the Christmas cactus

Darlene bought this cactus sometime in the late 1990s – It could be 20 years old now. We lived in Palisade, CO then and it began life with us in a sunny southern window on East Orchard Mesa above the Colorado River. It flourished there and made big blooms near Christmas time each year. We moved it with us to Pagosa Springs in 2000 and it lived in 6 different homes those eight years and we took it along when we moved to South Carolina where it lived in 3 different homes, and now it sits in a west facing window in our sunroom along with my office desks and the hot tub in sunny New Mexico.

I’m calling this cactus a survivor for putting up with our moving it around all these years. It hasn’t flourished in every house we’ve lived in – it has bloomed every year, if I remember correctly, but in some of the houses only a little. At some of the houses the leaves or branches (the green part – not sure what you call it on a cactus) lose their luster and fullness. It is like it is just hanging on – getting by, but not at all happy about things. It loved the house on Fish Cove and the one on the lake in Pagosa, but not so much the others. It bloomed profusely in the little rental house in Central, SC, but the 4 years in Easley it did little more than survive. It is really liking its spot and its window here in New Mexico. In the 4 months, the branches have thickened and gotten longer and it’s turned a dark, healthy looking green. You can see it is making lots of big, pretty, pink blooms. I hope it lives another 20 years, and that it can always be in a place that it loves.

I suppose we are like the Christmas cactus in some ways. There are times and circumstances where we flourish – then there are other times we just kind of hang on. The cactus doesn’t have much choice in the matter – it must sit on the stand in the place I put it. It can’t improve its fortune by taking its own measure and by making the changes it needs to grow and prosper. We on the other hand are blessed – aren’t we? – our destiny is our own. If I’m not flourishing today, tomorrow can be lived with a change – and change can be added upon change – until I’m in just the right window on just the right stand – in just the right circumstances to make healthy, dark, green branches and beautiful, big, pink blooms.

family

I received this picture in an email today. They tell me a framed version is on its way in the mail. The picture was taken the last Sunday of August this year after the final worship service we would attend at the Clemson Church of Christ before moving to New Mexico. As the worship service ended they put Darlene and I in the middle at the front of the auditorium and everyone in this small congregation gathered around us and Jay stood in the back of the building with a camera and took this picture. There was a pot luck lunch downstairs in the building after the picture was taken – much was said publicly and personally in thanks for our being a part for the eight years and about missing us.

We attended services at the Clemson Church of Christ the entire eight years we lived in South Carolina. Each Sunday morning and Wednesday evening we spent time with this group. We were more than attenders – we were part of much of what went on at this congregation. In fact, if you were to go through every person in this picture you would find that most all of them were more than just attenders. The people of this congregation were so good at being a part of and participating in the good works the church took on.

I love this picture and suppose it was taken so we would have something of them to remember. I wouldn’t be able to forget with or without the picture. This group of people became family over the eight years. A bond with them exists in my heart just like the bond that exists with my physical children and grandchildren and with my brother who remains in South Carolina. We experienced much together those Sundays and Wednesday evenings – we experienced much together in the work that went on beyond the scheduled services. A common bond of faith exists in a church group that holds people together. The shared belief in a God that loves and the encouragement to share that love with each other is a force that creates and preserves relationships that are alive and that make a difference for good in the lives we live.

This picture is of family. The relationship lives on though we’ve moved far away. There remains a feeling of loyalty and of belonging and of missing them that in a certain sense saddens, but in a larger and more important sense blesses me each day of life. Thank you CCOC – we love you.

Thanksgiving

I love the holiday season. Beginning mid-November and through to New Years there is a festive spirit that takes me over, and makes it difficult to focus on work or other things that probably should be focused on.

Thanksgiving was a week ago. There is not any other holiday as good as Thanksgiving. The memories go way back – it has always been a day for family gathering together to enjoy each other as we enjoy a feast. Thanksgiving is a day steeped in our family’s tradition for me. Every year we have a turkey roasted the same way as all other years, basted with butter and garlic and stuffed with cornbread dressing made with Bell’s Seasoning and onions and garlic and celery and rosemary and a little apple and a lot of butter. There were creamed green beans with a little bacon and a few dried cranberries thrown in as they boiled. There was mashed squash – Mom always liked Hubbard squash, but they are hard to find in the West – a family at church gave me a garden grown Butternut for this Thanksgiving – it was sweet and rich and wonderful. There were creamed and buttered, boiled onions and mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. There were candied yams with emphasis on the candied. There were hot, home baked rolls. There was pies for dessert – pumpkin, and pecan with fresh whipped cream. The china Darlene’s brother gave her nearly 50 years ago comes out of the display cabinet Darlene’s father made for it and gets used. It’s a true and glorious feast worthy of a day named Thanksgiving with roots back to America’s beginnings.

Jessica and Joe and Noah joined us this year, driving down from Pagosa Springs. It was good to be together – was the first time eating Thanksgiving with them since 2008. We thought about and talked about the rest of the family who for various reasons couldn’t join us – there was some phone calls and a Skype with Aaron, Christine and Aria in Vermont before the weekend was over. It’s a family time that cheers and warms the heart.

Being blessed as we are and being thankful brings with it responsibility. There is purpose in being blessed that reaches out beyond self. The holidays are the best of times to consider others – others not limited by borders or their ethnicity or race or even religion. God rains down his blessings on the just and unjust alike and His means of blessing others includes our caring and being benevolent. I suppose there is a valid concept of measuring worthy in terms of making decisions about sharing with the needy. But a kind and gracious heart is a great virtue, and judging worthiness can be an endeavor that comes back around to haunt. Jesus said it this way, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Thanksgiving – it’s a wonderful holiday – it’s a wonderful attitude for all days – it’s a way of looking at things that helps make the world a nice place to live.

I understand I spend too much time looking at the sky, but tonight’s sunset must be shared J.

birthdays

Today is birthday number 69. A friend posted on Facebook, “…the Big One is coming next year. Better get all the cake and ice cream while you can.” It’s good to think of aging in a light-hearted way. Lots of things change as one gets older – some for the good – a few present unwelcome challenges.

My grandchildren sent a box of Enstrom’s Toffee, a coffee mug and a little sign that reads, “Grandma and Grandpa’s Place – Memories Made Here”. It made me cry – maybe that’s the best part of a birthday – having friends and family remember you. For those of you who read this and don’t know Enstrom’s Toffee – it’s absolutely the best candy in the world – hands down – nothing else is even close – can eat a pound at one sitting – hide it from Darlene – it could be an addiction with the mail person delivering it from Grand Junction, CO regularly if it weren’t so expensive.

Sixty-nine years of growing to adulthood, of school, of careers, marriage, children, grand-children, church, friends, vacations, moving from place to place, the joys, the heartaches, the adventures, the ho-hum – the sum-total of it all has in the measure of time flown by. Looking back over all those years amazes with how short the time really is. Much of the time was well spent – some of it, not-so-much. The regrets scattered over the past are easy to list, but not helpful to dwell on – they serve to help some with wisdom and experience – in all other respects it is best to look forward from them.

The picture is of me taken on my birthday at my desk at home where I work on a semi-retired basis for Drake Curry – a nice man who has put up with me for the last eight years. He continues to put up with me even though I asked to move 1,600 miles away and work from a home office. I’m blessed by him putting up with me. Work life is good on my 69th birthday.

On a birthday at my age there are a lot more yesterdays than there will be tomorrows. Memories are forever precious, and are a part of us we wouldn’t give up – reflections on the past are much of what defines the present. But, for me, there is no desire to be young again and live any of those years over. Each year so far has been better in important ways than the last one. There is peace and contentment and a certainty of hope that grows each year. The value measured in those types of things has been far greater than the loss of physical abilities that take their toll each year. There is purpose to each person’s life that sharpens in focus with each passing year. There are actions to live out in each day that matter, and there is good that accumulates over a lifetime which makes the world a better place. Maybe the measure taken of that good shows that it is small – but lots of people doing a small amount of good makes a difference. So, for those tomorrows that are left there will be a looking forward – looking to accomplish a little good with a romantic’s faith that good matters, and that it will win out over all else in the end.

…and there was morning

you’re right – I’ve been spending too much time looking at the sky since moving to New Mexico. Normally it’s the evening sky that draws attention. The back patio looks out on a far-off horizon to the west – ideal for sunsets. Looking east from the townhouse other homes are in the way and a clear look at the sunrise horizon is a little bit of a walk. But Sunday morning just at sunrise the clouds in the western sky turned orange as the sun was ready to rise in the east. This is what I saw:

It’s amazing, isn’t it. The view is to the southwest – away from the rising sun to the southeast. I quickly walked out to the front of the house and took a picture of the sky towards the sunrise above the townhomes across the street, and then walked a ways to an open space and took one of the sunrise horizon.

The sun rose just a few minutes later and all of the color faded in the brighter light. Dawn is a special time – I’m always up in the dark before dawn checking friends facebook posts and reading and sometimes writing. A lot happens in the mornings that is too good to miss – focus comes easily – the mind is fresh and anxious to consider a new or peculiar thought. Dawn is a word used often as a metaphor to describe an awakening of a new era or an exciting event. It’s appropriate to use it in that way and this Sunday morning dawn is the perfect example of why.

Ruidoso – day trip

It dawned a beautiful mid-November Saturday in the New Mexico high desert. Darlene’s shingles continue to wear her down quite a bit, but she was up for a day trip somewhere. We’ve seen much of New Mexico starting with a few trips in the 1990s from Grand Junction and then during the Pagosa Springs years we were constant visitors – mostly to the northern part of the state – Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos – but there were also excursions to Silver City and Las Cruces and other places. One place we’d never been was Ruidoso. It is about 150 miles from home in Belen. So we headed south on the interstate this Saturday, stopping for a breakfast burrito at Sophia’s in Socorro, and then headed southeast on a two-lane the 90 or so remaining miles up into the mountains of this southern range to Ruidoso.

Many think of New Mexico as being only flat and desert-like. There is a lot of that in the state, but mountains are also a significant part of the topography. The drive east from the interstate just south of Socorro starts by crossing the Rio Grande river and then crossing the desert with its mixture of dried out grasses and sage brush and yuccas and small cactus. It then rises through foothills of cedars and junipers. The road heads east across to Roswell eventually, but we take a turn on to Highway 37 in the foothills and immediately start a winding road climb up into the mountains and the landscape soon changes to pine trees, steep canyons, and mountain peaks. Ruidoso sits at an elevation of about 7,000 ft. Its main industry is tourism. There is a ski resort just a few miles from town on 12,000-foot Sierra Blanca Peak. A horse racing venue, Ruidoso Downs is well known and draws visitors and includes a race which is part of the quarter horse triple crown. The Spring, Summer and Fall seasons bring tourists from Texas and Oklahoma looking for an escape from the heat to the mountains.

The Mescalero Apache Indians roamed the area in the 1800s and Sierra Blanca Peak had spiritual significance to them. Settlers first arrived in the mid-1800s, but the town remained small and unknown until the automobile developed and roads were constructed to the area in the 1930s. The 2010 census places the permanent population at just over 8,000, although the town supports commerce for about 20,000 when the population of nearby towns are included.

We shopped a little – scored a great buy on 4 pots for the patio at a neat store called Casa Décor. Lunch was a pretty good burger at Anaheim Jacks, a local bar and grill. We headed home mid-afternoon and arrived about dusk.

The landscape of the West is wonderfully diverse. The meager rainfall on the high desert challenges all the wildlife that call it home and yet it supports more kinds of life than we can imagine. The foothills are home to mule deer, antelope, coyote, rabbits, chukars and even pass through elk. Those of us who have hunted the Western foothills know how a mule deer can sneak around you in the cedars, pinyons and junipers without you even suspecting its presence. The alpine peaks of the Rocky Mountains just seem to spring up out of the high desert and foothills as an oasis from the parched landscape. The contrasting beauty of the pines, cascading creeks and rocky cliffs always gives a sense of awe. The western skies with their far-off horizons and three dimensional clouds and the depths of the blues extending into the heavens leave me with a certain faith that in the vastness, all of creation is held in its proper place – that all the pieces fit together – that all the elements have a purpose in relation to each other – and that even you and I exist for a reason.

I love road trips – sometimes they lead to the familiar, returning out of desire to experience something that pleases – other times like this last Saturday we traveled a new road – a ribbon with each new mile revealing something not seen before – with a destination to begin an experience with – a destination that from time to time will call out for a return. Each small adventure blesses.

leaving Las Vegas

We traveled to Las Vegas, NV in mid-October for a road trip and 4 leisure nights away. We have time-share points that work there in a tower about 3 blocks off the strip in the area of the MGM Grand. The units are spacious and beautiful with full kitchens, a living area, big bedroom and huge master bath with a big jacuzzi tub and walk-in tiled shower – way nicer than home, and the resort amenities are first class. So, it’s like living high class instead of the other 98% for a few days.

The road trip is 600 miles – we leave before dawn and stop for a late sit-down breakfast in Grants or Gallup and arrive in Vegas about 3:00. We only eat 2 meals a day at this stage in our lives so we get a late lunch/early dinner with a choice of a myriad of great restaurants after we arrive and check in. This time our first meal was at a little family Italian place off strip with all house-made pastas and sauces.

Speaking of food, it is one of the reasons to visit Las Vegas. There are no more .99 cent ham and egg breakfasts or $5.99 prime rib dinners like we had in the 60s and 70s – good riddance. The casinos are full of serious restaurants, many sponsored by brand name food personalities – Batali, Wolfgang Puck, Emeril to name a few. We had a burger for lunch/dinner one day at a place sponsored by Mario Batali in the Athens – great burger and amazing onion rings. Off the strip there are many really good restaurants from small home cooking type places to fancy, fancy places. We ate lunch/dinner at Naked City Pizza one day – a place visited by Guy Fieri on a DDD segment a couple years ago – what a dive, but good pizza. Years ago we used to get prime rib every trip at a fancy place in the Excalibur, but it changed to a steak house. Jerry’s Nugget Casino has been famous for prime rib forever. But this time we got my once in a long-time fix for prime rib at the Prime Rib Loft in the Orleans Casino – it was really good – not inexpensive – but really good – tender, medium rare, serious creamed horseradish, perfect.

What do you do in Las Vegas if you’re not a gambler? We mostly walk around and see things. The architecture – the glitz – the tourists – there’s Hoover Dam a few miles to the south worth seeing – there is the roller coaster in New York, New York – it’s amazing – the Premium Outlets are worth a couple hours especially if you need a new pair of Skechers – the overhead light show on Fremont Street is worth seeing and there’s a free concert there quite often – Shark Reef In Mandalay Bay has some great fish tanks. So there is lots to do. We wear our legs out walking – a free tram from Bellagio to Mandalay Bay helps and there is a pay for tram on the other side of the Strip that runs from MGM Grand the whole length of the Strip. Three days and four nights with a road trip day on each end is about right for Darlene and I. A fun time – worn out – and ready to be leaving Las Vegas.