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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fun Monday Signup for January 5

Fun Monday Signup
January 5, 2009

I began participating in Fun Mondays exactly a year ago. Thanks, Peter over at Holties House in Australia for teaching me the ropes (by the way, just checked out his New Year's greeting and those Aussies sure know how to have fun!). Since then I've met so many interesting, creative, and amusing people from all over--now friends in the great blogosphere.

Last January a regional magazine profiled a group of high achievers in the Louisville area. Each one of these women and men answered this simple question at the conclusion of their profile article: "What's on your mind lately?" Their answers ranged from silly to deadly serious. But the most striking thing was how similar their responses were. Their lives were very different, but their concerns and priorities shared a common thread. I believe the same will be true for Fun Monday participants on January 5.

So, as your host this week, I give you this question, to be answered as briefly or extensively as you like:

"What's on your mind as we close out 2008 and begin 2009? Large and small. What are often your first thoughts the minute you wake up? When you're alone and unguarded? Working? Stuck in traffic? Playing with the children? Walking the dogs? When you can't sleep?"

I'm deliberately not providing any examples, because I don't want to influence your answers. I suspect that, like the Louisvillians profiled, our answers will be the same as well. We may live differently, but we mostly want the same things out of life--and face the same challenges.

I hope you won't think this assignment is too difficult--or worse--too "crunchy granola." I'm sure that you have been spending time lately thinking about 2008 and wondering how your life will go in the new year. For sure, I have.

If you'd like to participate on January 5, just leave me your name and web address in the comments below. On Sunday, the 4th, I'll provide an updated list with links. The following brave people have already signed up without even knowing the topic:

1. Jan (will also be our host for January 12)
2. Swampy
3. Ari
4. The Misanthrope
5. Sayre
6. Tracey
7. Cruise Mom
8. Karisma
9. Janis
10. Sandy

Added after January 1:
11. Pitts Academy
12. Molly
13. Pensieve
14. Hulagirlatheart
15. ChrisB
16. Jo
17. Alison
18. Grace
19. Gattina
20. Hootin' Anni
21. Celeste
22. Margaret, Brand New Mama

So get your thinking caps on, but before you do that, have a
Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Pie and a Movie

(The most touching part of Christmas for me this year was seeing the movie "Joyeux Noel" for the first time. There were no crazy, stupid, or very funny moments, but there was, as always for the last 45 years, Cherry Cheese Pie. Our hostess for this week's post-Christmas Fun Monday is Sayre over at Sayre Smiles . Sayre asks us to share the best part of this year's Christmas and/or the wackiest part of our celebration. Here's my take on her topic.)
First the Cherry Cheese Pie--the pie that you see above has been a traditional part of our family's Christmas celebration for over 40 years. Every year we want it and this year was no exception. I had Christmas dinner with friends, but still made this pie. It wouldn't be Christmas without it. This letter is one I wrote to my sister from college when I was
19 years old
. As you can read, I'm worried about whether there will be money enough for the family to buy presents for each other. That was always the case in my family from the time I was a little girl. On Christmas morning would there be a doll and play dishes or the red Banlon sweater like all the other girls were wearing for me under the tree?

So at the mature old age of 19 I'm trying to get my family to not worry about buying gifts, but to just have a good family dinner together. That dinner would include the Cherry Cheese Pie. In the 1960s this was a very exotic dessert--cream cheese, canned pie filling and whipped topping were not on our grocery list, except for Christmas. We ate what we raised on our small farm. My older sister was babysitting for a family in town and Dorothy, the woman she worked for, made this dessert for her bridge club(bridge clubs were serious business for many women in the 60s) and taught my sister to make it. In another part of this letter I write ". . .you will make a cream cheese pie when I come home for Christmas, won't you?" She always did. And I keep this tradition going even today.

Christmas Movies -- I always try to see a good movie on Christmas Day. This year I found a treasure in the 2005 French film, Joyeux Noel. This movie touched my heart, even more so because it was based on a true story. If you're not familiar with this story, apparently on Christmas Eve 1914 in the midst of World War I a short truce is stuck in the trenches as French, German and Scottish soldiers battle each other on the border between France and Belgium. The soldiers are trying to celebrate Christmas in their own way--Christmas trees for the Germans, bagpipes and carols for the Scots and champagne and chocolate for the French. First there's carols on the bagpipes, then the Germans raise Christmas trees above their trench, then Silent Night rings out. Soldiers on all sides cautiously come up out of the trenches and walk towards each other. This leads to sharing Christmas food and drink, photos of wives and girl friends, offers to get letters to Red Cross, and burying the dead. On Christmas Day there was even a football game. Of course, there was hell to pay on all sides when the main commanders found out about what came to be known as the Christmas Eve Truce of 1914. I've ordered Stanley Weintraub's book on this remarkable story. And apparently there have been more instances where soldiers in the field have managed to do what the brass can't do--find common ground and good will, even in the midst of war.

So, for Christmas 2008, I'll remember Cherry Cheese Pie and Joyeux Noel as the highlights. Be sure to head over to Sayre's blog to read about other Fun Monday participants' celebrations.

(Special Note: you'll see in Sayre's post that I'm volunteering to host Fun Monday on January 5. If you want to play and are not scared of buying a pig in a poke, just sign up in the comments below--give me your full address as I'm not sure I can sort out Mr. Linky. Otherwise, I'll post the topic for January 5 on Wednesday of this week. Be sure and sign up before you have too much New Year's Eve champagne and forget!)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Kiwi Penguins

In the previous post I shared photos of New Zealand's Christmas Tree, the Pohutukawa. These photos were taken on a 2004 horticultural tour of New Zealand's North and South Islands. On the day when our tour group was able to see the pohutukawas in glorious crimson bloom closeup, we also had a rare glimpse of a trio of baby penguins on the Tasman Sea beach.

We were staying at the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki in the six million acre NZ World Heritage Area. Our lodge was in hiking distance of the Tasman Sea where the penguins came out at dawn to feed. So, the penguin scouts had to be up well before dawn, suited up in yellow slickers and boots, and make an hour's hike through the lush green bush. We walked in the rain that day, fording rushing streams almost up to our boot tops, clambering up mossy rocks and muddy stream banks by hanging on to thick vines and roots and getting the occasional friendly boost from the hiker behind us. All of this had to be done in silence because the penguins are notoriously shy and will not come out on the beach if they were startled in any way.

When we came out of the bush we were lucky. Three baby penguins were waiting in the shallow waters, ready to go fishing. If you look closely at this photo, you'll see three white blobs. Those were the penguins and we couldn't get any closer to them.

Here's one variety of penguin, the yellow eyed, that our babies may have been. Or they may have been a crested. Both breed in the coastal shrub areas.

After watching the penguins feed for awhile, several of our group moved away from the feeding area and did a bit of romping in the Tasman Sea themselves. Luckily they didn't have to fish for their breakfast!
New Zealand is a country of grand proportions and natural beauty from its coastal area rain forests to pristine lakes and glaciers to the snowcapped Southern Alps. I loved the friendly people, the wines, the formal gardens, the "Lord of the Rings" scenery and the wildlife. And, I must not forget the dogs--I could do a full post on the dogs I met in New Zealand. Perhaps I will soon.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kiwi Christmas Tree

Since we're taking a bit of a break from Fun Monday this week to give all the little elves a
chance to finish their holiday preparations, I thought I'd share a couple of photos of a really unusual tree that I saw on a horticultural tour of New Zealand a couple of years ago. The Pohutukawa, or New Zealand Christmas Tree, is ablaze with crimson flowers from October through December, especially along the Tasman Sea coastal areas. "Pohutukawa" is Maori for "drenched with mist" or "splashed with sea spray." because it thrives by the sea. The plant can either be shrubby as seen along the water's edge or cultivated as trees in more formal garden plantings. Trees can reach 15 feet height when fully mature.

English settlers in New Zealand used the pohutukawa flowers in place of holly for their Christmas decorations, hence the re-naming. The flower heads are frothy red pom poms that pop out of equally beautiful creamy white buds. The leaves of the tree are medium green and quite waxy to touch.

I took this very bad photo of the pohutukawa flower and actual clipping. Look at the pressed flower to see exactly how the bloom is made up of hundreds of tiny red "stems" from each bud. I probably wasn't supposed to bring this back in the U.S., but I was using the flower as a bookmark and forgot about having it. And the agricultural customs beagle at the airport didn't ask to check my book when I was flying out of New Zealand. I do remember that we saw this tree the same morning that we got up before dawn and hiked through a dark primordial green forest without making a sound in order to see two baby penguins come out on the Tasman Sea beach. What a thrill even though we could barely see them.

Here's hoping your holidays are as festive as the Kiwi Christmas Tree or as quiet and precious as the two baby penguins on the beach at dawn. All the best to you and yours this holiday season. Faye

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wreathmaking Like Riding a Bicycle?

(During this season of celebration and happiness many people are facing a tough and uncertain future. Our host for this week's Fun Monday, the Wise One over at Mommy Wizdom , challenges us to show a little love to family, friends, or strangers by performing some random acts of kindness. My approach to this assignment is not exactly random, but it is a kind gesture to some dear friends who have been absolute rocks for most of this year. They're all getting a handmade holiday wreath in appreciation. That is, if wreathmaking is like riding a bicycle, something you don't forget. . .)

Last week's Christmas Favorites Fun Monday reminded me of a forgotten holiday tradition, making natural evergreen wreaths. It's been years since I've done this, but a Christmas/birthday gathering this Tuesday evening has inspired me to try my hand again. Several of my best buddies are gathering at my sister's new apartment in a senior citizen's facility to celebrate her 72nd birthday and ooh-ah over all her holiday decorations. We'll send them home with a little token of our friendship, a handcrafted holiday wreath. If you'd like to try your hand at making wreaths, it's a simple process:

Wreathmaking supplies: hit your local tree lots and nurseries and see what they offer in the way of greenery for free (trimmings from Christmas trees) or very cheap bundles of a variety of evergreens. Here on my work table I've got hemlock, cedar, white pine and fraser fir--and holly berries for some color. You may also be lucky enough to have some of these plants growing in your own yard. Only other supplies you'll need are garden pruners, paddles of wire, and wreath forms.

Directions: get an assembly line going, especially if you plan to make more than one (I'm going for 10). Step 1 -- make small six inch bundles of greenery. Step 2-- tie one end of the wire to the wreath frame; with your right hand, lay a bundle of greenery on the frame. Step 3 -- take the wire paddle in your left hand and wrap the wire around the greenery bundle several times while holding it in place with your right hand. Step 4 -- Continue placing the greenery bundles on the frame, overlapping to cover the stems of the previous bundle. Just eyeball the wreath as you make your way around the form to be sure that it's balanced--doesn't have to be perfect. Step 5 --add the holly last throughout the wreath so that you don't knock the berries off, using as much or little holly as you like. Step 6 -- tie off the wire securely and leave enough "tail" of wire to twist into a loop for hanging. Or, if you prefer, lay the wreath on a flat surface and nestle some candles in the middle. Finally, I'll make some simple two loop red bows for these wreaths and my friends can decide whether to use them or not.

This is what my first effort of the evening looked like--a bit wobbly, but quite all right, don't you think? Hopefully, Tuesday night my friends will take these home and be reminded throughout the holiday season of how much I appreciate them. Now on Monday I'm going to be checking out what random acts of kindness other Fun Monday participants are spreading around--or what they have received. I'm sure we'll all be inspired to do more.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Done Right

(This week's Fun Monday assignment is all about what we love around the holidays. Our hostess, the woman in charge over at Mamalang's , asks us to share a picture of our favorite Christmas "thing" and our three favorite Christmas carols.)

I watched the Rick Steves' European Christmas special on PBS last night as I do each year because it reminds me of what Christmas done right is all about. Starting in London's Trafalgar Square and traveling on to the Swiss Alps with many stops in between, Steves provides an insiders look at how people of many countries celebrate the winter holidays. Regardless of the country, the essentials of Christmas--family, friends, community, customs, traditional decorating for the home, food, music, and faith--could be found.

Many years ago I really loved the holiday season. Starting in early November, I began cleaning the house from top to bottom; nursing live plants like paperwhites, amaryllis, and poinsettias into bloom at just the right time; gathering the live greenery, berries, and ribbon to make wreaths, swags, and arrangements for all through the house. I studded oranges with cloves and rolled them in cinnamon for hanging pomanders and even buffed great quantities of red delicious apples to a high sheen and piled them in pine bough lined baskets.

Finally the first week of December it was time to bring home the Christmas tree--which was my favorite thing about the holiday. The tree had to be a fraser fir from the mountains of North Carolina because no other tree branches would hold up under the weight and quantity of glass ornaments that I'd collected at tag sales, auctions, antique stores, and Christmas shops throughout the year.

If you look closely at the tree you can spot some of my most treasured ornaments. There's
the six huge striped and decaled balls that I found at an auction. There's all manner of Shiny Brite ornaments with their bold stripes and glittery sentiments like "Silent Night" or "Joy to the World". Shiny Brites were popular in the 1950s. I also had a great collection of fancy shaped reflectors that went around each colored light. When the tree lights came on it was magic. In addition to the balls, icicles, and pendants, my all time favorite tree decorations would have to be the German and Czech glass ornaments of every imaginable shape--houses, fruit, vegetables, animals, lamps, teapots, birds, clocks, Santas, and even the good luck pickle.

Underneath the tree, all the presents were wrapped in simple paper and tied with real ribbon. That is, except gifts for Zack the crazy border collie, whom you all have met on many occasions, and his brother Frank the chow mix with his white "taillight"! Their presents went in gift bags, which as you can see, was not nearly secure enough to last until Christmas.

After the Christmas tree, hearing the music of the season has to be way up there on my list. Mamalang asked that we share our three favorite Christmas carols. That would be really hard, so I'll share the three music collections that I've just bought for this season:

Celtic Christmas--is a Windham Hill Collection. A new collection is released every year. I love these recordings because they remind me of the music of my childhood in the Appalachian Mountains, like the English ballad "Barbara Allen".

A Midwinter Night's Dream--by Loreena McKennitt is a real event. McKennitt is also Celtic in feel. All her recordings are artistic journeys with the lyrics and instruments exploring a theme. Favorite carol on this one: "In the Bleak Midwinter."

Wintersong--by Sarah McLachlan has her arrangements of old standards like "Greensleeves" with heartbreaking harmonies. On this CD "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" carries a wish that we all have in this season.

So, there you have my favorite Christmas thing and the sounds that I'll be playing this holiday season as I try to do Christmas right. Now be sure to head over to Mamalang's and check out how other Fun Monday participants plan to celebrate the season.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Moonin' the Neighbors

(Tacky post alert! When Ari, our Fun Monday hostess from over at Beyond My Slab asked us to share tales of neighbors from hell, one came to mind right away. The voice student who lived in an apartment above me and practiced endless arias--before I'd learned to appreciate "finer" music--for her senior recital. Then this six foot amazon songbird also took up apartment roller skating. So, on a given day I was treated to either the Metropolitan Opera or roller derby. I had plenty stories to tell about her, but I googled "bad neighbor" images and came up with the one below that reminded me of a great Crazy Zack the Border Collie story, so I'll share that one instead.)

I was not smart enough to raise a border collie. However, when I saw Zack in this litter of six week old puppies rolling around in a dairy barn I bought him from the farmer for $6.00 and brought him home to the no dogs allowed duplex where I was living at the time. We got evicted. I bought us this little house on Valley View Dr. and immediately became obsessed with growing things--grass, trees, roses, shrubs, flowers, vegetables, fruits and berries. I knew nothing about landscaping--hence the white pine planted too close to the driveway--but I read books, watched TV how-tos, and suckered my backdoor neighbor,who ran an agricultural supply store, into many Saturdays of lawn renovations and digging holes to plant trees and shrubs. I suspect that the rocks for this wall came from the yard because we encountered boulders and rocks every place we dug.

I also raised Zack the crazy border collie here and tried to keep him contained within the backyard fence. Look closely at the fence near Zack's tail. You can barely see the short grey post which held an electric goosey wire--the only way to keep him from climbing over the fence and running away. Zack learned to avoid the wire after a couple of jolts. I, on the other hand, was slower to learn and regularly shocked myself when mowing the lawn. . .

Zack was a wild, careening gorgeous bundle of pent up border collie from his puppy days. In order to visit in our home, guests had to submit to either getting feet and ankles spritzed with Bitter Apple spray or cover themselves with a quilt when sitting down. Zack loved to attack any exposed Achilles tendon with his sharp little puppy teeth. Another game he enjoyed was snatching the newspaper, magazine or book out of your hand and flying through the house hoping you'd give chase. Even better when the chase continued out the back door. That was most of the time because having a working screen door cramped Zack's style. He ripped out the screens so he could just jump through the hole and be out in the far corners of the yard with his prize with me hard on his heels. On a good day, he managed to steal from the laundry basket and parade around the back yard with my "delicates" flying from his mouth like a white truce flag.

This was my first house so I wanted to be out in the yard working every minute, even before getting dressed for work. At night I'd pile sweatpants and gardening shoes on the floor by my bed and then roll out each morning as soon as it was light enough to see to work in the yard. I'd pull on my pile of clothes, make a cup of coffee and rush outside for an hour of digging and weeding before I had to get cleaned up for work. This getting dressed was done in the dark.

On one side of the driveway I planted a bed of peonies that I'd inherited from my Aunt Draxie's garden. She had grown these flowers in her garden for over 40 years, since she was a bride. I was very proud of how well the bed had done in my own yard and enjoyed kneeling on the rock wall to tend them and cut a vase full to take to my office--one of the most pleasant early morning gardening chores.

Now the neighbor just across the street liked to take his early morning coffee on his front porch and watch all the activity in my yard. He was not a gardener and, I suspect, thought I was nuts for working so hard in my little suburban eden. One particular morning I was upended in the peony bed and couldn't help noticing that he seemed to very amused about something. When it was time to quit gardening, I climbed off the wall and called out some pleasantry to Howard. He burst out laughing and said, "You may want to check your pants when you get inside." I didn't think any more about it because he was always teasing me about what low fashion standards I set for the neighborhood.

I get inside and peel off my gardening clothes only to discover that the entire butt of my sweatpants had been chewed out. Apparently a certain border collie had hopped off the bed in the night and helpfully ventilated my britches for me! Howard got plenty of mileage out of getting an early morning moonin' from his neighbor. Zack, I'm sure, enjoyed the joke just as much as Howard.

Now stop by Ari's place and get some neighbors from hell tales that make this one seem pretty tame by comparison. Tacky? Now that's another question.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Day of Listening

Did you know that this day after Thanksgiving is being promoted as National Day of Listening by the oral history organization StoryCorps with support from NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? So I learned from a brief article in Wednesday's newspaper. The event is meant to encourage people to break away from the madness of black Friday and take a few minutes to really talk with family members and friends who are together for the Thanksgiving holiday. That is, really talk on a more intimate level. Go a little deeper than the stock "So, what have you been up to?"

If you're interested in this project, check it out at: www.nationaldayoflistening.org. The website includes a down loadable do-it-yourself guide with directions for selecting someone to interview, possible questions, handling the interview itself, and sharing your conversation.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the quality of communications I have with my own family and friends. And frankly, I'm not satisfied with what I've been able to do to keep our relationships more informed and connected. I'm going to give this project a go with a few people that are in my inner circle. I want to know more about their lives--things they've never shared, probably because I haven't asked.

Coincidentally, this is my 99th blog post, one short of a significant marker, since starting Summit Musings in May '07. I've really enjoyed communicating with other bloggers, learning your everyday stories and sharing mine. In fact, I'll start my Day of Listening by throwing this question out to you:

"Is there something about yourself that you think no one knows?"

I'll look forward to hearing your answer to this question. Remember, if you care for someone, listen to what they have to say.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

High Fives

(In this thanksgiving season I'm grateful for many things. I have had a good life. Don't get me wrong, I've had times in the refiner's fire throughout my life--as have you, I'm sure. But, there have been many high moments as well. These memorable moments are what our hostess, Mariposa , asks us to share for Fun Monday. Listed below are my "High Fives".)

TRAVEL--I got my first passport in 1971 when I was 25 years old. Since then I've always kept an active passport so I could fly off to a foreign country whenever I got the chance. My first trips out of the U.S. were just across the border to Mexico and Canada. Then I lived and worked in the Caribbean for three years. After coming back to the U.S. I just wanted to see more of the world, always planning and saving my money for the next trip. I was willing to give up what some considered necessities--like air conditioning--for travel. So far, I've visited 18 countries.

In two countries, St Kitts and Ukraine, I lived and worked with the people. On St Kitts I learned what it felt like to be a minority. In Ukraine, I witnessed political unrest and began to understand the struggles of women to advance and support their families in unstable societies. In the other 16 countries, I was simply a traveler, learning to appreciate the people, culture, and natural beauty of each country I visited. Travel educates and entertains. It helps us understand ourselves and others. I have memories of many high five moments from my travels.

BOOT CAMP -- recently Angela and the Lurchers wrote about wanting to own a set of dog tags. She confessed that she didn't actually know where this desire was coming from. I actually earned the dog tags that you see here for the successful completion of a grueling physical fitness boot camp run by an Army drill sergeant. Throughout this camp I experienced both highs and lows--sometimes on the same day! I've written about this before, in fact last week. So briefly, here's what Back to Basics boot camp was all about. For six week intervals about twenty people of all ages and fitness levels met before sunrise five days a week for one hard hour of exercise based on the same program used to whip raw Army recruits into shape. At the end of the six weeks class we were evaluated--weight loss, flexibility, # push-ups/sit-ups in a minute, time to run one mile, measurements, body fat %(augh-tt-t!). At the end of the first six weeks, I had improved in all categories and was awarded these dog tags as proof of it. My buddy Sally and I kept up this program for three years.

WAYFARER'S WALK -- I've written about this before as well, but it definitely belongs on my high five list. In 2003 Sally, my partner in all foolhardy physical trials, and I completed The Wayfarers Coast to Coast walk across northern England. In six days we walked about 80 miles--around the lakes of the Lake District National Park, across the hills and valleys of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and finally across the wild moors of the Vale of York and Cleveland Way in the North Yorkshire National Park. We dipped our boots in the Irish Sea at Newby Bridge on the west side and, after six challenging days of walking, we reached the North Sea at Whitby.

Here you see a group of tired, but triumphant, walkers having a champagne toast on the beach at Whitby. The badge attached here is our finisher's patch--the only one I may ever own! (I'm third from the right standing; Sally is third from right kneeling.)

Well I had another high five moment to cover, but since it's Thanksgiving week will close for now. You're busy trying to figure out which end of the turkey to stuff, laundering sheets for the anticipated (?) company, and wondering exactly when you lapsed into insanity and invited 20 people for dinner on Thursday. One thing that I'm grateful for is all the funny, creative, and interesting people I've met through blogging. There would definitely be fewer high moments in my life without you all. Now head over to Mariposa's place to read about other high five moments. And, I hope your Thanksgiving holiday is all you want it to be.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Keepsake Friends

(It's late in the day and I'm just settling down to write a Fun Monday post because I'm having a difficult time with the topic--not the what, but the how and why of it. Confused? Me too, that's why I'm just now posting. Our hostess, Ms. M over at The Misanthrope asked us to share a piece of jewelry or other item that has great personal significance--in other words, a talisman or good luck charm. I don't have a single item that fits this description, but I do have many talismans. They are my longtime friends.)

Last week I received this friendship plaque in the mail for my birthday. It was from a friend of over 40 years. We have often talked about how much we rely on friends for love and support and have joked, at times, that good friends often stand by you when family members won't, or can't. This especially is true when you don't have many immediate or extended family members. Perhaps this plaque can become my talisman for that reason.

Recently I was also in this navel gazing mood and decided to have a go at an online handwriting analysis self test(interested? www.handwritingwizard.com). The trick is to use an example of your handwriting, like a page from a letter or journal, that you've done before you get all self conscious about your writing and what it reveals. I learned quite a bit about myself and, for the most part, agreed with the analysis. An "investigating and creating mind"? For sure! ". . .a very aggressive personality toward others, lacks respect for the space and property of others. . .may even come into someones home and help herself to a drink from the fridge without asking." Never! That assessment was because I covered every bit of space on one handwritten page, leaving no white spaces. Not so fast. I immediately found pages that left plenty of margins all around which indicated that I was ready to leave the past behind and look to the future. Ah, much better!

Here's what handwriting wizard had to say about me and friendship: ". . . is selective when picking friends. she does not trust everyone. . .she has a select group of people that are truly close to her. . .she is careful when choosing her inner circle of friends." All these observations are true. I don't have many friends, but each is special to me in a different way. And, I'm proud to say that most have been friends for 20-40 years. They are indeed keepsake friends.

This is Sally, a friend of over 20 years. From this photo it's pretty clear that we love each other and have so much fun together. This was actually a work photo. We were in D.C. on our organization's Congressional tour. We're out on the balcony at a reception at a KY Congressman's office. As you can see, opposites attract in friendship as well. I'm Jeff, Sally is Mutt. I have a little drinkee every now and then, Sally doesn't. I support L'Oreal, Sally just asks how come you're five years older and I'm the one with grey hair? Sally wears holiday decorated clothes, I wouldn't be caught dead in them. I love words, Sally is an accountant and won't even read my blog. Sally is devout, me not so much. Sally agrees with Rush Limbaugh about politics, me not so much. . .

"What is shared between friends is a keepsake for life" was the message in a card that I received from her last week. That sentiment describes us perfectly. Sally and I have shared some great adventures in our middle ages. We walked 80+ miles across northern England a few years ago. We went through a physical fitness boot camp at 5:30 every morning for three years. Sally learned to run a fast mile, me not so much. Neither of us ever learned to do a decent situp, but we're still trying after all these years. We take a duo pilates class every week just to keep from getting old and to keep our friendship alive and well. Last week we signed up to do another distance walk across about five southern states in March '09. Just one more thing I love about Sally--she's game for anything.

Sally is one of my keepsake friends, but there's several more. Each of them is important to me in different ways. I'll be sure to introduce you to the rest of my circle in upcoming posts. Now head over to M's and check out other Fun Monday talismans. So far I've seen some jewelry treasures.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

They Oughta be in Pictures

This morning at 9:45 I had to be at the women's diagnostic center for the annual photo shoot of my "girls". Like every woman, I dread this day. But I dread even more not knowing. After so many years of coming away with a clean bill of health, the thought does cross my mind that this may be the year that my luck runs out--especially knowing the number of friends, acquaintances, and strangers who are battling the scourge of breast cancer. So, I pull on my big girl everythings and head over to the diagnostic center to get 'er done. The reward--peace of mind for, hopefully, one more year.

In the waiting room I get finished with paperwork in a hurry and pass the time surreptitiously studying the other patients. There's the man who's sitting close to the door--he gets points for accompanying his significant woman to this appointment. There's another woman at the counter who has received the dreaded "We've found something suspicious in your X-ray, please come back" call. There's the elderly and confused woman who should have had someone with her to help navigate. There's a middle-aged woman who, like me, is just quietly observing. I try to figure out her story. There's even another man there who's obviously a patient, not just the moral support for a woman. And then there's me, hoping that my luck still holds.

When my turn comes, I'm pleasantly surprised to see that the standard examination gown is much improved. It's well worn cotton, not paper. And most importantly it's a smock not a gown. This is a big deal for us who don't have enough on top to be concerned about exposure, but have plenty on the bottom to supervise and keep decently covered. The machines have also been upgraded--they're fast and accurate the first time around and don't pinch if you remember to stand tall.

I always opt for an exam while I'm being harassed. In for a dime. In for a dollar. I walk in the examination room and the doctor is studying the X-rays of my girls. She's smiling broadly and says "these are pictures of totally healthy breasts. I wish they were all this clean cut." I ask some wiseacre question about what medical journal will I be seeing them in as a no cancer zone. The doctor hands me my results with the magic "Normal/Negative. No evidence of cancer." box checked. I leave the office in a celebratory mood--off to the mall to buy new make-up and the latest Jon Katz dog book, Izzy & Lenore--Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and Me. It's a happy--and relieved--day. Have you given yourself this same gift in '08?

(By the way, the images above aren't actually of my girls, although mine did look as good as the one on the left. The image on the left is an example of a normal digital mammogram that can be read on a computer monitor. The one on the right is traditional X-ray film. No question as to which one is preferable, right? That is, if your place offers a choice. )

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Easy Company takes Hitler's Eagle's Nest

( "Those of us who enjoy freedom around the world stand humbly in their giant shadow", Steven Spielberg on the soldiers--now veterans--of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army who who fought to free Europe from Hitler's death grip in World War II. Their acts of humanity and heroism have been captured in numerous writings and on screen, most recently in the HBO mini series Band of Brothers. Our hostess for this week's Fun Monday, Janis, at Jan's Place challenges us to show appreciation and honor our veterans, living or dead, for their sacrifices in defending our safety and freedom all over the world on Veteran's Day '08. Here's my effort.)

September 17--by now I'm at exactly the mid-point of a two week tour of Europe. On this day our tour group travelled from "base camp" in Innsbruck, Austria to Salzburg for a tour of Mozart's home city, spending the majority of our time in the Getreidegasse, or Old Town, where Mozart lived and worked. We were also in Sound of Music country, seeing the church where Maria and Captain von Trapp were married and the estate where Maria cared for his many children and later helped the family escape the Nazis. We even saw the hill where Julie Andrews was filmed singing "The Hills are Alive. . ." This hill was on the southeast route out of Salzburg which we took for our afternoon destination--Hitler's Eagle's Nest.

The Eagle's Nest is a cliff top fortress about 28 km outside of Salzburg near Berchtesgaden, Germany on the German-Austrian border in the Barvarian Alps. We were in luck that day because there was snow falling in the mountains. The cold mist added to the eerie feeling we were all experiencing, knowing the horrible decisions of life and death that were made by the Nazi administration at this evil nest high in the Alps. When we got to the village of Oberzalberg we transferred to special bus equipped to climb the narrow one lane road and around the hairpin curves carved in the side of the mountain. One mis-turn and we would have been tumbling down the mountain to the valley below. Such beauty. Such danger.

After a short bus ride we get off at the base of the mountain and walked through a marble lined tunnel dug 400 ft. into the mountain. From there we took the original brass elevator 400 ft. straight up into the Eagle's Nest building at the top of the mountain. Today this place is a tourist destination and restaurant. In the mid-40s Hitler used this mountain hideaway, or "Teahouse" as he called it, for entertaining foreign dignitaries and members of the Third Reich. There were photos and newsreels of Hitler and his guests looking out over the Alps from the decks, just as tourists were doing that day. (After the tour while waiting by the tunnel for our bus down the hill, we decompressed with an impromptu snowball fight in the parking lot, ganging up on Sandor, the cheeky Aussie, who enjoyed tormenting many of us.)

Hitler's Eagle's Nest was designed and built for Adolph Hitler's 50th birthday by his personal secretary and head of the Nazi Party, Martin Bormann. Incredibly, the construction was done by soldiers who signed on to work cutting a road by hand up the Alps. The work went on 24:7 through all seasons. Many men fell to their deaths in its construction. After all this effort to ingratiate, Bormann was not that successful. Hitler was afraid of heights, among other things. He chose to live in his chalet, Berghof, at a much lower elevation.

In May 1945, Easy Company--a band of brothers made up of farmers, coal miners, mountain men, sons of the south, and Harvard, Yale, and UCLA graduates--took control of the country surrounding the town of Berchtesgaden,
including houses of the Gestapo police. They also secured the Eagle's Nest in the only way possible by scaling the mountain face. Their job was to search out German generals and SS trooper who were hiding in the Alps.

Before I saw this incredible place, I wish I had known more about Easy Company and the individual soldiers who joined the Army from all walks of life, their only preparation for fighting being sports or hard scrabble work of farming or coal mining. They signed on to train for the parachute infantry for the extra $50 per month they'd earn. Along the way they learned to work as a unit to accomplish their mission and protect their brother soldiers. And to use one of their favorite expressions, "That ain't no chicken shit job."

Now head over to Janis' place to read some moving tributes to our veterans--many based on personal experience, I suspect.

(Image credit: Easy Company soldiers, HBO)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Play Ball, Obama!

Here's a bit of follow up trivia to my November 3 Fun Monday post, "Blogs, Baseball Bats and Horse Races." I had highlighted the Louisville Slugger Museum with its 120 ft. baseball bat leaning against the building as an unusual landmark for our city. Tonight on the news(Louisvillefox41.com video)I heard that the museum was ready to celebrate the winner of this historic '08 presidential race. Since June the Slugger Museum has been running an exhibit featuring autographed baseballs and other memorabilia from every president since Teddy Roosevelt. The exhibit shows how every president for the past century has shared America's passion for its national pastime, baseball.

They had autographed baseballs and jerseys for the three front runners--Obama, Clinton, and McCain--ready to go. Of course, Clinton got pulled when she left the race, leaving Obama and McCain waiting to take the 44th position. This morning the museum curator moved the Major League baseball with Obama's autograph and his blue 44 jersey front and center in the exhibit after last night's election results.

I'm sure Louisville was not the only city ready to celebrate November 4, 2008--a great day for our country and its citizens. Personally, I liked what I saw and heard on the stage last night at Grant Park. I hope you did too.

(Image credit: Louisville Slugger Museum presidential exhibit)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Blogs, Baseball Bats & Race Horses

(Novice blogger and host for this week's Fun Monday over at Bee Dancers is curious about our obsession--admit it!--with blogging. How and why did we begin? Why do we keep blogging? She also wants to see what person, place, or thing most symbolizes the area where we live and, probably, get a lot of our blog fodder.)

This is my little retirement home, Summit Court, and the place where most of the musings take place for this blog. I've written about my blogging efforts in the past few months, but will review for Bee Dancer and other new readers. I started Summit Musings over a year ago as a challenge in retirement. I wanted to stay connected with friends who are still working and don't have a lot of time to be on the telephone or e-mail with me. I also wanted to keep up and improve what few technology skills I have. Blogging also appealed to my creative side. I love to write and tell stories and I have opinions on many different topics. Blogging has turned out to be the perfect way to discuss issues, interests, and life in general with a variety of intriguing people from the U.S. and other countries. And, lets not forget the greatest bonus--the wonderful dogs I've met along the way. I especially love getting posts about their adventures.

So, most days you'll find me spending entirely too much time in my little office hidey hole on Summit Court either writing or reading blog posts. (Photo disclaimer: this wonderful bed of hostas, astilbes, ferns and green lawn carpet was my passion before blogging. Once I was a gardener, now not so much. . .)

The second part of Bee Dancer's assignment was for us to share an image that best symbolizes the area where we live. I have two places/events that may remind you of Louisville, Kentucky:

World's Largest Baseball Bat--can be seen on Main Street leaning against the Louisville Slugger Museum--120 ft. tall, weighing 34 tons. This bat is a copy of the wooden bat used by the great Babe Ruth back in the early 1920s and by many other famous players since then. The Slugger has been manufactured by Hillerich and Bradsby since 1884.

In 1996, the bat factory was moved across the Ohio River to Louisville and combined with a museum which depicts the story of baseball, especially the art of hitting. Baseball enthusiasts can see a replica dugout, interactive displays, and a major collection of memorabilia from many seasons and players. Visitors can also see all stages of bat production from the block of wood to the final "Slugger" imprint.

Since the museum opened in the mid-90s, baseball fans have elevated it to the same must-see status as the major ball fields
and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Churchill Downs, Home of the Kentucky Derby --
Said to be the greatest two minutes in horse racing. Every year on the first Saturday in May three year old thoroughbreds race the mile and a quarter track. This race has been run since 1875. The bluegrass region of central Kentucky has always been suited for the breeding and raising of American thoroughbred race horses with a win in the Derby being the career achievement. The Kentucky Derby was modeled after the Epsom Derby in England and the Grand Prix de Paris in France. It is the first race in the Triple Crown which includes the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

If you love horses, but are not that familiar with what it takes to breed these winners, I'll close this post with a little inside story that you may find amusing. Several years ago when I was still working for a statewide agricultural organization, one of my biggest responsibilities was to plan and conduct an annual leadership conference for women farmers from across Kentucky. The conference agendas were a pretty traditional mix of speakers, workshops, exhibits, and agricultural tours. One year, when we we meeting in the middle of the bluegrass region and all its horse farms, I decided to take the women on a tour of Three Chimneys Farm, the premier American thoroughbred race horse breeding farm near Lexington.

Three Chimneys serves as a stallion station and nursery for the next crop of race horses. Winning stallions got to retire from the big races like the Derby and pay for their retirement pensions with handsome stud fees. Nice work if you can get it!

Now most of these women on the tour were not unfamiliar with breeding and raising livestock. However, they had not seen thoroughbred breeding in all its sophistication. The general manager, Dan Rosenberg, personally led the women on a tour of Three Chimneys including a meeting with the great, lovable Smarty Jones who was top stallion in residence at the time. Mr. Rosenberg himself was quite charming, prompting several of the most prim women to comment on his general hunkiness.

After walking us around the postcard beautiful grounds and getting to see the magnificent horses exercising and grazing out in the field, Mr. Rosenberg capped the tour with them getting to see the actual breeding of a mare. And what a show it was. As you can imagine, many of the mares come in the barn either disinterested or very skittish. We were amused to see that they actually use a second string stallion to get the mare in a "cooperative" mood. Dan told the women to think of this stallion as the loser in a bar. He'd be the one to buy the woman a drink and make the opening "come here often?" spiel. Then when he'd done all that, he got the heave ho and the big name stallion, like Smarty Jones, came in to "take the lady home"! The women were right in the moment, not at all shy about the experience. However, several male staffers who were helping with the tour commented that they'd never imagined that watching a mare being bred with 100 Farm Bureau women looking on would ever have been in their job descriptions! I just remember getting really good conference evaluations that year. . . (last photo: Ed Reinke/AP)

I hope you've learning something about baseball bats and horse racing. And, more importantly, discovered that we all blog for many of the same reasons. Now head over to Bee Dancer's site to check out other Fun Monday posts.