Railroads, Blue Sky and the Antique Mile of Newton, KS

Posted in Kansas Adventures with tags , , , , on February 4, 2012 by redswandiaries

January 28, 2012

It seems Brad’s business is delegating our Kansas road trips, but that’s okay with me. A day of sightseeing, tasting local fare, spending the day together, plus a new contract for Concrete Colorscapes is definitely a day well spent.

Today’s adventure is Newton, Kansas. Now, I’ve been to Newton plenty of times through the years, but when I stopped and thought about all of my visits, I realized they’ve been isolated to one area of Newton. My dad has two sisters who live in Newton, so much of my time as a child was spent on Second and Glendale with the Garcia families: my two aunts who married two brothers and their combined 13 children. Today, the family has grown so large we’ve lost track of how many second and third cousins, but the majority are still living in Newton. These days I only see them at weddings, milestone birthdays or anniversaries or sadly, funerals.

So, today I want to experience the Newton I’ve never known outside the Garcia neighborhood and the Amtrak train station, where I’ve taken many a train at 3:00 am to Kansas City or Chicago. I’d asked a KMUW co-worker for some advice on places to eat, Zack having been a resident of Newton for some time, so I felt confident our visit would be positive. How it could it not be?

As with our Ellsworth visit, I’m typing my opening paragraphs while waiting in the driveway of a two-story house in a remote area of Newton. Their yard is home to multiple birdfeeders, a few water fountains and what looks like a nude torso of a man or woman leaning against the trunk of a (tree). It is so weatherworn there is no determining the sex of the statue, but its headless presence seems strange adjacent to the ten newly planted trees. The ten trees do not include the six older trees guarding the perimeter of the side/back yard or the eight in the front yard towering over the five, I’m guessing, 2-3 year old trees. One day this home will be hidden from the dirt road during the spring and summer months, protected by generations of trees whose leaves will fill the yard with their yellow-brown burden in the fall and stand at stick figure-like attention in the winter. I wonder if quite a few trees were lost at one time during a severe Kansas storm, and it’s then I notice the three large mounds of mulch, the gold-gray piles of dead leaves and broken branches, a tree cemetery of sorts, and I understand the need to fill the yard with the hopes of towering sycamores and maples.

Time to head to town. Mike Wood, the executive director of the Media Resources Center at WSU, has loaned me a book, 8 Wonders of Kansas! Guidebook, written by Marci Penner and the Kansas Sampler Foundation. I told him of our Kansas resolution so he brought me the 272-page guide with its “216 Great Places to Explore in Kansas.” I want to see the Blue Sky Sculpture located at Centennial Park. Dedicated in 2001, it is the joint effort of Phil Epp, painter and designer; Terry Corbett, ceramist and designer; and Conrad Snider, ceramist and designer. It is one of the Top 8 Wonders of Kansas.

The sculpture looks amazing against the clear blue sky and while I wanted to sit and enjoy it from the blue viewing benches, the Kansas wind thought otherwise, obviously.

I decide I enjoy the sculpture much better from a distance, which I’m assuming was the intent. We drive through Centennial Park with its clean and groomed baseball fields, gazebos and children’s playground. Brad gets excited when he notices a freshly poured tee box for a disc golf park. Add this one to his list.

Our next stop was Main Street, where we perused the aisles of Prairie Harvest. We lost ourselves among the teas, spices, healthy snacks and Kansas products. We’d planned to eat lunch, but they’d had quite a crowd during the lunch hour and were out of many of their items that are made fresh daily. We decided to purchase some sesame seed sticks and yogurt-dipped almonds. Yummy. Within the same building that houses Prairie Harvest are other interesting boutiques: Main Street Company, Kitchen Corner, plus a small bookstore/coffee counter and an incoming tea shop. Along Main Street were other unique stores, such as Ten Thousand Villages where we sampled coffee from Africa and I tried on a few leather bracelets. At the recommendation of their staff, we decided to eat at Karen’s Kitchen. An eclectic place with an old red barbershop couch in the sitting area, shelves full of nostalgic toys, candy and memorabilia, and a deli counter where we ordered the veggie-beef soup, chili, a bierock, and a turkey sandwich. The meal was average, but we admired the old tin ceiling, the plastic-covered green tables each adorned with a quirky set of salt and pepper shakers, and the fact that Karen herself was wiping down tables and talking to customers.

Our bellies lightly filled, we decided to hit the many antique stores lining Main Street, beginning with Wharf Road Antiques. If you love antiques, the history behind the pieces and have hours to spend, I highly recommend Wharf Road. The tiny woman who led us through the tightly packed former hotel truly loved her job of collecting, restoring and sharing the stories of her antiques. She was amazing and so were the items. Brad immediately fell in love with an old mission-style chair and we discovered two light fixtures that would be perfect with our remodel. But, the highlight was an old parlor cabinet. It was made of walnut, taller than Brad, and had to weigh a ton! Hidden within the monstrous cabinet was a hideaway bed for guests. The closest piece I’ve been able to find online is the Higgins Parlor Cabinet built in 1870, and while it does not look exactly like the item at Wharf Road, it is very similar. In case you are wondering, the asking price was $5,500. There were three stories to the antique store, and each was floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall with the most interesting furniture I have ever seen: Victorian coffee tables, a huge exterior sconce, a player piano and an old wooden child’s swing. It was difficult to leave, but we promised to return, more than likely for the bright colored, petal-shaped light fixtures.

Next door to Wharf Road Antiques is Road Runner Sales, a shop filled with garden/lawn art made from cast iron, as well as a few scattered antiques. I was captured by the mermaids, the four-inch tall green figurines, the one-foot long detailed white sirens to the four-foot tall bronze water goddess lounging in a handmade iron chair. The statures were heavy, their scales rough, their features strong, and they were amazing. Did I mention my birthday is fast approaching?  The other lawn ornaments were brightly colored and we could imagine a few of them placed about our back yard and near the lower patio, especially the tall birdhouse with sunflowers. Two stores we will definitely return.

Since we were in the antique mood, we decided to browse most of the shops on Main Street, including Metcalf Sisters and Layman’s Antique Mall and Flea Market. Oddly, the only item I purchased was a Santa figurine, Babbo Natale –  Italy’s Santa,  to add to my international collection. For two hours we squeezed through the crowded aisles of old furniture and dishware, maneuvering between the toys and clothing. Brad even clocked his forehead on a low-hanging beam, probably in search of one of the many monkey lamps he kept finding and wanting to purchase (no, no monkey lamps came home with us).  We worked up quite a thirst so we decided to check out the Iron Horse Pub for a cold beer and a snack, just a few doors down.

The only ones in the bar, we struck up a conversation with our bartender who was formerly from Wichita and the owner. She and her husband bought the bar five years ago, and while she enjoys running the place, she says she is still adjusting to Newton life. The bar was clean, with a decent selection of beers, plus a small menu of traditional bar food. A few regulars began to arrive, some sitting at the bar, two playing pool and slipping money into the satellite jukebox. We finished our beers, draining the last cold drops listening to Black Sabbath and David Allen Coe. I snapped a photo of the odd animal mascot on the wall, which even the owner was unsure if it was a wild boar, maybe a werewolf…

The sun was setting and the evening air was chilly as we left the bar. It had been a full day and we were ready to go home and rest a bit before watching the Shockers on television, then attending at 50th birthday party for a friend of Brads. What I realized on the drive home is no matter how we try to plan the day, plot each hour, there is never enough time to see everything in the chosen town. While we got to take pictures of Warkentin House, we didn’t make it to the campus of Bethel College or stop and say hello to the aunts. Unless we plan to stay a weekend, even a small town like Newton, with its 11.73 square miles of city, leaves us wanting more. Until we meet again…

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Aliens and Cowboys in Ellsworth, Kansas

Posted in My Community with tags , , , , , on January 16, 2012 by redswandiaries

Our Kansas adventures began on Saturday, January 13.  

9:48 am: We leave the Starbucks at 21st and Maize Road, a bag of freshly ground Italian Roast, two breakfast sandwiches, a blueberry scone and two hot coffees in hand. Brad has landed a job with the Post Rock Wind Power Project in Ellsworth County, so it makes sense that Ellsworth and its surrounding area is the first on our list of towns in Kansas to visit in 2012. I plug in the IPod, select the playlist titled “Jed Clampett Dancing,” and we hit the road. “Wichita” by Gillian Welch and the smell of chicken sausage and Gouda fills the cramped Ford Focus.

 Brad reminds me I’ve driven to Ellsworth. He was returning from the worst snowboarding trip of his life. The Explorer engine light kept coming on as he frantically drove back to Wichita with then twelve-year-old son Ian in a pain pill induced coma in the back seat. Ian had broken his femur against an unfriendly tree during his first snowboard run. I met them at Ellsworth and followed them to Wichita. All I remember of the drive is wanting to get them safely home, so it’s not surprising I don’t recall the meeting point being Ellsworth, Kansas.

 Brad needs to stop at the Keller construction site before we actually visit Ellsworth and I admit I was a little disappointed he had to work the first hour of our trip, but as we enter Ellsworth County, the disappointment turns to awe. We come over a slight hill on I-70 and are greeted by the first of the giant pinwheels of the wind farm. They are amazing and as we continue to drive I am mesmerized by their height, their breadth, their unending rows that stretch for miles across the blonde-brown fields, like an alien second-line they dance against the bright blue sky.  And when the horizon suddenly covers their stem-like towers and all we can see are those magnificent blades cartwheeling slowly across the Kansas plains, we are silent.

 As I am typing these opening paragraphs, I’m sitting in the dirt lot of the new facility for the Post Rock Wind Power Project where Brad is inside test-staining an area of the floor. Five minutes ago, three large semis passed by, each carrying one blade of a soon-to-be constructed wind turbine. One semi, one blade. In the distance is the wind farm and I wonder if they make any noise as they gather the wind. Is there a constant whirring, a subtle roar or are they silent, the latter being the spookiest. It’s hard to imagine such great structures silent in their work. All I can seem to think is how alien and alien-like they are and what it would be like to stand at the base and look up at these gigantic creatures. Suddenly, I’m imagining Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind as he approaches the mother ship. So, when it’s time to leave I ask Brad if we can get closer to the wind farm.

 We cross I-70 and enter a dirt road. Along the bumpy road, shaggy black cows curiously watch us pass, their coats thick and unruly. I believe they are Galloway cattle, a hardy breed with insulated fur for harsh climates. As we slow down, the cattle watch us intently, a few shaking their great heads and returning to graze on the dry fields, while others stand at the ready to either charge the short fence or run the other direction.  I snap a photo of the furry beasts with the man-made beasts looming behind them.

About ten yards from the grazing cattle, we pull over and turn off the engine.

There is a distinct hum coming from the massive generator and while I’m certain it is deafening at the top of the turbine, here on the ground the noise descends in gentle waves. My curiosity satisfied, we head to the town of Ellsworth, but not before having to pull to the side of the dirt road to allow two more semis to pass.

 Ellsworth is a community of 3,000 and was once known as “the wickedest cattle town in Kansas.” As we enter the city, there is a disc golf park and playground. So much for gunslingers in the streets, but Brad is happy.  He’ll pack his bag of Frisbee discs along with his equipment for the job. The Main Street area is quiet for a Saturday afternoon, holiday décor still adorns the light posts and right away we notice the shadow-like historical markers set about the town. There are seventeen markers  providing a history of the daily life in “Old West” Ellsworth.

 Since much of our day was spent at the wind farm, we decide to grab lunch at Paden’s Place, a restaurant and bar established 25 years ago. The place is long, with the restaurant and bar divided. We sit in the bar area where the booths are squeaky and slightly slanted, but there are three televisions (cable-ready but not flat screens) and the prices listed in black magic marker behind the bar are perfect. A few regulars  sit at the bar watching the K-State/Oklahoma basketball game,  while two men in dark cowboy hats occupy a nearby booth.  We order two drafts, rather large mugs for only $2.00, and decide to try the chicken-steak sandwich with fried cauliflower on the side (Brad) and chicken livers with fries (me). Our meals are less than $5.00 each and are served quickly.  The batter is thin but crusty, not overpowering the livers, which are good-sized and very satisfying. Brad says his sandwich has great flavor but it’s a  very small portion for a mid-day meal.

 It’s getting late so we finish our meals and beers and take a walk down Main Street. We visit the Antique Mall that houses a deli, ice cream shop and various booths, plus the large Rene Pennington mural. Down the street is the museum and historical walking tour describing the early days of Ellsworth, but the museum looks deserted so we decide to walk adjacent to the train tracks and the co-op, reading some of the markers, taking a few pictures.

The January sun is slowly descending and the air chills the back of our necks and faces.  We decide to drive through the town, past the high school, winding our way through old neighborhoods and stop to gas up the car. Next to the gas station is the relatively new Ellsworth Steak House, which is adjacent to the only motel in town. The motel reminds me of traveling as a kid, our car packed with pillows, a cooler full of sodas and books and toys to keep us occupied. I used to love to stay at the motels, our car parked just outside our door so dad could peek out the dusty room curtains, “just checking.” And there was always a pool and a vending machine, not to mention the ice maker. I would tumble into the double bed, my hair still damp from the evening swim, and watch television while snuggled next to my little brother. I can still smell the chlorine in my hair and the bleach of the scratchy sheets.

 It’s been an interesting, educational and relaxing day and we make one more stop in Sterling for coffees at the Broadway Market of Sterling-Flowers, Coffee, Food, Gifts. It is locally owned by David and Lynn Landis. We order chai tea and Lynn gives us a sample of their daily roasted red pepper and wild rice soup. We promise to return to Sterling to have lunch, as well as visit the beautiful campus. The business card she hands me reads “Flowers celebrate all of life’s moments, coffee ensures that you are awake for them.”

 Ironically, when we arrive home the Kansas Travel Guide is waiting for us in the mailbox. While Brad naps on the couch, I review my new Kansas map, browse the listings of Kansas towns and events, and peruse the Kansas Cowboy, “The Official Publication of the C.O.W.B.O.Y. Society  (cockeyed old west band of yahoos), the small newspaper I picked up in Ellsworth. The paper filled with the daily diary entries of a cattle drive, the history of Sheriff  Shenneman, and the Saddle Tramp schedule of events. But as I close the paper, an ad catches my eye:“The Kansas Explorers Club is created to inspire, educate, and encourage the exploration and appreciation of Kansas, and to have fun doing it!”

 Funny, that’s  just what we’re planning. I mark off Ellsworth from list.

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That point of time and space

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 2, 2012 by redswandiaries

It’s 2012 and if the Mayan calendar is correct, I better make good use of the next 333 days. As always, I decided to make a few New Year’s resolutions, but with a slight twist. Gone are the resolutions of establishing a workout routine, saving more money, eating better. Those should be givens throughout the year, not something you embark on at the outset and later carry as a backpack full of guilt.

My first resolution is regarding my three blogs: Red Swan Diaries, Leave the Stilettos at Home and 8 Days a Week With Eleanor. Red Swan was created as a means to keep me in the writing flow while serving as a therapeutic online diary, and a place for me to share and plug the publication of my short story collection and novel. After striving for a year and a half to publish my collection and meeting failure, I started to focus on writing my novel. But, in life there are distractions and obstacles and I haven’t written a page in almost six months. Plus, I rarely find the time to update my blog or even feel the urge to write.

My Stilettos blog was created for me to post and vent about my passion for sports, but as with the personal blog, I’ve found that unless I carve out time immediately following a game or sporting event, the excitement and need to write about it is gone and I’m left with the guilt of “I really should’ve posted something.” And the final blog, Eleanor’s blog, follows the sometimes-more-exciting-than-my-own life of my 10-year old black lab whose accounts proved to be much more popular than my two personal blogs combined (Eleanor had more subscribers and viewings in her first month than the other two had in six months).

So, my resolution is if I do not update them on a monthly basis, then I will put them to an end, cancelling my accounts with WordPress and ridding myself of the daily guilt of “I should’ve posted.” That being said, consider this the post that will extend the life of Red Swan Diaries for one more month.

My second resolution is to immerse myself in my home state. For years I’ve wanted to spend one Saturday a month visiting towns and counties of the great state of Kansas. While I am a Kansas native, I admit I am unfamiliar with a large percentage of this midwestern  jewel I call home. So, Brad and I will pick a town once a month, fill our travel mugs with coffee and set out on a Kansas adventure. We’ll taste the local cuisine, visit local shops, learn the history of the place, and take photos, which should all provide some writing material for this blog, if not a book.

And my final resolution is to spend more time with family and friends. From our family reunion in July, I learned that time spent with family is never enough and is vital to who we are. I believe this is the same with friendships. I want to spend as much time as possible with the people I love, so to kick it off for 2012 I bought tickets to the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis. The tournament is in March and I’ll be sharing a suite just blocks from the Scottrade Center with my dad and sister. I know the three of us will have an incredible time cheering on our beloved Shockers, watching some great Valley basketball and just being together.

2011 is long gone and whether we’re ready or not, we are moving forward. I plan to make the best of it, because if the Mayan calendar is correct, I’ve got some serious life to experience in 2012. And even if this world doesn’t come to a crashing end on December 21, I’d like to be able to greet 2013 surrounded by the people I cherish and with a toast of no regrets.

Moving forward

Posted in Mi Familia with tags , , on October 29, 2011 by redswandiaries

On Monday, appropriately Halloween, I begin a new position. For six years I have worked for the WSU Foundation, five of those years working with families and memorials at WSU. My job was humbling and incredible, but difficult. I cried with strangers over the phone and at their kitchen tables. Through those tears we became friends as I worked hard to follow through on my promise to honor their loved one and to ensure they would not be forgotten, whether through a named scholarship or a paver in the Plaza of Heroines, or simply within the recesses of my already broken heart.

I never professed to know their personal pain, only understand as each of us grieves separately and differently. I still feel I was placed in that position for a reason, having taken the job and just five months later losing my niece, Andrea. You cannot know what it is to grieve for a mother, father, sister, brother, child until you have experienced such loss. And as I helped these families through their grieving process, they helped me.

Which is why the hardest part about leaving my position is I feel I’m losing Andi all over again. I’m afraid I won’t share her story as much, now that I will not have others who will understand the story. I’m afraid most of all of forgetting. I know I will never forget her or the pain my family carries, but I can’t help but fear that others will.

It took me a few days to recognize this emotion, this strange nagging in my soul. I’m extremely excited about my new job,  a little nervous, but so looking forward to its challenges and my new co-workers. But, part of me has been hesitant, and while I knew it was not about leaving the Foundation, I knew it had something to do with leaving those families who had relied on me during one of the darkest moments of their lives.

A week or so ago, Dr. Jim Rhatigan, former dean of students and my personal cheerleader, loaned me a cassette tape of a sermon by Dr. Robert Meyer of the University Congregational Church. He told me to listen and truly understand what it is that I carry, what it is that I know. I waited until the day following my last official day with the Foundation and this is what I learned.

Dr. Meyer explained what changes in a person who mourns and how they are blessed by this change. “Some new depth in yourself, some richer knowledge of how priceless love and life are, so that from that day forward your life will bless others lives in ways it could not have done before.”

I’m not leaving Andi behind. I will continue to take her with me wherever I go and she and I will continue to cry with others, hold hands through tears, and be the needed strength of those who feel they cannot go on, as well as laugh with those who never thought they’d laugh again, and smile because we know such sorrow because we once knew such joy.

Blessed are they who  mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Remembrance and the senses

Posted in Me with tags , , , on September 15, 2011 by redswandiaries

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines remembrance as the state of bearing in mind; the ability to remember; an act of recalling to mind.  I am always amazed by the memories conjured up by our five senses. A smell, a taste, a sound can pull me back, place me in a specific time or make me pause. And it can be any thing at any time.

Yesterday, I was in the kitchen pulling apart a bundle of fresh cilantro for albondigas, or Mexican meatballs, when suddenly I could feel the heat of an evening summer sun on my cheek as I snipped the fragrant leaves from the plants in my parents garden. My mother or father always sent me to get the sprigs and gently I would pluck just enough for the pico de gallo, my fingers stained with the pungency of the herb. I breathed in the bouquet as I stood over the sink and suddenly I was twelve years old.

This past Sunday, the tenth anniversary of September 11, I got up early to watch the memorial ceremony. At one point, I realized my face was awash in warm tears. I’m not sure when they started to flow and I don’t remember when they stopped, but I noticed them shortly after Paul Simon sang The Sound of Silence. I remembered reading that Simon wrote the song about man’s lack of communication with his fellow-man, how we don’t share or truly listen.  Silence is what I remember about 09/11. Sure, I remember where I was, the events of that morning, how it seemed to happen in a state of slow motion like a herky-jerk old newsreel. I can tell you how I sat in my driveway and cried when I saw our American flag hanging above the garage, knowing our boys had wrestled with the rickety ladder to put up that flag when they were sent home early from school. But what I remember most is the silence. We live very close to Mid-Continent Airport, Cessna and Learjet. We are accustomed to the sounds of commercial jets, the test flight patterns, the burdened cargo planes. Even now I hear them, taking off and landing in the cool almost-fall air.   But not that evening or even the next day. As we fell exhausted into bed that night, the darkness was met with an eerie, unfamiliar silence. I reached for my husband’s hand and he reached for mine and we were both overcome with the magnitude of that day encapsulated in that silence. The sound of silence. And when flight operations were resumed, we became wary of those sounds, they were different, changed. Today, if a jet or plane sounds slightly off its course or too low, we pause and listen and wait.

Working with memorials, I’ve corroborated with families about how a simple thing can remind you of a lost loved one, the smell of a leather glove, the sound of a windchime, the taste of coffee ice cream, the sight of a tabby cat. Our senses are so connected to people, places, things that it is hard to disconnect and I don’t think I ever want to.

I can’t imagine seeing the large head of Hello Kitty or hearing a song by Jane’s Addiction and not think of Andrea. Life would be unbearable without those flashes of childhood after dusting myself in Johnson’s Baby Powder or pulling fresh-baked Mexican sweet bread from the oven or hearing the sound of bare feet on hardwood floors.

I liken this connection of the senses and memory to the tasting of wine. As you take in the smell or taste of the wine, you are reminded of its basis or beginnings.  You can smell or taste the earthiness, a specific fruit, a linger of spice,  a mixture of woodsy flavors, maybe a hint of vanilla, and all of this depends on the region, its environment, its history.

I like to think of this when I lose myself in a memory brought about by a smell, taste or sound. It’s like losing yourself in glass of excellent wine or stoicly finishing the small pour of a bitter wine tasting.  Either way, I find it great therapy to get a little tipsy on memory. After all, our remembrances are part of the environment of who we are, what we remember or recall is our basis, our beginnings.


Heat related

Posted in Me with tags , , , on July 31, 2011 by redswandiaries

It’s been thundering for more than an hour, yet no rain. With each rumbling in the distance, my anxiety grows. The windows in my car are slightly open and the charcoal briquets are on the deck, but I’m afraid if I rush outside to close the windows or bring the charcoal inside the storm will dissipate and the rain won’t come.

This is what it’s come to, superstitious behavior and feeling like I’m on the precipice of weeping for days. Whenever I hear someone, usually someone older, talk about the summer they’ll never forget “when the heat was so bad birds were dropping from the sky,” I smile and think to myself how it couldn’t have been that bad, everyone likes to embellish a story or two. Not anymore.

I know for a fact I will remember this summer and how the sound of the crunching brown grass beneath my feet as I walk to the community mailbox almost makes me sick to my stomach. Or how I’ve added to my prayers each night an ardent praise for allowing our AC  to make it through another day and each morning consider rushing outside to bless the struggling unit with holy water. Or how each evening I fill my watering can and douse the diehard few flowers still vibrant in their pots on the deck, refusing to allow the Kansas drought to wither them to yellowed stems, thinking if I let them die I might wither away along with them.

I’ve now created playlists on my iPod of songs with “rain” or “storm” in the title, almost 4.5 hours of rain summoning music I keep on repeat. I watch the skies, urging any tiny cluster of clouds to blossom into thunderheads and drench the earth. On Friday, when a small shower moved over SW Wichita and passed too quickly over campus, I ran outside and stood in the parking lot, letting the warm droplets splatter my clothes, skin and frizz my hair. It was the best four minutes out of the entire day.

Until today, I’d yet to let the heat win. I”ve continued to be busy going to concerts, riding my bicycle on Friday through Old Town, sitting on the patio in the humid evenings, and venturing out in the hottest part of the day. But this morning, I didn’t feel like fighting. I chose to hide inside, blinds drawn, AC chugging, fans whirling, and read a book. I picked it from the pile of summer reads I’d intended to rally through before Labor Day weekend. I’d only read one from the stack of seven before selecting a book today by Alice Hoffman, Fortune’s Daughter. In spite of the heat, I brewed a cup of tea, sat in my favorite reading chair and opened to the first page…

“…As the temperatures hovered near one hundred degrees the days melted together until it was no longer possible to tell the difference between a Thursday and a Friday…(coyotes) followed the scent of chlorine into backyards, and some of them drowned in swimming pools edged with blue Italian tiles…tap water bubbled as it came out of the faucets; ice cubes dissolved in the palm of your hand…for miles in every direction people just snapped, lovers quarreled in bedrooms and parking lots, money was stolen, knives were pulled, friendships that had lasted a lifetime were destroyed with one harsh word. Those few people who were able to sleep were haunted by nightmares; those with insomnia drank cups of coffee and swore they smelled something sweet burning, as if a torch had been put to a grove of lemon trees sometime in the night.”

Even in books, my one true means of total escape, the Kansas heat finds me. On the opening page, I am reminded I will never forget these long days of superstition, silent prayers, awkward rain dances, and a heat worn like an itchy serape, reddening my chest and sending slow caterpillars of sweat down my back. Many years from now I’ll recall burning my fingers repeatedly on the car door at lunch and sleepless nights spent pondering a move to Colorado or Washington.

I”m just waiting for those poor birds to begin dropping from the sky.

If this is what hell feels like, I better get to church

Posted in Me with tags , , , on July 22, 2011 by redswandiaries

If one more person says “the devil called, he wants his weather back,” I’m going to scream. And scream. Or maybe cry. As a person who loathes summer, this has been absolute torture for me. I don’t like heat. I don’t like sweat. I don’t like exposed feet. I don’t like exposed body parts, especially those that should under no circumstance be allowed to see the burning light of day. Please keep your jiggling bellies, cottage cheese thighs, and pimpled, hairy backs to yourself. I beg of you.

It’s so hot, I’ve no energy to write. The creative juices have dried up, leaving large cracks and dust where imagination used to reside in pools of ambition. It’s 104 with a heat index of 107. I have a strange, dull headache that has lingered at the base of my skull for a week. I’m buying Gatorade by the cart-loads and drinking so much water throughout the day I swear I can hear sloshing in my sleep. I know it’s hot when relief comes in the form of a floaty that resembles a large diaphragm. As long as it keeps me bobbing in warm pool waters, I don’t care if  it looks like birth control for Andre the Giant’s sister.

Just how hot is it? This is from the National Weather Service:

Wichita, Kan.
  • 100-degree days through July 13: 20
  • Sunday’s high reached an incredible 111 degrees. This was the hottest day since 1980!
  • Annual average is 14 days with 100-degree heat.
  • This is already a year’s worth of 100s, with the rest of July and August still ahead!
  • Most 100-degree days in a year: 50 in 1936

Today is July 22, so add an additional nine days and we have 29 days of 100+ temperatures. Someone kill me now.

And the forecast is suicidal:

Weekly forecast

Good thing I don’t own any firearms.

As for sports, who can find any relief or relaxation watching baseball on television? The other day when Roy Halladay doubled over due to heat exhaustion, and it was a reported 112 heat index at Wrigley Field, I found no comfort in watching baseball. None. Who wants to see red-faced fans holding those pathetic plastic fans in front of their faces or players with water-soaked towels on their heads, or listen to the guys in the booth talk non-stop about the heat index and the humidity on the field?  Not me. I don’t want to be reminded of what’s just  outside my door. I knew I should’ve DVR’d the Winter X-games.

So until the temps cool to a mild 95, I won’t be doing much writing or anything else for that matter. And while I realize it is redundant, my new mantra is “It’s too damn hot.”  I’ll continue to drink too much water, keep my fridge stocked in Gatorade and keep the cooler filled with ice and beer (after all, it takes 8-24 gallons of water to brew that one pint of beer).

See you in 64 days. That would be the first day of fall.