The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse. ~ Helen Keller

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cloudless Skies

August, Colorado: You can almost hear the grass gasping, tiny rusted shoots stranded in a high, dry desert. The sky is bright blue with nary a cloud, and the sun sears itself into your skin, like a branding iron from above. Omnipresent waist-high weeds undulate to and fro in a lover's dance with the hot breezes. Autumn seems so far away...

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Two Years Gone By

Since we didn’t send Christmas cards last year, this year we plan to bore you silly with a summary of activities for not one but two years at French Manor. Those of you with a strong constitution may continue reading at your own peril, or skip right to the pretty pictures and spare yourselves the agony of yet another silly Christmas newsletter.

Sunroom with Colorado and Manx flags
The Home Front. Our lives have been a flurry of home improvement projects over the past two years. We added a second shed in the back yard, remodeled the hallway bathroom, replaced an old wooden patio fence with a pretty white trellis, painted the sunroom and installed new carpet, replaced the wrought iron front gate with a wooden gate, created a memorial rose garden (which includes Raven’s ashes), installed a new garage door with windows, painted all three bedrooms (colors: Melted Butter, Outback, Toffee Crunch), and removed a dying elm tree from the back yard. To clarify, we did not do all this work ourselves.

Ships That Pass in the Night. Dave worked the swing shift through all of 2014, which we both hated but the dogs loved. They were never alone for long, since Dave left for work at 2:30 and I returned home at 4:30. Dave started to look for a new job with better hours, and finally was offered a good job in early 2015. His new company is stable, secure, and includes great benefits. The best part, Day Shift! In early March, they sent him to Atlanta for a week to learn a new digital press the company purchased. He likes the company and the hours, and hopes to stay there for the long term.

Reclamation Day. I languished in my accounting clerk position at a local non-profit, where I planned to continue working until age 60. But after much soul-searching and number-crunching and encouragement from friends, I decided to bid farewell to the daily grind earlier than planned. Since the end of October, I have been enjoying my early retirement with plenty of quiet time at home, basically doing whatever I want whenever I want. The dogs love having consistent human companionship and more frequent walks. A dear friend suggested using the term “reclamation” instead of “retirement” since I am now reclaiming my life after 40 years in the workaday world.

The Calf of Man
Ellan Vannin. “And there rises like a vision, sparkling bright in nature’s glee, my own dear Ellan Vannin with its green hills by the sea.” So goes the poem Ellan Vannin, which is the Manx-language name of the Isle of Man. Situated halfway between England and Northern Ireland in the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man is my mother’s ancestral homeland.

When I was little, mom told me tales of this magical, mystical faraway place called the Isle of Man, where her grandfather was born. I remember hearing about Viking raids on the island, at which point I declared “I’m a Viking!” to no one in particular. It seemed unlikely that I would ever visit until I met my second cousin from Connecticut, Faith, via genealogical research. Faith suggested we explore our roots in person.

Houses of Parliament
Dave had never been overseas and wanted to come along, so we added a few extra days to visit London. In late June 2014, we flew from Denver to Reykjavik, Iceland. The airport layover lasted long enough for us to buy Icelandic souvenirs before continuing to London. We bunked at an old hotel in London’s Bayswater neighborhood, near Paddington Station. Our first tourist trip was to Buckingham Palace, where we arrived just in time for the changing of the guard. Dave mastered the Underground quickly and we were off here and there, strolling through Hyde Park near Kensington Palace, staring with wonder at Parliament and Big Ben and the London Eye, then touring Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Captain Dave aboard the ferry, Ben-My-Chree
After a whirlwind tour lasting three days, we met Faith at Victoria Station and boarded a train to Heysham Port, north of Liverpool, for a ferry ride to Douglas, capital of the Isle of Man. It’s about a three hour journey across the Irish Sea, which on that particular day was smooth as glass and so lovely. Faith said she wanted her first glimpse of the island to be as our ancestors would have seen it, from the sea.

Peel Castle ruins
What a beautiful place! After settling into the Cubbon Guest House on Douglas Promenade, where Dave and I had a room on the top floor with a view of Douglas Bay, we began a week-long tour. Relying on foot power and public transportation (horse tram on the promenade, electric tram along the east coast of the island, the old Victorian steam train to parts south and west, and buses everywhere else) we explored the most amazing sights: Mt. Snaefell, the highest point on the island; Cregneash, an old working village that doubles as a living history museum;  the Calf of Man, a small island and bird sanctuary just off the southwestern tip; Port Erin with its magnificent beach and western views; Castle Rushen, a well-preserved medieval castle on the southeast coast; and the ruins of Peel Castle, built in the 11th century by the Vikings. We climbed Peel Hill above the castle where far off in the distance we could see the Mountains of Mourne, Northern Ireland.

Faith, Debbie, and Dave at Niarbyl
The three of us were joined midway through our stay by our Manx third-cousin, John Creer. John has done extensive studies of our family history and gave us a personal tour of the island, focusing on places that were personally relevant to our family such as where our ancestors lived, worked, and worshipped. Thanks to John’s knowledge, we visited the mine where our shared great-great-grandfather worked, the grave where he is buried with his wife and two of their thirteen children, and the church where long ago the Creer family had a pew in their name.

We had to return to London for our flight home, so Dave and I stopped in a city north of London to spend the last few days with a long-time friend of mine from Boulder. Robbin has lived in England for nearly 30 years. It’s a rare treat to see her and I truly enjoyed our lively conversations. Dave had a great time and we plan to return, next time touring Scotland and the Home of Golf, St. Andrews.

Along the Mill Creek Trail
Back Home Again. While we were overseas, the dogs were comfy cozy at home with their favorite live in pet sitter, Auntie Barbara. They were so happy to see us again that we took them on a family trip to Salida in September. Staying at our new favorite rental cabin near Monarch Pass, we made a side trip to an area north of Gunnison, the Mill Creek Trail on the way to Storm Pass. We had been there years before with Raven, in the summer, and Dave always wanted to return in autumn to see the aspen groves ablaze along the way. Those autumn colors were breathtaking, as was the hike.

Kindergarten buddies
In 2015, I celebrated my 40th high school reunion (gasp!). An informal potluck lunch was planned in late July at the home and property of a classmate. The day was hot, the food was good, the beer was flowing, and the reminiscing went on and on. The best part for me was sharing the day with my lifelong friend, Peggy. We met in kindergarten and have known each other forever.

Chimney Rock National Monument
Instead of our annual autumn trip to Salida, this year Dave wanted to head down to Pagosa Springs in southwestern Colorado, not far from the New Mexico border. Other than a bad experience at a so-called “pet friendly” motel, we sure had fun. The dogs cavorted in the Piedra River, we visited the ghost town of Pagosa Junction, were treated to a personal tour of an old church on Southern Ute tribal lands (St. John the Baptist Catholic Church) and climbed to the top of Chimney Rock National Monument. The area surrounding the monument is beautiful and the guided tour was so interesting. We both returned with some tourist paraphernalia and a card proclaiming “I Made It to the Top!” (not really too difficult as Colorado hikes go). You can safely say that a good time was had by all.

So, if you haven’t dozed off by now, we wish you
Debbie and Dave at the Calf of Man, July 2014
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Peace on Earth
Debbie and Dave  *  Tonka and Daisy
(from our Christmas newsletter)


Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Visit From Katherine Jane

Katherine Jane Snyder, the neighbor who lived behind our family in Thornton, Colorado.
I can still hear her laugh and see her smile.
Kathy was a close family friend until her death in November 1986.
Photo courtesy of her son, Bill Snyder.
What follows is an account of a weird, rambling, vivid, and elaborate dream I had in the early morning hours of Thursday, November 19, 2015. Please do not expect much of this to make sense. I am transcribing it at the request of my friend, Bill Snyder.


I am walking my two dogs, Tonka and Daisy, up the hill on Palo Verde Street in Thornton, Colorado. In the third house from the top of the street, west side, lived the Snyder family, our close friends and backyard neighbors.

At the front door, I encounter two of Kathy's nieces. I do not know their names; they are young and walking small dogs, perhaps a Shih Tzu and a Silky Terrier. They step up to the silver metallic screen door and press the doorbell. I tell them, well, I'm pretty sure Kathy won't want my big dogs inside, so I scoot around to the left of the house where the driveway is located.

On the right side of the driveway are large plants with pale green leaves, a type of lily I believe. I steer clear from the plants as there are a number of hornworms crawling about on top. The fence to the back yard is a tall, wooden privacy fence. I let myself inside and am greeted by the most amazing scene.

What was once a small yard is now at least an acre, if not more. My parents' house, which is due west and up a retaining wall with a ladder and gate for easy access to one another's yards, seems so far away. The Snyders' yard stretches far to the north and west and is hilly, filled with ponds and berms.

Suddenly Dave is by my side, and I tell him that we have to keep Tonka from the muddy pond up ahead. I turn to the right, and next to the side of the house is a lush pond with wetland grasses alongside. Daisy has already jumped into the water. Further to the right is a huge cement goldfish pond. There are a number of small goldfish eating from a fish feeder at the right side of the pond, next to the covered patio which runs the length of the house. A large black crow is perched above the fish, waiting to pick an unsuspecting fry from the school of fish.

It looks like there is renovation being done on the north side of the house. I leave the dogs to play and head inside.

Construction is in progress. I show Dave around, although much of what I see is completely unfamiliar to me. Here is where the kitchen used to be, I tell him. Now it seems to be a large open cafeteria area, with fine wood paneling on the walls. In the living room, there remains a long stereo player, which the family had for as long as I can remember. I walk down the hallway and where there used to be two small bedrooms, you now see a coffee shop, with small round tables and espresso machines against the wall.

The master bedroom has been expanded to create a new conference center. In walks Kathy, greeting me with a smile and a hug and a hearty laugh. How do you like my new place? she asks. The room is huge and appears to have church pews along the north wall. There is light streaming through the many windows, and now you can see a stage and pulpit up ahead. Several people are milling about, preparing the room for a meeting. Kathy tells me that she wanted to transform the house into something useful.

Now my childhood friend Peggy has arrived in the room. Someone makes a comment about the speaker scheduled to address the congregation, making disparaging remarks about a book he wrote and whether his faith is genuine. Peggy defends the man, proclaiming him to be a true Christian in every sense.

I ask Kathy where the master bedroom has gone, and she shows me an addition being built near the luscious back yard. It is small but enough, she says, to suit her needs. She says she can always look outside and see her beautiful surroundings.

After we leave through the back door, I look and see my parents' house, oh so far away, and the homes of our neighbors: Riojas, Staab, Lister, Blunt, now only tiny little houses off in the distance.

Kathy waves goodbye as I walk down the driveway with my dogs. It was so good to see you again, I say.


Thank you for visiting me, Katherine Jane.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Will Work for Marijuana

Oftentimes in the mornings on my way to work, I see a certain fellow. He is a long-haired guy with a faded Tim Tebow jersey, pushing his bicycle and cart with a handwritten sign: "Cheap Labor. Ask."

This morning I saw him at about the same location with a different sign: "Will Work for Marijuana."

Ahh, the new Colorado.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

Dave and I have been sick with some creeping crud, a brutal cold/cough combination that is lingering. With the big snowstorm this weekend, I decided to take a stab at some homemade chicken noodle soup (this is not something I've done before--yes, I said it).

Here's what you'll need:

1.5 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken tenders
2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups chopped celery
1/2 large white onion, cut into long slivers
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
2 packages low sodium chicken broth (32 oz.)
1 can cream of celery soup
12 oz. package of egg noodles
1 stick butter
Seasonings: salt, pepper, parsley, 1 bay leaf, paprika, garlic powder

In large stock pot, add the broth, carrots, celery, green pepper, onion, bay leaf, and season to taste with salt, pepper, parsley, and garlic powder. Stir in the cream of celery soup.

Cut the chicken into spoon-sized pieces. Melt the stick of butter in a skillet, add the chicken, sprinkle paprika and garlic powder over the meat. Cook chicken until the outsides are white. Pour chicken and butter mixture into the stock pot.

Bring contents of the pot to a hard boil. Cover and simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours. Add egg noodles about 20 minutes before eating.

~ Optional: Serve with rolls and butter. We also had a dish of chilled cranberry sauce as a dessert side.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Least Favorite Words

In no particular order, except for kiddo. It's definitely nails-on-a-chalkboard-first for me. Don't ever call me kiddo. Thank you.

Incentivize (or just about anything with "ize" tacked to the end)
Word. (when used as a reply or a statement)

And yours would be?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dog Days

Two vehicles pull into the lot at the same time. A champagne-colored Nissan spits out a woman accompanied by two eager white poodles. "Wait, wait, just a minute, hold on now!" she barks at her wiggling charges while juggling leashes, poop bags, keys, and a fanny pack.

A few spots over is a van with Missouri plates. The driver lights a cigarette, opens the hatchback and says calmly, quietly, in a matter-of-fact voice: "There will be no eating of other dogs." An elderly German Shepherd hops out of the van.

Let the games begin.

(at Majestic View Nature Center, Arvada)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Missouri Hash

Missouri Hash

1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb. ground beef
1 large can crushed tomatoes (about 3 cups)
1 cup uncooked rice (I use Minute Rice)
1 packet chili seasoning
1/4 cup chopped pickled jalapenos --OR--
     1 small can diced green chilis (if you prefer a milder flavor)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Brown ground beef and onion together, drain. Stir in the chili seasoning and cook a couple minutes longer.

In 8x12 greased baking dish, stir together the tomatoes, rice and jalapenos (or chilis), then add the ground beef mixture.

Cover with foil and bake at 375F for 35 minutes.

Remove foil and sprinkle cheese on top during the last 10 minutes of baking.

Optional: Serve with salad and rolls.


Friday, February 21, 2014

A Comedy of Errors

Photo courtesy of the Internet (not my license plate)
Monday evening I met a friend of mine for dinner. On our way out, we stopped near the back of my car to chat. For some reason, Terri was drawn to my license plate and read the number/letter combination out loud. Then she said, "Do you realize that your plates expired in September?"

What? No! That can't be right. I looked down and yes indeed, even at night the evidence was plain as day. September 2013. Here it is Presidents Day 2014, and I'm cruising around with expired plates.

I drove home, sheepishly, carefully, certain that now--after nearly five months driving around as a scofflaw--I was jinxed simply by knowing.

Once home, I dug through my paperwork to try and figure out how the hell this happened. I am meticulous and careful about such things. This was a near impossibility.

Nope. It had not been paid. We moved a little over a year ago. Somehow Dave's license plates had been renewed in that time but what happened to mine? No matter, it was time to deal with the problem.

Dave volunteered to go to DMV first thing Tuesday morning. I wasn't sure if it would be a problem, since his name was not on the registration. He took my registration and the checkbook.

Apparently the first day after a holiday is THE worst day to visit DMV. Dave later reported around 75 people were waiting to be served. He stood around for a bit, talking to another fellow in the queue, explaining our circumstances. That man told Dave it was unlikely they would allow him to renew the plates without my driver's license. Dave left.

I was not at all comfortable leaving my driver's license with Dave so he could return the next day. That would surely be flirting with disaster. Expired plates + missing driver's license = flashing cop car lights in the rear view mirror. I would do it myself, first thing Thursday morning.

But wait, while I'm there, why don't I see about adding Dave's name to the title? That way there could be no question in the future. I found the title, safely stashed away in our security box.

Turns out Dave's name was already on the title. I looked again at the registration. Both our names were there. Apparently neither of us were observant enough to notice this little detail.

Oh well, I still had to take my punishment. There is a hefty penalty for allowing your plates to expire. Plus, who knows if one of the notoriously grouchy DMV workers would give me a hard time for being incompetent. Nah, they would just want the money.

I looked online to make sure I had everything necessary to renew in person. Proof of insurance! I located the insurance certificate, lounging quietly in the glovebox, noted its expiration date was March and left it on the table with all the DMV paraphernalia.

Thursday morning dawns, time to get organized. I rechecked to make sure I had everything. Then I looked again at the insurance certificate. Expiration date: 3/30/13. Oh good lord, I tell myself, please come to terms with the fact that it's 2014 already.

When I signed up for electronic notifications from our insurance company, apparently that also applied to the evidence of insurance certificate. I logged online and printed a copy.

Off to DMV. Thankfully only a handful of people were inside. I waited less than five minutes for service, explained the situation to the no-nonsense clerk as she changed our address in the computer. When I slid the insurance certificate her way, she told me that her happy little computer already confirmed that we had insurance. No need for a paper copy.

I paid the $100 incompetence tax, plus an additional $102.35 retroactive ownership tax so that DMV could collect the money they missed out on from September to February. My new expiration date is February 2015.

Never again.

(Gratuitous photo of my car, isn't she a beauty?)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Floretta's Shepherd's Pie

Mom lived for many years in a New Jersey neighborhood filled with Italian families. Italian food was definitely her favorite, and she often transformed everyday recipes to suit her preference. This was one of mom and dad's favorites.

(She didn't give it the name, I did, after she was gone.)

Floretta's Shepherd's Pie

1 lb. ground beef
6 large potatoes or 8 medium potatoes
2 cans (14 oz. each) French-cut green beans, drained
1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. oregano
1 tsp. parsley
1/2 tsp. basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Garlic salt or powder, to taste, or one pressed garlic clove

Prepare mashed potatoes according to your normal method.

In medium skillet, brown the ground beef; drain. Add onion, garlic salt/powder (or pressed garlic clove), salt and pepper to the meat, cook for about 2 minutes more. Pour the can of tomato sauce into the meat, add oregano, parsley and basil, then stir in the flour. Cook for about 5-10 minutes or until thickened.

Spread the meat and sauce mixture in the bottom of an 8x12-inch greased baking dish. Then spread the uncooked green beans in a layer over the meat. Finally, top with mounds of the mashed potatoes over the green beans, leaving little peaks on the tops of the potatoes.

Bake in a 375°F oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the tips of the mashed potatoes begin to turn a golden color.

~ Optional: Sprinkle a little bit of cheese on top during the last 5 minutes of baking. Serve with rolls and butter.