An Ode to Janus: Looking Backward and Forward

I suppose it would be appropriate for the final year-end blog posting to reflect on 2009 and ponder the new year arriving soon.  This sure has been a year of transition for me: lifestyle, location, and leisure time.  After three careers (surgical nursing, picture frame studio co-owner, and university senior lecturer) starting way back in the 1960s, to make the decision to retire as soon as I could, age 62, was a seismic shift in my life and a big Y in the path of my journey.  I suppose I could have worked a few more years, but the vision of stacks of student essays awaiting me each fall, winter and spring was daunting.  So far, I am pretty sure I made the correct decision for me.

The nursing and store owner careers are so far behind me that they seem to belong to another person, but since the teaching career is still fresh–I was in the classroom as recent as last April–my immediate retro-focus is on that aspect of my life.  Not giving into nostalgia, I do miss my colleagues at Widener University and the 5-day a week intellectual interaction with them.  Being a song and dance person, I do miss the classroom give and take with the students.  I also miss the enjoyable times–and there were many–at the university’s Writing Center.  My former church family, Trinity Episcopal in Swarthmore is never far from my thoughts, and, of course, I do miss the circle of good friends (you know who you are) that took years to establish. 

Life in Utah has different wrinkles than back east in Pennsylvania; the landscape is certainly different as we have fewer trees, at least where I live, and the mountains loom pretty much on all sides of us in one way or another.  Presently, they’re blanketed with snow, but when I arrived in July, they were a mix of green ground cover and shrubbery, plus some trees along with rock outcroppings.  To the immediate west of us the land flattens out until the next range of mountains and the Great Salt Lake occupies much of that flat surface.  The water levels are still low, but if there is a good mountain snowpack (over 160 inches), the melt off might restore the lake levels.  We are all aware that Monatana is known as big sky country, but Utah, and other western states, could also qualify for that description.  In some areas where the land starts flattening out, one can see for miles and miles, which creates the appearance of a dominating dome of blue sky.  I’ve seen some mighty impressive sunsets with pink, purple and apricot clouds sailing overhead like bits of torn cloth or shreds of cotton candy.  Unwrapping my Christmas tree ornaments and getting out my Christmas holly china felt familiar and helped smooth the transition into my first Christmas not in Pennsylvania, as did all the Christmas cards I received.

As for my leisure time, which obviously I have more of now, I fill it with reading, solving the morning newspaper cryptogram, cooking, honing bread baking skills, getting involved in the local art scene, light housework, and most important, being here for grandson Ethan who started kindergarten this fall.  He’s in the Chinese language immersion program now until he graduates high school, and we’re starting to hear bits and pieces of that opportunity in random ways.  Another year or two and he should really blossom!  I’ve gathered a few new friends to start a new circle, mostly from the church I now attend, St. Peter’s Episcopal, but it will take a long time to cultivate the types of friendships that still call to me from back east.  Thank heaven for e-mail and Facebook.

I now look to 2010 and what that year will bring.  I intend to visit my old stomping ground for the month of June and that will give me time to catch up with as many friends and family as humanly possible.  Initially, I was going to fly home, but with recent world events air travel seems a bit iffy, plus it’s expensive.  I think I’ll drive back and then I’d have wheels once I’m back east; that’s certainly a convenience!  I’ve already arranged for my Stratford tickets in the end of June; I just can’t bring myself to abandon that theater treat in Canada as I’ve been going up for 20 years now.  Lara and Bob have been wonderful to invite me into their household and my presence here has enabled my daughter to start a new job which she really enjoys, especially confident that Ethan is well-cared for.  Of all the retirements, I could have chosen, I suppose I could be in much worse straits.  My income is greatly reduced, but I am able to live comfortably under their roof and feel useful by pulling my own weight in the family.

I wish everyone a happy, peaceful and prosperous (well, one can hope…) New Year and I’ve already got ideas for the first blog postings in January, so stay tuned.  Here’s a toast to all and to 2010!!!

Published in: on December 29, 2009 at 8:04 pm  Comments (3)  

Merry Christmas!

For all those folks who are graciously reading my Utah blog, and sometimes leaving comments (which I enjoy immensely!), a very Merry Christmas and  happy, prosperous New Year!  Here’s to a wonderful 2010 with more adventures and blog postings that I hope you’ll enjoy.  

I am enjoying living with family in Utah and seeing grandson Ethan thrive and learn in kindergarten, but it’s only natural that I do miss friends and activities back in Pennsylvania.  

I can’t send each of you flowers, but below is a picture of poinsettias I would give you all if I could. 

Enjoy the holidays!  All my best wishes.

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 3:28 pm  Comments (2)  

The Dreaded Temperature Inversion

Each morning since Saturday, we have awakened to dense, soupy fog (think the infamous London fogs of the late 1800s) which the sun doesn’t burn through, if at all, even partially, until late morning. Visibility is less than a quarter mile.  The sky often remains a flat white, sort of like the solid cloud cover of the planet Venus.  One must drive closer to the mountains, now covered with snow themselves, to start seeing them.  They will appear and disappear through the fog and mist like ghostly sentinels.  I am told that it is called a temperature inversion, and due to the nearby mountains, somewhat unique to this geographic area.  Add to that the pollution of all the cars and people along the Wasatch Front and Salt Lake City proper and you have some highly suspect air to breathe.  In fact, on the news programs a color-coded air quality chart is presented: Saturday, Sunday and today, Monday, have been designated as red alert days.  Folks with asthma, COPD or other lung issues are cautioned to stay indoors and the police want residents to carpool when possible to reduce the number of cars on the road.  For us living in Syracuse, just a few miles from the Great Salt Lake, we get the added treat of smelling the briny lake air, as well.

The odd thing is that the ski areas up in the higher elevations will be warmer than we are in the valley; so places like Park City and Solitude (the ski resort) will be in the 40s and we are below a blanket of mist and 30s or lower temperatures.  Hence the description of temperature inversion; rising warm air traps the heavier cold air below it.  The famously dry air of the desert has become humid and cold, not unlike the east coast cold, wet winter weather.

Now all of this may not be exactly pleasant, and it will eventually be swept away by the next winter storm–we expect one on Tuesday, 6-8″ are predicted–but it does have its beauty.  The fog freezes (frozen fog is  called rime) on surfaces and creates bizarre coatings and formations.  This is the land of Jack Frost, not just painting delicate icy designs on windowpanes, but coating jagged, barren branches with a white icing that has lots of odd lumps and sharp needle points  Since it’s not a coating of ice, it doesn’t look like glass, but rather opaque, like confectioner’s sugar.  Despite its needles, when you touch a branch, the coating immediately disintegrates.  Try to imagine how beautiful a stand of trees and bushes looks covered in rime.  Just add a winter fairy with gossamer wings and the illustration would be complete.  I’ve added photos of this lovely frost.

Published in: on December 21, 2009 at 10:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

An Evening with the Mo Tab

No self-respecting Utahn (I guess that’s me, now…) would pass up the chance to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in person (affectionately known as Mo Tab out here).  I thought I would have to wait quite a while for that experience, but it happened more quickly than I would have ever dreamed.  Plus, since it was their annual Christmas concert spectacular, I must say it the event really puts one in the holiday spirit!

The tickets for their 4-show (Thursday-Sunday) Christmas presentation become available to anyone–for free!–online in October via a ticket request lottery.  Neighbors across the street requested tickets and were selected this year.  They asked Bob and Lara to go, since I am available to watch Ethan.  At the last minute, Bob had to leave for a weekend business trip so the extra ticket fell in my lap. 

The choir performs in downtown Salt Lake City in one of the many LDS Buildings in Temple Square.  Formerly, the Mo Tab’s home was the nearby oval Tabernacle (hence the choir’s name) built in the mid-1860s for the biennial LDS conferences and as a home for the choir.  It seats 8,000, very large for the day, but now the conferences have outgrown that space and in 2000 a new conference center was completed adjacent to Temple Square that seats 21,200!  No expense was spared (if you Google the LDS Conference Center, there are plenty of images): indoor and out door heated waterfalls; statues; reflecting pools; rooftop gardens; gorgeous landscaping, ablaze with lights for the holiday season (think Longwood Gardens).  It truly is a magnificent building. The interior auditorium is semi-circular with two huge balconies, all facing the stage, choir seating and a pipe organ that rivals the one still in the original tabernacle.  It’s sort of like walking into the mother ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (remember that movie?).

It was an extravaganza of guest performers (more on that later), the Mo Tab Choir and orchestra, a children’s choir, costumed dancers, and hand bell ringers.  The choir sang a mix of traditional and contemporary music, sacred and popular.  One of the guests was historian and author David McCullough, who gave the history of “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and placed them in an historical context we could all relate to.  The other guest was Natalie Cole (yes, that Natalie Cole!).  Her gown choices were exquisite and she looked elegant and regal–even her rhinestone-encrusted hand mic was resplendent.  Earlier this year, in May, she had a kidney transplant, so I give her credit for returning to entertaining so soon. She had a wee bit of a rocky start on her first song (of a total of 8)–she was flat–but soon got her vocal footing and was a delight to hear in person.  She sang some solos and with the choir, as well.  The number I enjoyed the most was “The Holly and the Ivy”; Ms Cole offered a simple, quiet rendition that was stunning.  

The concert was filmed, so I had a camera boom sweeping over my head the entire concert.  We had great seats in the front orchestra section, about 20 rows from the stage and slightly left of center.  The announcement was made that this concert will eventually be on PBS (I think it will be in 2010); the concert that will be shown this Christmas on PBS will be last year’s concert.  I guess it takes a whole year to edit the footage to create one program with few flaws.

The other thing that surprised me was at the rear of the lower seating area, suspended from the lower balcony was a large tele-prompter screen.  It scrolled the words to the carols and comments and brief stage directions to both Cole and McCullough.  I hadn’t thought about that detail before, but I suppose no chances can be taken that a performer would get lost in the words.

I enjoyed the concert thoroughly and it was a thrill to be there. I’ve only heard the Mo Tab  once before in the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia when they were on summer tour, and they do live up to their reputation.  But I did feel like a slacker, just sitting there enjoying the music; the woman seated next to me was sewing sock animals the entire time in the slightly dimmed light.  Only in Utah….

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 4:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

The View Out My Window

As I start to write this posting early in the morning, the snowflakes are swirling in their dance to the ground, now blanketed with about 5 inches of lovely, fluffy snow. In previous weeks, an inch of snow had fallen on two separate occasions–a tease of the winter months to come–but it quickly melted in the afternoon sun. Yesterday, the snow had accumulated enough to grab the snow shovel and clear the sidewalks.  I figured I’d better tackle it, as Lara or Bob would be facing it after work in the dark.  We’re on a corner, so you know the implications: double the length of sidewalk!  

Now, we’re getting lake-effect snow again for another round of heavy flakes.  I am cautioned that sometimes the snow is the heavier, water-laden variety like in Pennsylvania, but this snow was light as a feather and full of sparkles, just magical.  As we’re only about 3 miles as the crow flies from the Great Salt Lake, this area gets heavy lake-effect snow.  However, since this storm came in from southern California, instead of the Seattle direction, the southern part of Utah–known affectionately as “Dixie”–caught the brunt of the storm.  In the south, places like Hurricane, Moab, and Montecello recorded 18 inches in the valleys and up to 4 feet in the higher elevation mountains, along with 70 mile per hour winds.  I am assured that just wait long enough and we, too, will get a blizzard.

For now, this is not a blizzard, but a gentle snowfall, which piles up on flat surfaces and buries the garden and walkways.  Snow cone shapes balance on top of the bird feeder and suet cage, their contents attracting colorful finches and other Utah snowbirds. Scootie, the cat, sits on the window bench and presses her nose against the glass, drooling at the unreachable birds.  It must be totally entertaining for her, as she watches them fight and try to scare each other off the feeders.  Lots of wings flapping and beaks squawking, with the occasional thump against the window provides a great show for her.  

If the snow gets deep enough, our dog, Charlie the Welsh Corgi can participate in “Corgi Tossing,” a winter game Lara tells me he just loves (as do a lot of Corgis).  Bank up enough of the fluffy snow and pick Charlie up–all 45 pounds of him–and gently throw him into the drift.  Maybe I’ll get to participate tonight!  Charlie is a husky herding-type dog with oversized pointy ears and undersized short legs.  (See family photo.)


In the meantime, I’m enjoying a mug of hot chocolate after another quick clearing of 1/2 inch of the flurries from the sidewalks–best to keep ahead of it, and the flakes have ceased for the present.  The snow is white, as is our solid fence and the sky, which is obscuring the mountains, so the world outside my window is pretty monotone, save for the light tan stucco on the nearby houses.  Baking Christmas cookies this afternoon should fill the house with some holiday scents of cinnamon, clove, and vanilla.

More snow is predicted for later this week….

Published in: on December 9, 2009 at 6:54 pm  Comments (2)  

Buffalo Round-up

I thought I’d post on my blog a more detailed account of the experience my family and I had on Halloween Day out on Antelope Island watching the yearly bison round-up.  It was very different than anything I have ever seen, the real deal, a slice of the old west!  

It seems each year, the park rangers at the Antelope Island State Park, which is quite near us (the causeway leading across the Great Salt Lake to the island is only about two miles from us), round up the herd of buffalo–about 600 strong–for the annual culling, tagging, counting, and veterinary check-up.  Not only is the public invited out for the excitement (viewed from a safe distance) but also any cowpoke (male or female) who would like to participate on horseback is welcome.  It seems the extra help is appreciated.  I also think, those on horseback enjoy the event and the chance to drive a herd, just like the good old days.  On any given day, horseback riding is permitted on the island, but on marked trails only.  This is the one day of the year when horses and riders can go pretty much anywhere and even, gallop.  It must be a thrill!

This year was just cool enough that all involved weren’t sweltering under the hot Utah sun and didn’t have to wear heavy outer coats.  The herding starts at the extreme south end of the several mile long island and moves northward to gather all the strays and calves born last spring.  As the herd grows larger in size and greater in number, it really is a sight to see: horses with riders on the outer fringes of the bison, woolly and shaggy-coated dark brown buffalos sometimes breaking into loping runs and all this against a backdrop of tall, tan grass and sweeping views of the rather desolate island cliffs and jagged peaks.  It didn’t hurt the picture that the sky was a drop-dead blue with a few whispy clouds.  

The public who was watching was kept to the few roads on the island which run along the shoreline and near the planned route to the northern-end winter corrals.  SUVs, Jeeps, and other vehicles were parked in single-file along the road and photographers were on car tops, walking along the road,taking photos from horseback, and hanging out of car windows to take pictures while the herd kept flowing along in unison.  

Apparently, if the journey doesn’t end on that day, it is finished the next by the rangers and any lingering cowpokes.  We stayed on the island for about three hours watching and marveling at the cowboy movie come to life.  I managed to get a lot of digital shots and they are available online at the Kodak Gallery:

Just copy the above address and paste it in the address box and see for yourself some of the landscape of the island, the views from the island across to the mainland along the Wasatch Front, the Great Salt Lake, and the buffalo round-up.   Also pictured are shots of the Fielding Garr ranch.  This is the sole remaining historical ranch on the island which was in use until 1981.  It was built in 1848 to be a Mormon Cattle tithing ranch to help underwrite assisting immigrant Mormons journey west from Europe to join the Utah settlement.  Each family in the Salt Lake area donated a tenth of their herd to the island ranch.  Then Brigham Young’s (he was the second leader after the founder, Joseph Smith was killed in the mid-west) idea was to sell these cattle to raise funds for fellow Saints to come west, especially from England and Germany.  The ranch changed hands many times and really gives a visitor the sense of how remote, lonely, and austere life must have been for the families who lived out there, trying to make a go of it.  Back then, with no convenient causeway out, one got to the island by a flat ferry.  The ranch house, barn and other out buildings, along with ancient farm equipment is on the site.

Of course, no visit to the island and the round-up would be complete without a stop at the little cafe there and a lunch of–you guessed it–buffalo burgers, followed by a hike up a trail to the top of a nearby peak.  All-in-all, a wonderful day and a unique experience.

Published in: on December 4, 2009 at 7:20 pm  Comments (1)