Thursday, April 30, 2020

A to Z Joy: Zephyr

zephyrus wind engraving | Ken Mayer | Flickr
Not sure what's going on with those legs...
We get a lot of wind in Colorado, which I don't love, but a zephyr is different. A gentle breeze from the west, it gets its name from Zephyros, the Greek god of the west wind. He ushered in springtime by melting snow and bringing warm rains for the trees and flowers.

A zephyr takes the bite out of the winter air and promises blooming crocus and forsythia. It comes as the days are slowly getting longer and any continuing snowfall disappears much more quickly than in the frigid months of January and February. It is the perfect middle between the cold gales and hot gusts that we are so accustomed to.

Zephyranthes - Wikipedia
Zephyranthes flower
(Back in the day before the Colorado Rockies were born, Denver had a minor league baseball team called the Zephyrs. Baseball...remember that? *sigh*)

Anyway, my wish is that this year's spring zephyrs act as positive winds of change, bringing us a kinder, gentler period after the tough few months we've had so far in 2020.

Thanks to all of you who visited during A to Z. I hope my posts brought a bit of joy to your day, and I look forward to seeing you around the internet!

Oh, and here's a taste of what winds can be like in Northern Colorado:

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A to Z Joy: Yellowstone National Park

Established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone National Park is one of my favorite roadtrip stops in recent memory. We spent only a day there, and I'd love to go back and spend much longer. It is a large National Park, with tons to see and do. Because it's basically located in a volcanic crater, geothermal features abound: bubbling mud pots and geysers and mineral-rich water in otherwordly colors. Everywhere I turned, I saw something that amazed me. And because we visited in October, we missed the hordes of summer tourists.

Thanks to my husband for the pictures!

Tomorrow is the last day of the A to Z Challenge! We're almost there!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A to Z Joy: Xanadu...Homes, That Is

Last spring, my husband and I had a quick road trip getaway weekend in Taos, New Mexico. One of the local sights we visited is the Earthship development.

In the 1970s, Architect Michael Reynolds developed his "biotecture" designs for passive solar homes built of natural and upcycled materials. Empty glass bottles, dirt-filled tires, and many quirky design elements make the homes look like something from a sci-fi desert planet. The concept is still going strong, with Earthship homes all over the world.

One alternative housing project from the same era which didn't fare so well was the Xanadu Home of the Future. The homes were built with polyurethane insulation foam, which allowed for cost-effective construction. Repeated spraying of the quick-drying material onto a large, dome-shaped balloon produced a five-to-six-inch-thick shell within a few hours.

The architecture emphasized ergonomics, usability, and energy efficiency. But what made them most different from the Earthships is that they were also the first automated, computer-controlled "smart homes."

In many ways, the Xanadu homes, of which only three were built, were ahead of their time. Office spaces envisioned integrating work with home life (sound familiar, anyone?). The "electronic dietitian" in the kitchen planned balanced meals, which could be prepared at a preset time. The walls of the family room were covered with television monitors. All of the fifteen rooms (including the health spa) relied heavily on computers and electronics.

Exterior of the Xanadu House in Kissimmee, Florida in 1990.
Kissimmee, Florida, 1990 (Wikipedia)
So, why are we all not living in these awesome Xanadu future-homes? The technology, controlled by Commodore microcomputers, very quickly became obsolete. Interest in the homes peaked in the 1980s, and by 1996, only one of the three homes remained as a tourist attraction in Kissimmee, Florida. It was torn down in 2005.

I'm sorry I never had a chance to live the Jetson lifestyle in a Xanadu home, but maybe this is one of those ideas that will come around again. If so, sign me up for Xanadu 2.0.

Monday, April 27, 2020

A to Z Joy: Whales

File:Humpback whale fluke (2).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

This may be strange for someone growing up in a land-locked state like Colorado, but I've always been fond of whales. From their whiskery chins to their iconic tail flukes, these giant marine mammals fascinate me.

Whales are divided into two groups based on their physiology for feeding: baleen (the strainers) and toothed (the grabbers). The current tally for whale species is 41. (Orcas are not considered true whales but belong to the same family as dolphins.) At almost 20 pounds/9 kilograms, sperm whales have the largest brains on earth--six times heavier than the average human brain.

File:PSM V17 D240 Narwhal or sea unicorn.jpg - Wikimedia CommonsNarwhals, the so-called Unicorn of the Sea, are super interesting. The spiral tusk is actually an elongated canine tooth, which can be 10 feet long and have up to 10 million nerve endings inside.

I always assumed the name "narwhal" had something to do with the tusk, but the word comes from Old Norse and means "corpse whale," because their color resembles the skin of a drowned sailor. Lovely, right?

Many species of whales communicate by songs, which are not "built-in" like mating calls but must be learned. The longest and most complex songs belong to the male humpbacks. According to,
Their songs are beautiful, complex, and ever-evolving. Their songs can last for up to 30 minutes and feature various themes sung in a sequence that is common to all males in the same breeding area that year. The sounds they sing span 7 octaves, nearly the entire range of a piano. During the winter mating season, they repeat their songs over and over for hours at a time and gradually change them as the breeding season progresses. Each year a new song is produced.
Here's a short clip to help you chill out on a Monday:

Saturday, April 25, 2020

A to Z Joy: Vocabulary and Victory

Every thesaurus in the world died a little inside when Stephen King said that. Take King's advice if you like, but please don't throw out your thesaurus. Use it to build an impressive vocabulary, for yourself if not for your characters (you writers out there). And do it because...words are fun! And fascinating. And just plain weird.

I'm not suggesting you become the irritating person at the copy machine, throwing around obscure words in order to sound smart. I only hope you will be aware of the wonderful world of words. If someone uses a word you don't know, look it up. Keep a list of favorite words, unique and special words, and sprinkle them around lightly when you speak and when you write. Like salt, a little goes a long way. And at the very least, you'll up your crossword and Scrabble game.

Here are a few of my recent special words:

augury (a sign of what will happen in the future; omen)
blatherskite (a person who talks at great length without making much sense)
obtund (dull the sensitivity of; deaden)
enchiridion (a book containing essential information on a subject)

In other news, I'm not all that competitive, but I appreciate a hard-earned victory. And although it seems as if we will never reach the end of this pandemic, each day brings us closer to this very hard-earned victory. Stay the course, keep yourselves safe, and we'll meet up again on the other side!

Friday, April 24, 2020

A to Z Joy: Unexpected

I realize that not all unexpected things are good. Unexpected expenses, unexpected delays and cancellations, oh, and unexpected weight gain, that's a great one, right? But I really delight in the small, unexpected things that make life interesting, whimsical, and fun.

Like this young man playing the bagpipes on a ferry to Vancouver Island:

Or this giant toadstool nestled in the grass:

Or this koi pond at a quirky indoor/outdoor market in Sedona, Arizona:

Or opening the refrigerator to discover that my son accidentally put the ice cream there instead of the freezer:

Because I'm a visual person, I like it when the unexpected catches my eye. But there are other things, too: a delicious bottle of bargain wine, a text from a friend I haven't heard from in a while, finding $20 in the pocket of my jeans, getting all the green lights on a trip across town. 

Wishing you a bit of unexpected joy today!

My second choice for U is Utah, because I've seen some of the most amazing natural beauty there. This is a picture of Delicate Arch, which even looks like an upside-down letter U. Thanks, Utah!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

A to Z Joys: Turtles and Typewriters

Some years ago, my younger son began giving me turtles, and I have since (with a great deal of his help) amassed quite a collection. I have turtles (and tortoises) made of stone, redwood, origami, and ash from Mt. St. Helen's volcano. It should come as no surprise that I've adopted the turtle as my unofficial spirit animal. I wrote a short essay about what turtles and writers have in common, which you can read at the bottom of this page.

Some of the herd...
I'm not a celebrity typewriter collector like Tom Hanks, but old typewriters have my respect. Noisy, clunky, prone to jamming, and unforgiving of mistakes, they nonetheless helped produce some of the greatest literature of the modern era. Hemingway, Twain, Agatha Christie, Helen Keller, Dr. Seuss...and Snoopy, of course.

A better kind of Corona than the one in the news.
If you also have a soft spot for these old machines, you'll enjoy this Mental Floss article 19 Authors and Their Typewriters.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A to Z Joy: Siblings

Amy on the left, me on the right
S is a pretty easy letter for the A to Z Challenge, and I had many options, from Slinkys to sushi, from samba music to Star Wars. But some of my greatest joys in life come from being a sister and having sons. I was going to call this post "Sisters and Sons," and then I realized that "Siblings" would suffice.

Growing up, my sister and I weren't always best of friends. I remember being pummeled by her on occasion, and I once broke a plastic ukulele over her head. But we were all we had, sibling-wise, so we always found a way to make the peace.

Our good times definitely outweighed our bad times. She is two years older, and even though I might not have admitted it at the time, it was reassuring to know that she was there ahead of me, helping to clear a path.

These days, we are very close except in proximity, as she lives in Washington and I in Colorado. And I'm still grateful to have her walking ahead of me on this path through life. She's one of the wisest, smartest, most empathetic women I know, and having her for a sister has made me a better person.

And I don't know how fate gifted me with the most amazing sons ever, but I am beyond humbled every day! They are so smart and handsome and funny, and I couldn't be prouder. I don't know where the time goes, as they are both nearly grown now, a junior and a freshman in college, and they still make each other laugh every time they're together. They are such great friends...and I better stop now before I get weepy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A to Z Joy: Roadtrips

My husband and I have been taking road trips together since we were newly married and too broke to afford airplane tickets. He loves to drive, and I love to ride and look out the window, so we're a perfect match. After our two sons came along, we continued road tripping, at first with giant stacks of library picture books and later with Harry Potter audio books.

We have driven through amazing parts of this country: the sparing beauty of the Southwest, the lush farmland of the Midwest, the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, through Texas and Montana and so many wide open spaces. We've crossed the Mississippi River and the Continental Divide more times than I can count. We've also been in our fair share of traffic jams, detours, and construction delays. And occasionally we get lost.

I have no problem flying, and I do appreciate that it is a much quicker way to travel a great distance. All things considered, I think my favorite trip now is a combination: fly to a destination and then drive elsewhere. A couple of summers ago, we flew as a family to San Francisco and then drove north to see the coastal redwoods. When we left the city, it was foggy and about 55 degrees F. A couple of hours later, it was 103 degrees in the middle of wine country. It's hard to experience that in an airplane.

Bonus Rs:
If you're feeling the weight of the world these days, as I am, I hope you'll get a laugh out of Randy Rainbow's tribute to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Monday, April 20, 2020

A to Z Joy: Quiet

As I was thinking about this post for the all important "Q" day, I realized that quiet and silence are not the same thing. Silence can be good, and silence can be golden as the saying goes, but silence is not what brings me joy.

I much prefer quiet, which I generally define as the opposite of loud. I enjoy ambient sounds and can tolerate almost anything--music, traffic, conversation--as long as it is quiet. Once the volume ramps up, so does my stress level. Even my favorite music will set my nerves on edge if it is too loud. The same goes for loud-talkers.

At an outdoor concert a couple of years ago, which was much louder than I anticipated, I despaired when I realized that I had left my earplugs in the car. I was forced to improvise with little wads of chewed gum wrapped in Kleenex. It sounds disgusting, I know, and I'm not proud of it. But my desperate ingenuity saved my sanity and most likely my hearing. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.

I come by this naturally, as I was a very quiet child who was easily overstimulated. I think every single report card from elementary school identified me as being "too quiet," and it didn't get much better in the upper grades. A few years ago, I read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (2012), and I recommend it. In fact, I think I should read it again, because the world is just getting louder.

Of course, being too much of a "low talker" has its drawbacks, as well!


Saturday, April 18, 2020

A to Z Joy: Pencils

Pencil PNG image

Geeky writer alert: I love pencils! I don't mind a mechanical pencil in a pinch, but my favorites are the traditional yellow #2 pencils. Sharpened with a manual sharpener, if possible. I just love the feel of pencil on paper, but, having said that, I'm not sure I could write an entire novel that way. Kudos to anyone who can and does!

Fun pencil trivia:
  • Henry David Thoreau's father owned a pencil-making business near Boston, and, yes Walden was written in pencil;
  • The word pencil comes from the penicillus, which means little tail;
  • An average pencil can draw a line 35 miles long;
  • The modern pencil dates back to the year 1565;
  • The mechanical pencil was patented in 1822; and
  • Pencils were among the standard equipment issued to Union soldiers during the American Civil War.
For more pencil fun, take this TED Pencil Quiz.

Stay sharp, everyone!

Friday, April 17, 2020

A to Z Joy: Ode to Joy

Please enjoy the Colorado Symphony's recent virtual performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Ode to Joy:

"Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is an ode to humanity, to peace over desperation, to universal kinship and, of course, to joy. We hope that this small tribute stands as a reminder that community is powerful, and together, despite the anxiety and separation, we will come back stronger than before."

I'm not crying, you're crying.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

A to Z Joy: Niagara Falls

Some years ago, my sister, who lives in Seattle, received her Master's Degree from Buffalo State-SUNY in Buffalo, New York. My mother and I flew out to help commemorate the occasion. And although I was happy to be with my mother and sister, it was my first ever Mother's Day away from my sons. I felt weird about leaving them, but it was a wonderful weekend, in part because of a quick trip to the American side of Niagara Falls.

The state of Colorado, where I live, is landlocked, but we have lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. What we don't have is water the likes of which I saw at Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls is a set of three waterfalls (Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls) at the south end of the Niagara Gorge, which separates New York (U.S.) from Ontario (Can.). Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall in North America, with an average annual flow rate of 85,000 cubic feet per second.

I didn't spend any time below the falls, but I can tell you that the view from the top was absolutely mesmerizing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

A to Z Joy: Moon

At last count, Saturn is credited with 82 moons, which is the most for any planet in our solar system. Earth has only one, which makes it more special in my book. Constellations are great, but I'm not so much a stargazer as a moon gazer. From the thinnest crescent to a bright, full Supermoon, I love seeing the moon any time it's visible, day or night.

Every Christmas, my sister gives my family an EarthSky moon phase calendar, so we can see at a glance where the moon is in its monthly journey.

Because the moon has been a fixture in our sky since time immemorial, its mythology abounds. Though the moon is often thought of as female, to balance the male energy of the sun, many cultures see a man in the moon.

In China, the jade rabbit is the companion of the moon goddess, and, according to legend, can be observed on August 15 every year. I'm glad to have learned this, because that date is also my birthday. I will try remember to look for the rabbit this year!

For a bonus M, pop over to my other blog for a quick post about a recent Monet exhibit.

April's Super Pink Moon as seen from my back porch

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A to Z Joy: Leos and Lions

Leo Zodiac Sign | The astrology zodiac sign of Libra. This i… | Flickr
Having a mid-August birthday places me in the astrological sign Leo. With the Sun as cosmic ruler, Leos tend to have big, dramatic personalities, which doesn't really describe me. I will claim some of these strengths, however:

Creative, passionate, generous, warm-hearted, cheerful, humorous.

And, frankly, these weaknesses aren't too far-fetched, either, though I hope I keep them in check more often than not:

Arrogant, stubborn, self-centered, lazy, inflexible

I'm not a big believer in astrology as a whole, but it's fun trivia, and being a Leo does instill in me a sense of pride, haha. Which brings me to the actual lions.

The African Lion (Panthera leo) is the only big cat to live in groups called prides, which typically include 3 or 4 males, a dozen or so females, and their young. The females are the primary hunters and leaders. The males protect and defend the pride's territory by peeing, roaring (which can be heard five miles away), chasing away trespassers, and fighting when necessary.

Sadly, it is estimated that there are fewer than 25,000 lions in Africa today, half as many as there were 25 years ago. Lions are vulnerable to poisoning, poaching, trophy hunting, destruction of habitat, and the effects of civil war, all caused by humans. The good news is that many other humans are very invested in conservation efforts to protect these majestic animals.

Here's a short lion video narrated by the wonderful Sir David Attenborough:

Monday, April 13, 2020

A to Z Joy: Kinetic Art

Hello and welcome to another week of A to Z! I hope you're all staying safe, healthy, and sane!

I'm not an art expert, but I did a little Googling and discovered that the origins of kinetic art go back to the late 19th century Impressionists, such as Monet and Degas, who accentuated the apparent movement of human figures on canvas. This idea continued through op-art and surrealism, where the eye is given the illusion of movement.

But the kinetic art that brings me joy are the three-dimensional pieces--usually mobiles or sculptures--that move either naturally or by motor. American artist Alexander Calder is famous for his mobiles, this one charmingly titled Big Fat Banana:

Alexander Calder | Big Fat Banana, 1969. Metal and paint (18… | Flickr
On a much larger scale, American sculptor Jonathan Borofsky's Hammering Man sculptures in Seattle, Washington, USA; Seoul, South Korea; and Frankfurt, Germany, celebrate working men and women all over the world.

Hammering Man - Seattle, WA | TMAB2003 | Flickr

At a park near my house stands this whimsical sculpture called Secret Garden (1999), by artist Gunnar Anderson.

Secret Garden

From his artist's statement:
I believe each person's Secret Garden is to be found in their own heart. I imagine this garden to be peaceful, joyous, bigger than life and so real that once visited it will never be forgotten. My hope is that this sculpture in this special place will help inspire a stroll through your own Secret Garden.
I took a short video the other day when the wind was blowing. I hope it gives a sense of this whimsical piece.