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, June 29, 2008

Reading Quirks

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday is Lisa over at Lisa's Chaos . She's sure that other Fun Monday friends would like to know about our quirks, those little peculiarities of action, behavior, personality, or mannerism that make us a unique individual. Well, no shortages of quirks--or just plain weirdness--here, as my friends so often point out. However, for this post I'll confine my quirk reveal to what and how I read.)

Lately I've been dealing with a bad case of "sidebar envy" when reading favorite blogs. Specifically, I envy you bloggers who have figured out how to display your bookshelves, or at least a list of books you're currently reading. Just like in our homes, this "bookshelf" reveals so much about who you are. I sometimes look at your lists and think: "So that's why I like them so much. Anyone who reads this is sure to be interesting, funny, insightful. . ."

Maybe I'll eventually figure out how to put a bookshelf on my sidebar. Until I do, however, I'll share with you some of my most definite reading quirks.

First, I write in books--always have, always will. Instead of a bookmark, my books have a colored pencil (especially like those fat ones that blend several lead colors together for multicolor writing) or highlighter holding my place. Passages get underlined, highlighted and filled with margin comments and drawings. No book is too fine to not get marked up. They're all like a workbook to me. I love loaning my books to friends and would not mind them adding their comments as well--so much more interesting.

I have many books going at the same time. The selection will depend on my current interests. In June I've been working my way through these seven books:

Fiction(especially if there's a sequel)--remember Chocolat by Joanne Harris? Well, this month I re-read this story of the beautiful Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk who blow into a desolate, unhappy little French town prepared to live by making and selling magical chocolates from her chocolate shop. Vianne immediately makes an enemy of the local priest and mayor. Their objective is to make sure everyone stays repressed and unhappy. Is is, after all, Lent, the season of denial. The battle wages on between the church and the chocolatier. Vianne makes allies from some of the townspeople and some unwanted gypsy boat people. As in all battles between good and evil, both sides lose something of themselves. . .

After re-reading Chocolat, I eagerly started the new sequel, The Girl with No Shadow. Vianne, Anouk and a new baby Rosette (the daughter of the gypsy Roux) are now settled in Paris, struggling to keep their story a secret. Vianne has a chocolate shop in Montmartre. She conforms for the sake of anonymity, but is not happy. Still about half the book to go and I'm puzzled about how it will end.

Journeys(of foreign countries or the soul)--I found Joan Anderson's The Second Journey at an opportune time this month. Anderson writes about her struggles to live a balanced life when dealing with the constant demands of family, friends, and career. This newest book shares what she learned about herself by stepping back and letting go of the "shoulds" that we foist on ourselves.

Another "journey of the soul" that I'm reading this month is the poet May Sarton's
The House by the Sea
written in 1977. She has written accounts of her life in journals through her 82nd year. I have all six books stacked and ready to read. I wonder what I will learn about living well while growing old?

Jane Austen--since the BBC Jane Austen series began earlier this year, I have been obsessed by her work and life. I'm re-reading all the novels, seeing the different film productions of her novels and life. This month it's Persuasion, my favorite for her mature, bittersweet account of love lost and found. This time I'm also reading Frederick Wentworth Captain, None but You by Susan Kaye at the same time. I'm not wild about Austen sequels because they usually leave me thinking something huffy like "Get you own characters!" But Kaye has done an honest job of presenting Captain Wentworth's side of the story. So, I read parts of Persuasion and then go to the sequel for the guy's point of view. That way, I understand both Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth a lot better.

Writing--I always have a book on writing in progress. Lately I've been interested in memoir, prompted by some of the posts I've written for this blog. This month I'm working through Natalie Goldberg's newest book, Old Friend from Far Away--The Practice of Writing Memoir. The great thing about this book is that she teaches us how to remember our life stories. For how can we write unless we learn how to uncover the people, events, and feelings that make us who we are?

Well, maybe you won't call this an actual reading quirk. You may think attention deficit disorder instead. . .but there you have it. Now be sure to head over to Lisa's place to check out other Fun Monday quirks. Don't worry though, as Lisa says "You're among friends."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Boot Camp

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday, Hula Girl , wants us to dig through our closets and find a piece of clothing that we can't get rid of. What is it and why do we keep hanging on to it instead of trashing or donating it to Goodwill? You know all the reasons: lose ten pounds and it will zip, can't forget that wonderful vacation when I bought this, wore this to. . .,got the job after wearing this suit to the interview. I suspect we'll see more than a few t-shirts, which is what my valuable clothing piece is. After all, what better memento can we hang on to than the ever popular tee.

P.S. Thanks All, for stopping by for my Fun Monday post. I'm out of town for most of the week without computer access--already getting anxiety twinges. For sure though, I'll check you all out as soon as I can get back online!)

In July 2001 I was not in very good shape. At 55 years old, my weight was at an all time high and my self esteem was at an all time low. I had a great job with some exciting travel tied to it. I had a great circle of friends and colleagues. With all that going for me, I still felt stagnant and defeated. Why could I not conquer this problem?

Then one day I found a solution while idly thumbing through a local health newspaper. There
was a picture of a line of women and men lying in the grass on their backs pedaling like crazy--later I learned that this was the supine bicycle. They were in the Back to Basics Fitness Boot Camp. And, the boot camp drill sergeant was looking for a few more good men and women to join up. And so I did, despite never doing any organized exercise, other than walking the dogs, for yea many years.

Joining up day was intimidating to say the least. About 20 nervous, excited people of all ages and fitness levels gathered at local park at dawn. At 6 a.m. on the dot this tall, lanky woman dress in fatigues and boots came out of the shadows and barked "Fall in!" Well, the "recruits" had seen enough movies to understand that we were to line up. That first line was pretty ragged, but the object was not to attract attention. Sergeant Rouse and her assistant, a male drill sergeant, walked the line, giving us the once over. Then they got in front of us and immediately got our ragged line into the extended rectangular formation for our first drill. Jog in place during roll call--learned to not be delicate when answering. Neck, arm and shoulder, hip, knee and ankle rotations. Stretches. Calisthenics--side straddle hops, push-ups, mountain climbers, sit-ups. Quick drink of water and then line up for a speed run out of the park and up the hill. By 6:50a.m. 20 shell-shocked recruits were again back in the extended rectangular formation for a final stretch and orders for the next day--penalties for lateness (whole class does extra pushups for any latecomers), regulation dress including the above t-shirt.

From this hard beginning, you may be surprised to learn that Back to Basics Boot Camp was a life changing activity for me. In six weeks I lost weight and inches all over, decreased percentage body fat, went from 2 to 27 pushups and from 0 to 39 situps, and ran a mile in 12 minutes. My mind was finally in the right place. I was happy.

I kept up with Sergeant Rouse for two years. Rain or shine, summer and winter, I fell in at 6 a.m. for the hardest, but best, hour of the day. Sadly, Sergeant Rouse's life changed and she moved away from Louisville. We've remained friends all these years and I will always be grateful to her for what she helped me accomplish. I wear this worn t-shirt every week to remind me of my days as a recruit.

Now head over to Hula Girl's place to see what pieces of clothing everyone else is hanging on to. And, I'll be around to see you all as soon as I can this week.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

If Walls could Talk

(Jan at The Prytz Family is the host for this week's Fun Monday. The subject is walls. What color are they painted? What do we have on our walls? What is special about what we choose to display?)

I've lived in two different houses since 1983. The walls are always painted Queen Anne's Lace by Porter Paints. This color provides a nice soft white canvas for whatever I"m currently interested in seeing on the walls. Over the years I've hung my own crewelwork, counted cross stitch, Kentucky watercolors, and dried flower wreaths that I made fresh for each season change.

For many years, however, I've been in a minimalist frame of mind. I don't have many things at all on the walls. When I look over my computer I can see a huge map of the world with pins in the countries I've visited. Only about a dozen--wish there were more. Over to the left of my desk I have a rather large corkboard with a month of pen and ink drawings and watercolors. I spent ten minutes on each painting and did this daily throughout the month. (Note: when I look at this monthly progression, I can say that practice does not make perfect, but it does make better!)

In the living room I have three paintings of dogs that I'm very fond of. The first is called "After the Chase" by Andrew Wyeth. I love Wyeth's paintings of dogs and this one reminds me of a great visit with a friend and the time we spent in the Brandywine Valley, touring gardens and museums. I bought this print at Wyeth's gallery as a memento of the trip.

The second painting is called "The Girl with the Dog" by Theodore Robinson. Robinson was a mid-1800s Impressionist painter. I've had this painting for years and, unlike some others, it never gets banished to the basement. I look at this painting and see the devotion shared between people and dogs. It is a feeling that I experience daily.

This is the painting that I want to look at every day. It's called "The Veteran" and was painted by Jeanne Filler Scott in 1987. I haven't been able to find out anything about this artist. My friend Kittyhawk was helping with an auction for an animal rescue group and she emailed me the photo of it saying that she thought I might be interested in bidding on it. Was I!

I had just been reading "The Places in Between". This book is an account of the young Scotsman Rory Stewart's walk across Afghanistan in January 2002 just after the fall of the Taliban. Armed only with his ability to speak Persian and his knowledge and respect for Muslim customs, he crossed the snow covered mountains, despite being told that he would surely die before the walk was done. He walked from Herat on the Iranian border east to Kabul on the Pakistan border. He claimed hospitality from poor villagers, a requirement of the Muslim religion. He slept on the floor, shared their meager food, and talked with the tribesmen.

I wanted "The Veteran" because he reminded me so much of Babur, the mastiff fighting dog that Stewart accepted from some villagers as a traveling companion. Babur, which means tiger, had never known kindness from any human. His teeth had been knocked out, his tail and ears cut off. Muslims consider dogs to be unclean animals and were kept to fight off wolves from the sheep or sport fighting with other dogs.. He was regularly stoned by village children. Babur and Stewart supported each other in dangerous, near death experiences as they crossed the mountains. The first day together, Stewart decided that he would take Babur back to Scotland.

Well, this is a bit of what my walls say about me. As soon as you can, check out other the other Fun Monday walls. I'm curious about what we'll find.

(Sorry I couldn't take photos of my walls. My camera was giving me red splashes. The photo of Stewart and Babur was taken from The Places in Between.)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Picture Day

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday is Molly at Return of the White Robin . She asks us to share a happy memory from childhood. I went all Woody Allen at first. When I read Molly's assignment, my first thought was that I have many more happy memories as an adult than child. However, after reading through some of the sign up comments I realized that I'm not the ONLY one who had, shall we say, a complicated childhood. One thing that was a constant happy memory for me was getting to go to school. In particular, here's my memory of Picture Day at Green Fly School.)

In the late '40s and early '50s my older sister and two brothers attended a one room school much like the one in this photo. There were probably about 30-40 students total in Grades 1-8 in the one room. Our desks had the same black iron fancy work sides and were bolted to the floor on wooden runners. A potbellied stove sat in the center of the room. The older boys came to school early each day in the winter to help the teacher build a fire and fill the stove with coal for the day. They also filled a big ceramic jug full of water from the well in the schoolyard. Each child had a collapsible tin cup to drink from. We hung our coats on pegs in back of the room. On Fridays the wooden floors were oiled and then sprinkled with sawdust and left over the weekend. On Monday morning some of the older boys and girls came to school early to sweep the floor.

In 1949 I was four years old and very much wanting to go to school with my sister and brothers. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to start school until I turned seven because my birthday was in November and you had to be six in October in order to enroll. Confusing? I do remember that Cousin Margie was only a month older than I, but she got to start school a year earlier because of her October birthday. Talk about unhappy memories--and jealousy--because we were great pals. Not only were we separated, but she also was learning to read and write before me!

The one day I did get to go to school was on Picture Day. Not many families had cameras in those days, so the older children were allowed to bring the little ones to school to get their pictures taken. This was a big deal and involved a lot of preparation the night before. I was four years old in this picture taken in '49. My dress was green print trimmed with rickrack. My mother made the dress for me out of a flour or feed sack using her Singer treadle sewing machine. Flour and animal feed was purchased in these cotton sacks, saved and made into clothing, usually dresses for girls. My hair was stick straight so my sister probably rolled my hair on pink rubber latch rollers or pincurls the night before. My picture day hairstyle was finished off with matching green hairbows.

This is my five year old picture in 1950. STILL not allowed to go to school except on Picture Day. . .Notice the change in hairstyle. By this time my no nonsense mother had declared her long running battle over my having hair in my eyes. This was a challenge because my hair falls from the crown like a dark curtain. Bonnie's solution was to part my hair in the middle and twig it up in pincurls on either side. This little dress was my first store bought clothing. It was red and white polka dot with a lace trimmed collar. I was allowed to wear it only for very special occasions.

So, Picture Days were definitely happy childhood memories. There were even more when I finally got to go to school and learn to read and write. Now head over to Molly's place and see how other Fun Monday childhoods turned out.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Quilting Memories

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday, Karisma , wants us to share something made with our own two hands. She's confident that everyone, especially Fun Monday people, has a great many talents and abilities to share. And, Karisma apparently doesn't go for excuses. Even though we may say that we've never made anything creative with our own hands, she gave us the assignment last Wednesday with this challenge: "Even though you've never made anything, you have four days to work on it, so get off your butt and bake us a cake or something!" Well, I'm temporarily off cake baking because of the upcoming swimsuit season, so I'll tell you about making quilts. How's that Karisma?)

I made this quilted wall hanging last year. The design is called Log Cabin.

All the women in my family quilted--my mother, sister, aunts, and cousins. For mountain women making quilts was both a necessity and art form. Every home needed a supply of quilts to keep everyone warm in the winter since we didn't buy blankets. All year long quiltmaking was a part of a woman's work. In the summer women pieced scraps of cotton together in beautiful designs, with names like Grandmother's Flower Garden, Wedding Ring, Drunkard's Path and Friendship, when the housework and gardening was done for the day. In the winter the handpieced quilt tops were "set up". Setting up a quilt involved sandwiching cotton batting between the top and lining and stretching in a frame. After the winter housework was done, the quilt would be let down from the ceiling in the front room (or parlor) and the women of the family--and sometimes visiting neighbors--would sit around the quilt frame joining the three layers together into a beautiful work of art and enjoying each other's company. The workmanship standards were high. No fabric was wasted, every hand stitch must be even and very small with no puckers in the fabric. A common insult to a woman's quilting abilities would be to say that her stitches were so long her husband may catch his toenail in a stitch! We more modern women may say that perhaps the husband should cut his toenails. . .

As a small child, I can remember playing with my cousins underneath the quilt frame as the women worked. Young girls learned to quilt by making miniature or doll quilts. My 85 year old Aunt Draxie still has some of the treasures she made as a child. Newly married women were given at least five new quilts when they started their new home, almost like part of a bride's dowry. Recently my Aunt Draxie presented her great grandson with a collection of handmade quilts at his wedding. What a loving tradition to keep going!

My Log Cabin wall hanging was done the modern way. I bought coordinated fabrics, laying them out on the work table like I was creating a painting. I selected the earth tones that I like to have around me instead of using what fabrics that could be found in the quilt scraps bag. I used precision tools like a rotary cutter to make the quilt pieces. Then each section was assembled, using my very weak geometry skills, on the sewing machine. There are no hand stitches in this quilt except for the edge binding. Although it's not handsewn, it's definitely made by my hands. It pleases me as much as a painting.

Now be sure to check out other Fun Monday "made by hands" at Karisma's Page .