Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wellness Center Helps Vets With PTSD

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section 11/5/11

As we get older, and live through or alongside more and more wars over the years, we seem to develop a deeper respect for our veterans than we had when we were younger.
When I was young, I still remember my grandmother making me write letters to my uncle in Vietnam. She would enclose my little notes in the boxes she made for him, placing them next to the Swiss Miss Instant Cocoa packets and jars of Tang.

He came back, I was lucky to get my “Unky” Bill back. But like many vets I have met from that war, he didn’t talk about it. And I never understood why.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after a terrifying event in which the person was physically harmed or felt threatened. Now there is a new healing center in New Mexico that addresses this issue in a way so successful it caught the eye of the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Aside from the clinical approaches used to help the veterans deal with PTSD, the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center in Angel Fire uses complementary alternative medicine such as yoga, guided imagery, Reiki, massage therapy, acupuncture, equine therapy, group sessions and Native American ceremonies at their retreats.

“Moving and life changing,” as some vets have described the exhausting 58 hours of structured therapy that lasts 7 full days at the Angel Fire retreats. And although the Albuquerque VA is top notch when it comes to caring for our vets, it is not their mission nor are they funded to take on the families.

Corrales residents Jim Tritten and his wife Jasmine attended the spring session with 16 other couples including one vet from WWII, one from the Korean War, nine from Vietnam, and about 5 from current conflicts.

Thinking that sharing your own stories with vets from other eras would be cathartic, I asked Jim if there was much interaction taking place.
“Yes, we all shared,” he said. “The newer ones were less open than the older guys who have been dealing with issues longer. Some of the new ones are still into denial or think that they have been ‘cured’.”
Since vets aren’t the only ones who are affected by PTSD, their spouses were recognized during the retreat as well, in a very heartfelt way.
“What probably affected each individual more than anything else was at a dinner during which the vets presented a purple heart (not the military medal) to their spouses and made a speech in front of everyone,” says Jim. “I am sure that this will be on the documentary.”
Lisa Ling, host of the show Our America on the Oprah Winfrey Network was filming a documentary at the retreat last April. Invisible Wounds of War will air tomorrow night on OWN at 10/9c and again on Veteran’s Day, 11/11, 5/4c.

“Lisa and her crew were there the entire time,” says Jim. “They had total access except at one meeting of only the vets during which they wanted to speak freely and explore some very sensitive issues.”
Jim says the filmmakers got raw unadulterated footage of some pretty heavy stuff shared by the vets and their spouses and that the issues Lisa and her crew heard affected them greatly. “There were times she was in tears - but then again we all were,” said Jim.
How proud we should be to have the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center here in New Mexico. But as any non-profit they depend on donations to stay afloat. Contact Karen Kelly at (575) 377-6555 for more information.
Quote of the Week: “My grandfather was a soldier. When he passed, there was no caisson, no flag draped casket, no salutes with rifles or by hand. No one passed the flag to his widow and thanked her for his service to his country . . . a silent witness to the passing of another forgotten soldier of a now forgotten war.” – Excerpt from Two Old Soldiers by Jim Tritten. 
Jennifer Huard’s column appears each Saturday. She welcomes your emails at Visit her blog at

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Didgeridoo of a Different Color

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section 10/29/11

If you have followed this column over the summer, then you are familiar with the story line of Jennifer and her Beanstalk. My agave grew a 20ft stalk this summer and I most recently wrote about its threatening demise onto my lamppost or worse yet, my roof when the season’s first major winds blow through.
A few weeks ago a loyal reader contacted me and said he could remove it for me. You are probably thinking a junk hauler, or landscape maintenance company, or tree trimmer, right? So was I. But it turns out it was something much more intriguing, someone much more interesting than I could have ever imagined. And he is a fellow Michigander to boot.
“Would you like to have me take that stalk off your hands?” wrote Charles Eaton, PhD., of Corrales.
“It is probably, even as I write, yearning to be transformed into something of beauty in its next life, rather than decaying in some landfill,” wrote Charles.
My interest was piqued and I learned Charles, 78 is the didgeridoo instructor at UNM Continuing Education, and that I have one of the finest growing right in my front yard. I couldn’t wait to learn more so I invited Charles over, but not before I Googled “didgeridoo.”
A didgeridoo is a wind instrument, sometimes described as a natural wooden trumpet or drone pipe developed by Indigenous Australians around 1,500 years ago.
When Charles came to the house to chop down my stalk, he brought along 3 of the 23 didgeridoos that he has made, and played them for me and imparted his wisdom of how they are made and how they should be played.

This inexhaustible world traveler showed me the didgeridoo he found in Australia but assured me that agave Neo-Mexicana or agave Americana are capable of exceeding the quality of Aboriginal didgeridoos any day.
The instruments can be made out of wood, eucalyptus or agave and are hollowed out with drills and blow torches. Charles sands them down and coats them with $180 a gallon marine epoxy. He then adds his signature in the form of a strategically placed piece of beautiful turquoise.

The sound these instruments make is somewhat similar to the sound whales make, a low pitched hum.  But once one can master what is known as circular breathing, breathing in through your nose while exhaling at the same time, you can also make animal sounds, barking and gargling noises.
“During the day, faster notes, but the evening and after breakfast meditation is when you are to blow a lower hum,” said Charles explaining in a Zen sort of way how to get the most out of this unique instrument’s soothing sounds.
This didgeridoo maker also plays the banjo and guitar, is a flintknapper, videographer and taught TV production at UNM for years.

Between Charles and his wife, Pauline Eaton, an accomplished watercolor artist, they have 3 master degrees and 2 doctorates.  “My philosophy is on continuing education. You can eat an elephant- one bite at a time,” says Charles.
So, in the spirit of Charles Eaton, I invite you to take another bite out of your own elephants and sign up for his UNM Continuing Education class, Playing the Didgeridoo. You may just see the famous Jennifer agave stalk in its final transformation. Classes start November 7th.  For more information call 277-0077.
Quote of the Week: “My goal is to be wheeled into the nursing home at 85 and blow into that thing, and blow the top right off.” – Charles Eaton, 78.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Customer Service is a Blushing Matter

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section 10/22/11
Last week I found myself getting the seasonal car work done on the Altima. I clipped a coupon and drove over to American Tire and Service on Arrowhead Ridge in Rio Rancho for an oil change.

I presented my coupon to Roger at the counter and took a seat in the waiting room.
It was late in the day and I was the only one there. The smell of rubber, the sound of the rivet gun, and the black and gray theme décor reminded me this place was definitely geared toward the male population. The coffee table overflowing with sports magazines and two TV remote controls only proved my point further.

Luckily the movie Grease was playing on the DVD, and although not a favorite, it gave me something to watch while I waited.

I went up to the counter and asked if I could use my second coupon and get my tires rotated and a brake check too.
“We only do rotations only on Fridays,” said Roger.
 “But,” I started to say.
 “And brake checks are on Saturday.”
“But the coupon says they’re together,” I said trying to claim my coupon.  I looked up at Roger and his sidekick Russell only to see smirks on their faces, which broke out into full on belly laughs. Yes, they got me.

The battery in my key fob was dead and I thought these guys, being car guys, would know how to change it. I explained that I looked it up online and found that it took a special battery that cost $87.00.
“This just takes a watch battery,” said Russell. “Go to Walgreens.”

But before I knew it, Russell came back with an Energizer double back of watch batteries. Talk about service. “I’ll just put it on your tab,” he said as he popped open my key fob and installed the battery for me.
“Do you want the old one,” asked Russell.
“Ah, no thanks,” I replied.
“I meant me,” he said howling.  Oh, he’s on a roll now, I thought.
“Why are you blushing?” he prods me, snickering in delight.

I didn’t think I was blushing, but pointing it out only makes me blush more. I hate the fact that I blush so easily, something that I have done ever since I can remember. Just like a dog that can’t hide his happiness with its wagging tail, I can’t hide my shyness. I keep hoping I will outgrow it, but so far no luck.
Oh sure, it’s all fun and games until someone needs a new battery.
“With the days getting colder, you may wake up one morning and it won’t start,” Roger says informing me my battery didn’t pass the computer test.
“How much are batteries?” I cautiously ask.
“I’ll print out a couple options for you,” he says.
I go back to my seat and now the TV in the waiting room has gone to blue screen because the toddler who came in with her family picked up both remotes and pushed as many buttons as she could before throwing them on the floor. I push all the buttons trying to get Grease back on but to no avail.
They pull my car up to the front door and call me to pay my bill. One oil change, free tire rotation and brake check, and one pack of Energizer watch batteries.
I tell Roger and Russell they were great fun and that I write a column in the Rio Rancho Journal and I was going to write about my visit to their shop, which at that point both men turned bright red. Gotcha boys.
Quote of the Week: “When a girl ceases to blush, she has lost the most powerful charm of her beauty” –Pope Gregory I.

Copyright 2011 Jennifer Huard.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Autumn Can Bring Behavioral Changes

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section 10/8/11.
Fall is in the air, and I am not sure I like it.
Of course, I couldn’t wait for it back in July when the swamp cooler was going 24/7 and it still wasn’t cool enough in the house. But the change of seasons brings change within. I feel like I have spring fever all over again the way I’ve been cleaning the house lately.

Does the change of seasons have an effect on you? Are you cleaning more? Cooking more? Things like chili or stews?
Are you cutting your lawn for the last time of the season? My friends back in Ohio did just that, cleaned the mower and tucked it away in the shed next to the snow blower, which won’t be sitting dormant for much longer. Doesn’t that make you feel good, especially us snowbirds, knowing our sun is still going to shine and we can usually use a broom to get rid of our snow.

The cooler weather has me tending to my landscape, that’s for sure. Tidying up the grounds before the leaves begin to fall doesn’t really make any sense, it must be instinctual.

I have been pulling weeds and sweeping my xeriscape, and wondering when my agave stalk is going to come crashing down on my lamp post, or worst yet my house. Yes, the near 20 foot stalk is still standing, but becoming a little hollower everyday. I am just hoping the big gust of wind that will eventually knock it down blows from the north and not the west.

And I will take credit again for the rain we had last Wednesday; I washed my windows on Tuesday. No kidding. I’m 3 for 3. You’re welcome.

One cool weather tradition that I have recently started is making Buckeye candy, packaging it up and mailing it back to my dad in Ohio.

Buckeye candy looks just like a chestnut type Ohio buckeye. But the candy is a round ball of peanut butter and powdered sugar mixture, dipped 2/3 up the sides in melted milk chocolate.

Trial and error proved this treat cannot be mailed during warm months and get there in the small round shapes it was so meticulously created. No, it ends up in one heaping mound of melted goo. So, last week I made my first batch of Buckeyes and shipped them back to my dad to kick off our chocolate candy season.
Even my cats feel the winds of change, my male cat is eating all the time now. I’m afraid he is going to turn into one of those really rotund felines waddling on 4 skinny peg legs underneath. How do you say no to a cat? How do you take the cat chow away and try to explain in English that he’s had enough food to feed all the animals in the house? Is he just bulking up for winter? Do they do that even when they are indoor cats?

Fall is in the air. It’s sweater weather. It’s crock pot dinner time. Its change your oil and switch over to the furnace time. What particular things do you find yourself doing now?
Quote of the Week: “To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.” -George Santayana, American Philosopher, 1863-1952.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Float of Your Life

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section 10/1/11

Your first time leaves your utterly speechless. It is a feeling unlike anything you have ever experienced in your life. It is one of those items you have to put on your bucket list. What am I talking about? Flying in a hot air balloon.

I have had the opportunity to fly in a variety of aircraft in my life. Back in the 80s my job took me on every commuter plane and jumbo jet the airlines had to offer including 747s, Learjets, Falcons and helicopters. I have been strapped into a roller coaster seat flying 85 miles per hour down a 255 foot drop. But nothing compares to the unique thrill and awe of flying in a hot air balloon.

The company I worked for had two hot air balloons of which I was responsible for scheduling around the country to promote its retail stores. And my first ride in the balloon was etched in my mind forever.

I had many questions on that early morning of my maiden flight in Maryland’s countryside, but wasn’t prepared for the ambiguous answers I was given by the pilot.

“How fast will we go,” I inquired. “As fast as the wind is blowing,” answered the pilot. “Where are we going?” I asked. “Wherever the wind takes us,” he replied. Yes, I was a newbie to ballooning but I didn’t care.

As the balloon stood up five stories tall, I hopped into the waist high wicker basket; no seat belts, no safety bars, no gas pedal, no brake, and waited for the golden moment when we would finally become lighter than air.

Without realizing it, we were hovering 2 inches off the ground. The crew members were nonchalant at this incredible feat, but I was having an unbelievable experience just four feet off the ground and rising. The most surreal one-of-a-kind feeling there is; to be quietly rising into the sky with no motor, no propeller, no rope, nothing. Another blast from the burner and we are at 20, 50, 100 feet and beyond.

As I was processing this new sensation, the pilot asked, “Want to do a little tree-topping?” Just as I began to wonder what he was talking about, we skimmed over the top of some big beautiful oak trees and I plucked a handful of leaves right off the top. There’s nothing like getting a giraffe’s perspective on life and nutrition. Simply incredible.

We floated along a few hundred feet above the ground watching the world wake up. We are just high enough to annoy every dog in every back yard along our path as we surprised the people in their driveways out picking up their morning papers.

Unfortunately, our ride came to an end some 25 miles away from our starting point and we gently return to earth with a gentle plop.

The 2011 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta begins today. Get out there and catch a ride on one of these gentle giants and cross a hot air balloon ride off your bucket list.

Quote of the Week: “And he said someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.” – Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No Pun Intended

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section 9/17/11

As I look around my house, I am putting things on a mental list of what I want to sell, keep, giveaway and just plain have to throw away.

After never getting past 2 end tables, I realize I can’t do the mental list anymore, and have reverted to writing everything down.

But before I can post my things on Craigslist or ebay, I have to first write an inviting description like everyone else does who wants to sell something in the paper or online.

Unrehearsed and unintentional as they may be, the intricacies of human language may have fouled up the writers of the following classified ads, or perhaps it was just a case of pure ignorance on their part. Either way, below are some actual lines from past classified ads, and I guarantee at least one will make you smile.

-"Georgia peaches, California grown - 89 cents lb."

-“2 female Boston Terrier puppies, 7 wks old, perfect markings, 555-1234. Leave mess."

-“Great Dames for sale."

-"Lost Cocktail."

-"Free Yorkshire Terrier. 8 yeards old. Hateful little dog."

-"Free ducks. You catch."

-"1 man, 7 woman hot tub -- $850/offer"

-"Amana washer $100. Owned by clean bachelor who seldom washed."

-"Snow blower for sale...only used on snowy days."

-"2 wire mesh butchering gloves: 1 5-finger, 1 3-finger, pair: $15"

-"Shakespeare's Pizza - Free Chopsticks"

-"Hummels - largest selection ever. 'If it's in stock, we have it!'"

-"Tired of working for only $9.75 per hour? We offer profit sharing and flexible hours. Starting pay: $7 - $9 per hour."

-"Get rid of aunts: Zap does the job in 24 hours."

-"Save regularly in our bank. You'll never reget it."

-"This is the model home for your future. It was panned by Better Homes and Gardens."

-“Wanted. Hunting rifle, suitable for teenagers."

-"Christmas tag sale. Handmade gifts for the hard-to-find person."

-"Wanted: Hair-cutter. Excellent growth potential."

-"Wanted: Preparer of food. Must be dependable, like the food business, and be willing to get hands dirty."

-"Mother's helper -- peasant working conditions."

-"Buy your new bedroom suite from us, and we will stand behind it for six months."

-"Dinner Special -- Turkey $2.35; Chicken or Beef $2.25; Children $2.00."

-"Government employer looking for candidates. Criminal background required."

-"His and hers bicycles, $25 each or both for $55."

-"For sale: an antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers."

-"We'll move you worldwide throughout the country."

-“We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We do it carefully by hand."

-"Tattoos done while you wait."

-"Dog for sale: eats anything and is fond of children."

-"Stock up and save. Limit: one."

-"For Rent: 6-room hated apartment."

-"Wanted to buy: fishing net, must have no holes."

-"To let: 4 bedroom house close to town. No poets."

-"Used Cars: Why go elsewhere to be cheated? Come here first!"

-"3-year-old teacher need for pre-school. Experience preferred."

-"Our experienced Mom will care of your child. Fenced yard, meals, and smacks included."

-"Auto Repair Service. Free pick-up and delivery. Try us once, you'll never go anywhere again."

-"Girl wanted to assist magician in cutting-off-head illusion. Blue Cross and salary."

-"Mixing bowl set designed to please a cook with round bottom for efficient beating."

-"Semi-Annual after-Christmas Sale."

-"We will oil your sewing machine and adjust tension in your home for $1.00."

Quote of the Week: “Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.” -Mark Twain

Smack Dab in the Middle of a Male Bonding Experience

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section 9/10/11

This one goes under the category of live and learn.

I’ve been to professional football games, I went to all the Ohio U. football games when I was in college, so it’s not like I just fell off the turnip truck. But you would have thought that last Saturday when I went to my first UNM football game.

I had a reason to go other than for the sport. No, I am not particularly a football fan, but I was caught clapping, cheering and yelling, “run, run, run” by my youngest daughter more than once during the game I’ll admit.
It was the Lobos season opener, but more importantly, it was my eldest daughter’s first time performing with the UNM Spirit Marching Band, and as a parent I couldn’t miss that. But I came close.

First of all, I wish someone would have told me that you have to be at the stadium for the pre-game show. I didn’t even know what a pre-game show was until 2:45pm my daughter texted me and said, “You’ll be here at 3 for the pre-game right? You can’t miss that.”

I finished blow drying my hair, put the dryer down, texted her back and said, “Almost there.”

I was planning on getting to the stadium at 3:30, that would have given me a half an hour to park, get tickets and find my seat. Plenty of time I thought until I got just below the Big I and found myself inching my way down the highway because it seemed everyone else in the world was going to the same game.

It took an hour to make the trip, it took another 20 minutes to park, another 10 minutes to walk to the stadium, and another hour to wait in line to buy our tickets. I should have known better when a friend asked me earlier in the week if I had bought my tickets yet.

As my youngest daughter and I waited in the ticket line with parched throats and soar feet, all I could wonder was why would women wear 5” heels and mini skirts to a Saturday afternoon football game and would we even make it inside to see the halftime performance?

Once inside, little did I know we were about to sit smack dab in the middle of a Saturday afternoon male bonding ritual.

My daughter and I found our seats behind the goal posts and tried to fit in amongst the screaming men dressed in red and foaming at the mouths. Whenever the Lobos made a good play and God help us a goal, all the men high fived each other, nodded in agreement and acted like they were best friends who all came in the same car. How can 37,000 men all know each other?

The marching band was great, the cheerleaders were great, oh and yes, the football game was great, even though we lost. Next time I will buy my tickets in advance, leave the house much earlier and wear red. There’s nothing to this college football stuff.

Quote of the Week: “Everyone’s a Lobo, woof, woof, woof.”- Lobo spirit chant to be screamed with accompanying hand motion.

Just Call Me Deborah

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section 9/3/11

As working women, we compete with men and that infuriating glass ceiling. We aim for degrees in fields that we’re told are higher earning, like nursing or physics so we can be sure to support ourselves.

But what gives one woman more earning potential than the next? An advanced degree? Friends in high places? Luck?

In honor of Labor Day and all the hard working women out there, past, present and future, I think its time to get down to the nitty gritty and tell the real reasons that make some women more successful than others.
Joyce Wu compiled research statistics together in her article The Women with the Highest Earning Potential and explains why a blonde, Asian, non-smoking pharmacist named Deborah is probably making more than you.

The women with the highest earning potential share similarities that may surprise you.

Deborah. The top female CEO names in ranked order are Deborah, Sally, Debra, Cynthia and Carolyn.
Keep your name. Women who keep their maiden names tend to earn $500,000 more over their lifetimes than those who change their names when they get married.

Asian. Asian families earned a median income of $73, 578. White families rank second at $65,000, Hispanic families at $40,466 and black families at $39, 879.

Birthplace. 36% of U.S. children who are born into families in the highest income tax bracket will stay in that bracket as they become adults. Westlake, Texas tops the list as the most affluent neighborhood in the U.S.

Beautiful. Beautiful women earn about 5% more than average looking women, and women with below average looks make 9% less than their ordinary girl friend.

Left-Handed. Left-handed people earn 5% more per hour than right handed people. This effect is more pronounced in men.

Non-smoker. The net worth of non-smokers is $8,300 higher than heavy smokers.

Eldest Child. The eldest child in the family is the most likely to earn a six figure salary.

Pharmacist. Female pharmacists have the highest median weekly earnings among women, earning $1,647 every week.

MBA. A woman with a professional degree will earn, on average, $4.4 million over a lifetime, compared to $1.2 million for a high school graduate.

Blonde. Blonde women in the UK make more than their brunette counterparts or red heads.

5’10”. Tall people make more money. Every extra inch is worth an extra $1,000 per year in wages.

Assertive. Mean girls earn more, on average about 5% more a year than those of us who just want to get along with everyone.

Drinker. According to a study by the Journal of Labor Research shows women drinkers earn 14% more than teetotalers. Oh, waiter?

Thin is in. Women considered “very thin” (25 pounds less than average) make $22,000 more every year than their co-workers of normal weight.

Does this mean that an agreeable mid-western, right handed, middle child doesn’t stand a chance against a tall, beautiful, bitchy, boozing woman from Texas? Can’t we talk this over? I’m sure there’s been a misunderstanding.

Quote of the Week: “I do not know anyone who has gotten to the top without hard work. It will not always get you to the top, but it will get you pretty near.” -Margaret Thatcher.

Here Comes the Rain Again

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section 8/27/11

Everyone is talking about the thunderstorm last Wednesday night just as much as the people on the east coast are talking about their earthquake. No surprise there, rain in New Mexico is almost as rare as an earthquake in Virginia, isn’t it?

Our storms of late remind me of this story I first told you about in July 2006 during that summer’s monsoons.
Being from the Midwest, I was raised with weather. After spending many years under serene Californian skies, I grew to really miss these wonders of nature.

My grandmother taught me, my brother and sister how to predict the weather by the way the leaves on the trees blew in the wind. I thought that was the neatest thing. I didn’t have to wait for the radio reports on the transistor anymore.

We would watch the storms roll in off Lake Huron. “Alright, its time to get out of the water and come inside NOW” my mother would shout out to us. “Why?” was always our inane response as we would surface from the 62 degree waters of Saginaw Bay. It wasn’t but minutes once we were inside the back door, all three of us kids huddled and dripping on the 2’ x 3’ mat that the first lightening strike would hit.

One lazy summer day while looking for things to keep themselves out of trouble, my brother and his buddy built a fort on the beach. These two twelve year old general contractors scrounged up some old rusty nails and hammered my grandmother’s wool blankets into a fallen birch tree branch. In its horizontal position, the limb made a perfect master beam for the tent. They secured the bottom of the blankets in the sand by strategically placing rocks around the edges. It was as cool as my puka shell necklace wearing brother.

With afternoon came that day’s thunderstorm. Chris begged my mother to stay in the tent during the storm. “Why not, we’ll be IN the tent, we will be safe”, he argued. “Besides, I looked at the sky, this storm is just going to skirt us” he reported in his best meteorologist-in-training voice. Being ten years old, I thought he had a great point and couldn’t see how anyone would disagree with this ingenious idea. In fact, I asked if I could go too.

“No one is going to be in that tent when this storm hits” insisted my mother. End of conversation.

The leaves started to blow “that” way. The storm had arrived. Then one blinding flash and deafening clap of thunder hit simultaneously.

“Do you think it hit Klepser’s cottage?” my little sister, the youngest meteorologist-in-training gingerly inquired. Couldn’t tell, but no one was going outside until Mom gave the all-clear.

In our after-storm survey of the immediate beach area, we came upon the infamous tent. It was in a heap on the sand. The lightening had struck the tent dead on and all the nails that had been so meticulously pounded into the trunk were now red hot, strewn amongst the debris. The master beam that had held the structure so safely together was split in two lying on top of the blankets. The once thought safe haven was practically smoldering with the after affects of the lightening bolt. Mom was right once again.

The advice never goes out of style: When the weather is threatening, stay inside.

Quote of the Week: “Here Comes the Rain Again” by the Eurythmics.

They Grow Up So Quickly

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section 8/13/11

This week my eldest daughter and three nieces all go off to college and the rite of passage synergy has put a vapor lock on my house that only Dr. Bombay from Bewitched can remove.

I’ve been discussing this with my sister and brother for the past few weeks as they try to prepare their daughters for college as well, making sure the clothing, bedding, and all the essentials have been purchased, packed and labeled.

As parents we may be guilty of over-preparing our kids and then they end up with dorm rooms full of stuff they don’t need, but hasn’t that always been our job? Who is going to remind them to take a sweater, eat something for breakfast, study everyday and don’t talk to strangers?

Through all of this I have found websites with helpful tips to prepare kids for college. There are articles like the top 20 things you forget to bring to college, how to construct a loft bed, and how to get along with a roommate. I’ve also learned that it is cheaper to buy text books online now than in the bookstores. Times sure have changed since the best advice for buying books was ‘buy used.”

While discussing the topic of “they grow up so quickly’ with a friend back in the spring after my graduation column, I was able to commiserate with her since she went through it with her son. And although he has long graduated, her feelings of when he left the nest and headed to college were still fresh in her mind.

I told her I thought shopping for the dorm bedding would be when it would hit me. But I was wrong because we did that last week at Target and no tears were shed, other than from my youngest daughter who wanted a pillow pet for her bed too.

“Oh no,” said Cheryl my friend. “The shopping isn’t what’s emotional. Its not when you take them to campus, and get them unloaded in their dorms. It’s later when you return home and see their empty bedroom in your house. That is when it will hit you that your child has grown up and flown the nest.”

My 7 lb. 11 oz. baby girl leaves on Monday morning to pursue her nursing degree at UNM, starting bright and early at band camp. The UNM Spirit Marching band is getting a great tenor sax player from Rio Rancho and I know where I am going to be for every Lobos home football game this year.

College is the most exciting time of your life. My dad gave me that advice when I went off to school. He was right. Enjoy your college years you crazy co-eds. It really is the best time of your life.

Is it too early to pack the electric blanket?

Quote of the Week: “However painful the process of leaving home, for parents and for children, the really frightening thing for both would be the prospect of the child never leaving home.” – Robert Neelly Bellah, American Sociologist.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Enchanted Gifts from the Land of Enchantment

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section July 30, 2011
The other day I was packing up my eldest daughter to go and spend the weekend with her aunt, uncle and cousins in Nevada. As I was reminding her to remember her manners, and to pack a sweater, even though it is summer, I started to think what sort of thank you gift I could send along with her, something that says “New Mexico.”

New Mexico Piñon Coffee in the bright red package is many people’s favorite coffee around here. Having earned the title “Best Selling Coffee” at the New Mexico State Fair seven years in a row and “A Top 24 Gourmet Food Company” by the New York Times, well, I can’t be the only one who loves this morning brew.

El Pinto salsa is always a great idea. Famous and delicious, there is the chipotle salsa, the fire-roasted green chile salsa, or even their enchilada sauce would make a great gift. But with the strict airline regulations, I wasn’t sure if salsa was considered a liquid and would it be confiscated at security and put on display with the bottles of shampoo and mouthwash? I pressed on for the perfect gift.

There’s nothing like a cool Santa Fe evening with the smell of fireplaces burning in the air to scream New Mexico.

That is why my favorite local gift has to be piñon incense. Available at many stores around town, they even sell the little kivas to burn the incense in for the full effect.

I didn’t have time to drive all over town, and the one store I went to didn’t have it, so I pressed on.

Another favorite scented gift worth mentioning is the cedar wood scented incense and spray from the Hyatt Tamaya Resort. Yes, the scent you smell as you walk in the front door is available for purchase in their gift shop. I bought some once as a birthday gift for a friend who lives back East as a little reminder of how beautiful the sunset was from the patio.

A book of ghost stories by Albuquerque author Antonio R. Garcez always makes a great gift. “New Mexico Ghost Stories” is a collection of first-hand recollections of ghostly encounters that happened in different parts of the state. His newest, “American Indian Ghost Stories of the West” is by far the most chilling of them all. I warn you: Do not read it alone at night.

I ended up buying the old standby: candles. But these came tied in raffia ribbon with a Mexican tile and scents that were named Jemez morning and purple sage. I think that little touch of the Land of Enchantment will be just fine.

Did I miss any? What is your favorite gift to send to out-of-state friends and relatives?

Quote of the Week: “Casey also saw this same shadow walk from the bedroom to the bathroom one night. In the kitchen, knifes would be removed from the wood knife block, and in the morning, I would find them spread out in the sink!” – excerpt from “New Mexico Ghost Stories” by Antonio R. Garcez.

America’s Fascination With Space Won’t End

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section July 23, 2011
I remember where I was when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969. I remember where I was when the Challenger disaster happened on that fateful morning in 1986.

I would bet we were all a little melancholy Thursday when the Atlantis space shuttle’s landing marked an historic end of NASA’s 30-year-long space shuttle program. Seems Americans have a fascination with space, and rightly so.

NASA’s Apollo program ran from 1961 until 1975. The shuttle program ran from 1981 to 2011.

President Obama has now ordered NASA to focus its resources on sending people to an asteroid by 2013 and to Mars by 2030. Onward and upward we go.

The shuttle program milestone this week was a good excuse for me to dig out the column I wrote two years ago marking the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing, and which I submit in honor of the closing of another chapter in NASA’s book.

Where were you when you watched Armstrong’s boot touch the lunar surface? I was sitting with my mother on our couch in the living room. I still remember to this day feeling so nervous for the astronauts wondering if they were going to sink into a quicksand-like surface or land safely on hard ground. But that’s an 8-year-old girl for you; a mother in the making even then.

Landing on the moon made us one with the world, and it was like magic. But watching the space geeks at Mission Control in Houston riding an emotional roller coaster had to have been one of the high points. These young baby boomers brought home the human element. When they looked worried, we were worried. When they threw their arms up in the air in victory, we cried.

Apollo 11: The Untold Story, an article on, is filled with quotes from the young men who were part of history; sleepless news correspondents and operations engineers, flight directors and even astronauts themselves telling their personal tales of those historical days in the summer of ’69.

Robert Sieck, spacecraft test and launch operations engineer, Kennedy Space Center: “Since I was the backup engineer, I was not out at the Cape. I could watch the launch with my wife and my 1-year-old daughter. The highway was absolute gridlock, and the cars and trucks weren’t trying to move. Everyone was there to watch history. The vendors were sold out of everything — no more T-shirts, caps, buttons or pins. People were pulling plugs of grass from the side of the road and stuffing them in zip-lock bags as souvenirs,” Sieck said.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” Armstrong announces, breaking the tension in the control room as a controller tells the crew, “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we’re breathing again.”

Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would spend two hours on the moon July 19, collecting souvenirs and leaving a few of their own; an American flag and a plaque that reads, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

I would be fortunate enough to see two of the souvenirs in my lifetime: a moon rock at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and the actual space capsule at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Much smaller than I expected, I might add.

Quote of the Week: “There is a photograph that shows splashdown inside the control room. There’s a guy standing by the console with a huge piece of paper. That’s me. I got the signatures of everybody in that room and in the back room. Every time I did that I would ask them their age. Well, I sat down and ran it out. The average age the night we had splashdown was 28. When Space Shuttle Atlantis left Earth on May 11, 2009, the average NASA civil servant’s age was 47.” — H. David Reed, a flight dynamics officer during Apollo 11.

Potter Premiere Was Way Past My Bedtime

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section July 16, 2011
Pottermania came to town Thursday night, and I was smack dab in the middle of it, having been dragged to the midnight premiere of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″ by my two daughters.

This was the final installment in J.K. Rowling’s magical Hogwarts franchise and those who were much younger were at fever pitch. Oh sure it’s bittersweet, if you know what Dumbledore means. But for the rest of us, it was a late night out that could be spent in bed. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun to be out with my girls and I’m glad they wanted me along.

We knew we had to get to the theater early since my eldest had been to the midnight premiere of one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and knew the ropes. We arrived 2 1/2 hours early to a costumed crowd of Potter fans all eager to see if Harry lives or dies.

I’ve been to three midnight movies in my life: Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same,” the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Now if that doesn’t date me, nothing does.

We followed the line as it snaked down the parking lot and up the other side to the end ready to begin the wait. But before I could reprimand any kids for cutting in line, the security guards told anyone who had tickets to Theater 8 could go inside. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

We were whisked inside to the air-conditioned theater and got to wait for the show sitting comfortably in our recliner seats.

I had seen a few of the other Happy Potter movies and thought I was with it and up on the characters until I tried to clarify something with my eldest.

“Is the snake going to be in this one?” I confidently asked.

“Oh, mother,” was her response. You would have thought I asked if the Wicked Witch of the West really was going to take Toto to the river and drown him.

I didn’t ask any more questions after that.

Prior to midnight, I knew I had better get a cappuccino from the concession stand so I wouldn’t fall asleep.

Either the cappuccino was spiked with brandy or the film was in another language or it was simply past my bedtime, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open until the last half hour of the movie.

No spoiler alert here, I won’t give away any secrets other than to say the movie was great; people snickered, giggled, cried and cheered at the end.

We laid our heads down on our pillows at 2:45 a.m., when the coffee finally kicked in and I watched infomercials until 5 a.m.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has sold more than 400 million copies and her books turned into 8 feature films. All I know is that I wish I had the imagination and vocabulary that J.K. Rowling has. Oh, and the money wouldn’t hurt either.

Quote of the Week: “I just write what I wanted to write. I write what amuses me. It’s totally for myself.”- J.K. Rowling.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mom Is Great For News, Gossip

Luca sitting on the floor of the car, looking tired,
and very grateful a lone Toyota 4Runner happened
by that hot summer day. Photo courtesy of
Jake Quinones, NM Backroads.

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section July 9, 2011

Telephone conversations with my mother back East are always guaranteed to be enlightening and irreverent as we try and solve the world’s problems, along with Florida murder trials and whatnot. And, of course, when we get to gossiping about the family, well it’s downright juicy.

Turns out the other night’s conversation had us telling similar stories from each other’s corner of the world.

“Did you hear about the kitten that was thrown off the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York?” she asked me.

“Heavens no,” was my response. “What happened?”

Apparently, someone in a moving car threw something out of the passenger’s side window on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge last Saturday.

What looked like trash began to move after it hit the retaining wall on the bridge. It was a 5-week-old kitten.

“Wouldn’t you know the car right behind the culprit was an animal control officer who pulled over and rescued the kitten before it stumbled over the edge and into the water below,” my mother said.
The New York animal shelter named the kitten Verrazano, and has had dozens of calls from hopeful adopters.

Well, after hearing that I knew I could top her story with another animal tale from right here in New Mexico.

Jake Quinones of New Mexico Backroads, a southern New Mexico-based backcountry vehicle exploration guiding and photography service, is always out driving the desolate and deserted roads in the uninhabited areas of our state.

He recently wrote on his blog about something he happened upon while driving the winding Indian Route 12 along the New Mexico/Arizona border.

“I passed dead horse after dead horse. Some lay on the embankment while others made it a bit further into the scrubland before dying,” Quinones wrote. “The third dead horse I passed provided surreal scene. A black puppy was playing in the grass tufts behind the massive carcass.”

Quinones said the black puppy fled in fear as he approached, but there was another puppy too injured to run.

“Her belly and paws were riddled with spines and goat heads,” Quinones said.
Not only that, it appeared the puppy had been rolling beneath the dead horse’s ruptured belly for days.
“I picked her up and held her to my chest; her tail started to wag,” he said. “The spines and goat heads embedded in her skin made holding her like embracing a cactus.”

The final picture on the blog shows the dirty puppy, which looks like an Australian shepherd mix, sitting on the floor of the car, looking tired, and grateful a lone Toyota 4Runner happened by that hot summer day.

“Oh, that is a great story,” my mother said. Not missing a beat, she continued, “Did you see that hotel maid case in New York was dismissed? You know she was a hooker.”

Quote of the Week: “If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.” – Erma Bombeck
Read Jake Quinones full story on Luca the puppy here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Former Ohioan Keeps Making Music

As appeared in the Albuquerque Journal Rio Rancho section July 2, 2011

Last week’s column on my trip back to Ohio had more than a few people write in commenting on Ohio, old friends and Ohio University. I knew there were some Ohio transplants in Rio Rancho, and one in particular stole my heart.

“I read your column of Saturday, June 25th and I enjoyed it very much. Why? Because I was born and raised in Cleveland — 91 years ago,” Richard Kolda wrote in an email.

Turns out Richard and his wife moved to Rio Rancho in 2007 to be closer to their daughter and son-in-law.

Small world you say? It gets even smaller.

Richard Kolda went to Ohio University, like I did, and got his bachelor’s degree in education, but it took him a little longer than he had expected.

“It took me 8 years to get my degree. Some guy by the name of Hitler interrupted my education,” Richard says.

After teaching instrumental music in the Cleveland Heights School System for 30 years, and playing in the Cleveland Orchestra, among other bands and orchestras, Richard retired, but that hasn’t stopped him from playing his trumpet.

“I joined the Rio Rancho Symphonic Band a few weeks after the move,” Richard says. “I love the association with other musicians.”

The Rio Rancho Symphonic Band is an adult community band, says John Emory, the band’s director. He founded the band in 2005 to provide an outlet for adults in Rio Rancho and surrounding communities to continue making music after high school and college.

“As a result, we have a wide range of ages from high school age to our most experienced player, who is 91, which would be our own Richard Kolda, by the way,” Emory says.

Currently the band seats around 40 musicians at any given concert. There is no audition process for membership, rather Emory allows prospective members to attend rehearsals and decide for themselves if the band is a fit for their skill level.

The band rehearses every Tuesday at Cibola High School and plays free concerts about eight weeks apart all year; inside Cibola Auditorium during the winter months and outdoors in parks during the warmer months.

“Our goal is to increase our regular performing membership to 60,” says Emory. He is looking for wind or percussion players to join the band. If interested, John would love a phone call from you at 250-1773.

The Rio Rancho Symphonic Band will perform live before the fireworks show around 7:30 p.m. at Rio Rancho High school on the Fourth of July. I know I will be there; I have a fellow Bobcat to meet.

“I sit in the trumpet section, second-to-last chair,” Richard says. “I can’t decide what to wear; my O.U. hat or Indians.”

This O.U. bobkitten votes for the green and white O.U. hat, Richard.

Happy 4th of July Rio Rancho. Stay safe, and leave the fireworks to the officials.

Quote of the Week: “My whole life, my whole soul, my whole spirit is to blow that horn.” — Louis Armstrong, American leading trumpeter, 1901-1971.