Sunday, September 25, 2016

Ever heard of a "rent" party?

Last Friday night I had a dinner party. I invited way more people that could comfortably fit into my small house. And, it was a party with a catch. You got to come and eat and drink and socialize, but before you left there was a basket by the door and the deal was, you were to toss a few dollars into it.

I HATE asking people for money, but I did it anyway because I hate even worse the thought that there are way too many people out there without a place to call home or about to lose their home because of unforeseen circumstances.

So. I decided to have a “rent party.” I asked people to come dinner and I offered a selection of soups, homemade, bread, dessert and fellowship and I told them up front that this was a party with a catch. There would be a basket where they would be asked to help the Neighbor to Neighbor program that provides rental assistance for people who find themselves in a crisis situation for whatever reason, and about to be evicted from their home.

“It can happen to anyone,” Kelly Evans who works with Neighbor to Neighbor in Fort Collins explained, as she shared her own experience following a when her husband entered the real estate business in 2008 just as the recession was in full swing. She and her family found themselves in a situation where they could not pay their rent and were forced to borrow from family to avoid homelessness.

Kelly told us that “rent” parties started during hard times in the 1930s when friends and neighbors got together to help each other out. Aside from the fact that we don’t know the people we’re helping personally, it is no different from the rent parties Neighbor to Neighbor sponsors today.

I have to say that by the time the evening was over, I’d decided that this was one of the most satisfying dinner parties I’d ever hosted. There was a whole lot of animated conversation. People seemed to be genuinely enjoying each other. There wasn’t even room enough for everyone to sit down and eat, but that didn’t seem to matter. They ate and drank and chatted to each other standing up.

By the end of the evening, two of the guests had offered to host a rent party, we had raised $850 and I had decided that “a party with a purpose” is the way to go.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Exploring southeastern Colorado on a bike

                                                               Bikers at Bent's Fort

It takes a while, like about four hours, to drive from Fort Collins to Ordway in the southeastern part of Colorado, population 1,038, center of business, school and government activities for Crowley County. It’s also the home of two correctional facilities and close to the midpoint of the Transamerica Bicycle Trail. That’s where the 2016 Pedal the Plains bicycle tour started September 16.

We grabbed a quick sandwich at a tiny, friendly restaurant filled with locals, parked our car, then set off for a quick 24-mile ride into Fowler. Now this is a bigger place, taking pride in 1,164 residents. We set up our tent on the grounds of Fowler Elementary School and had plenty of time to walk into town where there was music, a performance by some extremely intelligent hogs, a community dinner served in the park, drawings for prizes, a band and dancing from 6 to 10 p.m.

Saturday morning we set off on a 58-mile ride south and east to La Junta pausing for lunch at mile 42, location of Arkansas Valley CSU Research Center. That may seem like a long way to go for lunch, but hunger is never an issue on this trip. Every 10-15 miles there’s an aid station with water, sports drink, porta potties, and food—Kind bars, red licorice, fruit chews, and animal crackers. The challenge is to keep from gaining a quick five pounds in three days.

It could seem lonely pedaling the sparsely populated high plains except for the fact that PTP, sponsored by the state of Colorado and The Denver Post, does a fantastic job of making sure everyone is safe and happy. Tired? Signal for a sag wagon. Bike problems? Wait five minutes and some help will come along.

The final day, from La Junta back to Ordway, was the longest at 71 miles but the first 17 were a delightful cruise with a little help from the breeze and a smooth, wide shoulder on the highway. What a kick to average 18 miles an hour. While that magic patch of road did not last, the rest of the day had its own charm. A visit to Bent’s Fort added eight miles to the ride but was well worth it.  An 1840’s reconstructed adobe fur trading post is a site not to be missed. I’m not sure the fort had ever had so many visitors on bikes.

I found myself grateful for the chance to explore a little known part of the state, concerned by the evidence of poverty I saw and awed by the endless vistas, enormity and vivid blueness of the sky. Thank goodness there are still places where there is so much nothing and so much beauty.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Running to remember 9-11

This is what I had to say before the start of a 5k race in Cheyenne this morning. A “grandma challenge” was also part of this race. I got to give every woman who beat me a medal!

                                                        Abby Elizabeth Arndt

I have a hero. Let me tell you a little about her. Since she’s a girl, maybe that means she’s a heroine. She is 23 years old and her name is Abby Elizabeth Arndt. She went to high school in Fort Collins, where I live.  A year ago she graduated from Colby College in Maine. After graduation she moved to Madrid, Spain where she spent a year teaching English. Now she is in New York City seeking her fortune.

I’ve known her since the day she was born. In fact I was there when she turned out to be a girl even though the ultra sound said something different. Her parents were very surprised.

When she applied for colleges and the application asked about interests, Abby wrote, “indoorsy.” She wasn’t much into sports, camping or hiking.

She tried to run a little when she was in high school. She tried a little more when she was in college but she got injured easily and soon gave up. After all, she was an “indoorsy” girl.

Something happened when she went to Spain. She began to run. And then she ran some more. She didn’t get injured. She ran with friends. She ran in the hills. And she got faster and faster.

On July 1, she came home. On July 4, she ran the 5k race in City Park in Fort Collins. Right before the race, I heard a rumor that she had decided that she was going to beat me. “Yeah, right,” I thought. “No way.”

Before I got to the first mile marker, Abby had passed me and I never saw her again until after the finish. She beat me by 22 seconds.

20-25 is a tough age group. She didn’t get a prize. 75-79 is a pretty easy one so I did get a prize, a really cool ceramic jar with the Statue of Liberty on it. I gave it to Abby.

Why is she my hero-ine? Because she stuck with her running when, for a very long time, she seemed to be going nowhere with it. I have a dozen grandkids and they are always making jokes about beating me. Three of the boys have been beating me big time for years. The other three don’t run much at all. Of my six granddaughters, Abby is the only one who’s beaten me. I couldn’t be happier.  Too bad she couldn’t be here today.

But there is another kind of heroism that is more quiet. That doesn’t show up when there’s a crisis, but rather is an ongoing kind of thing.  These heroes go about their business quietly, taking care of a sick friend or relative for as long as their help is needed. By sharing their expertise, their time and their money to see that something they believe in gets done, even when it looks pretty impossible.  By parenting with patience and wisdom when the job seems a never-ending one.

Every one of you lining up to start this race, is a hero. I mean it. I don’t care if you’ve never run a race before or if you’re shooting for a personal best, an overall win or an age-group medal, it takes guts to step out there and see what you can do in front of a whole herd. Maybe you’ve trained, and maybe you haven’t. If you get out there and run as hard as you can, you probably know that it’s going to hurt some.

This race honors the heroes of 9/11, many of whom lost heir lives on that awful day 15 years ago and others who are still suffering the consequences.

Let’s get out there and run. Good luck. And remember to act like a hero because you are one.

running to remember 9-11 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Old red finds a new home

A few days ago I folded up my 67-year-old red nylon hoodie and delivered it to the Avenir Museum, associated with the department of design and merchandising at Colorado State University. It’s a brand new beautiful building with lots of glass and state of the art classrooms and display areas.

I think my hoodie was very fortunate to pass the test to be accepted as part of a collection sports clothing from years gone by. Knowing where it was going, and that it would be well taken care of, made it easier to say good-bye to old red. I have a history with that jacket, given to me by my parents when I was 13 and learning to ski.

A while ago I wrote a piece about old red that appeared in a collection of essays titled Going Green, true tales from gleaners, scavengers and dumpster divers edited by my friend, Laura Pritchett.

Should you be interested learning more about old red, see below.

Because of a dad with itchy pants, Libby James spent her childhood between the UK, Washington, DC, New York, Seattle and Philadelphia, but for the last 40 years, Colorado has been her anchor. She has a masters degree in Western American Literature from Colorado State University and has written features for newspapers and edited magazines in Greeley and Fort Collins. She likes to run, bike, write and play with tea bags and with her 12 grandchildren.

Of Rags and Bags

I’ve had a lifelong affinity for frugality and the quirky habits that go along with squeezing every possible bit of value out of what I own. I cut tooth paste tubes in half and scoop out the remains.  Some of my clothes are very old, and lately, I’ve quit tossing used tea bags into my compost pile because I’ve found a a way to give them value. Using up and re-using defines me, I guess,  
            Maybe it’s because I grew up in the suburbs of London before and after World War II when scarcity was a fact of life. Or maybe it’s in my DNA, inherited from an English grandmother who was widowed young and raised four children on practically nothing. “I’m a widow with four children,” she would explain to sales clerks, always with the expectation of a lower price for her purchase. Whatever it is, I think it satisfies something deep inside me to see how long an item can remain useful and to figure out new ways to use things that would otherwise meet their end in the trash heap.
                        When my mom married an American businessman working in London, he took her to meet his family in New York for their honeymoon. Because my mother spoke so vividly about it, I can picture her even now, in the kitchen of my American grandparents’ high-rise apartment, watching horrified as my grandmother dropped a dozen egg yolks down the drain in the course of making an angel food cake. 
            In the post-war years, eggs were so scarce that when my dad traveled from London to the Netherlands on business, he brought home, on the boat and by train, twelve dozen eggs. They were placed carefully into a bucket of gelatinous goo called water glass that preserved them for a long time. We treasured those eggs, sharing some with our neighbors, and making the rest last as long as possible.
            Several years ago I bought my son Jeff a birthday card that was so funny that I didn’t sign it. Instead I wrote him a note on a separate piece of paper suggesting that because this was such a great card, I wasn’t going to mess it up by signing it. He could use it to send to someone else. In a few days it came back to me with “consider it used” scribbled across it. I saved it and sent it to him for his birthday the next winter. The next summer, he sent it back to me--and on it went for ten years.
            My love affair with compost is related to my penchant for making things do double duty. I get a kick out of depositing food scraps in a corner of my yard and watching them, with the help of worms, weather, and a little water, turn into a nutritious, aerating addition to my garden. That which once had no value, in time, becomes something of value.
            I still own a red nylon windbreaker that has been part of my wardrobe for fifty-seven years.  A relic of my learning-to-ski days in Seattle, it was given to me by my parents when I was thirteen. Back then, a ski day including bus ride, tow ticket and lesson cost eight bucks. My jacket, I admit, is a little worse for wear. A yellowed shoelace replaces the original drawstring for the hood. Seams gap open here and there, causing little wisps of fraying red fabric to dangle from a sleeve and a shoulder. On the pocket flap, I prize the small holes where tow tickets were once stapled. I never removed a single ticket, letting them pile up, one on top of the other, proud reminders that I was indeed a skier.
            I wore my jacket, not long ago, on a wintry bicycle ride. Good thing I wore Old Red, I said to myself as the wind came swooshing low along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I keep this jacket because it still keeps me warm, and also, I think, because it brings back memories of those early days on the slopes of Snoqualmie Pass that kindled in me a lifelong passion for the outdoors and honestly earned exhaustion. By now, my jacket has a long history,  and is, perhaps, on the way to becoming a personal legend.
            When I moved with my family from Seattle to Philadelphia at age sixteen, my jacket went inactive. There were no ski slopes nearby and my lame attempt to play lacrosse on a high school team did not require a windbreaker. After graduation I spent four years in college in the middle of Ohio where ski slopes were an even more remote dream. My jacket languished in the back of my dorm room closet and my only exercise was walking the mile from the dorm to campus and back again.
            I had a chance to ski again when I married and moved to Boulder, Colorado. My jacket served me well in the years that followed as I clung to one wobbling small child after another snowplowing down bunny slopes clutched in a “V” formed by my screaming thighs.
            Soon nylon wind breakers were eclipsed by down, Gortex, polypropylene and polar fleece. Where a heavy sweater under a windbreaker was once sufficient, now it seemed you needed a “system” consisting of several layers of just the right kind of wicking, waffled, wind resistant fabric.
            The kids grew up and went off to ski on their own and I took up different sports. I sweated up Pikes Peak and down the Grand Canyon on my two feet and from Iowa to Maine on two skinny wheels. Like an old friend, my jacket stuck with me.
            I never gave a thought to getting rid of Old Red until I was presented with a stylish red fleece pullover at a marathon in Steamboat Springs, Colorado in 2000. Here was some worthy competition for my oldest piece of clothing that by now had arrived at the half-century mark. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to relegate my frayed red rag to the dumpster, or even the Goodwill pile. We have too many memories together. So I keep my grand old rag, a symbol of good times and some would say irrational frugality.
            I try not to let my “hang onto it” propensities get the best of me. I like to think of myself as a minimalist--as someone who keeps only what is needed and useful. I believe collecting stuff for its own sake is a disease with dire consequences--frustration,  outrageous consumption of valuable time, inefficiency and often full-blown depression. I have friends who have been trying to pare down their possessions ever since I’ve known them, all the while shopping away which compounds their dilemma.
            I love these friends, and I think I understand them. The hardest things to get rid of, next to the things you think you might need one day, are things that have been given to you by a good friend, things that conjur up fond memories, trigger a story or recall a wedding, vacation or accomplishment. How can you throw away the chipped pottery bowl a son made in kindergarten or the blurry black and white photos your uncle took in Singapore?
            Every toss requires a painful decision, one we may never be ready to make. Despite my determination to give new life to twisty ties, rubber bands, old shoelaces and yogurt containers, two things help me to toss when it’s time. I moved a lot when I was a kid and I live in a very small house. Moving forces one into the throw-out mode. The need for living space does the same.
            I used to throw away my used tea bags without a twinge of guilt. I drink lots of tea. I grew up with a mom who believed that a cup of tea could cure anything-- sore throats, stomach aches, hypothermia--even insomnia. Every day two or three bags ended up in my compost pile. I can’t believe that for so long I did such a stupid wasteful thing.                       
            These days I keep my tea bags and beg my friends to save theirs.  Rejuvenating tea bags has become my passion--one that satisfies my “re-use” gene and feeds a wary, ever-lurking entrepreneurial bent as well.
            I started making tea bag art when I fell in love with a design on a used tea bag glued to a note card I received. The greeting read, “Once filled with tea...Now filled with love.” One day in a fit of faux creativity, I slashed open a Celestial Seasonings tea bag I’d soaked to extinction, and shook out the soggy contents. A slightly stained square of porous fabric pinched together at the edges by a tiny serrated border remained, dangling from my fingers.
             Please know that I earned a “C” in art every year I was in school until I didn’t have to take art any more. Even so, I possess some limited skills with a pen which includes making very small dots and drawing lines.
            What I do with tea bags, glitter and paint, is not art, but it is something--craft, dogged perseverance, procrastination from more onerous tasks--I don’t know. What I know is that I can spend hours designing and creating artsy little squares and rectangles that look surprisingly pleasant mounted on a note card and surrounded by a simple gold or black inked frame. Sometimes I add words like, “Old Bags are Best,” “Old tea bags never die. They just get dressed up,” or “Happy Bag Day.”
            I began to experiment with different kinds of bags. Celestial Seasonings seemed the best choice as they are unencumbered by staples and strings and are a convenient, square shape. But I discovered that stringed and stapled bags work just as well. Some bags come to me after a week or so in a plastic bag, vaguely smelly and beginning to mold. The stains on these aged bags inspire abstract designs. The first time I saw pink bags, stained by hibiscus or red zinger tea, I was ready to reject them. But I found that the deep pink provides a dramatic background for black and silver markings.
            Finding enough raw materials has been my most pressing issue. Some people just don’t take me seriously when I ask them to save tea bags. Others forget. I made a foray into my compost pile to see if I could rescue a few bags. No luck. Tea bags disappear quickly, probably a special treat for worms.
             I’ve sold enough “oldbags” so that I now have a few coins to keep me supplied with blank notes, glitter, markers and glue. But I’ll never be able to drink enough tea to supply my needs. I may resort to begging at restaurants. Meanwhile, there are no bags flying out my back door into the compost pile, and I’m consuming more tea than I ever have in all my life.
            It’s easy to exchange money (if you have enough) for new clothes or for printed note cards. But I think I’ll go on using and re-using, hanging on to my old clothes and saving tea bags to make note cards. And maybe, in some small way, the world will be a better place. 

u be interested in reading more about old red, see below.