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.

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.