Golden Oldies

It was perhaps the best I have ever played, though it would still take two hands to count the mistakes I know I made. I laid down a nice rhythmic groove and kept with it, letting the melody and dynamics breathe the words of well-known and well-worn standards for a solid hour.

I could not have asked for a more responsive audience. Some hummed. Some sang. Some merely mouthed the words. Many brightened perceptibly at up-tempo tunes, a boogie woogie accompaniment, or old hymns. At one point, a hall wanderer drifted by and commented with delight, “Look, you are putting them to sleep.” Sleep too, is responsive. It is my intention to play music that soothes and calms–to awaken sweet memories of long ago.

Yet it was bitter with the sweet; a very melancholy loving of the ivories. I sense it is the last time I will play for this audience. I grow older and so do they. In an ever changing group of approximately 50 appreciative listeners gathered there, only four were male. The reality is, women will travel more years single and alone than as partners, couples, or families. Performing music is a vulnerability that bares the soul in so many ways.

The highlight of the trip?

She has always been attuned to the great outdoors; so I took her camping.

She likes concocting from scratch in cast iron griddles and wood-fired ovens; so we made fajitas over an open campfire.

She used to build little villages in tree trunks and wooded areas; so we spent one night sleeping in a tipi.

Her degree is in cultural anthropology; so we spent 48 hours roaming Hovenweep, Mesa Verde and Canyon of the Ancients.

She designs one-of-a-kind knit and crochet apparel; so we visited a museum featuring a hands on rug weaving exhibit.

She writes and draws. There was ample time and sunshine to sketch and journal at will.

We love to hike and explore; so we hiked in spring snow to view petroglyphs etched a thousand years ago.

As a young adult, she is often my best friend; so we had plenty of philosophical girl talk.

We even visited two candy stores and sampled treats.

And what was her highlight of the trip?

Hearing the whistle blow and watching as the coal-fired Durango Silverton narrow gauge train rushed out of town.

DSCN7224andreasmilerock

DSCN7189cherryhackberryruin

DSCN7161tentsitehovenweep

Self-talk about choices

Self? I think it’s time we have a little talk about choices; specifically the choices you made today and what we can glean from them. First off, I’d like to point out the positive choices you made on this, your last day of vacation. Though the day appeared sunny and I-70 was clear, this time of year it was a good idea to drive directly through the tunnels and over Vail Pass without stopping to dawdle.

From the trail to Hanging Lake

From the trail to Hanging Lake

Once safely over the passes, it was an even better idea to stop and hike to Hanging Lake. Hanging Lake is always a memorable experience. I know you are an experienced hiker. I also know you are in better shape than any of the previous four or five times you’ve made this 1000 ft ascent. The day was warm down by the parking lot and you contemplated changing to shorts and a tank. I commend you for making the right choice. Jeans are tough and made to last; never mind they also absorb and retain water quickly – particularly snowmelt. Smart Wool socks are also essential this time of year. Good job, Self! Tossing your black hoodie in the car seat and donning a black Loki jacket is also worth points. Not only is a Loki jacket versatile – what with the built-in mittens, adjustable hood and pull-down face mask- a Loki jacket also gives you credibility with the serious outdoor crowd.

But Self, I have to ask what you were thinking when you left your hiking boots under the seat and laced on your aging hiking sneakers. The promoters who quipped, “bald is beautiful,” were not talking about tennis shoe treads. And another thing; what is the purpose of keeping your Yaktrax in the car if you don’t tuck them in a pocket when you set out? Of course you needed nothing of the kind for the first fourth mile of paved bicycle trail.

The trail to Hanging Lake begins with a stroll on concrete bicycle path along the Colorado River

The trail to Hanging Lake begins with a stroll on concrete bicycle path along the Colorado River

Nor did you think to go back for boots and ice grips when you saw the rating of difficult at the trailhead, or began to encounter snow a third of the way in.

DSCN7255bridgesnowpackedYou did not give up. You pressed on, picking your way over rocks and increasingly long icy patches. What have you learned from this?
You made it to the top. You enjoyed the magnificent view.

DSCN7264hanginglakeapril5But on the way down?

You learned to stop trying to save your butt and to let your butt save you. Forget about dignity and walking upright. You embraced the most useful ranger advice you ever heard; don’t be afraid to sit down if you need to. As a result, you protected your elbows, knees and skull from fracture. You sat down at will instead of unexpectedly. You used every last miniscule muscle in your body. And you made up a new winter sport, sliding down snow packed trails while paddling with your hands That was a full-body workout, Self. Congratulations, you are in better shape than you have ever been. Today, your feelings are alive. You are self-aware–of every muscle and bone in your body.

My word for 2014 is enough

Enough.

I have decided. Enough is my word for 2014.

Enough is as good as a feast.
Enough food.
Enough sleep.
Enough exercise.
Enough books.
Enough beautiful location.

“If you are lucky enough to live in the mountains, you are lucky enough.”

Enough is such a useful word.
When things go wrong, I can throw up my hands and cry, “Enough already!”

Out with the idea that I am never;
perfect enough,
or pretty enough.

I only need enough to get me through one day at a time.
I am enough.

I can hike under blue skies in the bright spring sunshine and sigh, “It is enough.”
Enough to get me through that day.

I have lived to hold grandchildren in my arms. It is enough to have experienced that moment.

The beauty of a sunset, or a sunrise; the harmony of a song well performed, is enough to make life worthwhile.

Enough to get me through that day.

And when unwanted challenges come?

I will be enough.

Not Often a Serial Writer

When did we start flinging words, bandying them about? Dangling participles and cliffhanging plots on shreds of scrap paper?

Working in radio is a dance of words anyway. In the low-budget spirit of non-profit, I repaired the worn corner of an office chair with a corduroy patch. Thinking to lighten the insult of frugality, I also embroidered the letters, patch cord, so no one would miss the message. Not every professional radio announcer can sew, though the ability to stay on-air through all challenges is essential.

It was in the olden days of two turntables, three reel-to-reels, a cassette tape deck and an 8-track player. Editing was done by hand with a tape snipping block and tape. Spinning platters and cuing tapes accurately made for a clean sound and no dead air.

The Sunday afternoon a second reel-to-reel player went down was not to be born without proper mention. An out-of -order sign was obligatory. The word choice was mine: consider the abilities of this reel, it toileth not, neither doth it spin.
A day later, someone added: Yet, Solomon, in all his glory was not dismayed by one of these.

Life became punny at work. The paper trail grew a tail like a kite all the way down the corner of the production room window.

As I said, it was the olden days, so these were not post-a-notes. Each added missive was a torn piece of scrap paper, attached to the previous with a morsel of transparent tape. Our station manager dained not to participate. A pity, for he was a consummate wordsmith.  Every so often the night guy would throw in a pencil drawing of a smurf or loony tunes character with a caption totally off-track the general thread.

Those were my early days of serial writing, but I had completely forgotten them – until I began following the group writing activity at Novel Matters. Today, it’s my turn to contribute. What do you think? Has my writing improved? Or am I just the night guy throwing a wrench in the plot?

Revisiting Failure

So, how long do you wait to revisit failures? Is ten years enough? And when you do revisit – after you have changed, matured, honed your skill and your character – are you still embarrassed by the past failure? Are you able to shake it off? Laugh it off?

When you review the performance, replay every beat and detail, suppose you see an abundance of excellence – maybe 95% excellence; does the five or four or three percent, or even the one mistake, one sour note, negate the whole and make it worthy of discard?

Yes, one loss demolishes a perfect record.
But does it have to destroy your entire future?

How long do you take to let it go? To retire the failure? To move on?

Here’s my story
An entire cadenza – avalanched. 1,000 copies stamped out and distributed. A huge fail permanently etched in polycarbonate. It took me 10 years to revisit and listen to the CD. It’s still bad. I can never fix it. The mistake cannot be erased.

Finally, I gathered courage to play in public again. This time, with more confidence, to a different audience. I am a richer musician; but, I still make mistakes.

During the opening ceremonies of the olympics, I was reminded by the announcer, “now entering the stadium are the best athletes in the world.” Gold medalists set a new standard for perfection. Silver medalists or bronze are not quite as perfect. What about those who compete but do not place? Surely their imperfections are showing. But, they are still among the best athletes in the world. I wonder; how long does it take them to get over their mistakes and failures? Some things cannot be undone. When is it time to revisit the failure, replay the recording? And when is it time to move on?

A Precious Journey: Chapter 2

In Chapter 1, My Precious Left Me, Traveler stumbles on a cave and meets the Man.  You can find and read Chapter 1, on the pull-down bar, Precious’ Journey.

Chapter 2: Traveler goes to the city

Now the traveler had become curious to know more about Precious. He was heading through the City anyway, so he stopped at the bakery to inquire if anyone remembered her.

He could hear the chatty voice before he pulled open the heavy glass door. “Yes, it was a trunk showing and everything was half off!  Half off, I tell you! And they wouldn’t take a credit card.”  Obviously, she caught sight of him because she turned away and checked her hair in the reflection. “ Te he. Isn’t that awful?  Well, gotta go.  Someone’s coming in.   You know how Mr. Baker gets if I don’t greet the customer right away.  No, it’s a he not a bride. Call me later.”  She whirled her chair around, and stood, self-consciously smoothing a skirt that would not have been out of place on a high school ingenue – or perhaps just two inches longer.

“May I help you?” she emphasized each word separately.

“Ah, yes.  I hope so,” said the traveler.  “I am looking for information about someone who used to work here – a  woman named Precious.”

“She left her Man.”

“So I heard.”

“I knew him first – before he met Precious.  He was pretty good looking in high school. Hey, but that was 20 years ago. I’ve been thinking about running up to the cave and checking on him – seeing if he needs anything. ”

“Do you know why she left him?”

“I don’t know.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t any of the reasons I wanted to leave my man.”

The raised eyebrows of the traveler gave her permission to continue.

“No.  Precious didn’t think I had grounds. It was something about tough love. Oh, she listened to me; I mean she listened to me on break.  Precious frowned on girl talk when we were supposed to be working.  Said something about an honest day’s work for wages or excellence and best effort – those kinds of words.  I didn’t get how not talking was honest.  I like to get it all out there. I’m honest about my feelings. She must have been on the side of the boss.  Come to think of it, I think she was in cahoots with the boss. Cause she got the boss man to give me a second chance after I messed up on the wedding cake orders.  She must have sweet talked him something fierce. Anyway, Precious, she says, ‘Phyllis, I talked to the boss.  I told him I thought you would be a fast learner if I took a little time before work each morning to show you how cake decorating and ordering work.’

So, I asked her, ‘how do you know all that?  About sugar cane and powdered sugar? And white cake flour coming from wheat?  Did you learn that because of your man being a horror culturalist?’  She said she learned all that – that she learned how to cook and how things work when she was still living at home in high school. Can you believe it?  She actually cooked while she was in college. And, she baked bread to earn money while her man was in grad school!  That’s how she landed the job at this bakery.  I guess she even did a wedding cake for one of her friends.”

“Did you say the husband of Precious went to grad school?”

“Yes, that’s what he did.  In high school, he always wanted to be a botanicalist.  But then he changed his mind and became a horror, horror…” “Horticulturalist.” prompted the traveler.

“Anyway, but, he didn’t finish.  At first, I thought Precious said he didn’t finish grade school.  I knew that wasn’t right on accounta me knowing him in high school. She explained to me the different levels of schooling.”

“So you met Precious at this job?”

“Hey, it is just about break time now! I’m really glad that phone hasn’t rang while we were talking.  I’ll take a smoke break even though I don’t smoke. But you could buy me coffee. I don’t have any money – my man took away my debit card – but you can buy. You don’t mind, do you?  He didn’t say I couldn’t drink a latte, he just said I couldn’t buy more than one a week.”

“And ya know,” she said, patting the traveler’s arm. “It would be good for me to be seen with you. I wouldn’t mind, not one little bit.” The traveler acquiesced.

Tall latte. Short iced mint.  The traveller collected them from the counter and sat down in the moulded booth across from Phyllis.

“So, you don’t think Precious left her man for the same reason you wanted to leave yours?”

“Nope.  No way.  My man took away my Old Navy and Macy’s charge cards!”

“You don’t say.”

“He told me I had to quit shopping and start cooking.”

“You didn’t cook?”

“Are you kidding? I went to secretary school.  I know how to type. I was trained about proper office at tire. Then, of course, I have to have something fun to wear when I’m not at the office.  We go to baseball games on the weekends. So I was always busy shopping the sales for the best deals. I didn’t have time to cook.  I work so I can shop. After the stores close, I stop for carry out on the way home.”

“Your husband got tired of carryout?”

“Yeah, I thought that was the real reason.  I think he was trying to control me into coming home after work and cooking dinner. He said it was because I had charged more than I made that month. My Old Navy card was maxed out.  He said he had paid my store cards.  But if they were paid, what’s the harm in me shopping?  I think he just wanted a homestyle meal.”

“So, he took your charge cards and insisted you come home after work and cook?”

“Can you believe it?  Always before he was okay with having dinner late.  He didn’t get home until nine anyway because he was working an extra job. I was ready to leave him.  Next day, I was asking around work for a roommate. Then me and Tiki and Precious went on break.  Tiki, she’s the one that got me this job in the first place.”

“So you met Precious at this job?”

“Well, yeah, we came at the same time, but, I really got to know her better when they were going to fire me.”

The traveler raised his eyebrows quizzically.

“Hard to believe, isn’t it, since I had been to secretary school?”

The traveler nodded just enough to nudge her forward.

“It was the wedding cakes.  I still don’t see why they should be so expensive.  I was just trying to help out the brides.”

The traveller murmured appropriately.

“The wedding cakes, you know, with three tiers? Well, they are three or four hundred dollars.”

Again the traveler nodded.

“But, on the next page over – it’s the third pull down tab on the website – there are all these cakes separately. 6” two layers for $10.  8” for $12.00.  10 inches for $18.00 and that big one on the bottom?  only $30 bucks for the round one or $35.00 for the square!  So, this one bride came in, and she was really on a budget, poor really.  And I added up the total and was telling her to buy them all separately for under a hundred dollars!”  She laughed.

“Did they have frosting on them?”

“Now how did you figure that out?  Are you a baker? That’s exactly what Precious explained to me.  I don’t know how she did it, but Precious knew how to do just about everything. She could type and she didn’t even go to secretary school. She could write the wedding cake orders and she wasn’t a baker.”

“So, Precious was pretty smart?”

“Yeah, Kiki said she was fastididus, fastdious,

“Fastidious?”

“Yes, only in a good way, not a bad way.”

“So, Precious thought it wasn’t a good idea to leave your husband?”

“Not Precious and not Kiki.  Kiki said you’re just supposed to stay together no matter what.  Marriage is for life.   The only reason you should leave your husband is if he hits you or if he is, you know, having an A-fair with someone else.”

“Many people feel that way.”

“Precious said it sounded like maybe my husband was doing an invention, an indevention,”

“Intervention?”

“Yeah, that’s the word, tough love or something.”

“He paid off your cards?”

“Yep.”

“And then he said you couldn’t use them anymore?

“Yep.  Boy, was I mad. I said I wasn’t going to live anymore with a man that mean.”

“What did Precious say about that?”

“She said maybe he really did love me, cause after all, he paid off my charge cards.  She said maybe he just wanted to get my attention about overspending. I said I didn’t see how taking away my charge cards was loving.  She asked did he give me some grocery money for the cooking.”

“Did he?”

“Not any cash!  All he gave me was a grocery card with two hundred dollars on it.

A grocery card! Just thinking about it made me so mad I started bawling again. And then Precious said, she said it was a waste of energy to cry.”

“So Precious didn’t show any sympathy?”

“She said, ‘why cry when you can do something about it?’”

“Did she want you to get back at him?”

“She said I should do an experiment.”

“A science experiment?”

“Yes, sort of.  She wrote me instructions.  Go to the Grocery store.  A list of things to buy. How to mix the ingredients and put them in the oven.  There was supposed to be enough for that dinner and some left-overs for my lunch the next day.”

“Did you do the experiment?”

“Yes, and I gotta say, it tasted real good. My man thought so too.  ‘You did good babe, real good,’ he said. He said he was proud of me.  He called me his little kitten. Then he told me some other things that would make you blush if I repeated them.  And we, well, we kissed and made up.”

“So, he wasn’t being mean after all?”

“Naw, he said he was sorry he had to take my charge cards and I couldn’t have them back, but he would try to make it up to me by adoring me,” she giggled delightedly.  “So Precious, each day she wrote me an easy recipe.  She told me I could still keep on shopping as long as I did it in the grocery store.”

“So, you said Precious didn’t ever cry when she could do something about it?”

“I only saw Precious cry just that once.”

The traveller raised his eyebrows.

“It was that same week.

We were on break again and Kiki was saying how married people should always stay together no matter what. She started telling a story about how her parents stayed together. And Precious, she acted really funny.”

“Did Precious agree with Kiki’s story?”

“No, I don’t think so. But, I didn’t really get why Precious was crying.  It was just a story, something about a man who ate and ate.  It reminded me of the joke where the doctor tells a man to watch his weight and the man says, ‘so I just got my weight out here where I could see it,’ he he.”

“So, a story about a fat man made Precious cry?”

“It was Kiki’s dad.  He got fat while her mom was getting thinner and thinner.”

The Traveler tipped his head to the side and waited.

“Kiki was home-schooled.  That way her mom saved a lot of money on clothes. They were poor so her mom cooked a lot of beans.  Kiki says her mom was a self sack official for the kids.”

“Self-sacrificial?”

“Yes, that’s it.  So Kiki’s mom just ate a little bit and she divided the rest between the kids and made sure there were lots of beans in her husband’s lunch.  Later on they found out Kiki’s dad was just going to McDonald’s and buying himself a hamburger for lunch after he finished the beans.  Then, at night, he would run errands and buy himself another hamburger.”

“He was starving his wife and kids and getting fat himself?”

“Yes.  Isn’t that awful?”

“What did Precious say?”

“That’s what was so strange.  ‘Cause Precious, you know, she’s the one who says, ‘There’s no use crying over something if you can do something to fix it.‘  She was crying. Without making any noise.  The tears were just running down her cheeks.

”And then she said, real quietly she said, ‘I think neglecting someone to the point of starving them while you got fat – might be a good reason for leaving.” Kiki and I both stared at her.  Then she stood up because it was time to go back inside.  And she said something else, but it sounded like maybe she was talking to herself.”

The traveller leaned forward attentively,

“Do you remember what else she said?”

“‘It’s not always about food. There are other ways to starve a person.’ What duya think she meant by that?”

The traveler stroked his chin thoughtfully, and rose.

“Say, it’s about time for me to get back to the office.  Would you mind getting me a refill? One for the road, so to speak.”

He walked Phyllis back to the stoplight, saw her safely across the street.

“One more question,”  he said.

“Do you think Precious left her man to become a Goblin Princess?”

“What?  Precious?”  she sputtered.  She tossed her head coyly, “Well, now, I might think of becoming a Goblin Princess – ‘specially if someone was to give me all the gold and jewelry I wanted.  But Precious?  What would the men see in her?  Precious is more steady and self-sackaficial like Kiki’s Mom – only she dresses nice.”

Note:  in Chapter One, the Man accuses Precious of leaving to become a Goblin Princess.  You can read the first chapter by choosing, Precious’ Journey from the tab at the top of this page.

 

The CCC trail to Black Ridge is one of the shorter trails in the Colorado National Monument. I am not sure that short equals easy, particularly if you are breaking a trail in new fallen snow. The trail goes constantly up. In truth, I am not even sure I found the trail for the last 2/10 mile. But what I am sure of is the 360 degree beauty seen from the spine of Black Ridge as I stood knee deep in unbroken snow drifts. What a beautiful hike.

CCC Trail to Black Ridge

CCC Trail to Black Ridge:  Hundreds of Civilian Conservation Corps recruits camped and worked here from 1931-1942. Many of them ascended this route (one of three camps) in the evening after a day of swinging a sledge hammer, shoveling rock, blasting. I wonder, did they pause and reflect on the beauty? Or were they exhausted?

I hiked today after half day of work – spent largely at a desk – in a heated building. It took me no more than an hour to go up and back. I had on snow outerwear and the benefit of brilliant midday sunshine.

What would it be like in June, after a day of hard labor in the blistering sun, to hike .75 mile up to get my portion of chow and tent and bedroll? Would I notice the beauty? How about the winter time?

DSCN6752valleyvromCCC

I made a giant loop in two-foot snow drifts and met up with my original trail. My footprints appeared small in the vast scheme of things. I joined the trail at the very place where, on my way up, I became acutely aware of my size and solitude. When I left the paved road at the trailhead, it was apparent no humans had passed this way for at least two snowfalls. Noticeably absent were the tracks of other rodents. No cottontail, only one mouse. No deer. I wondered if desert big horn used this trail. Then I noticed the trees, the plentiful hiding places for predators. You can bet desert bighorn would avoid this trail. They prefer wide open spaces, less opportunity for skulking and lurking. So what am I doing here? Suddenly my ears were attuned to each sound, every footfall. Further, I recollected that CCC Trail joins Black Ridge Trail. Black Ridge Trail was closed for a couple weeks last summer due to; well, due to a mountain lion.

Nevertheless, I pressed on, comforting myself by rehearsing the rules: 1) Make yourself look bigger.  2) Be firm and in charge.  3) Hike in broad daylight – cats prefer the dusk and dawn (unless, of course, they are very hungry…). So far, so good. I still agree with the young female ranger who said, “Cherry, there are some things you will never get to do if you wait for someone to do them with.”

On the other hand, there are some things you cannot do by yourself even in broad daylight. Despite my love of independence and self-reliance, I had to ask for help to check my brake lights.

Chemistry on the job

On the way to a degree in organizational management, I was required to take a class with the forbidding title, “Praxis of Organizational Growth and Health.” There I learned something I have never forgotten. After years of studying large organizations, researchers found the secret ingredient to whether an employee is happy in a job or not.

The secret?

The people.

Up to that time, I thought what I put into a job was what made me happy. If I was responsible, dependable, dedicated and knew my stuff; I could and should be content. If I was not content, I needed to turn up the energy and give more of myself.

I have worked some pretty joyless jobs – and worked them well. I came to think if you had done your best and continued to be unhappy in a job, it was not what you were called to do. It was incumbent you find your ambience and devote yourself to that.

Enter the three “Cs” concept of team building (Courageous Leadership, Hybels, 2002) from my leadership classes:
Character
Chemistry
Competence
There again, I tended to dismiss Chemistry. It seemed frivolous. Character? Absolutely. Honesty is paramount. Competence? You bet. Who has not known the unrelenting stress of working with incompetents? But Chemistry? I was frugal in my expectations.

At the moment, I am privileged to work a fabulous job which I love immensely. The location is spectacular. The duties fit me like a glove. But it is the people that make it magical. As in any group, there are a smattering of incompetents, and one or two with whom I do not click. But oh, how easily those were forgotten in the glow of working side by side with a young seasonal whose across the board kindness to all was unflagging. She could dispatch duties with efficiency and artistry. Do not discount the pleasure of trading seldom used vocabulary with a venerable chief; nor underestimate friendship with a soft-spoken and diplomatic officemate; or a visionary and analytical director.

In my work environment; coming and going, transferring and furloughing is inevitable; good-byes and leave taking frequent; praise and commendation essential.

Last Friday went something like this
Coworker: Bye Cherry, it’s been real.
Me: Now? You’re not staying until close?
Co: have to finish some errands. I think you are awesome.
Me: You know I feel the same about you.
Coworker: (retreats down the hall with huge sniff).
Me: Go now, then! I don’t have any Kleenex!
Laughter filled the lengthening distance between us.

“Thanks for the laughter,” made an appearance on the note taped to my desk.
Perhaps laughter is chemistry?
Reader’s Digest was right about laughter being the best medicine.
My best co-workers are the breed C.S. Lewis was speaking of when he said merriment of the merriest kind “…exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously…(The Weight of Glory).”

I’ve looked at [work] from both sides now – drudgery and joy. It is the people who make the difference. And I fervently prefer an environment with character, competency and chemistry.

They say I think too much