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We are preparing for Thanksgiving here in America. In our houses, that means that MKL is replacing toilets, scrubbing floors, and vacuuming carpets, because he is hosting this year. When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was a small family thing, sometimes with guests in the morning or early afternoon, a few paper decorations around the house, football, and just the four of us for supper, which was always a traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes (that my Dad made), gravy, and pumpkin pie (again, from my Dad). With MKL, the family is sons and parents and sisters and nieces and grand-nieces – maybe 13 people. This will be the first year that Kelsea hasn’t been home for Thanksgiving. She’s staying in Washington and, I think, hosting other Thanksgiving “orphans” at her house. Perhaps I will coach her on cooking a turkey, as my Mother coached me, during countless phone calls, when I made my first one, which was just for my Dad and me when I was a senior in college. We had Thanksgiving dinner on a coffee table on the red-shag carpeted floor of my little attic studio in a house long gone in Boulder. That was a very happy Thanksgiving.

In these times of political turmoil in our country, it is nice to have an occasion to try to bring families together. Our differences are so intense, and in some cases, unforgiveable, that togetherness may not be possible for everyone. Politics today is not something that just matters during elections – and while that has never been the case, we have been passive in our approach to it, up until now, when many are finding the need to exercise their freedom to speak and finding their voices. I hope that all individuals can find something to give thanks for this week, regardless of our differences.

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Boulder, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “The most important political office is that of private citizen.” — Louis D. Brandeis

Daily gratitudes:
Doing the right thing
My current read
A hot bath
A beautiful day
The cooing of iridescent pigeons

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Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.

Quote of the day: “What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. These are but trifles, to be sure; but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.”  — Joseph Addison

Daily gratitudes:
Looking at the holiday lights with K and J
That Downton Abbey starts so soon!
Three bouquets of baby’s breath on my kitchen table
Soft flannel nightgowns for night’s when MKL is not here to snuggle
Sore muscles from exercising

Daily words:
It is about to get very cold, but it has been a lovely holiday. The Christmas spirit only caught up with me on Christmas Eve, and was found in the delight of MKL in his gifts, and then furthered by laughter with my ex and his family and my daughter on Christmas morning, and then laughter with MKL and his family in the afternoon. And a snowy drive home, a Christmas snow. I have been doing things here and there since, and head back to work tomorrow. Oh, and I got the first bill from the hospital for my little visit to the ER. The initial bill was over $10,000. (I know it’s tacky to discuss money, but seriously???) I’m glad I have insurance, but between car insurance for myself and my 18-year old, flood insurance for my house, and doctor bills, it will be a tight January. If you see a woman bundled in rags selling matches on the corner of the dormant fountain at Union Station, stop and say hi.

It has been a lovely holiday. Three celebrations which were actually one continuous one. Lovely gifts given and received (including a new computer.) Today is a gray day with warmish breezes teasing the wind chimes on the front porch. I slept 13 1/2 hours last night, though I woke several times with an awareness of Kelsea’s absence in the house – I was fortunate enough to have her with me for several nights in a row – best Christmas present ever. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, that blends seamlessly into a wonderful new year.

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Estes Park, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “This is it, in the best possible way. That thing I’m waiting for, that adventure, that move-score-worthy experience unfolding gracefully. This is it. Normal, daily life ticking by on our streets and sidewalks, in our houses and apartments, in our beds and at our dinner tables, in our dreams and prayers and fights and secrets – this pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of use will ever experience.” — Shauna Niequist

Daily gratitudes:
That Dr. Bob says Mr. Man is healthy
Champagne
Stretching
Charlie, the new addition to the house
My shiny new computer
MKL’s love

I don’t know what kind of berries these are – only what kind they are not (a.k.a. cranberries, holly).  Perhaps one of you know?  At any rate, they are a lovely and lasting reflection of the holiday season.

Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Quote of the day: “Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.”  —  Denis Waitley

Daily gratitudes:
Tea with MKL
My tall black suede boots
Talking with E-Bro
Mild late fall days
The quiet place project

It’s a little early or a little late for Christmas photos, but I was watching an Amtrak pull out heading east this morning, wishing I was on it.  During the holidays, Union Station is lit up with a rainbow of lights.  I hope that the construction project centered around this historic depot doesn’t prevent the lights from shining this year.

Denver, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected. Maybe they always have been and will be. Maybe we’ve lived a thousand lives before this one and in each of them we’ve found each other. And maybe each time, we’ve been forced apart for the same reasons. That means that this goodbye is both a goodbye for the past ten thousand years and a prelude to what will come.”  —  Nicholas Sparks

Daly gratitudes:
MKL
Getting done with Job #2 early tonight
Smiles
Poetry
Tin cups

[Written last night…internet can be intermittent here, and oddly enough, dependent on the weather.  More to come (plus photos) if the weather gods cooperate.]

The beach is bathing in rain and thunder. We watched the storm head towards us from the mainland, across the sound.  The lightning is moving sideways across the sky, over the sea, as dusk settles.  On stormy evenings, it is hard to tell the change of light from day to night or from sun to storm – each influences the other.

The water has been Caribbean warm, and blue-green, just for me, I have decided. We shared our boogie board in a tidal pool and talked and admired boys, who in turn admired Kelsea.  We plotted and drifted. Now, rain drips off the eaves, and we are as at home as anywhere on earth, in this place of 40 summers for me and 14 for her.

We still share a room, the room that was mine when I was growing up, with its paneled walls and twin beds.  Rightly or wrongly, we have always shared this room, even when I was married and Pat was here with us.  Perhaps not on that first year, when he and I took the big front bedroom with a rented crib for her, but every year after.

Tonight, we anticipate sleep.  We slept for a long while after a long day last night, waking 15 minutes before we had to check out of our hotel, and stumbling around for hours afterwards.

Tomorrow, we have no real plans. Maybe go up to Surf City to buy an extra boogie board to donate to the house, and to look at a new swimsuit for me.  A run on the beach in the morning.  A lot of water time. Some work. Some sun. Some reading.  A good day.

Thunder makes the house shake and the windowpanes rattle.  The shelling up at the south end of the island will be good tomorrow – the direction of my run.  I love storms here, and even after my close brush with lightning last year, am disappointed when we don’t have a banger-up during our stay.

Kelsea spoke today about bringing her kids here when the time comes.  I love that idea – four generations loving this same little beach house. It changes slightly every year – new tile and a new bathtub, a lovely little antique hutch by the kitchen –
but never enough that it is not home.

There is a book in here for me, a book about my 40 summers in this house, and all the things, some small, some lifechanging, some just rawly tender, that have happened here. It may be worth starting now.

And the lightning flashes in agreement.

Happy Easter!  Kelsea and I spent the waking hours of the morning watching the bunnies outside her bedroom window.  Our own personal easter hoppers.  There were three adults and one baby bouncing around the yard with their little cottontails.  They sat there zoning.  Or noming grass.  So cute.

Then Kelsea went off to a day of church and family festivities with Uber-Cool Will.  His Grandma made her an Easter basket, which makes her very happy.  “It makes me feel like I have a grandma again,” she said yesterday.  I did a dip with maternal inadequacy, feeling like maybe his family is taking her with them because they think I’m a heathen, hippie, unsuitable mom, but I let it go.

And as she was leaving, an ophthalmic migraine started.  Do you know what those are?  They’re not real migraines.  They are these weird visual things that happen when, for some reason, the arteries behind your eyes spasm, blocking blood flow to the optic nerve.  I’ve been getting them for about three years.  Not too often, but occasionally.  Fortunately, they don’t usually predict an actual migraine like the auras that migraine-sufferers experience.  Now that it has passed, which took about half an hour, I have a little headache, but nothing too bad.  I HAVE had full-blown migraines after these little episodes, so the not-knowing when I’m having the ophthalmic migraines is pretty nerve-wracking.

When you’re having an ophthalmic migraine, the world looks like this:

Or like this:

Yes, weird, geometric edged lines or holes in your vision that move and grow.  Talk about a bizarre Easter present.  To go on top of everything else that I haven’t talked about yet.

Off to work on the Bungalow.  Happy Day, all.

Dead birds may be dropping from the skies, but in one Colorado town, on a spectacular January morning, the things falling from the heavens weren’t birds – they were fruitcakes.

Yes, those fruitcakes.  The bane of the holiday existence.  Those glutinous lumps of dough chock full of nuts, candied fruit, fruit rinds, dried fruit that you’ve never heard of, and alcohol (but not enough alcohol).  The occasion to celebrate this much-maligned baked good?  The 16th Annual Fruitcake Toss, held in the tiny – and undeniably quirky – town of Manitou Springs.

It was truly an amazing day, weather-wise.  The sky was a deep turquoise blue, it was warm and windless.  Just what we love to see here in Colorado.  Of course, tomorrow’s forecast calls for snow, but as we say here, if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.

The event had, in previous years, been held in a park in the center of town, but apparently the park wasn’t long enough to accommodate the distance some fruitcakes were wont to fly.  I suspect a few parked cars bore the brunt of a few errant pastries.  So the festivities have moved to the high school football field, high above the town.

There’s  a great view of Pike’s Peak in one direction:

and the red rocks on the north side of town in the other. 

It was a little icy going up the hill – OK, it was a lot icy.  I skidded, which was kind of fun, but the fire truck behind me did a 180, which I don’t think they found as enjoyable. 

(Isn’t it creepy when the word you are typing is spoken on the TV just as you’re typing it?  That just happened with the word “bleachers'” – I’m watching Jeopardy.)  The bleachers looked like the place to be, so I started out there, sitting in front of two large, charming lesbians with a nervous chihuahua dressed in a baby T-shirt with a baby plaid overshirt.  What an excellent and inexpensive idea for dressing your dog.  If there is such a thing as an excellent idea for dressing your dog.  They were forced to leave when the booming noises of the spud-guns were terrifying poor Chewie to the point that he was shaking uncontrollably, even in their comforting arms. 

The kids from one of the local schools sang a truly inspirational song called “Everlasting Fruitcake” and actually sang it very well.  They weren’t shy about belting out the lyrics or doing the accompanying mini-skit.  It was refreshing and funny, and who knows?  We may see some of these kids on American Idol in a few years. 

The bleachers gave me a front row seat for the performance, but they were too far from the action for my taste, and the sun was in my eyes, so I headed down onto the field to inspect the proceedings up close and personal.  Besides, I had to get a little nearer to the random armadillo mascot:

There were a lot of good photo ops of a seemingly infinite number of cute children:

As a warm-up, the Fruitcake Honor Guard had set up four spud canons which we spectators were invited to fire off. 

To prepare the weapons, the Honor Guard greased them and loaded them with a potato using a giant Q-Tip like plunger.

Well, I’m not one to resist adding something new to the life-list, so I fired off one of those babies and shot a potato all the way past the uprights at the opposite end of the field.  I may have a new career.  Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let me hold it on my shoulder like a bazooka.  That would have just enhanced the awesomeness.  Since I was flying solo today, I haven’t got a picture of me firing my massive phallic weapon, but this will give you an idea:

Thank heavens my form was better than this gentleman’s.

The first official event was the Great Fruitcake Toss, with categories for kids, women, men, men over 60 and women over 60.  If by chance you didn’t bring your own fruitcake, you could rent one for $2.  I’ll say upfront that my impaired shoulder prevented me from participating, but there’s always next year!  And by the way, all proceeds (and canned food donations) went to the very worthy local charity, Westside Cares – and everything was staffed and provided by volunteers.

We started out with the kid’s fruitcake toss, and some of the kids made some pretty impressive throws, exceeding 70 feet. 

As is the case in almost every children’s event these days, everyone was the winner. (Don’t get me started.)  And everyone who participated won a cool little catapult, complete with a marshmallow for firing.  These remarkably study devices provided endless amusement for many small fry for the rest of the morning.

Next came the women’s fruitcake toss.  The mayor opened the event, but her toss was pretty lame – clearly, things weren’t rigged in her favor.  The mayor is, most improbably, the woman in the brown shirt in this photo:

The women seemed to put more stock in their throwing style than the men.  I suppose that’s why they didn’t toss the fruitcakes as far – or as accurately.  We in the crowd really needed to stay alert.  And of course, the one moment when I let my attention wander, I looked up to see a festive red fruitcake barreling through the air directly towards my head.  Only a quick backstep AND a suave lean, saved me from a fate worse than being hit in the face by a fruitcake…oh, wait…. The winner (yes, there was an actual winner in this one – the lady in red in the photo below) threw her fruitcake an astounding 197 feet (and ground rolls count in the measurements). 

Sign that girl up!

The men were the last blast.  They were dedicated to getting up to the line and throwing with all their might.  Which made it more embarrassing when their tosses flew a paltry 25 feet or so.  But one gentlemen nailed that fruitcake – a whopping 371 feet!  Another guy (the man in black below) drove all the way from Arkansas to toss his fruitcake, which I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around.

There were two varieties of fruitcakes in evidence: the round version and the rectangular-log version.  Those tossing the round version clearly had an aerodynamic advantage, and an added advantage if their pitch hit the ground with a good rolling momentum. 

As all this tossing was going on, the announcer, a native Manitou Springer, was alternately looking for her co-announcer by calling “Dad! DAD?” (he was down on the field socializing with the contestants), and providing us with interesting fruitcake trivia and statistics, including:

  • 23 million fruitcakes are produced each year
  • Canadian TSA no longer allows fruitcakes in carry-on luggage, as they are too dense for the X-Rays to penetrate
  • A large dog is indeed capable of eating 30 loaves of 7-year old fruitcake
  • Fruitcakes can be used as doorstops, lethal weapons, paving stones or boat anchors
  • The average fruitcake weighs two pounds
  • A fruitcake stored in an airtight tin can remain edible (if you want to call it that) for 26 years

It was now time for the main event: the launching of the fruitcake. There were about eight entrants, some with massive slingshots:

A superb crossbow:

Some with excellent catapults:

And some with pneumatic cannons:

One entrant launched a stuffed Tigger and a stuffed Nemo along with his fruitcake, all from one blast of the cannon.  Poor Tigger’s head survived intact but there was a massacre of stuffing stretching the length of the field.  Here’s Tigger’s last view – would that mine will be this lovely.

A few attempts fell far short of expectations – literally.  A few fruitcakes exploded upon firing, showering us spectators with chunks of cake and candied citron, which can cause eye injury at the appropriate velocity.  But once the crumbs had cleared, the indisputable winners were…

Fruitcakes of Mass Destruction, whose bicycle-powered pneumatic cannon fired an event-record-setting toss of over 1400 feet.  That fruitcake went so far up in the air that I thought it might collide with one of the air force planes that was entertaining us with fly-overs. 

And it wound up way up on the hillside at the far end of the football field.  Little critters will be champing fruitcake up there for weeks to come.

Somehow, I missed the Accuracy competition, and the Fruitcake Catch – I’d have liked to have seen that one.

I came away with a slightly sunburned face, a smile, and a new appreciation for creativity and small-town spirit.  Manitou Springs is a place I’ve often thought I’d like to live.  That won’t happen any time soon, but I, for one, will be there for the Emma Crawford Wake and Coffin Races in October, just to share in the sense of community, fun and blog fodder. 

Maybe I’ll even bring a fruitcake.

Almost all of us have to experience it.  It’s like going to the dentist with a bad toothache – we put it off for as long as possible because we know it’s going to be worse before it gets better.  But in the end, we know it must  be done.

Yes, it’s the removal of the Christmas Tree.

As you may or may not know, this year’s Christmas Tree was a bit of a late arrival.  For a variety of reasons – scheduling, heartbreak, semi-insanity – I was late getting a tree this year.  Kelsea and I have a penchant for unusual Christmas Trees.  We will adopt a tree that might otherwise not have found a home, just to ensure that it has a loving, happy Christmas and a completely fulfilled destiny. 

Our tree this year was particularly special.  It was a tree that looked as if it had eaten three other trees – a short, morbidly obese tree that we named Chubbs.  Chubbs was adorable.  He was a little tough to fit into the stand, and there was no way in the world that his backside would be decorated.  Not only did we not have sufficient ornamentation for such adornment, we couldn’t reach around him, or move around him, considering his position in the Cottage. 

So Chubbs glowed happily in his corner for four days before Christmas and four days after.  At that point, he became so incredibly dry, that I was afraid to turn on his lights, for fear the itty-bitty heat source would cause him to burst into flames.  It’s not as if we didn’t water him (though admittedly it wasn’t enough).  But no matter how much he drank, he just seemed to get dryer and dryer.  I’m sure there’s an analogy here, but I can’t think of it.

Kelsea and I had talked about taking him down, but we just didn’t get around to it.  She was loath to part with him.  He had been her favorite tree.

So this morning, I took matters into my own hands.  It was time.  I was starting to be afraid to leave the house for fear he would spontaneously combust in my absence (which makes no sense, as he’s just as likely to spontaneously combust in my presence.)  As everyone (except perhaps, you, Idiot) knows, the first step in taking down a Christmas Tree is removing the ornaments.  That wasn’t too difficult.  A few small branch tips came off along with the hooks, but that’s to be expected.  The tinsel was also a cinch – came off like a greased pig.  But then we came to the lights.  Ah yes, the bane of existence of any Christmas Tree dismantler.

It was hard to tell where they started.  I’m thinking next year of attaching some kind of tag to the end of the strand, like people attach to their luggage handles so they can easily identify them when they come shooting out of the baggage claim underworld.  I struggled for a bit.  Unfortunately, we HAD strung the lights all around the tree (I recall now that I had made Kelsea climb over the couch and crawl behind Chubbs to accomplish this feat.)  And there was no way that I was going to crawl back there to unstring them.  Needles were starting to fly as I started to tug on the light strings.  Lights aren’t that expensive, I figured – if  I destroy them, I can get some more next year.  But it wasn’t working.  They were just getting more and more tangled and the room was starting to look like a forest scene from The Lord of the Rings.

Time for Plan B.  Chubbs needed to see the outside world again.

Kelsea and I had worked together to get the little fella in the house, but I knew I could take him out myself.  He wasn’t that big – just wide.  I reached in and grabbed his trunk (that sounds weird) and pulled (even weirder).  He tipped over towards me, like an intoxicated fat man, and suddenly both hands were required to remove him from my face, as I found myself spitting out pine needles.  We wrestled to the door, his whatever-you-call-the top-of-tree desperately clinging to the mosquito screen (which I should have removed once it hit 4 degrees), until I shoved it out of the way.  I was aware that he was dragging things with him, but I couldn’t stop the forward momentum to see what had latched onto him.

We made it outside, me in nothing but my ducky bathrobe (another example of poor planning on my part – note to self: get dressed before taking the Christmas Tree outside) and him with his stand and draping sheet clinging to his feet.   Outside, I was at liberty to yank the lights off with whatever measure of force was required until they were free.  I struggled for five minutes trying to get the stand off – it was as if the tree’s base had grown fatter since we’d put him in the stand.  Finally, both tasks were complete.  I left Chubbs to enjoy some fresh air on the grass and adjust to his new life, and turned to go back inside.  The drape is a wet, winding mess at the doorstep.  How can it be wet?  The tree was like a five-foot tall matchstick.  Wouldn’t it have soaked up any water left in the stand?  Well, apparently not.

Sizeable puddles complete with pine needles have pooled on the tile and marred the oatmeal-colored carpet.  A few magazines that had been on the coffee table are now soggy and rumpled on the floor.  A book that had been on the side table lies in the doorway – apparently, Chubbs had wanted to take it with him.  Perhaps he hadn’t finished it yet.  It is slightly moist and bedraggled.  And pine needles and branches are EVERYWHERE.  Couch, coffee table, carpet, my hair, my robe.  At least they are not in my nearly-cold coffee which, after discouraged surveillance of the damage, I sit down to drink.

The deed is done.  Our loveable Chubbs  is ready for the Next Place.  But he has left his mark behind, in memory and in the living room.  And it’s going to take a while to clean up.

I’ve always been a Christmas Day gift opener.  I have wonderful childhood memories of Christmas morning.  My parents never put the presents under the tree until after we’d gone to bed on Christmas Eve.  They always closed the door to the living room, and wouldn’t let us in until they were ready.  So we would peek through the keyhole.  They always had the lights off, so the tree would be glowing in its own magic.

Pat’s family always opened presents on Christmas Eve, which made no sense to me.  Maybe with five boys, they just didn’t want to deal with a sleepless night.  When Pat and I got together, it was quite the debate – have Christmas on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day?   We tried compromises – we alternated from year to year (which I hated), did half the presents on Christmas Eve and the other half on Christmas Day (better).  But once Kelsea came along, I convinced him that we had to have Christmas on Christmas Day – otherwise, the whole Santa thing wouldn’t work.  So, it’s been Christmas morning for years, with one present on Christmas Eve.

Well, I don’t live there anymore, but Kelsea still does, and she still celebrates Christmas on Christmas morning.  I’ll go over to Pat’s house mid-morning tomorrow, along with my nieces, and spend some time there.  Kelsea will come to my house in the afternoon, and we’ll have our Christmas on Christmas night.  It all works out okay.

But this Christmas Eve, I’ll be on my own.  That’s not a bad thing.  I’ve debated going to a Christmas Eve service at some church.  I’m not religious, but I’ve always enjoyed the Christmas Eve services.  However, I’m used to going to Duke Chapel for my service, and there’s not a church in Boulder that can hold a candle to that cathedral.  It just won’t be the same going to some modern, dry-walled structure.  So I may just hang out and wrap presents so that they can be unwrapped tomorrow.  I’ll bake a ham. And I’ll be just fine.

To all my friends in the blogosphere, I wish you a happy, peaceful, joyful Christmas.

And here’s a gift for a dear friend:

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