Saturday, August 15, 2015

"I Walking"--Lessons in Living in the Moment from Jaydee & Santa Fe

Good Morning.  It is Katherine today.

We just returned from Santa Fe.  I learned so much.  Part of the learning process was the six hours of riding in the car on the return trip.  Jim did the driving.  I just rode along and thought about stuff.  This time I made shawls in my head and painted our house in my head and moved paintings from various walls to other walls in my head.  I kept trying to look at the scenery and pay attention to where I was, but my mind kept jumping hither and thither.

 This ride I found myself searching for ways to keep myself in some sort of Zen life "in the moment."  Pretty ironic.  You can't analyze living in the moment.  You just kind of do it.   I still analyzed it anyway while endless New Mexican plains rolled by.

I figured out that Jaydee is a pretty nifty teacher for living in the moment.  All I have to do is keep a one year old around all the time.  Not happening.  The kind of awareness Jaydee uses and takes is exhausting.  That's insight number one.  Living in the moment wears you out.

Jaydee forces me to live in the moment simply because of her age and language abilities and her total lack of concern about her physical being.  Jaydee has no auxiliary verbs.  She talks up a storm in two word sentences that point the way to seeing the world without future or past.  "I scary."  "I running."  "I excited."  "I funny."  "I sorry."  I could go on and on.  She has lots of these sentences and each is executed exactly at a perfect point in time and simply tells you what she feels or what she is doing right at that very moment.

I love  it when she says, "I funny!" the most.  She tells numbers of jokes.  One of Jaydee's favorites involves offering a tidbit of food or a toy to someone she loves and then withdrawing the tidbit with a simultaneous giggle of satisfaction at having pulled off a very funny joke.  Then she says, "I funny."  There is no judgment or concern.  Jaydee is simply reporting the truth.  "I funny."  She is right.  She is funny.  She is truly one of the funniest people I know.

Mostly Jaydee just lives.  She does stuff and reports it and feels stuff and reports it and she moves on.  It's a way of life I've been trying to figure out for most of my life.   That's lesson number two.  I need to report my life and not label my life.  "I funny" can work for me too.

I can capture that same in-the-moment feeling Jaydee models sometimes when I leave home.  When I am away from home, life is newer.  Doing the laundry is rarely new.  Trying to revel in the moment when I'm moving a load of towels from the washer to the dryer is something for a Zen prince--I just can't do it.  Paying attention to a hail storm hitting you sideways as it blows in from a Teton canyon is easy.   Picking out the correct setting on the dryer--not so much.

That's lesson number three.  Living in the moment is easy when the moment is new.

The trip to Santa Fe was a real in-the-moment experience because is was new.  This time Santa Fe kept me awake to reality because walking there became very Jaydee-like and I kept saying "I walking" over all the uneven surfaces.  And then there was the opera.  I don't know how anyone can go to a really fine opera and not be overwhelmed by the moment.

None of the sidewalks or floors are even and flat in Santa Fe and pretty soon "I walking" was my mantra.  Walking from place to place was a balancing act in Santa Fe.  Really.  The streets are made of concrete or bricks, but are not flat.  The wooden floor in our hotel room was uneven.  It rained one day and after the rain, the sidewalks were pocked with water puddles where tree roots or haphazard construction created dimples and dips.  On the stairs to the opera, the rain moved east to west on the stairs and puddled on one edge.  No parking lot, street or sidewalk was even.  There were a few moments walking the Plaza when my mind drifted and I inevitably tripped.  Living in the moment while walking is a real safety necessity in Santa Fe.

The opera is a very in-the-moment experience as well.   The theater itself is gorgeous and worth just looking at.  When the opera begins, there is just so much going on.  The orchestra conductor is a joy by himself.  The fellow who conducted Rigoletto had a left arm that just made me happy whenever he flourished it around.  Then there are costumes and dance and the voices and the music and the set and the actual content of the story.  You hear words and music flow by and you read the script as it flows by on a small screen in front of your seat.  It takes an ability to let your right brain relax and capture the whole aesthetic experience while your left brain makes some attempt to make sense of the experience and classify it in some appropriate spot in your mind.  There is so much that it makes your head explode with awareness.   There is so much that is new that it is impossible to miss the moment.

We spent three days in Santa Fe toddling along the uneven sidewalks and watching opera.  When we returned home, we spent a day watching Willa and Jaydee and I'm full to the brim with lessons about staying in the moment.   At the same time,  the mundane chores of my life are piled high in front of me.  I need to tackle them with joy.  I want to tackle them with joy.

We will see.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Senescence in Santa Fe


The more I travel, the more I realize the ravages of aging.  For example, this was the second four or five hundred mile drive that did me in.  That never used to happen.  K and I could drive straight through to Santa Fe, or Jackson, or Sundance and hop out of the car, get a few drinks at the nearest friendly bar, hang out a bit, and then have a big dinner with a bottle of wine that night.  The next morning?  Nothing.  No big deal.  We'd go off on a hike or something.

But when we drove to Jackson Hole last month, I had to excuse myself from our dinner with David half way through the first course and I didn't fully recover till lunch two days later.  Of course, the bottle of Veuve Cliquot on the porch when we first arrived (a tradition we are not willing to forsake) and the Margarita I had in the lodge before dinner were probably contributing factors.

And then there's these last few days.  We drove to Santa Fe, hydrated constantly, stopped for small bites now and then, and peed at every opportunity.  In other words, all things were pretty much normal.  But then we got to La Posada de Santa Fe and things changed.  We had a couple of Margaritas (they were so good we had to order seconds) at the Staab House, did a little shopping on our way to the Cantina at Coyote Cafe, had some killer apps and, yes, another drink or two.  By the time we got back to the room it was early evening, we hit the sack, exhausted, both to wake sporadically through the night to vomit that day's intake.

And the next day I was on the verge of nausea all the way till the opening chords of RIGOLETTO.

RIGOLETTO, that brings me to the real topic of this post.  The opera was wonderful, but that's not what I want to talk about.  When we got back to the room and I took off my coat, I discovered that my iPhone was missing.  I instantly knew how it happened.  Gilda finally died after a few closing scales, the cast bowed, I stood up, and the lights rose.  Since, the walk back to the car promised to be chilly and damp, I took off my jacket and draped it over the back of my chair so I could put my hoodie on underneath.  The jacket promptly fell off my chair and I, with people impatient to get past, picked it up and threw it on in a hurry.  Unfortunately, my phone was in my inside pocket.  It evidently fell out and was currently resting under seat 103 in the second row of the balcony.

My first reaction was typical, I am told, of me:  "Oh shit, I lost my phone.  Oh well, fuck it."  That reaction never fails to infuriate, or at least frustrate, my long suffering spouse.  She, hopeless idealist that she is, has faith that a person, any person, encountering a lost iPhone would certainly turn it in to lost and found.  Make an effort at least.  In the spirit of full disclosure, her optimism is buoyed by the fact that my phone is so old nobody would want it.

She called the opera, told our (my) plight to some guy in lost and found and let him know that we would be back for that evening's performance of SALOME to see if it had been found.

My second reaction is always a little like Holden Caulfield's would be in a similar situation:  "I guess I just don't care that much about losing my phone.  It's not like anyone ever calls me . . ."

But I do have to admit, I was a little shaken by the idea that some creep could find my phone and start taking credit for my Lumosity scores.

Anyway, Kathie came to the rescue and saved me from my despairing nature.  And then when we got to the opera that night, we checked at the lost and found and there it was at the top of the drawer littered with more phones, a few sets of keys and a couple of jackets.

We walked back to the little food kiosk outside the main gates and I was floating on the largesse of human nature that Katherine always takes for granted, when I discovered that I had lost my debit card!  But again, I knew right where I lost it.  We had lunch at The Inn of the Anasazi just like a couple of boulevardiers because it was the first time our stomachs felt like they could handle it.  I had a great time and evidently left my card behind along with the bill.

My reaction was different this time.  More hopeful.  But when I told Katherine about my second losing incident in as many days, it was her response that ultimately gave me pause:  "Don't worry about it," she assured me.  "I should have been watching you more carefully."

"WATCH ME MORE CAREFULLY?!  Am I really that far along into my dotage?"  I didn't really say that, but I was a thinking it.

As we walked to our seats, I took umbrage in all the old men surrounding me who could barely make it to their seats and I realized it could be worse.  I'll bet their wives carry their check cards for them just in case and don't allow phones.

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Traveling Macho Freak Show

I have a lot of male issues.  I've probably mentioned that before.  About a year ago I admitted I was prejudiced against white males in my age group, especially ones wearing ill-fitting baseball hats. Whenever I see a group of them on the street, I cross over to the other side and avoid eye contact.

That's one of the reasons I don't go to workout as early as I used to.  I'm trying to avoid the gathering of bombastic conservative males who tend to congregate at ridiculously early hours at the Y, standing belly to belly, shaking their collective heads about the latest dreadful thing Fox has told them is looming over this exceptional country of ours.

I've always been more comfortable with females.  I was raised by females (grandmother, mother, aunt, two big sisters, and one absent father), so I suppose that explains it.  There are many "male" things that I just don't get.

I don't choke up when Kevin Costner plays catch with his father at the end of FIELD OF DREAMS.

I don't like special effects debauches like MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.  I'd rather watch THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA at home.

The one time I was involved in one of those stereotypical weekly poker nights with the guys, I stopped showing up after the second night.  It was boring and smoky and the table was sticky.

In RIO BRAVO, in any John Wayne movie, when he hits the guy in the bar with his rifle because he lied, I am appalled and wonder why someone doesn't lock him up.

When Tommy Lee Jones says "I don't bargain" to his newly deafened underling in THE FUGITIVE, I don't get some kind of macho thrill.  I can't help but think the guy is a psychopath.

I can't sustain a conversation about football, basketball, investment opportunities, drywalling, fishing, or hunting longer than five minutes.  I'm always amazed at how long men my age can talk to each other about meaningless bullshit.

I don't like competition.  My goal in a tennis match, for instance, is to keep the ball in play as long as possible.  Tennis, for K and I, is an aerobic activity pure and simple.  I don't even know why we bother to keep score.

I hate seeing couples at a restaurant where the men talk to each other about whatever it is that men talk about (see two items above) and the women talk about women stuff.  I think there should only be one conversation per table and it should include everyone.  Of course, part of the reason I say that is that I can't hear well enough to carry on a dueling conversation.

I'm saying all this because it informs my feelings about the upcoming (never ending) political season.  Republicans, if they are true to form, are going to nominate whoever is the TOUGHEST.  Toughest on immigrants.  Toughest on entitlements and welfare queens.  Toughest on Iran.  Republicans are going to nominate whichever member of their traveling macho freak show comes closest to saying "I don't bargain."

And the hell of it is that the whole country seems to be moving in that direction.  According to polls, Americans are against the Iran deal by two to one!  Why is that?  Is it because it is easier to latch on to fear mongering sound bites and calls to get tough than it is to pick up on all the nuances of Kerry's accomplishment?

I guess that's my male issue in a nutshell.  It just seems apparent to me that the get-tough-we-don't-bargain stance is one that requires no brains, only balls.  Unfortunately, all the evidence suggests the electorate prefers the latter.

Friday, July 24, 2015

We Are Art Collectors. Go Figure.

Today this is Katherine.  

I'm sitting here looking at one of our barns.  This is The Old Woman Barn (Richard Harrington) and it holds down the fort in our TV room/knitting den.  I look at this barn a lot.  This barn has become home for me.  I put the photo of The Old Woman Barn up before I began so I could look at it while I typed.  It's funny--the walls of our house feel more like home than the actual structure does.  I'm not sure if this is good or bad.

Jim and I have entered our "art" period.  It seems to be following our "food" period.  Fortunately, we didn't have to stop eating or cooking as we moved into our "art" period.  The expense of the "food" period, however, did not diminish.  And the expense of the "travel" period has not diminished as we moved from there to the "food" period.  I am discovering our interests mount up.  I suspect I am not the first person to figure this out.  Our interests increase beyond the increases in our income. This sucks.  

In addition to the expenses of our interests, we just purchased a roof.  It is brown.  The old roof was just old and insurance doesn't cover "old" when it comes to a roof.  It is no fun buying a roof.  Again, our new roof is brown.  That's all I have to say about our new roof.

I have no interest in this new roof and that disturbs me.  I'm at a place where I'd happily trade the roof for a really fine painting.  I think this might be sick and twisted.  

This disturbing desire to have real live paintings has many strong roots, but for now I'm just thinking about how our "art" period connects to Jenny Lake Lodge and the Tetons.  There are other contributors (Santa Fe, Barbara Hauben, my grandmother, and Katie Hoffman come to mind at the moment), but I'd have to say that we buy barns and cowboys (so far) in Jackson because of a series of happy hazards that began at Jenny Lake Lodge.  We are having an "art" period because we return to this boutiquey-cabiny-foodie lodge in the Tetons year after year.  It's there we decided we like being surrounded by art because we ate in a dining room dripping in paintings and there that we met David Hezlep who led us to the Jackson Wildlife Museum and The RARE Gallery in Jackson.  

The dining room at Jenny Lake Lodge is filled with art.  It is all "plein-air" art.  It's the sort of thing where artists set up their easels at spots conveniently located in front of the Tetons and then they paint the mountains they see and try to capture the amazing way these mountains catch the amazing light.  Jim Wilcox is the Jackson big name in this style and we can't afford anything he does.  That's just fine with us.  Jim and I learned early on while having incredible dinners at Jenny, surrounded by "plein-air" Teton landscapes (many done by Wilcox himself), that, well, we didn't ever want to own any of it.  We just aren't "plein-air" kinds of folks.   

We remember a disillusioning moment over the "plein-air" style when some folks we know from DC discovered Wilcox often added or subtracted from a "real" setting to create better balance in a painting.  They own a Wilcox and one of their happy things was traipsing all over the park looking for the exact spot their painting had been created.  A trip to the Wilcox Gallery and meeting Wilcox's son taught the couple the horrible truth and they realized their painting might not exist anywhere for sure.  I'm not sure they have recovered yet.  

We are English teachers.  We suspend our disbeliefs easily.   We don't tie art appreciation to any belief in reality as we know it.  Our barns are, we've learned, inspired by real live barns.  We know we would never ever recognize one of the "real" barns in the flesh.  None of them are in Wyoming.  We're okay with that.  

Part of having an "art" period is knowing what you like and what you don't like.  The Jenny dining room taught us that we like being surrounded by art and that we don't like the "plein-air" Teton paintings.  That's a lot I think.

We've spent many hours in the Jenny dining room with our friend David discussing those Teton landscapes draped on the walls everywhere.  The dining room wouldn't be right without these landscapes.  It's amazing how you can learn to love and appreciate things you don't want to own.  Wanting to own something doesn't have near the aesthetic distance, but it is amazingly satisfying.  

Anyway,  David introduced us to the Jackson Wildlife Museum and The RARE Gallery.   Ritualistically, we visit these places when it rains or we want to rest from all the hiking and kayaking we do.  We love seeing new shows each year at the JWM.  This year a line of huge masks honoring the Chinese Zodiac critters lined the walkway from the parking area to the museum itself.  Artist Ai Weiwei created the masks.  They are wondrous.  

David also taught us how to bring art to the Jenny lobby.  He always bought the coffee table books at the JWM about the shows he saw while visiting Jenny and he gifted them to the lodge.  Those books became the beginning piece of our nightly pre-dining ritual--we have a drink by the fire in the lobby and thumb through one of the "art" books in the bookcase.  We have learned about art and artists this way (Weiwei this year) and once we discovered a photograph of my grandmother in an art class taught by William Merritt Chase in a book devoted to his work.  

We now follow David's lead and gift books to the lodge as well.  It makes us happy when we see others thumbing through them in a communal sort of way while they enjoy the wait for dinner.  Sometimes a classical guitarist plays in the background.  Jenny just drips in art in all sorts of ways.

David also introduced us to The RARE Gallery in Jackson.  It is different than the other Jackson Galleries.  It is more contemporary and more Eastern and more Western and more like a wonderland of things we would love to own.  The walls are not cluttered.  You can see individual works of art.  This is good.

We have visited for many years and were always welcomed by the owner.  She chooses the works based on connections with the artists.  Her knowledge of their crafts and inspirations and aspirations make gallery viewing a new experience.  We just loved going to the gallery.  She never tried to sell us anything.  She taught us about the artists the gallery loves.  It was during this time that we fell in love with the Harrington barns.  We didn't mean to do it.  Really. 

Our story with RARE continued when Chris gave Jim the first Harrington barn.  Jim has told this story in another post.  This seemed to free us and we bought a small Harrington barn last summer and a triptych by a new artist we have come to love (Michael Swearngin) at the RARE.  Then, in another wild and wacky move, we celebrated Christmas and our anniversary by buying The Old Woman Barn. Three of anything is a collection.  We officially have a collection of Richard Harrington barns.   I worry that this pleases me as much as it does.  Is this also sick and twisted?  We are art collectors.  Go figure.

We had any number of rainy days to rest in the Tetons during our just-finished stay at Jenny.  We visited The RARE Gallery as well as the JWM twice this year.  We bought a new Swearngin painting.  Ropers Under Full Moon.  Pretty big.  Swearngin is our cowboy guy and not as pricy as our barn guy.  He's newer.  He begins with a black canvas.  This intrigues us.  We like his "palette."  It feels weird saying things like that.

Swearngin seems to be to cowboys what Harrington is to barns in our life.  We seem to have developed an impressionistic western barn and cowboy approach to art around here.  I'm guessing neither one of us thought it would ever go this way.  

I like entering our house.  I walk in and see the wall with "Chris's Barn" (what we call it),  the Swearngin triptych  (I wish I could remember the title), Ropers Under Full Moon, and my Grandmother Wardin's  pastel portrait of my Uncle Harry.  There is another barn not pictured here--a watercolor done by Jim's uncle and probably the only work that has survived his death in WWII  (a story reserved for the book Jim is writing now).   

I walk in and the art on the wall hits me as soon as I open the door.   I look up at all this art and I feel home.  The cowboys and the barns do a square-dance on the wall that just says welcome to me.  I feel this same feeling of home with The Old Woman Barn upstairs.  

I see home in the art around me and I know a huge part of this is from our home away from here at Jenny.  I am liking our "art" period. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Sammi and Other Happy Stuff

Good Morning.  Today it is Katherine.          

It's 5:30 and my grand girl Sammi and I are hanging out watching a Disney sitcom about kids in a band.  We seem to be learning how to tell someone they sing like crap in case that comes up in everyday life.  I can tell you that lots of folks had no problems telling me I sang like crap when I was a kid.  The worst was when my 9th grade choir teacher told me to only move my mouth and not make noise during our Christmas concert.  I can also tell you that Sammi, who faces so much in her life, will never have to face being told she sings like crap.  Sammi has a beautiful voice.  It matches her beautiful spirit.

It is impossible to be around Sammi and sister Brooklyn without appreciating good stuff in your life.  They are joyous creatures.  Right now Sammi is singing along with the theme song of the next show up in the Disney line-up and sprinkling the den with musical magic.

Sammi is facing a hemispherectomy of the left side of her brain on July 20th in an effort to stop small seizures that constantly interrupt her thinking.  Medical marijuana has stopped the big, life-threatening seizures.  Yesterday she happily shared that she will be having brain surgery soon just before telling us that earlier a mean girl in her acting class bullied her and she cried.  Brooklyn and Sammi involved the teacher and all ended well at acting class, but some creepy girl made Sammi cry by telling her she didn't belong in the class.

Last night we watched Hairspray and played Uno and made drawings and colored and joy was everywhere and brain surgery and bullies vanished.  Brooklyn and Sammi laughed at all the right places in the movie (terribly important in the Starkey household) and Sammi won the first game of Uno and Brooklyn drew another self-portrait in her continuing series of Brooklyn crayon selfies.  Kids are a really good way to remind yourself that goodness and happiness are always right in front of you.

Even though I know making a list is a lazy girl's approach to writing,  this morning moment with Sammi (now munching on cold pizza and giggling over the new Disney show) makes me want to write a Happy List.  Sammi is happy.  She makes me happy and I'm wanting to remind myself of all the current happy things to ward off my worries.

Today's Happy List:
1.  Sammi and her spunk make me happy.
2.  Brooklyn's ability to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders and be a creative and driving force in her own right makes me happy.  She loves to sparkle and she does.  My only regret about heading to the Tetons these days is that I will miss a chance to hear her sing a song with her Mom's band (Soul X) on the 4th of July.  Brooklyn has an amazing voice for an eight year old kid.  Really.  Chris was like that as a kid.  You knew you had a singer.  Brooklyn is the next in the family.
3.  English muffins with real butter melting into the holes make me happy.
4.  Finally figuring out how to make authentic carnitas at home makes me happy.
5.  I adore my new gym bag.
6.  Finding Bronco stories in the newspaper makes me happy.  Football is coming.  I like football.
7.  I did more than say "Who's he?" after the Nuggets drafted Emmanual Mudiay.  That was pretty good.
8.  Willa playing school makes me happy.  She starts school in August and we are working on "sit and stay" and raising her hand and thinking of answers before her raising hand.  Willa loves it.  It works best if I ask questions that involve princesses.
9.  The shawls I created last year make me happy.
10.  Thanking about the trip to the Tetons makes me happy.
11.  The sausages at Butcher's Bistro make me happy.
12.  The Supreme Court's decision about Obamacare makes me happy.  Reason has prevailed.
13.  I like it when Christine and Soul X perform Blurred Lines.  I know all about the Marvin Gaye rip-off here.  I just love the song.  I love Christine's voice and the band.  This reminds me that I want to ask Christine to make me a CD of Soul X songs so I can listen to them while I work out at the gym.  That would make me extra happy.
14.  Watching Nate's verbal jousts with his friends on FaceBook make me happy.  He's a funny guy.
15.  Jaydee's crinkly eyes when she smiles and her unadulterated love for her Gramps and I make me happy.  We were at the zoo Wednesday and when I returned from the rest room, Jaydee spotted me and literally sprinted to me with her arms wide open and so full of love that I could have wept with joy.  A nearby lady was wowed out by Jaydee's show of affection as well, making the moment even more exaggerated in its bubble of love.  Such unsought after love is a gift of the gods.  All the grandkids offer this happiness to me.  All I do is hang out with them and they all offer showers of love.  It is a constant wonder to me that they like and love me.
16.  Jim peels an orange and shares sections with me every night.  I love this.  All the grand girls love this too.
17.  Knitting ladies make me happy.  I am the outlier in the group of knitting ladies I run with because they all go to Costco and have refrigerators with water spouts in the doors and freezers full of stuff from Trader Joe's.
18.  Chris just picked up the girls to take them to today's acting class.  He was wearing a grown up suit and a baseball cap that I didn't recognize.  I love how he is both an impressive business man, remarkable daddy and the same little boy he always was.
19.   My daughter makes me happy.  She is a busy lady and I haven't talked with just her in forever.  I miss her.  I miss Nate.  I miss Chris.  This is happy.  I am having happy memories of when the three of them were living in the house and they were such funny and busy and, hopefully, happy kids.  We were never a Leave It to Beaver family, but we did lots of pretending.  Our family extended in unusual waves because the boys had both our family and Mary's family (their mother has an extensive family with its own rich memories).  Sometimes I look at any one of them and the entire history of all of us explodes in something they say or do or how they look.  It's an old age thing I'm betting.  It is amazing how happy it makes me to see any of me in the kids.  I find it a bit miraculous in the boys because there's no genetic boost for a step mother.  All three kids have been my teachers as well.  I know more and do more and believe more because of them.  Makes a girl happy in her Medicare years.
20.  Jim just told me the Supreme Court overturned the bans certain states have placed on gay marriage.  More happiness floating.
21.  It's time to celebrate all this happy stuff with the happiest part of my life--my sweetie.  He makes me happy even if he's still trying to teach me how to fill an ice tray with water (I sometimes resist instruction).  The best thing in my life is that I get to go to bed with him each night and wake up in the same place each morning.

I have lots of late that's made me worry and then circumstances sent Sammi and Brooklyn here last night.  Thanks to the gods for all such gifts.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Favorite Thing #5

Teton Road Trip

Driving up to Jenny Lake Lodge is favorite thing number five in my continuing series started five years ago when I wrote about mornings in front of the fireplace at Jenny.  In sixteen days we will make our nineteenth drive to Jackson Hole and I'm looking forward to it just like I did the first time.

We always leave on the Fourth of July.  I don't know if that was an intentional choice, but we soon discovered that whenever we weren't on an I-25 or I-80, we had the roads to ourselves.  It is a different story when we drive back on the eighteenth.

We have already started piling stuff up--bug coils, bug spray, rain gear, back packs--in the living room.  Soon we will be adding piles of shorts and hiking boots and water shoes for kayaking to the growing stacks.  We will eventually put everything in bags and stuff it all in the back of the car the day before we leave.

Whenever we travel somewhere, we wake up ridiculously early, raring to go.  That is especially true the morning of the trip to Jenny.  By five everything is somehow crammed into the car and the kayak is strapped in place on top.  A quick check of the house.  Windows closed.  Coffee pot turned off after filling our Disney World travel cups.  Computer shut down.

We are on the road--C-470--traveling by Red Rocks and on our way to Fort Collins on I-25 by six and at our first stop three quarters of an hour later.  We try as much as possible to avoid eating in fast food joints, particularly McDonalds, so we always stop for breakfast at Johnson's Corner outside Loveland.  I think we started stopping there the year after we entered a McDonalds parking lot in Laramie the same time two busloads worth of a high school marching band spilled their cargo.  The next year we started breakfasting on over easy eggs and German sausage so good my mouth is watering as I write this and all served by bustling middle-aged ladies who call you "Honey."

After breakfast, I check the straps holding down the kayak and we head for Fort Collins where we mercifully get off the interstate and take 287 cross country to Laramie.  Kathie's dad always insisted that it was better to stay on the interstate all the way to Cheyenne and then take I-80 to Laramie.  He was as wrong as he could be.  287 triangulates its way to Laramie and at speeds fast enough to keep you from getting bored.  It's beautiful country with rolling hills and cool snow fences lining the way.  I like driving through little places called things like Virginia Dale with one steepled building nestled next to the road and nothing else to indicate a village worthy of its own highway sign.

Once into Wyoming--I mean the instant you cross the state line--the first thing you see after the big welcome sign is a good sized fireworks stand already with cars, mostly from Colorado, filling its parking lot.  Other than that, Wyoming is pretty much like Colorado.  I have noticed that Wyoming tends to have better roads and rest stops than we do, but maybe I've just traveled in the best part of the state.

I've always managed to resist the temptation to check out Wyoming U's campus.  Instead, we take the I-80 exit and head west toward Rawlings.  Even though I hate the truck traffic on I-80, I like this leg of the journey for two reasons.  The first is the wind farm which fills the horizon with its giant white whirring blades.  I suppose I'm supposed to be aghast at the blight those scores of windmills have placed on nature and the noise pollution they create to anyone unfortunate enough to be living close by (of course, no one is living nearby which is probably one of the contributing factors to placing the wind farm in that desolate and wind blown section of the state).  But when I first see them spinning away in the distance, I feel a kind of a thrill at the juxtaposition of man and nature.  It's the same way I feel when I drive through Glenwood Canyon.  Sure, the canyon in its pristine state was a testament to the power of nature, but that same canyon with the swath of concrete carving its way along the Colorado River is just a marvel that can't help but thrill you.

Anyway, I like the windmills.  The second reason is Sinclair.  By any objective standard, Sinclair is a smelly eyesore.  It is a town developed around an oil field and you can smell the place before your first glimpse of sooty smokestacks belching dark clouds that settle over the dreary little community.  I find the whole place--the fact that anyone would choose to live there no matter the remuneration from the Sinclair Corporation--fascinating.  It reaffirms my cynical world view.

We get off the interstate at Rawlings and fill up the tank at a Shell station there we've been going to for years.  The most remarkable thing about this particular stop is that we have made it all the way from Johnson's Corner to Rawlings without either one of us needing a bathroom.  Of course, in Rawlings the need is urgent.  We take our time, buy a  big bottle of cold water, and reconnect with 287 for the rest of the trip.  I like the idea that 287 goes all the way from somewhere south of Denver through Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks.

We drive up and out of Rawlings, past a multiplex movie house (Rawlings' biggest) and a relatively recent softball/baseball complex and head toward Muddy Gap.  There's nothing at Muddy Gap--not even a muddy gap--except a gas station and a road sign letting you know that going straight will lead you to Casper, while a left turn will take you to Lander.

If I had to live in Wyoming and couldn't afford Jackson Hole, I would live in Lander. It's a mid-sized high plains town with a killer hamburger joint on the southern end of mainstreet and a Fourth of July Parade that draws folks from as far away as Riverton and Washakie to line the street and watch floats on flatbed trucks, a marching band--30 strong--from the local high school, shiny new tractors from the John Deere dealership, and horses, lots of horses, pooping in unison every third block.  By the time we roll into town, it is close to noon and the parade is wrapping up.  We take the detour through a small neighborhood and reconnect with 287 on the northern end of town right where that John Deere dealership I was talking about takes up the entire block.

The road from Lander to Dubois is called The Chief Washakie Trail and runs through the Wind River Reservation.  It is a beautiful drive of mostly three lane highway swooping up and down rolling green hills with only a few smallish casinos littering the way.  There probably isn't enough traffic through this area to support the kind of casinos that trash the countryside through Arizona and the traffic there is--people carrying kayaks and pulling campers to Yellowstone--is unlikely to stop off at a casino anyway.  But there is the little town of Washakie sitting by a river bed with FORT WASHAKIE  spelled out in giant boulders on the side of the mountains above the town.  Even better than Fort Washakie is Sacajawea's grave and you begin to fully realize that you are tracing the steps of at least part of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  It makes me happy I read Ambrose's UNDAUNTED COURAGE.

We hit Dubois an hour later just as their parade is finishing.  We stop and fill up the car again in an attempt to avoid the prices in the park and to give us another pit stop before the final leg.  Kathie usually likes to drive at this point and I happily sit in the passenger seat.  This section of the road is called Togwatee Pass and as it curls down the mountain into Jackson Hole it offers tantalizing little glimpses of the Tetons until the whole range opens up around a right hand curve.  Even after nineteen years, the view still takes our breath away.

From here it is an easy jog down to Moran Junction where I flash my lifetime senior parks pass (one of my favorite possessions) and drive immediately to Jackson Lake Lodge for drinks and bar snacks.  It is usually only about half past one by this time.  Still too early to get to Jenny.  Besides, the bar at Jackson Lake is a great place to sit by massive windows and look at Mount Moran.  Sometimes there will even be a moose or two in the willow flats below the lodge.

But enough about that.  It's time to head to Jenny.  The mountains are everywhere and getting closer by the minute on this final stretch.  When I hit the sign that points to String Lake and Jenny Lake Lodge, I'm home.  I like making this turn.  It makes me feel like I belong.  And I especially like making the final turn into the lodge.  I want the people riding in other cars to know that we aren't just there for some touristy reason.  No.  We Are Staying At Jenny Lake Lodge.  It is the one time of the year that I can pretend I'm wealthy.

When we walk into the lodge, it is like a family reunion.  The people at the desk either already know us, or have been told of our arrival.  If the chef is around, he'll come out and say hi.  Same with any waiters who happen to be in the main building.  It is all so familiar and so wonderful.

We order a bottle of Veuve Cliquot and enough champagne glasses to cover any other guests--old friends-- who might be stopping by.  Kathie deals with the paperwork stuff and I drive the car over to Bluebell.  She joins me there shortly and by the time we get the kayak down and the car unpacked, our champagne has arrived and our two utterly joyful weeks have begun.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Stamps Aren't Worth Shit Anymore

Again, don't be confused.  Today it is Katherine.

Friday I took my father's stamp collection to be appraised by one of the three certified stamp evaluators in Colorado.  I learned that stamp collecting is a dead art.  It is hard to get stamps to light up or beep and there doesn't seem to be a cool phone app that has anything to do with stamps.  People just don't care about stamps anymore.  My dad thought stamps would be eternal.  He thought they would grow in value.  My dad thought he was sitting on a bundle of money in his stamp collection.  My dad thought a lot of stuff.

When Dad died in 2007, his stamps were passed onto me.  He and I had mildly looked at stamps together when I was 12.  They've been in a closet ever since Mom gave them to me.  I got them out and looked at them a few months ago.  They were old.  There were a lot of them.   I decided I'd get an appraisal.  Couldn't hurt.

Dad was the first 12 year old Eagle Scout in America back in the late 1930's and the collection was part of his manic drive to get merit badges so he could earn his Eagle ranking before anyone else in the country.  It is a story all members of my family know well because Dad told it over and over and over again.

Dad's troop leader, Karl Meininger (the clinic one), was a lifelong inspiration to Dad.  When Dad was in hospice care, he talked to Mr. Meininger and other scouts as though they were there and I felt he was busy earning some sort of spiritual merit badge as I watched him speak and gesture to the invisible troop that seemed near him through the last weeks.  I like to think they were wonderful guides and Dad's now busy filling up some sort of celestial sash with badges.  He'd like that.

Dad, however, left a lot out of his Eagle Scout story.  He always talked about how poor his family was and how he had to kill rats at a drugstore to help make ends meet and how the Boy Scouts taught him to be a man (his father died when he was four).  He talked about camp outs and eating nothing but peaches and peas for a week when the troop was working on swimming badges by some river.  Dad never told the part of the story where he was a cruddy student and didn't do things meticulously because he was trying to get so many badges so quickly.  Basically, he could have done a lot better job on the Stamp Collecting Badge and he probably knew it.

I told Jim I thought there was no interest in the family for the stamps and I was going to get them appraised.  Maybe a stamp or two would be worth what my dad thought they were worth and he thought they were worth a bundle.  He said there were about a dozen really valuable stamps.  I had doubts.  I had seen other examples of Dad's childhood efforts.  Not really thorough or well developed.

Jim thought the appraisal was a great idea and he began having visions of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade discovering that  $250,000 of stolen money was actually invested in a rare stamp attached to a letter Audrey carted around through the film.  Unlike Jim, I had no visions of rare and wonderful stamps that would catapult us into any significant money at all.  I knew my dad.

Dad had his own code when it came to valuing possessions.  If he had spent time on something or paid his hard earned money for something, then that thing was very valuable.  If something belonged to someone else and that someone else had spent time and money on that something, Dad thought it was worthless.  My favorite example is the 17 year old awful Oldsmobile that Dad could no longer drive.  It remained immobile and in the garage until his death because no one would give him the $4000 for the car he wanted (It blue booked for $700 at the time).  If someone had offered him that same Oldsmobile for $4000, he would have called the seller a thief.  Dad thought his stuff was great--everybody else's stuff sucked.

Dad also felt his opinions outweighed most facts.  My favorite story is abut Vail.  My family drove up to Basalt often in the summer so Dad could fish on the Frying Pan and Roaring Fork rivers.  Almost everything we did in my family was because Dad wanted to do it.  We lived in a very Fisher King kind of place where keeping Dad happy was kind of the constant goal and fishing was his constant goal when I was a kid.  Every time we went on one of Dad's fishing expeditions, we drove by Vail twice.  Each time Dad would go off on what an idiotic idea it was to put a ski village there.  It wouldn't snow.  No one would drive that far.  No one would want a wanna-be European style village.  We all knew Vail would fail before they chopped a tree down for a ski run or laid a cobblestone for the streets.  Dad said so.

Because Dad was in construction, a friend offered Dad a chance to buy a condo right at the Crossroads where Pepe's is now.  My memory is that it would have cost Dad around $5,000 and he had the money, but he thought it was the stupidest investment ever.  He never let the facts get in the way of his opinions and so he turned down the offer.  He ended up liking the golf course in Vail, but that was it.  He thought Vail was a failed place even as he teed off in a golf tournament I once played with him.  He was pretty stubborn.

Last Friday we went for the stamp appraisal.  I didn't expect much and Jim was still holding out some glimmer of hope that Dad had at least one hidden treasure in the collection.

The stamp appraiser was a wonderful fellow, age 70, who lives in the Polo Club down by Cherry Creek.  The building had an inner courtyard that made me dizzy walking to his condo, but his condo was full of art and antique furniture with stamp collection books stacked everywhere.  A very cool living space.  I felt badly for the guy though.  My email about the age of the collection and my dad's connection to Karl Meininger probably had him thinking there could be a real find somewhere in Dad's collection.

This guy knew his stamps.  He went through the albums and identified three stamps that were worth about $500 put together, but that would be it.  Several problems though.  They were bad copies and not in very good shape and that's a problem.   Also--try to find anyone who really wants to buy an old stamp.  He explained that stamp collecting is dying.

He explained that none of the collectors can find young folks to take on their collections and keep things going.   Also the postal departments around the world have killed collecting.  Postal departments discovered they could make pretty stamps and people would buy them and then not use the stamps so they made more and more and more stamps.   This makes them less valuable.   The US Postal Department even went as far as to make "forever" stamps so even the year is meaningless.  Stuff like that can drive a stamp collector crazy.  Stamps aren't worth shit anymore.  They are worth what you pay for them and that is all they will ever be worth.

The man was kind and directed me to the Colorado Stamp Library to donate the stamps.  We drove to the two small buildings housing Colorado's Philately Library filled with a whole ton of little old men who identify and file stamps and maps.  They were happy to take the stamps.

Discovering the map room at the library was our happy ending.  Jim has started his fourth book.  He needs some road maps from the 1950's for some research and he knows a place to go study real live maps now.  That was good.

I learned that stamp collecting, like lots of entertainments and hobbies of the past, is going to die and those who are keeping it alive are few and far between and they are desperate to find some young caretakers for the stamps they love so much.  I don't see much hope here myself.  They don't either.

Mostly I learned that my daddy is forever my daddy and his treasure of stamps was like all of his treasures--important to both him and me because the treasure belonged to him.  Without my daddy, there is no treasure at all and I kissed the stamps good-bye.