Saturday, August 31, 2013

Farewell Summer: Ode to my pool

Ode to my pool

In my present, I cannot be
as happy as I am in thee,
body playing, lapping, diving,
aqua-water-wet contriving,
buoyant coolness, glimmering light
which shimmers and shakes the body right,
the mind is as happy as a clam,
I swim in my pool, therefore i am.  ~ Hedda B.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"House of Blue Leaves" @ The Edge Theatre

My grand daughter has 3 simple words tattooed on the back of her calf: Just a day. She explained  that no matter how bad or strange a day can turn out, it is just a day and another one will come along tomorrow. Such an uplifting Annie-way of looking at life. However, there are unforgettable days in history which changed our lives forever: December 7, 1941 (attack on Pearl Harbor); June, 6, 1944 (D-day); November 22, 1963 (assassination of John F. Kennedy); and September 11, 2001 (attack on the World Trade Center).

The play, “House of Blue Leaves,” a black comedy by American playwright John Guare, takes place on just a day in 1965. A day when the Pope Paul VI visited New York City, and where many lives of those who gathered together in an apartment in Queens were forever altered. The play won the Drama Critics' Circle Award and the Obie Award for Best American Play in 1971.

The Edge Theatre, created by Rick and Patty Yaconis, is the hippest, edgiest theater to grace Denver's performing arts culture. Located at 1560 Teller St. in Lakewood, The Edge is featuring the “House of Blue Leaves,” from July 19 to August 11, 2013. My tattooed darling and I went to see it Sunday evening and were mesmerized by the production.

How can I tell you how utterly amazing the performances were? How can I sufficiently complement each and every actor for their complex emotional dance, knowing full well the difficulty of such profound material— both humorous and heart-wrenching? Every character was played with such brilliance and balance, and I felt transported to an apartment in New York to witness the unraveling of a several humans. In my 40 years of enjoying theater (I grew up near NYC), this show goes to the top of my list. If a Broadway or Hollywood scout witnessed these fine performances, the actors would be picked up like precious plums for their future productions. This is an amazing troupe, and the Denver public should run, not walk, to take in their talent.

Missy Moore as Bananas
I want to thank each and every performer from director, Scott Bellot, to the stagehands for giving their all. Missy Moore's performance as Bananas was completely riveting. She nailed the complex reality of schizophrenia and the effects of the mind-numbing medicine. Her actions, behaviors, and gentle persona steal your heart. Tom Auclair, as Artie Shaughnessy, is perfect as her zookeeper husband, who harbors dreams of being a singer-songwriter, and most of all, to be free of his duties as Banana's caretaker. Slowly, Tom's piano playing becomes a bit off-key as he comes apart at the seams. Kelly Uhlenhoop, as Bunny Flingus, his red-headed mistress, is the much needed comic relief to the heavy psychological unwellness, as were the three lively nuns (see picture below). Zachary Page, as the son, Ronnie, plays a disturbed young soldier who brings another level of pathos to the production.

The nuns are desperate to come in. . . with Tom and Bunny
It is just a day, but a day that changes everyone. It is an unforgettable play that will have you thinking and talking, and hoping the sun will come out tomorrow. For more information go to The Edge Theatre.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Farm Your Own Land First

Platte River Bike Trail heading into Downtown Denver
Bumble was discussing his idea with me recently— taking a bicycling trip through a European country along a river. He thought Amsterdam would be enchanting—canals, tulips, Dutch architecture, and folks sharing philosophies while toking up in a quaint cannabis coffee shop. And while I agreed it was a wonderful way to be a tourist and take in another country and culture, I heard my mom’s voice in my head saying, “Farm your own land first.” My mom, bless her, raised us on the sound advice of clichés and, trite as they may be, their truths can often make me laugh. Before one embarks on a voyage of discovery, they must be able to understand their own back yard first.  Mom’s cliché ringing in my ears, I replied, “Let’s save travel expenses (think global) and ride local. For free we can hitch up and ride the bike trails that hug our own little river—the South Platte.” Not to mention, Denver is almost as liberal as Amsterdam.

Denver and vicinity abound with over a hundred miles of pleasurable bike and walking trails (and shady parks) that aim to keep the rider and walker safe. One can experience a slice of nature interwoven with an urban environment.  In 1989, I was hit by a car bicycling around town in traffic (someone missed a red light), so riding on bike trails without vehicular worries is a Zen experience for me. It is the fear-free way to ride.

Bumble and I have ridden most sections of the Cherry Creek Bike Trail and the Highline Canal, yet we had not “farmed” the land along the South Platte River.  Badda bing, badda boom. Since a good idea is just that, without further delay, we loaded up the fat tires into the truck bed, filled the water bottles, sun-screened our bodies and took off for a stretch of bike path along the South Platte River that runs from Chatfield Reservoir to Confluence Park in downtown Denver.

"Sun Spot" sculpture made of wire and dog tags 
by Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan

There is satisfaction in farming your own land. I am not going to bore you with a play-by-play of every mile we rode.  But I will say it was Mother Nature and urban commerce all juxtaposed in a bio-diverse blend. We viewed birds and the babbling brook, cottonwoods and cottontails, cumulus clouds and cops on horseback, the Waste Management Center and Western Metals Recycling, mountains of crushed cars and the Rockies purple mountain majesties, fuzzy willows and wild roses, office buildings and amusement parks, and greeted happy joggers, bikers and babies in strollers.

Riding along the river watching clouds go by

Near mile marker 12, there is a little coffee shop which is part of charming Hudson Gardens in Littleton, and further south is the Carson Nature Center, a stunning log cabin-style building which offers an encyclopedic education about the region. At the opposite end of the trail, in the northernmost juncture at Confluence Park, there is Starbucks in the REI. Drinking coffee, you can watch kayakers play in Platte River where it meets Cherry Creek.  Below are some links with maps. I invite you to harvest some great experiences, biking, running, or walking , your way into or out of the city.  Like my mom said, “Farm your own land first.”

Denver Police patrolling along the trail on horseback

Great Links to Trail Maps

Sunday, May 5, 2013

To Create or Not to Create, That is the Question

Photo by Weiford Watts 

"From Shadow to Seen"

I wax philosophical on Sundays, mulling over those deep questions of human existence and why we are here. Are we here to take up space and get caught up in the gears of our cultural existence—sitting on the couch after a grinding work day watching news, sports or reality television? The key word there is “watching,” not creating. Or are we here to put something of ourselves out into the world to improve it if even infinitesimally? Shouldn’t life be about creating something—a song, a meal, a child, a home, a garden, a business, a dance, a blog or work of art? It does not have to be masterpiece to be a contribution. That said, what gets in the way of creating?

My answer is that it is probably fear—fear of failing and of not being good enough. Fear that we don’t have the right talent, experience, credential, or degree. We are afraid to make something ugly or stupid and to be ashamed. We remember the time we painted our room yellow and, instead of being surrounded in warm sunshine vibes, it looked more like our dog peed all over the wall. We remember the poem we wrote in college—the one about the heartbreak and agony of our first love—which got a D for drivel. We remember the time we planted a garden on a warm spring day and forgot to water it in. Next morning, every plant had withered and died. OK, sometimes we don’t get it perfect the first time. We need to take small steps.

My sister, Bonnie Black, an author of three books and a university teacher, has said there are three things you need to do to when you write: edit, edit and edit. The key message here is easy enough, in order to edit you have to have something to edit. Which means you must write something, anything, down on the proverbial paper. My friend, Pauline Hauder, a painter, will tell you in order to keep the creative juice flowing, you should paint (and play with) more than one canvas at a time and have several going, which insures not getting attached to the outcome of just one. “Keep playing,” she always says. She has drawn and painted hundreds of beautiful pictures, and hundred more that wound up as compost. We learn every time we try. Just keep playing. My niece, Gretchen Schmelzer, who is a psychologist and writer, talks about "The Something Plan" in her blog post from April 12, 2013.
Here are the rules of the Something Plan:
1. Just do Something.
2. Something is always better than Nothing.
3. Somethings always add up to Something More than you can imagine
I love the simplicity of this Something Plan!

Besides, a person does not need a degree in English, creative writing or journalism to tell their story. They need to get it down and out; then go about the task of editing. One does not need to have an art degree, BFA or MFA, to create something visual, just the desire to try. There are countless examples of self-taught writers and artists—Mark Twain and Charles Dickens dropped out of school at the age of 12. Woody Allen barely made it through one semester of college and is a prolific screenplay writer and director. Henri Rousseau, a French post-impressionist painter, had no formal art training and his work hangs in MoMa and Musee d'Orsay.

It is in the telling of stories and attempting art by which children freely access their creative genius. Then we all grow up and become afraid.  We fear the inner and outer critics. In the interest of keeping the cog of creativity moving forward and of putting something out there, I am sharing a project called “From Shadow to Seen.” It is a place for women and girls to come out from behind their shadow, fight some fears, and submit their story, poetry or artwork. It is a place for small steps, a place for "the Something Plan." Go ahead, go there, read the details, write or create something, edit, then submit. And perhaps you can solve this philosophical question of why we are here: To create or not to create?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Soup against the Storm

My homemade vegetable & fish chowder
A dry March, wet April, and cool May, fill barn, cellar, and bring much hay
March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers
~ English proverbs 

This year April showers have come imprisoned in white crystals filling the sky and the landscape with lion-like snowfall. After all, weather statistics inform us that April is second only to March for being the snowiest month in Colorado. And it has been a snowy April here in the Denver area. Several blizzards have visited the region since March and have dumped white powder, blown their blustery wind, dropped the temperatures, and then departed—leaving us the task of shoveling out and trying to keep warm.  Just when we were about to store our ski jackets, mittens and boots away, the storms remind us with great gusto that winter has not released her hold over the northern hemisphere yet. The good news is the water levels in our reservoirs have been raised with the abundant snowfall which is great for high desert inhabitants.

Secretly, I loved having winter visit again in April. It is not that I don’t adore warm spring temperatures but rather was not quite done being introspective. Those chilly dark months of winter are the perfect time for my interior work—pondering and creating the visions of new projects to come. It allows me time to imagine, create and edit my mind’s landscape—pruning thoughts here and there like tiny twigs. The cold wintery weather was a perfect excuse for me to postpone all the exterior work preparing my garden outside; after all, how can one plant or dig in the dirt when it is covered in 6 inches of snow? And consequently, to engage in my interior work, simmering and stirring stuff inside my mind. It also provided opportunities for Bumble and I to snuggle up on the L-shaped couch with some quilts, finish reading books, watch old B/W movies and eat homemade soup safe in our nest. Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart or Noel Coward joining us for vegetable fish chowder were perfect accompaniments.

Few cooks will deny the ease of a one-pot meal and making soup or chowder is full of this easy grace. It is a wonderful way to warm up our interiors from the exterior cold and to empty the refrigerator of any vegetables that have been hiding in the dark storage bins. All the vegetables hanging around in my cupboard or refrigerator are invited to join the chowder and are tossed into a large pot. It is quite a diverse group in this soup. Add some organic chicken (or vegetable) broth and a can of tomatoes and in less than an hour there is a hearty meal for a vegetarian. I add fish filets (or any shell fish of my choosing), top with spinach or kale, and a few minutes later a healthy pescetarian dinner is served.

You dislike vegetables, you say? Surprisingly, this soup is extremely delicious—cooked in broth and coupled with lots of potatoes and sweet carrots (and who doesn’t like potatoes or carrots?), the vegetables flavors complement one another and work well together. The fish adds a depth of flavor, a heartiness and sweetness. All the flavors are softened and arrive gently on the tongue; much kinder and warmer than our April snows.

Hedda’s Homemade Vegetable & Fish Chowder

1 large 32 oz. container organic free-range chicken broth  (I use Imagine or Pacific)
1 large onion — sliced and chopped
1 shallot minced
3-5 stalks of celery chopped
2 fennel bulbs sliced (please remove hard white core in center)
2  leeks sliced and cut in quarters, then soaked in water (to remove all sand)
1 bell pepper chopped or sliced (red for color)
3 cups potatoes cubed (I use baby Yukon gold, or red skinned potatoes)
4-5 organic carrots sliced in bite sized nuggets (I use the colorful carrots)
2-3 zucchini (or any squash you have laying around) cut in half, remove all seeds and cut into cubes
1 container of chopped Pome tomatoes (or 1 can chopped tomatoes)
1 small bag of baby spinach (I use a few generous handfuls) or use fresh kale trimmed from stalk
3-4 fillets of Tilapia, cod or your favorite fish (you may also use shellfish such as scallops)
1-2 T fennel greens minced (or use chopped fresh parsley)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup water or more to combat evaporation


Saute onions, peppers, celery, leeks, fennel; add potatoes, and carrots  

Wash/rinse all your vegetables that require it (e.g., celery, fennel, leeks, potatoes, carrots, spinach). Grab your big soup pot, add a few tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the first 7 ingredients until soft and aromatic, adding in a little salt and pepper. Next, add in the cubed potatoes, carrots, zucchini, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, minced fennel leaves, canned tomatoes, 32 oz. chicken broth plus one cup water. Simmer gently until potatoes and carrots are tender (20-30 minutes). You may need to add a cup or more of water to the cooking liquid. Lastly, top with fish fillets and spinach (or kale) and simmer until fish is cooked (5-6 minutes more). Presto, you have an awesome healthy pescetarian one pot meal.

After cooking all veggies in broth until tender, add fish filets and spinach  
Stir and Presto! Vegetable & fish chowder to warm the cockles -- what a confetti of color!

Apperson, George Latimer, et al. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs. Hertfordshire: Wadsworth Editions Limited, 1993. Web.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Georgia on my mind

Georgia OKeeffe, 1920, by Alfred Stieglitz,
Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they may say something. ~ Georgia O'Keeffe

While Bumble and I are not terribly dogmatic about our lives, we do stay faithful to a few lofty goals: embrace organic growing practices and eat healthy, go outside and exercise daily, read and learn something new, and once a month attend a cultural event. A cultural event can include such treasures as a theater performance, lecture, live musical event, gallery visit, local festival, or museum exhibition. Yesterday, in the middle of March, we chose to partake in the latter. We went to the Denver Art Museum’s (DAM) exhibition titled “Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land.”

“Katsinam,” I wondered, “what exactly is that?”

"Blue-headed Indian Doll" by Georgia O'Keeffe
 Photo courtesy DAM
While I knew it had something to do with the native cultures of the southwest, I quickly learned from the exhibition that “katsinam” are the carved and painted representations of Hopi and Pueblo "spirit beings" often called katsinas or kachinas. They are otherworldly doll-like figures carved from cottonwood, brilliantly painted and adorned. They can be spiritual representations of anything in the natural world—an ancestor, a concept, a phenomenon, a place—the sun, stars, storms, corn, insects, etc. Katsinam represent the presence of a life force in all things. Aside from painting the animal bones and western landscapes of her beloved New Mexico, Georgia O’Keeffe also painted the colorful katsinam; I can see how the shapes and colors intrigued her. I never saw her katsinam paintings until yesterday. Before the exhibit of O'Keeffe's katsinam paintings and drawings, there were respect issues to be addressed with the Hopi nation as to who should even be allowed to depict the katsinam, which is why viewing her impressions of them was a rare treat.

"Rust Red Hills" by Georgia O'Keeffee
The exhibit deepened one’s understanding of this folk art by also including a DAM collection of katsinam carved by various Native American artists. Shown too are several paintings by Dan Haminga, two stunning and graphic weavings by Ramona Sakiestewa and a huge painting by David Bradley depicting Georgia O’Keeffe as Whistler’s mother, all of which added to the experience. A small section of the exhibit broadcast a documentary movie of Georgia O’Keeffe continually; you could hear her voice and see her absorbed in the landscape.

"The Mountain" by Georgia O'Keeffe

What is it about seeing the artwork of the great painters, sculptors, carvers, or weavers? Why do we gawk at art? What is it about this experience? For me, it is a chance to marvel at the creative process. To share in the artist's vision of a place or a thing. It is always inspiring to view the museum's many exhibits (from Van Gogh to Matisse to O’Keeffe) and observe up-close the brush strokes of the artists, the colors, the mood, and the visions they saw. Seeing the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, who is as iconic an American genius as Frank Lloyd Wright is to me, was a special opportunity to admire the work of a woman who brings to life the way I emotionally experience the landscapes of the southwest.  For me, nature is a place of worship, an entity with incredible life force, just like the katsinam represent.

There I was studying one of her paintings titled “The Mountain”— marveling as her varied brush strokes, her mastery of blending paint, her vision, her subject matter, her color palette, her eye, her steady hand, her everything—and it happened. The painting started to move. It was as if I had been slipped a psychedelic mind-altering drug; it was coming alive with energy, wriggling shapes, and colors. It was at that moment, I knew I was in the presence of greatness. Part American history, part indigenous culture, part modernism, part of our West, part homage to the contributions of a great woman; it was a DAM good experience.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine’s Day: Hoopla or Hope?

SONNET 116               
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved. 

 ~by William  Shakespeare

Although I am not a romantic person who requires presents, cards or flowers to feel loved (however, chocolate is an exception and quite appreciated) I must say I do like the heart-full celebration of this day. I believe celebrating love is a good thing, albeit Valentine’s Day has been romanticized and commercialized tremendously by retailers everywhere, I would rather hold on to the whole cultural concept instead of doing away with it. And I would like this day to focus on all variations of love—brotherly love, maternal and paternal love, unconditional love, spiritual love, same-sex love, animal love, platonic love, self love—beyond the romantic.  They’re all vital—love is love.

What could be the harm in a day which lifts our spirits during February’s doldrums with splashes of bright red hearts posted around town? I love red and seeing hearts and roses on display is uplifting. Ah, and chocolate the divine elixir can deliciously brighten any moment. Not to forget, the little four-letter word “love” written thousands of times on greeting cards and posters with its inspired meanings and range of feelings. I hope humans forever keep this word and its meaning in their emotional handbag and offer it up often. Love or loving does not guarantee anything—you just do it. One must “bear it out even to the edge of doom” and hold it without any promise. And if love does not work out well in the end one must attempt holding the feeling in reverence but letting go the object. It is one of those tasks we are here to master I am afraid. 

I read a blog post this morning begging the question: what are my favorite books about love? Immediately, two books came to my mind “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë and “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy. Each book addresses the suffering and pain of love—one story ends beautifully and the other tragically. I hope this does not imply that great love stories only existed in past centuries, but simply that these were just deeply embedded in my memory. Both stories have been made into wonderful films (many times over) and are worth watching. I enjoyed the latest remake (2012) of Anna Karenina with Keira Knightly, but there are earlier versions -- (1935) featuring Greta Garbo and (1948) with Vivien Leigh -- which are excellent. My favorite version of Jane Eyre is performed by Charlotte Gainsbourg (1996) and takes my breath away, but the 1943 version with Joan Fontaine is quite moving. What are your favorite books (or movies) of love?

Finally, a big kiss and hug to Bumble, my husband, who woke with me last night when a migraine headache had me reeling with pain and tried to assist. I hope for everyone on Valentine's Day to have this kind of loving bond.