Berthoud Weekly Surveyor · Literature · writing

Spider man

A creepy little Halloween treat for you. Reprinted with permission from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor.

The old man stood on his porch, glaring at the vandalized front yard. His lips were pursed with anger while he gripped the coffee mug so tightly the skin over his bony knuckles glowed white. A gentle breeze carried a two-foot length of toilet paper from a lower branch until it fell lazily on to his slippered foot. He seethed.

Just then a giggle erupted from the other side of his box elder shrubs before being instantly muffled. The old man didn’t even glance over. He knew the hooligans were there the whole time. He knew they were waiting for his reaction to the snowy transformation of his yard, every branch of every tree festooned with endless lengths of toilet paper.

“You have no idea who you’re messing with,” he croaked in the mischievous boys’ direction, his voice raspy but ominous. “You’ll be sorry.” And with that he walked back in the house and slammed the door.

That night — Halloween night — all the neighborhood kids laughed and gamboled up and down the streets, ringing doorbells, collecting candy and making merry. None of them acknowledged the old man’s house or the fact that they generally crossed the street to avoid it. The five young boys who had braved the property the previous night weren’t bragging about it any longer.


The next morning fingers of bright autumn sunshine reached through semi-bare branches of maples, sumacs and elms. Discarded candy wrappers danced down the sidewalks, no doubt left by a few impatient children who couldn’t wait to sample their haul. Most of the neighborhood kids were still tucked in bed with full tummies and budding cavities.

Most of them.

The old man’s trees were still draped with tattered remnants of Charmin’s best double-ply. So much TP, in fact, passers-by wouldn’t even notice the five white bundles of tightly wrapped tissue paper hanging from the lower branches. The growing breeze made it difficult to tell if they were wiggling or swaying.

The home’s sole occupant chuckled as he scrabbled across the wood floors to answer the door. The bored policeman who had been dispatched to find a suspected runaway sixth grader squinted at the name etched in brass above the doorbell.

“A. Rachnid,” he murmured to himself, trying the name out before he addressed the homeowner. “Mr. A. Rachnid.” The door swung open.


opinion · writing

Stormy seas and leaky lifeboats

I am, fortunately, many miles away from the states affected by Hurricane Irene’s angry path this weekend, but that geographical blessing didn’t stop me from riding my own waves of stress and emotion. I’m feeling kind of beached right now and like any self-respecting exhausted whale, I thought I should share.

Two years ago I probably hadn’t even heard of Twitter and I rarely visited Facebook. Fast forward to this week and I’m wringing my hands and losing sleep over people I’ve never met, yet care about in ways I can’t adequately explain. The Internet has created a universal connectedness that has become a blessing and a curse.

Two years ago I would have watched the news with concerned detachment, grateful for the lack of extreme weather in my neck of the woods. Today, my thumbs were poised over my magic phone, waiting for news of everyone’s safe travels through the eye of the storm. The feelings of worry and helplessness made more acute when one friend lost her house, while another couldn’t find out if her horses were okay.

In the twitterverse we call the people we have lunch with, work with, hang out with – RL (real life) friends – but it’s ridiculous to relegate the people I know in Virginia, Maryland and New York that I’ve come to love, as ‘not real.’ The anxiety I felt for them this weekend was all too tangible.

And then a storm of emotions hit closer to home.

My rare venture into Facebook territory last week told me a friend would be delivering the sermon at her church on Sunday. I awoke yesterday morning exhausted from my annual, virtually non-profit garage sale, but determined to go see her. I met this friend years ago as we both worked to build fledgling businesses while navigating the seas of motherhood. (I only have one kid; she has four. I’ll shut up now.)

A couple of years later she informs me of her grim Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis and I’m wondering what the hell is wrong with this picture. Fast forward again, three years later, to this Sunday morning and I was riveted to her eloquent words on fear and love.

I already knew she was an amazing writer and genuinely kick-ass human being, but her ability to make the bible real and accessible to a cranky bitch like me was a gift.

My heart swelled for her.

Before I could rest in the calm waters of my friend’s health and wisdom, I had another visit to make. I dropped in at a nearby business to celebrate the owner’s retirement. This woman not only helped inspire my art gallery adventures six years ago, but her influence on my town is inestimable.

As I offered my warm thanks and congratulations it became painfully clear she didn’t recognize me. The reason for her retirement was evident.

My heart broke for her.

Whether it’s Mother Nature’s wrath or some senseless disease, we all know how unfair life can be. I don’t have enough room for the clichés and you’d probably think of ten more anyway. But life is also pretty wonderful. So I’m going to swim in this glass of wine and feel particularly grateful for my blessings – health, family, safety and more.

They’re so easy to take for granted. Let’s all make a pact not to let that happen, okay?

Berthoud Weekly Surveyor · The Family Business · writing

Contentment comes quietly

Some days the bliss arrives unexpectedly and by the simplest means of transportation. Today is like that. My house is still a scary mess, my kid still won’t listen to me or help dry the dishes after telling her 14 times, and I’m still not sure how I’m paying the mortgage this week.

And yet I just did a systems check and found that they are all ‘Go’ and the atmosphere is relaxed with a forecast of hope. Amazing. How did this happen, and more importantly how long will it last?

Work is good right now. I’m busy on our current project and it’s even feeding my creativity which isn’t always possible at a newspaper. You’re constantly reminded that your brilliance – whether it’s a well-written story or eye-catching ad – is bound for the recycle bin within days of its culmination. But I enjoy my job and my boss gave me a big hug on Thursday to let me know she enjoys me too. Bliss.

It’s been a great summer break for my daughter due to a set schedule of family and activities. She needs that structure – hell, we both do. She’s discovered a passion for horses and her toy versions have opened up a social life for her at summer care. Girls and horses: you can’t go wrong. Bliss.

But as school approaches faster than I would have believed, I wanted her to work on some writing skills. Reading I’m not worried about, she’s as bad as I am. So I challenged her with a reward if she writes a page in her notebook journal each day until school begins in a few weeks. By the next day she had several pages of an exciting story where wild horses are captured. Granted, it’s one long, red-ink, run-on sentence and the word captured is spelled differently each time it appears, but SHE’S WRITING! Bliss.

There are other little things like my online community of friends, or as I like to think of it, the coolest damn quilting bee (minus the quilt) ever. The conversation was flowing last night like a rich, red zin among women who ‘get’ me and each other. One of them even thanked me this week for supporting her writing, while another read my fanfic story and reviewed it so enthusiastically I got a little choked up. Bliss.

The birth of this little guy at the Virginia Zoo this week only added to my bliss. I looooove giraffes!

So it’s a hot Saturday afternoon and I just finished the dishes, accompanied by all my favorite songs on my iPod. There may or may not have been wild, carefree dancing involved. The kid still won’t help, there’s still no extra money floating around for luxuries like water and electricity, and I just read that the Republicans and Democrats still won’t work together (assholes), and yet…


If I was a character in one of my own stories and I was this obliviously content, I’d probably walk out the door and get hit by a bus or taken out by a sniper.

Taking a deep breath, the character decides to risk it in search of more bliss. Reaches for door knob.

Go find yours today. It’s probably closer than you think.

Berthoud Weekly Surveyor · The Family Business · Twilight · writing

The Big Five-OH-MY-GOD!

If age is just a number, then my upcoming birthday is definitely doing a number on me. Yep. This November I turn half a century.

B-b-but I was just 40 last week...or so.

Swigs wine before continuing.

I don’t want to say that I’m taking it hard, but there may have been more than a few tears several months back when those bastards at AARP sent me a friendly – albeit early – reminder to join my fellow senior citizens in denial.

Honestly, the previous milestone birthdays didn’t bother me a whole lot, with the possible exception of 25. Pffffft! I was in love and lust at 30, and ten years later I was preparing to adopt a baby so I hardly felt ancient with such a wondrous journey ahead of me.

Snorts at the irony.

The 40s have surpassed most of my expectations. Not only did I become a mother, but I moved back to Colorado where my heart has always resided, opened a dream business, made a million friends and went on to enjoy another dream job when the art gallery had to close. Every day I do work that usually feeds both my bank account and my soul – not everyone can say that.

Then a couple of years ago I fell headlong into my mid-life crisis. No Botox or Porsches for me. Instead I fell in love with a much-loved/maligned teen book series. Since reading the first breathless word, that guilty pleasure gradually evolved into a wide, crazy circle of friends around the world and adventures I never would have imagined. The books and the friends also helped to renew my passion in fiction writing and I eventually wrote my own book.

Granted, I can’t publish it, but I. WROTE. A. BOOK.

I may have a few battle scars and a LOT of gray hairs to show for my 40s, but I wouldn’t change much. And speaking of gray, my formerly blonde hair has begun to turn dark with a rapidly developing silver-ish streak of hair on one side. Think an older version of Rogue from the X-Men. Yes, I plan to fully exploit this comparison with middle-aged geeks as long as they’re rich and no longer live in their parents’ basement.

It's a little scary how much we look alike. Form a straight line, boys.

So a few weeks ago, one of my twitter friends wrote a blog post about the new trend in bucket lists: 30 before 30, 40 before 40, etc. Sue’s turning 50 in four years and wanted to start working her list of things to accomplish now.

It got me thinking.

Most days, I don’t feel old but this birthday has definitely freaked me out a little. So I had some more wine and wondered what if I just embraced it? After all, the 40s kicked ass so who knows what could happen in the next decade?! To help motivate the enthusiasm, I decided my own list was in order. As of today, I only have four months instead of four years, so a trip to Italy or marrying my much younger Imaginary Boyfriend are probably off the table this time around. Nevertheless, I managed to come up with 50 attainable (I think) goals.

I’m not going to list them all here because some are too personal and most would bore the hell out of anyone but me. And hopefully, with each item I cross off before November 16, that intimidating number becomes just a number, baby – not a definition of me: middle-aged, hopelessly romantic, brave, silly, sometimes weary, often hopeful, always growing woman.

I’d love to hear your goals and dreams as the years tick by and I appreciate the encouragement as I tackle this list.

Oh, and if you’d like to call me Rogue from now on, I’m cool with that.

1. Write a blog post about turning 50 – CHECK!
8. Go to Forks, WA – It’s the land of sparkly vampires and Twitardia. Why wouldn’t I go?

Some of the crazies I plan to meet in September. #42 - CHECK!

17. Go on a date – It’s been a while. I need to exercise the muscle that makes it possible for me to function in public.
18. Start journaling again – I did this for decades and just stopped for some reason.
24. Finish first draft of Leadville novel – This book is tired of being in my head and needs to find its way to paper.
28. Find an eager teenager to babysit at my beck and call – This could help with general sanity and item #17 specifically.
29. Set up my bills to pay online
32. Submit one short story, somewhere, for pay or contest
36. Wax my lip – Again, see #17.
38. Host a party at my house – I wasn’t Martha Stewart, but I used to love to entertain.
41. Take a digital sabbatical for at least 24 continuous hours – I took this from Sue’s list. I’ll probably end up in rehab with Lindsey Lohan before the day is up.
42. Meet at least 5 more twitter friends in person – This will occur with item #8.
43. Write a letter to my parents, thanking them for raising me and being there for me – Also borrowed from Sue’s thoughtful list.
46. Make a cake or cookies for my daughter for no reason at all – It could tarnish my reputation as Worst Mother of the Year, but hey…
50. Say farewell to the 40s with wine, women friends and Edward! – Breaking Dawn, pt. 1 in theaters Nov. 18. Don’t judge – it’s not pretty;)

Cheers to half a century, well-lived.
Berthoud Weekly Surveyor · Colorado · writing

A weapon of moth destruction

My blogging habits are obviously sporadic, at best. When I heard yesterday that Charlie Sheen’s wages were being garnished for child support to the tune of $55,000 PER MONTH, I remembered that loser was still occupying top spot here at suzspetals. Oh, the humanity! I had to remedy the situation but haven’t strung two coherent sentences together in awhile soooo I’m posting a little bit of cuteness I wrote for the paper this week. Enjoy, and I promise to be back soon with relevant and witty repartee. Hopefully.

Reprinted from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

It’s a tough life for a house cat with natural hunting instincts. Just ask my little indoor tabby, Jazzy, who is relegated to watching the world through a double-paned window. She fancies herself a close relative of the lions that stalk and take down their prey on “Animal Planet,” while birds and butterflies mock her daydreams.

Fortunately for Jazzy, each summer Colorado is besieged with a scourge of small, feathery, disgusting miller moths. The ferocious feline is awakened.

The predictable annual migration gives cats’ lives everywhere new meaning. I try to be happy for mine as she launches herself into the air, trapping her feathered foe between her killer paws. Really, I do. I just wish she didn’t land so loudly… at three o’clock in the morning. And unlike her carnivore relatives, Jazz leaves the shredded carcasses on the floor for me to step on. Blech.

The good news is, according to Colorado State University Extension entomologists, that it’s predicted to be a short miller season this year, due to weather patterns. The bad news marks the return of Jazzy’s wistful window watching. Meanwhile, I’ll be busy sweeping up her spoils.

Next year, kitty. You’ll get ‘em next year.

Art and Culture · beet street · Reviews · writing

He’s a Magic Man

I can already tell you, I have no idea.
Reposted with permission of beet street, Fort Collins

When you describe someone as manipulative, it’s not usually a glowing compliment, however Dan Jaspersen’s ability to manipulate what you see and believe is not only a source of pride, it’s his livelihood. This month’s Art Cafe – Mentalist, Manipulator, Magician – is presented by the man, who also answers to Dan J.

Jaspersen taught himself to juggle – with one broken arm, no less – at an early age, then picked up a deck of cards in college, ultimately paying rent with his sleight of hand skills. After acquiring his degree in business communications, he was soon employed in Japan working in the field of international relations. But in his heart, he’s always been a performance artist, and less than two years ago his magic act became his regular gig.

“I design experiences for people,” he said, explaining his unique art form.

Unlike the glittery illusionists on television or children’s entertainers who pull rabbits out of hats, Dan has worked hard to create a new style from old school.

“What I love to do is go back into the really old books, tricks and ideas,” he said, adding that even science magazines from the 1950s provide inspiration.

Although Dan’s act is family friendly, he stresses that his primary audience is adult, setting him farther apart from the stereotype magician. His performance is classy, elegant and more thought-provoking, making him a popular draw for private parties, corporate events and education venues. His clientele includes everyone from Colorado State University, to the Rotary club, to Nonesuch Theater. The type of audience often determines what tricks he’ll pull out of his bag.

The Minnesota native now lives in Cheyenne with his family, but with wife Andi’s roots in Loveland, Dan is well-connected and sought out through the Wyoming and Northern Colorado region.

Dan Jaspersen’s program at Avo’s this Wednesday, Feb. 23, begins at 5:30 and he promises to combine some magic with a little behind-the-scenes look at the mentalist’s mindset.

Dan Jaspersen knows your card.

“I believe in magic, but I know better,” he said enigmatically. As a magician, he strives to reconcile the contradiction of magic and the laws of science. “It’s a tricky thing.”

He paraphrased his favorite magician, Banachek, saying, “I like to take five senses and make it appear there’s a sixth.” In fact, Dan admits to mixing psychology and sleight of hand, mining the secrets of mediums and charlatans from a bygone era.

Fortunately for us – his delighted marks – he uses his powers for good, not evil. Bring all of your available senses this week and enjoy Dan J., Magician@Play.

Literature · writing

Death and Daffodils

© Susan Richards
Reprinted with permission by the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

Carol knew without a doubt that she couldn’t leave the body lying in the mudroom all day. The kids would be home from school in a few hours and questions were bound to come up.

“Mom, why is our neighbor’s face all blue and do we have any of those mini Oreos left?”

It would be awkward, to say the least, so she knew she had to get the old guy out of the way sooner, rather than later. There were still three loads of laundry to finish, vegetables to chop for tonight’s stew, not to mention that stupid daffodil costume to finish for Willow’s kindergarten program.

If there was to be any finger pointing for the 180 lb. dead guy in the next room, it was five-year-old Willow’s fault. If only she was home to own up to her complicity, Carol could send her to a time out and put the responsibility of body disposal squarely on the girl’s petite shoulders.

Unfortunately for Carol, Willow was busy learning her ABCs, undoubtedly while wiping the contents of her nose on Paris Romero’s sweater. Her daughter was blithely unaware of the catastrophic course of events, all because she required a costume in the shape of a spring bloom.

Carol sighed loudly, trying to muster up some righteous self-pity for the situation. If she couldn’t blame her precocious youngster for the foul play, then she knew where the blame really settled.

On the old guy himself, of course.

His spectacularly poor timing did him in. Not Carol Royce, who was head of the neighborhood watch, co-chair of the local chapter of MADD, and author of three yet-to-be-published gluten-free cookbooks. It was all on him.

Him and the last untenable 48 hours.

Two days earlier, Carol woke to the delighted squeals of three ecstatic children. School had been canceled due to heavy snow, high winds, and an apparent unwillingness to educate during predictable, regional weather conditions.

Within two days the unholy trio had eaten everything in the house, traumatized the cat until it refused to come out from under the bed, and built a blanket fort that filled most of the house. With her husband Phil stuck in Saginaw until the storm cleared out, Carol was on her own with the snowbound brood. She also belatedly discovered that the liquor cabinet had not been replenished before the weather came in. The forecast was dire, and not just outdoors.

When the district announced school would be back in session today, Carol almost wept with joy. After more than an hour of shoveling and scraping, she got the car out and the monsters delivered 14 minutes early. It all went downhill from there.

Upon arriving home, Carol discovered that the overzealous city workers had plowed a four-foot wall in front of the same driveway she had just broke her back to clear. After re-digging an entry, she came inside to find the family dog had done his business on her bedroom rug as he was too cold or lazy to venture outside like other dogs.

Then as she brought an arm full of firewood to the den for the wood stove, she dropped a log on her foot, thus releasing such a torrent of expletives that the dog wisely retreated and tried to wipe up his own mess. Carol was 96% sure she would lose a toenail in spite of the recent coat of Maui Nights polish.

When she realized the wood stove wasn’t making a dent on the cold, Carol learned that the pilot light in the ancient furnace had gone out. Again. She completely split out the butt in her favorite yoga pants when bending over to light it. The noise of the seam popping was so loud the dog piddled again.

Once the furnace was working, the dog mess cleaned up and all 328 blankets and chairs were returned to their rightful place, Carol sat down with a cup of coffee spiked with cherry flavored cough syrup. It didn’t taste great but she imagined the pioneers would be proud of her resourcefulness and drank it anyway. She had just about found her long-lost sense of calm when the doorbell rang.

Carol was surprised to see their neighbor, Wally, bundled up on the stoop. The octogenarian was wearing a puffy blue coat that was last in fashion when Reagan was president and only his rheumy eyes peered out between the matching knit scarf and hat.

“Wally, what are you doing out in this weather? Come on in here,” she admonished, leading him into the mudroom. In a couple of hours it would be full of discarded coats, scarves and wet boots, no doubt left for her to pick up. She sighed dramatically, already dreading the onslaught of loud, messy beings that were still young enough to love this weather.

The weather that was reaching its bitter cold fingers through the door as Wally waddled in. She shut it behind him and watched him shake snow and slush onto the clean floor.

“What can I do for you?” she asked, feigning warmth she hadn’t felt since last September. His eyes twinkled as he pulled down the scarf.

“Well, I hate to bother you, but Maude and I are heading to Florida this weekend and I was wondering if you have any sunscreen I could borrow. My nose burns something awful at the beach.” He grinned his 84-year-old denture smile at her and waited expectantly.

“The beach. You’re going to the beach this weekend?”

He nodded enthusiastically.

Carol saw the bright yellow fabric still in her hand that would eventually be a colorful daffodil, then looked out at the blanket of white in the yard, the steel-gray slushy mess in the streets where the crews had plowed. She looked at her beach-bound neighbor and snapped.

Distantly, she heard herself screaming about blanket forts, dog pee and spring flowers as she grabbed the ends of his green woolen scarf and shook the old man. She was still going on about wasted toenail polish and pilot lights when his face turned several different shades of blue and his tongue peeked out between his perfect false teeth.


Later that afternoon Carol sat with another cup of coffee – this one spiked with something a little more appropriate than cough syrup – and stared out the window. The kids were watching TV, the costume was sewn and ready as her husband pulled his car easily into the driveway she had shoveled out three times.

Phil Royce waved at Wally’s wife who was walking their well-trained pooch as he unloaded his bags from the car. He and Maude exchanged a few words before he stomped into the now-empty mudroom.

After hugs, greetings and a warm kiss on Carol’s cheek, he asked if she was feeling all right.

“Yes, why?” Carol asked, trying to look away from the monochromatic yard.

“Mrs. Winter said her husband came over earlier to borrow a cup of sugar and you reacted oddly. He was worried you might not be feeling well.” Phil took a sip of his wife’s coffee and smiled appreciatively.

Carol finally pulled her eyes from the snowy blanket covering the hard, frozen earth, still weeks away from being soft enough to till and dig. Her daughter might be a bright yellow harbinger of spring, but there wouldn’t be any blossoms in the yard for a while. March was the snowiest month of the year and Carol doubted her sanity would survive it.

Three kids cooped up inside for two days, a couple of neurotic pets, a visit from old man Winter and an overactive imagination all came together in one afternoon.

She looked at her husband with a lazy smile and reclaimed her coffee.

“Oh, just a little case of spring fever, honey. I’ll be fine.”