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.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Haa--ppy New Year!

Fun Monday host Peter asks us to share our best cartoon or joke. I got help from Calvin and Hobbes to send best wishes to you all in 2008.

Hint: click on cartoon to enlarge if your eyes are suddenly a year older!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

North York Moors Finish

(Read December 2,5, and 9 posts for parts 1-3 of this tale of two friends walking across Northern England.)
Day 5 Walk, Masham to Helmsley--by now all of the wayfarers are confident that we will finish the over 80 mile coast to coast walk that we began four days ago at Newby Bridge on the western coast of England on the Irish Sea side. We have about 30 miles to go over the next two days to reach our finish,the town of Whitby on the North Sea. We have crossed the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks and begin Day 5 on the Cleveland Way, a major walking path across the North York Moors. Throughout the morning's walk we climbed higher on the moors, walking through heather and seeing the occasional ancient standing stone.

Feet Waterloo--at this point on the walk getting my feet ready for the day's miles was quite a production because the soles of my feet were covered with blood blisters and several toenails were loose. The morning drill involved strategically placed band-aids, sheep's wool(collected the day before)cradles for toes and heels, and (male readers may blush at this point) wrapping all this on with panti-liners--what great multi-tasking inventions! Then the socks and boots went on. . .I tried not to complain, but one of the wayfarers was a tough old doctor who'd been watching me struggle. He alerted Dave, our walk leader, who insisted on having a look at my damaged "stubs" when we met the van for morning break. Before taking my boot off I warned him that he'd probably never seen what he was about to see. To his credit, he didn't flinch (he did confess at the farewell dinner that the sight of my poor feet took his breath away!).

Sally, my walking buddy, and I had made a pact that we were going to walk the full distance, no van hops for these two toughies. However, like a true friend she insisted on cutting out the last five miles of the walk day and riding the van into Helmsley where we were spending the night. Besides, we had gone through village after village and not been able to look in any of the intriguing little shops. So, after lunch, we hopped in the van with orders from the other walkers to search out a supply of foot bandages for the last day's walk.

Helmsley is a cheerful, bustling market town with red-tiled roofs and red-trimmed storefronts. Our inn was just off the town square so we could watch local farmers and tradesmen set up for the week-end market on the town square. We checked out several walking shops, purchasing a variety of bandages and plasters to pass out to the wayfarers when we met them for pre-dinner drinks back at the inn. We also met several great dogs, choosing this fellow and his two buddies for our Dogs of the Day photo. We were told that it would be okay to pet the black one, but should steer clear of the lap dog! We heeded his warning. . .

Walk Day 6, North Sea Finish -- from Helmsley we had a short bus ride to start one of the trip's highpoints. At Pickering Station we climb aboard the steam-hauled Moors Railway, aka Harry Potter's Hogwart Express, for a ride across the wild Flyingdales Moor. (Sally! Sally! Sally! How your standards have gone down. When you started this adventure, it was with shirt tails tucked in and now there's not one, but two, tails hanging out.)

By mid-day we leave the train at Grosmont and hike to the isolated village of Aislaby for our last pub lunch together. This time it had to be the best fish and chips in the north. Looking at this group, I think you can see how excited and happy we are to be this close to the finish. We walked for many reasons: to celebrate friendship, victory over breast cancer, retirement, life in a new country, work assignment, and to challenge old age. Before the day is over we all will accomplish our goal. After lunch we are all very quiet, lost in our own thoughts of what this day means to each of us individually. From the village of Eskdale we follow the Esk Valley until we get our first glimpse of the North Sea!

Dave kept the pace pretty intense as we cross the harbor bridge and walk through the seaside town of Whitby.
The town is interesting--full of vacationers, interesting shops and amusements, but we do not stop walking until we reach our finish point--the North Sea. We repeat the boot dipping ceremony in the North Sea as we did at the Irish Sea six days earlier. Coast to Coast--over 80 miles--we made it! We then raised a glass of champagne to celebrate each other.

After our happy dance on the sand, Dave, true to form, starts us walking again to nearby Dunsley Hall where we will spend our last night of the walk. At the Farewell Dinner we each receive our Finisher's Patch and some good natured words of praise from Dave. And, I can't forget--there was a Dog a Day--a handsome yellow lab who kept sneaking in the dining room from the terrace to get a pat and piece of cheese. Regretfully I didn't have my camera. . .

In our room after dinner, I lay awake. In July in northern England there is very little deep night. The sky is still streaked at midnight and the sheep begin calling outside our window at 4:30 a.m. I am glad to be heading home in the morning, but will treasure the memories of six days walking the English countryside with my good friend for many years to come.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Frank & Zack Find Santee

Treasure Tree -- Seeing all the great holiday decorations everyone has shared on their blogs over the past couple of weeks has inspired me to dig back in the photo archives. I found this one from the mid 90s--a fantasy tree filled with antique glass ornaments from Czechoslovakia,Poland, Germany and the much loved Shiny Brites manufactured in New York in the late 1930s and sold at Woolworth's. I collected these ornaments for years from antiques stores, flea markets, and tag sales. The presents under the tree had to be wrapped simply and tied with single bows of real fabric ribbon. In '96 Willie the pit bull was a pup and I didn't put a tree for fear he would turn it over and break all my treasures. Inspired by all of you, perhaps I'll try harder in '08.

Present Search -- before Willie there was Frank and Zack. They didn't threaten to turn the tree over or break ornaments, but they weren't very patient with old Santee Claus. They were both good boys and knew that they deserved presents of rawhide strips. Before Christmas morning they could be caught snooping under the tree looking for their presents. They both were smart dogs as shown in their Christmas shopping. Both went for the presents wrapped in dog printed paper!

Seeing this rear view of Frank reminded me that I used his white "spotlight" to guide us on night walks or to find him in the yard after dark. Zack was my wild and crazy border collie/lab mix who made every day unpredictable but fun. Both lived to ripe old ages and helped me through many life transitions in the 90s.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I've Got Mail

Throughout the holiday season it's hard to say who looks forward to the mail carrier's arrival more, me or Willie. Willie's just trying to earn his daily Beggin' Strips with warning barks. I, on the other hand, am anticipating Christmas cards, newsletters, and family photos. My favorite ritual of the holiday season is sending and receiving these annual updates. Here's this year's favorites, by category:

Best All Around Christmas Card -- received this greeting from John, a long-time friend from Newcastle Upon Tyne in the U.K. We met over 30 years ago while on a youthful mission to "save the world" on a small island in the West Indies. I was a Peace Corps teacher and John served in the U.K. equivalent to the American Peace Corps. In September 2001, I had the pleasure of meeting John's family for the first time in New York at a volunteer reunion. Since then we always touch base during the holiday season and I'm always excited to see the air mail post in the mailbox. I loved the simple bird drawing and the bright red and yellow colors, plus card sales benefit poverty relief efforts through OxFam.

Best Kid Photo --would it be safe to call these three the Bling Sisters? I think they pretty much prove that it's impossible to over-accessorize during the holidays--sequins, beads, rose corsage and feather tiara--more is more. I'm also learning an important fashion lesson from the little one. You know how insecure you can feel when you're dressed up more than usual? Requires a lot of attitude or, I now understand, some cool shades and a pacifier. These girls get their love of bling from Nana Pam who sent this photo.

Best Family Newsletter -- who could not give best newletter award to the family celebrating "The year of the chicken(suit)" in '08? The reporter/editor is a trainer who understands how important it is to grab your reader's attention right away by engaging them in an activity like the opening quiz. Never mind that she's trying to weasel out of getting blamed for not sending greetings in '06. She does score points by laying production difficulties off on dealing with 2 and 1/2 year old Emily's representatives, since a lot of the newsletter centers on the tot's activities and accomplishments. Which, by the way, was more interesting to read than much of People Magazine!

Most Insincere Card -- has to go to this shifty eyed, fake grinning pooch. "Too bad I can't read. . ." my hiney! Something tells me he's smart enough to scarf down all Santa's cookies, do an under the table crumb cleanup, and then eat something disgusting to hide the smell of chocolate on his breath! On second thought, perhaps he should get credit for helping Santa meet the proposed new dietary guidelines for Jolly Old Men--less trans fats and carbs and more sharing of Rudolph's carrots. . .

Like many of you, I keep a Fridge Blog with interesting postcards, pictures, articles, artwork, etc. that makes me happy to see on a daily basis. Right now the Fridge Blog is filled with these wonderful holiday messages from friends and family. Every time I get in the fridge--which is a lot--I'm reminded of how lucky I am to know these cool people. I hope you've got Christmas mail also.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Holiday Wishes

To faithful or first time blog readers and friends who are checking in after receiving my shameless blog promotion with your holiday cards, here's my holiday wish for you and all those you hold dear:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Opera for Everyone

Today was a weather mess around town with rain, sleet, and snow falling non-stop. We could have hit the malls for that second to last weekend of frantic Christmas shopping, but nixed that idea for an afternoonof beautiful music and theater. Today was the first in a series of eight high definition transmissions of live performances of the Metropolitan Opera. So, a couple of friends and I parked ourselves in stadium seats--heck, we could have had a tub of popcorn as well--at Tinseltown, our local movie-plex for Gounod's Romeo and Juliet. We joined people from all over the U.S. and over a dozen other countries in experiencing a live performance from the great Metropolitan Opera.

What a wonderful performance it was. The great Placido Domingo was the conductor and what an intimate feeling it was to be in the orchestra pit watching him interpret Gounod's sensual musical score. I had no idea that he ever conducted, thinking he was strictly an opera singer. In a later backstage interview we learned that he has conducted for many performances and enjoys that role equally well. It was sad to see how he is aging, but good to see him still able to deliver a peak performance.

The young star-crossed lovers were perfectly cast. Soprano Anna Netrebko sang the role of Juliet and tenor Roberto Alagna was Romeo. On-stage the chemistry crackled and I was actually surprised at the sensuality, both passionate and innocent, of the marriage night and death scenes. Both played their roles as doomed lovers with a sense of hope but with an inevitable despair.

One of the great perks of these HD performances is that you see in the orchestra pit and backstage setups for the different scenes, including the back and forth interactions among performers, stage hands, and assistants. Today we saw an impromptu last minute rehearsal of the fight scene. This behind the scenes look doesn't detract at all from the actual performance. Instead, you think, so that's how it happens for real.

During the intermissions the stars sit for interviews(in photo below) with other stars in their own rights. Today Anna and Roberto are interviewed by the great Renee Fleming.
Right after this interview Romeo and Juliet will play their most intense love scenes. So, Renee is asking Anna and Roberto how they manage to pull off the love scenes. Roberto very charmingly talks about the need to be healthy, physically fit and spark some chemistry with his leading lady. He claims shyness which neither Anna nor Renee buy! He then clinches the interview by telling Renee that he would love to sing with her some day. Those charming Frenchmen!

If this description has piqued your interest in opera,here's the remaining HD performances for the 2007-08 season. As you can see, there's some biggies--Macbeth, Tristan und Isolde, La Boheme--to come. Just go to www.metopera.org/hdlive to find the closest theater for your area as well as directions for ordering tickets online.

Opera goes to the Dogs as Well--when I was looking on the Met web-site for schedule and program information I was amused to learn about these special posters and photographs of the Weimaraners shot by William Wegman to promote this season's new performances. Sales of these posters and photos benefit the Met.

Hansel and Gretel


La Fille du Regiment

It's hard to believe that my "culsha" friend and I have been opera regulars for only one year. We agreed to try one live performance by the Kentucky Opera and now, thanks to this smart public education decision by the Metropolitan Opera, we can enjoy beautiful music by renowned performers without having to get into our little black dresses or find our opera glasses. How bad can that be?

Photo/image credits: Metropolitan Opera web-site; Weimaraners,William Wegman 2007

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Yorkshire Dales Walk

(Read December 2 and 5 posts for Parts 1 and 2 of this tale of two friends walking across Northern England.)

Day 2 Walk, Leaving Lake Windermere -- from our overnight lodging near Grasmere we followed the shoreline of Lake Windermere for much of the morning with rain threatening. By mid-morning Dave, our walk leader, called a tea break in the lakeside town of Ambleside. How long before the Wayfarers learned? This stop was the first of many tricks Dave would play on us. Any kind of treat like shopping, tea break or ice cream parlour stops meant that we would soon be huffing up a mountain or slogging through bogs and streams. Immediately after tea, Dave fulfilled his evil plan by leading us out of Ambleside and up the Cumbria Mountains in the rain.

When we crested the mountain we had our last views of Lake Windermere and walked on toward the village of Troutbeck. Just outside the village we stoppped at this little jewel of a church, Jesus Church Troutbeck, known for its beautiful stained glass windows. About this time we began seeing our first "free range" sheep which meant that we were getting closer to the Yorkshire Dales farmland. At Troutbeck Church I was amused to see sheep "trying out" the resting places in the church yard.

By mid-afternoon we stopped for our customary pub lunch at Mortal Man Pub in Troutbeck Village. The pub sign read: "O Mortal Man that lives by bread, What is it makes thy nose so red? Thou silly fool that look'st so pale, tis drinking Sally Birkett's ale." The Wayfarers enjoyed some of Sally Birkett's ale and a rest while looking out over the rolling farmland.

We end Day 2 of the walk in Crook on the eastern border of the Lake District.

Days 3 and 4 Walk, Yorkshire Dales--we are definitely in the countryside made famous by the Yorkshire Dales vet, James Herriot of All Creatures Great and Small fame. Walkers are permitted to pass through farmers' fields of grain or sheep pastureland. However, there are rules to follow. The last walker to go through a gate must be sure it's closed. If there's no gate, you climb over fences and the dry stone walls using stiles of all varieties--stone,wood,
ladder,kissing(a double style that ensures close encounters). Once in the field, walkers are expected to keep to the paths by the fence. And just in case you forgot, watch out for a multi-tasking border collie to warn you to mind your manners.

Sheep's Wool and Sore Feet--by Day 3 several of us were walking on feet that hurt despite all the blister remedies that Dave and Bill, our walk manager, had to offer. I no longer had Happy Feet.The combination of climbing up and down rocky hills and walking for long distances had turned my feet into a mass of blood blisters from heel to toe--up hill your heels got it, down the toes. At stops we lost interest in drinks and snacks, instead comparing the sad condition of our feet. That's when the sheep became important. As we walked across the sheep pasture, several of us started collecting wool to pad our boots the next day. It wasn't a cure for sore feet, but at least made walking another day more bearable.

At the end of Day 4 we had a wonderful surprise waiting. We followed the banks of the River Ure, tired and dispirited after a hard day of walking in the rain and wind. Dave kept building our anticipation that something good was going to happen. Boy, he delivered as always. We came off the river path near the town of Masham onto a vast parkland to find this castle at Swinton Park waiting for us! Our rooms were totally luxurious. In fact, someone from our group said that her bath was large enough to fit a small 3rd world county in it-not much of an overstatement. At any rate, it was just what we needed to restore body and spirit for the final push to the North Sea in the final two days of walking.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Lake District Walk

(Read December 2 post for Part 1 of the tale of two friends walking across Northern England.)
Day 1 Walk--early in the morning the Coast to Coast Wayfarers leave the Swan Hotel in Newby Bridge for a short hike to an inlet where we ceremoniously dip our boots in the Irish Sea to mark the eastern beginning of our walk through the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North Yorkshire Moors National Parks. In six days we hoped to walk 85 miles to finish the trek in Whitby on the North Sea.

Already, as we left the sea and began to climb the first mountain,I decided that to finish the walk I would have to attack it in stages. I would walk to our mid-day stop and then set another goal. Dave, our walk leader,(kneeling, blue sweater)very wisely didn't reveal that we would cover 16 rough, hilly miles the first day. The walkers began to sort themselves out--the competitive lead dogs, the sociable middle group and the rear guard--my position for most of the walk. Sally, my walk buddy, was a stronger trekker than I, so we didn't spend a lot of trail time together. That was probably a good thing because in a couple of days she was asking "Exactly when does the vacation part of this trip begin?" or "Who's big idea was this?"

Foot Triage--this photo is of our first break. Bill, the walk manager, met us twice a day at accessible points with the supply van. We began cheering on seeing the white van with Bill's smiling delivery of drinks,(barley lemonade-yum!) snacks and Compeeds! As you can see, many were already having foot problems from shoes or boots that weren't properly broken in. So, Dave and Bill began their ritual feet inspections and dispensing Compeeds, English industrial quality blister patches. At this point I'm feeling smug about my happy feet, but in a couple of days it gets ugly!

By mid-day we reached Beacon Tarn(lake). In the distance we could see the "Old Man", a craggy outcropping towering over Lake Conistan. Dave gave us a mini geological lecture about how over 400 million years ago the Lake District hills and valleys were formed from smooth Silurian rocks, providing the softer wooded landscapes of Conistan and Windermere. Glaciers following the Ice Age scraped through the valleys forming huge bowls for the lakes. Frankly, we feigned interest, but our honest reaction was "Yeh, yeh, yeh--whatever." We were just grateful for a chance to sit down by the lakeside and rest our feet! That is, except for some of the lead dogs who actually took notes. . .

Dog a Day--in the village of Conistan on Conistan Waters we stopped at a local pub for a traditional pub lunch. The Ploughman was a hefty serving of bread, cheese and ham spiced up with a relish called Branston pickle--very good, but I have no idea what made it brown. We met these two pub dogs, one inside waiting for his person to finish a drink and the other out on the patio with us, hoping to share the hearty ploughman.

Fueled by lunch, petting the pub dogs, and a bit of rest, we headed back up the mountain. We climbed a natural rock quarry--should have listened to Dave's geology lecture--and walked through a deep, quiet almost primal forest. Once through the forest we looked down at Little Langdale, a valley that has some of the most dramatic scenery we'll see along the entire walk.We curve down the Langdale Pike into surrounding farmland for the last leg of this first day of walking.

The Concierge--our first night on the route was spent at Skelwirth Bridge Hotel near Grasmere. The 17th century inn was charming with its beautiful gardens and comfortable rooms. However, all of us were captivated by The Conceirge, this beautiful black lab who greeted arriving guests with tourist information and peppermints from his spot under the table. The following morning Sally and I spotted him from our window coming across the carpark with a leash in his mouth--ready for his walkies before getting on about his work. The only thing that would have made us happier with this place would have been to have The Concierge sleep in our room that night. Instead, we leave Skelwirth and start Day 2 of our walk.

TO BE CONTINUED--See Dec. 7 post for Yorkshire Dales Walk.