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.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Painting France

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday, Alison , would like us to share some vacation memories and photos since we're getting into vacation season with this Memorial Day weekend. All of us have enjoyed many different kinds of vacations. For me, they range from holing up in my own home over a holiday break from work with a stack of books, new music, and the telephone ringer on mute in order to adjust my mental and spiritual course. Or, vacation might be a weekend shopping trip with gal pals to a big city. Or, it might be a roadtrip south with my sister in the spring. Or, vacation might be a more ambitious experience abroad where I try to learn or do something new in a different country like gardening or country walking.

Today I'll tell you about one of my more adventurous vacations--a watercolor workshop while barging through the Alsace Lorraine region of France. And, please excuse me for getting on the road a little late on this Fun Monday. Happens all the time, doesn't it!)

Two of my best friends and I flew to Paris in May 2002 to join up with a group of would be painters for a week of landscape painting in the Alsace Lorraine region of France. My friends wanted to travel through this loveliest part of France at a leisurely pace. I wanted to learn to paint better by practicing in the daily watercolor workshops led by Joseph Fitzpatrick, emeritus professor of art at the University of Kentucky. We spent just a couple of days in Paris, trying to see and do as much as possible
in the time we had. One place this wannabe artist should have checked out before leaving Paris was Magasin Sennelier on Quai Voltaire. This French family business, established in 1887, still offers the same Impressionist paints that were originally created for the likes of Cezanne, Monet, and Pissarro. Hum-mm, perhaps my paintings would have been a lot better if I had used their superior paints?

After just two days in Paris, our group of about 20 people from the U.S., England, France, and Canada boarded the train for Strasbourg. The group was a mix of "painters" and their traveling companions who were along for the barge travel, sight seeing and luxury relaxation. By the time we'd had three hours on the train together we began to bond. I almost missed the train in Paris because I hung back to buy a good supply of French chocolates to share with the group. What better way to make a good first impression and guarantee that I'd always have a dinner partner when my friends got sick of me!

When we arrived in Strasbourg we were whisked off to the barge Lorraine which would be our home base for the trip from Strasbourg to Nancy on the Marne and Rhine canals. The Lorraine was a perfect accommodation for the trip--young lively crew and tour guide, great commons areas inside and out for enjoying--or painting--the passing landscape, gourmet meals, and cabins that were small but adequate for the time we spent in them.

Joe, our workshop leader, was on the barge to welcome us. Of the group, about ten were interested in painting. He soon calmed our fears about whether we were "good" enough to sign on to such a tour. You know the spiel--everyone can paint (ha!), no right or wrong ways, just get down what you see, offer positive criticism of each others' work, be flexible. These paintings that Joe did in Saverne is an example of his being flexible. He ran out of color for these pen and ink drawings so he just used espresso! We all wanted these drawings. . .

The Painting Day--after a leisurely breakfast buffet, the barge let us off in different locations. The painters went with Joe and set up shop in areas that were particularly picturesque. The remainder of the group toured or just relaxed on the barge. Our first painting location was in the Petit France riverside district of Strasbourg. We purchased coffee and pastries at this outdoor cafe and settled in for a few hours of painting. Joe circulated among us, offering suggestions or just listening to our concerns. I tried to capture the row of timbered houses along the river. Save your critique for the evening. . .

At the end of the day we all met back in the barge lounge for drinks and Joe's critique--with comments from others as well. Luckily the wine was always excellent and his suggestions were very helpful. Notice all the painters clutching their day's work and waiting for their time at the easel! My work presented quite a challenge for Joe at first and then he started comparing my "style"(lol) to that of Raoul Dufy. I was quite puffed up with that comparison and inspired to do a pen and ink copy of his Interiors with an Open Window! Can you not see what Joe was saying??

As the sun set and the critiques and wine flowed, the barge kept tooling down the canal to our moorings for the night. This particularly lovely evening we were moored in the village of Hochfelden. The windows of the dining room were open and a giant grey schnauzer waited on the dock for a taste of the chef's excellent veal marsala. Mr. Schnauzer, however, didn't care for the chef's garnish, leaving it on the dock for a less handsome panhandler. . .

Enough painting and barging for today. I'll continue this vacation tale later in the week, if you want more. For now, be sure to check out other Fun Monday vacation spots at Alison's Place .

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Gift of Letters

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday is Mariposa and she wants to know about our collections. What do we collect? What are the reasons that we collect a particular thing? This may have been a challenge for me until just recently because I don't collect except for books, writing supplies, music, photos and--in past years--garden plants. Recently, however, my older sister gave me a precious collection, a box of letters, that I'd like to tell you about.)

Fortunately every family has at least one person who is the collector of family mementos. In my family my older sister, Margaret, keeps the old photographs, newspaper clippings, documents, and memorabilia that tells our family story.

My sister is nine years older than I and lives in the eastern part of Kentucky, about a four hour drive from me. Except for a brother who lives in another state, Margaret is the only immediate family member still living. She never married and lives alone. And, at 72 years old, is beginning to need some care giving assistance. I am happy to make the trip east on a regular basis to help her.

On my most recent trip to see her she gave me an old blue box filled with letters that I had written her. And, what a gift this turned out to be. The letters were written, quite regularly, from 1964-66, and captured a significant period in my life. In the fall of 1964 I left my family home in the Appalachian Mountains to earn a college degree at Morehead State University, about 120 miles from home. I was the first in my family to go after a college education. These letters gave me a precious glimpse into my freshman and sophomore years on a college campus--descriptions of new interests, friends, challenges, and still close ties to home. Reading through the letters, I was surprised with how much I confided in my older sister because our family had the true mountain reserve about showing any emotion or even talking about anything more serious than day to day living.

I have written about this in recent posts, but for any new readers I'll do a quick background of my college days because it explains the content of these letters. During my freshman year I met, and began living with, a young family as a mother's helper to help pay for college expenses. Steve Hamilton was the baseball coach at Morehead State during off season, but for most of the year he was a pitcher for the New York Yankees. He and his wife Shirley had three small children. I lived with the Hamiltons all the time--I went to my college classes, the children attended the university elementary school. Steve left home in March for spring training, followed by the baseball season play. In the summer Steve rented a house for us near Yankee Stadium and Shirl and I packed up the station wagon and kids and drove to New Jersey for the summer.

Many of the letters I wrote my sister described the unique experiences of living with a professional baseball family. This was an incredible leap for a young person whose previous life had been one of isolation on a mountain farm in eastern Kentucky. And now I had tales to tell of life in New York City:

--Steve and Shirl take me to first Broadway play July '66 "Last night we went to Broadway in New York and saw Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand. It was great and I enjoyed every minute of it. We had great seats--first row center. Sure were some cute guys in the orchestra. On the way to the play we saw some ships on the river as big as that field below Wanda and Bill's. I don't think I'd care to live in New York. It's impossible to count the kids who play on the streets because apartments are too small. . ."

--Date with Gil Blanco, NY Yankee rookie player August '65 "Had a very nice time with Gil last Saturday night. When he came he had on a tie and coat even though it was awfully hot. . .he was very polite--you know, opened the car door--drives a red and black 1965 Grand Prix, if that's important--and a lot of other things boys back home don't do. We couldn't figure out how to get on the right road to get to the theater in the shopping center. . .first showing half over so we went shopping 'til the movie started again! Guess what we looked at? Yep! Gil Blanco's clothes. Sure was glad I knew something about men's clothes from being around Steve who has really good taste because he (Gil) kept asking me whether I liked this or that. . ."

--First time to see an ocean, August '65 "This afternoon. . .we're going to Southhampton, Long Island for the weekend. Dave Swanson and his wife invited us to their summer house which sits right on the Atlantic Ocean. He runs or rather owns a bread business (Thomas English Muffins) and is supposedly quite wealthy. Must be because they keep a maid, housekeeper, cook, and lifeguard just at this summer place. . ."

--Ballgames at Yankee Stadium July '65 "Friday night when Shirl and I went to the ballgame we went over the great big George Washington Bridge that crosses the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York City. All those tall, tall twenty story apartment buildings are really something. . .Shirl says, 'Fades, how would you like to live on the top of one of those buildings?' I said 'Sure would.' She says, "Fades, Fades, . . .what if you go shopping and forget your pop bottles on the top floor!'. . ."

--Shirl and I study the New York Times fashion pages. I become a fashionista. August and September '66 "I got a real sharp haircut yesterday in Teaneck. It's very, very short in the back but hangs well below my ears in front. that sounds tough doesn't it?. . ." "Today I went over to Alexander's and picked up my new winter coat. . .it's dull green, fitted, double-breasted with plaid lining. . .I figure it's a pretty good coat for what I gave for it--$35.00. . ." "The other day I almost paid five dollars for a yard of wool. It was blue and grey and would make the sharpest looking A line skirt. In the upper part of Teaneck there's a fabric shop that is a hole in the wall--looks about like the second hand stores in Pikeville--but they have tables and tables of very expensive fabrics if you want to hunt for them. . ." "Guess what I'm getting? New glasses. . .square frames, color black. . .they have slightly pink tinted lenses. . .Dr. Wentz said that they would make all those rings in mine I have now less noticeable. . ."

The remaining letters were written during the school year. I shared everything with my sister--boy friend troubles, accounts of family life with the Hamiltons, school activities, my school friends and their activities, plans for visiting home. In her letters she told me about her work and life at home. I am still amazed that she kept these letters from the '60s. And what a great gift to share them with me after all these years.

Now be sure to check out other Fun Monday collections at Mariposa's place .

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Last Dance

And then there were three--Kristi and Mark, Jason and Edyta, Christian and Cheryl. After Tuesday night's results show for Dancing with the Stars, these three couples will compete for the mirror ball trophy next Monday night. I,for one, will be sad to see the show come to an end for this season.

In past seasons I've been pretty passionate about the winning pick, but this year it really doesn't matter because all three Dancing stars finalists have acted like winners throughout the competition. Kristi has brought the drive and discipline of Olympic skating to the dance floor. She's taken chances with her partner Mark's lead and revealed a more sensuous and artistic side on the dance floor--who among us romantics could forget the Viennese lavender waltz? Jason is the big strong athlete who moves across the floor like grace on foot. Ever the gentleman with his partner Edyta and good sportsman with the other competitors. Ah, and then there's Christian--what's not to love about his wistful smile and sizzling Latin performance--and grit-- when he and Cheryl had to figure out how to dance with one arm after his tendon injury a couple of weeks ago. I just love how they've tackled this challenge as a couple and the obvious joy when they pull off something like a one-armed lift.

What is the on-going viewer attraction for Dancing with the Stars? First, it just makes me smile and a bit wistful to watch these couples--how gorgeous they are and how passionately they move across the dance floor. Week after week you watch a professional and an amateur bond and before too long the contenders start to emerge. Often this happens when the stars are able to get over themselves and take direction from their professional dance partners and the judges' critiques.

What can we learn from this weekly TV fix? First, it's a joy for every living thing to move--just ask any dog after a long walk or good shake. Secondly, there's always room in our life to be the student. And last, you're never too old to not look good in a frothy dress and a bit of spray tan!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Blog Celebration

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday, Sauntering Soul, was stuck in Atlanta traffic when she decided on our topic--describe the times when you are likely to act like a jerk. If you've ever experienced Atlanta traffic, you probably are not surprised that people acting like jerks surfaced as a topic for our host when she was in this situation. . .)

The drawing room at Netherfield was the scene of yet another sparring match between Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet. The cause of this match was Miss Bingley's assertion that Mr. Darcy is a "man without fault." Anyone familiar with Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice knows that this comment would prompt a raised eyebrow and challenge from Miss Bennet to the validity of the claim on Mr. Darcy's perfection. And so it did.

Mr. Darcy responded to Miss Bennet's doubts about his perfect character with this: "I have faults enough Miss Bennet, but I hope they are not of understanding." Exactly my sentiments with this week's Fun Monday assignment. I could describe several instances when I have--and will in the future--behaved like a jerk. Instead, I'm going to use this post to be a wee bit opportunistic, a much more serious character flaw than everyday jerkiness.

Tomorrow, May 13th, is my one-year blog anniversary. Therefore, who could blame me for being somewhat opportunistic by trying to involve as many blogging buddies as possible in the Summit Musings anniversary celebration? Fun Monday participants are some of my most faithful readers. I enjoy learning more about your interests and the characters--two and four-legged--that surface on your blogs. I hope my stories have been a diversion for you as well.

Who knew that this jump off into the blogosphere would be so much fun? I started Summit Musings as a way to improve my technology skills in retirement, to maintain an on-going creative discipline, and to encourage discussion on a wide range of topics from politics to pop culture. Like Hillary, one year later I am still trying to "find my voice". Like Miss Bennet and her music, I'm a long way from becoming a "true proficient."

Back last August '07 I made some blog promises to both my readers and myself. Almost one year later I find that they still reflect my ideas of good blogging:

  • post regularly, not daily, but at least three times per week;
  • post shorter pieces, paragraphs, and sentences if I can do it--unfortunately more is often more in my view, but I try to remember that reading this blog MAY not be all people have to do;
  • write about big deals and nothings, attempting to always keep a balance;
  • never whine or rant--opine certainly--but not take the easy way out to good communication;
  • respect and appreciate my readers--I'll never slam your views and opinions--maybe give you a little "goose pinch" but never 'dis you;
  • work hard to improve the writing and format for Summit Musings so long-time readers will stay with me and new ones will sign on.

So, thanks for allowing me to be somewhat opportunistic by getting you to an anniversary celebration under a Fun Monday pretense. Hopefully, you don't thinking I'm being totally jerky. Next week it's back to following the rules. Now be sure to check out those times when other Fun Monday participants don't exactly act their best! Sauntering Soul

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Women's Lot

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday, Kitten , invites us to describe the super hero in our lives. She's not interested in celebrity. Instead, who is the person that you look up to, that has had a significant impact on who you are and how you live your life? For me, that would be my 84 year old Aunt Draxie.)

In the early 1940s my Uncle Dennis married Draxie, a girl from a neighboring farm, and brought her to the family farm in the Appalachian foothills to live with my grandmother and grandfather. In just a few years they had two sons. Over the years I have talked with my aunt about her early married life and have always understood that she endured many hardships of body and spirit that continued for many years.

The farm was owned by my grandfather,who was ailing by that time, and my uncle worked it in anticipation of someday inheriting. The farmhouse sat up on a hillside and all the rich bottomland below was used for crops. It was subsistence farming in that everything the family expected to eat had to be grown each year. Man and mule provided the labor to work the land. It took everyone old enough to work in the family--man, woman, and child--to plant, tend, and put the crops by to live on from year to year.

From the beginning of her marriage my Aunt Draxie was always the second woman in the household. Although my grandmother was a very loving and indulgent grandparent to me and my cousins, she was very hard on my aunt, insisting that she have absolute control over every decision that would traditionally be the woman's role in the family--homekeeping, child rearing, caregiving for my ailing grandfather. Unfortunately, my uncle never stood up to his mother and defended his young wife. He felt that it was my aunt's duty as the young wife to submit to everyone else in the family. Aunt Draxie learned early on that she just had to take it--for the sake of her young boys and because there there was no other alternative.

So, the years went by. My aunt reared two sweet and gentle sons, who to this day honor and respect their mother. This was one of Aunt Draxie's most telling achievements because in the mountain culture sons are catered to by the women of the family. My grandparents died in the 1960s, followed very soon by my uncle. After all these years my aunt was finally on her own. Had she not done such a good job in rearing her sons, her life would have continued to be miserable because the farm was deeded to her sons, not to Aunt Draxie. However, her sons moved quickly to protect their mother by giving her control of the farm so long as she lives.

In this photo my Aunt Draxie is in her early 80s. She still lives alone on the family farm. Her life is a daily rhythm of work and discipline--but of her own choosing. She raises a huge garden, putting by much of what she raises for the winter. She keeps her home with little help from modern conveniences. In the winter she makes beautiful quilts. No days are idle. She has the pleasure of welcoming new daughters-in-law in the family and treats them and her grandchildren with great love and affection. If only she had received the same treatment as a young woman. I often think that the greatest compliment that could be paid me is to say that I'm like my Aunt Draxie--she truly is my Super Hero.

Now take some time to check out other Fun Monday heroes. Go to Kitten's Place for the list.

(Photo credit: Kentucky postcard "Rural Kentucky" by Dan Dry)