The wonder of dancing cowboys

Recently, I began watching the TV series Yellowstone, the Kevin Costner ode to a dysfunctional, Montana ranching family. The show is fascinating, disturbing, and beautifully shot with a memorable cast of characters.

While the give and take involved in trying to keep the land occupies most of the screen time, there are also scenes that portray the daily lives of ranch hands, who, as one might expect, are cowboys.

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Who knew there were still real cowboys out there?

That grown men live in bunk houses, and share their meals, and rope, and ride in this day and age amazes me. Let me say here that I was raised in New Jersey, where the only cowboys I saw were on TV and in the movies, all of which harkened back to earlier times.

Which brings me to my introduction to Phoenix, Arizona when I moved to that western city for a sportscasting job.

“Let’s go out,” my new friend Abby said.

“Where do you want to go?”

“Denim & Diamonds.” She grinned.

“What’s that?” I asked, trying to figure out what to wear.

“You’ll see.”

Later that night, Abby and I entered a huge dance hall unlike anything I’d ever seen. Country music blared. A huge group of men and women swelled on the wooden dance floor. My mouth fell open for a number of reasons.

First, the men were all dressed like cowboys: long-sleeve, white button downs open at the neck, spotless, Saturday-night cowboy hats, buffed boots, and tight blue jeans held up with belts showcasing fancy silver buckles.

I giggled. “What’s with the costumes?”

“What costumes?”

“The cowboy thing. Is this a special night that they’re all dressed like that?”

Abby tilted her head. “No, they’re dressed like that because they are cowboys.”

“No they’re not,” my skeptical, Jersey self pointed out.

“OK, maybe a few aren’t cowboys in their day jobs,” Abby countered. “But many of them are.”

“I stared at the center of the room and was equally stunned by all the men dancing. Tight steps in those cute, pointy boots, as they sashayed around the room, twirling smiling women.  I’d grown up in the days when men didn’t dance and girls were left to shimmy and shake on their own while the guys watched and hugged the walls.

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As far as cowboy hats go, there are a lot of rules to follow.

I couldn’t get over the feeling that I was on a movie set. I sat at a high table bordering the dance floor and sipped a beer. The men moved expertly, line dancing with their thumbs hooked in their belts. I was struck by the fact that they were wearing their hats indoors, which I assumed was rude. I’ve since learned that cowboy-hat decorum can be quite complicated.

According to Bernard Hat’s “A Guide to Cowboy Hat Etiquette,”

  • Any time you enter a building, the hat should come off.
  • If it is an informal occasion you may put it back on but for a formal occasion it should stay off.
  • When sitting down at a table for a meal, the hat should come off unless there is nowhere to safely lay the hat.
  • When sitting down at a counter for a meal, the hat can stay on.
  • Out on the range however, keep your hat on while you eat. If you take your hat off, another wrangler might step on it or spill food into the rim.

I’m not sure where hats stand in regard to dancing. The gents whirling around the floor had theirs on. And I didn’t want to quibble, because they were all so dang cute.

Before you scoff at dancing cowboys, understand that they are very popular. Note that The Cowboy Dating Service, Cowboy Soul Mate, and Cowboy Chat City are just a few of the dating sites devoted to those who aspire to find their cowboy match.

And now, don’t be jealous, because I do have my own such man, though it’s been a long time since he was out on the range seeking lost cows. My sweetie pie spent two years working on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma. When I met him he still had his boots and cowboy hat. Admittedly, Ryan’s turn in the saddle was a long time ago, but I’m guessing once a cowboy always a cowboy.

Giddy up!

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Anne Montgomery’s novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other?  The Scent of Rain is available at https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780996390149 and wherever books are sold. 

 

 

 

The curious case of the changing tastebuds

The average person is born with about 9,000 tastebuds. Our tastebud cells have the lovely ability to replacate themselves every one-to-two weeks. Which is pretty handy when we gulp down that hot coffee or scalding pizza cheese and burn the little guys.

However, as we age, those cells do not repair themselves as easily and our tastebuds die off. On top of that, our ability to taste all foods – sweet, sour, bitter, and salty – declines after 60.

That might not be a bad thing. If you recall from when you were a child, onions and garlic and peppers and mustard made us weep and cry out for our mommies. Today, though, they make us smile.

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I grew up hating Brussel sprouts, but was delightfully amazed at how good they could be.

Sometimes, we don’t like certain foods because of past bad reactions. Take Brussel sprouts, for example. I have always shunned that wee cabbage.

“Can’t stand them,” I said, when my sweetie pie pointed out a pile at the grocery store, identifying them as a nice vegetable for dinner.

“How can you hate Brussel sprouts?”

“I always have.”

And yet, he purchased them anyway. Note that Ryan is a fabulous cook, still I had no desire to eat even one Brussel sprout, let alone an entire serving.

Imagine my surprise then when he coaxed one into my mouth. He’d sautéed them in butter and herbs, allowing  a little bit of char to form on each tiny cabbage. My eyes widened. “That’s very good,” I said, after gulping it down.

“So you hate them, why?”  he plated me a spoonful.

I had to think. While I understood that our tastebuds change as we age, I didn’t believe that was the reason. “My mom’s Brussel sprouts didn’t taste that way. Hers were gray and mushy.”

After some discussion, we determined that mothers of a certain era cooked the crap out of everything. Meat was in the oven until it attained a shoe-leather texture. Vegetables were cooked into beige slurry. The thinking, back then, might have been to avoid any possible food poisoning, so no amount of cooking was considered too much.

Note that I am far from a picky eater. I’ve consumed rattle snake and chicken feet and the strangely named thousand-year-old egg in China. I’ve eaten wild boar, and Vegemite, and grasshoppers. Kangaroo burgers and crocodile sausage. I’ve eaten things I can’t even name, in the interest of being polite.

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If you’re serving pickled beets and olive salad, I promise I’ll eat it.

Lately, I’ve attempted to eat the few foods I’ve shied away from over the years. Today, only two things still make me wince: olives and pickled beets. Not sure why, since mom’s cooking had nothing to do with either one.

But I will promise you this. Since my momma raised me right, whenever you invite me to dinner, I will eat whatever you serve, without question. Even if the family specialty is pickled beets and olive salad.

All I ask is that you have plenty of wine on hand to go along with it.

 

the-scent-of-rain-cover-200x300-copy

Anne Montgomery’s novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other?  The Scent of Rain is available at https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780996390149 and wherever books are sold. 

 

 

 

What would June Cleaver do?

My son came home the other night looking awful.

“Geez! What’s wrong?” I said, as I stared at him in the doorway.

“I’m sick, Mom.” He fumbled with his backpack, then headed for his room.

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I couldn’t help but wonder what Mrs. Cleaver would have done.

My brain fixed on June Cleaver, one of those 1960s TV moms, a woman who would run to the Beaver’s side and offer hugs and cold compresses, gently lifting a glass of water to his parched lips, with nary a concern for her own health.

But I  recoiled.

I’ve been a teacher for twenty years. I spend flu season dodging germy kids, backing away when they approach with rheumy eyes and runny noses. But I always get sick. Yes, I know Troy’s my child, but he’s 23, surely too old to need a mommy’s care.

Still, I forced myself to follow him. He sat on the edge of the bed looking miserable. I stood in the doorway and reached my hand to the door jamb. I swear I could feel those wee virus bugs crawling on my hand. I wiped my palm on my shirt. “Do you have a fever?”

“I don’t know.” He looked at me with blood-shot, blue eyes and swiped a hand across his nose.

“I can do this,” I muttered to myself. I took a deep breath and stepped into the room. My wrist on his forehead attested to a fever and made me feel, however briefly, rather motherly.

He coughed, a gurgling sound deep in his chest that said to me, “Run away! Run away!” So he would not think me an awful mom, I took measured steps toward the doorway, but as I was still holding my breath, I was getting a bit desperate. When I reached the hallway, I sucked in air, hoping he didn’t hear me.

“What should I do, Mom?”

There it was. He wanted my help. It didn’t matter that he’s a college junior, has a job, pays rent, volunteers at the Humane Society, and is currently in a little theater production of Annie Get Your Gun. He’s a successful young adult, but still needs my care.

Heartwarming, right? Later on, maybe, but at that moment the thought of going near him was horrifying. I calculated the number of days it took me to recover from the last bug that took up residence in my sinuses. Even when I do everything right – like rest, the definition of which apparently does not include doing laundry and vacuuming – it takes me a week to get well.

“What should I do?” he asked again.

“I’ll get you a decongestant.” Though that didn’t seem to be enough. I flashed on my own not-very-motherly mom and considered what she would do. “I’ll be right back.”

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My mother used to make us hot toddies when we were sick: tea, bourbon, and honey. Today she’d be arrested for giving alcohol to children.

My mother believed she had a fool-proof method to combat illnesses, which she referred to as “having the quinsy.” A few minutes later, I held a steaming mug at arm’s distance. “Drink this.”

“What is it?” He sniffed the citrusy concoction.

“It’s a hot toddy. Breathe in the steam and drink it all. Then get under the covers.”

When I was a kid, my mom swore by the powers of the hot toddy. Her mixology methods included bourbon, which, to this day, I’m unable to stomach, as it tastes like medicine. My version includes tea, Grand Marnier, and a large dollop of honey.

“You also need a cheddar cheese and onion sandwich,” I said, again channeling my mother.

Two days later, Troy was healed. I was astounded and rather jealous at the robustness of his youthful immune system and wondered whether my mom’s remedies were really that magical.

“All better?” I asked, when he was headed out to work.

“Yep.” Then he coughed and reached to hug me goodbye.

I scurried away. “You know I love you, right?”

He nodded.

“Just don’t touch me. Not yet.”

Does that make me a bad mom?

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

The strange thing about getting old

Buddha in the KItchen

My Buddha, who perches in my kitchen, reminds me of an old friend who taught me a lot about life, things I’m only now beginning to understand.

The summer following my freshman year in college, I went home to New Jersey.

“You need a job,” my mother said. “You have an interview tomorrow.”

I’d been living on my own, making my own decisions, and my mom’s pronouncement rankled. Still, one did not cross Mary Anne. So, I acquiesced.

The next day, I drove to a two-story red-brick home in an old section of West Caldwell, a street with neatly-trimmed lawns and potted flowers fronting houses that were probably built in the 1920s.

I took a breath and reached for the gold door knocker. Then, I waited.

When the door finally opened, I faced a plump, sixtyish woman wearing a dark-flowered dress and sensible shoes. She ushered me into the foyer and pointed to a long staircase. “He’s upstairs.”

I nodded. As I ascended, I heard a voice. “Come in!” The tone was clipped, verging on cranky.

I stepped inside a spacious room, where morning sunlight dappled an old oriental rug. He sat in a dark, wingback chair. A wooden cane rested by his right hand. Thick glasses framed milky blue eyes. We stared at one another. “Sit there.” He motioned to a smaller chair.

Frank Towey, in his early eighties, was going blind. I was expected to do some light cleaning. I would prepare his lunch and drive him to his various appointments.

“Eight o’clock sharp!” He tapped the cane on the floor.

On the drive back to my house, I cursed my mother. I had no desire to spend my summer with a crabby old man. I was not a morning person. There was a reason I didn’t schedule early college classes. And I’d gotten in the habit of staying up late. Had my mother arranged the job to prevent me from going out in the evening? In retrospect, she probably did.

The first week, I performed my tasks as requested. Mr. Towey and I didn’t converse much. Then, one day, he asked, “What are you studying at school? What do you want to be?”

“I want to be a sportscaster on TV,” I blurted out, immediately wanting the words back, ones which only garnered me laughs back in the 1970s when women sportscasters were practically nonexistent.

But Mr. Towey didn’t laugh. He asked me why. After that, our conversations expanded. I learned he’d been a lawyer, a state senator, and a congressman. He was widowed and had no children. He’d traveled extensively, visiting countries on almost every continent. And, though he’d graduated from Holy Cross, he was secretly a Buddhist.

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During the summer of 1974, I chauffeured the Commander around in a car like this.

One morning, I came in with a bit of a hangover. He teased me. Then, he started calling me Dizzy. In retaliation, I called him Commander. Both names stuck. Even when I was driving him around town in his 1955, black Cadillac convertible with red-leather seats, he’d call out,”Dizzy! Park here!”

“Yes, sir, Commander!” I’d bark back. And he’d smile.

When it was time to return to school, he said, “I’ll write.”

We traded letters and visits whenever I was home. He’d been especially excited when I decided to spend a semester abroad in Luxembourg. “Pick a country,” he’d say. Then he’d tell me about the people, and the places I should go, and the foods I must try.

For six years, the Commander and I were friends. I was living in Washington, D.C. when he called. “I’m dying, Diz.”

“No you’re not.”

“Yes, I am. But don’t worry. I’m curious to see what happens next. Why don’t you come home for a visit.”

“OK,” I said, trying to figure out how to rearrange my schedule.

But I didn’t make it in time. Frank Towey died before I got there.

I did attend the funeral. I wore a snug red dress and black high heels, which had all those other folks in attendance wondering who I was. He would have liked that. I had searched for a Buddha to place in his casket, but wasn’t able to find one.

Years later, a Buddha stared at me from a shelf at Goodwill. I took the statue home and placed it by a burbling fountain in my kitchen. I sometimes think of the Commander when I see it.

He has been gone over forty years. Still, some of the things we talked about are only now making sense.

“You know the strange thing about getting old?” he said to me one day.

I shook my head.

“It’s that your body ages but your brain does not. In my mind, I’m still a young man.”

I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time.

But now that I’m approaching 65, I understand perfectly.

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrestling with meat

OIP-2Sometimes, we make snap decisions. These course changes can happen without warning. One such life-changing moment occurred recently in my livingroom.

I’m done!” my sweetie pie exclaimed.

I almost jumped from my chair. “Done!”

“Yep, I’m never eating meat again.”

I gulped. We had just watched a program that pointed out, in no uncertain terms, that meat is our enemy and any foodstuffs associated with animals are just as bad. “What about eggs and cheese?”

He shook his head.

“Chicken?”

“No!”

My head spun. This proclamation came from one of the world’s most avowed carnivores. A guy who can think of no greater joy than standing over the smoker in the yard, one that routinely drenches our neighborhood in irrestible, meaty aromas. A man who – love me though he does – once announced that if I ever became a vegetarian, he’d leave me. (Interestingly, he has since rescinded that statement and now claims he never meant it in the first place.)

I have long struggled with the meat question, because of the treatment of animals in factory farms. Over the years, I have given up lamb and veal.  I will not patronize restaurants that serve fois gras. I don’t eat much red meat. But, every once in a while, I find myself craving a big fat cheese burger with a short stack of crisp bacon. I also like beefy chili and Thai Pad Prik King with a bit of spicy cow.

So, I struggled with Ryan’s pronouncement.

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Give up eggs and cheese and bacon? The idea was depressing and yet I was willing to give it a try.

“Not sure I can give up eggs and cheese.” Our eyes met.

“You don’t have to give up anything,” he said.

“I think this should be a family effort,” I said, mostly to be polite.

And so, we went to the grocery store, where we stood staring at a small, tucked-away selection of manufactured- meat substitutes. I rotated my head looking for Terry, wondering how we would explain our sudden conversion.

“I don’t think he’s here,” I whispered.

Ryan didn’t respond, as he studied a package of faux meat. Though, I’m sure he didn’t want to face our favorite butcher, a man who has been saving Ry special cuts of meat for over a decade.

Still, for the last few weeks, we have remained on course, though the parameters have changed. We determined that eggs and cheese and chicken would remain on the familial menu, for now. We eat more fish and are trying to expand our vegetable choices. Chicken sausage was a hit, though we are still struggling with ground-beef substitute, which both looks and smells like dog food. Tofu is on the to-do list.

However, it’s awfully hard to banish the carnivor. We do have those four, pointy canines for a reason. Nature gave us those little daggers, in part, to rip meat into swallowable chunks.

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A nearby IN-N-OUT BURGER had my big, tough guy almost in tears.

There is no denying that the mostly meatless diet is better for us. Ry lost ten pounds in two weeks. But the cravings remain.

Yesterday, as we left Petsmart, pushing a cart loaded with cat and dog food, Ryan paused and stood motionless in the parking lot. He stared into the sky and took a deep breath. The smell wafted over us: mouth-watering smoke that eminated from a nearby IN-N-OUT BURGER.

For a moment, I thought my big, tough guy might be weeping.

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All Ry wanted was a burger, but he decided to stick by his meatless decision.

“Want a burger?” I asked.

“I do.” He enhaled deeply again. “I do.”

“Then get one. No one said we had to do this.”

But he shook his head and just stared at that enticing red and yellow sign. Then he turned away, looking like a broken-hearted lover.

And so our quest continues. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

A Light in the Desert-cov (6)

Mystery/Suspense

Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group

286 Pages

Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook

http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=261955

As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.