Saturday, December 22, 2018

Saving the life of a teabag

Maybe it's because the year is coming to an end. I’ve suddenly had an urge to figure out just how many notecards I’ve created from used, dried out and ironed teabags during the last 11 years. Because of my lame bookkeeping, I will never know an exact number, but it hovers around 6,000. I’ve also made in the neighborhood of 2,500 laminated bookmarks using strips of teabags for a canvas. And at times I’ve made teabag coasters and gift cards. I call my business OldBags.
No. I did not drink all the tea that was brewed in order to retrieve teabags with interesting stains on them. I have a loyal group of friends who leave their used bags on my doorstep or bring them to me when we meet. I am forever grateful for a lifetime supply.

I’ve sold OldBags from my home, through the mail, and in several local shops. Since 2008, I have been a member of Trimble Court Artisans in Fort Collins where I sell my cards and put in a few hours each month working in the store. I have had the great pleasure of getting to know the fifty-plus talented artists that belong to Trimble Court and keep the business vibrant and thriving.

I started when a friend sent me a teabag card made by women in a small village in South Africa. I liked it so much that I saved it. One day I decided to see what I could do with a used teabag. I’ve always been a recycler at heart and I produce a couple of teabags a day myself.

The product I came up with looked quite different from the South African version. Over the years the designs and coloring on the cards has grown and changed. That’s part of the fun.

I love giving teabags new life.  When I get stuck on a writing project, I often turn to a wispy little teabag canvas and start messing with it.

Saturday, December 15, 2018


I’ve got home on my mind. It could be because it is the “nostalgic season” or maybe I was inspired by a story-telling session where the subject was “There’s no place like home.”

I came home and listed all the houses where I had ever lived. There were 18 of them ranging from Essex County in the UK to Washington DC, New York, Seattle, Philadelphia, Boulder, Greeley and Fort Collins in Colorado.

The runaway winner for the most melodic address goes to 8605 Sundale Drive, Rosemary Hills, Silver Spring, Maryland. Ironic because the house was a sad little structure hastily built to accommodate the flood of workers coming to Washington DC during World War II.

Situated at the bottom of a hill, our basement quite regularly became the depository for a surge of muddy water. Remnants of those floods clung to our Christmas ornaments forever after. It was the house where I had regular panic attacks most every day, alone in the darkened living room before leaving for the first grade. It was also where my dad taught me to run cold water over my wrists in the hot humid months, to help me sleep at night.

“Helmsley,” in Brentwood, Essex, gets the prize for the most elegant house I ever lived in. The Brits like to name their houses. I was born in “Rye Cottage,” and soon moved to Helmsley before war-related forced evacuation from the UK took us to the U.S. We spent a summer in Groton. Connecticut before my dad took up his wartime job in DC and we settled in to Sundale Drive.

Near war’s end my mother, brother David and I moved to Ardsley-on-Hudson,  New York. My dad returned to London to resume his job. We joined him when the war was officially over, and in time to get a glimpse of princess Elizabeth and Margaret in the victory parade in London.

We took up residence in a charming little cottage in Coxty Green in the British countryside. My most vivid memory from there is of a herd of cows passing by each evening on their way to their home pasture. I can still hear my brother calling out, “The cows are marching.” Isn’t it weird, the things you remember from childhood?

From Coxty Green we moved into “The Chantry” on Priests Lane, which seemed it might be a permanent home. By this time I had been in school for a while and had mostly gotten over being the kid with the weird accent (American). But no. We were not to stay. My dad had itchy feet.

In late 1946 my little brother John arrived, welcomed even though unexpected, and more than 10 years my junior. When he was three months old, we shipped off to the US again, this time so that my dad could take up a position in the Foreign Department of the Seattle First National Bank. But he’d never been a banker. We paused in New York for four months where he learned about banking and where once again I became the kid with the weird accent (British) in Scarsdale, New York.

In their wisdom, because I was deficient in American history, they said, the school enrolled me in fourth grade. After a few weeks, they decided that maybe I really belonged in the fifth grade. Fourth graders were Brownies. Fifth graders were Girl Scouts. I was the only member of the Girl Scout troop with a Brownie uniform which made me an awkward standout.. I weathered that one without much angst. In the Scarsdale house I was lucky enough to have a four-poster bed.  Bubble gum was a new thing and not easy to come by. I saved mine every night—sometimes for as long as a month— a huge lump stuck onto one of those graceful posters.

Then on to Seattle, reached by a three-day trip on the Empire Builder, a train we came to love. My dad would sometimes take us down to the train yard in Seattle on a Sunday morning to see the Empire Builder get washed. Such simple pleasures!

In Seattle we took up residence at 1900 Taylor Avenue on Queen Anne Hill with an expansive view of Lake Union. I finished my elementary education at John Hay School and by the time I entered Queen Anne High School I felt totally at home. I loved everything about Seattle—the salt water—the fresh water—the mountains—even the liquid sunshine.

We bought a little cabin on Liberty Bay for $6,000 and it was on the rural roads surrounding the place that my dad taught me to drive. During the process, I drove us into a significant ditch where we were firmly stuck.  Chunky, barely 16 and wearing a two-piece swim suit that did my shape no favors, my dad ordered me out of the car to knock on a stranger’s door and ask to borrow a shovel.  Mortified, I did it anyway.

At Queen Anne High School I was elected to a student council office. My braces were gone and Conrad Jacobsen had taken it upon himself to kiss me. Life was good. Too good to last. My dad’s itchy feet intruded again. In November 1952 I flew with my family, kicking and screaming, to Philadelphia where my dad took up a job at Philadelphia National Bank. I entered Lower Merion High School, one unhappy camper who had never seen a pair of Bermuda shorts and thought everyone spoke with a very strange accent. I spent my free time that year writing letters to friends back home in Seattle. After all these years, I still keep up with some of them.

We rented a house at 1515 Surrey Lane in Ardmore, PA and within a year had bought 1424 Westwood Drive in the same neighborhood, the first house we had ever owned. It was from that house that I headed off to college in Ohio. “Not one dime will I give you to go west of the Mississippi River,” my dad told me when I wanted to apply to the University of Washington in Seattle. So, spurning his suggestion that I go the Bryn Mawr, an all-girls school close by, I chose to go west to Ohio Wesleyan. It was a choice I never regretted. That was my first step toward moving west that in some ways I have been pursuing ever since.

In the summer of 1958, with a degree in English in hand, I married an Ohio Wesleyan boy who I had convinced to go west—well—not as far as I wanted to go, but to Colorado. At least I was headed in the right direction.

 (For those of you who have waded through all this--bad news--there's more to come!)
Good news this week is that I'm sold out of my book, Still Running. It is available on Amazon and I'll have more in a few days.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

What did you say?

Kirkland Signature 8.0 Premium Digital Hearing Instruments
When I told a friend that I ran into in the grocery store that I had just joined Costco, she replied, “You’ve gone to the dark side, and then she admitted that she’d done the same. “We joined because I needed glasses.”

I confided that I joined to enhance my hearing. After yet another meeting of an all-female board—all with sweet soft voices I couldn’t hear, I said, “no more.” I’d been putting it off for too long. I’d even made an attempt to grow out my hair to hide my secret, but that was a miserable failure.

My son, in his late fifties, was having trouble hearing students in his business classes.  We agreed to go to the Costco Hearing Center together. We’d both heard good things about  the place, and given how long we had to wait for an appointment, so had many others.

We stepped into two different booths to have our hearing tested by two extremely nice and competent ladies, and a little while later emerged with diagrams that looked surprisingly similar when we compared them.  I don’t think Costco has too many mother-son duos in search of hearing aids.

After being fitted with these intricate little wonders, we cruised around the enormous Costco building and before long agreed that we were sold. We signed up and made appointments for fittings in a couple of weeks.

The devices were so welcome and so comfortable that I almost went home with them. It wasn’t until I was about to leave the building that I realized that I still had the demos in my ears.  Oops! I returned them pronto.

This morning I went to a three-hour workshop on ageism titled “Changing the Narrative.” I missed a good bit of it—including the words others were chuckling over--because I couldn’t hear them. But very soon, all that will change.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Creating a path

Only a tiny patch of snow remains now in the grassy median strip that runs in front of my house. But a couple of days ago, the strip was covered with a thick layer of wet snow. It was impossible to run on it without getting an immediate case of soggy feet.

Just as I rounded the corner onto my street and moved to the side of the road to avoid the median strip, I spotted a smiley fellow who looked as if he had taken on a massive shoveling job.  “Are you shoveling out the world?” I asked as I passed by.

“Nope,” he replied. “I’m just shoveling a path in this strip wide enough for people to run on. C’mon over.”

That I did and completed my run on a softer, friendlier surface than the one I had planned to use. Creating the path had required a good bit of work. I even went farther than I’d planned to in order to take advantage of the welcoming surface for at least a mile. It made me feel good.

I have no idea who the shoveler was or where he lives, but he has to be a neighbor. And he has to be a good guy.

I’m grateful for this tiny moment in my day, made brighter by the action of a stranger.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

For the Duration

I have been a member of a writers’ group for many years. We started out as a group who wrote for children but over time we have morphed some. We write poetry, novels, non-fiction, science fiction, young adult and children’s stories, and poetry. We are incredibly fortunate to have in our midst a singe male who is a science and science fiction writer, illustrator and graphic designer willing to put up with the rest of us. There are times when we function as a therapy group as well.

Two years ago, we lost Nancy Phillips, one of the most talented among us. She left behind the manuscript for For the Duration, a powerful novel based on her childhood experience. With the help of her husband, a close writer friend, the writers’ group and our talented token male, we are publishing Nancy’s book next month.

Perhaps her story lay untold until now for good reason. It resonates with the current world situation with such gentleness yet strength, that it could not be more appropriate for our time. It ranges widely, addressing the love of neighbors for each other, the touching nature of a friendship between a young boy and girl that endures for a lifetime, and on a larger stage, with issues of race and gender prejudice and the acute pain that can result from a government obsessed with fear to the point where it does, in Phillips’ words, “stupid things.” War-time hysteria caused internment of American citizens of German descent and even resulted in deportations in order to obtain freedom for high-level Americans caught behind enemy lines in Germany.

Eight year-old Claire is called upon to care for two brothers, one a newborn, and basically run the household when her mother suffers from severe depression and her father is away at his war-related job seven days a week. When her close friend and neighbor, Carl, and his family, who are of German extraction, suddenly disappear, Claire is heartbroken and wonders all her life what has happened to them.

This experience drives the course of the novel which opens years later when Claire’s granddaughter finds a ring in the attic given to her by Carl more than 50 years ago. “I was nine. It was my first engagement ring,” she tells her granddaughter.

And so the story unfolds, enhanced by Phillips’ skillful dialogue and her ability to keep the reader wondering what will happen next. Claire’s interior monologue enriches the tale. Warning: tears likely.

For the Duration will be available on Amazon.