Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Tuesday, 02 December 2008 - Grace

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for grace.

A veil of grace. That is what covered me all day long. While trying to correct a workplace situation, doors opened and hearts softened. And, where I expected obstacles, none appeared.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Monday, 01 December 2008 - December prayers

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for December prayers.

If prayers are going to answered at all, human beings probably have to answer them for each other. ~Margaret Lee Runbeck

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday, 30 November 2008 - Warmth on cold winter days

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for warmth on cold winter days.

Winter either bites with its teeth or lashes with its tail. ~Proverb

Winter is the season in which people try to keep the house as warm as it was in the summer, when they complained about the heat.
~Author unknown

I've been cold since Thanksgiving Day. That's the day winter settled in, nearly a month before its official December start.

I know the beginning of winter very well. This is my 22nd Colorado winter which means I can rightfully claim experience. Anyway, the signs are obvious - somber gray skies, bitter cold winds, snow flurries and an overworked furnace.

I greet winter's onset with my usual arsenal of edible remedies: pots of spicy homemade soup or stew, steaming mugs of ginger-laced green tea, drops of grapefruit seed extract in orange juice and hot toddies. I wear layers of high-tech, expedition weight clothing and drape Polarfleece blankets over my lap when I work at the computer or watch television. I dread getting out of bed in the morning.

Only T tolerates the cold. Actually, he prefers cooler weather. His dense oily coat is perfect for winter's sub-freezing temperatures. The North wind is his seasonal friend. Morning, afternoon and evening, T patrols his snow laden yard, investigating new scents with typical Labrador retriever delight.

I watch T from the kitchen window. Brrrrr. It's really cold outside. I take another sip of hot tea, feeling quite envious of his ability to stay warm.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday, 29 November 2008 - Glimpses of heaven

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for glimpses of heaven.

There are glimpses of heaven in every act, or thought, or word that raises us above ourselves. ~Arthur Stanley

Imagine that. Glimpses of heaven. Rare insights into the divine and holy nature of life and beyond.

Miracles occur daily when we do exactly what we're suppose to do for ourselves and for each other. No heroic deeds or deep pockets required. Just step up to the plate and swing at the next pitch with intention and passion. Nothing more, nothing less.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.,

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday, 28 November 2008 - Giving and receiving

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for giving and receiving.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
~The Golden Rule (variation)

I don't buy anything on the day after Thanksgiving, honoring Black Friday boycotts. Who needs the nasty crowds, the annoyance or the stuff?

So, I'm speechless after learning that an early morning stampede of Wal-Mart shoppers killed one man and injured several others.

I wonder what heavily discounted item on aisle 15 was worth one man's life. None, in my book.

My thoughts are these:

+ On giving.
We battle feelings of inadequacy because, for the first time, many of us have little to give others but a smile, a hug and an encouraging word. My cup simply does not runneth over this year. Of course, by placing dollar signs on everything, we fail to realize the true scope of our generosity. Simple gifts are always best. Gifts of oneself, priceless.

+ On receiving.
To receive is humbling, forcing me to test the limits of my pride and gratitude. Giving is easier, receiving more difficult to rationalize. But, when times are hard, random acts of kindness abound. The trick is to find the balance - I give, I receive - trying at all times, to do the right thing.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thursday, 27 November 2008 - A day of Thanksgiving

Dear God:

Today, as I reflect on the things for which I am thankful, I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

Let our hearts be filled with kindness,
Our minds be calm and light,

May thanks arise within us

For all we share tonight.

~Susan Smalley

I've been away for some time ... entangled in frenzy of Senator Obama's Presidential campaign, suffering from severe writer's block that made me feel like I had nothing important or new to say and watching depression's gray fog creep towards me as the holidays approach. This week, I'm feeling much better about life in general and am ready to begin writing again.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, I give special thanks for:

Good health
At the Air Force Academy's human performance lab, I had a DEXA full body scan. The results confirmed that my self-prescribed diet and exercise routine has worked miracles. My bone density now falls solidly in the normal range, a result that negates past diagnoses of osteopenia (early osteoporosis). To my surprise, my nonessential body fat content is below 15%, equaling that of NCAA Division 1 women athletes at the Academy - not bad for a 54-year-old woman.

Senator Barack Obama's win in the Presidential election.

Change is definitely upon us, and it feels marvelous. S and I worked hard, especially during the Democratic Party primary, to nominate and elect Senator Obama. On November 4, after MSNBC declared an Obama victory, I turned to S and exclaimed, "We did it!" I am still fired up and ready to go. Yes we can!

Blue state cheers.

Colorado turned blue this election season (although El Paso County, where we live, remained bright red). Imagine that. Two Democratic US senators and an overall win for Senator Obama. I'm elated to be residing once again in a blue state. I say "yes" to progressives and those who support 21st century solutions to our country's problems.

Work.

Because no matter its nature, complexity or opportunities, work adds value and purpose to my life.

First snow.

Snow arrived late this season ... October 21, 2008 to be exact. T, of course, was delighted by the flurries and small drifts. He thrives in cooler weather. His high energy level and spirits continue to impress S and me. T turns 12 next month ... a sad reminder that he won't be with us forever.

More climbing adventures.

Autumn's cooler weather and shorter days don't deter our outdoor climbing adventures. We're still regulars at Red Rock Canyon and the Ute Valley Park boulders. My current favorite is the 5.10b route that S and I climbed earlier this month. It resides on the notorious Wailing Wall in Red Rock Canyon and presents climbers with 90 feet of sustained 5.10 climbing. Because I'm so short (only 5'2"), climbing from bolt to bolt requires three or four sequential bouldering-type moves. Needless to say, I fell a few times during my first ascent. Next time we attempt this route, I plan to redpoint the climb.

Extended family.

Our Colorado Springs family includes neighbors, business colleagues and climbing friends. I'm pleased that our two Air Force Academy cadet friends continue to spend time with us on a regular basis - climbing, bouldering, watching NCAA or pro football, hanging out in the house with T and eating meals that showcase my cooking and baking skills.

Thanksgiving traditions.
Each Thanksgiving Day, S, T and I gather near the radio to listen to Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" on KRCC, the local public radio station. For dinner, we usually join friends and neighbors, contributing a few bottles of wine or a side dish or two (my best are homemade cranberry relish with a splash of whisky and sweet potatoes/yams flavored with rum). This year, we're joining our next door neighbor's celebration. The day after Thanksgiving, I cook our own feast (except I won't this year because I have to work). I don't shop on Black Friday ... just because it feels like the right thing to do.

Love.
I feel it ... love ... the Universe's assurance that my mere existence makes a difference on Earth. I think Mother Teresa said it best - "Every act of love is a work of peace, no matter how small." Here's to love, to peace.

For these blessings, I am very grateful.

Amen.

Photo: T poses near the Wailing Wall in Red Rock Canyon.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday, 07 September 2008 - Two things

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for two things.

First, that our high school neighbor, E, did not break his arm in last night's football game. Fortunately, the crushing blow to his arm merely bruised the bone and soft tissue. Since he's a senior, we didn't want an injury to end his season after only two games. He insists that he will play in next weekend's game.

Second, that our Air Force Academy cadets, M and A, really enjoyed climbing with us (two 50-somethings) at Red Rock Canyon. This time, we tackled climbs on the Australian wall. Notable firsts: M practiced leading while A belayed, and I tried out my new Mad Rock climbing shoes.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Saturday, 06 September 2008 - Restraint

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for restraint.

M and A, our Air Force Academy cadets, stop by before heading to Ute Valley Park where they plan to climb some of the top-roped routes. Despite the fact that we have a lot to do at home, S and I decide to join them for an hour or so - they'll sport climb while we boulder.

I don't want to overdo it, however. Restraint must temper my enthusiasm. The four of us (plus T) plan to visit Red Rock Canyon tomorrow for a full day of climbing. At age 20, M and A can recover overnight. At age 50+, I need at least one full rest day - preferably two - between climbing adventures.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Friday, 05 September 2008 - A new friend

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a new friend.

Our newest friend is Austin, a sixth grader who lives down the street. For whatever reason, he decided that knowing S, T and me is a good thing.

We don't mind. Austin is bright, energetic and considerate - someone to replace Dominic who has all but disappeared from our lives. Anyway, interacting with young people keeps us, well, young.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Thursday, 04 September 2008 - Tired feet

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for very tired feet.

My feet are so tired tonight. Their tenderness and discomfort mean just one thing, that I rock climbed long and hard this afternoon.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Wednesday, 03 September 2008 - Seasonal transitions


Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for seasonal transitions.

A merchant writes in her newsletter that her mother, a teacher, knows that the beginning of the new school year is near when the goldenrod blooms.

Mine, on the brink of showing its golden mane for weeks, finally bloomed last week. Since the local schools opened in mid-August, the goldenrod's flowers mean something else in Colorado - the onset of autumn weather.

I waited a few days to mention the seasonal transition, just in case the cooler weather was actually a red herring. Today, I announce fall's official start (retroactive to September 1). The night's low temperature hovers around 40 degrees, so I must cover the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants at sunset with old sheets and pillow cases (I still want the "fruit" to set). I will continue this practice until the first hard freeze. In the meantime, I'm praying for a lovely Indian summer with warm days, vegetables and herbs to harvest and excellent climbing adventures.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Tuesday, 02 September 2008 - FBorFW

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for the comic strip, For Better or For Worst (FBorFW).

For many years, I've faithfully followed Lynn Johnson's chronicle of the Patterson family. I like comics where time moves forward, characters age and life lessons abound. So, when Ms. Johnson announced her decision to end the story on August 31 and restart the strip from the very beginning on September 1, I was sad and disappointed.

I know too much about the characters to wonder what will happen next. And, of course, I know the end of the story. Such knowledge, however, won't keep me from reading the strip. But, I won't be in a big hurry to read it daily. Perhaps catching up on weekends will suffice this time around.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Monday, 01 September 2008 - Common ground

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for common ground.

You don't have a garden just for yourself. You have it to share. ~Augusta Carter

When you have a garden, you also have a conversation topic, information to share, questions to ask, complaints to register, aspirations and dreams to ponder. Nearly everyone listens - at least for a little while - when one speaks of gardens and gardening and homegrown tomatoes. Strangers nod in silent agreement, friends commiserate, family members try to understand.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday, 31 August 2008 - More laughter

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for more laughter.

We join M, his parents and brother for dinner at a favorite Thai restaurant. M's father and S are expert storytellers and willingly entertain us for a few hours. We smile and laugh as they tell funny stories and share quirky observations of the world at large.

Before going to bed, I wash my face as usual. I glance in the mirror and for once, actually like what I see. I think I look younger, even without makeup. Must be the laughter ... my own.

(Note to self: laugh more.)

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday, 30 August 2008 - The end of a difficult phase

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for the end of a difficult phase.

If I had my life to live over ...
I would have invited friends over to dinner
even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.

~Erma Bombeck

A house that does not have one worn, comfy chair in it is soulless. ~May Sarton

Yes, I am finally over "my home is unfit for company" phase. I open the front door and let friends enter.

They already know, anyway.

My home, far from House Beautiful perfect, reflects my unbalanced and uncertain life, perfectly.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday, 29 August 2008 - Three good books

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for three good books.

Recently, a "fan," interested in my reading list, asked me to recommend a few books. Fortunately, I've been reading more than cooking, gardening and knitting texts and offered three interesting titles. These books were so good (in my opinion, at least) that I could not put them down and read them straight through into the early morning hours.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon (fiction)
  • Swallow the Ocean by Laura M. Flynn (memoir)
  • Listen by Wendy Salinger (memoir)
For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thursday, 28 August 2008 - First fruits

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for first fruits.

I don't know why, but I am elated when I discover the first evidence of anything edible in my garden. It doesn't matter what grew last year.

The year's first fruits are always a welcomed sight. They prove that, despite environmental challenges and my incessant complaints and worries, I've succeeded.

Here it is, the end of August. Some of my prized edible plants are finally bearing fruit. Finally!

I'm especially pleased to see the sungold cherry tomatoes, eggplants, jalapeno and mariachi peppers, mint and basil doing so well despite the late date. Now I'm praying for one more month of intense sunshine to guarantee the harvest.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Photo: The season's first ripe sungold cherry tomato is a sight for my sore eyes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wednesday, 27 August 2008 - Another redpoint

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for another redpoint.

S, T and I are climbing on the Solar Slab at Red Rock Canyon. One route, an athletic 5.10a, challenges me every time I attempt it. In fact, I have yet to redpoint it (i.e., climb it cleanly) - I always manage to slip on the crux.

During my first attempt, I again struggle on the crux. The hand and footholds are very small and smooth so if I don't move precisely, if I don't balance perfectly, I'll fall. I map a possible route over the crux but can't link the moves successfully. I fall, regroup, and try again. I eventually finish the climb, glad that it's over but unhappy about my mistakes.

After S completes his climb, I get my second chance. During this attempt, I approach the crux thoughtfully, carefully considering my intended path, rehearsing the movement series before I begin it. This time, on a warm August afternoon that wears just a hint of autumn, I get my redpoint. S agrees that it's my best climb of the season.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tuesday, 26 August 2008 - Good neighbor deeds

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for good neighbor deeds.

One of our young friends confesses that whenever her school has a fundraiser, she regards me as her top prospect. She knows that I will listen to her spiel, ask questions about the purpose for the fundraiser and, most importantly, buy something. This time, she's selling Entertainment Books.

Personally, I don't know why our public schools burden young students with fundraising responsibilities. They probably count on the parents and relatives making purchases.

Selling door-to-door is a daunting activity for anyone, let alone children. I remember my own unpleasant selling experiences. Most neighbors answered the door and listened to my spiel. But, in the end, very few bought anything.

So, many years ago, S and I resolved to be good neighbors and do our best to support student activities. If this meant buying magazine subscriptions, tubs of cookie dough, boxes of candy or coupon books, then so be it.

In doing so, I know that we are helping even the shyest children write a small but significant success story, building their confidence in dealing with adults and showing that we care about them and their future.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday, 25 August 2008 - A return to normalcy

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a return to normalcy.

Now that the Beijing Olympics are finally over, our lives can return to normal. Well, as normal as things can be around here with the Democratic National Convention convening in Denver, the US Open Tennis Championship underway, the Vuelta a Espana (tour of Spain cycling race) set to begin on Saturday and the start of football season ... collegiate, high school, middle school and pro.

Sports and politics. We'll be living and dying both for the next few months. How normal is that!

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday, 24 August 2008 - An August climbing adventure ... finally!

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for an August climbing adventure ... finally!

The mid-summer monsoons delighted my gardens but ruined our August rock climbing schedule. So, today's adventure in Red Rock Canyon is a welcome one.

Two Air Force Academy cadets join S, T and me - M, who climbs with us whenever he can, and his friend, A, who is sport climbing for the first time.

Yes, the nearly six-hour session is busy, very tiring and lots of fun. An incoming storm alarms us. Fortunately, it brings only sporadic thunder and lightening - no show-stopping rain, this time.

The four of us take turns climbing and belaying (yes, even I take my turn belaying the 6-foot tall, 185 pound climbers). Twenty-five pitches later, S finally takes down the ropes. We carefully repack our gear before heading slowly down the trail.

T is the only one with any reserve energy. He sees the return hike as his chance to sniff, mark and jog to his heart's content. I can't keep up with T (I fell twice due his fast pace down the steepest part of the trail) so I hand S the leash. Back at the truck, M takes T on a bonus hike up the steep trail to the east (one of T's favorites).

I think I know of at least one chocolate Labrador retriever who will sleep very well tonight.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Photo: While we climb, T chews on scrub oak bushes.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday, 23 August 2008 - Laughter

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for laughter.

Remember, men need laughter sometimes more than food.
~Anna Fellows Johnston

A rare dinner out with friends. The food is delicious, European-inspired, exquisite flavors and just right portions. But, the food is a minor detail because Brenda is seated at the table. The day's gloom vanished the moment she walked into the lobby and said hello. And, her wonderful laugh. Contagious, of course.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday, 22 August 2008 - A change in scenery

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a change in scenery.

Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time ... The wait is simply too long. ~Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

I'm struggling with writer's block again. My strategy between those rare inspirational moments is to keep on writing, one word after another.

S wants to go bouldering later this afternoon at Ute Valley Park. I'm sure that a change in scenery will do me good, that the act of climbing large boulders will anchor some of my ideas and thoughts in a well-written sentence or poem.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thursday, 21 August 2008 - A way out

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a way out.

The best way out is always through. ~Robert Frost

So, I've taken Robert Frost's road not taken many times and not regretted my decisions. Now, I will follow his advice and walk through - through this storm, through this desert, through this forest. I hope the way out is a well lit path and the exit sign, close by.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wednesday, 20 August 2008 - Another gardening lesson

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for another gardening lesson.

The watering of a garden requires as much judgment as the seasoning of soup. ~Helena Rutherford Ely

Another gardening lesson: The art of watering involves knowing just how much and exactly when. Plants, even xeric ones, need adequate water to thrive. In arid Colorado, a little goes a long way.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Photos: The recent spell of cool, rainy weather has revived the backyard. Looks like S will have to mow the native grass lawn for only the second time this season.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesday, 19 August 2008 - Hindsight

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for hindsight.

To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it the more fit for its prime function of looking forward. ~Margaret Fairless Barber, The Roadmender

20-20 hindsight.
Experience.
If only I knew then what I know now.

I glance backward for clues, an understanding, a new truth. Then, intrigued by what I see, I ask why this and that happened instead of something else, but reach no conclusion. I painstakingly dissect good and bad decisions, analyzing to death their tiny fragments.

I replay major themes and find new lyrics sung to the same old tune. I sense overt warning signs, detect subtle first hints and relive embarrassing slaps in the face. I find a fragrant rose here, a sunny daffodil there and bothersome weeds everywhere.

I succeed. I fail. I grieve. I reconsider. I learn. Then, I decide to move on. Sometimes willingly, other times reluctantly. Destination, unknown or nebulous at best. But at least I move on.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Monday, 18 August 2008 - More courage

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for more courage.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ~Joseph Campbell

I've given up planning my life. Well, not entirely. I still need to plan a little. Just enough so I can get through the day. Just far ahead so my weekly grocery list makes sense. But, not so much that I damage dreams and relinquish hope.

But letting go completely. That's a real challenge. To get rid of a planned life and welcome destiny. I don't know if I have the courage to do it.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday, 17 August 2008 - A repaired fence

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a repaired fence.

When a brown bear toppled the same section of fence a few years ago, he/she tore the gate from its hinges and broke two posts. S spent a full weekend digging out the old posts, setting new ones in concrete and building a new gate.

Last night or early this morning, the bear merely ripped the section from the posts. And, despite the rain, S repaired the damage in less than a hour. Now, T is safe and sound again in his fenced yard.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Saturday, 16 August 2008 - Impossible dreams

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for impossible dreams. Like Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France for seven consecutive years and, now, Michael Phelps winning eight Olympic gold medals in Beijing.

The impossible can always be broken down into possibilities. ~Author Unknown

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday, 15 August 2008 - Dara Torres

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for Dara Torres.

U.S. Olympic swimmer, Dara Torres, inspires me with her "dreams have no age limit" message. At age 41, she consistently beats women half her age.

As an athlete, I will never be in her league. But, I can do my best with what I have - some natural talent, fitness, determination and passion.

When I took up rock climbing two years ago at age 52, I knew I had a lot to prove to myself. The sport clearly attracts teens, not baby boomers.

Still, I think I've done all right given my late start. Not exceptional according to the world's standards, but good enough for me.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thursday, 14 August 2008 - Passing grades

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for passing grades.

A bad grade is only one letter in the Essay of Life. ~Lee Drake

For the young people in our neighborhood, school begins in a few days. Whenever we get the chance, S, T and I encourage them to study hard and exploit their diverse talents. I'm excited to see what amazing things our young friends will accomplish in the classroom, on the field or in the studio. And, of course, I want them to pass all their classes!

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wednesday, 13 August 2008 - Bread pudding

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for bread pudding.

When I think of bread pudding, I think about my business trips to New Orleans. When I dined alone, I often feasted on a regional meal of salad, French bread, boiled crawfish and bread pudding with whiskey sauce.

Yesterday, anticipating another baking adventure, I made an extra loaf of French bread. Today, I decide to make bread pudding based on a Mark Bittman recipe.

My recipe combines day-old French bread, half and half, eggs, real maple syrup, homemade vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, ground ginger and sliced almonds. Layer the bread in a large baking dish. Whisk together the remaining ingredients (except the almonds) and pour over the bread. Let soak for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle almonds over the top. Drizzle additional maple syrup over the almonds. Bake. Serve hot from the oven, warm, at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator.

This bread pudding is rich and flavorful, light (i.e., not soggy), not too sweet. The top crust sports toasted almonds glazed with maple syrup. The bread is moist and creamy yet firm, the flavors - maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger - delicate and complex. Better, I think, than the bread puddings I enjoyed in New Orleans.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuesday, 12 August 2008 - Mid-summer monsoons

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for mid-summer monsoons.

They're here, right on schedule. I didn't expect them this year, given the ongoing drought. So, while T did his rain sleep, I prayed extra hard for moisture, knowing the storms would spoil our rock climbing adventures.

O Lord, grant that in some way it may rain every day, say from about midnight until three o'clock in the morning, but, you see, it must be gentle and warm so that it can soak in; grant that at the same time it would not rain on campion, alyssum, heliaanthemum, lavender, and the others which you in your infinite wisdom know are drought loving plants - I will write their names on a paper if you like - and grant that the sun may shine the whole day long, but not everywhere (not for instance, on spiraea, or on gentian, plantain lily, and rhododendron), and not too much; that there may be plenty of dew and little wind, enough worms, no plant-lice and snails, no mildew, and that once a week thin liquid manure and guano may fall from heaven. Amen.
- Karel Capek, The Gardener's Year, 1929


For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday, 11 August 2008 - Shopping choices

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for shopping choices.

Fresh popcorn is our snack of choice ... hot, lightly drizzled with oil, salted. So, when our popper suddenly died, I immediately looked for a new one.

The last time we replaced the appliance, I discovered that Wal-Mart was the only local store that carried the highly-rated Presto model we preferred. On any given day, I avoid Wal-Mart like the plague. But, that year, I reluctantly bit the bullet and shopped at Wal-Mart.

This time, I was willing to give Wal-Mart about $20.00 worth of business, mainly for expediency's sake. Then Wal-Mart blundered, big time.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Wal-Mart told its employees not to vote for Barack Obama (whose candidacy I support) and other pro-worker candidates who support the Employee Free Choice Act. Electioneering is a corporate no-no.

Anyway, with my trip to Wal-Mart cancelled, I ordered a new Presto popcorn popper on Amazon.com (had to buy a book to earn free shipping, but I'm not complaining). Both items should arrive in about a week. Will be well worth the wait.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday, 10 August 2008 - Bread

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for bread.

Stale bread is not hard; what is hard is to live without bread.
~Paul Claudel, French poet (1868-1955)

Bread, in Egyptian Arabic, is called aish, which literally means life, rather than khobz, the word that other Arab-speakers use. The word reflects the centrality of bread here. This is a culture of bread, not rice, not meat and potatoes, not humus.
~International Herald Tribune, 1.16.08

There are days when I'm sure that I could survive on a diet of bread and water. Of course, the bread must be my own, the water, purified.

I've been making bread for over two years, ever since the local bakery again raised the price on its baguettes. I bought a secondhand breadmaking machine on eBay for around $25.00 and quickly recouped the cost. Fortunately, organic flour, salt, sugar and yeast remain affordable.

Our enduring favorites are Italian focaccio and classic French bread. The focaccio was an instant success. The French bread, however, was not as easy to master especially at high altitude. No matter how I altered the basic recipe, I could not duplicate the crusty baguettes that we love.

About a week ago, I finally discovered the "secret" to making perfect French bread at altitude - bread flour. Now my French bread recipe - tweaked and tested - is my new masterpiece. It consistently produces loaves that are crusty on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside. Each bite reveals just a hint of salt. Perfect!

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Saturday, 09 August 2008 - A neighborhood lifeline

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a neighborhood lifeline.

I'm adding another name to the list of people for whom I wear a yellow LiveStrong wristband. She's a neighbor's mother - early 60s, recently diagnosed with cancer of the appendix (a very rare type).

I'm glad K told me about her mother. Neighbors, though not technically family, appreciate learning about another's personal crisis and struggle. Yes, we share common physical ground. But, an emotional lifeline also runs around the block, linking one house to the next whether we like it or not.

In the end, we don't want to meddle in each other's affairs (our own problems are enough). But, we do want to comfort, lend a hand, pray and make leaps of faith for each other.

Sadness. That's what I feel as I add K's mother to my list. This year's reports of ill or lost loved ones cast a long shadow over my path. At 54, I barely know how to live. When my time is finally up, I wonder if I will know how to die.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Friday, 08 August 2008 - The Olympics

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for the Olympics.

Olympics - a lifetime of training for just ten seconds. ~Jessie Owens

Champions aren't made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them - a desire, a dream, a vision. ~Muhammed Ali

We've waited four years for the Beijing Summer Olympics. Now, they're finally here. Let the games begin!

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Thursday, 07 August 2008 - Summer monsoons

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for summer monsoons.

I feel Mother Nature's compassionate heart. After all, she's sent the summer monsoons my way. Good timing, too. Yes, I could water my thirsty garden more frequently. But, the plants prefer the taste of rainwater.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Photo: A raindrop-adorned spiderweb

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wednesday, 06 August 2008 - A remembrance

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a remembrance.

As the bomb fell over Hiroshima and exploded, we saw an entire city disappear. I wrote in my log the words: "My God, what have we done?"
~Captain Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the U.S. Air Force bomber Enola Gay that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug 6, 1945, instantly killing at least 117,000 people

Most days, I don't consider my Japanese heritage. But two days a year, I do: August 6, the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and December 7, Pearl Harbor Day.

On August 6, I remember JM, a former colleague's mother, who, by a strange quirk of fate, survived the bombing of Hiroshima.

A working girl, JM was chronically tardy. But on August 6, 1945, she arrived at the office early to make-up for lost time.

When the atom bomb hit the city at 8:15 AM, she was already working in the library's concrete-encased basement. The basement acted like a bomb shelter, absorbing the impact and minimizing radiation exposure.

At 8:15 AM on any other workday, JM, late as usual, would still be sitting on the crowded commuter train as it neared the main Hiroshima station.

Hiroshima marks A-bombing
The Yomiuri Shimbun

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20080807TDY01301.htm


HIROSHIMA--About 45,000 people attended a memorial ceremony Wednesday at the Peace Memorial Park here to mark the 63rd anniversary of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of the city.

Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba said in a peace declaration that the majority of the world wants to abolish nuclear weapons as shown by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty signed by about 190 states.

"All we need is the strong will and capacity to act to guard the future for our children," he said during the ceremony, which began at 8 a.m.

With music playing to console the spirits of the victims, the names of 5,302 hibakusha (atomic bomb victims) who died during the past year--or whose deaths were confirmed--were added by Akiba and representatives of bereaved families to the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims at the park, bringing the total number of victims to 258,310, recorded in 93 books.

Representatives of atomic bomb survivors, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and representatives from a record 55 countries, including first-time participant China, offered flowers to the cenotaph.

At 8:15 a.m., the time when the bomb detonated over the city, two representatives of the bereaved families tolled the Peace Bell, followed by a minute of silent prayer for the victims.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Tuesday, 05 August 2008 - Baking weather

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for baking weather.

This morning's unseasonably cool temperature means two things: T will enjoy his walk and I get to bake.

No matter the season, I try to follow this energy-saving rule: whenever I use the oven, I must bake more than one item.

Today, three's the charm: one sour cream pineapple streusel coffee cake, one large foccacia laced with olive oil and one platter of spicy cottage fries (need to use up the Yukon gold potatoes).

The only problem with baking is that S and I have to eat the products. I'm not worried about the foccacia and fries. But, the 9"x 13" calorie-rich coffee cake made with two cups of sour cream and six eggs is another story.

Just when I decide to share it with a neighbor, S announces that M, our Air Force Academy cadet, is free for the rest of the day and wants to spend the evening with us. Classes begin on Thursday, so tonight may be the last time we see him for several weeks.

M arrives just as thunderstorms invade the region. Rock climbing is now out of the question. So, he does laundry and hangs out with T.

Back in the kitchen, I'm glad that I baked the bread and coffeecake this morning - they round out our dinner of grilled salmon topped with homemade tomatillo salsa, sweet corn on the cob and steamed broccoli.

The coffeecake's the real star (I originally thought it might be too "grown up" for a 20-year-old). M, however, eats three large pieces and takes another back to the dorm, leaving just enough for S and I to share for tomorrow's breakfast.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Monday, 04 August 2008 - Unknown territory

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for unknown territory.

It is a basic principle of spiritual life that we learn the deepest things in unknown territory. Often, it is when we feel most confused inwardly and are in the midst of our greatest difficulties that something new will open. We awaken most easily to the mystery of life through our weakest side. The areas of our greatest strength, where we are the most competent and clearest, tend to keep us away from the mystery. ~Jack Kornfield

I think the "powers that be" are trying to tell me something. For the second time in the past week, someone has sent me a gift quote.

I ponder the idea of "unknown territory," trying to define its boundaries, describe its landscape, imagine its majesty, test its magic.

Physical unknown territories are easy to describe. A precipice, perhaps, as deep as the Grand Canyon or a craggy peak that rivals Mount Everest. Maybe a barren desert or moonscape that stretches from here to the distant horizon, shadowed, void of familiar lifeforms. Or an intriguing city, like Paris or Tokyo, awaiting my next arrival.

But, the quote's unknown territory, well, it's harder to define. But I know what it is - intuition, emptiness, gut reaction, raw nerve, sixth sense, pit in my stomach, heartache. My spiritual life's private battleground, schoolroom, playground.

Gain access not through competency and worldly success but through my weakest side, the one built of vulnerability, fear, anger, failure and confusion. Then, stay awhile. Visit and explore. Dig and discover. Remain as long as it takes to reach an understanding, to learn a new truth, to restore an ounce of faith, to unveil the mystery. Then, exit quietly through the passage marked epiphany and serendipity.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sunday, 03 August 2008 - Ten fewer degrees

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for ten fewer degrees.

Not much to say except to report that it's at least ten degrees cooler today.

Funny how comfortable 90 degrees feels when you've survived 100 degree temperatures for the past few days. This year, our usually tolerable Colorado summer is one continuous hot flash with no relief in sight.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Saturday, 02 August 2008 - Mystery and unexpected guests

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for mystery and unexpected guests.

Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart for any seed the winds may bring ... Keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for the unknown God. ~Henri Frederic Amiel

This quote arrived unexpectedly the other day. A gift of sorts. After reading the words and pondering their meaning, I know that I am guilty, as accused.

When it comes to my plowshare of self-examination, I repeatedly turn up my whole soil and work it to death with self-talk that is too critical, too controlling and too demanding.

So, just as I do with my outdoor gardens, I must find an inner space where I can readily plant new seeds. Probably a small piece of my weary heart. A fitting altar to my God.

Then, I must keep the plot fertile and fresh, ready to accept seeds of change, joy or opportunity that blow my way on uncertain winds.

Only then will I gladly welcome unexpected guests into my life. Only then will mystery have its place in me.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday, 01 August 2008 - Anonymity

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for anonymity.

When I run errands, I'm usually an anonymous figure. A task-oriented shopper, I slip in and out of stores, libraries, gas stations and post offices like a person on a mission - efficient, quiet and focused. That's just the way I like it.

Although I very rarely meet anyone I know or engage strangers in long conversations, I am not asocial. I do chat casually with other customers while waiting in line at the cashier's station or fabric cutting table. I remember to ask a favorite store or library clerk about his or her day. And, I always wish anyone who crosses my path a good day.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thursday, 31 July 2008 - Shade

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for shade.

S, T and I arrive early at the Ute Valley Park boulders. It's 9 AM and already energy-sapping hot.

The boulders rise above us forming a welcomed sandstone shield. They willingly absorb the sun's rays and mercifully shade our staging area. I anticipate a productive session figuring out moves on current projects.

T, who doesn't tolerate summer's heat very well, is very glad that our "playground" is cool and comfortable. So are we.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wednesday, 29 July 2008 - Good news

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for good news.

This entry will be short and sweet.

My 83-year-old mother was hospitalized last week with pneumonia, a dangerous illness given her fragility. (My parents live in Southern California - a long 1,500 miles from Colorado Springs.) Fortunately, she responded quickly to treatment and rest. Now, she is well enough to return home tonight - a day earlier than her doctors originally expected. Very good news, indeed.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday, 29 July 2008 - A homegrown snack

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a homegrown snack.

My small edible garden can't provide all the food I need to survive. So, I'll settle for a snack.

Today, we enjoyed:
  • 6 blackberries
  • 1 tomato ("Fantastic")
  • 1 Japanese eggplant, about 4" long
  • 1 alpine strawberry
I savor each tiny delicious bite. The revitalizing "life force" stored in just-picked fruits and veggies. infuses my hot and tired body, mind and soul with energy - their gift to me.

For this blessing, I am thankful.

Amen.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday, 28 July 2008 - One blackberry bush

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for one blackberry bush.

I was wrong. The "wild" berry plant growing in the backyard is actually a blackberry bush (I had originally guessed raspberry).

After photographing the ripening fruit, I eat the dark berry in the middle of the cluster. Oh my - it's so sweet and juicy!

I last ate wild blackberries in August 2001 during a trip to England and France with my sister and her family. While hiking through England's Lake District, we spied overgrown, berry-laden bushes lining the trail.

My brother-in-law observed that the ripest berries, when gently tugged, easily detached from the stem. We figured that that's how bears and other animals found ripe fruit.

So, after refining our picking technique, we enjoyed an unexpected sweet feast before resuming our trek.

Lucky me. I now have a private blackberry bush. And, just like I do for all of my edible plants, I'm praying for a bountiful harvest.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday, 27 July 2008 - A memorable Tour

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a memorable 2008 Tour de France.

We haven't followed cycling since the 2006 and 2007 debacles starring Floyd Landis and others.

This year, we gave the Tour de France another chance. And, we're glad we did.

I will remember:
  • The exciting race route that engaged us from Stage 1 (rather than boring us for the first week with too many flat stages)
  • American Christian Vandevelde's stellar overall performance (he had a real chance to clinch a podium spot but, after one poor mountain stage, finished in 5th place)
  • Sprinter Marc Cavanaugh's decisive four stage wins
  • Successful breakaways - can't remember when so many succeeded
  • The endless debate over the merits of Team CSC's controversial strategy on Alpe d'Huez where Carlos Sastre claimed his first maillot jaune
  • The usual excellent live commentary by Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen (the "lads") on Versus - they're the best of the best.
For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Photo: Tickseed blooms match the color of the maillot jaune.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Saturday, 26 July 2008 - A decisive win

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a decisive win.

The Tour de France. Stage 20. A 53 kilometer time trial over rolling terrain. For cyclists, the ultimate race of truth.

Few experts think Carlos Sastre can preserve his "shaky" 1'34" lead over Cadel Evans. Even 7-time winner Lance Armstrong predicts that Evans will more than make up the deficit.

We watch the top five riders leave the starting gate at three-minute intervals. We await the results at each time check.

The news surprises the experts. Sastre is not losing a lot of time. Evans is not making up lost ground. 1'34" might as well be an hour.

In the end, Sastre rides the time trial of his life and keeps the coveted yellow jersey. Although I am not a Sastre fan, I join cycling fans around the world in applauding his apparent victory.

Actually, I'm glad that Sastre kept the yellow jersey. At the end of the day, he simply out-rode his closest rivals. He knew his mission and what he had to do to accomplish it. No pre-race complaints, whines or excuses either. He realized that victory depended on his own talent, courage and determination, not a rival's poor performance or bad luck.

A true champion, Sastre successfully controlled his own destiny.

He took the proverbial bull by its horns and rode like the wind.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday, 25 July 2008 - My sewing stash

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for my sewing stash.

I am in a sewing mood, inspired by the new season of Project Runway and my bulging pattern and fabric stash.

Once upon a time, I sewed every pattern and yard of fabric I bought. Now, unless I start sewing, my stash will outlive me by decades.

On one hand, I take comfort in knowing that, in the event I need a new outfit, I already have the perfect pattern and fabric. But, experience tells me that those special occasions rarely arise.

On the other hand, my lifestyle and wardrobe needs have changed drastically in the last ten years. I now prefer stretch denim jeans to wool crepe suits, high-tech wicking fabrics to silk knits, trendy tees to button-up shirts.

As I survey the pile of luxury fabric, I realize that most of my treasures must go. Not thrown away, but given to another seamstress. Someone who will love them as I have and use them to make beautiful clothes.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thursday, 24 July 2008 - A return to bouldering

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a return to bouldering.

Late afternoon. The storm finally clears. I think the next one, already cresting the mountains, won't bring rain. I hope the breeze picks up and clears the muggy air.

S, T and I head to Ute Valley Park to boulder for a few hours. It's our first official visit since S's untimely shoulder injury. I'm anxious to see how well I do.

The hiatus hasn't hurt me too much. As I climb various routes on The Wave, I'm surprised at my core and upper body strength. I'm also pleased by my vastly improved footwork.

Sometimes, a long rest is a good thing. I can recover from the annoying aches and pains that accompany strenuous daily workouts. Just my body's way of reminding me that I am not a 20-something athlete so I should stop trying to be one.

Still, on any given day, I'd rather be climbing.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wednesday, 23 July 2008 - A respite

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a respite from July's hot weather.

Someone heard my prayers. Or perhaps Mother Nature is simply responding to T's "rain" sleep.

Today, the heatwave broke. Just a little. But, just enough. It's probably a temporary breach. Still, I'm relieved.

Dark clouds poured over the mountains late morning. The first raindrops and hailstones fell around noon. Thunderstorms arrived an hour later. More rain followed.

T is a rare canine in that storms don't bother him. He's sleeping soundly in his favorite spot, oblivious to the low rumble of thunder, lightening flashes and pelting rain. I'm sure he's dreaming of his favorite cool weather days. I, too, am thinking about autumn's frosty mornings and winter's snowdrifts.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Photos: Caught in the act ... early this morning, two butterflies ate breakfast in the backyard garden.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesday, 22 July 2008 - Two positive outcomes

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for two positive outcomes.

Although the edible plants and wildflowers thrive in 90 degree temperatures, I wilt like a shade loving perennial.

The heatwave is taking its toll on daily life. After walking just one slow lap around the park, T sleeps all day on the family room floor - the lowest point in the house (not counting the basement). I work in the garden only during the cooler early morning or evening hours. Frequent sips of ice water are my best friends. I postpone writing until nighttime when a cool breeze finally invades my studio. And, after foraging the dry foothills, mule deer dine regularly on my front yard garden's "deer resistant" plants.

There must be something good about this month's continuing drought and heatwave. I can think of only two positive outcomes: fewer noxious weeds are growing in the neighborhood's greenbelt, alley, culvert and open space and no mosquitoes.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday, 21 July 2008 - Photographer's luck

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for an unexpected dose of photographer's luck.

Sorry, but here's another butterfly photograph.

While patroling the backyard, camera in hand, I spied this beautiful specimen resting on the serviceberry shrub. I managed to take only one shot before it flew away. Darn it! I was sure the photo would not turn out.

So, when I reviewed today's photoshoot, I was very surprised to find this image. Lucky me!

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday, 20 July 2008 - A simple celebration

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a simple celebration.

This weekend, we're celebrating M's birthday (he turned 20 on July 17). Nothing fancy. Just cool presents (locking carabiner, belay device, chalk bag, chalk block), good food, Josh & John's ice cream and an indoor rock climbing adventure at the local gym.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Photo: Another bee portrait. I had a hard time photographing this hyperactive fellow. Here, he feeds on blue flax nectar.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saturday, 19 July 2008 - Wild additions

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for "wild" additions to my perennial edible garden.

I was right.

The thorny "mystery" plant growing in the far southwest corner of the yard is a berry bush. Raspberries, I think.

And, the tall plant growing along the fence, about 15 feet to the right of the raspberry bush, is a native golden currant shrub.

Funny how the wild berry plants thrive in this year's intense summer heat without any intervention on my part. No extra water. No fertilizer. They are simply "blooming" where they are planted.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday, 18 July 2008 - Wildflowers

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for wildflowers.

For myself I hold no preferences among flowers, so long as they are wild, free, spontaneous. Bricks to all greenhouses! Black thumb and cutworm to the potted plant!
~Edward Abbey

For over 17 years, my backyard garden began like this: In the spring, I worked wildflower seeds into the clay dirt, watered the patches daily and waited. Eventually, seeds sprouted, stems and leaves grew and flowers bloomed. I diligently mulched and weeded. My "cottage" garden slowly took shape, an undisciplined canvas of color and texture. Perfect for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

Today, succeeding generations of wildflowers still bloom throughout a more disciplined landscape. As they reveal the innate beauty and magic of native plants, these plants also link my domesticated garden to their original home, the short and tall grass prairie.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thursday, 17 July 2008 - Fuss-free eggplants

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for fuss-free eggplants.

While I agonize over my "high-maintenance" tomato and basil plants, the eggplants are thriving.

I'm not neglecting them. They get their share of water and fertilizer and sunshine. I'm just glad that the plants are relatively fuss-free and independent. Easy-to-grow, easy-to-please.

And, although I don't have eggplant dreams (does anyone?), I do have a caponata recipe in my archive - will be delicious spread thickly on toasted slices of homemade focaccio.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wednesday, 16 July 2008 - Fresh herbs

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for fresh herbs, straight from my garden.

Tutti a tavola a mangiare!
(Everyone, to the table to eat!)
~ the invitation Lidia issues at the end of her cooking shows

This summer, we're eating a lot of pasta dressed in homemade tomato-based sauces. The dishes are simple, tasty and healthy - typical rustic Italian cuisine. Plus I get to perfect the cooking techniques I've learned from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich on her PBS shows.

I guess I'm becoming a cooking snob. Since my edible garden now provides a bounty of fresh herbs, I refuse to use the dried, store-bought ones that crowd the cupboard shelf.

As chopped red onions and minced garlic caramelize in a heavy saucepan, I step into the garden. There, with kitchen shears in hand, I clip leaves and stems, filling a soup bowl with fresh herbs: sage, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, tarragon, celery, lovage and parsley.

After carefully washing and drying my treasures, I rough chop them before adding them to the sauce. The aroma is amazing. Deliziosa!

Of course, my real test as a cook comes when, M, our Air Force Academy cadet, visits. For dinner, I serve linguine with meat sauce. To S and me, the sauce is perfect. But, others, not used to my cooking style or preference for intense flavors, might think otherwise.

The verdict: As M finishes his second heaping plateful, he tells me that he really loves the sauce.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday, 15 July 2008 - One gem

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for one gem.

Digital cameras are perfect for photographers like me. I take lots (and I mean lots) of pictures with my Olympus 570UZ. Sometimes hundreds a day. Multiple shots of the same subject don't bore or bother me. I know that, over time, only a few photos will be memorable or noteworthy.

One gem.

That's all I hope for when I put on my photographer's hat. And, that's exactly what I got this morning.

The photo is technically imperfect. But, that's okay.

It's interesting. It tells a good story.

My beloved garden, one busy bee, a bouquet of Gaillardia daisies. Is he coming or going? I can't tell - can you?

Finally, one shot that did not elude me.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday, 14 July 2008 - Three things

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for three things.

1. M's safe return to Colorado Springs.
Our Air Force Academy cadet friend, M, returned safe and sound from his trip home. He now begins his final summer adventure during which he'll learn to parachute jump. He was in high spirits, looking forward to seeing his AFA friends and ready to settle into a regular routine. The academic year begins in three weeks.

2. Our return to climbing.
S, T and I climbed in Red Rock Canyon on Sunday. It was our first outing after a long hiatus during which S rehabilitated an injured shoulder. Surprisingly, we did not lose much fitness or form (although we didn't climb difficult routes). I am thrilled to be climbing again.

3. T's determination and courage.
T is one determined Labrador retriever. At age 11.5, he desperately wants to join us on every outing no matter the season. Summer is particularly brutal for him. Even as a puppy, he did not tolerate the heat very well. Now that he is an old guy, his intolerance grows more apparent. This summer is a tough one for him.

S and I can't imagine going hiking or climbing without T. So, we do whatever we can to keep him cool and comfortable. We douse him frequently with cool water and hike at his leisurely pace. We choose shadier trails and cooler times of day. And, when he lays down in the middle of the trail, too hot to take another step, we give him time to rest. In a few minutes, he musters the strength and energy to keep going. As I praise and encourage him, I can feel my heart break a little more. I can't deny the sad truth - T will be with us for only a few more years.

For these blessings, I am grateful.

Amen.

Photo: Red Rock Canyon. T chews a conveniently positioned scrub oak branch while resting in a shady spot near today's routes.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday, 13 July 2008 - Summer blues

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for summer blues. Not mine but my garden's.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Photos:
(top) delphinium
(bottom) blue flax and bachelor's button

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Saturday, 12 July 2008 - Strawberry dreams

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for strawberry dreams.

We love to eat fresh strawberries. This year, however, the organic ones are terribly expensive. I won't buy non-organic berries - the pesticide load is too high.

My solution: add strawberries to my perennial edible garden. At the annual plant sale, I was delighted to find alpine strawberry plants. I bought two and promptly planted them near the herbs and rhubarb.

Everyone told me not to expect any fruit the first year. So, I downgraded my expectations, shelved my strawberry dreams and repeated my default mantra, "Just wait until next year."

This morning, the plants surprise me with their display of white blossoms. And, as you know, blossoms are precursors to berries.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday, 11 July 2008 - Daylily gifts

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for daylily gifts.

Two years ago, a neighbor decided to thin his daylily beds. He asked me if I wanted the excess bulbs.

Although I am not an avid daylily fan, I said "Yes." Who can turn down free plants? Not me.

He promptly gave me over a dozen freshly-dug clumps. It was spring so I had to plant the daylilies right away.

I never planned to add daylilies to the landscape. And these were the hardy, common, everyday variety that thrives in drought conditions.

I decided to plant them throughout the backyard garden - wherever I could find space. A few by the house, a few on the slope, the remainder in the hot, dry and sunny north strip. My rationale: if they live, they live; if they die, they die.

No blossoms last year. No matter. My garden didn't miss them.

But this year, they are making a bold statement.

During the current lull in the summer flowering schedule, their lovely orange blossoms appear daily.

Every morning, they shout "Look at me!"

And I do. In fact, I can't take my eyes off of them.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thursday, 10 July 2008 - Sunflowers

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for sunflowers.

My favorite Tour de France images show the peloton riding along a sunflower-lined road.

So, with the 2008 race in full swing, I'm not surprised that my garden's crop decided to bloom a month early.

July sunflowers
Wear familiar colors.

Sturdy green stalks

Support sun kissed blossoms,

Rich rust centers
Framed by bright yellow petals.

These early birds

Are two feet shorter

Than their August siblings,

But just as happy to see me.


For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wednesday, 09 July 2008 - A sharp knife

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for a sharp knife.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

S and I laugh at T's antics, remarking that he is not always the "sharpest knife in the drawer." I'm not either. Especially after this morning's incident.

When I prep ingredients, I know the value of using sharp knives. So, I don't know why I continued to slice rhubarb stalks with a dull serrated knife.

The accident was inevitable, I suppose. The dull blade slipped against tough rhubarb skin. My left index finger was in the way. The blade was sharp enough to slice human tissue. Ouch!

My hard-learned lesson: Always sharpen the knife before chopping, mincing or slicing anything. Only takes a minute.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tuesday, 08 July 2008 - Homegrown tomatoes

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for homegrown tomatoes.

Homegrown tomatoes homegrown tomatoes
What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes

Only two things that money can't buy

That's true love and homegrown tomatoes

~Clark Guy, lyrics from "Homegrown Tomatoes"

You know, when you get your first asparagus, or your first acorn squash, or your first really good tomato of the season, those are the moments that define the cook's year. I get more excited by that than anything else.

~Mario Batali


I will never tire of eating homegrown tomatoes. In my opinion, no store-bought variety will ever surpass the intense flavor and sweetness of the luscious red and orange globes that grow in my small edible garden.

We eat the first ripe tomato of the season, a deep red specimen from the "Fantastic" plant. I savor each nibble. Yes, this is how a tomato should taste.

One half of a small tomato just isn't enough. My appetite for another grows exponentially.

Unfortunately, I find only green fruit on the "Fantastic" plant and a score of yellow blossoms on the "Brandywine" vine. The Sungold cherry tomatoes are still too young to bear blossoms or fruit.

Although it's July, the outdoor growing season in Colorado is barely a month old. With luck, the plants will bear fruit through September. Or even October, if we don't get an early frost.

So, I will do what gardeners do best.

For the plants, I'll water daily and feed weekly.

For me, I'll work on patience and pray harder than ever for a bountiful harvest.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Monday, 07 July 2008 - Another photography lesson

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for another photography lesson.

Here is this season's key photography lesson: Do not inspect or tour the garden without the camera. Otherwise, I miss too many photo opportunities.

Today, I remember to heed my own advice.

With camera in hand, I catch a lovely Monarch butterfly feeding on lamb's ear blossoms. These photos make up for the one that got away - a delicate white butterfly sitting on a cluster of centranthus alba (white valerian) blossoms.

Note to self: always invite good luck, good timing and serendipity to join me in the garden.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sunday, 06 July 2008 - Sunday sports

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for Sunday sports.

We'd rather be climbing. But, the weather doesn't cooperate.

So, on this cool and rainy Sunday, we settled in front of the television for a full slate of sports - Stage 2 of the Tour de France, Wimbledon men's singles final, and the final day of the US Olympic Trials in swimming and track and field.

Yes, I should have been more productive and worked on indoor projects. But just for today, I let my inner sportsfan rule my agenda. And, she didn't disappoint.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Saturday, 05 July 2008 - Yellow

Dear God:


Today, I am thankful for the color yellow.

My gardens exclaim that yellow is the color du jour. In fact, several flowers proudly display their unique versions of le maillot jaune ... just in time for Stage 1 of le Tour de France.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Photos:

- prickly pear
- gaillaridia aristata (blanket flower)
- eschscholzia californica (California poppy)
- erigonum umbellatum (sulphur flower)
- achillea millefolium (yarrow)

Friday, July 04, 2008

Friday, 04 July 2008 - Declaration of Independence

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for the Declaration of Independence.

On the Fourth of July, we forgo some popular traditions like fireworks (T hates the noise) and large community gatherings (T can't attend because the organizers ban pets). We do, however, look forward to the reading of the Declaration of Independence on NPR's Morning Edition.

NPR's rendition used to feature voices of past and present personalities including former anchor, Bob Edwards, and the late Red Barber. They've updated the recording to include only voices of current reporters and personalities. A mistake, I think. Like so many things, the original version is always better than the update.

Thomas Jefferson's words, however, endure. And, sadly, they comment unfavorably on American politics and politicians in the 21st century. I think we're long overdue for a new American Revolution.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Photo: prickly pear blossom

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Thursday, 03 July 2008 - Garden gates

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for garden gates.

Closed,
they prevent others from entering our private enclave, protecting my secret garden from foreign eyes, keeping all miracles within the fenced yard.

Opened,
they give outsiders a glimpse of our home's outer landscape, allowing others to inhale the special air that insulates the structure and breathes precious life into the rooms.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Wednesday, 02 July 2008 - One blushing tomato

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for one blushing tomato.

I'm delighted that my garden's first tomato has begun to ripen. The fruit is on the "Fantastic" plant, an early producer.

When the tomato's vine-ripened - probably in another 3-5 days, I will pick it and eat it (sharing, of course, with S and T). I'm hopeful that its flavor and texture will live up to its name.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tuesday, 01 July 2008 - Mulch

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for mulch.

My desperation grows daily. With summer turning up the heat to near-intolerable levels and teasing my garden with rainless thunderstorms, I need mulch - lots and lots of mulch.

Yes, I am obsessed with mulch. Many years ago, when I became a serious outdoor gardener, I read about a New Mexico woman who heavily mulched her gardens. Despite the hot, dry weather, she only watered her plants once a month. Yet, her gardens thrived. I decided right then and there to mulch my gardens regularly.

Finding the right "thickness" took a few seasons. I've since learned to spread enough mulch to preserve moisture and protect roots but not smother the plants.

In the fall, I prepare my gardens for winter by applying pine mulch and tree leaves (donated by teens who rake neighborhod yards) around the base of each plant. In the summer, I apply a thick layer of pine mulch around plants and on bare spots.

The mulch works well for my gardens and me. Even during the hottest and driest months, I deep water established plants and shrubs every 10-14 days and spot water new plantings as needed. A few of my xeric plants have very deep taproots and need virtually no supplemental water. Most, however, need a periodic drink, preferring rainfall to the hose. My edible garden, also heavily mulched, still requires daily watering.

Late this afternoon, S takes me to the Slash-Mulch Program site. The Program, a local wildfire mitigation and recycling program, is a major collection site for landscape slash. Donors include homeowners and landscapers.

A towering industrial chipper turns the slash into mulch. Several times a week, the public can stop by for a supply. Although the mulch is free (with a non-perishable donation to the local food bank), you must supply the tools and energy required to shovel the material into bags, truck beds or trailers.

During today's trip, S and I collect enough mulch for Round One. Y watches from the truck cab as I hold open the trash bags and S dumps in shovelfuls of fragrant pine and fir mulch.

When we return home, I spend the rest of our daylight hours applying the 8-39 gallon bags of mulch to the garden. To my dismay, I quickly run out. Thankfully, S promises to take me back on Thursday evening for one more load.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Monday, 30 June 2008 - One healthy canine

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for one healthy canine.

This afternoon, T aced his annual checkup, extending his streak to 11 straight years.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday, 29 June 2008 - Clotheslines

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for clotheslines.

I remember the ubiquitous outdoor clothesline. On the day we moved into the West Covina house, my older sister and I giggled and laughed as we swung merrily around the poles. The year, 1957. I was nearly 3.5 years old.

Of course, drying clothes outside was a risky business. From late fall through early spring, rain, fog and cold postponed many laundry days. On blustery days when the hot Santa Ana winds swept through the Los Angeles basin, my mother worried about sheets and towels and diapers flying off the line and sailing into a neighbor's yard.

By the mid-1960s, our clothesline gave way to a gas dryer. My dad, proud to own a modern convenience, dug up the poles for good. During subsequent summers, the clothesline's erstwhile home housed an above ground swimming pool, and much later, a vegetable garden.

This morning, I study an article that discusses a consumer movement seeking new favor for the lowly clothesline. These days, I'm interested in anything that will reduce my reliance on electricity. Most US suburbs ban clotheslines, calling them eyesores that reduce property values. I would like to have one in my backyard. Solar energy is free for the taking when it comes to drying clothes.

Until I can live in a place that accepts clotheslines, I do what I can to reduce dryer usage. I take many of my clothes straight from the washing machine and hang them on a rack. I use the dryer frugally, drying heavy items like towels and t-shirts until they're barely damp. Then, I'll hang them on a rack where they'll finish drying - shouldn't take long in Colorado's low humidity.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday, 28 June 2008 - Local eats

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for local eats.

I like the idea of a locavore challenge. This summer, the Peak to Plains Alliance is signing up people at various farmers markets.

From July through September, participants pledge to eat only food produced within 300 miles of Colorado Springs for one, two or three meals a day. In September, they'll "celebrate" by eating 100% locally grown food for one full week.

I'm positive that I won't be able to complete the most difficult level. But, I can probably follow the rules for one of my two daily meals. I'm thinking lunch, not breakfast.

I already buy locally-produced food whenever possible. I have readily available sources for Colorado flour, eggs, milk, honey, cheese and butter but not olive oil, sugar, oatmeal or almonds.

The local meat market sells Colorado-raised meat and poultry products. Too bad salmon is not a locally grown fish. I wonder if I could still eat tofu. The one I buy is made in Colorado but the soybeans may be grown elsewhere.

Fresh produce is another concern. Until summer fruits and vegetables invade the markets, I'm stuck with lots of out-of-state produce. If my plants have a good summer, I'll have tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and herbs including basil, tarragon, sage and mint. Plus, I can shop the farmers markets and ask generous neighbors for surplus zucchini.

Yes, I think I can manage to eat locally for one meal a day.

I probably won't sign up formally. I will vow, however, to make an honest effort to eat by the locavore rules and see how well I do.

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.

Photo: mirabilis multiflora (desert four o'clock) leaves and ladybug

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday, 27 June 2008 - The hardware store

Dear God:

Today, I am thankful for the hardware store.

One of my childhood memories involves my dad's weekly visits to the local hardware store. He went every weekend unless he was deep sea fishing. I'm sure that the store clerks knew him very well, probably greeting him by first name.

"Good morning, A. Can I help you find something?"

"No thanks. I'm just browsing."

I imagine my dad walking slowly down the merchandise-packed aisles, glancing left then right at the cluttered displays and overflowing bins. He stops when he discovers something new or spies a coveted item. He removes the item from the hook or pulls it out of a wire basket, examines it carefully and reads the packaging before returning it to its proper spot. If he's really interested, he discusses the item's use and characteristics with a store clerk.

My dad didn't buy much unless he had a specific gardening or home improvement project in mind. Usually, he returned home, small paper bag in hand. My sisters and I would eagerly open the sack and gaze upon his prized finds - special seeds, assorted nails or odd sized nuts and bolts.

I accompanied my dad to the hardware store only once, probably after I begged him to take me (or maybe my mom asked him to take one of us with him). During that lone visit, I found hardware, gardening supplies and paint boring. I never asked to join him again.

Ironically, nowadays, when I run my own weekly errands, I routinely visit the library, natural food store, sewing and craft store, nursery and neighborhood Ace hardware store.

At Ace, I head straight to the gardening section to look at seeds, plants, fertilizer and soil or the kitchenware department to study the wall of cooking tools and gadgets.

When I enter the store, a cheerful clerk politely asks if I need help. Unless I have a specific project or item in mind, I echo my dad.

"No thanks. I'm just browsing."

For this blessing, I am grateful.

Amen.