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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fun Monday Signup for January 5

Fun Monday Signup
January 5, 2009

I began participating in Fun Mondays exactly a year ago. Thanks, Peter over at Holties House in Australia for teaching me the ropes (by the way, just checked out his New Year's greeting and those Aussies sure know how to have fun!). Since then I've met so many interesting, creative, and amusing people from all over--now friends in the great blogosphere.

Last January a regional magazine profiled a group of high achievers in the Louisville area. Each one of these women and men answered this simple question at the conclusion of their profile article: "What's on your mind lately?" Their answers ranged from silly to deadly serious. But the most striking thing was how similar their responses were. Their lives were very different, but their concerns and priorities shared a common thread. I believe the same will be true for Fun Monday participants on January 5.

So, as your host this week, I give you this question, to be answered as briefly or extensively as you like:

"What's on your mind as we close out 2008 and begin 2009? Large and small. What are often your first thoughts the minute you wake up? When you're alone and unguarded? Working? Stuck in traffic? Playing with the children? Walking the dogs? When you can't sleep?"

I'm deliberately not providing any examples, because I don't want to influence your answers. I suspect that, like the Louisvillians profiled, our answers will be the same as well. We may live differently, but we mostly want the same things out of life--and face the same challenges.

I hope you won't think this assignment is too difficult--or worse--too "crunchy granola." I'm sure that you have been spending time lately thinking about 2008 and wondering how your life will go in the new year. For sure, I have.

If you'd like to participate on January 5, just leave me your name and web address in the comments below. On Sunday, the 4th, I'll provide an updated list with links. The following brave people have already signed up without even knowing the topic:

1. Jan (will also be our host for January 12)
2. Swampy
3. Ari
4. The Misanthrope
5. Sayre
6. Tracey
7. Cruise Mom
8. Karisma
9. Janis
10. Sandy

Added after January 1:
11. Pitts Academy
12. Molly
13. Pensieve
14. Hulagirlatheart
15. ChrisB
16. Jo
17. Alison
18. Grace
19. Gattina
20. Hootin' Anni
21. Celeste
22. Margaret, Brand New Mama

So get your thinking caps on, but before you do that, have a
Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Pie and a Movie

(The most touching part of Christmas for me this year was seeing the movie "Joyeux Noel" for the first time. There were no crazy, stupid, or very funny moments, but there was, as always for the last 45 years, Cherry Cheese Pie. Our hostess for this week's post-Christmas Fun Monday is Sayre over at Sayre Smiles . Sayre asks us to share the best part of this year's Christmas and/or the wackiest part of our celebration. Here's my take on her topic.)
First the Cherry Cheese Pie--the pie that you see above has been a traditional part of our family's Christmas celebration for over 40 years. Every year we want it and this year was no exception. I had Christmas dinner with friends, but still made this pie. It wouldn't be Christmas without it. This letter is one I wrote to my sister from college when I was
19 years old
. As you can read, I'm worried about whether there will be money enough for the family to buy presents for each other. That was always the case in my family from the time I was a little girl. On Christmas morning would there be a doll and play dishes or the red Banlon sweater like all the other girls were wearing for me under the tree?

So at the mature old age of 19 I'm trying to get my family to not worry about buying gifts, but to just have a good family dinner together. That dinner would include the Cherry Cheese Pie. In the 1960s this was a very exotic dessert--cream cheese, canned pie filling and whipped topping were not on our grocery list, except for Christmas. We ate what we raised on our small farm. My older sister was babysitting for a family in town and Dorothy, the woman she worked for, made this dessert for her bridge club(bridge clubs were serious business for many women in the 60s) and taught my sister to make it. In another part of this letter I write ". . .you will make a cream cheese pie when I come home for Christmas, won't you?" She always did. And I keep this tradition going even today.

Christmas Movies -- I always try to see a good movie on Christmas Day. This year I found a treasure in the 2005 French film, Joyeux Noel. This movie touched my heart, even more so because it was based on a true story. If you're not familiar with this story, apparently on Christmas Eve 1914 in the midst of World War I a short truce is stuck in the trenches as French, German and Scottish soldiers battle each other on the border between France and Belgium. The soldiers are trying to celebrate Christmas in their own way--Christmas trees for the Germans, bagpipes and carols for the Scots and champagne and chocolate for the French. First there's carols on the bagpipes, then the Germans raise Christmas trees above their trench, then Silent Night rings out. Soldiers on all sides cautiously come up out of the trenches and walk towards each other. This leads to sharing Christmas food and drink, photos of wives and girl friends, offers to get letters to Red Cross, and burying the dead. On Christmas Day there was even a football game. Of course, there was hell to pay on all sides when the main commanders found out about what came to be known as the Christmas Eve Truce of 1914. I've ordered Stanley Weintraub's book on this remarkable story. And apparently there have been more instances where soldiers in the field have managed to do what the brass can't do--find common ground and good will, even in the midst of war.

So, for Christmas 2008, I'll remember Cherry Cheese Pie and Joyeux Noel as the highlights. Be sure to head over to Sayre's blog to read about other Fun Monday participants' celebrations.

(Special Note: you'll see in Sayre's post that I'm volunteering to host Fun Monday on January 5. If you want to play and are not scared of buying a pig in a poke, just sign up in the comments below--give me your full address as I'm not sure I can sort out Mr. Linky. Otherwise, I'll post the topic for January 5 on Wednesday of this week. Be sure and sign up before you have too much New Year's Eve champagne and forget!)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Kiwi Penguins

In the previous post I shared photos of New Zealand's Christmas Tree, the Pohutukawa. These photos were taken on a 2004 horticultural tour of New Zealand's North and South Islands. On the day when our tour group was able to see the pohutukawas in glorious crimson bloom closeup, we also had a rare glimpse of a trio of baby penguins on the Tasman Sea beach.

We were staying at the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki in the six million acre NZ World Heritage Area. Our lodge was in hiking distance of the Tasman Sea where the penguins came out at dawn to feed. So, the penguin scouts had to be up well before dawn, suited up in yellow slickers and boots, and make an hour's hike through the lush green bush. We walked in the rain that day, fording rushing streams almost up to our boot tops, clambering up mossy rocks and muddy stream banks by hanging on to thick vines and roots and getting the occasional friendly boost from the hiker behind us. All of this had to be done in silence because the penguins are notoriously shy and will not come out on the beach if they were startled in any way.

When we came out of the bush we were lucky. Three baby penguins were waiting in the shallow waters, ready to go fishing. If you look closely at this photo, you'll see three white blobs. Those were the penguins and we couldn't get any closer to them.

Here's one variety of penguin, the yellow eyed, that our babies may have been. Or they may have been a crested. Both breed in the coastal shrub areas.

After watching the penguins feed for awhile, several of our group moved away from the feeding area and did a bit of romping in the Tasman Sea themselves. Luckily they didn't have to fish for their breakfast!
New Zealand is a country of grand proportions and natural beauty from its coastal area rain forests to pristine lakes and glaciers to the snowcapped Southern Alps. I loved the friendly people, the wines, the formal gardens, the "Lord of the Rings" scenery and the wildlife. And, I must not forget the dogs--I could do a full post on the dogs I met in New Zealand. Perhaps I will soon.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kiwi Christmas Tree

Since we're taking a bit of a break from Fun Monday this week to give all the little elves a
chance to finish their holiday preparations, I thought I'd share a couple of photos of a really unusual tree that I saw on a horticultural tour of New Zealand a couple of years ago. The Pohutukawa, or New Zealand Christmas Tree, is ablaze with crimson flowers from October through December, especially along the Tasman Sea coastal areas. "Pohutukawa" is Maori for "drenched with mist" or "splashed with sea spray." because it thrives by the sea. The plant can either be shrubby as seen along the water's edge or cultivated as trees in more formal garden plantings. Trees can reach 15 feet height when fully mature.

English settlers in New Zealand used the pohutukawa flowers in place of holly for their Christmas decorations, hence the re-naming. The flower heads are frothy red pom poms that pop out of equally beautiful creamy white buds. The leaves of the tree are medium green and quite waxy to touch.

I took this very bad photo of the pohutukawa flower and actual clipping. Look at the pressed flower to see exactly how the bloom is made up of hundreds of tiny red "stems" from each bud. I probably wasn't supposed to bring this back in the U.S., but I was using the flower as a bookmark and forgot about having it. And the agricultural customs beagle at the airport didn't ask to check my book when I was flying out of New Zealand. I do remember that we saw this tree the same morning that we got up before dawn and hiked through a dark primordial green forest without making a sound in order to see two baby penguins come out on the Tasman Sea beach. What a thrill even though we could barely see them.

Here's hoping your holidays are as festive as the Kiwi Christmas Tree or as quiet and precious as the two baby penguins on the beach at dawn. All the best to you and yours this holiday season. Faye

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wreathmaking Like Riding a Bicycle?

(During this season of celebration and happiness many people are facing a tough and uncertain future. Our host for this week's Fun Monday, the Wise One over at Mommy Wizdom , challenges us to show a little love to family, friends, or strangers by performing some random acts of kindness. My approach to this assignment is not exactly random, but it is a kind gesture to some dear friends who have been absolute rocks for most of this year. They're all getting a handmade holiday wreath in appreciation. That is, if wreathmaking is like riding a bicycle, something you don't forget. . .)

Last week's Christmas Favorites Fun Monday reminded me of a forgotten holiday tradition, making natural evergreen wreaths. It's been years since I've done this, but a Christmas/birthday gathering this Tuesday evening has inspired me to try my hand again. Several of my best buddies are gathering at my sister's new apartment in a senior citizen's facility to celebrate her 72nd birthday and ooh-ah over all her holiday decorations. We'll send them home with a little token of our friendship, a handcrafted holiday wreath. If you'd like to try your hand at making wreaths, it's a simple process:

Wreathmaking supplies: hit your local tree lots and nurseries and see what they offer in the way of greenery for free (trimmings from Christmas trees) or very cheap bundles of a variety of evergreens. Here on my work table I've got hemlock, cedar, white pine and fraser fir--and holly berries for some color. You may also be lucky enough to have some of these plants growing in your own yard. Only other supplies you'll need are garden pruners, paddles of wire, and wreath forms.

Directions: get an assembly line going, especially if you plan to make more than one (I'm going for 10). Step 1 -- make small six inch bundles of greenery. Step 2-- tie one end of the wire to the wreath frame; with your right hand, lay a bundle of greenery on the frame. Step 3 -- take the wire paddle in your left hand and wrap the wire around the greenery bundle several times while holding it in place with your right hand. Step 4 -- Continue placing the greenery bundles on the frame, overlapping to cover the stems of the previous bundle. Just eyeball the wreath as you make your way around the form to be sure that it's balanced--doesn't have to be perfect. Step 5 --add the holly last throughout the wreath so that you don't knock the berries off, using as much or little holly as you like. Step 6 -- tie off the wire securely and leave enough "tail" of wire to twist into a loop for hanging. Or, if you prefer, lay the wreath on a flat surface and nestle some candles in the middle. Finally, I'll make some simple two loop red bows for these wreaths and my friends can decide whether to use them or not.

This is what my first effort of the evening looked like--a bit wobbly, but quite all right, don't you think? Hopefully, Tuesday night my friends will take these home and be reminded throughout the holiday season of how much I appreciate them. Now on Monday I'm going to be checking out what random acts of kindness other Fun Monday participants are spreading around--or what they have received. I'm sure we'll all be inspired to do more.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Done Right

(This week's Fun Monday assignment is all about what we love around the holidays. Our hostess, the woman in charge over at Mamalang's , asks us to share a picture of our favorite Christmas "thing" and our three favorite Christmas carols.)

I watched the Rick Steves' European Christmas special on PBS last night as I do each year because it reminds me of what Christmas done right is all about. Starting in London's Trafalgar Square and traveling on to the Swiss Alps with many stops in between, Steves provides an insiders look at how people of many countries celebrate the winter holidays. Regardless of the country, the essentials of Christmas--family, friends, community, customs, traditional decorating for the home, food, music, and faith--could be found.

Many years ago I really loved the holiday season. Starting in early November, I began cleaning the house from top to bottom; nursing live plants like paperwhites, amaryllis, and poinsettias into bloom at just the right time; gathering the live greenery, berries, and ribbon to make wreaths, swags, and arrangements for all through the house. I studded oranges with cloves and rolled them in cinnamon for hanging pomanders and even buffed great quantities of red delicious apples to a high sheen and piled them in pine bough lined baskets.

Finally the first week of December it was time to bring home the Christmas tree--which was my favorite thing about the holiday. The tree had to be a fraser fir from the mountains of North Carolina because no other tree branches would hold up under the weight and quantity of glass ornaments that I'd collected at tag sales, auctions, antique stores, and Christmas shops throughout the year.

If you look closely at the tree you can spot some of my most treasured ornaments. There's
the six huge striped and decaled balls that I found at an auction. There's all manner of Shiny Brite ornaments with their bold stripes and glittery sentiments like "Silent Night" or "Joy to the World". Shiny Brites were popular in the 1950s. I also had a great collection of fancy shaped reflectors that went around each colored light. When the tree lights came on it was magic. In addition to the balls, icicles, and pendants, my all time favorite tree decorations would have to be the German and Czech glass ornaments of every imaginable shape--houses, fruit, vegetables, animals, lamps, teapots, birds, clocks, Santas, and even the good luck pickle.

Underneath the tree, all the presents were wrapped in simple paper and tied with real ribbon. That is, except gifts for Zack the crazy border collie, whom you all have met on many occasions, and his brother Frank the chow mix with his white "taillight"! Their presents went in gift bags, which as you can see, was not nearly secure enough to last until Christmas.

After the Christmas tree, hearing the music of the season has to be way up there on my list. Mamalang asked that we share our three favorite Christmas carols. That would be really hard, so I'll share the three music collections that I've just bought for this season:

Celtic Christmas--is a Windham Hill Collection. A new collection is released every year. I love these recordings because they remind me of the music of my childhood in the Appalachian Mountains, like the English ballad "Barbara Allen".

A Midwinter Night's Dream--by Loreena McKennitt is a real event. McKennitt is also Celtic in feel. All her recordings are artistic journeys with the lyrics and instruments exploring a theme. Favorite carol on this one: "In the Bleak Midwinter."

Wintersong--by Sarah McLachlan has her arrangements of old standards like "Greensleeves" with heartbreaking harmonies. On this CD "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" carries a wish that we all have in this season.

So, there you have my favorite Christmas thing and the sounds that I'll be playing this holiday season as I try to do Christmas right. Now be sure to head over to Mamalang's and check out how other Fun Monday participants plan to celebrate the season.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Moonin' the Neighbors

(Tacky post alert! When Ari, our Fun Monday hostess from over at Beyond My Slab asked us to share tales of neighbors from hell, one came to mind right away. The voice student who lived in an apartment above me and practiced endless arias--before I'd learned to appreciate "finer" music--for her senior recital. Then this six foot amazon songbird also took up apartment roller skating. So, on a given day I was treated to either the Metropolitan Opera or roller derby. I had plenty stories to tell about her, but I googled "bad neighbor" images and came up with the one below that reminded me of a great Crazy Zack the Border Collie story, so I'll share that one instead.)

I was not smart enough to raise a border collie. However, when I saw Zack in this litter of six week old puppies rolling around in a dairy barn I bought him from the farmer for $6.00 and brought him home to the no dogs allowed duplex where I was living at the time. We got evicted. I bought us this little house on Valley View Dr. and immediately became obsessed with growing things--grass, trees, roses, shrubs, flowers, vegetables, fruits and berries. I knew nothing about landscaping--hence the white pine planted too close to the driveway--but I read books, watched TV how-tos, and suckered my backdoor neighbor,who ran an agricultural supply store, into many Saturdays of lawn renovations and digging holes to plant trees and shrubs. I suspect that the rocks for this wall came from the yard because we encountered boulders and rocks every place we dug.

I also raised Zack the crazy border collie here and tried to keep him contained within the backyard fence. Look closely at the fence near Zack's tail. You can barely see the short grey post which held an electric goosey wire--the only way to keep him from climbing over the fence and running away. Zack learned to avoid the wire after a couple of jolts. I, on the other hand, was slower to learn and regularly shocked myself when mowing the lawn. . .

Zack was a wild, careening gorgeous bundle of pent up border collie from his puppy days. In order to visit in our home, guests had to submit to either getting feet and ankles spritzed with Bitter Apple spray or cover themselves with a quilt when sitting down. Zack loved to attack any exposed Achilles tendon with his sharp little puppy teeth. Another game he enjoyed was snatching the newspaper, magazine or book out of your hand and flying through the house hoping you'd give chase. Even better when the chase continued out the back door. That was most of the time because having a working screen door cramped Zack's style. He ripped out the screens so he could just jump through the hole and be out in the far corners of the yard with his prize with me hard on his heels. On a good day, he managed to steal from the laundry basket and parade around the back yard with my "delicates" flying from his mouth like a white truce flag.

This was my first house so I wanted to be out in the yard working every minute, even before getting dressed for work. At night I'd pile sweatpants and gardening shoes on the floor by my bed and then roll out each morning as soon as it was light enough to see to work in the yard. I'd pull on my pile of clothes, make a cup of coffee and rush outside for an hour of digging and weeding before I had to get cleaned up for work. This getting dressed was done in the dark.

On one side of the driveway I planted a bed of peonies that I'd inherited from my Aunt Draxie's garden. She had grown these flowers in her garden for over 40 years, since she was a bride. I was very proud of how well the bed had done in my own yard and enjoyed kneeling on the rock wall to tend them and cut a vase full to take to my office--one of the most pleasant early morning gardening chores.

Now the neighbor just across the street liked to take his early morning coffee on his front porch and watch all the activity in my yard. He was not a gardener and, I suspect, thought I was nuts for working so hard in my little suburban eden. One particular morning I was upended in the peony bed and couldn't help noticing that he seemed to very amused about something. When it was time to quit gardening, I climbed off the wall and called out some pleasantry to Howard. He burst out laughing and said, "You may want to check your pants when you get inside." I didn't think any more about it because he was always teasing me about what low fashion standards I set for the neighborhood.

I get inside and peel off my gardening clothes only to discover that the entire butt of my sweatpants had been chewed out. Apparently a certain border collie had hopped off the bed in the night and helpfully ventilated my britches for me! Howard got plenty of mileage out of getting an early morning moonin' from his neighbor. Zack, I'm sure, enjoyed the joke just as much as Howard.

Now stop by Ari's place and get some neighbors from hell tales that make this one seem pretty tame by comparison. Tacky? Now that's another question.