The Story Circle Network Conference and My Commitment: This Is What I Know


ad_scnconfWhen I first started blogging more than two years ago, I committed to blogging once a week.  That I managed for a year or so and then since that time, it became more sporadic.  Full time job, writing poems for my book, visitors, mini vacations, all sorts of stuff got in the way.  Really, I let it lapse, but refused to give up.  Last Thursday, I drove to Austin with my daughter and grandson for the biannual Story Circle Network Conference.  The plan:  while I conferred, they played.  The Story Circle Network is an organization for women which encourages women to write, to tell their stories, to share these stories, and when possible and desired, publish those stories in various forms from memoir to poetry.  This was my second time to attend and my first time to attend as a new board member.  A former mentor/teacher of mine, Len Leatherwood, facilitated  a workshop entitled “Transforming Your Writing Life in Just 20 Minutes a Day”, the last workshop I attended.  She blogs everyday.  I follow her blog.  No matter what, she sits down and writes 20 minutes minimum a day separate from the writing she does with her students–she teaches writing privately in southern CA.  One of her recent blogs has been accepted for publication–a piece of flash fiction.  She nearly begged us to commit to this kind of writing practice.  Previously, I had refused, flat out refused, partly thinking that if I tried it, more than half the resulting writing would be crap.  Nevertheless, she and her workshop convinced me that at least for one month I must try this.  Now all of you following my blog will be inundated with daily blog posts.  I am filled with curiosity as to how people will respond.  Maybe it will be like my Facebook posts–yes, I am an almost addict–the posts I consider most meaningful for the universe at large are the ones people ignore and the ones I consider personal trivia receive the most response.  Maybe I will track what appeals to my readers.  Some I won’t know because with blogging I share to Facebook and to a couple of professional networks, I have no clue who read what.  Once I received an email regarding a poem I posted. Although it never showed up as a like, the lady actually told me she read my poem in church!  Who would have guessed. I forgot to time myself so have no idea how long I have been here writing.

Here I am writing about why I am writing.  On the stove I smell Jasmine rice cooking.  I love Jasmine rice from Thailand.  I am a very picky rice eater and prefer to mix equally white Jasmine rice with black and red.  For one thing, it looks lovely when done–a sort of dark reddish purple.  Since I sautéd chopped garlic in olive oil, then added the rice and sautéd for about 15 more seconds, then added water and some broth just before I started writing this, the smell of Jasmine rice fills the house.  I piled a bunch of paper towels on the top before I put on the lid or you can use some cloth towel–a habit I picked up from my Iranian ex-husband.  Iranians really know how to cook rice.  I am also drinking a glass of Cupcake Shiraz which I bought on the way home from work.  And yes, Shiraz is also the name of a city in Iran where they actually grow grapes or at least used to. But of course, drinking wine is no longer acceptable in Iran or at least not publicly.  Good Muslims do not drink at all.

I did write something worthwhile while in this workshop and will share–doing this last because it won’t count as my daily writing since I wrote it yesterday.

 

This Is What I Know

 

My parents loved me, really loved me.

My mom was proud of my accomplishments.

Dad gave me a love of books, intellectual curiosity, and a

sense of wonder.

Mom gave me a love of music, beauty, and cooking.

Happiness is a choice.

I do not believe in luck.  You make your own luck.

Life is an exciting adventure.

Horses give me joy.

Singing gives me joy.

Dancing gives me joy even if I rarely have the opportunity.

Family relationships can be distressingly complicated.

I am proud of my children and their accomplishments.

Religion matters much less to me than 99 per cent of the people I know.

Ethnic and religious prejudice distress me and I do not

understand those kinds of attitudes.

I am a good writer.

I want to make a real difference in the world.

I am happy 99 percent of the time.

Blessings flood my life.

My close friends and children and grandson are more

important to me than they know.

Writing has enriched my life.

I have few regrets:

One I have rectified;

the other I cannot–

my dad is dead.

Fun, Food, and Community with Vegetarian Enchiladas


A couple of weeks ago, one of the blogs I follow, getsetandgo, created a post about “community” with photos of an Indian festival where all sorts of people come together to celebrate–a community.  She requested others post photos of their community events.  After reading her blog post,  I decided to tell about my attempt to start a monthly “community” :

Several months ago, I reached way out of my comfort zone and started a monthly potluck.  When and where I grew up, inviting people over for a potluck was socially unacceptable.  If you invited people over, you cooked everything yourself.  If people wanted to bring something, insisted, well, ok, but otherwise, no, no, no.  Because of work, writing, and singing, I invited a number of friends over only every few months.  In September, I decided it would be far nicer to see people  more often and invited some friends over for potluck.  They asked if we could do this regularly so a monthly ritual began.  More and more friends keep asking to join.  It remains a type of hit and miss thing.  Sometimes 16 people show up, sometimes only five.  My most recent event was a week ago.  Because some of these friends are vegetarian, I invented a recipe, vegetarian enchiladas, just for them.  I also made pork roast and chicken enchiladas.  The vegetarian enchiladas disappeared quickly and everyone wanted the recipe.

Vegetarian Enchiladas

Six tortillas (I used whole wheat)

1/2 purple onion, chopped finely

1 large poblano pepper, chopped finely

1/2 medium sized red bell pepper chopped finely

1 package cream cheese

Olive oil

1 tsp Mexican spice mix

1/2 tsp chipotle pepper, ground (I used Spice Appeal-adjust to hotness desired)

Shredded monterey jack cheese

Red enchilada sauce–I used canned because my cooktop is awaiting repair

Saute onions and pepper in just enough olive oil so they will not stick or become too dry.  Mix in cream cheese and spices until thoroughly blended.  Fill the tortillas, roll up, and place in an 8 inch casserole dish.  Cover with a light layer of enchilada sauce.  Sprinkle enough shredded cheese on top to cover.  Cover with aluminum foil.  Place in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.

In the spirit of the getsetandgo blog, I took photos of my friends as we talked and ate.  The enchiladas were all gone before it occurred to me that it would be nice to have a photo.

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Additionally, I regretted not taking a photo of three of my women friends with long hair.  Another friend who has spectacular, very dark grey, long hair and just turned 70 recently told me a story about how a mutual acquaintance came up to her and told her no woman over 60 should have long hair.  It annoyed me so much in an odd sort of way that I now wear my hair longer than usual.

Mom’s Pumpkin Pie Recipe


Today, Thanksgiving Day, I will make Barbara Duke Lightle’s (my mother)  pumpkin pie, using a recipe and blender she gave me decades ago.  The recipe includes a small hand written note about her preferred way of combining the ingredients.  My grandson loves this pie and the idea that what he is eating is a recipe from his great grandmother, a woman he will never know.  He tries other pumpkin pies but likes only this one.  Dad loved this pie, too.  After Mom died and he discovered he was gluten intolerant, he taught himself to cook.  He made this for himself sans the crust–pumpkin pudding.

1 1/2 cups cooked or canned pumpkin

1 1/2 cups milk or milk combined with cream or evaporated milk

3 eggs

3/4 cup brown or white sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground ginger

(or use 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1 tsp ginger for a more spicy flavor)

Place all ingredients in a blender.  Place your hand over the blender cover before starting the motor.  Blend just  a few seconds, until smooth, and pour into pastry lined pie shell.  Bake at 450 for ten minutes, then bake at 350 for 30 minutes longer or until firm in the center.  A piece of outer peel of orange can be blender grated into the pie mixture–if you do this, place in blender with 1/2 cup milk and blend fine before adding other ingredients.

You may use squash instead of pumpkin.

The hand written note says, “Juliana, if you use half evaporated milk it gives wonderful flavor and I like white sugar best”.

I use evaporated milk totally and white sugar like Mom recommended.  I have never used orange peel.  The cinnamon I am using today comes from a tree at my friend’s mother’s house in Ethiopia.

This seems a great day to also thank my mother for all she taught me:  cooking, singing and playing the piano, a love of beauty–flowers, wildlife, good food, the list is endless.  She taught me think positively, to believe in myself, to make the most of what life brings, to never give up.  Thank you, Mom!!!

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Day Trip to Marvin Lake and Canadian, Texas–Part One


Two weeks ago, I joined the local Native Plant Society group for a trip to Lake Marvin east of Canadian, Texas, near the Oklahoma border.  Lake Marvin is located in the Black  Kettle National Grassland  which includes land in both Texas and Oklahoma. This national grassland’s name comes from the Southern Cheyenne Chief by the same name.  An aging chief, he had attempted to make peace with whites and had been guaranteed protection by the head officer at a nearby US Army Fort.  He, along with old men, children, and women was massacred by Lt. Colonel Armstrong Custer and his troops in Custer’s first great “success” as an Indian fighter.  It was an easy battle; the Indians had been assured their safety at this encampment.  They were totally unprepared.  Black Kettle attempted to meet the soldiers and flew a white peace flag as well as a US flag over his teepee. He and his wife were mowed down in a barrage of bullets.  The massacre is called the Battle of the Washita because the Indian encampment was on the Washita River which flows through the grassland.

Those of us who live in the Panhandle of Texas become accustomed to the lack of trees and semi arid climate.  It is always a huge surprise to find those rare spots with numerous trees, water, and thick vegetation. Lake Marvin and much of the area near Canadian provide a total contrast to what we usually see.  JR  Bell, an expert on native grasses and plants, lead the hike around Lake Marvin, a manmade lake constructed for conservation purposes in the 1930’s on Boggy Creek.   Regretfully, I failed to carry a pen and pad to write down the name of all the grasses, some of which exist in the area where I live and others I had never seen before.  Perhaps some of you who read this will be able to identify the various grasses which include blue grama, side oats grama–the state grass of Texas, little blue stem, and two other species of blue stem, switch grass, buffalo grass, and wheat grass.  Unfortunately, Johnson grass, a non-native,  invasive species, also grows near the edges of the lake.

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The hike began near what was once the water’s edge before silt and drought made the lake half its original size.  Johnson grass, the outsider, is not too difficult to identify because of the bright maroony red on the leaves.  This enables an non-expert like me to differentiate among Johnson grass and a few other similar looking species.  While I tried to listen and watch grass identification, rather quickly I realized that without pen and paper remembering all of them would be impossible so I focused on photographing the natural beauty surrounding me.

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No one told me the origin or purpose of the abandoned buildings up the hill from the lake.  The change in flora one sees by facing the hill rather than toward the lake is amazing.  One could almost draw an imaginary line with certain grasses and shrubs on one side and totally different ones on the other.  The magic key, as always, is water.  Where I live, two hours away, no sage brush grows.  Here on the hillside, it grows everywhere with various grasses, some rather small and semi hidden, interspersed.

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I learned several keys to identifying grasses:  seed heads, texture of leaves and stems–some rough and others smooth, size of leaves and stems, some variations in color.  Height helps but does not necessarily determine differences because the same grass species can vary depending on amount of water and type of soil.  The amount and size of the trees continually astonished me, like this tunnel through the trees, something I never expected to see in the Panhandle.

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Where I grew up in northwestern Missouri, huge black walnut trees grow everywhere.  I recall exploring the walnut grove on the farm repeatedly as a child.  I certainly never expected to see them on this little trip.  Suddenly, astonished me stood there surrounded.

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While these trees never reach the size of the ones where I grew up and the nuts remain considerably smaller, here they stood, their distinctive leaves giving them away.  Before I went away to college, every autumn, we picked up the nuts, cleaned them–while the outside is a lovely lime green, the area between the seed and outside, is a sticky, dark brown mess which makes excellent natural dark brown dye, and cracked them to retrieve the meat inside.  Black walnut nuts are much harder than English walnuts and cracking them requires a hammer and something really hard on which to place the nut. After I left home, every year Mom spent hours working on these nuts and brought me at least a pound at Christmas, a true labor of love.  They are especially tasty with in recipes with chocolate or bananas.

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The hike provided continual surprises, a boggy pool, persimmon trees, a plant whose leaves resembled miniature spectacles, a grass so fine and thick in a glade between the trees that it looked like a tiny patch of fog on the ground, and poison ivy.

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Persimmons.

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This particular tree was loaded with persimmons.

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Cattails in the background.

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When I first walked up to this spot, the fine grass toward the back of the photo looked exactly like a tiny patch of fog nestled in a miniature glade among the trees.

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We took off from the main trail especially to come to this cottonwood tree, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in the Panhandle. Over a hundred years ago this tree stood as the sentinel for the overland trail that went through this area.  The military, ranchers, and Native Americans all used the trail across this area of the plains.  The tree’s height enabled it to be seen for miles and helped travelers keep on their way with accuracy.  Once we reached the end of the main trail, some of the group took off in their vehicles while a few went on around the lake.  It saddened me to see so much of it dried up and old tires sticking out of the dried mud.  However, along the way, we saw numerous trees I could not identify.  The bark of this tree is particularly distinctive.

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This field trip coincided with the fall festival held annually in the small town of Canadian which gets its name from the Canadian River which flows beside the town.  The town is unique in the number of large, elaborate Victorian houses there.  Several of us ended the trip at the local elementary school with a big craft fair and a barbecue lunch.

The Girl and The Woman


The Girl

She stands alone by the train tracks.

Watching and waiting and dreaming.

Hobos no longer exist.

She remembers reading stories of life

when her great grandmother lived:

hobos begging for food, gypsies stealing

children and telling fortunes, long days

working in the corn fields, chopping weeds.

Her own family praises:

tractors, riding lawn mowers, herbicides, pesticides,

electricity, TVs, dishwashers, muscle cars, MacDonalds,

diet Coke, cell phones, computers, DVDs, iPADs.

Now the only excitement lays in Grand Theft Auto,

guns, and sex.  She watches and waits and dreams.

Canyon photo 1 anabel

The Woman

She stands alone on the rim,

watching the moon rise,

wondering.

Life flies by on wings

outstretched.

She remembers rich years

filled with long joys, living,

loving,

and temporary sadness, divorces,

moving here and there,

Narrangansett Bay, Utah mountains,

Veracruz,

babies held to breast,  blond

and chubby, cafe con leche.

She remembers girlhood longings

for far horizons, traveling

around the world, lovers,

husbands, shades of brown

beauty.

She’s learned to make

her own excitement,

singing Goddess songs,

dancing on the rim of wonder.

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Photograph by Anabel McMillen and Painting by Lahib Jaddo

Barbie Doll


Barbara Lewis Duke, pretty, petite, blue-eyed and blond, my mother, one

fearless, controlling woman.  Long after Mom’s death, Dad said, “Barbara was

afraid of absolutely no one and nothing!”  They married late:  34 & 38.  He

adored her unconditionally.  She filled my life with horses, music, love,

cornfields, hay rides, books, and ambition.  Whatever she felt she had missed,

my sister and I were going to possess:  books, piano lessons, a college

education.  Her father, who died long before I was born, loved, fancy,

fast horses.  So did she.  During my preschool, croupy years she quieted my

hysterical night coughing with stories of run away horses pulling her in a

wagon.  With less than one hundred pounds and lots of determination, she

stopped them, a tiny Barbie Doll flying across the Missouri River Bottom,

strong, willful, and free.

Family Roadtrips


During my childhood, my father took us on regular road trips.  The first one occurred when I was three.  He actually drove all the way from northwestern Missouri to Monterey, Mexico, via Padre Island and back.  Every year we took at least one, sometimes two.  Later in life, I truly realized the value and magic of these family road trips.  Although my daughter, grandson and I take short road trips to New Mexico in particular, we had never taken a really long one until two weeks ago when we left Amarillo, Texas, headed for Carmel, California.

At our first stop, Old Town, Albuquerque, for lunch, we experienced a most refreshing and delightful drink which I plan to duplicate the next time I invite friends over for dinner.

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This feast for the eyes and mouth consists of water infused with pineapple and strawberries.  It tastes best after letting it set to allow the fruit to meld into the water.

We spent the night in Gallup, but arrived too late to visit the galleries and shops so headed to a little Italian restaurant where my grandson, D’mitri, donned a black shirt which reads Got Mafia.  Friday morning we headed to Window Rock, capital of the Navaho Nation.  Since D’mitri’s great grandfather was Navaho, D’mitri’s interest in this stop remained high.

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After strolling around the park here, we stopped to visit the ladies selling the jewelry they were making on site.  As a person a bit obsessed with corn plants, I could not resist a pair of turquoise earrings that look exactly like tiny ears of corn.  D’mitri had to have a necklace with a soccer ball pendant which he wore the rest of the trip.

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After the morning at Window Rock, we drove off across the Navaho Nation and the Hopi, headed for the North Rim.  We stopped off and on to visit vendors along the side of the road.  The dwellings throughout the Navaho Nation seemed scattered across the landscape with many hogans next to or close to what appeared to be a main house.  Horses roamed in the semi-arid fields.  The Hopi area, however, held a different view with no scattered dwellings.  Everyone seemed to live in villages along the way and I never saw a horse in Hopi country.  Finally, we crossed the mighty Colorado River at Navaho Bridge from which I took this photo.

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The road follows the base of the cliffs of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.  We could see them looming large long before we arrived.  Huge rocks appeared to have tumbled off the cliffs and lay near the road.  I kept wondering if they ever fall and hit cars.

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We finally made it to the Jacob Lake Inn near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We arrived too late to go to the Grand Canyon  so took a hike through the ponderosa pines supposedly headed to a lake.  Dry, hot weather apparently turned the lake into a mere puddle.  We barely made it back before dark, disappointed.  The next morning we drove the forty some miles through heavy woods interspersed with giant meadows to the North Rim.  If you have never been to the Grand Canyon, its size and grandeur remain impossible to convey via photos.  Perhaps due to the rather warm, dry conditions, a heavy haze hung over the Canyon all day.  We took a few tiny hikes, only to discover just how very much out of shape we are.  Additionally, the altitude affected D’mitri quite negatively, making him more tired than customary.  Nevertheless, determined to not miss out too much, I took several photographs from Imperial Point.

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Flowers exactly the same as grow where I live on a little canyon in the Panhandle of Texas grew along the path.  We spent another night at Jacob Lake and then continued toward Las Vegas.  The fastest route drops off the Kaibab Plateau rather dramatically with spectacular long views, the depth and breadth of which no ordinary camera can capture.  We ate a late breakfast in Hurricane, Utah, a bit after the infamous Colorado City, Arizona,  where the houses appeared quite large with high walls around many of them.  Then off to Las Vegas, Nevada, to meet an elementary school classmate, Craig Prater,  whom I had not seen in years.  He treated us to a fabulous lunch at the Mandalay Bay, took us to a shopping area down road, and he and I attempted to catch up for all those years while Ema and D’mitri shopped.  We marveled how two children who attended a rural school (at first it had only one room and then later two) eighteen miles from any town of more than a couple of hundred could attain what we have attained.  He produces films and travels all over the world.  I have lived, worked,  and traveled to many different places.

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After Las Vegas, we drove to Mojave, California, for the night. The only  scenery on this drive is through a canyon on the Interstate.  We experienced high winds and a sand storm and arrived after dark.  The next morning we solved the mystery of the hundreds of red blinking lights on the hillsides, wind turbines.  From there it is a rather short drive,  a couple of hours, to the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Monument.  To say we experienced amazement is an understatement.  What a magical forest so wet and dark and alluring after miles and miles and miles of hot desert.

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SAM_1207My daughter, Ema, and her son, D’mitri really enjoy clowning around and what better place than surrounded by the largest trees in the world.  The squirrels here also “talked” a lot and we tried to get close.

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Usually, I frequently dislike photos of me, but this one is an exception.  Although not large, this tree stood out as so unique I could not resist a photo shot.  Even with the best camera, I doubt a photo of an entire sequoia tree is possible.  You have to see them to obtain the full effect.

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We wanted more time with the trees, but needed to make it to Carmel by evening so headed down the mountain toward California Hot Springs.  Altitude is everything here.  In ten minutes the golden hills replace giant trees.

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Then, in an hour or less, we were driving across the Central Valley past miles of vegetables and at least three types of trees in huge orchards or groves.  The only tree species I was able to identify was almonds.  I wanted to take pictures, but did not desire to arrive in Carmel at my college roommate’s house in the dark so I kept driving.  No quick road exists that crosses California except way to the south.  This still astonishes me.  Two lanes with heavy truck traffic take a long time to get from one destination to another.  We decided to cross on 198 through Coalinga to San Lucas which resulted in a fun, scenic drive with lots of twists and turns.  Much to our surprise, huge pine cones lay everywhere beside the road.  It seemed strange that these cones came from a tree much smaller than the Sequoia.  Ema and D’mitri collected some to display at home.

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Finally, just before dark we arrived at the Rinaldo’s.  Suzy and I roomed together at Grinnell College at the ages of 18-19.  David attended Grinnell also.  We only see each other once or twice a year but can pick up conservations as if it were a few moments ago.  They live in the Santa Lucia Preserve.

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Every morning this deer casually ate California poppies and ran away only if I went outside too quickly.  One morning I took a long walk up one of the few roads on the Preserve.  I love the live oaks and learned they are very fire resistant so residents are allowed to let them grow close to their houses.  Everything else, except for a few native grasses and plants–no trees or brush, must be cleared for 150 feet all around any house.

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I commented on the radiant red colors I saw in the leaves of an attractive plant only to find out it is poisonous oak and if I touched it, the result would not make me very happy.  It must love this particular environment because it grows everywhere.

One of my favorite restaurants is at the Hacienda at Santa Lucia Preserve, not because of the food, but due to the impeccable service and enchanting atmosphere, what I imagine to have existed in old California.  D’mitri says it is his favorite fancy restaurant on the trip.

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In the dark, driving back home to David and Suzy’s, we saw a bobcat, several deer, wild turkeys, a skunk, and another animal we could not identify.  The next day we ladies went shopping in Carmel while David and D’mitri took a ride in the Porsche and swam.  No one can go near Carmel surely and not drive the glorious drive south to Big Sur.  D’mitri loves water so we stopped at two different places along the way.

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D’mitri became quite alarmed when Suzy told him many of the bushes along the path are poison oak.  David informed us that a really wonderful beach existed down the road if we could get in.  Off we drove to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.  They only allow so many cars into the park at once so we had to wait until someone left.  It was worth the wait.  This beach does not allow swimming; people have drowned here.  Nevertheless, who cares; the drama of crashing surf, giant holes in rocks worn by water, and trees shaped by wind and erosion make it magical.

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SAM_1250You cannot go down highway 1 without stopping at Nepenthe.  This restaurant’s views alone are worth going there, plus a gift shop full of finds from all over the world.  The wine list and hamburgers finish off the list of why you must stop here if you are anywhere near Big Sur.

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Time seemed to run rapidly; with only one day left, we decided to head to Moss Landing to see the seals.  Much to David’s astonishment, not only did seals lay all along the beach, but a large number of sea otters were playing in the water, rolling over and over, splashing.  David had been there many times and never seen anything like this.  The sea otters delight the watcher with their playful antics.

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Unlike the ever playful sea otters, the seals just lay still like large rocks along the beach.

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Early on a Saturday morning, Suzy and David fed us waffles to fortify us for the long drive to Flagstaff, nearly 700 miles.  We crossed over to Salinas, then down 101 and finally through Bakersfield where we found a delightful, rather elegant Italian restaurant for lunch.  The good looking waiter chit chatted and provided excellent service, three pluses when you go out to eat.  As we cut across the middle of California, headed for I-40 eventually and neared Tehachapi, Ema decided to call D’mitri’s other grandparents who have a house there. When we went the other direction almost a week before, they had been vacationing in France.  To our surprise, they answered and asked us to stop for the night.  D’mitri’s excitement was contagious.  He expressed special delight to have his grandfather to himself for hours instead of needing to share him with other grandchildren.  The Herreros live on a hillside with a breathtaking view for miles.  Unfortunately, the haze prevented proper photography so I gave up on the idea of capturing the endless panorama.   However, this presented itself as the perfect opportunity for family photos.

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The California desert never comes to mind when I think of California.  I always fly to San Francisco or Oakland and visit friends or conduct business.  Unlike the glorious red rocks and drama of southern Utah and northern Arizona or the saguaros of  southern Arizona, the California desert maintains an endless pale tan color with only a few tiny plants.  Thanks to air conditioned automobiles, you can drive for miles, escaping the intense heat.  When we finally stopped at a Dairy Queen for a refresher, D’mitri and I stepped out of the car and were nearly knocked over by the hideously hot wind.  In general, I like heat, but this seemed overwhelming.  When we drove off, I asked Ema about the temperature.  She looked it up on her smart phone, 118.  The only truly beautiful I sight I saw (and I think nearly everywhere possesses some sort of loveliness) occurred when I drove over the mighty Colorado River, surrounded by the only green for miles.  After this heat, the cool, green beauty of Flagstaff enchanted us.  We settled into our hotel room, then drove off to our third Italian restaurant in two days, Oregano’s.  Instead of the usual coloring books, puzzles, etc. offered to children, this place gives them pizza dough to mold.

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As we drove home, I noticed how terribly dry it is once we dropped out of the mountains around Flagstaff.  Off and on we crossed areas where there had been enough rain to create a pale green.  Apparently, it had not rained west of Albuquerque because it still looked like brown winter just as it had eleven days before on the first day of the trip.  East of Albuquerque we encountered such an intense downpour with some hail that I could not see to drive.  I pulled off the road and waited. From Albuquerque to Amarillo, in the eleven days we were gone, it had rained enough to make the mountains, foothills, and high plains a lovely soft emerald.   We had missed the hot, 100 plus week and came home to rain and cooler weather that lasted several days.  In one week, the weather had changed from record highs to record lows, the typical extremes one learns to live with on the Llano Estacado.

Going Home Again


Last weekend I returned to the county where I grew up and the family farms in Andrew and Holt County, Missouri.  It had been at least six years since I had returned to the place my great grandfather homesteaded over a hundred years ago.  Strangers live in the house where I grew up and my father lived 80 of his 90 years.  On the site where he was born, only the old carriage house still stands, a sentinel to a lifestyle long gone.  Repeatedly, I tried to write a poem about all this, but have not been able to do so–perhaps the experience is still too close.  Additionally, for the first time, I attended my high school reunion and chatted with individuals I had not seen since I was 18.  Decades truly change people; I would have recognized only a couple without the name tags.  Northwest Missouri this year presents an intense emerald landscape.  Having travelled there from the semi-arid land where I now live, I suffered “green” shock.  And tree shock.  The Panhandle of Texas grows few large trees outside of towns and cities.  Even with my very ordinary camera, these photographs capture the beauty I witnessed and family memories I want to remember and share with my children and friends.

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This is the house where I grew up and Dad lived 80 years.  The building in the foreground was built during the depression.  Before it was put to its final farm use–for hogs and chickens at various times in my childhood–Dad held dances here.  Because of prohibition, the sheriff always sent someone to make sure no illegal alcohol consumption occurred.

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The old carriage house, just south of the site where a large house stood during my childhood, still stands.  The stained glass transom window hanging in my own house now and an etched glass hunting scene are all that remain of the house where Dad lived as a small child.  Emptiness and raccoons finally destroyed it.   When he gave me the windows over thirty years ago, Dad said it was impossible to keep an empty house in good shape forever.

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At the age of 18, my great grandfather, Gottlieb Werth, came to the United States to avoid being drafted into the Swiss army which hired out soldiers as mercenaries.  My father told me what his mother told him:  my father’s mother stood on the roof of her house in Switzerland and waved until she could no longer see her son; she never saw him again.  This photograph shows his grave in the Fillmore, Missouri, cemetery.

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Nearby, perhaps fifty feet away, lay the graves of Mom and Dad and my grandparents.  I never knew this grandmother; she died long before I was born.  My grandfather died when I small and sadly I do not remember him.  The family stories tell that he taught me to talk at a very early age, nine months, because he held me on his lap and told me about everything occurring outside the windows.  My first word was “tractor”.

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Another family story tells that this grandfather walked to Andrew County, Missouri, from Illinois.  Andrew County’s rolls are full of Lightles.  It remains the only place I have ever lived where I am not the only person with my last name in the phone book.  Dad claimed there would be even more Lightles except for the fact that several brothers died when they tried to walk across the Nodaway River on winter ice and it broke.  They all drowned.

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Dad built the large pond in this photo and stocked it with fish.  Until a few years ago when someone bought the land and destroyed all the trees, a small forest of ancient oaks, black walnuts, and chestnuts grew between the house and pond.  Dad kept it mowed and groomed–a park.  Sadness filled me when I saw the trees all gone.

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All my childhood we attended Antioch Christian Church.  Although I could not see it from my house, if I walked across the road to where the carriage house still stands, it looms across the distance.  Potlucks were a very popular activity here.  Mom made such fabulous pies that everyone would get her pie first to make sure they got a piece.

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The sign in front of the Andrew County Courthouse.  This county remains filled with people of Swiss descent to the point they have celebrations commemorating their heritage. The following include photos of the courthouse and some of the restored buildings on the courthouse square.

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Several reasons exist for my returning “home” at this time, including attending my high school reunion for the first time.  The following photos show several people I had not seen since I was 18, including Melanie Eisiminger, who was the valedictorian when I was salutatorian so many years ago, and Jim Ahillen and his lovely wife.  Melanie is in the middle.

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My mother grew up in Holt County, Missouri,  in the town of Fortesque and her family farm next to the Missouri River still remains mostly in the family.  In my childhood, Fortesque was still relatively prosperous.  Now fewer than fifty people live there.  The farm lays right next to the Missouri River.  I walked down the levee and took photos of this mighty river, the Rulo, Nebraska bridge, and the farm.  If I turned one direction, I faced the bluffs where White Cloud, Kansas, resides and the other direction is Nebraska.

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Between the Missouri River and the bluffs lays one of the largest wildlife refuges in the United States, Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  It is especially important for migratory birds, bald eagles, wading birds, and various mammals.  One can drive the new road ten miles through it to observe birds in particular but also other species.  The huge cottonwoods and oaks fascinated me.  It appears I had totally forgotten just how grand these trees can grow if given adequate water.  In one area I drove for at least four miles through a tree tunnel, then several raptors screamed at me while I tried to photograph them, and finally I managed to photograph a red winged black bird and geese.  After several days of semi constant rain, it felt fabulous to experience a perfect sunny day for my tiny trip to the wild.

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After I left Squaw Creek, I drove to Mound City to find the graves of the Duke side of my family.  The last time I had been there was when we buried my aunt, mother’s sister.  I also remember going with her there more than twenty years ago.  I recalled the general location but had to hike around a bit to find them.  Because Grandfather Duke was much older than Grandmother, I never knew him.  Aunt Julia came to visit me at least once a year until she neared ninety and could no longer travel easily.    She never married and remained admirably independent until she became too feeble to get around on her own.

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The E stands for Evelyn.  She was named after a woman Grandmother worked for on the White Cloud Reservation, Evelyn Le Clair.  On my previous visit to Missouri, I went to the White Cloud Reservation and inquired about the Le Clairs but had been told they had moved away a long time ago.  Grandmother had to work because her father went blind and could no longer work.  His name was Kaiser and he, too, came from Switzerland.  The following is the gravestone of my great grandmother.  Mother frequently recited sayings from her, e.g. you can’t tell by the looks of a frog how far he can leap.

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In  my childhood, we cut across the country side to go from the Andrew County farm where we lived to Grandmother’s Holt County farm.  I remained unsure whether I could recall exactly how to do this but tried and met with success, feeling very happy with myself, remembering something I had not accomplished in decades.  Because it had rained six inches the previous week, unlike last year during the drought, knee high grass grew along the backroads, corn was coming up, ponds were full.  I drove by the houses of people I remember from childhood, not knowing who lived there any more except a few.  People change, life proceeds, but the country still holds endless promise and beauty.  Finally, with a few hours left before flying back to Texas, I stopped by a new area north of Kansas City, Briarwood, strolled around, visited an excellent natural food market, ate a rather exotic lunch, and took a few photographs of huge new houses and the Kansas City skyline.

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Everyone asked me to bring some rain back to the Panhandle of Texas.  It has rained three times since I returned home.  A coincidence, of course, but very welcome.