Saturday, December 17, 2011

It's in the little things

I know that the best part of Christmas is sharing it with the people and pets I love the most. But it seems that I don't get that Christmas groove until I've spent some time alone with my thoughts and favorite Christmas music.

Today was the day. Goddy headed off into the sunshine for a round of golf and I had a list of to-dos to get the house and cookie jar ready for a wonderful heap of people.

I don't do a lot of lavish decorating, even though I love looking at other people's efforts. For me there are a few special pieces, usually embellished with some tartan ribbon, that change our home from everyday  to Christmas eclectic.

Go All Blacks!
A few days ago I was getting a bit concerned that I didn't feel the Christmas spirit. You know, that warm fuzzy feeling that goes along with a secret belief in Santa and a grateful heart. I believe that we celebrate our Savior's birth in this season. I also believe that the other aspects of the holiday season have their place. Well, except for Black Friday. That could go away, along with Wal-Mart but I digress.

By the end of today there will be a batch of shortbread cooling on the racks, the sideboard is festive in silver and red, my office is ready for a guest and the menus will be planned. It is not the end of the day as I'm writing this so I'm doing that self-help trick of if-you-say-it-it-will-happen.

In the meantime, I'm going to have a cup of tea, enjoy a sneaky read of my sappy Christmas novel and marvel that it's mid-afternoon on a December day and both doors of the house are open to the fresh air and sunshine.

May you too get your fill of Christmas in all the ways that mean the most.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Going Back

They say you can't go back; back to where, I wonder? Last week when I was shelving books, and other things at the library, I came across an old Linda Ronstadt CD - "Cry Like the Rain, Howl Like the Wind." I checked it out and started listening to it on the 5-minute drive between the library and my house.

The opening bars of the first song - you guessed it - took me right back. Back to our house at Rissington, on one of the farms we managed in New Zealand. I had the album on cassette tape (probably recorded from a CD I'd checked out of the Napier library.) We didn't have any close neighbors, so I could put the stereo speakers in the window and let Linda belt out her tunes while I gardened or if we had a barbeque. Or I'd put it into the kitchen boom-box and dance around while dinner was cooking.

I had no idea that any one else in the family remembered that album. Ty, I'm sure, would roll his eyes and sigh that I'm reliving his childhood and I should just embrace my middle age. Logan would probably just grunt. Evan immediately started warbling one of the songs. But then, he and I spent a few years stealing Garth Brooks CDs from each other and listened to Celine Dion on our trip across America, so it figures he'd remember Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville singing "Don't Know Much."

There is some truth to not going back. Now when I hear those songs that sent me pirouetting around the kitchen I hum along. I seem to be saving my dancing for when Rowan and Katie visit and we boogie after bath time.

But a little trip down memory lane is sweet all the same.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another View

I enjoyed a birthday last week, and requested a day of hiking with my good friend, Becky. We've tromped around in a few places together, here and in New Zealand. We can never seem to get out there often enough to suit either of us, so it wasn't too difficult to make it happen for the birthday girl!

Becky came up with a few suggestions and I chose to explore the waterfalls along Wychus Creek, just out of Sisters. I keep hearing about all these amazing places just out our back door and am embarrassed to admit to not venturing to many of them, yet.

The lower falls. Worth the scramble down to get this view!

Becky and the dogs. I think Ben will be sporting packs soon. Might slow him down some.

We took our faithful hounds, Ben and Sadie, a lunch and our cameras. I took my field notebook too, since I learned at my writers retreat that carrying a notebook and pen is a much better bet than depending on a memory when it comes to creating a literary moment.

Middle falls

It was a hike to remember, full of good fellowship, deep thoughts, long silences and gob-smacking scenery. Becky kept the view of the upper falls a secret and I'm not going to forget the feeling of coming around a corner and looking up, and up some more, to the top of the cascade. A wall of shale rock blended into a hillside of the same. We climbed partway up to see if the view was any better from there - it wasn't - and realized that there's something to be said for looking up rather than across.

Upper falls

Not quite Rin Tin Tin...

Hard to imagine the force of water that makes a scene like this.

I'd wondered about these waterfalls for many years and now that my curiosity is satisfied I want to become better acquainted with them. Lets hope its more than a once-a-year occurrence!

Thank you, Becky, for a great day out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The View From Here

Park Meadow is a lovely spot in the Three Sisters Wilderness, popular with horse riders and hikers and along a well-trod trail. My friend, Gayle and our equines Jeep and Danny, had our second go today of finding this mountain paradise.

Danny, Gayle and Jeep

We went down the wrong trail, twice in two visits, consulted guide books, asked a mountain biker who had a map and found a spot with cell phone coverage to call Gayle's friend. How hard could it be to find a very large, popular alpine meadow?

Pretty hard, if you're not paying attention.

We did eventually end up in Park Meadow, and filled our vision with the mountains we daily look at from a distance. We were the only visitors present, a sure treat on a splendid late summer/early fall day. (Contented sigh.) There's not much more that can be said. If you've ever immersed yourself in a wild place, you'll know what I mean.

Broken Top in the background

As we headed down the trail toward home, I was mesmerized by the flopping of Danny's ears in time with his hoofbeats. I got to thinking about our experience and wondered it there is some sort of life application to go with it. It was a pleasant thing to do on a peaceful afternoon in the deep silence of the forest.

So here's what I came up with...

First off, if you're going somewhere that's a destination for many others who share your passion, follow their footsteps. We headed off on a trail today with a marked absence any other hoof prints and the significance of that didn't occur to us until we were down there a ways. We did this twice! When we finally got on the right trail, it was obvious that many other horses trekked there.

And  don't depend entirely on what others tell you. It's one of the common-sense rules of wilderness travel to carry a map, but we didn't. We figured we wouldn't get lost because we were on well-marked trails and knew how to get back to the trailhead. If'we'd had a map, we'd have seen the bigger picture. Especially today, when I remembered to bring my glasses.

Finally, realize that signs won't always be in the right place. At the place we turned onto the wrong trail, there is no sign for Park Meadow at all. That certainly was an annoyance, but we didn't need to depend on a marker. If we'd been following those hoof prints, we'd have been ok.

In this case, the destination was way more valuable than the journey. Sometimes it turns out like that.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Graduate

Ben has been attending an institute of higher learning, better known as Pet Smart obedience classes. It was one of those impulse decisions - I went in there to get some dog treats and came out with him signed up.

But it's turned out to be a really good thing. I started clicker training him but soon discovered that learning a technique from books and the internet isn't nearly as effective as being in a real, live, noisy, full-of-distractions class.

And what place is more distracting for dogs than Pet Smart? It's like kindergarten where the teacher says yes, you can touch, smell and taste everything. And if you don't make it to the bathroom, we'll clean up after you and won't be mortified with embarrassment.

Well, not quite, but it seemed like that the first time or two we entered the store. Even today, after 6 weeks of lessons and homework, Ben burst through the door barking and pulling on the lead and acting like he'd never been out in public before.

But he soon settled down, did the required tasks and came away with a certificate and a photo.

I can't believe I have a photo of my dog wearing a hat...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pausing for a Poem

I recently went on a sojourn to the North Cascades in Washington State, to attend a writers retreat at the Environmental Learning Center of the North Cascades Institute. Sounds kind of tree-hugger, doesn't it?

It didn't matter to me if we hugged trees, as long as we could write. And write we did! My brain, feeling like its been in a holding pattern for the past couple of years, nearly exploded with the words. By the end of the first day, not many of the words made much sense, but that's what revision is for, right?

The Learning Center is on the shore of Lake Diablo, with several snowy peaks sticking up around it. Its a great place to write from if you want to be inspired by nature. I like that the focus of the retreats is about gaining inspiration from creation, though they wouldn't put it in those words!

Turns out I was the local hero too - I was the last person to sign up, just a week or so before the retreat, and they'd been about to cancel it because of low numbers. But my registration saved the day! So we were an intimate group of eight, with two instructors. Ana Maria Spanga taught memoir/essay and Tim McNulty got us writing poetry.

Now, poetry is way low on my list of creative things to do, down there with painting portraits and arranging the linen cupboard according to thread count on the sheets. A bad experience in grade school put me off poetry for life, or so I thought.

Poets can be made, we learned. There are actually steps you take in crafting a poem that result in a meaningful string of words. Who knew (well, I suppose poets do but I never bothered to listen.)

We did some work in the classroom, doing a few mental exercises to get in touch with all five senses. I suppose it's a bit like those things actors do to get into the scene -it looks (and may sound) way weirder than it really is. Tim talked about being attentive, observant. All good, practical stuff. Hmm, maybe this isn't too liberal-hippy for me after all.

The afternoon was spent outside on one of the lovely trails used by the Learning Center. Armed with our notebooks and pens, water bottles and hats, and liberally doused with bug spray, we headed off to attentively observe and write it all down. At this stage I was still feeling a bit clunky with my word choices and imagery. Kind of like being a hiking boot lined up next to a ballet slipper. But here's what I love about these kind of things, especially ones held out in the wilderness - everyone has insecurities and it ends up being a supportive and safe place to share.

There was a bit of nature-inspired tension too - we briefly shared the trail with a mother bear and her cubs.

 They'd been in the area all season, not causing any trouble (very good bear security prevails at this place.) It satisfied my curiosity about what it would be like to meet a bear in the woods. A heightened awareness of where you're standing (behind the person who'd had many encounters with bears is a good place, I learned), appreciation for a wild animal doing her thing, and relief when she moves off and you can proceed down the trail again.

It didn't really add anything to my poem but sure made for a good photo op!

You can stop reading here if you're one of the great unwashed who don't read poetry, like I was before this retreat and still am if it gets too introspective. But I want to share my poem . It was quite cathartic. (I love that I can use that word in a sentence and its appropriate.) The hang-ups are gone. What a sweet surprise.

A silver glint sparks.
A rock lies upturned beside the path,
  moss on its back.
Tipped by a careless boot, perhaps?
A rock undisturbed long enough to sprout moss.
 Turned over, it still glimmers
  Moss can't hide the sparkle.

My last poem penned in grade school. Mumbo-jumbo about summer sounds,
  the awkward ending, "and crickets sound like sleigh bells too"
a host for moss growing on my creativity.

A small rocky cave appears.
What hides there? A bug? A skittery rodent?
 A perfect metaphor?
Come out into the light.
Sparkle, catch my attention.
  Don't let the moss take hold.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mini Vacations Rule

We don't do vacations very much, generally a few days here and there in the off-season of ranching. This means the weather is usually unreliable but there aren't many crowds either.

We decided on a mini-vacation this weekend, to celebrate with dear friends at their wedding.

 They chose the Oregon coast as their wedding site and were favored with the gift of most magnificent weather, at least for the days we were there! We hadn't been to the coast in the summer for years and while we did have to contend with a few other folks on the beach (I know, we're such hermits!) it was fun to watch them enjoying the day.

After the wedding festivities were over and we got back to our motel for a cup of tea in the afternoon, we decided to keep the car parked and walk on the beach instead of exploring the forest around Devils Lake. Everyone must have been feeling the love because there were no idiots, louts or badly behaved dogs. It was as though the sunshine put a haze of mellow joie de vivre around us all.

My grandmother lived on the coast around Lincoln City for many years and I have some sweet memories of time spent there. There are a few particular places I always like to go.

One is a headland at the end of Lincoln Beach, where Grams' last home was (and still is) located. As a girl, I'd hike down the beach, climb up to the rocks and sit on the one that had a survey marker on it, watching the ocean breathe and thinking long thoughts.

When I finally returned to that rock, ten years ago, after a thirty year absence, my heart whistled a happy tune as I gazed down into the churning surf and realized the ocean's breath hadn't changed at all. It felt like a circle had been completed, and now, no matter what the weather is doing or what I'm wearing, a few moments on Fishing Rock is required each time we visit the area.

Lincoln Beach itself is no longer my favorite for walking. Goddy and I have created our own special memories at Beverly Beach, and so another one came to be today. All that unmarked, unpeopled sand was to tempting, and with Goddy's warning of "Don't hurt yourself," I couldn't resist...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Welcoming New Family Part 2

Ben wasn't the only one recently getting acquainted with our house. Evan and Crystal brought Piper for her first visit to the ranch. If you read Crystal's blog, you'll see many more photos than I have.

But I get to talk about the special times that grandparents have with the kids. Those moments when the parents are in the shower. Or talking to each other about something other than the baby. These are the snippets of time that help us create the shining memories of our grandchildren's lives intertwining with ours.

It's usually something simple, such as sitting by the fire, holding the baby while she watches the flames leap and glow. Or holding her while she's still in a 'milk coma,' both of us slowly waking up to the day.

 Later on it'll be walking down to the farm, tossing rocks in to the creek, petting the soft noses of the horses and laughing at the antics of the goats. All small moments that add up to something pretty grand.

Piper is just beginning to discover her world. She is very content to let it swirl around her at this stage. Soon she'll join in wholeheartedly. But for now she watches, smiles, gurgles and sleeps.

 Oh, and lest you think she's too perfect, she does cry occasionally. Sometimes very loudly.

Welcome to our world, little girl.

Welcoming New Family

We have a new member of the family. Spoiler's not a baby. No, he's a dog named Ben. We've had him for two weeks now, the official trial bonding time for dogs. Amazing that people in 'relationships' take months or years to make a commitment and our dogs will do it in a fortnight. I think we could learn something about living decisively from the hounds.

Goddy really is happy about it. Really...
We didn't intend to get a full-size Australian Shepherd. Our intention was to one day, maybe, consider or at least talk about, a mini-aussie. One day. Well, one day came sooner than expected when my friend, Becky (love you, pal) sent me a Craigslisting for a mini. To shorten a longish story, the folks who were fostering that pup got all bonded with him and couldn't bear to part company. But they had Ben, who they'd raised from a pup but weren't so attached to. Gentle Ben, they call him.

And he really is. Eccles the cat might disagree but they're still working things out. When Murphy gives Ben what-for by leaping at his throat - not a dangerous situation since she is nearly toothless and gags on his fur - Ben ducks his head and turns his eyes away, slumping into a patient puddle of adolescent angst. I know that's an oxymoron but that's what it looks like.

Goddy, bless him, wasn't too keen at first and still isn't too sure about the cat chasing thing (he does love his cat time) but Ben is working his doggy charm and I think we're good to go.

I love having a larger companion in the woods, one who doesn't get sidetracked too much with his nose and disappear behind small bushes and twigs like Murphy does. She's gotten to the age where a few minutes of snuffling around just about does it for her daily fresh-air time.

We had our annual walk on the Grasslands today. I guess that makes it official for Ben, since he's been included in a tradition. Welcome to the family.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Keeping up with the other Godsiffs

In keeping with all the photos of my grandchildren that are floating around out there, I thought I'd better add some to the collection.

 We recently enjoyed a sweet visit from Logan and Alyssa and their happy pair.
Katie is only too happy to help Goddy hone those washboard abs.

It was Goddy's first view of Logan since he'd returned from deployment, so that's always cause for celebration. They did some bonding over the cribbage board and a bottle of beer and took Rowan down to the farm a few times.  He's getting to the age where being a helper is fun and the wheelbarrow was a big hit.

I was in charge of the nature hike. Always one of my favorite things to do with the boys when they were younger, I'm tickled that Rowan is approaching that curious age where a spot of lichen on a stick is fascinating. To my mind, there aren't many things better than a treasure hunt on a weekend morning.

Unless its climbing a tree...

Becky, Logan and I trekked up to the snow on Monday morning. Its awfully handy having a man with the strength of a mule and the agility of a whippet to get a kiddo and gear up to the top of the hill in knee-deep snow. My main job was the cheering section. I think I did rather well.

Start em young...

Show em how it's done...

Then let them go!!

Katelyn's first birthday was this month, so in the spirit of celebrating even though it wasn't the actual day, we had a little party.

Ahh, life is full.