About Me

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Recent retiree--35 year's experience teaching reading, English, adult basic education and volunteer leadership skills. Started this blog to exchange ideas and commentary with friends and others having an interest in joining the discussions. Greatest life accomplishments include: 1.organized my 3rd grade class to check out library books for me to get around librarian's weekly limit--Amazon.com, the Mullins Elementary 3rd Grade Class of 1956 is still waiting for "thank you" notes; 2. volunteered in the Peace Corps, island of St. Kitts, West Indies; 3.taught adults to read, earn their GEDs., and speak English as a second language; 4. bought a border collie puppy for $6, got evicted rather than give him up, and began a life-long love affair with all things "Dog"; 5. joined a physical fitness boot camp in my mid-50s--don't mess with someone who's been doing regulation pushups in wet grass at 5:30 a.m.; 6. walked across Northern England with best friend Sally--over 80 miles from the Irish to North Seas; and 7. travelled to many foreign countries for pleasure and work.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Some things that you get to do are just plain fun. Plus, if you learn something you didn't know already, that just adds an extra oomph to the experience. Yesterday was that kind of day when I met up with a couple of friends to check out an exhibit of Kentucky antique sugar chests at the Speed Art Museum. What made the outing extra sweet(get it?) was that we could have so much fun in the middle of a work week. All three of us are retired--or will be soon. One of the great perks of retirement is to be able to do things on your own schedule. That means no lines, crowds, time limits. And let's not forget the unexpected luxury of seeing a movie in an almost empty theater.

For those readers who are not knowledgeable antique buffs or owners--including me--here's the deal on sugar furniture. In the early to mid nineteenth century, sugar was a precious commodity in the home. In Kentucky, loaves and cones of sugar were shipped inland from New Orleans and the West Indies and kept under lock and key in the more affluent homes. In the sound tradition of form following function, furniture makers in central and western Kentucky crafted a variety of sugar chests, desks, and boxes which were kept in the public rooms of the house such as parlor or dining room for all to see. This furniture was a symbol of the family's social status. These beautiful but simple pieces kept expensive sugar convenient for sweetening drinks and also held the liquor served to frequent guests in the homes.

The Speed Museum had around 40 different examples of sugar furniture on display. The earliest pieces were simple divided boxes, mostly on legs that became more intricately carved as the century progressed. Most pieces had two separate bins for the refined white or cane sugar and the more common maple or brown sugar. Some had drawers for valuables and cubbyholes for liquor bottles. All had locks to keep out samplers. Most pieces were singularly lacking in ornamentation, depending on beautiful wood graining, simple inlays, and dovetailing to make each piece unique.

Today I'm thinking about a couple of the chests we saw. I now have more appreciation for these antiques. It's almost like if you look closely enough at the worn places, scratches in the wood, or decorative elements of a piece you can create a story about the families who owned and used them to entertain friends and family. It would make me much happier to have an antique sugar chest in my home than the most expensive new piece. With the antique I'd get another family's history to which I could add my own memories.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Yesterday morning, Black Friday, the smoke alarm chirped Willie and me out of a sound sleep at 2:30 a.m. The wake up call would have been fine had I intended to be in the Wal-Mart or Best Buy bargain shopper's line early in the morning. I think not. I would have preferred to sleep in a few more hours before observing the day after Thanksgiving in a less combative manner. However, no big deal. I shushed the smoke alarm and coaxed Willie from under the desk where he kept pleading "Make that thing stop hurting my ears!" Finally, after restoring the calm I left home to meet up with some friends in Frankfort for a day of fine arts and crafts.
We drove to Covington, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, for a preview of Winterfair!,the Ohio fine art and craft
exposition. Every state has it's own variation of this type of show which spotlights its state artists working in a variety of media including ceramics, metals, fine art, jewelry, fiber and more. At every booth we found works that were beautiful, functional, and whimsical. We tried on handmade clothing and jewelry and laughed and chatted with the artisans, learning about their works.

There were artists that stood out for all three of us. My friend kittyhawk was eager to have us see the blown glass work of Michael J. Mikula which combines brilliantly colored,intricately shaped glass with metal in strikingly architectural designs. They became friends through a special book project and she has come to really appreciate his artistry.

My favorite artist was a young silversmith from Berkley who specialized in making ancient coin jewelry such as you see here. He was totally full of himself in a good way and kept us lingering at his booth with a combination of real information about the origins and symbolic meaning of the coins he used and good salesmanship.

I closed out a very successful day with my first Starbucks Peppermint Mocha of the holiday season and memories of a great day traveling with friends and sharing appreciation for the artists among us. I'm not regretting a single Black Friday bargain that slipped through my fingers while at Winterfair!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mensa Candidate--Not!

Regular readers of my blog will need to give me a self indulgence pass for the next couple of days. I'm currently in a Woody Allen navel gazing phase because of a benchmark birthday coming up this week. Unfortunately, I'm not having any trouble seeing same navel, if you get my drift. . .However, let's save that concern for later in the week.

Recently the Courier Journal ran a story about the International Mensa Society, including information on where and when to take the test in this area to see if you'd qualify to be a part of this group of intellectual smartypants. It seems that the main focus of this highly intelligent--notice that I didn't say highly functioning--group is to meet and share a lot of thin air ideas and discussions that we ordinary folk wouldn't get.

Now I'm not interested in getting into the Mensa Society, being a realist and great protector of my positive self image. I am, however, interested in what these advancing years are doing to my brain function. After all, keeping your "tack" sharp is key to enjoying mid-life and beyond. More importantly, most of my friends are also getting to the age where they too need a keeper--so, we need to look out for each other!

Needing to know where I currently stand in the intelligence department, I hopped on the Internet and found this site for free IQ tests (interested? http://www.funeducation.com/ ) and found a "premium" psychometric exam that measures cognitive performance in key areas such as word analysis and spatial reasoning. You know the kinds of questions: "If some Toogs are Bekes and some Bekes are Broons, then some Toogs are definitely Broons. True or False?" My initial response to all 46 of the similarly worded exam questions was: who gives a big rat's hiney? But, I persevered to the end of the test.

According to Dr. McConochie's test, I fell just a scooch above average IQ on the bell-curve for takers of his test. This was a blow. After all, I try to learn something new about the world every day. Apparently the bios of Amazing Race contenders are not exactly helping me keep my grey cells! Never fear, I'll just dig deeper into my latest daily self education text: The Intellectual Devotional--Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Roam Confidently with the Cultured Class by David Kidder and Noah Oppenheim. So far I've learned about the alphabet, cloning, and the Torah. These daily intellectual devotionals in areas of knowledge from science to religion should help blow back the fog of old age.

Tomorrow's navel gazing installment: Emotional Intelligence

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Where's Your Flag?

On Veteran's Day I'm thinking back to an October dust storm that was whirling around Barack Obama. As it happens frequently in political races, a lot of valuable air time that could be used to define candidates' positions on important issues is wasted over inconsequential silly things like what's with Hillary's clapping to the audience when she comes on-stage? How much did John Edwards pay for a haircut? Is Rudy still keeping his drag queen costume in his closet?

Obama's dust storm dealt with his no longer wearing an American flag lapel pin. When questioned about it on the talk circuit back in October, he stirred up a big brouhaha by trying to give a thoughtful response to an inconsequential, silly, and shallow question. Obama said that he, like many Americans, wanted to wear our flag after the 9/11 attacks as a show of solidarity with the people of the U.S. And now, six years later, he'd stopped wearing the pin because it's too easy.

Like a lot of the things we find ourselves doing to "support" the war--bumper stickers, yard signs, moments of silence at public gatherings, prayers from pulpits--it's just patriotism lite. While many of us never forget to wear our American flag pins--or even worse-patriotic sweatshirts and hats--a disproportionate number of young men and women sacrifice too much in Iraq and Afghanistan while we go on with our daily lives, most of us not affected or changed in any way by what happens in the Middle East.

A week or so before all this wearing of the flag controversy happened, we were in yet another empty public relations battle. General David Petraeus was appearing before Congress to report on the progress of Bush's troop surge. In order to provoke the public--and hopefully our Congressional leaders--into evaluating Petraeus' testimony more critically instead of giving him the easy pass that Bush expected, MoveOn.org ran the infamous "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" ad in the New York Times.

This was just the red herring supporters of the surge were looking for. Instead of listening carefully to the General's assessment for true signs of progress, it was--much like wearing a lapel pin--much easier for Congress to grandstand instead of question. Oh the righteous indignation against MoveOn.org, the New York Times, and any American who thought it was time to listen critically to what we were being told about the actual progress and projections for success in the region! The great battle of the Stay the Coursers vs the Cut 'n Runners was on!

In all the furor, David Shuster, D.C. reporter for MSNBC, delivered the most telling blow in the whole debate. In an interview he conducted with Marsha Blackburn, Congresswoman from Tennessee and water carrier for Bush talking points, Shuster allowed her to go on and on about the unpatriotic undermining of MoveOn.org and the financial whoring of the NY Times for running the piece just to build readership. Meanwhile, members of Congress were trying desperately to give General Petraeus an opportunity to tell us what must be done to win the war in Iraq.

After letting Blackburn almost empty her water bucket, Shuster dealt the death blow question. It went like this: "Congresswoman Blackburn, a nineteen year old soldier from your district was killed last week in Iraq. Can you tell me his name?" Unfortunately, that young soldier's name was not in the good Congresswoman's talking points--all she could do was to backpedal rapidly, saying that she and her staff were in close contact with all military families with dead or injured family members. Shuster then closed the interview with this question: "Why? Do you not think it as important to be informed on your constituents' losses in the war as it is to know the NY Times' motivations for running an anti-war ad?"

If only being a patriot in times of war were as easy as wearing an American flag on our lapel. Unfortunately, we all know it's not that simple. Our duty as a citizen is to be informed--getting our information from as many sources as possible. How did we, as Jon Stewart says, get ourselves in this "Messopotamia"? Who are the real terrorists? Why do they hate the U.S. so much? What's the difference between a Sunni and Shiite? How many soldiers have been killed since March 2003? More importantly, do our elected leaders know the answers to these questions? I say if, at any given point, they can't answer these questions then they need to get off the stage--we need bold, deliberate leaders, not a bunch of cowardly lions. Do all this and then, if you like, wear the flag.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Willie Voted Today

Today Kentuckians get to vote to keep our existing rogue's gallery of state officials or send them packing by electing a new set that will more than likely disappoint before the yard signs are all down. Actually, this lead in is more cynical than I feel, but there's a kernel of reality--or inevitability--in my mind. Anyway, I woke up early this morning eager to get to the polls and cast a vote for my guys and gal.

Willie gets all agitated in the mornings when he sees me lacing up walking shoes because that means we're supposed to head out for our daily forced march. Since the polling center is in the high school gym that we pass on our daily walks, I figured we may as well multi-task by voting and walking at the same time. Anyway, to be fair to Willie, if he's had to listen to all the debates and lay patiently under my desk while I track the races on my favorite political blogs, he at least should get his much loved romp out of the deal. He also has a brand new leash that needed trying out.

When we got to the polling place I tied his leash to a tree far enough out in the parking lot that he wouldn't get into trouble with election officials by trying to influence other voters to cast their votes for our slate. I warned him not to look cute--which he does so well-- in order to coax people over to him so he could tell them who we were for. We went through our vote one last time just to be sure--we don't vote a straight Democratic or Republican ticket as there are idiots/vote wasters on both sides. I then left him sitting under the tree and went in to cast our vote.

Willie and I will be up late tonight waiting for the election results to come in. Hopefully by bed-time we'll have some new leaders in Frankfort who will understand that they don't need to worry about my bedroom or the state of my soul--I've been managing fine in those areas without them for more years than I care to admit. It should work out well to divy up the responsibility--I'll do my part and they can focus on the economy, education, health care, and promoting our beautiful state.