Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I think that I should never see

. . . unless it is a problem tree!

We have two problem trees in our neighborhood. One is a lovely, huge cottonwood in one of our neighbor's yards. I love it . . . except this time of year. The cotton on it overwhelms us. Last night, the lawn was white with cotton . . . so that when I mowed, it was drifting around me, grabbing onto my clothes, landing in my hair, and covering my face. It has turned our gorgeous dark-green cypress into a lime-green "cotton filter." I know it will soon be over, and then we will enjoy the tree . . . but until then!

The other problem tree is a mulberry - or two. Again, mulberries are not bad until they start to produce mulberries. Now if I were a pie-maker like my neighbor, Susan, I might like the mulberry tree. But as it is, it too grows in the neighbor's yard, causing our fence to couple and leaving its berries all over our yard. Then we find new little mulberry trees that have been planted by birds or squirrels . . .

I have to remind myself that without the cotton there would be no seeds for more cottonwoods; without the berries, we wouldn't have mulberry pie and the birds wouldn't have food. So I guess the little inconvenience is worth the hassle . . . but when I was mowing last night, it would have been hard for me to agree!

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Gift

Last summer I received a gift. It was unexpected, but it is the best gift I have ever received - a free year with my daughter.

I know Di was disappointed that she had to come home after graduating . . . nothing came together for her, and she had no options. She kept trying to find a full-time job and nothing worked out. But she found things to do . . . she worked for her uncle, volunteered to help with the rowing club, joined the Spanish book club, and learned to make the most awesome chocolate chip cookies!

In the meantime, she helped me. She took care of the dogs when needed, she cooked dinner, she went to the store . . . and she kept me company. We talked about all sorts of things - books we had read, political issues, and general "stuff".

And I have loved every minute of it. So has Don. But now it's time for her to go on to bigger and better things. So off to Vermont, and then to Madrid, she is headed. She is starting another adventure, and I know she will make the most of it. But I will always be grateful that she gave me this extra year . . . it has been awesome!

Lady's Slipper

There has always been something mysterious about the Lady's Slipper. It blooms in late May and early June, before many flowers are out. It hides in the shade, in moist areas where it is hidden from the view of many. It is usually gone by July 4, though on rare occasion I have seen them then. So I have always felt lucky when I happen to be in the area when they are blooming.

As a little girl, my mom would take me up the mountain in search of Lady's Slippers. We would tromp around, and one time Mom found a whole area full of them. Unfortunately, I haven't found that spot again. I know three places where they always bloom and yearly, I check for them. This year, they were just beginning to bloom when we were at the cabin the last time.

Marcia Cole, a cabin owner in the Canyon, used to know Jean Cusac, the woman who owned our cabin in the late 30's and early 40's, before Marcia's dad bought our cabin for a few years. Marcia said Jean knew where every Lady's Slipper bloomed and that she had actually seen black ones. The only black ones I have ever seen are the ones that have bloomed and withered into a black skeleton. But I would love sometime to be at the cabin during Lady's Slipper season and go in search of the black one. Until then, I will enjoy this mysterious flower each spring, knowing that I have had a chance to see one of the more secretive plants in the area.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I had BFFs long before there was such a thing as a BFF.

When I was in elementary school, I used to play with Kathy Gunter and Betsy Cocke. Kathy and I were born two days apart (I AM the younger one, by the way) in the same hospital, so we have always known each other. She lived about a block and half away from me, and Betsy lived just up the street. In junior high, Betsy and I walked to school together nearly every day. Sometimes Kathy would join us, but not always.

Once we got to high school, I was dying to meet this girl who lived across the street from my cousins. Her name was Anne Turbett, and I had heard she was hilarious. Luckily, we had biology at the same hour, so one day I bravely walked into her class and introduced myself. We just hit it off! Soon she introduced me to her friends, Susan Howard and Kathleen Rogers, and I introduced her to Kathy and Betsy, and it wasn't long before we began spending a lot of time together.

In high school, we would have Friday night parties . . . but they weren't like the parties most high schoolers have. We would set up ping pong tables and volleyball nets and play games. Or we would sit around and sing while Mike Schingle played the guitar. Or we would go to school events. We were the squarest kids one could ever meet, but we loved being together and we always had a good time.

Luckily, we have remained friends, and now that all of our children are grown, we get together frequently. We celebrated our 40th and 50th birthdays together, and for the last several years we have managed to meet for a quick girls' weekend. We have been to San Diego, Chicago, Santa Fe and Taos, and Oklahoma City . . . we are hoping for Alaska next!

We are so lucky to have been able to share our lives for so many years . . . and for many more to come! Thanks, ladies, for being my BFF!!

34 Years and Counting

Thirty-four years ago today Don and I got married. It is amazing how fast the time has gone.

When a person at age 23 says, "For better, for worse, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live", one has no idea what all that means. I could never have imagined what I would look like (though I should have since I look just like my mom), what Don would look like (although he looks a lot like his dad), that we would have two kids, live in the same house for 26 years . . . and much more.

I remember telling my dad on our first anniversary that if the rest of our marriage is as easy as the first year, then we have it made. He said he was glad to hear that and he hoped so too . . . I can say, that most years have been that easy . . .

A lot of great times have been had since this picture was taken in 1975 . . . who are those skinny people, anyway? It has been a fun ride - here's to 34 more!!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Loving Bookstores

I love independent book sellers. Theirs is a tough life - competing with big chains in an already difficult business makes it hard to survive. But Wichita is lucky. We have several independent book stores, two of which are my favorites of all favorites. Eighth Day Books, owned by Warren Farha, has found a niche with religious books, though he offers all sorts of other genre . . . I will write about his store in a later post. The other store, Watermark Books, is the subject of today's blog. It reminds me of the bookstore in You've Got Mail.

Watermark used to be a small cozy store with a large children's section, located at a very busy corner . . . and on my way to work. I loved going into the store, and since it was easily accessible, I went there often. Eventually, near the time that Barnes and Noble and Borders both built less than two miles away, it moved farther south and west . . . I wondered how it would ever make it. But amazingly, it did better than ever.

Sarah Bagby, the owner, is an amazing person who has made a name for herself within the book seller's industry. I adore Sarah, but that's not why I love her store. I love her store because it has made itself available to its patrons for all sorts of clubs and events. Numerous book clubs meet there at all hours of the day and night . . . Diana participated in the Spanish book club this year! Numerous authors come to talk about their books and sign them . . . yesterday 7 Young Adult authors spoke at 2:00, and then another man was there at 7:00.

And then they offer the summer challenge. I haven't done their challenge before . . . last year's series on Jane Austen must have been terrific, and I am sad that I didn't go. But this year, when they offered the Bronte series, I decided to dive in. The first session, with Mark Bradshaw leading, was hilarious, interesting, and downright fun! I learned so much about the Brontes that I couldn't wait to read Jane Eyre. Wednesday night's session on Wuthering Heights affirmed that it will be a much different read, but because of Mark, I HAVE to read it!

The key to surviving in this business environment is creating a niche and sticking with it. Sarah and her bookstore have certainly done that . . . and Wichita is much the better for it!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jane Eyre

It wasn't until I went to the first session of the summer reading challenge that I realized there were three Bronte sisters - not just one Bronte woman! And the three Bronte sisters were very interesting women who all were writers and who didn't live very long. Charlotte, who wrote Jane Eyre, outlived her other sisters, but she died at age 39.

Kathy Dunlavy, who is doing the summer challenge with me, described Jane Eyre as a bit of a page turner. I hadn't started it yet and was somewhat skeptical, but indeed I found it to be so. I loved the way she made her women strong and opinionated, not willing to put up with the way women were treated back then. Her flowery language and eloquent sentences made for a pleasant read.

But what is the deal with the ghost scenes? That's why I put the book down back in 8th grade. And I notice that Wuthering Heights has ghost scenes at the beginning, also. Was that a trend back then, to have ghosts and crazy women in attics? Perhaps at tonight's meeting, I will get an answer. I will keep you posted.

The Classics and another Ah Ha moment

When I was in junior high, my mom used to extol the virtues of reading the classics. She was quite critical of the literature we were reading in school, saying that "when I was young, we had to read much more difficult literature." So, I decided to embark upon a quest to read the books that I was missing in school.

The first one I remember reading was Wuthering Heights. I was in eighth grade, and I don't remember much about the book except the descriptions of the moors and that the characters seemed to be so unhappy. Romance? I didn't see it. Storyline? I have no idea. Then, through several more years I read Ivanhoe, Far From the Madding Crowd, Emma . . . and some others. But I couldn't tell you anything about them.

Fast forward to now. One of our bookstores (I will be writing about Independent booksellers in a later blog) is holding a summer reading series on the Bronte sisters. Kathy Dunlavy and I decided to try it. The first book we were to read was Jane Eyre. I cringed. That was one of the books I tried to read back when I was younger. All I remember is a ghost scene and mean people - and I didn't read any more, never to be picked up again until this summer. I wasn't very excited about trying the selection but decided to go ahead. Imagine my surprise when I found I not only enjoyed reading it, I was enthralled by it. What a great book!!! (More about it later, too.) This morning then, I began Wuthering Heights. I have a sneaking suspicion I am not going to like it as much, but I do know that at least I will understand it.

Thus, the "ah ha" moment. As an educator, I have long held that a child's development influences what and how they learn. Expose a student too early to Algebra and they will be frustrated . . . catch them at the right developmental moment, and it is a breeze! So too with reading and most everything else. I have asked myself numerous times if, had I read these books at a later time in my development, would I have enjoyed them? I do believe I would have. As it is, I waited many years too long to read Jane Eyre.

Today I was at the bookstore and mentioned to the leader of the group how much I was enjoying the challenge. Sue Najim was there and we began to discuss whether we force young people to read some books that are beyond their levels. Unquestionably we do. So what is the right answer? I do believe that it is the teacher that can many times make up for the developmental lag and make even difficult literature exciting. I watched my two children read very difficult books - and enjoy them - because they had superb teaching!

So the answer is a complex one, but this experience has reinforced once more the concept of developmental learning. When children are ready to learn, they will. One can't force a flower to bloom, just as one can't force a person to understand what they are reading. Should young people read the classics? Absolutely! They just need to have support to get them through the hard parts - just as they do every other part of their life!!!

Monday, June 21, 2010

I Lost a Friend

We always hear people talk about making each day count, making sure those you care about know that you do, taking advantage of every opportunity. Every time someone says something like that to me, I vow to do better. Time passes, however, and I begin to forget. It never fails that I get smacked in the face again.

This time, it was a casual friend of mine. She was the housemother at the Kappa house in Manhattan. I really liked her. She was always upbeat and friendly, and she totally immersed herself in sorority life. I didn't get to work with her often, but when I did, she was always helpful and kind. Just the kind of person we wanted running the house. I wish I had known her better, but I just wasn't around enough . . . but I knew her well enough to call her a friend.

She was supposed to go see her daughter on Friday night, and when she didn't arrive and couldn't be reached, her daughter called the police. Unfortunately, they found her in her apartment in the house. It appears as if it was a heart attack or stroke, and very quick. For that I am very grateful.

I have always said that I want to die fast . . . not sick ahead of time, just gone fast. But then something like this happens and I have to rethink it. I ache for her daughter who didn't get to say good-bye to her mom. I ache for the girls at the house who were expecting to return in the fall to find Mom there . . . and she won't be. So maybe going quickly is good for the person who is gone but not so good for the people left behind.

When I looked up the obituary, I found out that Mom was only a year older than I. Man. That hit home. She appeared to be very healthy . . . I would never have thought she would be one to die young. So once again I am reminded to love the ones I love, make every day count, and be the best I can be. Because you never know when your day might come.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I am married to Superman. He would deny it, and frankly, I also would have denied it ten years years ago . . . but over the past several years, it has become very apparent to me that he is as close to Superman as I am ever going to get. Let me tell you why.

Don and I have been through the normal marital struggles, but I would say that they have been minor . . . and rare. We don't fight often, though Diana would say we raise our voices a lot! But I knew early on that I had found a family-oriented, faithful man to walk with through life. As I watched him with our children, I saw a gentle, loving guy who thoroughly loved his children. Whether he was tying Kenneth in knots (you'll have to ask Kenneth about that!), or fishing in the gutter while sitting on the curb with Diana, whether he was dressing up for the 4th of July parade or building a pirate ship, he tried to make sure he kept the kids as his primary goal. That's what good dads do . . . he had watched his good dad parent four boys, and Don had taken really good notes.

Over the years, I have seen Don do some things that I thought we extraordinary. One time we were driving the Willie to its first (or maybe second) football game. Suddenly, on the one-lane road as we approached the bridge over the Smoky Hill River before arriving in Manhattan, a car started coming straight toward us, trying to pass five other cars coming our way. If I had been driving, we would have ended up turned over or in the river. But with Don at the helm, he just slowly pulled over on the shoulder, allowing the drunk driver to go by us. Don said he saw the cars behind us peeling off on the shoulder as well. I don't know what happened to the other driver, but I do know that a major accident was averted because Don is a quick - but not knee-jerk - thinker!

But I didn't realize Don was Superman until last year. In April, he was at an inspection when one of his employees fell through a hole in the floor. Don, always a fast-thinking guy, called for a ladder, and as quickly as possible, he was down the hole assessing the situation. His quick thinking probably saved the man's life. Then about three weeks later, we were coming home from Princeton. We were waiting for the shuttle at the hotel at 4:00 a.m. The driver drove up, jumped out of the shuttle, and told us he would be back. I looked up to see the shuttle starting to roll back down the hill, headed for a lake. I . . . tried . . . to . . . move . . . but. . . I . . . couldn't. I did say, "Don", and within a flash, he had jumped into the van, slammed on the brake, and probably saved the driver his job!

Since then he hasn't done anything quite so dramatic, but that was when I realized that Don is a good one to have around in a crisis situation. So this morning, when Sepia had his seizure, it was a good thing Superman was along to carry him home . . . because I couldn't.

So for this Father's Day weekend, I want to thank Superman for his heroic - and his not-so-heroic- deeds . . . and for being such a fine father and husband. Happy Father's Day, Don!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fathers Know A Lot of Things

One of the lessons Don has tried to teach our children is to "drive all four corners of the car." Whether it is the rv, a Jeep, or a Penske truck, one needs to pay attention to what is happening on all four corners of the car . . .

That being said, there appear to be a lot of people whose parents never taught them that lesson. Such as the driver of the neighbor's yard service, who forgot that he had a trailer behind him . . . at the expense of Kenneth's car. Poor thing was just sitting on the street minding its own business when Wham . . .

I went to the mailbox and found a note on the windshield . . . Sorry about the accident. Hope it isn't an inconvenience (though they couldn't spell inconvenience). "What accident?" I asked myself. Then I noticed the mashed in bumper. At least they left their business card. I told their manager that I would recommend their firm just based on the fact that they left their card - so many people don't do that anymore.

Anyway, their insurance has already called, and we will get the car fixed as good as new. Kenneth and Melinda drive the car for 9 months in California and never get a scratch . . . park it on a quiet cul-de-sac and you never know what is going to happen!!!

Happiness, Heartache, and McDonald's

Happiness is seeing your children having fun, learning, and loving. Talking to Kenneth and Melinda yesterday after they landed in Hong Kong gave me a true "happy feeling." They are doing so well, and I admire both their, and Diana's, sense of adventure. Anyone who would eat some of the things they have eaten and travel excitedly to what Don and I would consider "exotic" places occupies a special place in my admiration category!

I am glad I had that "happy feeling" yesterday, because this morning I then had that "worried feeling." Don and I were taking our 6:00 a.m. walk with Sepia and Babs and our friend, Kathy Melzer and her dog, Patty Sue. As we headed through the park, suddenly Sepia started walking crooked and got off the sidewalk. I knew immediately what the problem was. Seizure. Unfortunately, we were about as far from the house as we could be. Thank goodness Don was there, because, as a result of his anti-seizure medicine, Sepster has become a very heavy dog, and for me to carry him all the way home would have been a stretch. But Superman took over, picked him up, and carried him home (I guarantee you, 30 pounds of dead weight is very heavy!). Even by 8:45 this morning, Sepia still hadn't completely come out of it, but now - 9:30 a.m. - he seems to finally be back to himself.

That's where McDonald's comes in. One of Sepia's greatest pleasures - next to sleeping, walking, chasing rabbits, eating onions and asparagus, and going to the cabin - is going to McDonald's. They have dog bones there. I think he deserves a dog bone. So off we go . . . to a less than exotic place! And we will have that "happy feeling" again!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

. . . and then there's Babs

Poor Babs! She was always the one blamed for getting in the trash, though now we are of the opinion that Sepia was at least equally at fault . . . and maybe more. She never gets into the garden . . . unless it is to chase bunnies. She doesn't sleep on the bed, she doesn't eat like a pig . . .

BUT . . . she won't take pills. Lately she has had incontinence issues - hey it happens to older girls! So the vet gave her some pills to take . . . chewable and everything. Except Babs won't chew them. So we mixed them in peanut butter. She licks the peanut butter off and drops the pill. We put it in green beans. She eats the green bean and drops the pill. So we either have to crush it in peanut butter - it works but is a mess; crush it in cottage cheese - she loves that but it makes her sick; or wrap it in lunch meat. Lately I have taken the lunch meat approach because it is the easiest. Today, however, it took four tries before she swallowed the whole pill. The first try, she bit the pill in two and spit out the pieces. Then two more times she spit out the pills after eating the lunch meat. Finally on the fourth try, she ate the whole thing.

Our neighbor's dog Molly used to do the same thing . . . maybe Babs learned it from her. If I didn't know better, I would think she is playing me - just for more lunch meat.

Onion breath

I love my dogs. They are sweet, loving animals who cause few problems and make life fun. But sometimes I just don't understand them.

Take Sepia. For some reason, he has gained an affinity for onions. Last year when I put onion sets in my garden, I went out one day to see him with onions hanging out of his mouth. Two of them were hanging such that he looked like he had a Fu Man Chu moustache. After he had dug most of the onions out, I gave up.

This year I decided to try again, thinking he would forget. For a few days, I was golden, but one day, he was digging in the onions again. So I covered them with a netting, and they grew. Until today. Although I haven't been out to see the damage, I smelled it when he came in this morning. Onion breath. Bad onion breath. Not appealing. I wonder if parsley would help - I have some of that, too!

If he wasn't so sweet, I might get mad . . . but they are just onions. Unfortunately, onions aren't good for dogs, so I hope he doesn't get sick. So I will go out and assess the damage . . . and hope the onion breath goes away fast!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sensitive, sensitive

Several years ago, at a nursery in Wichita, I found a cool plant called the Sensitive Plant. When it is touched, or even if a breeze passes through the leaves, the leaves close up, as if to say, "Leave me alone." I liked it so much, I bought three. I gave one away but kept the other two until they both died. Thinking they were tropical plants, I didn't buy any more but have remained enamored with them.

Imagine my surprise when, on the Wildflower tour, our guide told us about Cat-Claw Mimosa - sometimes called sensitive briar. It has the same characteristic as the tropical plant - it closes up when touched. I suspect it spends a lot of time closed up in the Kansas wind :) The plant can be considered a noxious weed or an invasive species, but apparently the cattle love to eat it, and it is good for bees.

The next time I want a sensitive plant, perhaps going to the Flint Hills to find one would be less expensive! And I intend to look at the cabin to see if it grows there. I had never noticed it before . . . that doesn't mean it isn't there!

Ideas, ideas, ideas

I remember one year when we were in Santa Fe visiting one of Don's friends from Dodge City, Hoss Haley. Hoss is a renowned artist, and at the time he was exhibiting at one of the galleries in Santa Fe. As we toured the gallery, I asked him about his inspiration for his items. His response perplexed me. He said he had so many ideas that sometimes it was hard for him to finish one project because he was so excited to get to the next one. I couldn't imagine . . . since I do not have that artistic sense, I couldn't figure out how he could have so many ideas for new designs. It just didn't make sense.

Yesterday I had an "ah ha" moment regarding his comment. As I was thinking about this blog, I kept coming up with new ideas for topics about which to blog. Then I realized that I have been coming up with books to research and children's stories to write, also. Suddenly I had way too many ideas and not nearly enough time to complete all of them. Just like Hoss.

And that's when I realized that creativity takes many forms - inherently I knew that, but I don't think I had put it together in quite the same way. Just because I don't have an artistic bone in my body doesn't mean I can't be creative or have ideas. Maybe there's hope for me yet!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wildflowers in Kansas

It never occured to me while I was creating my Common Wildflowers of Northern New Mexico guide that Kansas also has beautiful wildflowers. But when a friend, Lisa Callahan, sent me some information about the Wildflowers of the Flint Hills tour, I had to go. I even gave up my Music Theater tickets so Don and I could attend. We took my booklet, just to see how many flowers were the same, and we headed out. We discovered that although there were a few flowers that were the same, most were different.

Now I was a little nervous because I hate chiggers and ticks. That's one reason why I love the New Mexico mountains so much . . . we don't have chiggers, and the ticks are gone by July 4. But in Kansas, they are prevalent the whole time. Diana and I had a plan, however. We wore our Wellies - hers are plaid and mine are purple (imagine that!) - and Don wore his cowboy boots. Then we sprayed insect repellant on them and hoped they would work. Yes, Di and I looked a little silly in our rain boots, but we came home tick and chigger free!

Anyway, back to the tour. A group of about 200 Wildflower enthusiasts gathered in a hay field to learn about indigo, fleabane, yarrow, and many others. Interestingly, fleabane, which is in my guide, was used by the pioneers to rid bedding of fleas. When I asked if it worked, the guide didn't know - but it is a good story. I wish I had known it before I printed my publication! The yarrow is also the same as the one in my guide . . . but those are about the only two other than sweet yellow clover!

Then we headed toward Matfield Green where we went to a grazing pasture. The merits of ranching were extolled, and we were allowed to roam the area looking for different species. Probably the one that most intrigued me, and that eluded a close-up picture, is indigo. As a little girl, I used to dye my own wool, and I have always wanted to try indigo. But I didn't know how to get ahold of it. Now I know what it is and where it grows, so some day, I will be cooking some "witches brew" (that's what my dad always called it!) to see if I can get a blue wool out of it!

At the last stop, we were in the heart of the flint hills - nothing but green grass, lakes, and hills. This area of Kansas is some of the most beautiful, and the sunset added to its beauty. Enjoy some of the pictures Diana took!

Titles Are Tough

I decided to create a blog after both of my children had done so, and because, now that I have a web page for my flower guide (, I was advised it would be good for business. I had enjoyed reading Diana's blogs, and after I decided to embark upon the blogosphere, my mind began racing with ideas.

But first I had to create a title. I have never been good at that. Remember back when you were taking standardized tests and you had to decide what the best title for a passage would be? I always struggled with those questions. So finding a title for this blog was very stressful.

First, I threw out a couple of ideas. "I would rather be at the cabin." After all, I have that sticker on my car. And it's true. I love the cabin. But it sounds a little negative about my hometown, Wichita. Since I love where I live, I ditched that idea! "A song for every occasion." Well, that's true, too. Everyone who knows me realizes that I can think of a song for nearly every situation. But Diana asked me if I am going to write about music. Uh, no. Not exactly. Then she suggested that I use the title of my book, A Stroll Up the Canyon. Yes, I could do that, but using the same name from my book seemed a little lame. Like I am not very creative, or something. So I thought maybe "A Stroll Up the Canyons (of my mind)." That's certainly broad, and since my mind goes 1000 different ways each hour, it could be exciting. Diana's response, however, was "But Mom, you aren't trying to name a book - just a blog." So we settled on . . .now what was it? Oh yes, Strolling Up the Canyon. That way I can write about anything that I might think about while walking up the canyon at the cabin. So that's how we arrived at this title . . . we'll see how I like it after several days!