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, July 27, 2008

Our Time to Care

(Our hostess for this week's Fun Monday is Mommy Wizdom . Mommy Wizdom offers us a rare opportunity to be the ruler of the world--or at least our small part of it--for a day, week, month, or year. If this were indeed a possibility, I'd work on a modern day dilemma that most of us are in the middle of now, or will certainly face in the future--taking care of an aging and/or sick family member, friend or pet.)

It's no secret that we're hanging around longer thanks to better living conditions and access to sometimes heroic medical care. While this is a good thing--I guess--the reality is that eventually most of us will need assistance with everyday living. Where do we turn when we can no longer fix a meal, bathe, pay our bills, drive to an appointment, or understand what the doctor tells us to do?

Most of my real life friends, as well as you friends in the blogosphere, are dealing with the many challenges of care giving for another adult in their immediate family or circle of friends. You provide care and support for an aging parent or parent-in-law who may have lost physical or mental capacity. You step in to help a brother or sister, grown child or friend who is fighting a serious illness. You write about caring for a much loved dog who has lived so many years that his heart, limbs and body functions fail him. But still, with all the infirmities, you see an occasional reminder of the young, playful and mischievous dog that made you laugh or drove you crazy with puppy antics.

How do we manage to give care when it's our time? And, how do we do it without sacrificing our own happiness and quality of life?If I were ruler of my world for even a day, I'd get answers to these questions because I need them now. . .

Over the past couple of months my quiet peaceful life has turned upside down. My only sister, who is ten years older than I, has experienced a serious decline in health over the last few months. I had been driving long distances to take her to the doctor and help with medical and other decisions. Then, on July 9 her apartment building burned, leaving her homeless. Since then, I have moved her into my home until we can figure out what to do about her housing and medical care. Let me just say, if you are accustomed to living alone, there's no house that's big enough for two people. I live on the fringes of my home. My sister has the rest of the house, but longs to be in her own place. The decisions about how aggressively to treat her illness weigh heavily on my shoulders--she has no opinions on this one way or another.

Now I know Mommy Wizdom has great powers, but until my chance to be Ruler for the Day comes along I'll try to apply this quote: "Things that seem hard are not always that hard. Put one foot in front of the other and you'll get to the end." I'd also love to hear how you are dealing with this issue. Leave me some pearls of wisdom with your comments. And, don't forget to check out what other Fun Monday Rulers plan to do when they get the chance to call the shots!

(Image Credit: Venus, Ruler of the World, painting by Giovanni Bellini)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Always a Teacher

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday can be found sipping a cuppa over at the Irish Coffeehouse and waiting to hear about our careers, then and now. What did we dream of being when growing up? Did those dreams come true? And, what about now? If we could work at anything, what would it be? My own career path could be described best in this way: once a teacher, always a teacher.)

Long after finishing my formal education, I still think like a student . I prefer an academic calendar that begins with July or September. In my mind, these months are the real beginnings of a new year because that's when we start the all important business of learning for yet another year. And, about now I begin to look for the catalog of adult education course offerings from the local liberal arts university. I'll eagerly look through it--what could I sign up for this semester? A writing course? Intermediate watercolor? Meditation? Digital photography?

I enrolled in a teaching college in the mid-60s. At that time students got very little career guidance. This was not a problem for me, though. I always knew that I would be a teacher. I loved school from the first grade on. Getting new books and just right school supplies was an annual thrill. And then to spend most of my waking time with a kindly, for the most part, adult whose job it was to teach me about the world beyond my home was too good to be true. I wanted to be just like them.

After four years, I earned a degree in English and home economics with certification to teach English at the high school level. In those days a major in English qualified--loosely--you to teach literature, grammar and reading. This leeway was fortunate for me in every teaching situation because I always got the remedial or struggling readers. Before I could teach literature, they had to learn to read. So, I taught basic reading for middle and high school students for two years, followed by three years with elementary students in the West Indies.

You know how an unexpected, seemingly minor, experience can have a major impact on your future career path? This serendipity happened to me. In my first year of teaching I also inherited the job of teaching basic adult education language and reading improvement skills at a local community college in the evenings. What an unexpected honor it was to help another adult learn to read or earn a general equivalency diploma(GED). After finishing a master's degree in American literature for my own interests, I returned to college on several occasions to do post-graduate work in adult learning and non-profit leadership development. This post graduate work helped me secure a variety of teaching positions working directly with adults--adult learning center director, English as Second Language teacher, coordinator of a regional homebound adult education program, consultant for a state department of education, and volunteer leadership training director.

It was in working with adult learners that I found my true career niche. The wonderful thing about adult students is that they come to you with built in motivation. They want to learn to read so they can share a book with their child. They want a high school diploma so that they can get a better job. They need to speak English in order to blend into a new culture. They want to be a more effective board member for their organization. They want to get rid of the shame of not knowing what the rest of the world seems to know. Hopefully, I helped many adult learners achieve these goals.

That was then. As for the "now", I'm mostly enjoying being retired and just pursuing a variety of interests. However, I just started reading this book by Ann Patchett, author of an all-time favorite novel Bel Canto. What now? Such an intriguing question, no matter what your personal crossroads may be--graduation, new career, or other major life transition. I'll see if that question is easier to answer by the end of this book--discussion to be continued. In the meantime, head over to the Irish Coffeehouse to find out about careers now and then for other Fun Monday participants.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lunch Bunch does Chicago

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday is IamwhoIam at Dungarees Ablaze . She wants to hear about a favorite birthday celebration. It can be one of our own or one we planned, attended, crashed--you get the idea. So, for this assignment, I'll tell you a "twofer" tale.)

The stretch limo was flashing this ungodly hour when the driver carefully pulled up in my little cul de sac in early January '06. The limo had been hired by my good friends, the Lunch Bunch, to take us to the airport for a weekend celebration for me in Chicago. In the past couple of months, I had turned 60 and retired from the company where all of us worked together for almost 20 years.

Limo aside: if you haven't been to a prom or other fancy do in the last few years, let me tell you, stretch travel is highly overrated--especially for women of a certain age. I had to crawl on my knees to reach the other five members of the Lunch Bunch in the back of the limo. Luckily I had learned from Brittany that you really must wear underwear before mounting or dismounting a limo, but it was still a challenge. And then there's the champagne in a plastic glass. At that time of the morning I would have been happier with a Starbucks tall, extra cream. The thought was very much appreciated, though.

With the assistance of our able limo driver we were in the air and landed in Chicago before early morning traffic even settled down. Our hotel was in downtown Chicago handy to the best shopping. We got into our rooms and then headed to the nearest multi-story shopping center. We all found things to buy that we wouldn't consider in Louisville, especially with a little egging on from others in the group. Most notably, Sally and Linda found themselves in a foundation shop in the hands--quite literally--of a French fitter. Their "girls" had never looked prouder than they did on leaving that store! We were all excited to go through L'Occitane trying all the lotions and potions of Provence since we were still waiting for this store in Louisville. We all sat on a bench outside the store and sent all six of our Lunch Bunch group back in individually under the pretext of learning how to pronounce "L'Occitane" properly. And, by the way could we have samples for six people?

We had a memorable brunch in the elegant Drake Hotel. This sparkling floral display was in the lobby, hanging on from holiday decorations, I suppose. As I'm writing this, can't remember that we did anything in particular except shop, laugh, and enjoy each others company. I may have been the honoree, but that doesn't mean I got to go to concerts, museums, or art galleries. The mission was to hang out with a group of good friends. It was a pretty good plan.

I hope each of you are fortunate to have a few good friends who are always there to see you through the times of celebration and sadness that come to us all. I know I'm fortunate to have the Lunch Bunch. Now head over to Dungarees Ablaze to find out how the other half celebrates birthdays.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cookin' Fish Caribbean Style

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday, Olive , wants to hear our version of a fish story. She very generously gives us a lot of leeway in telling our story. It can be a big whopping exaggeration, ahem lie. Or, we can tell it straight. I'll stick with the truth, or as close as I can remember from 40 years ago, about learning to live in and cook fish, Caribbean style.)

In the early 70s I was a Peace Corps teacher for three years on St. Kitts, a small island in the West Indies. I've written previously about this great experience, but never talked about what day to day life was like in a totally new place and culture.

One of the requirements of the U.S. Peace Corps is that volunteers live among the people they work with and not depend on other volunteers for social support. It takes a while to get to this point--or at least in my case it did. When I arrived on St. Kitts, another particularly adventurous volunteer and I rented an old sugar cane estate house perched close to the Caribbean Sea. The house was about 15 miles out of the capital city, Basseterre. It set in the middle of a sugar cane field. The house had large rooms, tall ceilings and a wrap around porch. On one side there was the sea, on the other the mountain. Roseanne took the bedroom on the mountain side since she was from New Mexico. I took the sea view because I knew the mountains from growing up in Appalachia. The sea views were a novelty for me. However, the mosquitoes were equal opportunity tormentors--the only relief came from the evening winds.

Life on the sugar cane estate was great for several months. Roseanne and I both taught at schools in Basseterre. Every morning we climbed on an open transport truck that carried workers, students, and farmers and their produce into town. Eventually, we pooled our cash and bought a secondhand mini moke which was little more than a glorified golf cart. It did offer us some freedom though. Our house soon became party central for other volunteers and Kittian friends--especially on the weekends. We cooked local foods(I remember a birthday celebrated with Black Cake made with dried fruits soaked in cask wine and angostura bitters, decorated with purple bougainvillea blossoms. . .), swam in the sea, learned to dance to the popular reggae music, and flirted outrageously with fellow volunteers and the locals.

This lifestyle was a novelty for about six months and then it wasn't so much fun. The mini moke broke down frequently and was stolen once. Our house was robbed because the estate was so isolated. We feared the black cane snakes that came close when the fields were burned and the mosquitoes were relentless. Even party central grew tiresome after awhile.

Roseanne and I decided to move closer to our work in Basseterre. I decided to go solo again and rented a small house on the outskirts of Basseterre for me and my new roommate, a dog named Virgil. Unfortunately, I don't have photos of him, but take my word, he was not "overnamed". Our house was near my school and in the neighborhood where many local fishermen lived. The fishermen brought their catch in every morning at dawn and sold it to the locals from their boats pulled up on the beach just across the road from my house. My closest neighbor was a fisherman and his "woman." They lived rough--too much rum, loud fights ending up with her being put out on the street. Some nights she walked up and down cursing him. Other nights she crawled under the house and slept. All this chaos to a backdrop of reggae music.

Now we finally get to the cookin' fish Caribbean style. In previous posts I've written about how kind the local women were to me. Teaching me how to negotiate with local tradesmen and how to cook the unfamiliar foods grown on St. Kitts. One woman in particular, taught me the ropes. She had a vested interest in me. I taught her daughter and fancied myself in love with her handsome scoundrel of a son. Mrs. L took me to the open air markets and showed me how to haggle for meat, vegetables, and fruits. She also introduced me to a couple of fishermen who would take me on as a steady customer. Early in the morning she and I would walk across the street from my house to buy fish before I left for school.

If you grow up in my part of the south, cooking fish means rolling fillets in corn meal and pan frying them or shaking out a row of fish sticks for the oven. On St. Kitts, fish was a mainstay protein eaten most days. I learned how to use fresh herbs and spices to make delicious local recipes. Here's some of my favorite dishes:

1. Virgil's Fish and Rice--there was no Alpo on the island that I could afford on a PC volunteer's budget. So, twice a week I cooked up a big pot of fish and rice for Virgil and stored it in the fridge. He got a big wedge every night. He always watched me clean the fish and would not have minded me leaving on the heads, tails and other disgusting etcs.

2. Fish with Rice and Peas--every meal on St. Kitts included rice and peas. The peas were any variety of dried beans. The fish was gently braised with aromatic vegetables like peppers, onion, garlic and tomato and fresh herbs. The sides for this meal would be fried plantains or green papaya slices.

3. Flying Fish and Fungi -- small fish were cooked in a tomato broth and served over fungi, a cornmeal mush.

4. Conchs and Rice -- near Christmas my scoundrel boyfriend would bring me this great delicacy. The meat from these huge mollusks had to be pounded to tenderize and then, you guessed it, cooked with peas and rice--and coconut milk.

5. Salt fish Cod--this dish is a carryover from when European sailors subsisted on salt dried fish for months. These hard, dry bricks of codfish had to be soaked for at least 18 hours to "reconstitute" it. It was then cooked in a mild tomato broth and served with fresh shop bread on Sunday morning.

6. Seviche--is a top quality fresh fish that is marinated in lemon and lime juice. The acid in the juices "cook" the fish. Seviche is served as a starter or appetizer. I learned to make this fish from a German woman whom I taught to speak English. Her husband was an engineer with Curtis Matthes Manufacturing on the island. Prior to St Kitts, they lived in South America where she learned to make this dish.

Well, there you have it--a few ways to cook fish Caribbean style. So far as I know, everything is pretty trustworthy in these recipes. All whoppers avoided if possible. Now head over to Olive's place where you may find some actual fishing tales told.