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                Sometimes a sauna is just meant to happen.

                I remember the first time I'd encountered a sauna. I was seventeen. I worked for the summer with the Youth Conservation Corp maintaining trails in the Adirondack Mountains. Our work schedule demanded us to go out into a wilderness setting every other week. When we weren’t out living in our tent city, we’d stay in dorms at Star Lake Campus. The campus itself was made up of a number of buildings- dorms, mess hall, community hall, and, of course, a sauna house. The appeal of the sauna wasn’t exactly health related at this time in my life (in fact, I think it was all about hanging out half naked with a bunch of other teens…maybe proving I was tough enough to “stand the heat”).  So, loving saunas from my introduction makes sense.

                Some years later, my brother Mark came to visit me in Colorado. He spent his last birthday on this planet hanging out with me (he had cancer and wouldn’t make it to his twenty- fifth). I’d arranged for us to go to a Native American sweat in the neighboring town of Mancos. More of a religious experience than a sauna, Mark told me afterwards, “My pain went away.” I’ve been to many Native sweat since, some very traditional and some not so, but this was the most meaningful (you’re missed, Mark).

                My encounter with Morgellons Disease in my early forties turned me into a detox nut (and who wouldn’t be after going through such a horrific set of symptoms!). I purchased a two-man infrared sauna for my home in Wellsboro, PA. I spent many nights sweating in this box and, when I moved, sold it to a man trying to recover from cancer.

                When I started to house hunt in Cortez, I keep in mind my desire to have a sauna. Maybe even build one. I didn’t exactly know how it’d play out, but I kept it in mind. Buying my fixer-upper on Beech Street lead me to finding a house mate who had building experience, which eventually lead Tony to finding the room hidden under the front steps of the house (okay, this last sentence is an extremely condensed version of how this all played out…but it’d take way too long to tell the whole story. Forgive me.)

                The room under the steps is about four feet by eight feet. It seemed destined to become a sauna. I found a sauna heater and cedar door for sale online and drove to Ridgeway, CO to retrieve these last weekend. Tony jack-hammered out a doorway from the basement into the mystery room this past week. Today, I bucketed out all of the rubble from the entryway creation. It's a lot of work!

                The sauna may not be finished for some time. I step in through the doorway and picture a light and heater in place. Will there be room for three or four? I’m not certain how it will play out. So much sweat has gone into the project so far- how could I not title this Sweat Equity?   

                


 
 
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I’ve had another long week of “teaching” (quotation marks are meant to accentuate the idea of what I am trying to do; the reality is quite different). I did accomplish something I feel is big- I presented a professional development related to “Creating an Introvert Friendly School” at my current school of employment. It went well!

What did I share? I tried to hit the very largest pieces of the problems associated with introversion, social trends, and learning. Being an introvert is not the same as being shy. Introverts get brain chemistry balanced by internal stimulus and extroverts rely on external stimulus. Introverts need to “recharge” regularly. Constant group work needs to be rethought. Introverts need to be considered as much as extroverts. Schools are primarily designed for extroverts.

It is interesting who from the teaching staff asked me for copies of my paper titled “Creating an Introvert Friendly School”. It is also interesting to see how some of the more extroverted staff reacted to my time with them. I’m not out to start a fight with the extrovert crowd (who is?!), I hope to open a discussion.

The district I currently am working for has many Native American students and introvert students may make up more than half of the student body. I am especially concerned with our societies distorted views towards male introverts (it has never been easy for me!) Taking into account the many pieces of each individual student should help in designing an appropriate approach to learning.

Schools may be the best place to start dialog on the needs of introverts. I hope to be a part of the change needed to serve this large portion of our population. If you’re interested in finding out more, take a look at the links below. Quietly yours, Joe

http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts.html

http://voices.yahoo.com/creating-introvert-friendly-school-11645064.html?cat=72


 
 
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You might say the visit started several months ago.

Cindy walked along Beech Street tangled by the leashes of three lap dogs and her own thoughts. She stopped along my driveway. “Hey, neighbor, how would you feel about hosting my book club? I told them about your book.” Anyhow, that’s how I remember it starting.

Fast forward to the night of January 21st- the night THEE Book Club would visit. I’d had a long day of “teaching” at my current job. My housemate, Tony, had started a roaring fire in the wood stove and I decided I should run off and get some flowers from City Market to make the ladies feel at home (the Club is made up entirely of well-educated and lively women). By the time I’d gotten back, Cindy had already arrived and settled into the kitchen. “You told me I could come early,” she said.

As Beul Nam Beinn takes place in historic Scotland, the food theme for the night was Scottish (minus the Haggis!) Plentiful and tasty, the food, ale and wines digested well as be began to talk about my book. Since we were sitting in a circle near the fire, I thought I’d like to see what the women got out of the story. “I’d like to hear what you think the story was about,” I proposed.

There is little more worthwhile for a writer than to hear the impact on the reader. The answers were varied and insightful. In all honesty, you get out of a story what you get out of a story, but my intent best fit Cathie’s response of, “Self-discovery…”  It was a joy to have the company of these ladies and to get their feedback on my efforts! (Thanks, ladies!) I also passed a composition book to “Build ideas for a sequel”.

The next day my two bachelor housemates and I reflected on the evening before. “That was fun!” said I. “Great food!” said Jon. “Did you know one of the ladies brought toilet paper?” asked Tony. We laughed.


 
 
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I had a dream-an idea- a concept- a desire. I decided, after watching the jaw-dropping surf action on Step Into Liquid, I must get an official surf lesson before I turned fifty.  And the dream almost happened; I missed it by a day.

Here’s how it unfolded. I decided I needed to plan something to look forward to during Christmas break. So, I bought a ticket to fly from Cortez to San Diego and back. My flight left Cortez in the morning light causing luminous rays like brush-strokes from a fine painting across the face of Mesa Verde. Over the snow-capped La Plata and others of the Rockies, then a twisted dive down to the Denver airport- the first leg of the trip.

All airports appear the same to me (except Cortez's which has a friendly cat and the smallest runway ever). I’d paid to have my backpack checked and found myself feeling oddly light-footed as I bounced around Denver Airport. I noted the roofline shaped like a line of irregular teepees out one of the windows as I wandered through the terminal. I hadn’t eaten breakfast and, as it was nearly noon, I decided to treat myself to a Philly cheese steak and an ice cream cone.

 My final flight into San Diego was smooth and eventless. I’d decided to find the bus to the hostel after retrieving my pack. Driving beyond the hyper-activity of the airport, we soon were contouring the edge of the main bay. We made a 90 degree turn and headed uphill slightly. I counted the cross-roads until we arrived at Front Street.

The hostel I lodged at was only six blocks up the way. I passed by some fellow hostellers who smoked on plastic lawn chairs in front of the old Victorian. It was late day of December twenty-second. My birthday would arrive the next day.

“Hello. Can I help you,” asked the girl with a thick accent I couldn’t place. She leaned over the check-in counter.

“Yeah. I’ve got a reservation for a bed,” I said.

“Name?”

Keleher. Joe Keleher.”

“Yeah. We’ve got you down for a couple of nights,” she said as noted the reflection of the computer screen in her glasses as she scanned it.

“That’s right,” I leaned over the counter. “Umm… I wanted to ask about getting a surf lesson. I’m turning fifty tomorrow and would like to give it a try.”

She smiled. “I’ll ask Thiago. He’s the guy who just walked by on his way to the shower. I’ll let you know.”

*****
The Next morning Thiago, a high energy Brazilian who started surfing when he was eight, fit me with a wetsuit and surf board. Two South African lasses joined us as we all wandered down the street to catch the trolley and transferred to a bus to get to Pacific Beach.

Vicky led us in early morning yoga, before we donned our wetsuits and hit the waves. It was a gorgeous day with waves of three to four feet and only a few other dozens of beach occupants.

Thiago gave a short and heart-felt lesson. He prepared me for the waves, getting beyond them and the actions I needed to ride one. “Ready?” he asked.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” I responded.

The four of us fought to get out beyond the waves. Soon I found I’d drank my share of salt water and found my upper body muscles twitching from exertion.

Thiago came along side of me. “Okay. Turn your board.” I followed his directions. “Now…get up on it and paddle, paddle, paddle!”

It was the one wave I can actually claim to have ridden. I rode on my knees and soon found myself nearing shore. I let Thiago know I was exhausted. “Rest up and then you can come out again,” he suggested.

I stretched out on my board and read from Girl With the Pearl Earring. After several chapters, the others came in from the waters. Thiago and I went for a long walk and talk along the beach followed by the four of us going for a late lunch at a beachside restaurant which specialized in fish tacos.

It was one of those days. One I won’t forget.  Salty ocean breeze twirled with the distant sound of waves breaking. I’ve surfed through fifty and look forward to fifty-five more!


* "You can’t stop the waves but you can learn how to surf! Life is good!"

*Quote from t-shirt I got bought before leaving San Diego


 
 
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We've all heard the story of the tortoise and the hare. In the end slow and steady wins out over fast and lazy. I've been reconsidering the meaning Aesop's story. Could the animals be representative of the introvert and extrovert?

The tortoise is slow in action. He has a simple plan- keep moving ahead. Like his movement, his thoughts seem slow, deep and grounded. In every way, he appears to be an introvert.

The hare is somewhat of a bully in words and actions. His fast moves and over-confidence lead to a mid-race nap and the eventual lose of the competition. He is certainly an extrovert.

I wonder- was Aesop an introvert? Was this story a way of explaining himself? I think it merits consideration -not deep consideration, but, more likely, the kind of consideration one gives to conversation over coffee. Them's my words today and I'm sticking with them. Let the race begin!  


 
 
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I would of course! Shoot, I’ve taken on Morgellons Disease and Mermaids, why wouldn’t I take on mutilated cattle. Actually, you may be surprised, I’ve been thinking about them since before my encounter with Morgellons or my fondness of mermaids. Let’s go back in time.

It was the fall of 1997. I’d just finished getting certified to teach and landed a position in Moffat, Colorado. The school made up more than half the square-footage of a one horse town (maybe not even one horse.) Isolated and in the middle of the San Luis Valley, it was the land of cheap real estate and strange stories.

Now enters the mutilated cattle (kind of an awful image, don’t you think?)

I guess I first heard about the stories after reading Mysterious Valley by Chris O’Brian (recommended by a friend to prepare me for my new home). I was a little taken by the sheer amount of strange stories associated with the valley. UFOs, bigfoot, crystal skulls and, yes, mutilated cattle- just to mention a few.

I recall one fellow teacher sharing, “Mutilated cattle are caused by disgruntled district employees.” I laughed.

I lived at the north end of the valley in Saguache. In looking at real estate, I considered an abandoned movie theater as a possible home/ business (good I didn’t make that investment!)I knew the real estate agent, the local artists, the local hippies, and the local ranchers. Living in an extremely small town, you get to know most of the occupants.

One friend I made was a sheriff Dispatcher. One snowy evening she whispered, “They found another.”

“Another,” I said lifting my voice just enough to make it a question.

“A mutilated cow. The snow covered the pasture. There were no tracks. Steam was still rising from the body.”

I think I sat up awhile in my bed that night. If it is aliens, why would they stop at cattle? Why would they let a simple wood frame house keep them from a really interesting specimen? What’s that sound in the kitchen? Yes, it is just that easy to keep me up all night.

So, the mutilated cattle are still out there (among a few mutilated horses). It’s a good mystery, don’t you think? Now I’m wondering if the four hour drive beyond Wolf Creek Pass and an extended stay might bring me into the proper state to write another novel. Humm. Yes, there are many interesting people...and stories. Maybe it’s time. Maybe I need to revisit the mutilated cattle.

*note- Cattle pictured above are from a Maasai market I visited in Tanzania. Aliens will not mutilate these cattle (the Maasai wouldn't allow it. No one messes with the Maasai!)


 
 
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I like Mer and I like art. I like Mer art. My favorite piece hangs above my desk. Ethan, my youngest nephew, brought it with him on the Amtrac ride across the US with his family (they visited "The West" this past July). The happy Mer seem to have nothing better to do than pose for the artist. Ethan expressed pride in drawing the bikini completely on his own (and my niece, Sasha, Ethan's older sister, confessed she helped by drawing the "six pack" on the merman's belly); I didn't tell him I prefer bare-breasted mermaids. 

I've had a splash of interest in my Merworld Fantasy Beul Nam Beinn this past week. A local book club have selected it as their read for the month (and they will visit my home with "wine, cheese and all sorts of food" in January so they might ask me questions related to the novel). Owners of Mr. Happy's, a Cortez establishment of fine food, drink and live performances, asked if I'd be interested in having a reading. Cortez being in the high desert of Colorado's western slope, we need a little Mer to liven up our lives.

As I was jogging this morning an idea floated to the surface- why not a Mer Art contest? It is unlikely anyone can create a piece as fine as Ethan's Mer, but someone might come close. The winner will be selected early in the new year and given a signed copy of Beul Nam Bienn along with a post on my website. It's all about having fun and being creative. Why not give it a try? 

 
 
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Morning is here. My current lifestyle is one of dragging myself to work and dragging myself home. It's tough. My life is out of balance. 

Last evening, I found myself hiking over to the Carpenter Nature at the north edge of town. It was quiet and I had the setting to myself (except for the occasional rabbit scurrying or bird flit from sage to sage). 

When I go out for one of these quiet adventures, I pause to take in the sunset. This was a special night though. Equally spectacular to the sun setting like a hallow to the "head" of the Sleeping Ute Mountain was a full moon rising over the La Plata Mountains to the east. I had my camera and took some pictures to post.

Speaking of the full moon, tonight I'm hosting a potluck. Since I'll be making some mango margaritas, I suspect the potluck will turn into a party. While I can appreciate the spectrum of quiet solitude to boisterous partying. Last night I needed some quiet. What I need tonight is a party.



 
 
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Life is awfully good. I guess I can’t really compare it to anything…except maybe pre-life (can you remember what it was like before you were born? Me either.)

I have a couple of housemates. Tony lives in the basement. Jon is in the spare bedroom.

I connected with Tony by posting a little ad on Craigslist (something like “Room in exchange for your carpentry skills”). Anyhow, he showed up with a trailer of tools and a dream. He has helped with the home improvements a ton. He’s also a great cook and we’ve become good friends.

Jon has been a friend for about a year. We first met over a conversation at the local coffee house (shared our challenges of unemployment - is it true the new norm is plenty of middle aged folks who are struggling to survive?). Anyhow, we’re great friends. He contacted me a month ago saying he needed a place (as he’s navigating through a divorce).  While I’m at work as a teacher, he’s been helping Tony with the home repairs.

Anyhow, the house is really coming together! I’d not truly understood what kind of project I was undertaking. It is amazing through all we can accomplish with the help of friends (old and new). The big plan this week is to begin painting the exterior.

I’m sipping my first cup of morning java. Soon we will be dipping the brush in the bucket. I have a feeling it’ll be a landmark day. I am already having visions of big parties under the full moon…enjoying this big space I call home.

Be not weak my friends. Life is good. I am a writer. I am a painter. The writing is done. Now I paint. 


 
 
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Sometimes it is important to just experience life. I’d gone for my morning jog. I panted at my doorsteps and decided the front yard could be watered. I turned on the sprinkler and experienced some wonderful layers- the sunrise beyond the playground beyond the sprinkler.

Life is in layers. Some are thick. Some are thin. Some have deep rooted fossils and some are fresh flooded mud.

I study layers of the earth, the rock, myself and others.

In my youth, favorite layers included the rainbow of jello in a family picnic, the discarded clothes on my bedroom floor, and the steaming mass of fermented organics deep in the compost pile. The calendar always felt like an unending ripple of predicted tides- a new school year, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Saint Patrick’s Day, Easter and summer vacation.  I remember the layers of my childhood as better than they ever were—there were many layers of complete crap.

My favorite layers as an adult seem more permanent. The layers between Heaven and Hell. The layers between love and fear. The layers between separation and connectedness. I guess these aren’t actually my favorite layers, they’re just the ones I think about the most.

Today I look at the sunrise beyond the playground beyond the sprinkler and think, This is how it is- life is layers- birth, death and the meaning we put in between. The lesson- live life and worry not.