommends:
Saturday dance at Kelly Ingram VFW Post 668
8:00 pm - midnight
1801 11th Avenue North
Birmingham, AL
Admission: $5.00
Cash bar

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fire Ant Control - One Man's Methodology

He kills fire ant beds with urine. He pees on them.

This is not white trash entertainment. It's a tested, methodical strategy that he has perfected over years of experimentation, and it works.

Fire ants have plagued the South since they jumped ship in Mobile in the 1930's and started their northward invasion. They bite, and the bites hurt like hell, then itch and fester. Killing fire ants is a serious mission requiring aggressive tactics. Men have tried them all. Pesticides, gasoline, mechanical crushers, exhaust fumes, explosives, electrocution -- it's war.

Urine works. all you need is a flashlight and a full bladder. It's best done at night, he says, so you don't offend the neighbors. The big challenge is not to splash your shoes, but one of the benefits of doing it at night is that the grass is laden with dew, so if you miss, you can just walk through some tallish grass, but be sure to polish your shoes before you wear them again.

It typically takes two applications of urine to kill a fire ant bed. Fire ant beds may be mounded or volcano-like in shape. You want to go for the core. Pee straight down into the highest point and then soak the rest of the bed deeply. You're going for the queen, who is protected at the base of the bed. The peak of the bed is as tall as the queen is deep. So first shoot a straight stream right down the hole at the top. Then you just drench the suckers. On warm days, worker ants bring eggs up near the surface. He calls drenching the whole bed on warm days "fouling the nursery."

Depending on the size of your bladder and urethra, you can make applications to one or more bed with one load. (His personal best -- three.) It takes a lot of control to stop and start and stop, so practice is beneficial. Make sure you get the most mileage out of each load. You might use a full load on a large ant bed, but don't blow your load on starter beds.

Some beds take years to kill. One in his driveway took him five years, but it's gone now. It might crop up again, but he'll be ready for it.

Grass continues to grow as an ant colony builds its bed, so after you kill a mound, the next step is to rescue your lawn. Fire ants secrete a substance that hardens dirt, so rake the mound or it will petrify. Expose the grass and redistribute the dirt.

Fire ants are aggressive and tenacious, and you may have an infestation in some years. Enlist the help of your friends. Recruit a fraternity from a local college. It's worth the cost of a keg.

There is not general agreement concerning the properties of urine that make it poisonous to fire ants. Some suggest it's the proteins and enzymes; others think urine upsets the pH balance of the mound. Although urine has not gained wide acceptance in fire ant control, it works.

He says it's using what God gave you to do what you need to do. And it's damn satisfying. Fire ants are the enemy -- show no mercy. He marks targeted ant beds by stabbing a lit cigarette butt into the peak of the bed. You're next.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Myra's Posse

Have I mentioned that I have a granddaughter? This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me, the mother of three sons, a baby girl in the family is a glimmer of lace and tulle in a sea of denim and camouflage. Myra Laine. How I adore her.

Myra's extended family, an eclectic mix of folks, gathered from north, south, east, and west for her baby dedication at the church in Alabama where her parents were married. When Myra's diaper unloaded onto her pink batiste bloomers right before the service, it was clearly a two-grandmother job. My daughter-in-law gave the urgent signal to her mother: "Mom! Bathroom! Now!" I figured I might be able to help, so I joined the procession, bringing up the rear behind my son who carried the essential diaper bag. We ducked into a side room with a big conference table and got to work.

Like a well-trained Nascar pit crew, we performed a full-service pit stop in record time. As if we had practiced for days, we all knew exactly what to do in a sprint that involved laying down a changing mat, pulling off satin shoes and lace-trimmed socks, removing the offending bloomers without soiling the rest of the outfit, undiapering, wiping, rediapering, replacing socks and shoes, tying little bows, packing everything up, and keeping Myra entertained so she would be smiling when she faced the congregation.

Eight hands moved in furiously efficient synchronization as we danced around each other to grab a foot, a wipe, a diaper, the hem of a dress, a bonnet, a pacifier. And Myra cooed through it all. I think she was enthralled by the blur of motion in which she was center stage.

We're your posse, Myra, I thought as we walked back to the sanctuary with just moments to spare before the service began. And when we all stood together with the rest of the family as our baby girl was dedicated to the Lord, I thought about how blessed Myra is to have -- besides her amazing parents -- two sets of great-grandparents, two sets of grandparents, four uncles, a host of great-aunts and great-uncles, and a world of cousins. Yankees and Southerners, Christians and Jews, city folk and country folk, united by this child who is flesh of our flesh, and by a sense of humor that overrides our differences and makes us an unlikely but authentic family. Myra's posse.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On Becoming a Senior

Most people don't guess my age, which is over 60. I've been blessed with good genes. I'm officially a senior citizen now, and this rite of passage has given me a fresh outlook. I've forgiven myself for the foolishness of my youth, learned a lot from experiences both good and bad, and feel myself moving, hopefully, towards that place of unflappable calm and wisdom that I find so attractive in those who have made it to their 80s and 90s with their minds and spirits intact.

My reference points for being a "woman of a certain age" are the women in my family who pointed the way. I hear my mother's voice in my head, and it's a welcome voice. I find myself calling women younger than myself "dear," as she did. It sounds terribly retro to my ears, but it flies off my tongue with ease and it doesn't seem to offend, so I don't edit. My mother had a gift for connecting with people. She took a sincere interest in everyone she met, and the seeds of care that she sowed reaped a harvest of respect and affection. I aspire to that.

Being a senior gives me, I believe, a certain license to dispense kindly advice and encouragement to the young. (To me, anyone under 50 is young.) Not only do I happily own my opinions, but I have no qualms about making them known if I think it will do some good, and it often does.

My father's older sisters, Anna and Fanny, whom he affectionately called 'Arsenic and Old Lace," were an ongoing object lesson for me. Aunt Anna was a self-centered beauty with a reputation for comic wit and a sharp tongue. She never cut her hair -- it was down to her knees -- and she wore it in a braided crown that gave her a regal appearance. (Personally, I think it was all those hairpins that made her so testy.) Aunt Fanny, petite and plain, was a gentle soul with a generous spirit who married a scoundrel and raised four sons pretty much on her own.

My aunts were both tough cookies. To support her boys during the 1920s, Aunt Fanny drove a truck route from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The truck was stacked with bootleg whiskey. Aunt Anna hosted a well-known poker game once a week at her cold-water flat on the Lower East Side. Anna bossed and snapped at everyone around her, but was also so funny and entertaining that we all forgave her. Fanny was the warm, welcoming bosom we ran to when we needed a reassuring embrace or an understanding ear.

Aunt Anna died in her 80s, cancer-ridden and in terrible pain. I visited her in the hospital a few weeks before she died and listened as she railed in bitter self-pity. She had nothing good to say about her life or her family. It grieves me that a woman who had been so passionate about life found no peace at its end. Aunt Fanny, still soft-spoken and energetic, moved to a nursing home in her late 80s. She liked it there because, as she said, "I like to help the old people." When she died at the age of 95, she spoke her last words to her three remaining sons who were gathered beside her. "Tell everyone I love them," she whispered.

Love, my friends, remains the answer. As I transition into my seniorhood, I want to get better and better at feeling love, sharing love, receiving love, dispensing love. I want to be one of those old ladies whom young people affectionately kiss on the cheek and sit beside for serious conversation because it makes them feel good about themselves. Being a senior is serious business. We point the way, as the women in my family did for me, and the direction we point can have a profound effect on rising generations. I accept the mantle humbly and willingly.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Old Broads in the Kitchen

I'm discovering that old broads make the world go 'round. Maybe it's because I am one, and I fancy that a network of old broads is an unstoppable force. As Bette Davis said, "If you want a thing done well, get a couple of old broads to do it." So I collect old broads and cultivate relationships with them. They're everywhere, and I've found some gems. I'm building my network.

In each of the little Rocky Mountain towns we've visited, there's always a cafe that serves up perfect eggs, juicy burgers, homemade pies, and specialties of the house like Buffalo chili and sweet potato fries. If you peek into the kitchen, you'll find an old broad who has honed her skills cooking for a family. Her resume is thirty-plus years of short order breakfasts, production line sandwiches and Sunday dinners for a crowd. She invented multi-tasking. For her, all cooking is homecooking, and at her cafe, you want to tip the waitress and kiss the cook.

One Sunday, we pulled into Pat's Falling Rock Cafe in Howard, Colorado at about 10:30 in the morning for a late breakfast. We were the only ones in the place, and we could hear a lot of pan-rattling in the kitchen and snatches of a tense conversation: "...need some help...get these potatoes in the oven....never be ready for the church crowd."

A hand-written sign behind our table said "Sunday Special: Pork Chops and Scalloped Potatoes." I surmised that a breakfast rush had kept Pat from prepping her potatoes, and we all know how long homemade scalloped potatoes take to bake! I felt for her, and when the waitress came to take our order, we both ordered the simplest thing we could think of: a couple of eggs sunnyside-up, bacon and toast.

While we waited, we looked at the drawings and paintings that covered the walls -- many of them portraits of Pat. "Who's the artist?" I asked the waitress. "Pat's husband," she replied. "He usually helps in the kitchen, but he couldn't be here today." So that's why Pat was behind.

Things quieted down in the kitchen as Pat got to work. The sizzle and aroma of bacon filled the air. I said to my husband, "She can turn these eggs around pretty quick, and then she can get on those potatoes."

We were halfway through our perfectly fried eggs and deliciously crisp bacon when two cars and three motorcycles pulled into the parking lot within seconds of each other. A couple, a party of four, and three bikers came in. The waitress looked stricken. The pan-rattling started again, and I began to worry about poor Pat. There was no hope for the potatoes now.

I said to my husband, "I think I need to go back there and peel and slice potatoes for her, or she'll never make it." He calmly nixed that idea, although he understood where I was coming from. It's some kind of Old Broad Code of Conduct -- never abandon another old broad in her time of need. But a husband can trump that when push comes to shove.

While he paid for our breakfast, I ducked into the kitchen to give Pat a little encouragement. "You really have your hands full, don't you?" I said with a smile. Pat was beyond stressed. "I just don't know how I'm going to do it," she moaned. "I know you can do it," I answered, "And I'm praying that the preacher will have a good, long message today so church will let out really late!" That got a laugh, which was good enough for me.

Deb recommends:
Pat's Falling Rock Cafe
10281 Hwy. 50
Howard, Colorado

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Honeymoon Suite at the Rock-N-Row

My husband took me to the mountains for a romantic weekend. He knew a couple of great places because his friend had taken him to his own favorite destinations over July 4th weekend, and my husband had been saving them to share with me during my visit to Colorado.

We drove four hours into the mountains. You have to understand, driving into the Rocky Mountains is almost enough all by itself. It's a feast for the eyes, and the chronicler in me wanted to plaster a camera to my face and capture every image, every crag, every golden hillside, every purple flower, every cloud, every shadow of a cloud, every silver streak of snow-- but the light in the Rockies is a living, moving thing -- too fleeting for stop-action. So we just looked and exclaimed.

Our first stop was a hot springs camp hidden deep and high in the mountains, overlooking a vast fertile valley. The fence posts along the 8-mile dirt road leading to the camp were hung with shoes of every size -- some old, some new -- where, we decided, people who had just opted to stay at the springs forever had left the last thing that tied them to civilization. We spent the afternoon soaking in the warm healing waters and emerged rejuvenated and relaxed. You might find my shoes on a fence post there, someday.

We drove another hour and a half to the Rock-N-Row, the best rafting place on the Arkansas River, where my husband had scouted out a little cabin with a private beach on the river. It was one of three cabins used by the rafting guides during the season -- one of them was vacant, and it looked like just the place to my husband, at least from the outside. He didn't look inside.

We pulled in at about 7:00 in the evening. The main building was closed, but one of the guides was waiting for us. The private beach was noisily occupied by a large family who were camping on the property, so not so private, but the cabin was off to the side and it did face the river and had a nice little porch, so there were possibilities. Until I opened the door.

Picture this: a 10 by 10 foot wooden box with a double bed, a filthy rag of carpet, and a two-month layer of dust on a rickety wooden dresser. There were clean threadbare sheets on the bed that reeked of river guide. One of the pillows even had a pillowcase. A bare light bulb hung dead-center. A picture of Cochise was thumb-tacked to the wall. No bathroom. No running water.

My husband smiled hopefully at me and mumbled something about "right on the river." I tried to be a good sport. I investigated. The main building across the big yard had a toilet that was accessible, and there was a pump in the yard with clear, cold mountain water.

I thought back to earlier times when I would have rejected accommodations that didn't have a hair dryer. It's not all about me, I thought. I'm past that. It's right on the river. I determined to make the best of it. But the floor was so filthy I couldn't imagine taking off my shoes, and a night in that bed would be like sleeping in the boy's locker room at your local high school. And no running water.

I know I looked stricken, but I held my tongue. I tried to smile. I failed. Said my husband: "Do you want to go up the road to one of the motels instead?" YES! And so we did, and it was cozy and perfect. And right on the river.

The next day we went back to the Rock-N-Row for a thrilling whitewater rafting trip. I met the owner, who had booked the cabin for my husband and was surely curious about how the wife would react. "Sorry you went to the trouble of putting clean sheets in the Honeymoon Suite," I said. He laughed.

Deb recommends:
Cotopaxi, Colorado
Whitewater rafting, fishing, rock climbing, horse riding.
The best place on the Arkansas River.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rocky Falafel - The Feral Shih Tzu

In the diminutive lap-dog body of Falafel, my two-year old Shih Tzu, beats the heart of a feral alpha male. His size and undeniable cuteness elicit baby talk from strangers, and his googly-eyed gaze causes giggles, but he is, in truth, a predator and a guardian -- alert, ready to spring, ever watchful, and protective of his mistress.

The 5-hour plane trip from Birmingham to Denver in a pet carrier under a seat was a stretch for him. He likes to see what's going on around him from the highest possible vantage point. On the layover in Chicago, I let him out of the carrier as we sat in the waiting area at the gate. He stood at attention on my lap with the stance of a mountain goat and the focus of a hawk. Cuteness is just a disguise for this dog.

Now far from his home on a green and lush Alabama country road, Falafel watches the city below from the 15th floor terrace of our Denver apartment. A noise in the hall rouses him from a nap with a fierce bark that surely, for a potential intruder, conjures the image of the dog he truly is: large, toothy, not to be messed with.

We took Falafel with us on a day-trip into the foothills that make Denver the dead-end of the midwest -- the last outpost of civilization before the impossibly forbidding grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. We pulled off the road to explore some woods, and Falafel was in his element at last. He followed his nose with gleeful abandon, perched on rocks, investigated holes and shelters, and marked his new-found territory.

When we called him to get back in the car, he balked. He stopped and looked at us as if to say, "Thanks, I'll just stay here if it's all the same to you. You guys have been great, but this is where I belong."

So now Falafel, the king of cuteness, has a new add-on name: Rocky. When we call him Rocky Falafel, we see him as he sees himself: a feral prince of the Rocky Mountains, a carnivore who would surely be a one-bite meal on the Rocky Mountain food chain, but a predator nonetheless.