Tuesday, September 8, 2020

My Favorite Uncle

 by Libby James

My  Favorite Uncle


George, my mother’s younger brother, was a tool-loving kid. He was so attached to his hammer that he named it his boodle-do and took it to bed with him every night. 

The youngest of four children, his dad died when he was only four and he soon became the fix-it man in his family. 


My mom loved to describe the image of George’s leg poking through a hole in the kitchen ceiling. He had been making some repairs in the bathroom above which culminated in a rather large hole in the bathroom floor. Big enough for George’s leg to dangle through. Eventually, he would become an engineer.


He was born in 1910 in Harold Wood, Essex, a suburb of London, and lived an extraordinary life. 


As a young man, he joined the army and was sent to France during World War II. He survived the battle of Dunkirk and swam into the English Channel where he was picked up by one of the British pleasure boats on rescue missions in those choppy waters.


He arrived on British soil with a pair of trousers, a pair of socks, a towel, and nothing else. In the pocket of his trousers was a water-soaked 10-pound note which he gave me.


He spent the rest of the war with the British troops in Burma and India. He came home with a nasty case of malaria and a big khaki hat with a turned-up brim that my brother and I thought was the coolest hat we’d ever seen.  We called it his Burma Hat.


It took him several months to recover enough from malaria so that he could return to his work as an engineer. In the meantime, he became interested in genealogy. He created a family tree going back to 1712, recording information in his precise printing on a big role of blueprint paper. It is a treasured record of our family and I have it still.


When he served in India, his commanding officer tired of writing letters home to his wife. He asked George to begin writing to her. He more than obeyed those orders, to the point where he and Peggy became more than just pen pals.


When the war was over and he was sent home, George went immediately to see her, and before very long she was “in a family way.” My cousin Georgina was nine months old before Peggy’s divorce was finalized and she and George were able to marry.


After Peggy died, George fell into a depression he could not shake. Finally, Georgina insisted that he embark on a cruise to the West Indies. It was to change his life.


Aboard ship he met Joanna Rodriguez, a widow and a travel agent based in Mexico City. She agreed to visit him in England.  He ended up returning to Mexico with her where they intended to marry. The ceremony almost didn’t take place because George could not provide the necessary documentation—Peggy’s death certificate.


“Ah, time is short, we must marry,” Joanna insisted. The authorities relented and the ceremony took place before they returned to England.


Even though she found herself a long way from home and in a very different culture, Joanna came to love England and found joy in making George happy.


About to turn 61, George announced his retirement explaining, “Being married to Joanna is going to be a full-time job.”


I inherited my lousy sense of direction from him. When he got lost on the way to his life-long home from the London’s Heathrow Airport, he breathed a sigh when he spotted Big Ben. “Ah, now I know where I am,” he declared.


George wore an old necktie around his waist instead of a belt.  When the temperature got to 80 degrees, he slept in a little summer house at the end of his garden.


He played golf until he was 86, taking great pleasure from the friends he played with. He died in 2001 at the age of 91 with Joanna, his wife of 30 years, by his side.


I feel fortunate to have had such an uncle.



Hangin' in There

 by Libby James

Two hundred and fifty-one days of the year 2020 AD are gone. One hundred and fourteen days remain. On this dreary, unseasonably-cold day in September, I am inclined to wish that this year would simply hurry up and get gone.


What a silly thought! Every day, especially as one gets older, is to be treasured, savored, and enjoyed. Yet maintaining an authentic and lasting positive outlook has become a challenge during this year of a world-wide pandemic caused by a sneaky virus that we don’t understand very well and that has flown the whole world for a loop.


The pandemic is impossible to ignore. We mask up before we go anywhere outside our homes. Many of us don’t leave home at all, choosing to order groceries online and have them delivered, and giving up any opportunity for human interaction.  


When we are out and about, we work hard to remember to stay six feet apart which makes us appear to be unfriendly when in reality we’d like nothing more than to give a friend a hug or to simply engage in some chit-chat with a stranger we encounter on a walk.


More and more frequently, we meet, and take classes, and share our thoughts and concerns online. It’s better than nothing, but communication via an electronic device can’t hold a candle to all that we gain during an animated, in-person interaction.


And yet, as long as we are still present in this old world, vertical and capable of taking nourishment, we gotta hang in there, do our best to be in touch with each other, keep smiling, and looking toward a day when Covid-19 has faded into a disconcerting memory.


As 2020 draws closer to a close, perhaps we’ll find new ways to appreciate each new day. It won’t be easy, but there’s no doubt that it will be beneficial to each of us and to those around us.






Saturday, August 29, 2020

Lost and Found

Lost and Found--A Little Gold Earring

This afternoon, in the course of preparing to make a batch of blonde brownies, I opened a kitchen drawer, glanced down, and breathed a long happy sigh. There, in plain sight, was the tiny, round gold earring I had been searching for. Yesterday, I found the backing for the earring on the carpet in the middle of my kitchen floor, so I knew the rest of it was probably close by. Earrings don’t stay long in an ear with no backing to hold them in. I went over the whole carpet carefully, then moved on to the hardwood floor in the rest of my kitchen, wiping it down with a damp cloth. No luck.

This little beveled (bumpy) gold ball has a history that goes way back. It was made in Birmingham, England by Payton Pepper and Sons, a jewelry firm owned by my family for many years. I bought it there when I visited fifty years ago. I always chuckle when I remember that as a stockholder, I was invited to be part of the Payton Pepper board meeting while my husband was politely asked to sit out in the hall.

Long ago, I lost the mate to this earring, to my great chagrin. After searching for it, I gave up and bought a reasonable facsimile from a local shop, but it was smooth and had none of the beveling of the original. Even so, it served as one of my go-to earrings that I wore almost every day. 

About a week ago, I glanced in the mirror one morning and saw that one of my earrings was gone. Of course, it was the beveled one. I hadn’t gone out of my house. I knew it had to be somewhere between the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. But it is such a small, sneaky little thing. I had no luck finding it. I put on another pair of earrings and told myself not to be so foolishly obsessed with trying to find it.

And then last night the backing showed up on my kitchen floor, and silly me, I was on the hunt again. Imagine my surprise when that earring showed up this afternoon among the forks and spoons in my kitchen drawer. I’ll never know how it found its way there, but I’m grateful.

Once again I have a pair of go-to earrings—one beveled and British, the other smooth and American. And that’s okay. After all, I am half British and half American, but not beveled on either side as far as I know.


Friday, August 21, 2020

Escape to Wyoming

Escape to Wyoming

I haven’t been on the road much lately so when my daughter Kristin invited me to tour Wyoming with her, I was ready to go!  We set off from her home in Cheyenne on a Sunday afternoon headed to Casper and then on to Lander, where she once lived. It was too hot for anything more than a walk around the border of the town. There was so little traffic, so little activity that we began calling it “the quiet town.”  We had hoped to hike in Sinks Canyon where the Popo Agie River vanishes near the mouth of the canyon but the heat kept us from doing that.

Then it was on through the beautiful Wind River Canyon, heading north toward Thermopolis, home of the world’s largest hot springs—not a tourist attraction with great appeal as the temperature approached 100 degrees!

Our next stop was Meeteetse, (Indian for meeting place), population 397 and the home of one of Kristin’s good friends where we were treated royally. Our hostess has deep roots in Meeteetse, owns quite a bit of property there and serves the town’s Episcopal Church as its priest. Meeteetse is also the home of a gourmet chocolatier who sells his products around the world.

Then on to Cody—Buffalo Bill country and a taste of the old West. Another of Kristin’s friends had us for lunch.  Afterwards we headed back toward Cheyenne, a six hour trip where there was lots of opportunity to appreciate the many miles of grasslands and lack of any sot of human development.

Over the many years that she has lived in the state, Kristin has come to love the place, its people, and the wide open spaces. “It’s a well-kept secret,” she says.  I don’t expect she will ever leave.

Kristin in front of the Meeteetse Mercantile on Main Street

Friday, July 31, 2020

Dump the Slump


I just walked myself out of a slump—at least most of the way. I don’t get out of sorts easily, and I don’t like it one bit when I do. It’s boring, unproductive, and leads nowhere.


My recent slump occurred for several understandable reasons; a pandemic, the general state of the world, especially in the political arena, and the fact that I’m temporarily looking pretty freaky because of some bad skin issues. (There will be no photo to accompany this piece!)


It was hot out this morning and my search for shady places to walk was only minimally successful. Nevertheless I plugged along for an hour and 48 minutes, time enough to create an improvement in my general outlook.


People often accuse me of being an introvert and while I do lean in that direction, the Myers Briggs personality indicator puts me right in the middle between extrovert and introvert and I think that is where I belong. I know that 75 percent of Americans are extroverts so that puts me a bit out of sinc with the majority. My mate of many years and my four offspring are all solidly part of the majority, some more so than others. The four children have produced an even dozen grandchildren ranging in age from 15 to 31, six boys and six girls, outspoken, vivacious human beings that thrive on interaction with the world around them. To my great delight, these cousins get a huge charge out of interacting with one another.


I’ve lived alone for more than a quarter century and done so happily, enjoying my independence. But with the onset of coronavirus restrictions, my need to interact with my fellow human beings has become ever more obvious to me. 


One of the reasons for this feeling has to do with the fact that I have less that I have to do and more time on my hands. I love to grow things and pull weeds, but you can’t do that eight hours a day. I love to mess with the written word, but right now I don’t have an engaging project underway. Daily runs have deteriorated into daily walks. On occasion I can break into a run but I miss working up a really good sweat.


I talked to myself as I walked this morning, pointing out that it was time to “shape up or ship out.” Time to broaden my horizons, time to realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have family and friends nearby even if it is not as easy to spend time with them these days. 


Here’s what I think: When things look glum, step out the front door, head out into the world, be thankful to be alive, and talk kindly to yourself. 


Friday, July 17, 2020

Living Behind a Mask-A State of Disarray

 I wanted to share this piece written by John Frey, my brother.
       I get it. I recognize just how important these measures are to our tenuous hold on life. COVID is real, I don’t dispute that, and mandatory mask wearing and the like are the best ways to at least slow down its progress and, as they say, “flatten the curve”. I accept the science and support the powers that be in their efforts to attempt to keep us safe at every possible cost. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it, or to go quietly into the night accepting the cost that this may ultimately take in our human interactions. To the contrary, while we all must accept the changes that we are now subject to, we must equally recognize the ultimate threat that what is happening now may ultimately change our lives when the threat is over, and perhaps change the lives of generations to follow. 
       What of the disarray that it has made of our lives? How do we measure that in the long run, or even in the short term? What are we doing to our children by keeping them from socializing in schools? What will be the long term effects of keeping us locked in our houses? How can we survive rules that keep us “a social distance” apart and encourage limited contact with fellow members of our human race? 
I accept the science and believe that all of this is vitally necessary now, but I remain adrift on what will be left of life when COVID is conquered and we are free to return to life as we previously knew it, or at least thought we did?  What if we don’t remember? What of the sweetness of touching one another? Will we forget how to do that? What of interacting we each other intensively at things like theatres or grand sporting events? What about intimate dinners and drinks with someone you are just getting to know and perhaps fall in love with? 
Will we forget how to do all these things? Will a post-COVID society be the new society, the new normal? Will we be condemned to a life of wariness and fear? It is not what immediate havoc this pandemic has wrought that is the problem. The problem is the state of permanent disarray that we will be left with. Will we have nothing but the ashes of long gone memories, unable to restore the sweetness of what life was before we condemned ourselves to lives of loneliness, fear, and separation? 
I suggest it is time to not only remember what we had, but to record it for the future lives of all of us and those who follow. Talk and write of the sweetness of life. Write and remember intimacy with our fellow humans. Write and remember the richness of sharing space and shaking hands, of going off to school and work without the fear of spreading deadly germs. Remember the richness of taking minimal risks while being part of raucous crowds. Record what it was like go on a blind date or to a house party, where you will know but a few of the attendees when you first arrive. 
There is no question that society as a whole is struggling mightily to contain and ultimately defeat the horrid threat of COVID.  I applaud those efforts. The steps we are taking, may or may not be exactly correct or nearly enough, but we are ethically and intellectually bound to take them. Likewise, when we have won, if indeed we do win, we are equally bound to try to restore our societies to some semblance of what we had before, perhaps even eliminating some of the bad and replacing with good as recognition of the fight that we have fought. 
We must wear masks for as long as is necessary, but we must also remember to tear them off as quickly as we can when the threat is gone. The sweetness of life demands it. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The First Bean

Here it is! The first bean of the season!


 And this morning I picked raspberries in my backyard and enough apples to make two batches of applesauce. I labeled the jars “ 7-9-2020” and popped them into the freezer.

None of us will soon forget 2020, this strange and crazy year when so many things seem topsy turvy, out of whack, and nothing like the normal we used to know and probably never will again.

It takes some getting used to, but since there is no other choice, grab yourself a fancy mask and get on out the door.

Even though you can’t see much of their faces, I think you’ll find people doing their best to smile with their eyes, give a friendly wave and often a cheery hello as well. 

I recently joined a community circle of people in my neighborhood who go to the Unitarian church and it has become an hour every week that I look forward to. We chat about our lives, our families, our gardens, our small surprises, and our discouraging moments, and somehow it is good to know that we all find ourselves in similar spots.

None of us gets to know what is around the next corner right now, but it is good to know that we will not be going there alone. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020




Brenna James, my youngest grandchild, has lived in Tokyo since she was two. She and I have not had many chances to hang out together over the years. She will be 15 in a couple of weeks. I have watched from afar as she grew into a beautiful young woman.


Gradually, over time, I have come to realize that while her heritage is both Japanese and American, she was becoming Japanese in her everyday life. Her lifestyle, language, and cultural orientation, I thought, had become totally Japanese.


While I understood this was only natural, it saddened me to think that my relationship with her was practically non-existent and would only grow more so with the passage of time.


And then, a few months ago, things began to change.


Brenna wrote a poem she titled I’m two but full. Below are a few lines from her poem that surprised and delighted me.


“I’m two pieces, like the way you split KitKats into two equal pieces.”


“I have two countries to represent in my body.

I have the responsibility to be able to know that nationality

I have the right to choose which one I want to make my home

But I don’t, because both of them are equally my home.”


“I have a full heart

Even if I have to change who I am between cultures

I will never change the kindness I have towards anyone in the world.


My outside might change but my inside won’t.

I’m always going to be two pieces

But always full—at the same time.


I was inspired by her words and grateful to know that she embraced her American heritage along with her Japaneseness.


And then, what seems to me like a small miracle occurred. She and her dad, who lives in the US, had been in touch daily via an app that allows both visual and audible international exchange. Brenna wanted to increase her English vocabulary. In order to do that, father and daughter were sharing articles. Brenna read aloud and when she came to an unfamiliar word, they discussed it, she learned its correct pronunciation, and then she wrote a sentence using the word. They set aside a time every day to do this. I was thrilled when they invited me to join them.


Together we have been reading excerpts from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. He writes beautifully, with great clarity, and he uses plenty of “hard” words. Brenna takes them all on with glee. We laugh about alternate meanings and some of the craziness of the English language. Is the word “read” past or present tense? Or both? And how do you spell the past tense?


Sometimes our conversation strays. “Yuk,” said Brenna. “Dad thinks uni (that’s raw sea urchins) are delicious. I think they are disgusting.” And then they went on to talk  about durian, a fruit that is prized b y many but that smells so bad that by law you cannot carry it onto a train in Singapore. This morning we were together for more than an hour and a half.


She’s a long way away, and who knows when she will be able to travel to the US? No matter.


I have my granddaughter back.

Brenna a few years ago!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

A Happy Mother's Day

It’s not even mid afternoon and already I’ve had an amazingly wonderful Mother’s Day—one of the best I can remember.

It began with a Zoom gathering with my two sons and two daughters, ages 55 through 60. I could not be more proud of them. They have produced six granddaughters and six grandsons, 11 of them between 21 and 31 and a “caboose,” who will be 15 this summer.

In our Zoom this morning, my kids each shared the good things that have grown out of the lifestyle they have been living for the last couple of months. Most of their children have returned home and are working or studying remotely. The families have been having a blast!. They play cards, piece together enormous puzzles, cook, garden, do crafty things, and run, bike, golf, and hike together.

Fortunately, none of them have lost their jobs though there has been a pay cut, and there are changes afoot. One had to furlough 200 people. Painful. Another is investing in a farm produce-food truck business. And two are looking at new opportunities—in a law firm and in an online teaching position.

They report sleeping a little later, learning to “go slow,” spending less time in their cars, and gaining new insights into work activities, sorting out those that are the most important and letting other things go.

To one degree or another, all of them are extroverts who thrive on their relationships with others. But for now, they are thriving on being at home and enjoying their offspring.

It will be interesting to see how this episode will change, and perhaps enrich, their lives.

Here they are 50 years ago!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Time for some limericks

 April 16 and it’s snowing like a banshee!  After a lame attempt at shovelling the heavy wet stuff, I returned to my new occupation—making masks.  My trusty Bernina sewing machine gave up the ghost and spent a few days in the sewing machine hospital before returning as good as new.  I have been given so many scraps of material that I will never be able to use them all. The donors seemed so happy to be rid of their scraps that I may have to find some new uses for these leftovers.
I have permission from my grandkids, now hanging out with their parents in Fort Collins, to share a bit of their at home recent creativity.

Abby is 26 and will attend graduate school at Columbia University to study Latin American language and culture this fall.

There once was a girl very fine
Who said, the future – it’s mine!
She applied to grad school
And felt quite the fool
It seems it will all be online!

Henry is 24 and coming down the home stretch majoring in oceanography and GIS at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He’s a food lover and made us a great dinner the other night.

There once was a man from the West
Who put his body to the test
He ate a whole pot of chili
Then felt rather silly
And decided he’d best get some rest. 

Mason is 22 and a junior at Middlebury College in Vermont majoring in Spanish and economics. He spent a semester in Chile and had planned to be in Cuba for spring but….

There was once was a young Matey-Moo
Who thought, one year abroad, I’ll make it through! 
In Chile he found 
He was mostly house-bound
And that is his current fate too. 

 There was an old lady who thought
 This virus may have been brought
To offer a lesson or two
About the best thing to do
When all of the world's so distraught.

Well I can't complete with these kids!

Here they are -photos from quite a while ago. Top to bottom: Mason, Abby , Henry

Friday, April 3, 2020


11 a.m.,  Friday, April 3.

I feel the urge to write something—a blog?—but about what???

I’m weary of COVID-19 chatter, doomsday talk, and advice about how to stay sane while isolted.

I have watched some inspiring TED talks, especially J.K. Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech from 2011 touting the importance of failure and imagination, but enough is enough. I can only sit for so long.

I have hauled out my ancient sewing machine and stitched up 4 masks, none of them wholly successful, but all of them probably better than nothing.

I hate the idea, and feel, of wearing a mask. I hope that doesn’t mean I will find myself disobeying orders one of these days.

I have regrouted the tile in my shower. A nasty job. It looks better, but who cares?

I have nibbled at the edges of a writing project in hopes that one day I will figure out what I’m trying to say.

There’s a bit of snow on the ground, but the sun just came out and I’m outa here to move my body for an hour or so.

I’’ll be back. Maybe with a new insight.  Stay tuned.

12:10 p.m.

27 degrees, bright sun. It’s quiet out there in the world. A few walkers on the sidewalks. A few cars on the road. A few skiffs of snow in the process of melting.

The world seems to be in waiting for spring. Coming soon. We know that.

We’re waiting, too, for a new day to dawn. We’re just not quite sure when.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The IMPORTANT factor

Every human on the planet has a need to know that they are significant, that they have value, that they are important.  Peoples’ need, it seems to me, can be calculated in degrees. Some have it big, very big.

No one likes it when they feel that what they do doesn’t matter, that it no longer has value. These feelings pop up when someone loses a job, is furloughed, and is sentenced to staying at home with no job to do.

A high-level business consultant, lounging in pajamas on a Thursday morning, might wonder if there will be a place for a business consultant among companies simply trying to survive. “Whoa,” this person may think. “There won’t be a market for my services. The world isn’t going to notice if I never go back to my job.”

A Disney executive may wake up to the realization that his or her job is no longer important. A world struggling to recover from a long-term virus scare probably won’t be seeking out a high-priced opportunity for the family to hobnob with Mickey Mouse. The executive’s importance meter may take a dive.

On the other hand, those who clean, deliver, transport, harvest, cook and serve other basic human needs may feel more important than ever. They see a world waking up to the fact that they are needed, something they’ve always known but that has not often been acknowledged. They see a world at risk of collapsing without the services they provide. Their importance meter goes up.

We all know people whose need to feel important is wildly out of control. We wonder about how they manage to surround themselves with people dedicated to boosting that person’s outsized importance factor, often disregarding facts.

 Is it possible that COVID-19 may have arisen for a reason?

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Remembering Hope

After a long debilitating illness, my dear friend, Hope Cassiday, died this third week in March 2020. There will be no service for a while because of a pandemic sweeping across the country. But when there is a service, it will be huge because Hope more than lived up to her name. She touched so many lives, serving brain-injured people in her own community, and raising funds to meet urgent health and education needs  through a Simple Supper fundraiser she founded. Simple Supper survives to this day.

As I think about Hope, I am suddenly reminded of another March day, in 2006. A fierce wind, bare trees, dust swirls and scruffy pale grass greeted Marcia Benfica and her five-year-old son, Ruy when they arrived in Colorado, invited by Hope to speak at the Simple Supper fundraiser in Greeley.

I came to know Marcia when I was in Mozambique. I was a failure when she tried to teach me Portuguese, but we became good friends, translating African folk tales into English. She took me to a Mozambican wedding where I was the only white person. We laughed when one of her friends asked her why, since I was American and no doubt wealthy, wasn’t I better dressed?

Marcia is African, but firmly planted in three worlds: rural Mozambique where she grew up, Maputo, the capital of her country where she attended university and earned a degree in languages, and in Lansing, Michigan where she cleaned motel rooms, became proficient in English, and gave birth to her son while her husband earned a graduate degree in 2000. In 2005 they returned to Michigan so that her husband could complete his PhD.

Meanwhile, Hope had committed the Simple Supper funds raised in 2006 to help in completing a kindergarten in Mozambique. I realized that Marcia would be the perfect spokesperson to add authenticity to the project. 

“Of course, I’ll come,” she said. “But what is this fundraising—what does it mean?”

I was thrilled and told her that if she would speak about the importance of education to Mozambicans and the extreme shortage of kindergartens in her country, that would be enough.

She spoke so eloquently that no one at the Simple Supper could have questioned the need or her sincerity. Nearly $7,000 was raised in a single night and the dollars continued to trickle in later, making the goal of $8,000 a reality.

Despite fickle March weather, Marcia and Ruy had a week to remember in Colorado. They visited Rocky Mountain National Park, the capitol in Denver, took a tour of Cheyenne, saw a puppet show, and went to a pizza birthday party.

“Oh no, its too cold,” Marcia pleaded when I suggested a late night dip in my hot tub. 

“Just try it,” I insisted.”

Little Ruy slipped in clutching his inflatable crocodile and Marcia followed, gingerly at first. 

“Soft water,” Ruy said, swishing his hands across the bubbling surface. Sinking into the deliciously warm water became a nightly ritual for the rest of the week.

Marcia went back to Michigan with a collection of recipes, measuring cups and spoons, and Ruy went home with a couple of books, a few marbles and a collection of dinosaurs given to him by new friends who learned that he loved them.

When they departed, there were only tiny buds on the trees, no leaves but small sprouts of green were emerging from the winter-brown grass. A cold wind blew but Spring was around the corner.

Back in Mozambique, fall, the dry season was on its way. By winter, a new school would be complete and would soon be filled with small children taking their first steps into a wider world.

When Marcia goes back home, she will visit the school and tell them about Hope and a windblown week she spent in Colorado.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Last Laugh

The Last Laugh

My grandson, Mason Arndt, is a junior at Middlebury College in Vermont. This semester he is enrolled in a political science class in which the professor is quite formal and known for asking hard questions of his students.

My daughter, Jeni Arndt, Mason’s mother, lives in Colorado and serves as state representative for her hometown, Fort Collins.

During a recent session in Mason’s political science class, the professor called on “Mr. Arndt.” Mason perked up.

“Mr. Arndt, can you name the governor of your state?”

“Yessir. That would be Jared Polis.”

“And your senators?”

“Corey Gardner and Michael Bennett.”

“Very good. Now, answer this one. I’ve never had a student get it right. Who is your state representative?”

“That would be Jeni Arndt.”

“Impressive. How is it that you know that?”

“She’s my mom.”

In retrospect, Mason wishes, instead of answering "Jeni Arndt" to the professor’s question, he should have just said “mom.” He did say that his professor has become a bit less formal and now chats with him frequently.

I got such a charge out of this little incident that I had to share it.


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Keeping a journal

I have been keeping a journal in one form or another since 1949 when I was 13 and in the eighth grade in Seattle, Washington. My first penciled writings were in a little red “Five Year Diary” that came with a lock and key.  Words in the front of the diary read:

Memory is elusive –capture it. The mind is a wonderful machine. It need but be just refreshed and incidents can again be revived in their former clarity. A line each day, whether it be of the weather or of more important substances, will, in time to come, bring back those vague memories, worth remembering, to almost actual reality.

On Jan. 1 my first entry reads: 

Dear Diary,
Last night Doris stayed overnight here and we went on Bill Foster’s paper route at 2 a.m. Was it cold! We got in heck! The roads were so icy we didn’t get to Sunday School. We played in the snow on the toboggan and sled l took John (my three-year-old brother) to Doris’s on the sled and pulled him all the way. When we finally had eaten, Daddy washed my hair and put it up. Was I tired.
Jan. 2 Today we stayed in the snow all day even eating lunch outside. We cooked soup and beans over a fire we made in the snow. Outside were Kay and Barbie, Dorothy and Betty, Bill, David and me, Marilyn, Karen and others. Dorothy’s dog got hurt by a car. He was not killed. I saw Don Lewis he has a paper route down by our house, he was sure nice. I like him maybe. Newton St. is slick we have it all pressed down. Today I had more fun than I’ve ever had in the snow – temperature 26.
Selected items from Jan. 3. Today I wore my Brassiere for the first time. Pat did not! Our class gives Miss McDowell a time we are terrible.
And so it goes on…
I have often wondered if I would ever go back and read my journals from the last 70 years. A few weeks ago, I decided to give it a try and it is a daunting task.  Yet those words I quoted above from my red diary are true. I’ve been blown away by things I had forgotten for so long: names of people I no longer remember, and thoughts and feelings that I do, brought to life by a few scribbled words on a page. 
Maybe by spring, I’ll emerge with a whole new look at my life. Whatever the outcome, I know I have hours and hours of bedtime reading scheduled.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Clean up clear out time.

Happy New Year

It pays to clean off your bulletin board.  Here are a couple of fun things I found:

“She said she usually cried at least once each day, not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful and life was so short.”

Small Boy by Norman MacCaig

He picked up a pebble and threw it into the sea.
And another, and another.
He couldn’t stop.
He wasn’t trying to fill the sea.
He wasn’t just throwing away, nothing else but.
Like a kitten playing, he was practicing for the future when there’ll be so many things he’ll want to throw away if only his fingers will unclench and let them go.

I say amen to both of those!

Thursday, January 30, 2020



The English document after which the Declaration of Independence is modeled read, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.”  The United States changed it to read “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” So, I guess happiness is pretty important.

Happiness often emerges as the result of something we do for someone else, with the goal of bringing them happiness. Is there such a thing as altruism, the completely selfless act of one who has no personal expectations in regard to the outcome of an act? On the other hand, does the motive of the doer matter if the result is to create happiness for someone else?

Can someone create happiness for another?

Do we ever really know what brings us happiness? Sometimes what we think will make us happy does not. Other times we are surprised by happiness when it sneaks up on us.

Chasing happiness, that state in which all is right with us and with our world, is an iffy enterprise given the imperfect nature of life and of human beings.

Still, we can make lists of things we love—that bring us joy—that make us happy. But we must beware that we can’t depend on others to make us happy. We gotta be our own instigators.

What makes me happy? A deep sleep between sun-dried sheets, making a candlelit meals for friends, a long, frosty, early morning run, a movie that tickles my funny bone, “discovering” a new friend, watching a student “get” a math concept, kneading bread and watching it rise, learning something new, solving a dilemma however small, completing a task I didn’t think I could, hot chocolate when nothing else will do, writing something worthwhile, fooling around with gel pens, knowing that my house is temporarily clean, cross country skiing in deep woods, knowing I have accomplished something in a day, being alone, being with people, getting everything on my to do list out of the way, receiving newsy Christmas cards, being part of a special group of college friends, watching the lives of my children and grandchildren as they evolve, and experiencing life--taking it as it comes. (This is a partial list.)

What makes you happy?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Colorado Shoe School

Annabel was finishing up a paint job when there was a minor explosion resulting in dark brown paint dripping down the side of the counter top and onto the floor.

She began to wipe it up when Dan looked over and said, “ Wait a minute. That looks good. Let’s leave it.”

And there it remains to this day, along with another dribble of blue, welcome aspects of the expansive two story studio artists Dan and Annabel share in the village of Bellvue north and west of Fort Collins.

The pair, so obviously two of a kind, live and work together, and following a honeymoon in India, just spent their first Christmas as a married couple.

In their short time in Bellvue, the unusual fence they built in hopes of slowing down  traffic travelling along County Road 23 has become a local landmark. If it had not been for their fen constructed of huge round logs interspersed with kindling-size sticks, I would not have had the pleasure of meeting the couple. A friend let me know about the fence and suggested I might do well to check it out.

But she did not mention the enormous shoe resting on a truck bed in their front yard or the old train car converted into funky sleeping quarters for visitors, the gnomes in the garden or the fact that Annabel and Dan are the founders of the Colorado Shoe School.

And there is no way for this friend to know the story behind these refugees from the world of circus performing, costume design, and entertaining which included juggling and stiltwalking.

Dan is a Denver native who graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in art focused on sculpture and printmaking. Along with his brother, he formed a company that entertained at corporate parties, and in parades. Dan also worked for New Belgium Brewery promoting their Tour De Fat event and sustainability in 15 cities across the country.

He met Annabel, who trained as a dancer, at a corporate Christmas party. At the time, she had her own stiltwalking business and was also working with Cirque du Soleil in costume design flying all over the place in charge of the care and maintenance of shoes for the famous dance company. 

Both of them were ready to leave the entertainment industry and were looking for new challenges. Three years ago, Dan found the house in Bellvue and it seemed a perfect fit. He bought it and set to work building their large multi-use studio using any scrap of lumber or materials he could find.

On a visit to New Zealand to see Annabel’s parents, the pair participated in a five-day workshop on shoemaking, and they were hooked.

“Everyone wears shoes,” Dan says. It seemed to both of them that there just might be enough interest in old-fashioned shoemaking to establish a business.

“It’s not just about making shoes,” Annabel says. “It’s about having fun. It’s playtime. It’s a chance to be wild and crazy, if that is what you choose.”

The Colorado She School offers one, two and five-day workshops conducted in the spacious second-floor studio, flooded with light and filled with fascinating artifacts such as the Singer treadle sewing machine that belonged to Dan’s great grandfather, a shoemaker in Chicago.  It still works and Dan uses it.

Participants who come from a distance are welcome to stay in the old train car Dan bought from a neighbor who found it in Nebraska. Dan converted it into sleeping quarters complete with bathroom and kitchen area, filled with antiques and open to the sky during the warm weather.

Dan, who has always been a builder of things, has an impressive array of tools and equipment in the lower level of the studio. You get the sense that he can build anything, more often than not out of scraps and leftovers. Nothing goes to waste in this place.

Dan and annabel take pride in showing me a pair of shoes, the surface made from a paint-splattered drop cloth – funky and comfy-looking—honest!

Anyone who is interested in investigating the opportunity to take a little time off and emerge with a self-designed pair of shoes and a new outlook for 2020 is welcome to get in touch with Annabel and Dan: write to them at: Annabel@coloradoshoeschool.com

As we parted Dan said, “I feel as if you have heard only half our story.” I felt the same. You can learn more by watching the PBS show, Arts District on January 24 or seeking out the U Tube: “”Living big in a tiny house.” They have also done a radio spot for KUNC.

This story was in North Forty News this week. I liked these people and what they do so much that I wanted to share with you.  See more at Coloradoshoeschool.com