An Ode To The Hard-Working Cocktail

By Elizabeth Speth

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The cocktail may be the hardest-working American out there.

Think about all this little dynamo does.  It lubricates the enormous social machine that is our culture.  Without it, no one would donate money to political causes.  Fewer of us would write checks for charity. Questionable business deals would die a natural death.  Entire friendships and marriages would be obliterated — would never have gotten off the ground — without cocktails.

And what has it done for you lately?

It makes your jokes funny.   After it gives you the confidence to tell them.

Your killer dance moves?  Alcohol.

Alcohol renders the ugly attractive.

It transforms bad ideas into brilliant ideas.

It deadens the pain somewhat when you act on brilliant ideas.

It pries your clothes off.  Banishes modesty.  Silences towering insecurities and inhibitions.

As my favorite writer/social commentator/biting satirist Dorothy Parker so famously said:

“I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I’m under the table,
After four I’m under my host.”

This is Dorothy.  She looks like she’s had a few.  Which is why she was so funny.


The first “cocktail party” ever thrown was allegedly by Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. of St. Louis, Missouri, in May 1917. Mrs. Walsh invited 50 guests to her home at noon on a Sunday. The party lasted an hour, until lunch was served at 1 pm.

Clearly, they were amateurs.

Understand that I am not criticizing them for starting so early.

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I just can’t believe they quit so soon.

Despite its bumbling start, the idea caught on.  A local newspaper reported that:  “The party scored an instant hit,” and within weeks, cocktail parties had become “a St. Louis institution”.

References to the practice in early etiquette books advise cocktails to “occupy guests between related events and to reduce the number of guests who arrive late.”

Wha…? Who is even sober enough to think up these things?

Later experts advised using cocktail hour as a way of dispensing with social obligations to people you didn’t like well enough to dine with.

Listen. By the time we’re done with cocktails, I promise I will love you enough to eat with you.

But the sturdy cocktail survived all this early mismanagement, and evolved into an end-of-day grace note.  A transition between the bitter travails of the work day and the soft comforts of home.

An exhale, albeit an alcoholic one, in the mad rush of living.

An opportunity to wear flattering clothing and flirt.  Fashion pays attention to the cocktail.  There are cocktail rings, and dresses, hats and purses.


They are all about playful allure.  As is the cocktail.

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Those who believe in the practice follow it rigorously.  We value our right to cocktail, and our loved ones accept and understand this.

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And, when we do so in regular moderation, we are the scientific  study subjects that appear to be living longer and better.

But enough about moderation.

I believe that all grown-ups, in a pact to keep the world a more civilized and genteel place, to keep the social machine running smoothly, are responsible for knowing how to make at least four cocktails.  You should have four recipes you can dash off without thought.  Drunk, even.

You can pick your own, whatever suits.  There are thousands, and new drinks are invented every day.  I’m a classicist, so I offer the following suggestions.

mimosa The Mimosa.

Everyone knows what this is.  Even your great-great aunt will sip one of these at brunch on Mother’s Day.  This is a Gateway Cocktail.  Everyone progresses to a darker place from here, but this is a sunny starting point.

Recipe:  Take a couple of swigs of orange juice.  It prevents scurvy.  Then rinse out the glass and pour yourself a proper serving of Champagne.  You’ve got no business putting orange juice in good Champagne, and life is too short to drink bad Champagne.

scotch Straight Scotch or Bourbon.

This is a serious drink.  A man’s drink, or a forceful woman’s. Figure out what you like.  Unlike wine, generally the more you pay the better it will be.  Once you find it,  research its origins.  Find out where in Scotland or Kentucky it was produced, and add just the smallest swig of water from that exact geographic area to your glass to bring out its natural attributes and regional charms, and to cut the alcohol.  Or just drink it straight.

martiniThe martini.

Vodka for me.  If gin for you, great.  More vodka for me.  Same thing with a lemon twist or an olive.  You decide. Have your bartender whisper the word ‘vermouth’ over the shaker, and then he must shake that blessed thing until small ice shards are floating in the alcohol.  Martini drinkers can pick up the sound of a shaker in the largest, loudest restaurant.  It sounds like sleigh bells.  It means our drink is finally coming.  It MUST be in a martini glass.  Always.   And if there are no shards of ice, send it back.

cocktail margarita The Margarita.

This recipe is very simple.  First, throw away the blender.  Always salt on the rim. Ingredients: Tequila. Fresh Lime Juice. Simple Syrup. Triple Sec or Grand Marnier. Measurements:   Lots. A little. A little. A little.

Because it’s five o’clock (ish), and I’m sipping a vodka martini right now, I want to throw in a Bonus Recipe.  I feel generous.  I practically love you right now.  I really do.

My favorite national holiday, Kentucky Derby Day, is coming up, so you’re going to want to know how to make a Mint Julep. Easy.  Swish some bourbon and toothpaste around in your mouth. Spit into a silver cup.  Hand cup to someone else.  Scroll up for straight bourbon recipe.

And now, before we part company, a toast:

Never lie, cheat, steal or drink.  But if you must lie, lie in the arms of the one you love.  If you must steal, steal away from bad company.  If you must cheat, cheat death.  And if you must drink, drink the moments that take your breath away. 

Regrets…You’ve Had A Few

By Elizabeth Speth

what you know now

Hindsight is two perfectly matched numbers. Two eyes wide open, with the benefit of a clear, long gaze. Sure, we can see it now… If only we’d known… What we would have done differently…

I wanted to give you, Gentle Reader, the gift of hindsight without the pain.  I thought if I could take an overview, a wide sampling of others’ regrets, I could tie it up neatly and present it here, an offering, a ‘thank you for tuning in’, inoculation against future mistakes.

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Using social media platforms like Facebook, I solicited feedback from friends and strangers.

‘What is your biggest regret?’ I wanted to know.  Tell us. Tell us all what to do differently.

The answers came in a tidal wave.  A lot of people wanted to unburden themselves.  It was a lot of reading, and I was gratified at the response.

But I was very confused.  Here are some representative excerpts, with grammar and spelling changes to minimize distraction.

— I regret cheating on my beautiful wife of 16 years.  It ended our marriage, and I can’t even remember why I thought it was worth it at the time.

— I regret ever getting married.  Stupid.  And if you use my name, I will cut you.  Ha ha. (Side note to self:  Consider quietly unfriending this person after blog post is finished.)

—  I so regret smoking cigarettes in my younger days.

— I should have done more decadent, dangerous fun things.  I should have smoked, danced with strangers, taken a drink before passing the bottle along.  A little.  Playing by the rules sucks because you get to a point in life where no is tempting you to break them anymore.

—  I wish I could have had a closer relationship with my mother.

— I regret letting my parents influence my life’s choices as much as I did.  I should have taken about five steps back at adulthood.  I ended up living their lives, even after they proved they weren’t very good at it themselves.

— I wish I’d joined the military.

— I regret joining the armed services.  It wasn’t for me.  It led to a career that wasn’t for me either.  I’m 58 and just figuring out what I like to do, starting a new career.  Do you know how stressful that is?

— I wish I’d ‘stopped to smell the roses’.  As the cliché goes.

— I wish I’d gotten my allergies diagnosed sooner, figured out I shouldn’t be around anything that blooms, basically.  I could have saved myself years of misery.  Why suffer when you don’t have to?

Bewildering, right?  Which is the course we’ll be sorry for?  Eloping, or running off to join the ‘rock’n roll circus’, as one contributor put it?

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It wasn’t just the voice of experience that piped up here, either.  Regret is not the domain of the, shall we say, mature set.  I will cite the case of the young man who, at the age of Three, received an ‘educational’ gift from his very old great-grandparent at Christmas.  It was a set of magnetic letters, the kind you stick on the fridge and then forget for a decade.  This young man’s parents had raised him well, teaching him the value of good manners even before he could string enough words together to form a lisping sentence.

“No thank you,” he said firmly, handing the present back to the bewildered and elderly relative.  You know the end of that story.  Great grandparent passes away soon after.  Enough guilt to last a lifetime for our hero.

That’s not helpful to us, though, is it?  How is knowing that version of regret going to change anything going forward?  No one really did anything wrong there, did they?

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Don’t get me wrong.  There were some incredibly helpful lessons here:

“I regret a decade being a soccer parent, dedicating so much time WATCHING the kids play,” one mother said, citing the resources spent on hotels and traveling, only to place themselves at a remove from their children.  They were together, sure, but separate.  “I wish we had spent more time playing TOGETHER,” she said.

This was one of my favorite responses:

“All of my regrets seem to stem from a failure to be kind.  They are all tied to unkindness.  It’s as simple as that.”

A lot of you had regrets about ego and arrogance.  Hubris.  But your stories were funny when you told them.  You laughed, poked fun at yourselves.  I chuckled.  It wasn’t so bad.

Then there is Tracey’s story.  She is a friend of mine who kindly answered my Facebook plea for Tales of Regret, and she said I could use her name.  She talked about ‘the usual suspects’ when it comes to regret.  The first bad marriage, etc.  During her first bad marriage, she used to play the guitar and sing.  But her first bad husband told her she sounded terrible, and of course she believed him.  Then she met her second wonderful husband, Kent.  I’ll let her tell the rest.  I can’t.  It’s too hard.

“Kent, being Kent, researched guitars and bought me the best guitar he could find, a Martin, and gave it to me as a gift. I still haven’t picked it up to play it, but I will be ready someday.  My one true regret involves that guitar, though.  When my nephew John was a Senior in high school he took a class in learning to play the guitar his last semester. He had an old inexpensive guitar and I can vividly remember him practicing “Stairway to Heaven” in his bedroom over and over again. He came to me a few days before he had to take his final in that class in late May 2000 and asked me if he could borrow my Martin guitar to take his final with. Although the guitar had not been played in 15 years since my husband gave it to me, my first thought was how expensive it was and I didn’t want anything to happen to it. I immediately said no without thinking about it, putting a material object over my nephew’s desire to play my guitar for just a few minutes.

” John died of meningitis a couple of weeks later, just days after his high
school graduation.   I will never, ever forget his request for such a small
thing and my selfishness in denying him it.   I truly hope he is somewhere
playing Stairway to Heaven on a magnificent guitar and that he knows the
life lesson he taught me.”

At this point in the experiment, I began to resent the whole concept of regret.

What good does it do my dear friend Tracey, matriarch of large, strong family and overseer of a wide universe of well-loved friends?  She had a moment of imperfection, of distraction.  It is what humans are known for, how we are created.  It’s our ‘signature move’.  We make these mistakes.  Speak in impatience.  Overlook things.  Make snap decisions.  Do they define us?  Absolutely not.  And yet we do insist on carrying them forward, heavy and heartbreaking as they are.

Now for some good news.  We need it.

A very, very healthy amount of you said you had no regrets.  Well, you qualified it.  You said things like ‘no significant regrets’, or ‘none that really stand out’.  I’d say fifty percent of you, to my vast relief, articulated some version of that.

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One person pointed out that the mistakes and resulting heartbreak “became entangled in the fabric of how I understand my life…sometimes it seems to me that what looks like costly mistakes are just part of one’s path.”

I won’t argue with that.  It fills me with too much relief and joy.

“If you are not making mistakes, you are not living,” another opined.  “This does not completely protect me from regret.  My regrets come from not recognizing a (mistake) and then repeating it. I still do this a lot but less so than previously. Maybe I am finally growing up.”

Avoiding regret, someone pointed out, would have kept her from separating from her husband.   Things worked out all right for them in the end.  They got back together.  But not before she figured out that part of their problems stemmed from not standing up for herself.

“Not speaking my truth and being my own advocate would be regret,” she said simply.

Me?  I regret nothing.  Well, that’s not true.  I have been guilty of omissions of kindness.  Hubris.  Speaking in anger.  Being human.

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May it be ever thus.  Flawed as we are, as someone once pointed out, we’re all just walking each other home.

Sunday News: Prayers Visible To The Naked Eye

By Elizabeth Speth

Lupine.  Everyone gives thanks for lupine.

Larkspur.  Lupine. Everyone gives thanks for Larkspur and Lupine.

I once heard someone say: “What if you woke up tomorrow and the only things you had were the things you gave thanks for yesterday?”

My heart sores every day because this is my view walking into and out of my office.  I pass through this glory every day to go to work, and then again to come home.  Late summer butterfly photos.

My view walking between my office and my car.  Late summer butterfly photos.

That is why Sunday, for me, is mostly a silent day, a quiet string of gratitude prayers for the things I still want to have tomorrow. I spend the sacred day in church — in the Cathedral of the Outdoors. I try to trade whatever is troubling me — and on some Sundays much is troubling me — for thoughts of thanks.

Hank Thoreau, always a good guy for a nifty quote (and a lover of the Outdoors, so he’s okay in my book), said: “It’s not what you look at that matters, but what you see.”

I take that to mean we strip away the hurry, and the worry, the restless need to focus on the NEXT thing.  Open our naked eyes to really ‘see’ the beauty we  want again tomorrow.  Our loved ones.  Our surroundings.  All of it.   It’s a lot to take in.  Thank goodness.


I am grateful that there are bears where I ride and hike, and that I often get to see them.

I am grateful that there are bears where I ride and hike, and that I often get to see them.

My mare Cognac, giving thanks for a field of locoweed.

My mare Cognac, giving thanks for a field of locoweed.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for water droplets on leaves.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for water droplets on leaves.

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How grateful am I for Outdoor Survival Kits?

How grateful am I for Outdoor Survival Kits?

Grateful my husband and I get to ride through tumbled hills of granite on the shores of Folsom Lake.

Grateful my husband and I get to ride through tumbled hills of granite on the shores of Folsom Lake.

Newly's kind eye.

Newly’s kind eye.

Giving thanks for the view between my horse's ears.

Giving thanks for the view between my horse’s ears.

I am grateful that a river runs through my outdoor cathedral.

I am grateful that a river runs through my outdoor cathedral.

I give thanks for wildflowers that look like rumpled bedsheets.

Always give thanks for wildflowers that look like rumpled bedsheets.

Koo-Koo-Ka-Choo Kitty

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— By Elizabeth Speth

This is Ursula. We got her from a rescue organization for feral cats, and though she is nearly Ten now, she never grew much bigger than a kitten.  I don’t know anything about her parents.  I’m assuming Dad was a drifter.  A randy Lothario.  Probably a poster boy for the SPCA’s Spay and Neuter campaign.  Maybe a traveling litter salesman.  We can safely deduce he wasn’t fixed and he wasn’t a family man.

Mom clearly couldn’t keep it together either.   She gave up on her whole litter, and they all ended up in a box at a foster home, looking like a Crazy Cat Lady Starter Kit:

(I wasn't actually there for this part of Ursula's biography.  I've recreated the moment with a stock photo here.)

(I wasn’t actually there for this part of Ursula’s biography. I’ve recreated the moment with a stock photo here.)

We chose Ursula from the group.  I can’t remember why.  Possibly for cuteness reasons.  She came home and immediately began manifesting the multiple eccentricities that today define her furry little self.

She has tiny little paws and a little round face that is mostly eyes.  It is the eyes that tell you she is completely bonkers. Koo-Koo-Ka-Choo.  Totally cray – cray.  They usually look something like this:

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(Note: I have used a stunt double for this photograph.)

This look means many things:

‘My water bowl is getting low.’

‘I think there is a mountain lion outside.’

‘Isn’t it time to eat?’

‘The icemaker sounds like it wants to eat me again.’

‘Can you rub my belly?’

‘You left the TV on downstairs.’

Every single day of her life she has forgotten she has a tail until it has snuck up behind her, tapped her lightly on the leg, and scared the bejesus out of her. Every. Day.

She is remarkably heavy on her feet.  We have wood floors, and no one in the family has slept between 1 and 3 a.m. since she came to live with us.  Those are the hours she gallops endlessly up and down the hallways for no apparent reason, like a herd of zebras on the savannah, punctuating the running with an occasional screaming slide and scramble on an area rug.

She lurks in shadows, and visitors never see her. My sons have friends who visit every day who actually doubt her existence.

She likes to go outside, but only thirty seconds at a time. You have to hold the door for her while she darts out, throws herself on the deck, rolls enthusiastically, and then races back in like the devil is at her heels.

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(Ursula trying to decide if she wants to go outside.  Observe the tail sneaking up from the right flank. )Then she has to tell you, in her harsh, squeaky voice and for about a half hour, about how brave she was, and everything that happened to her out there.Ursula is a good conversationalist. If you look her in the eye and say something, she will always, always meow back. You can tell her about your day, your marital problems, your secrets. She’ll talk as long as you’ve got time. The longer you talk, the more adamant she is about what she has to say, and eventually the meows turn into howls which sound very sympathetic. You will come away from the conversation feeling understood.

If you can, I very much recommend you take a nap with Ursula every day. Even if you are not sleepy, you should lie down on your side and she will find you. From across the house, she can hear you lie down on your side, and she will be there in seconds, curling into the little hollow your body makes, her breathing belly against your breathing belly, and she will drop instantly asleep. As you lie there, feeling that warm, rising and falling ball of fur, your stress will start to ebb, and in its place will be gratitude for the little, weird, quirky, chatty agent of its removal.

If you don’t have time for a nap, she will arrange herself prominently on a pile of pillows and wink beguilingly at you until you abandon all thoughts of going to work and you take a nap.

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See what I mean?

Sometimes I wish she had her own room, where she could do her sleeping thing without tempting the rest of us.  If she did, we would have to hang this sign on the door as a fair warning:

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This is Ursula.

Love In A Dry Climate

— By Elizabeth Speth

This is not a weather blog.  It is not even a blog about the drought we are experiencing in California.  I won’t be going on and on about it after this.  But I am an outside-dwelling creature, a grower of gardens, a hiker of hills, a wildflower-admirer, a river-canyon-skirting rider of horses.  It’s just what’s in front of me right now.

I promise we will move on from here, beyond my parched skin, the landscaping that can’t be resuscitated.  This summer may not be blessed with lettuces, radishes and cucumbers from my garden. August may not see a single heirloom tomato from our soil.  Basil-less, I may actually run out of my frozen stores of pesto.  Maybe this is the year we will actually be evacuated in a wildfire inferno.

But I am only half paying attention to all that.

I am feverish, dizzy, transfixed by this new landscape, this moonscape of withholding created by Mother Nature.  Even at her most austere, even as she fixes me with her ‘no, you may not have it’  glare of pale cloudless sky — that empty blue stare — I am utterly confounded by her beauty.

Let me show you what I mean.  I live nearly on the shore of a very large California water storage reservoir.  Folsom Lake is usually lazily spreading itself this time of year, nourishing wildflowers on its banks, and heavy green growth on its trails.  It’s usually twinkling back at the sun, teasing the high horse trails at the top of the surrounding hills, pretend-threatening to flood.  Getting ready for a glut of boats and other watercraft that will invade it in the summer.

This year it looks like a beloved but terminally ill relative you haven’t seen since the diagnosis.  It is shockingly shrunken, tragically doomed and nearly unrecognizable.  It has crept back, exhaustedly ceded territory jealously guarded underwater for years.  Telling secrets kept for decades.  Hundred-year-old towns, abandoned to flooding,  are poking their ruins up through the mud.

A couple of weeks ago, while hiking with friends in the nearly dry lake bed, my son took this picture.

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That same day,  I was riding my horse through a hauntingly beautiful place I’d never seen, though I’ve traversed this lake trail hundreds of times.

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As I rode away from the ‘water’,  such as it was, I beheld  a gray and barren meadow that was uniquely stunning.

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After the ride, with no rain to hold down the billowing dust, all was visual chaos in the pasture as my horse rolled and shook off the vestiges of his work day.  The setting sun set the floating, dry, unanchored dirt on fire, and produced these indelible images:

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On an average winter day, this would have been just a horse rolling in the mud.

This morning, when I trundled my wheelbarrow of horse poop past the weed-strewn vegetable garden to the compost pile, I averted my eyes.  It pains me to think we may not be able to plant this year.  The normally verdant area looks neglected, desperate, as if we’d given up on it.  But then a glorious flash of purple caught my eye.  Rising through the cracked dirt, a sturdy volunteer completely out of place, offspring of some long-forgotten ancestral seed, a clump of drought-tolerant and incredibly fragrant rosemary.

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‘Shall I bloom?’ it seemed to ask.

Yes, I thought.

Please. Bloom!

Bloom because we don’t always get what we want in this life.  Or even what we expect.

We understand that. But we can do more than just accept it.

We can stop wringing our hands, for a moment, and open our eyes.

Perhaps there will be gifts.

A (Very) Little Water With The Wine

By ElizabethSpeth

This is not my photo.  I am too dehydrated to take pictures.

This is not my photo. I am too dehydrated to take pictures.

It is no secret that California is gasping in the second year of a severe drought. The Golden People have ticked off Mother Nature, or maybe she is just distracted.  Whatever the reason, we have received only a third of her usual attention in terms of precipitation. Some of our reservoirs hold a muddy 20 percent of capacity. According to the National Weather Service, Sacramento should be swollen with nearly 13 inches of rain by now. We have measured and measured again, and can count barely five.

And things were nearly as bad last year. We are in dire straits. There will be no vegetable gardens. There will be filthy cars and crackling brown lawns. There will be wildfires.

But we are grateful. We are celebrating.  Because there is good news.

Also for the second year in a row, California harvested a bumper crop of wine grapes. The same dry conditions that have rivers shrinking and cowering in their beds are perfect for wine grapes. Cabernet and  Zinfandel, those big, beautiful masochists, embrace barren, rocky soil and harsh sun.  They hunker right down and yield for their suffering lush velvet and opulent fruit on the tongue.  Who needs any other crop?



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Wine grapes are, of course, one of California’s top commodities.  Last year’s crop rang in at $3.16 billion, according to the California Association of Winegrape Growers. The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s preliminary figures show that the crop of red and white varieties combined weighed in at 4.23 million tons in 2013, up 5 percent from 4.02 million tons in 2012. Even more good news: 2012 was also a bumper crop year. So, though we are in a water crisis, we see before us a wine glut.

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And, because Mother Nature has her priorities straight, experts say there is still enough water left in the soil for the grapes this season. For now.

So don’t feel sorry for California. We are fine. We live in the state where waiters automatically bring glasses of wine to your table with the menus, and then ask if you’d like to order water.

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Sure we’re taking fewer showers, but who cares? Everyone knows it’s very hard to drink wine in the shower.

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Do not pity us as we lurch around, pinched of skin and purple of teeth, our empty swimming pools converted to wine cellars.

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We aren’t thirsty, my friends. We are complex and fruity.

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In fact, life for us would be perfect if those wine folks would finally start making bottles big enough for two people to share.

Ten Shiny Sports Cars at my Fingertips

By Elizabeth Speth

Shortest horror story (just one word, in fact): Monday.

And I’m the character with lamb-to-the-slaughter written all over her, so this is the time in the terrifying plot when I go to my happy place.  I find my thoughts fleeing back to Mostly Beautiful Last Week. A brief list (Lists Are Good!) of things that made it so:

1. In the early hours of a sunny winter afternoon, I found my horse Cake snoozing, and he let me come up and cuddle with him, rub his belly and take some pictures. That was pretty great.

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2.  I work in the kind of place where people leave things on my desk for Valentine’s Day.  Fresh flowers, candy, little trinkets.  Unsolicited love gifts.  At work. Imagine.

3. I decided to invite the extended family over for V-day, couples and singles alike, my children and their significant others, my husband’s parents, my sister-in-law and her husband.  I spent a glorious, peaceful day chopping, dicing, sautéing, whipping, thinking love thoughts the whole time.  Here is what I made:

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4.  Here is what the table looked like:

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5.  I went on a horseback ride in the glorious American River Canyon, where, though we are struggling through a drought year, there was enough water still flowing to attract all manner of sunbeams and glitter.  There was even a rainbow dancing over the rippling surface of my horse’s mane.  I’m not making that up.  See for yourself:


6.  After the ride, it is customary to do the following:

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7.  Of course, what with so much flowing alcohol, and the pinkening sunset sky, the horses get a little romantic:

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8.  On a lark, an impractical spree, a mini-mid-life crisis (I try to have as many of those as possible, because eventually people stop being shocked at all sorts of wild behavior), I got my nails polished in bright red.  Varnished, really.  Lacquered.  It’s like ten tiny sports cars at the tips of my fingers.  I don’t have a picture, but rest assured that they look fabulous wrapped around a martini glass.

9.  I took my oldest son, home from college for the weekend, out to lunch.  The food was perfect.  The service was good.  He was happy.  Then we went suit shopping.  That, also, was a success.  He now has the confidence of a man who owns a couple of suits that, once they are tailored, fit him like a second skin.  I was struck anew by how handsome he is.  Though broad of chest now, and deep of voice, and despite the fact that I have to crane my neck to make eye contact with him, when he gets into his car (packed with groceries and clean laundry and new suits) to head back to college at the end of the weekend, he still looks like this:

blog 2 lyle

There are better days ahead.  Saturday and Sunday, to be specific.  In the meantime, before I get what’s coming to me in the scary storyline of today, I think I’ve got time for one more of these:

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My nails are going to look fabulous with this cup.


Look For The Helpers

By Elizabeth Speth

Riding through lupine with Julia

Riding through lupine with Julia

Wildflowers in the yard...

Wildflowers in the pasture…

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” — Fred Rogers

Life is an ugly mess. I mean, it can be. Everywhere you look, there is poverty, greed, avarice, cruelty. Natural disasters. Sustained suffering. Loneliness. Children sometimes die before their parents. I don’t have everything I want. Maybe you don’t have anything you want. See what I mean? Don’t you feel terrible after reading this paragraph?

There is hope for us, though, in perspective. As Jose N. Harris said:

“Some people live in a bitter, angry, hate-filled world.
Some people live in a friendly, caring, love-filled world.
Same world…”

For me, the key to finding happiness in the maze of muck outlined above is gratitude. And for me, the key to gratitude is finding beauty. In everything.

For instance, I am a manure manager. Forget about my actual profession. What I actually spend the most time doing in my life is managing waste. I have four dogs, five horses, three cats, and three grown children whose bowel habits were once my daily concern. I know from poop.

But some of the most beautiful moments of my daily existence are in the transition hours of sunrise and sunset, when the horse manure scooping business is booming. Whether I like it or not, every day, I am out there watching Mother Nature’s creations stir and wake, or settle for slumber. What a gift. Thanks, excrement!

Even in the worst disasters, the most wide-spread suffering and pain, you will always find people who are helping. Those are the beauty. This blog is my gratitude journal. A list of beautiful things in this mostly beautiful life. Horseback rides like the one with my daughter Julia in the picture above, wildflowers in the pasture, beautiful meals, a strong, hot cup of tea, a thought-provoking book or quote, fabulous puns — everything is fair game. If we can keep our perspectives straight.

I hope it helps. I want to be one of the helpers.