Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Southern Ute Cultural Center in Ignacio, CO

I recently visited the Southern Ute Cultural Center in Ignacio, Colorado and was impressed with its beauty, architecture, and displays. Only a portion of the building is open to the public, less than one third of the floor space, but I assume they will make other exhibits available as they are completed. The building first opened to the public on Memorial Day 2011 - my visit was September 23, 2011, so everything looked pristine and vibrant - brand new.

The Permanent Gallery is the focus of the public displays featuring a life-size buffalo robe teepee set up with short tree stumps inside for seating, arranged around the electronic fire. When you enter the teepee a voice system is activated and traditional stories are heard, recorded by the elders years ago. Outside the teepee are various artifacts, photographs, and informational displays set up in chronological order which tell the story of the Utes. These are professionally arranged and beautifully presented. By the way, I expected a buffalo robe teepee to be brown like the outside of a buffalo but it is off-white, a light cream color, which is the result of removing the hair and tanning the hide. Taking photographs in the Permanent Gallery is not allowed, unfortunately.

The library was also open - a bright, cheery room done in orange and natural wood, with new Apple computers set up on tables all around the room. Visitors may access any computer to learn more about the Ute culture. There were no library patrons present when I was there. It would be especially lovely filled with children and adults making use of its facilities.

I learned that many of the artifacts on display were acquired from the Smithsonian Institute. I hope there are other family-owned items or private collections that make their way to this artful center for Southern Ute cultural history. I'd like to visit it again when all the rooms are filled with displays and open to the public.

Outside the building there were native plants growing in sculpted flower beds and each plant was identified. Once these plants grow and spred they will look more natural and the landscaping will be a wonderful part of the beauty of the building.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Going to a Family Reunion

At the end of this month I'll be going to my family's reunion in Southern Illinois, a long-standing tradition but not as regular or frequent as in years past. I'm excited to see my cousins and my Aunt Barbara, the last of my mother's siblings. We'll gather in a park in Harrisburg, Illinois, eat a potluck meal together and visit. I plan to take lots of photographs to bring with me back to Colorado.

I'm in my sixties now and one of the older generation - kinda hard to get use to that. It's been eight years since I was back there and so it's time, time to reconnect with people I love and share DNA with.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


I can't claim credit for this list - it came to me as an email from a friend years ago, but I came across it again and thought it's still funny and appropriate so here goes.........

  • It's more fun to color outside the lines.

  • If you're gonna draw on the wall, do it behind the couch.

  • Ask why until you understand.

  • Hang on tight.

  • Even if you've been fishing for 3 hours and haven't gotten anything except poison ivy and a sunburn, you're still better off than the worm.

  • Make up the rules as you go along.

  • It doesn't matter who started it.

  • Ask for sprinkles.

  • If the horse you're drawing looks more like a dog, make it a dog.

  • Save a place in line for your friends.

  • Sometimes you have to take the test before you've finished studying.

  • If you want a kitten, start out asking for a horse.

  • Picking your nose when no one else is looking is still picking your nose.

  • Just keep banging until someone opens the door.

  • Making your bed is a waste of time.

  • There is no good reason why clothes have to match.

  • Even Popeye didn't eat his spinach until he absolutely had to.

  • If your dog doesn't like someone, you probably shouldn't either.

  • Toads aren't ugly, they're just toads.

  • Don't pop someone elses' bubble.

  • You work so hard peddling up the hill that you hate to brake on the way down.

  • If you stand on tiptoe to be measured this year, you'll have to stand on tiptoe for the rest of your life.

  • You can't ask to start over just because you're losing the game.

  • Chasing the cat is more fun than catching it.

  • Make your mother proud of you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My Love Affair With the West

Remember that magical age of eight, before you discovered boys but were through playing with dolls? That's how old I was when my dad packed up our family of six and sped away from our home in the midwest for a life of adventure in the wild, wild west. It was 1955, long after the Indians had chased the buffalo across the plains and ambushed wagon trains of pioneers but us kids didn't know that and Dad fired up our imaginations with bedtime stories of wild Indians and wild horses and wild animals roaming the west. He even moved us onto an Indian reservation in the state of Washington where we lived in a little encampment of trailer houses near the uranium mine where he worked. We climbed nearby mountains, fished the beaver pond for lively trout, picked wild strawberries behind our camp, and bucketed our drinking water from a creek. I believe the summer of 1955 was when I fell in love with the west.

By Christmas of 1955 we had moved on to the state of Idaho where we lived in a motor hotel in the town of Salmon. My most vivid memory of that school was the cactus that grew in the schoolyard. Across from the school was a ramshackle collection of lean-tos where, I was told, the Indians now lived. I vaguely remember attending an Indian dance held at night where dust rose from the dancers' feet and we ate corn on the cob.

When school was out in May of 1956 we moved up into the mountains to the mining town of Cobalt where we lived for the next three years. I could write volumes about those years for the memories are vivid and many. We moved back to Illinois when the mine shut down and Dad had to find other work. For the next twelve years I lived in the midwest but dreamed of the west I had come to love.

In July of 1970 I convinced my husband to pull up stakes and head west, destination Boulder, Colorado. In retrospect I know I was trying to find happiness and hoped it still lived in the west I had known in the 50s. It worked, for me, if not for him. I'm still out here, living in Colorado with a new husband, a man who grew up in the west and loves is as much as I do. Two of my best friends started life in little towns on the Wyoming plains, Big Piney and Lander. Most of my other friends are native Coloradoans whose childhood memories are stories I love to hear. This is home now and I'll never leave, but there is a part of me that longs for the dark, fertile soil of my native Illinois, for the ripe smell of fall in a hardwood forest, and for springs of warm rain and no wind.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mesa Verde in 2002

Colorado has some wonderful historical sites preserved in parks and other government-owned areas open to the public yet despite the fact I've lived here for over forty years I've visited only a few of them. But each time I do venture out to explore this beautiful state I am thrilled with the beauty and historical significance of our preserved heritage.

In September of 2002, to celebrate my recent retirement from Anheuser-Busch, I made a trip to Mesa Verde National Park to see that most enchanting preservation of ancient cliff dwellings, the former home of the Ancestral Puebloan People or Anasazi as most of us know them. The park was created in 1906, thanks to President Teddy Roosevelt, and has seen millions of visitors in the last 100 years. Despite the wear and tear that comes with millions of visitors and the descecration caused by looters and vandals, the park is beautiful place that feels remote and sacred. Its location in the high desert bluffs of southwestern Colorado ensures its natural state. The best way I can say that is you won't see a McDonalds or WalMart next to the ruins. Many photographers have captured the beauty of Mesa Verde with their images; I've included a black and white photo by Ansel Adams of Cliff Palace and a Wikimedia Commons photo of a group of tourists at the base of Cliff Palace. My favorite part of the tour was climbing the wood and rope ladders up to Balcony House and I've used my own photograph to illustrate that. It's a beautiful place and I recommend visiting Mesa Verde to those who love Native American history, archaeology, and the great outdoors.

There is a hotel of sorts inside the park and a restaurant too. The hotel has minimal services so as not to detract from the serenity of the park. This is not a Disneyland vacation!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Old Pear Tree

The old pear tree that grows east of our house and in a line with two just-as-old apple trees never meant much to me until I learned a bit of its history, then suddenly it became in my mind a majestic pear tree, a survivor who must be nurtured. The tree is about one hundred years old and for the past forty of those years the tree has been largely ignored. I know because I'm the one who ignored it. Although our average annual precipitation around here is a scant twelve inches there are years when we fall far short of that, yet the pear tree has endured.

In May of 2007 I drove up to the site of the Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station located about ten miles west of Cheyenne, Wyoming, to attend a walking tour and presentation by Scott Skogerbie, our local Johnny Appleseed. Scott introduced us to the trees, shrubs, and flowers that survived decades of neglect with no artificial watering when the experimental station was abandoned during the dust bowl years. Scott's love of plants was obvious and infectious as he pointed out the brave, tenacious plants who fought off grazing deer, voracious insects, and the drying winds of Wyoming to survive and grow in that environment. The wind tears the clay soil from around the plants and pulverizes it before dropping it back to earth as blow sand as fine as talcum powder and serving the same purpose - to prevent any moisture from penetrating its barrier. When rain finally comes the ground is slippery and sticky but the water doesn't penetrate beneath the top layer to water the roots of the trees below.

After we returned to the field station buildings Scott continued to share his knowledge and passion about hardy Wyoming and Colorado plants. Unwilling to end the stimulating conversation about a subject so interesting to me I invited Scott to join me and two friends for lunch in Cheyenne. Over plates of steaming, authentic Mexican food we talked of the the tendency of some of us transplanted midwesterners to try to grow the oak trees and willows of our youth in this dry, alkaline soil of eastern Colorado. Then talk turned to Scott's obsession with finding an apple tree somewhere in this country planted by Johnny Appleseed so he could clone it. He succeeded in that venture and has since moved on to other fascinating schemes and plans.

Over lunch I told Scott of the two old apple trees and the seckel pear tree on our place and what I knew of them. We bought our three-acre piece of land in 1971 and the trees were mature and healthy then. One day a woman dropped by to see what we were doing with the land and told us she had lived here as a child, that her father, August Gross, planted those three trees shortly after the turn of the century, approx. 1905. One of the apple trees died back to the ground but the other is still producing big crops of yellow-green pie apples about every other year. The seckel pear tree produces every year, a small reddish-skinned pear that is sweet and flavorful if a bit too small for most people's taste.

Scott then told me about Charles Pennock and the nursery he started and operated for years in Bellvue, just about ten miles west of our place. I was so excited to learn about this and researched it immediately upon returning home. Scott said that he was familiar with Pennock's experiments and seckel pears were on the list.

Ever since that time our old pear tree has become more important to me. I water it regularly and have sent a small pear tree that grew as a root sucker to my sister in Oregon. She thinks it might be different from my tree, that the root stock used by Pennock in his grafts is something other than a seckel pear. She's probably right because her little tree has thorns and the old pear tree does not. Maybe I should get some professional advice on how to clone the tree before it's too late.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

55-Year-Old Mystery Solved

I was eight years old the summer we moved out west from Illinois to an old CC Camp on the Spokane Indian Reservation at Wellpinit, Washington. Dad was mining uranium there at the Midnite Mine, now an ecological superfund cleanup site. We lived in a very small trailer house parked in a bowl-shaped valley surrounded on all sides by tree-covered mountains. Two other families and a couple of bachelor geologists also lived in trailer houses at our camp. A generator supplied us with power but we had no running water. Blue Creek was a narrow, shallow stream that flowed along one side of our camp, at the base of one of the mountains. I don't know if that was the source of our drinking water or not for my mother walked uphill behind our camp to fill her water bucket so there may have been a spring back there.
The water that flowed along the little stream called Blue Creek was clear and cold. Above it ten feet or so was a trail that led to a beaver pond where we caught some of the tastiest trout I've ever eaten. I've included a recent photo of the stream that I found on the USGS website that monitors the stream for pollutants. When we lived there the summer of 1955 I loved to play by the stream. One day as I lay on my stomach staring down into the water I saw an amazing thing, tiny rocks just like all the other rocks along the bottom of the stream, except these were clumped together in a regular pattern to form a little tube. I carefully removed one from the stream and looked at it in my hand. There was no creature inside, just this tiny tube of rocks. I can remember showing it to my family and we all marvelled at the creation but had no idea how it had been made.
I've never forgotten that discovery and until last week had no idea what it was. I was reading a novel whose title I've already forgotten, and came across a description that fit my discovery to a t. That little tube made of rocks is the creation of the caddisfly larva, nicknamed the rock roller by western fishermen. Now that I know that and can google it I see that yes, that is definitely what I found in that cold water creek in central Washington fifty-five years ago. I love a good mystery!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Goodbye, Rocket Man

Last night our old horse Rocket died. Thankfully, he only had one day of being off his feed before he went down. Somewhere between 27 and 28 years of age Rocket Man, our nickname for him, was a dark bay thoroughbred who came to us by way of one of Bob's Charco Broiler buddies, Nick. He was a horse of good breeding but bad temperment and Nick had decided to get rid of him because he'd just put a lot of money into having him trained only to be told that he was untrainable. Bob, a man who loves horses and didn't buy that label of untrainable, offered to take the thoroughbred off Nick's hands. That was about 1988.

(Rocket and Sid in their younger days.)
We soon found ourselves the proud owners of four horses, three of Nick's and one that Bob's dad gave him. For years the four, all geldings, lived, ate, and played together on our 1-1/2 acre pasture out back. Bob rode them, trained them, even harnessed them to pull weight like a sled or a plow. And then we started losing them. Rattler, Bob's favorite, was a playful, intelligent quarter horse, bitten on the nose by a rattle snake as a colt but friendly and willing. He died of an infection in his heart, possibly the result of that snake bite. Sid, the black quarterhorse Bob gave to me, was small in stature with the nicest feet and hooves I've seen. An hornery horse always looking for a break in the fence from which to escape, Sid had been infested with parasites as a colt and the scar tissue in his gut led to his early death.

(Roamer and Rocket, fall of 2010)
For the past fifteen years or so Roamer and Rocket have lived out back, settling into old age and earning that moniker hayburners. When the grandkids asked to ride them we explained that they were both retired now and resented being asked to carry people on their backs. Rocket probably died of natural causes. He made it through the winter in good shape, plenty of fat on his ribs and long guard hairs on his coat. He died on a warm, dry evening in mid February.

Starting today Roamer will live the life of a solitary horse which is not the best life but maybe for an old horse not too bad.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Judy's Scrap Bag Quilt

When my stepmom passed away two years ago I came into possession of a bag of fabric scraps that had belonged to her, probably quilting scraps. I got them out a couple of weeks ago and sorted them by color, letting my mind work on ways to create a quilt of some sort using these little scraps. I soon realized that most of the scraps were quite old and had probably belonged to Judy's mother who was also a quilter. I went to and searched for vintage fabrics which helped me to date the fabric scraps but even better than that showed me there are a lot of people who appreciate and even specialize in collecting vintage fabrics. What a visual treat that was!

Since the scraps were various shapes and not large enough to cut into squares or rectangles of a decent size I opted to applique them to a solid piece of cloth rather than piece them together. Applique is not something I'm good at - just can't seem to master that tiny stitch around the edge that anchors the cloth to the background fabric without being obvious. But I did it anyway and those little stitches do show. I found some old solid green fabric in my own collection and used it to make the sashes. I added a solid piece of fabric to the back and now I'm quilting this little 23"x23" scrap quilt and when it's finished I'll frame it and hang it. I think Judy would like it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Drop City, Libre, and Domes

I just read a very interesting book titled "Huerfano" by Roberta Price, a memoir of the years she lived at Libre, a commune in the Colorado mountains near Walsenburg. It brought back memories of my brief visit to Libre in the summer of 1973 with my husband and five-year-old son, Patrick.

In 1972 we bought a 3-acre property in rural Colorado and pondered whether to raze the old farmhouse or remodel it. Bob designed houses for a living back then so it was logical that he would draft several designs before settling on one that would fit our needs and budget. I thought we'd agreed on a wrap-around addition to the 24'x24' story-and-a-half farm house until the day he told me about geodesic domes. Next thing I knew he and a friend had crafted a scale model of a dome out of balsa wood and hot glue and were talking of nothing else. While we considered, designed, and dreamed we bought a 14'x53' mobile home and parked it next to the old farmhouse. This was to be our home for the next few years - more years than we like to admit.

The summer of '73 we decided to take a little vacation to Taos, New Mexico and along the way visit Drop City, a commune near Trinidad, Colorado, where the hippies fabricated geodesic domes from car tops hacked out with axes and welded into triangles to create hexagons and pentagons. The place was deserted by then, having reached its zenith a few years before.


In reading the book "Domebook 2" Bob learned of the Libre community in the mountains sixty-five miles northwest of Drop City near Gardner, Colorado. This was the place where many of the Droppers migrated to after Drop City self-destructed. We had both read Peter Rabbit's book "Drop City" and knew that he was now living at Libre, an experiment in communal living. We drove the unpaved roads to that community one bright summer day, stayed a couple of hours and talked to people there who were building a small school, then followed that same road back to the interstate highway and headed south to Capulin volcano without seeing the 40-foot dome the Red Rockers had built near Libre. I'm not sure what we were looking for at Libre but we found nothing to ever take us back there.

We parked in the visitors' parking area at Capulin Monument and hiked to the rim where we perched long enough to take a few photographs then returned to our car and headed south over Raton Pass and along the winding roads into Taos, New Mexico.


In 1973 Taos was still a quiet town known for its artists and the Taos Pueblo. We visited the pueblo, ate fresh hot bread baked in a horno, bought beads from a little Native American girl, and were invited inside a second-story room in the pueblo. I'm told that tourists are no longer allowed inside the pueblo so I feel prvileged to have seen it in 1973. We also walked through the streets in town and stopped in at many art and book shops. But our focus was on the new and innovative architecture and house construction on the outskirts of town. We toured a home being built of empty aluminum cans. The air trapped within the cans was to provide the insulation and the cylindrical shape was to provide the strength.


We came back home from that vacation ready and eager to build our own dome. Bob decided on a 5/8, three frequency alternate dome. He also decided to attach it to the existing farmhouse. I had lobbied for that as I loved the old fir floors in the house and had a sentimental attachment to the house. Bob has said many times over the years that if he had it to do over he would never have opted to attach the dome to the old house for it was a very difficult thing to do. As a dome is built, layer upon layer of triangles, the walls shift. But Bob had attached the lower walls of the dome to the old house which did not allow for shifting. After fighting it for awhile he finally detached the dome walls and cut openings in the old house which allowed him to march the freestanding dome walls right though the old house. When the dome was complete only then did he go back and secure the walls to the existing house.

Building the dome became a lifestyle for us. We scrounged for building materials and traded Bob's talents in design for bricklaying, electrical work, and more. Bob built the dome with the help of various friends after hours, for we both held full time jobs. It took years. There are so many stories I could tell about those years of building the house. The insulation story is one of my favorites. But I'll save that for another blog.

We moved in before the house was complete. That may have been a mistake for once we were in the construction slowed to a snail's pace. We were low on money and enthusiasm. So we learned to live with unfinished walls and no wall cabinets in the kitchen. And we joked with friends about when the house would be finished, but it weighed heavily on Bob, not much of a joke to him. Over the next few years he added a greenhouse to the south side of the old farm house, enlarged the east-facing deck, converted the deck off the bedroom to a sloped roof over the entryway and added a front porch. He also removed two triangular windows on the east wall of the dome and framed that space in, something he'd been threatening to do for years because the sunshine that streamed through those windows each morning made eating breakfast at the table an unpleasant experience.

Now the year is 2011; it's been thirty-eight years since we made that trip to Drop City and Libre but Roberta Price's book brought it all back to me, the promise of building a unique home inexpensively and quickly, one that would envelop us in an atmosphere of good energy and creative vibes, and a home we could build ourselves. We did it and I've enjoyed the entire experience. We both love our little dome home on the Colorado prairie.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

♫ If God doesn’t live in Colorado ♪…

What a beautiful day here in northern Colorado this 27th day of January, 2011. Our temperature hit 60 degrees and the sun shone brightly all day. I'm told the local golf courses were crowded and I'll bet lots of people played hookey from work. I worked (if you can call it that) in the yard, raking cottonwood leaves and moving them by wheelbarrow into the garden. Beneath the leaves I found new green shoots of weeds and perennials which fueled my spring fever but probably exposed those tender shoots to upcoming freezing temperatures and drying winds.

One of the many things I love about Colorado is having these spring-like days in midwinter. It boosts my spirits like nothing else. I'm drawing a layout for a garden shed that we might build inside the garden walls later in the spring. And Bob used his long pry bar to poke drainage holes in the bottoms of the stock tanks we moved to the garden and will plant with vegetables in a few short weeks. Tomorrow will be even nicer but I'm going to spend the day with a friend and may not have time for the yard.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Losing Weight and Being Healthy

Finally, after years of grousing about my weight and wishing I were thinner I joined Weight Watchers again! I've been on their plan twice before and was successful both times so I went back to it and this time joined with a friend. That was the first week of May 2010. Now here we are the 24th of January, 2011 and I am 36 lbs lighter with my lifetime goal in sight, only 8 pounds to go! I'm very happy that I have been successful and hope to keep this weight off the rest of my life. If anything, I've learned that I need the structure and peer support that Weight Watchers provides to stay with the program.
I've done a lot of thinking and reading about being over weight and the best way to lose those pounds and keep them off. There is a lot of advice "out there" and all kinds of fashionable diets, popular books, and testimonials. Right now I'm reading a best-selling book by Rory Freeman and Kim Barnouin titled "Skinny Bitch". The book is a gift from my sister and I find it to be cleverly written and full of good advice, most of which I don't plan to follow. The authors say the best (and maybe the only) way to get thin, stay thin, and be healthy is to become a vegan and give up all meat, eggs, and dairy products. It's not that I disagree with them but I am not willing to make such a drastic change in my eating habits. I did go out and buy a carton of coconut milk to try in my oatmeal in an effort to avoid all the hormones and antibiotics found in cow's milk.
So here I am at the beginning of a new year carrying much less weight around on my arthritic knees and feeling good about myself. I hope I can continue this self-improvment program throughout the year and add regular exercise to my daily regime.