Monday, October 27, 2008


My friend Grace buried her 19-year-old son today. I haven’t seen Nick since he was maybe 16, obsessed with the Denver Broncos and ice hockey and Guitar Hero, clever and shy but charmingly obnoxious and lanky, and, because he was Grace’s son, good as gold. He was also a Type 1 juvenile diabetic, which is reportedly the major factor in his untimely passing. But while Nick was adored and surely will be desperately missed, especially by his family and fellow students at the University of Utah, it’s Grace I’m grieving for tonight.

I am not a parent, but I can imagine the loss of a child being the worst kind of grief there is. And Grace is one of those peculiarly devoted mothers, a dynamo who drove her two boys the three hours round-trip to hockey practice in Utah several times a week because Evanston doesn’t have a team. She encouraged Nick in sports even though diabetics often have difficulty with strenuous activity; he had a state-of-the-art insulin pump and she watched him like a hawk. Their father lives in Colorado, and Grace is a helicopter mom, fiercely protective, unfailingly enthusiastic and supportive, a little fanatic.

Grace is a very vivid person. Some women blur around the edges and fade into the scenery; Grace is clearly in focus, tailored and groomed, prepared, liberal, sensible, wildly determined and goal-oriented. She has a strong voice and an open smile and an uncanny sense of people and their boundaries and weaknesses. Her perseverance is legendary. “Stubborn” is what her much older brother Gary, who also works for the City, might call her.

And here’s why the loss of her son is so ironically unfair, so impossibly agonizing: Grace uses that energy, that fanaticism, that intense maternal instinct and determination to uplift and nurture hundreds of children besides her own. Grace is the City of Evanston’s Youth Services Director. This is a woman who coordinates with City and County court to rehabilitate the teenagers who wind up there because of drugs and alcohol and negative peer influence, to give them the guidance and sympathy, attention and discipline their parents often can’t or don’t.

Grace vehemently believes in the worth and potential of kids others would immediately ship off to juvenile detention. She gets grants to send them to counseling or therapy. She’s built a staff of patient, caring people to police and defend the little monsters before it’s too late. And she got grants to build the children of Evanston the kind of place only the most cankerous neighborhoods in inner cities or the most obscenely wealthy, country club-strewn suburban hamlets usually have, a place most ordinary, rural communities like Evanston desperately need: a place to go after school, because the alternative is often a home with no evening supervision, or worse, out into a clamoring world of potential substance abuse and poor decisions that obliterate bright futures in an instant.

Evanston’s Youth Opportunities Unlimited facility was built onto the skeleton of the old elementary school, using the exterior walls of that older building as the interior walls of a new structure, a place with a café the kids run themselves, a game room with numerous consoles and a pool table, a quiet study room, a computer lab, a sound-proof music room, and more. She found them tutors, got volunteers to teach them guitar basics and how to hit the corner pocket, got them giant bean bags to lounge on and glittery red vinyl booths and a glowing Wurlitzer jukebox for the café. When it was first finished she conducted Jeff and I around the place as if it were a wonderland, and so it is. And I noticed on every subsequent visit to the place that the door to Grace’s office, which is crammed with mementos and teens’ art, photographs, broken hockey sticks, wilting bouquets and silly toys, is always open.

And I hope so much that the loss of Grace’s son doesn’t change that, doesn’t diminish her enthusiasm for other peoples’ children. I hope her passion for bringing out the best in and giving the best to young people is still burning at her core, even though she’s wounded in a way that will change her forever. I hope that when she’s ready, she’ll continue to be a champion for lost and found kids. Because after all she’s given, she deserves a great big get, and I believe that’s where it will come from: the kids she gives to giving back.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Odds and Ends

I see things I just have to have.

Daisy .177 Red Ryder is EIGHT! Our Daisy is eight years old! OMG! I tried to Photoshop the flash out of her eyes with limited success, so if she looks freaky, that's why. Say hello to 100 lbs. of Birthday Girl.

I'm positively churning out hats like this one. Crochet fetish!

I still miss him.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Empty Nest

My heart broke a little Monday night when I had to come tearfully home from the SSE auction in Rock Springs minus a kitten, but it's also buoyed by the fact that he's spending the rest of the week at Cara and Gar's on a trial basis. Hurray for lovely cousins who can't resist kittens! I'll be at The Point Saturday for our annual Halloween party and I can check on their progress then; they have an older, very possessive cat named Twinkie who may object to such an interloper, but maybe he'll adjust like my grouches did. Time will tell. He'd be so happy there, and I know they'd take care of him.

Brent theorizes that our shared trauma at the shelter is the reason we bonded so deeply, but I'm sure it was more than that. I tried to tell myself otherwise, but I was in love from the moment I scooped him up, when he head-butted my chin, delicately licked it like he was sampling ice cream, and then curled up in the crook of my arm and started batting his own tail. I've fostered plenty of kittens I never got very attached to, but he was different from the start. And as much as he drove me completely mad half the time, the apartment is so distressingly empty now that it's almost no comfort to return to.

The grouches, for their part, are doing what they can to make up for his absence. Maybe they fear that if they don't show a little affection, they'll go in the black bag and never return, like he did. Or maybe they're relieved; maybe they realized how much they enjoy my attention because he usurped so much of it. B.C. is spending more time than usual on my lap and Kitty sleeps at my shoulder and pokes her head into my hair (which could just be 'cause it's cold). I can't get any alone time now in the bathroom (which was scarce before) and they both half-heartedly batted at the yarn I was crocheting with tonight when the ball rolled across the floor. I resolved to try to make more of an effort to play with them more often in the style they prefer; just string, thank you, no furry mice or balls or feathered wands. The kitten played with anything, but B.C. will chase the red dot from the laser pointer for a few turns around the kitchen. He's so bulky and trundling that it's disturbing, though, like a moose running. He has always been elegance without grace, and I love him. I love both my grouches, don't get me wrong, and I could never part with them.

There were other contrasts between kitten and cats. I hadn't noticed that my cats had aged; they're both ten this year, certifiably "older," and though they're both still gorgeous and trim, their soft, thick coats have lost some shine and their eyes aren't as bright. B.C.'s got horrendous halitosis and a squinty, pink, watery eye that comes and goes (the vet said it's nothing to worry about) and the always-cranky Kitty's pushing crotchety and they both sleep under the heater all day. They're still curious and haughty, but there's no mistaking it; they're old. I'm not complaining. They're predictable and respectable. But it's just sad to realize that the hard part is coming.

I sent four of the baby's favorite toys with him and to keep the hurt at bay I put away the evidence that he was here, the bed and tiny plastic food and water dishes I kept in the bathroom and the rusty cake pan full of litter, and even so I miss him far more than I expected to, especially when I find one of his little tri-colored hairs or a bit of string or feather he left somewhere. He was only here for just over three weeks but I got so used to his noise and energy and curiosity. I miss the weight of him on my arm even though it meant typing with one hand. I miss him trying to bat my glasses off and biting my earrings out of my ear; one time I thought he'd swallowed a tiny silver ring, but it was looped around his new little white fang. I miss the way he enthusiastically planted his front feet in the food bowl when he ate and how often I had to laugh at him, like Sunday night when he fell into the toilet trying to get to the knobs on the open lid that rest on the seat when it's closed. It would have been easier to send him away if he had been a rotten little jerk, but he was a model citizen and a joy. He never destroyed anything or used his claws on me in play, and even though he was into everything, he simply made me happy.

I'll survive, and hopefully Garrick will be as enamored with him as I was Cara is and they'll name him and love him and I'll see him sometime years from now, sleek and happy, when I'm home and visit The Point for a weekend of four-wheeler riding and hill climbing and Rae Dell's comfort food and Ed's latest project. Oh, and for her part, M was awesome in the car on the way to the auction, holding the poor upset guy up to the air vents and keeping a level head even when he barfed onto the blanket in her lap. Luckily cats give you signs when they're going to chuck, and after that he settled down in her arms. Thanks so much, dear, for taking care of the little bugger.

The scholarship auction was good fun as usual, even though there's never time to visit with family, and I donated three crocheted hats and three collectible Dept. 56 figurines to the cause that I was glad to have off my hands. I got a pumpkin cobbler mix, an odd and lovely beaded ornament the auctioneer labeled "The Torpedo," and some of Eileen's unbelievable gingerbread cookies (they came on a brass platter with a candle, an antique key, and a poem about how Santa gets into houses that don't have chimneys, but as charming as that is I just had to have the cookies). Morgan got a gold frame of pressed wildflowers in a rare and stunning teal. Cheri's been pressing flowers up on the mountain, too, and I loved the ones she did for us from Grandma's funeral bouquet, but I am afraid of the collection she exhibited this year. She's been gathering giant moths that cling to the shop light until they freeze and fall to the ground, so she presses them in with the flowers. They're absolutely beautiful but they're seriously the size of small birds and I think they would give me nightmares.

We've been gutting Bud's office to suit Jeff, who became the boss on Monday (damn skippy!), and winterizing the plant and outbuildings at work. I've been crocheting madly and planning for the Halloween party and Thanksgiving in Kansas City. And I'm bursting with more things to write but as usual, they'll just have to wait.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Paint the Town

Cottonwoods at sunset

Ice Ponds and Bear Park Pavilion

These are alive.

Bear River

Park City, UT

Onion truck

Hwy 150 through the Uinta Mountains

Mens' room at Pete's

Super Scrabble is the devil, and we kept picking the worst letters ever. M was saddled with a 'Z' and a 'Q' for several turns, even though there are like seven 'U's available for play. We each had whole trays of consanants time and again, and a bigger board doesn't necessarily mean more room for play.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sometimes I Wonder

(Warning! Please do not scroll down if you are super squeamish about hunting, although all the victims animals are presentable and there's no gore. But they have been shot, and they will be tasty.)

Lil brought Rose through on her way home from Monday's knee replacement surgery in Salt Lake. She now has two titanium knees that ought to see her through, and I marvel at the way modern medicine can just replace worn out parts of us like we do in our cars. Some parts, anyway. It seems like science fiction.

October is turning out to be a bit of a disappointment for me, the promise of a long season of dazzling fall colors drained by last weekend's snowstorm and a week of freezing nights that zapped most of the remaining green. It's sunny and fine now but a cold wind is whipping the clouds into improbable smooth discs and ringing the necks of cottonwoods and aspens unwilling to release swarms of crinkled, crackling, crisp brown leaves that never got a chance to blaze. M and I spent the worst of the blizzard Saturday piled on the couch in a shared quilt alternately watching Tim Burton movies and the tumbling flakes. Ahhh.

There are a few people who are enjoying this season regardless of its drab, bathetic style, and those are the people with guns, people like my brother-in-law and nephew. Observe:

Don't read anything into that goat's expression. He's dead. (He is actually an American pronghorn antelope, Antilocapra americana, but locals call them speedgoats, on account of they're very, very fast.)

A moose tag is a very rare thing to get, and Kelly got lucky, pulling one the first time he put in after several years of not trying. People were jealous. This is a nice specimen (although I wish you'd tucked his tongue in for the photos -- he looks drunk). What's going to be funny is trying to find a place in their house to hang a gargantuan moose head when he comes back from the taxidermist, and how the dogs are going to react to him. Welcome to the family, Morris.

Kelly also went armed with a camera and caught some very classy nature shots.

But you see what I mean, don't you, about the brown, the blah? And it will be this way now until May at the earliest. 7,000+ feet makes for a looong winter.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


I just opened and fell in love with a book that begins with casual banter between a ghost and a dog, a dog who was named for a woman's favorite poem. I'll tell you about it later.

Bud's Retirement party was this noon (although it'll continue with his 60th birthday party at Kate's Friday night). I helped him write his letter of resignation two weeks ago today. He had butterflies, but he was determined. None of us could talk any sense into him, and it doesn't matter. He's ready. Things will mosey on at the plant under Jeff's steady navigation, but now I have his health to worry about. I'm afraid he'll harrow up more stress than the plant is worth. It's life and death to some extent, yes. But it's also pretty easy to run.

The kitten, who is, yes, still here, is teaching me to appreciate the older cats more and more. I admire his energy, the way he rifles through the basket of toys my ten-year-olds haven't touched in years and plays with everything in its turn, pouncing and galloping and finally crashing into sleep wherever he falls. He drives me nuts. I can't believe how much he's grown in a week and a half. He eats like a horse and drinks like a fish, but what he excretes smells horrible. Also I suspect he has chronic gas, and I'm wondering if the Purina Indoor Cat Formula is a little rough on him or if that's just kittens. Baby poop smells horrid, after all. He's affectionate and cuddly and curious and constant. It's fun.

But it makes me think of the days before his arrival and the quiet and beautiful way the older cats and I cohabitate. They're unobtrusive and it's always a delicious surprise and so much more gratifying when they decide they need a little attention, Kitty creeping up alongside me when I'm reading in bed, B.C. curling up by my shoulder at night or settling heavily on my lap when I'm surfing. They know what surfaces to stay off and when it's time to sleep (they wake me up before I'm ready maybe twice a year, and it's usually because B.C. fears I'm late for work on a Friday morning). They stay out from underfoot and pretty much sleep all the time.

Illness and travel have prevented me from finding him a home, but I'll get down to it now and make posters and send e-mails. He's making life hard on the older cats -- Kitty has lost her voice completely from snarling at him, and he deserves it -- and being a serial renter, I just can't have three. I promised Brent I wouldn't, too, even though I suspect he'd let me if it were going to break my heart to be parted from him, which... no. We want to travel and be spontaneous when we get situated, and B.C. and K won't be around that much longer, another 5-8 years at most. I don't want to start over now. Cheri's SSE auction is coming up and I'm thinking about taking him as an auction item. Put a big bow around his neck, assure people he's potty trained, and viola! Deb couldn't resist him. He would love the ferrets.

Puck has sustained his first real cosmetic injury, a one-inch place on the right-hand vertical rim of the driver's side door that's ground neatly down through clearcoat, paint, and fiberglass to bright metal. The location suggests the door must have been open, so I can only conclude that it happened on my watch, possibly when I was vacuuming him out a while ago, only I can't imagine that I would only just notice it. In fact, I'm almost certain it wasn't there when I got in after work today, and I did stop at the grocery store. It's in a discreet enough spot, though, that I can just dab it with Rustoleum and some matching Chrysler automotive paint to keep it from showing and spreading.

I ordered him about this time a year ago, and I've never regretted it for an instant. Last Thursday after our trip we went driving down HWY 150, into the Uinta Mountains, which are glowing in their autumn best, rippling, twinkling sheets of reds and golds and flaming orange between the pines. I had the sunroof open and Sirius blasting Broadway's Best (what's more singable than Oklahoma!?), and I was thinking, this car is so worth it. And it's almost 1/3 paid off.

The weekend hike we planned with Mom is being threatened by snow. Rose is getting her second knee replacement at the age of 88. If she recovers as quickly from this one as she did from the last one, she'll be running marathons by Thanksgiving. I won't be around to carry water, though; I'll be in Kansas City eating frozen custard with a whole slice of wedding cake mixed into it. If I had known about Sheridan's years ago, I'd already be living there.

M and K bought a ten-year-old 32-foot camp trailer (yes it has an equalizer hitch, jeez, stop asking me) and I look forward to many years of camping in utter luxury with hot running water and a king-sized bed, although I don't know where we're going to camp because where can you take the monster? And Cordale shot his second deer, a very lovely three-point I had to creep up to where it was hanging from its hind limbs in the garage and pet it while trying not to look at the gaping hole where its organs once were. As long as the head is there I always feel like there's a possibility it might look up at me and say, "A little help getting down from here, please, there's a good girl."

I'm exhausted just from remembering to tell you all this. Good night.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


I had such high hopes for this weekend, but I wound up sick.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Serenade at Dusk

This evening was cool and still as M and I made our way along the river at sunset, and after I dropped her off and sped home (normally we linger, dally even, but I have to get up at 4:00 am to make a class in Salt Lake) I was walking up to my door when something made me stop, frozen in the twilight, arrested. It was the distant but distinct peal of bells, a melodic and triumphant carol echoing off the low clouds and haunting a quiet weeknight. I thought I was hearing things until I remembered the campanile they installed in the war memorial at the County Complex downtown, several blocks away. I walked to my cement porch, wincing at the crunch of gravel, and sat down to listen to the music finish, remembering the soft gongs of the bells in St. Mark's Square in Venice causing the pigeons and doves to scatter and fly, the harsher chiming of the Munich glockenspiel in the Marienplatz. We lapped at gelato while we waited, the minute hand heaving around the face, for the elaborate twirling dancers, the jousters, the nobles parading in solid robes. If we could choose the soundtracks to our lives, bells would feature heavily in mine.