Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dia de los Muertos

After all, to the well-organized mind,
death is but the next great adventure.
J.K. Rowling
The first time I became involved with preparing a Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) altar, I was volunteering at an orphanage in Colon, Queretaro, Mexico.  The children brought me items that reminded them of some loved one who had died.  I collected vegetables, cigarettes, photos, bread, beer, different kinds of food, toys, rosaries and musical instruments.  I still hear their voices telling me, "He liked to eat carrots, he loved green chile, she ate salads, he smoked, this is a picture of my aunt, mother, dad, etc., my mother baked bread, my uncle drank beer, my sister loved beans, this was my little brother's toy top, this was my sister's doll, my dad played the harmonica, my mother prayed the rosary, and so on! When I had all of the items gathered, I began to prepare the altar.

I made it into three tiers and placed the different items on the large table.  On the top I was told to put candles for each dead person and then an extra candle to make sure no one was left out! I arranged the rest of the items and I was proud of my first Day of the Dead altar. One of the nuns brought me a large decorated sugar skull.  "We always have these special skulls on the altar," she said, "and yellow marigolds!"  That night, some of the cigarettes and a bottle of beer disappeared.  From then on, when it was time for bed I took down anything that might tempt the older boys and in the morning I would place the temptations back on the table.

The second time I helped set up a Dia de los Muertos altar, was at the Hispanic Office of the Archdiocese.  It was an impressive altar with many of the same items that had been used in Mexico.
Today, after the mass at Spirit of Christ Catholic Church, we were invited to the Parish Center to see altars that had been prepared by some of the parishioners.

Remembering loved ones!
About seven altars had been set up.  Some had information explaining the different things on the altar. Others, photographs told the story. Some were more elaborate than others but they all had one thing in common; they were reminders of loved ones that had died.  A nun, Sister Maria Luisa Munoz, known to everyone as Sister Molly, explained how the altars are set up in memory of loved ones. "This is a sad happy occasion," she said, "for those of us who are here while all of the ones on the altars are waiting for us to join them in heaven!"

This child showed me the
skull she decorated!

Decorated sugar skulls
Sugar skulls were ready to be decorated, pictures of skulls and skeletons waited to be colored by children attending, and hot chocolate or cake was offered to those looking at the altars.

A very small altar!

Tequila and tamales on this altar! Love the
green skull and squash also!

A mini-reunion with Sister Molly. It had been
a few years since I had seen her!
To live in hearts we leave behind
is not to die. Thomas Campbell

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tucked Away Between Longmont and Boulder

I have lived in the Denver-Arvada area for fifty-five years and have seen Leanin' Tree greeting cards in many different shops. A few days ago, while working on an album for the Young At Heart Group at our church, I noticed that a few years ago a group had gone to the Leanin' Tree Museum and Sculpture Garden of Western Art. Some of the women were photographed in front of large sculptures. My curiosity was aroused. 

The Internet provided me with more information.  Entrance to the museum is free.  Mr. Ed Trumble started the business in 1949 with four Christmas greeting cards that he would sell to ranchers and farmers.  The museum has around 250 paintings and 150 bronze sculptures. I decided to visit the museum and drove the forty some miles to an area between Longmont and Boulder on Highway 119 (Diagonal).

 Entrance to Leanin' Tree
A few wrong turns and stopping to ask for directions, I found myself looking at a large statue of an Native American on a horse holding something aloft. I turned into the parking lot, feeling excited because I did not know what to expect! Entering the gate I saw a large garden with many different sculptures....wolves, owls, bears, eagles, deer, stag, horses, cowboys, Indian maiden, donkey, rabbit, saddle, bob cat, and cowboys.  Wow, my eyes were popping out with all the beautiful artwork.  What amazed me the most was the intricate detail on each piece. Every sculpture looked realistic.
Took my breath away!

Momma bear with cub.

Me with a cowboy!
 After wandering through the sculpture garden I entered the museum. Every wall is covered with western art.  Photograph taking is not allowed inside the museum so all the paintings and smaller works of art will be engraved into my memory. I marvel at artists who can make a painting look as if it is morning, cold, peaceful or dangerous by the colors used. One room is comical cowboys hanging off cliffs and skinny buildings. Some of the paintings I had seen on greeting cards.  Different areas showed Native Americans, cowboys on the range, mountain scenery and drunken cowboys. I was fascinated by all!  There was a large display of cards, ornaments, jewelry and books for sale.

The two photos below were taken from the Leanin' Tree brochure.

Bad News
James E. Reynolds
Oil 1980
Gerard Curtis Delano
Oil 1970
The drive on a beautiful fall day, my big surprise at finding such a gem of a museum, and the whole experience not costing anything completed my spectacular day.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Beginning of a Long Relationship

The best time to plant a tree
was 20 years ago.  The next
best time is now.  Chinese Proverb

Some folks are born with a green thumb, while others kill every thing they touch! I've tried many different plants, flowers, bushes, etc. and somehow, they may be around for a season and then they fail to bloom again.

Driving through the neighborhood, I see beautiful gardens, tall trees, and green bushes and wish I could also have something growing in my yard. What I can do is grow weeds! Weeds sprout up all over and my grass is intermingled with wild ivy and dandelions. No matter how much I try to get rid of them, every year there seem to be more!

For a few years I have been toying with an idea of getting a tree planted in an area where nothing has grown, except weeds. Maybe a shade tree like my neighbor might look nice or a fruit tree would work in that area. Then, I thought about how I love the smell of evergreens.  I like the way they look and in the mountains they seem to grow wild without any care so my thoughts lean toward an evergreen tree.

On the Internet I researched about the what, why, when and how of having an evergreen tree in my front yard. Number one was finding a reputable nursery. I went to Timberline Gardens in Arvada and spoke with the knowledgeable people who work there. Fall planting was not discouraged. I was shown their display of evergreens.  I was surprised to see the many varieties of evergreen trees. I decided on a six foot Concolor Fir.  It was like shopping for a Christmas Tree except the tree I picked would (should) last for the rest of my life and beyond!

My tree arrived yesterday, its roots wrapped in a huge ball with gunny sack material.

A lone man arrived to plant my tree with the help of a small forklift type of equipment. With a shovel, he dug a deep hole in my very dry dirt, picked up the tree with his machine, removed the wrapping, put the tree into the hole, covered it with a bag of dark, damp dirt that he brought with him, some fertilizer, covered the hole, and put lots of water around the tree. "Your ground is so dry it will need lots of water," he said, "so I will give it a good soaking today and then in about a week you will give it another soaking.  Then follow that up in about two weeks."  Seeing the frantic look on my face, he continued, "I will write the schedule down for you, so you don't have to worry."

He staked the tree to keep it straight and the job was complete! I have opened my front door twenty times to look at my green tree.  I have said as many prayers that my tree will not die.  I am already thinking about decorating the tree for Christmas. I can already picture my Nativity scene and my evergreen tree with lights....maybe a star at the top....oh, how beautiful it will look!

He who plants a
tree, plants hope.
Lucy Larcom, "Plant a Tree"

October 25, 2012:  Five days after the tree was planted, it was predicted snow would enter our area.  Dean, the tree man, had emphasized that I should not water the tree for a week which meant that I should water it on the following Friday. Yet, if it snowed on Friday, as was being reported,  I would not be able to water.  I called the nursery and was told to go out and feel the ground and if it felt dry, to water it.  The ground was dry so I soaked the area around the tree. Then, the following evening it snowed. Now my question is:  Do I go out and knock the snow off the branches, do I leave it alone, or do I call the nursery again? This tree episode reminds me of when my first child was born.  I was on the phone to the pediatrician almost every day to ask what I should do when I thought there was something wrong with my baby! Now, the tree gives me those same feelings of helplessness in not knowing what to do!  Oh, what to do?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

1,168 Pages

The progression on how things work is strange.  A friend of mine called and asked if I had ever read Ayn Rand.  I told her I had read her in the 1960's.  She encouraged me to see a video entitled, "The Passion of Ayn Rand."  She mentioned that the nominee for Vice-President, Paul Ryan,  had mentioned Ayn Rand and that is what prompted her to see the video.

I got the video through Netflix, plus a video of The Fountainhead and of Atlas Shrugged, Part I. Seeing her story made me realize there was more to Ayn Rand than her writing interesting fiction!   Atlas Shrugged, the movie, Part I, came out in April of 2012. October 12 was the opening of Atlas Shrugged Part II. I was surprised to see that the movie ended before the actual end.  Now, I am sure that Part III will follow which should bring the movie to the end of the story. I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie to refresh my memory and started reading Atlas Shrugged around October 1. It was as if I had never read the book because characters and plot seemed brand new to me. I am caught up in the train business, steel foundries, philosophy of how the government can take over, love affairs, deterioration of morals, heroes and non-heroes, Colorado mountains, and evil and good.  Every chance I get, I grab the book and read a few more pages. I read while eating my meals, during commercials on television, in the bathroom, and at stop lights while I am driving.  A few nights ago I read from three in the afternoon until 4:30 in the morning. When I finally went to bed,  I felt as if I might need another cataract operation due to my blurry vision and constant blinking.

I consider myself a fast reader but Atlas Shrugged seems to be taking forever.  It took Ayn Rand twelve years to finish the book and I am beginning to think it will take me the same amount of time to read it! I am on page 629 of a book of 1168 pages. I have been asked if I am carrying a Bible as I lug the book around with me.

Today I saw a blurb saying that Paul Ryan was surprised that Rand's writing is fiction. My curiosity as to why Paul Ryan, in 2005 spoke to the Atlas Society, a group who promotes her beliefs, and told them that Ayn Rand's writings showed him his value system and beliefs. He said he liked her books so much he would give them to his staff. He credited her with his getting involved in public office. Yet, In a recent interview, in August of 2012,  he denied saying he liked Ayn Rand's philosophy. Her thoughts are that selfishness is moral, greed is good and helping others is evil. Ryan's budget plan would follow that philosophy of cutting programs for the poor and no taxes for the rich. Blurbs I have read state that Rand believed in individualism by not caring about anyone else but self and that she idealized the super rich.

On a recent trip to Niagara Falls, my seat partner was a young man from India. We discussed many subjects but my surprise came when he mentioned Ayn Rand. He said he had enjoyed reading the Fountainhead. A few days ago, I spoke with an 80 year old friend from Mexico and in his youth, he had read Ayn Rand in Spanish.

A story that seems to
never end!
Now, as I am involved with Dagny (train owner), Henry (steel mogul), Francisco (the hero who appears to be a good for nothing playboy), and wondering who is John Galt?,  I realize that Ayn Rand continues to be a very popular writer. She published The Fountain Head in the 1940's and Atlas Shrugged in 1957.  She may get a bit wordy every now and then and sometimes 3-4 pages are dedicated to a point she wants to make. Her philosophy spoken by John Galt is almost 50 pages long!  Certain parts of the story move along at a fast pace, especially where there is a lot of action, yet other parts seem to go on forever. As I read some of the parts, I wanted to cry out, "all right, all ready!" On October 10 I made it to page 753. On October 12,  I reached Page 978 and since I had not finished the story,  I was glad the movie ended before letting me know the end!  Today, October 14, I finished the book.  It is a good read with many political aspects, a bit of science fiction, and her philosophy. Jennifer Burns, a professor at Stanford, wrote that Ayn Rand's  popularity is mostly by word of mouth and every few years Rand becomes a popular read.  I have to admit that Rand was a great writer and her fictional stories hold my interest but I find her way of thinking to be selfish and I do not agree with her.

The point in the story, for me, showing selfishness and thinking about self comes toward the end when Eddie Willers is left alone.  He is a friend, kind, willing to help, seeing good, and yet when the four heros are on their way to their "paradise" no one thinks of Eddie or returns to save him.

"If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders,
if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest,
his knees buckling, his arms trembling,
but still trying to hold  the world aloft
with his last strength, and the greater his effort
the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders,
what would you tell him?"
"I....don't know, what could he do? What would you tell him?"
"To shrug."
Ayn Rand,
Atlas Shrugged

Saturday, October 6, 2012


The best cure for insomnia is to
get a lot of sleep.....W.C. Fields

What the heck?  All my life my head hitting the pillow was all I needed to drift off into sleep, wonderful sleep! Julio Iglesias would sing for about two minutes and I was off to dreamland.  I kept Julio beside my bed where I kept my boom-box and for years I did not know what the rest of the songs on the cassette (yes, before CD's we listened to cassettes!) were, because I would be out instantly.

Later, I slept with George Straight, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. When I found a CD by Irvin Lucero, a local man I knew from Denver, Colorado, I enjoyed going to sleep with him   
singing religious songs in Spanish. Usually, I was asleep before the first song ended.

 I don't know when it happened, but one night I closed my eyes and heard every one of the eighteen songs on his CD.  This had never happened to me. I found it odd that I could not sleep and I noticed that I had one of those awake nights about every 4th or 5th night. After a sleepless night I began looking into my day to see what had gone on during the day. Did something different happen or was I worried about something. I could not find a pattern.

I looked up Insomnia in my Kaiser Healthwise Handbook and found out that I should only use my bed for sleeping. It specifically stated that I was not to work, eat, watch t.v. or read in bed.  I was to avoid mental stimulation an hour before bedtime. If I would lie awake for more than 15 minutes, I should get up, leave the bedroom and do something relaxing.
To be able to sleep like a baby
how wonderful that would be!

(This is Ariana with Pooh
dreaming sweet dreams.)
With all the suggestions, I still had nights that sleep would not come. From the hours of 11 p.m. until 3:30 a.m. I read, watched t.v., wrote my blog, ate, balanced my check book, got on the computer, worked crossword puzzles, etc. I noticed that after 3:30 in the morning I usually fell asleep soon after going to bed. Of course, I then got up later than my usual time and it messed up my day.

The odd thing was that I could be watching television in the late morning or afternoon and the next thing I knew I had missed a show because I fell asleep.  Sleep would arrive without warning and I would be out. Many times my head would give a jerk and wake me.  I remembered my Father telling me he could not sleep at night but always fell asleep watching t.v.  Maybe this was something that happened to older people. It was strange that I was unable to sleep in bed but sitting up sleep came quietly with no encouragement from me. I am happy it is not an every night occurrence but when I cannot sleep it leaves me feeling out of sorts the following day. In my youth I required around ten hours of sleep. Now, with six hours of a good night sleep, I seem to function fine.

Sometimes on those bad nights I will take an afternoon nap. Then, I  remember the advise I got when I was raising my children:  "Don't let them take too long of a nap during the day, because then they won't sleep during the night."  Regardless of whether I take a nap or not some nights I am not sleepy at all while other nights I am out like a light soon after going to bed.

O Sleep, O Gentle Sleep, Natures Soft Nurse,
How Have I Frightened Thee, That Thou No More
Wilt Weigh My Eye-Lids down and Steep My
Senses in Forgetfulness?
William Shakespeare

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Praying the Rosary

I attended Regis College (now Regis University)  after moving to Denver from Greeley, Colorado. When a Jesuit professor mentioned that praying the rosary was not necessary and that "only old ladies prayed the rosary,"  I believed him. I had grown up with my grandmother and aunt praying the rosary every evening at 5 p.m. Anyone showing up at that time was asked to kneel and join them. They were old so what the Jesuit said made sense to me.  When my brother was stationed overseas, he bought me a beautiful rosary blessed by Pope Pius the XII, yet I still did not pray the rosary.  The only time I remember praying the rosary was at funerals.

Years later, in a confessional, I repeated what the Jesuit had said in class.  My confessor happened to also be a Jesuit and he said, "I'm sorry that you have missed opportunities to pray to Our Blessed Mother.  The rosary is a beautiful way to communicate with her and to know the life of Christ." Even his comment did not inspire me to pray the rosary.

Our Lady of
On a tour to Mexico City I visited Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine on her feast day of December 12. It seemed that 98% of the people had a rosary in their hand. I was amazed at the many thousands of people who come to the Basilica. I saw many devotees carrying images of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.

Mass at the Basilica in
Mexico City
People also carried flowers, candles, photos of loved ones, and their rosaries! Matachines danced their native dances to honor her feast day. It seems that her image is on every car, bus, calendar, flag, dish, tattoo, t-shirt or window. To see people walking on their knees on the rough cement made me cringe. Inside the Basilica it was impossible to move and I was at the mercy of the crowd as I went where the sea of bodies took me. Maybe there was something to praying the rosary.
Our Lady of
Lourdes in France
Years later I traveled to Portugal to see the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima and then to France to see the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. In Lourdes I learned of the miraculous water and of miracles of  healing.  I continue to be amazed at so many people from all over the world visiting the shrines, bathing in the water, praying in thanksgiving for promises fulfilled, asking for help in regaining their health, or for forgiveness of past sins.
Words reported to have been said by Our Lady of Fatima: "Say the rosary every day to earn peace for the world and the end of the war."

At Our Lady of Fatima
in Portugal.
A silver rosary in a gift shop in Lourdes seemed to beckon to me.  As I held the rosary in my hand something moved me to buy the rosary.   How I  wished I could have the faith that I saw in the people around the shrines. One morning I got up at 4:30 hoping to be the first to arrive at the shrine, but already, kneeling on the cold rock, were people praying the rosary. I joined them with my new rosary!

Getting blessed water at Lourdes
I came home and began a daily routine of praying my silver rosary. Visiting the shrines had moved me closer to Our Blessed Mother. One day, I was tired and decided to skip saying the rosary. As I turned off the lights, a rosary suspended in the air seemed to float in front of me.  I know my Mother in heaven was reminding me to pray the rosary. (The phenomenon surprised me because I have lived in my home for over forty-five years, the fluorescent rosary has been on that wall and I have never seen the rosary glow as it did that night.  And, it has not glowed since!)

Somehow, my life changed as I visited the Marian Shrines and I believe I was guided to become a devout follower of Our Blessed Mother by praying the Rosary daily. Even though I have only gone to three shrines, there are many shrines where Our Blessed Mother has appeared. In France she appeared in three different locations. Some other places are Japan, Italy, France, Ireland, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, England, Philippines and Vietnam. I try to find time each day to pray and meditate and yes, sometimes my mind wanders to other thoughts but with my rosary in hand, I can return to the mysteries of the rosary. I like what a lady on one of my pilgrimages told me.
"If you fall asleep while praying the rosary, the angels will finish it for you."
Rosary blessed by Pope Pius XII

Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death,

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Scent of Gardenia

I happened to be walking through the perfume department at Macy's and caught a whiff of gardenias. Instantly, I was transformed to my youth and recalled how Jungle Gardenia had been my favorite scent. I tried to remember why it had become such a special smell to me and like a movie flashing before me, I saw why the delicate flower had been so important in my life.

A delicate and sweet smelling Gardenia

It was a first date with a tall gentleman I had met at a dance.  I wore a tan sweater, checkered olive green and tan skirt, bobby socks and black and white saddle shoes.  I remember what I wore because it was in exact contrast to what my date showed up wearing....a dark blue suit, white shirt, tie, and dress shoes. We went to a movie where he was overdressed and then to Trader Vic's, a popular spot at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where I was under dressed!

He ordered a Scorpion that arrived in a twelve inch bowl, two straws, and gardenias floating on top. I took a few sips but since I never drank alcoholic drinks, I let him do most of the drinking! I did pluck the flowers out of the drink to keep as souvenirs. That was the beginning of my love affair with the fragrance of gardenias.

I dated the tall gentleman for two years and for my birthdays I received gardenias. When we married  my wedding bouquet was white roses and gardenias. The florist warned me that white roses and especially gardenias do not last very long but it did not matter to me, the gardenia represented something beautiful in my life!

My bouquet of white roses and gardenias!

As we left on our honeymoon to Mexico, a dainty arrangement of gardenias graced my left shoulder.  In Mexico, a vendor came up to us selling gardenias that we took to our room filling the room with the fragrance of the sweet flower. At the birth of my children, I received a floating gardenia in a glass bowl.  Nurses would enter the room and comment, "What smells so sweet?"  I wore Jungle Gardenia for years and one day, my son who by now was an adult, said, "Mom, every time I smell a gardenia, I think of you."

The gardenia had represented a part of my life that was filled with love, hope and anticipation. When ever I detect the sweet fragrance of the gardenia, those days flood my memory!

"If a gardenia could last forever,
maybe a marriage would not
darken and die." E. Moscoso