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, March 30, 2008

Golden Days. . .Leaden Days

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday Robin the Pensieve One invites us to share our favorite quotes and words that inspire us. I looked back over past year calendars and journals and found that there was a definite theme in the words/quotes that inspired me enough to write them down and, therefore, remember. The theme is that our life moves in cycles and learning to understand and accept this certainty helps us to deal with the changes and challenges that come our way.)

". . .cycling through circumstances, golden days and leaden ones." The day last August when I saw this wonderful painting was a golden one. The plan was for a carload of good friends to head out to the country for a picnic after they got off work at noon. Since I'm the retiree of the group with time on my hands, I was in charge of ordering up a catered--notice I didn't say cooking--lunch, including benedictine sandwiches and brownies. For the non-southern readers, benedictine filling is a delicious concoction of cream cheese and grated cucumber, tinted the palest green and spread on whole wheat bread. Our destination was the Smith Berry Winery and Amyx Art Gallery about a 45 minute drive out of Louisville.

When we arrived at the winery we set up our picnic under this grapevine covered pergola. We had the place all to ourselves except for Rose (appropriately name for the resident winery dog) who was willing to share our benedictine sandwiches. After lunch we went through a special exhibit of all dog paintings by the artist Betsy Hall. Each of us "picked" the one that we'd take home (for me that would have been Night Sky Border Collie) if money were no object. We closed out the golden day with some wine sampling and purchases and made the return drive over beautiful country roads, laughing and talking over each other all the way.

Unfortunately, all days can't be golden. Things happen to us, or to those that we love, that are really bad. Sometimes we're on top of the world and at other times the world is on top of us--or so it seems. In order to get through these good and bad times without losing equilibrium, I take the advice of life coach Victoria Moran when she suggests: "Just about everything that happens on earth comes to pass and not to stay. Circumstances do not deserve to have a hold on you, because they're already headed out of town and you're not going anywhere." Moran further cautions that it's easy for us to lose sight of the cyclic way of things, that we've been through hard times and survived, sometimes even triumphed. She says that when we hit a roadblock we just need to remember: "This isn't the end of the story. It's just a twist in the plot."

Rena Pederson, editor of the Dallas Morning News, sums up this challenge in her book, What's Next? Women Redefining Their Dreams in the Prime of Life: "Life is about reinventing and revising. You have to decide how to spend your days, because in the end that is how you will have spent your life." In other words, the real power comes from being able live out the golden and leaden days, knowing that we need both for a rich and enjoyable life.

Now head on over to Robin for some other Fun Monday participants' words to live by.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Foxy and Mr. Vargas

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday is Swampy . Long time Fun Monday participants understand that, in Swampy's book, rules are made just to be broken. However, for the good children who must follow the rules, our assignment is to create an ABC listing of anything that interests us or may potentially amuse our readers. So, here's my ABC's for living with and loving dogs.)

I've looked at this photo of Foxy the loyal pit bull almost daily after reading about her and Mr. Vargas in the New York Times in March '07. You can read the full story at Foxy the Pit Bull . Briefly though, Foxy and Mr. Vargas were homeless and lived together on the streets of Hoboken, NJ. He rescued her from a life of abuse with another homeless man. She paid him back by giving him purpose, companionship, and love. Mr. Vargas cared more for Foxy than he did for himself. She got sweatshirts in the winter, an umbrella shelter from the rain, off leash runs at a dog park, and vet care.

I look at this photo to remind me of the great relationship we can have with our dogs if we're willing to put in the time and love. Our dogs never fail to do their part. In my adult life I've lived with a crazy border collie, a bossy chow mix, a golden retriever lump of sugar and a pit bull like Foxy. Based on my experiences with each of them, here's my ABC's for living with and loving dogs:

Affection -- part of the formula for a balanced dog, comes after Exercise and Discipline

Boundaries -- dogs, especially strong breeds, must be taught what they are allowed to do

Consistency -- there are no off days in being your dog's leader, they thrive on routine

Discipline -- NEVER by hitting or physically man-handling, but by calm assertive energy and tone

Exercise -- dogs of all breeds and sizes must have daily activity--a tired dog is a good dog

Followthrough -- relates to consistency, if you want a certain behavior you must make it happen

Good -- there are no "good" or "bad" dogs--only dogs that have, or have not, received leadership

Help -- read books, watch TV shows, attend classes to better understand and train your dog

Intelligent -- try not to get a dog smarter than you are--that includes border collies for most of us!

Jumping --on anyone is a show of excitement or dominance by your dog, not happiness--don't allow it

Kindness -- is different from indulgence. Kindness is keeping your dog balanced with exercise, discipline and affection. Indulgence leads to an anxious, demanding or aggressive dog.

Leadership -- is what your dog wants you show him --then he doesn't have to take on that responsibility. However, if you don't he will.

Males -- are not necessarily harder to train/lead

No -- is most effective when said in a low, firm voice--not a scream

Old -- our dog's life span is never as long as we would wish

Pets -- provide purpose, friendship and happiness for many of us

Quirky -- a good name for a border collie

Rescue --there are so many homeless and abused dogs who need us--do what you can to help

Sofa -- hopefully your decor allows dogs to share your living space--remember that they miss you and want to be around you whenever possible

Toenails -- regular trims can show your dog that you're in charge, not him

Ugly -- there's no such thing as an ugly dog

Volunteer -- help your local animal shelters or rescue groups--build up some dog karma

Walk -- the most primal bond that you can have with your dog--goes a long way in preventing a lot of behavior problems and establishes you as the leader. I like to use a shorter slip leash and keep Willie close by my side for most of the walk.

X factor -- we have the major influence in what kind of dog we'll get from a sweet puppy

Years -- a good dog never has enough years with us

Zzzzs -- dogs make great bedfellows, if you can get around the snoring and hogging of most of the bed space--they don't get the king bed concept.

There you have it--one person's ABC's of dog ownership. Now head on over to Swampy's for some more interesting lists.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book Fetishes

I had promised to show you some more Irish gardens after my Fun Monday post. However, I think a bit of a delay would whet your appetite so look for more Irish travels/gardening near the end of week. In the meantime, let's talk about books. Karen posted this meme recently to help us explore our book love.

She wants us to answer these questions:

1. Hardcover or paperback, and why? Neither. I love softback books because they're still the right size and I can markup without guilt.

2. If I were to own a book shop I would call it. . . Stacks--that's what I like to see in every one's home--stacks of books to be read and re-read.

3. My favorite quote from a book is. . . "The life of a good dog is like the life of a good person, only shorter and more compressed." in Good Dog. Stay. by Anna Quindlen. This quote pretty much sums up how a dog lover feels.

4. The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be. . . Alice Steinbach, author of Without Reservations--The Travels of an Independent Woman and Educating Alice--Adventures of a Curious Woman. Steinbach was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the Baltimore Sun who gave up that job for a time to travel solo in Europe and Asia learning about the world and her own self.

5. If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except the SAS survival guide, it would be. . . a huge blank journal. Perfect place to write my own story.

6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that . . . this is stolen from someone else, but how about an invisible button that you could press to define words as you read. Exactly what does sanguine mean? It keeps coming up. . .

7. The smell of an old book reminds me of . . . our public libraries. They're the pits and we just voted to not upgrade them in the last general election.

8. If I could be the lead character in a book (mention title) it would be . . . easy peasy, that would be Miss Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Love her beauty, intelligence and sense of humor--as did Mr. Darcy. . .sigh.

9. The most overestimated book of all time is. . . anything from the Oprah Book Club. I can choose my own reading, thank you very much.

10. I hate it when a book. . . favorite author cranks out too many books--I become suspicious that the main goal is making money.

Now, it's your turn to reveal some of your book fetishes.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Irish Gardens--about Dublin

Fun Monday participants or not--Happy St. Patrick's Day!

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday, nikki , is all about choices. We can either share some code words that only closest family members know the meaning of or tell about our worst experience with drinking green beer to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Since I have no stories for either, I thought I'd bend the rules, in proud Fun Monday tradition, and take you on a tour of some of Ireland's most beautiful gardens.)

After many years of trial and error, I've figured out that I enjoy traveling by myself and that I want to learn something new from each trip. For many years I was a serious gardener and planned most vacations around visiting some of the greatest gardens in the U.S. and abroad. Many years ago I experimented with a garden tour organized by the Boston based Horticulture Magazine. Each year the magazine hosts a series of gardening tours in different countries. These tours are perfect for the lone traveler who also enjoys the company of a small group of fellow garden enthusiasts. The tour group is usually a mix of home and professional gardeners. Horticulture Magazine takes care of all the details--a horticultural leader, scheduling the garden visits, lodging, meals, and other related sightseeing and cultural stops.

In 1998 I signed on for the Irish Gardens and Gardeners Tour which included private and public gardens around Dublin and on through the southern part of Ireland. We were lucky to have Nan Sinton, a great horticultural educator and writer AND transplanted Irish woman, for our tour leader.
Our first stop was at the Glasnevin Botanic Gardens just outside Dublin. The above inscription on the wall outside the garden was a fitting sentiment for the beginning of a garden tour, don't you think? The gardens are maintained by the Royal Dublin Society. These glasshouses were first designed by Richard Turner in the mid-1800s.

There were over 20,000 plant and tree species on the beautifully maintained grounds and glasshouses. This was my first time to see gunnera growing with its fantastically huge leaves. It is said that Irish farm women always grew gunnera so that their baby chicks could hide underneath the leaves from hawks. Out on the perfectly manicured lawns we saw a planting known as Victorian carpet bedding. A variety of succulents, selected for their color and form, were planted in a design to mimic classic Victorian carpeting. This planting made my back and fingers sore just to think of the hand weeding involved in maintaining this display.

Helen Dillon's Garden -- (Photo above--Dillon on right, our tour guide Nan Sinton on left) Dillon is an author, broadcaster and garden consultant. I first saw her gardens on public television shows like The Victory Garden. A couple of years ago I also attended one of her lectures on color in the garden. So, it was a treat to get to poke around her garden on the outskirts of Dublin. You can see from this photo that the garden is a quite small urban space. You see the "Lord of the Borders" lying in the middle of his lawn, making sure that the visitors don't trample on Helen's plants.

Each part of the walled garden is planted around a specific color scheme with each mixed border displaying a succession of blooms from March through fall. This is a shot of the blue border in the spring. Can you imagine the mix of plants required to achieve this display? It's as though Helen uses plants as an artist would canvas and paints.
On the left, all the plants and shrubs were a riot of red, making some of the best photos of the day.

At the far end of the lawn Helen concentrated on her yellow mixed border. These photos don't begin to capture the amazing textures and shades of yellow. Finally, to rest your senses you could walk through this green canopy and enjoy the graceful feminine statue of a garden goddess at the end. Maybe that was Helen's little joke? Hinting that she is the garden goddess of Ranelagh, Dublin?

I'm afraid I may be overestimating your interest in Irish gardens. However, if you want to see more, come back tomorrow and we'll head south into Counties Wicklow, Wexford and Kerry for some entirely different gardens.

In the meantime, head over to nikki's to check out how other Fun Monday participants are celebrating St. Paddy's Day.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Zakarpattia Women

Geek Squad keeps reminding me periodically that I left her and my other readers on a train in western Ukraine over a month ago. Point taken. Since this was a rather long--and snowy--travelogue, I'll try to finish up the tale tonight. It's really warm in KY today with hints of spring in the air. Reader interest in winter travel is waning, I'm sure. So, Geek Squad let's get you off the train.

Brief recap
--in 2001 I was still working for a nationwide farm organization, the American Farm Bureau, as a volunteer leadership development trainer. I trained farm leaders across Kentucky to be effective board and committee members, to do strategic planning, manage meetings and other volunteer responsibilities. Because of this work experience, I was asked by a foreign aid arm of the U.S. government, the Citizen's Network for Foreign Affairs, to travel to Ukraine to work with newly formed councils of farm women. Just ten years previous these women were workers on collective farms. Now they were struggling with private ownership and operations of their farms and needed help in organizing associations and farmers' cooperatives to better support their families by farming the rich agricultural lands of the Ukraine.

So, in December 2001 I spent three weeks working with farmers, mostly women, in the Zakarpattia Region of western Ukraine, in the Carpathian Mountains on the Slovokia border. Several days after arrival in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, I took an overnight train to western Ukraine. My work partner and interpreter was Inna. Inna and I became great friends and shared many adventures and mis-adventures throughout the trip. More about that later.

The Zakarpattia Women -- before I did any training for the councils, Olena the leader, arranged tours of some of the farms operated by Ukraine women. I was impressed by their strength and determination to improve their circumstances through education. The first farm we visited was in Liporo village. The women in this photo were members of the farm women's council. Inna, my interpreter, is on the far left in the cute hat and big coat. More about that coat later.

Eva was the owner of this farm situated on the edge of Liporo village. I have to say I was in shock when I saw the first village farm. It was like traveling back in time 100 years. These small farms were in such stark contrast to the rolling fields planted with winter wheat that we saw along the main roads. Fields that were being tended with modern farm machinery.

When Eva learned that I was familiar with tobacco farming she was eager for me to see her stripping room where the women were taking the leaves off the cured plants and bundling them for market. Eva was proud of her crop, but I didn't tell her how anemic the tobacco was in comparison with Kentucky burley.

Inna and I spent several days touring farms, sharing meals in farm houses and meeting with agriculture officials. It didn't take long to realize that the women were carrying the burden of running the farms, caring for their families and trying to make a place for themselves in the leadership of local and regional governments. Most of the women were married, but I met only a few of their husbands. The men drifted in and out of the homes we visited, never taking part in the conversations. Some had jobs, but not all.
Inna finally shared with me the serious problem of alcoholism, coupled with unemployment, that afflicts many Ukraine families. I wasn't surprised because vodka was the beverage of choice. I was even offered a drink for breakfast--whee-ee-ee! Any formal meals with government officials or council leaders included vodka. I tried to be polite and drink a bit, but soon I was being urged not the waste "angel tears", their name for any liquor left in the glass. Inna helped me out by telling them that it wasn't a custom to drink liquor during the business day in my part of the U.S. They did know about Kentucky bourbon!

Training Sessions --in addition to farm tours and meeting with the farm councils I also conducted training sessions for the council members. We met in schools and government offices such as you see in this photo. Being a trainer accustomed to excellent workshop equipment I knew that we would be challenged out in the remote villages. Therefore, I brought flipcharts, markers, name badges, notepads and other workshop goodies with me from the U.S. I kept personal luggage to a minimum to do this and was lucky to get it through security. As a trainer I'm a great believer in the group wisdom, so that's how the training sessions were organized. Participants were divided into small groups and given issues that they needed to resolve. Example: what do you expect from your farm council? what programs and services do you need? how do you influence government? What you see on the flipchart pages in this photo was the result of their small group work. Everyone talked and offered opinions. I shared ways for them to reach their goals based on my work with Farm Bureau. It was a novel approach for them to be active participants instead of passive listeners. I was happy with these training sessions even though we could only scratch the surface.

Ukraine After Work -- for part of the trip Inna and I stayed in a hotel near the beautiful town of Beregovo. This experience cemented our relationship for sure. On the first night the furnace failed and management was not too concerned. The wind was actually whistling through cracks in my room walls. I actually sacrificed some of my precious flipchart posters by ductaping them to the walls. Inna wore her coat and a pair of my L.L. Bean wooley socks to bed. The bath was down the hall and unheated as well so Inna and I started the running joke about waiting for spring to come so it would be warm enough to bathe in the river. Let's just say our hygiene standards got real flexible.

From Hotel Freezer our luck turned. We were hosted by a warm and gracious family in the remote village of Dunkovitskaya. Maria, leader of the Irshava farm council, lived with her mother and father and three children and an absentee husband. We spent evenings huddled around the grandparents' stove sharing stories about their life and mine. Svetlania, the outgoing middle-schooler, begged me to come to the village school and meet her teachers and students. We did. I was so touched when talking with some older boys in one classroom. When they learned that I was from the U.S. one asked "How are you doing since the attacks of 9/11?" I was blown away by this concern since the Ukraine people have such a history of suffering themselves.

When we were not touring farms or training, our time was filled with driving around the region. The roads were snow and ice covered, heaters didn't work, tires went flat and wipers quit working. All that was taken in stride. When necessary, Olena and I made stops at travelers' shrines along the roadside to keep us going. At the time of our visit everyone was caught up in the excitement of preparing for the Eastern Orthodox Christmas. We shopped at markets for Christmas gifts for the children. I attended the village church with Grandmother and appreciated the beautiful music and rituals. We drove into the town of Mukaceve and went through the castle. I held hands with Count Mukaceve during this photo op. Maria kept her dignity.

At the end of two weeks I said a tearful good-bye to my host family and the Zakarpattia women. Inna and I boarded the train again for the long overnight trip back to Kiev. It was a festive trip. Travelers were bringing even Christmas trees to Kiev on the train. On arrival in Kiev, Inna and I quickly went our own way for a few hours. Both intent on a hot bath and manicure even. We met up again and finished my trip report and had a final meeting with the CNFA staff. My last evening in Kiev I attended a ballet of Don Quixote at the Kiev opera house.

The next morning, December 22, I boarded a plane for Amsterdam and then on to the U.S. I arrived home on the 24th to be greeted by my sweet dogs. My dear friends picked them up at the kennel so they would be home to greet me. What better Christmas gift than to be safely home with memories of time spent with the brave Zakarpattia women.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Remember this Line?

(This week's Fun Monday continues the movie theme. Our host, IT Guy, wants us to share some memorable lines from five different movies--the character who spoke the lines and to whom they were spoken. He also wants to know to whom we could have spoken those lines. Well-l-l, I can handle the first part of the assignment, but may not be willing to do the last part. After all, I've only known you Fun Monday participants for a couple of months!)

Here's the first five quoteworthy movies that came to mind:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird --much loved for its southern roots, performance by Gregory Peck, and universal themes of justice and coming of age. Atticus Finch gives this advice to his daughter Scout, who's complaining about people such as her teacher not doing what she wants them to: "If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. . .until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it." Good bit of advice for all of us.

2. The English Patient -- tells the story of four damaged people whose lives intersect in an Italian villa/hospital at the end of World War II. Count Almasy, aka the horribly burned English Patient, remembers this poignant exchange with his married lover, Katherine Clifton, in the Egyptian desert:
Almasy: "When were you most happy?"
Katherine: "Now."
Almasy: "When were you least happy?
Katherine: "Now."

3. The Painted Veil -- this movie was a favorite of mine in 2007 starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. Set in England and China in the 1920s, Kitty (Watts) marries Walter Fane, a dull civil service doctor (Norton) in a fit of spite against her mother. Kitty immediately beds a local politician. Surprisingly, when he discovers them, the shy Fane retaliates by volunteering to serve as a doctor in a remote village in China that is being leveled by infectious disease. Kitty has a choice of going with him or his divorcing her for infidelity. These lines illustrate the punishing silence and bitterness between the couple:
Kitty Fane: "It's raining cats and dogs." (silence) "I said, it's raining cats and dogs."
Walter Fane: "Yes, I heard you."
KF: "You might have answered."
WF: "I suppose I'm not used to speaking unless I've something to say."
KF: "If people only spoke when they had something to say, the human race would soon lose the power to speak."

4. Odd Couple -- there's no background required for this one. However, this exchange is just a great example of the witty, biting exchange between the roommates. Oscar's girlfriend is trying to get him to lose weight:
Oscar: "Honey, that's fun fat. Everybody has that."
Felix: "I don't"
Oscar: "You don't have any fun either."

5. Pride and Prejudice -- Mr. Darcy delivers this opener of a marriage proposal to the beautiful Miss Elizabeth Bennet: "In vain I have struggled. It will not do--you must allow me to tell you how much I ardently admire and love you. . ." If only he'd stopped there, but instead he chose to go on with a litany of reasons for trying not to marry her, insulting her and her family. Miss Bennet sent him back to the drawing board and the second time around he got it right!

I can hardly wait to hear about the memorable movie lines from other Fun Monday participants. I'm headed over to IT Guy right now to check them out.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

At Seventy

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday, planet of janet , broke the news last week that Hollywood has come calling. They want to make movies of our life stories. But first we need to provide a brief synopsis of this film and cast of the principal players to use in pitching the project. Here's how I'd like my movie to play out.)

Piece of cake was my immediate reaction on reading Janet's challenge. My inspiration would be the great poet, novelist and chronicler of everyday life May Sarton. On her 70th birthday Sarton wrote: What is it like to be seventy? If someone else had lived so long and could remember things sixty years ago with great clarity, she would seem very old to me. But I do not feel old at all, not as much a survivor as a person still on her way. I suppose real old age begins when one looks backward rather than forward, but I look forward with joy to the years ahead and especially to
the surprises that any day may bring.

With these wise words Sarton began At Seventy A Journal recording the daily tapestry of her 70th year. Her journal for that year will be the research background for the movie of my life story.

Film Synopsis/Location
My story begins in November, the month I turn 70. I am finally living the life I was meant to, earning a living by my writings. Each day has its own rhythm of work and pleasure. I live independently out in the country within comfortable distance of several good neighbors. My house is old, but sturdily built. I share my home with a much loved dog who provides companionship and laughter for my solitary--by choice on most days--lifestyle.

For many years I have been building a garden which provides great pleasure and ongoing challenges to maintain it. I am lucky to have the health to keep up the garden with some occasional assistance. Today, there are the last spring bulbs to plant before the weather turns any colder.

This film will chronicle my daily living. Most days follow a pattern. Early in the morning I write before coming downstairs. Then, I tend to the round of daily chores and business. There is always something to do in the garden. In the afternoon, I read or drive into town to do errands and meet friends for some needed conversation and entertainment. Evenings are quiet for the most part--walks with the dog, dinner, a little TV, and perhaps some more writing. At certain times of the year I must travel to promote my work. I leave home reluctantly and return eagerly.

Cast of Characters
Faye --Judi Dench
Stunt Dog --probably an adult Golden Retriever
Long-time Friends--Tom Skerritt and Joanne Woodward
Neighbor/Gardener/Handyman--Colin Firth (the casting director challenged me on this one, but I stuck to my guns--scroll down to picture in previous post to see why. . .grin)

Director and Musical Score
Clint Eastwood

Well, thanks Janet for giving us a chance to script our life's movie. The chances are pretty good this is not the way mine will play out based on where I am now and the time that's left before hitting 70. However, maybe we can find a little movie magic to get there. . .

Now head on over to planet of Janet to check out other Fun Monday participants' life movies.