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, February 22, 2009

Drover Hottie & Oscar Picks

(Looking for February 23 Fun Monday post? Just scroll down to "Kitchen Counter Tour".)

With the discovery of Netflix several months ago, I've become quite a film buff. Love getting those red envelopes in the mail and watching the DVDs on my home computer with Willie curled up under my desk. I have found treasures on Netflix. Movies both mainstream and independent, that have entertained, educated, and excited me. They ranged from British period drama to World Wars I and II to conflict and culture of the Middle East to complicated interpersonal relationships with family, friends, and lovers.

I also love seeing the first run movies on the big screen. From the above ticket stub collage, it looks like I'm in a pretty good position to pick the Oscar winners at tonight's Academy Awards ceremony. I'll watch the show just to see the spectacle of stars behaving graciously or badly, the fashions, and three hours of Hugh Jackman, the Drover Hottie from Down Under.

I don't have a particular movie, actor or director that I'm hoping will sweep the awards. I appreciated all of these movies for different reasons. However, here's my brief take on this past year at the movies, beginning with the Oscar contenders:

Doubt -- saw both the play and movie and still can't decide if the priest was guilty of child molestation or just buffering the boy from a harsh home life. There was evil on all sides. (Philip Seymour Hoffman delivered a chilling, puzzling performance as Father Flynn. Worthy of Best Supporting Actor.)

Revolutionary Road -- we all know the Wheelers (Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio) the perfect couple of the 1950s suburbia, living privately desperate and separate lives.

The Wrestler -- the brutality of the ring for has been been wrestlers was hard to watch many times. That brutality was balanced by the Ram's clumsy, but sweet, efforts to find redemption in the love of a woman, his daughter and the ring. (Mickey Rourke delivered a Best Actor performance and Marisa Tomei did the same for Best Supporting Actress. P.S. I am so getting me a hula hoop.)

Slumdog Millionaire -- Original premise. Chaotic glimpse into the life of orphans from the slums of Mumbai and how they survived by looking out for each other. (Danny Boyle deserves Best Director for such a sweeping film.)

Frost-Nixon -- Michael Sheen (Frost) and Frank Langella (Nixon) were the perfect counterpoints in this camera battle. Lightweight TV host takes on brooding, disgraced, but still power hungry, president. Who knew interviews on Vietnam and Watergate could be riveting? (Langella should win Best Actor.)

Milk -- I love Sean Penn for his chameleon-like ability to become someone else--from Huey Long to the grieving father in Mystic River to Harvey Milk, gay activist/San Franscisco city supervisor. In Milk, Penn nails the voice, body language, sadness, anger and humor of a gay man determined to bring about change. (Penn deserves Best Actor nomination, but he probably could care less about winning.)

Rachel Getting Married -- Anne Hathaway played a masterful role as the damaged daughter/sister/addict who gets out of a treatment center to be in her sister's wedding. I now know for certain why I hate parties and drawn out gatherings.

Defiance -- since December I've seen a series of films about WW I and II. This inspiring true story of the Bielski brothers' saving over 1,000 Eastern European Jews from the Germans in the Belarus Woods during WW II, put to rest the mistaken claim that "Jews won't fight." (Deserves Original Score award.)

The Duchess -- Keira Knightley played an 18th century ancestor of Princess Diana with eerily the same marriage and political path. (Ralph Finnes was excellent as the older, distant and cruel husband who only wanted a male heir from his young duchess.)

Australia -- Great sweeping Australian landscapes; Hugh Jackman tanned and riding a horse; Hugh Jackman putting the uppity noblewoman Nicole Kidman in her place and then winning her love; Hugh Jackman respecting and protecting the aboriginal people. Indulgent film making by director Baz Lehrmann? Who cares? (Be fine if wins Best Costume.)

The Reader -- saved the most complicated for last. I'm still thinking about this film. A 15 year Michael Berg is caught up in an intense love affair with Hanna, an older woman. They make love and he reads to her. She disappears. They meet again when, as a young law student, Berg observes her on trial for Nazi war crimes. Berg discovers that in his former lover's eyes there are secrets more shameful than murder of Jews in concentration camps. (Kate Winslet delivers a transformative performance as Hanna and deserves Best Actress. Ralph Finnes, as the adult Berg, played a controlled character, similar to his role in The Duchess, who was incapable of reaching out to his former lover until it was too late.)

Other movies I'm glad to have seen this year:

Gran Torino -- Clint still has it even in his 70s.

Last Chance Harvey -- Sweet. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson take a chance on love.

Secret Life of Bees -- memorable interpretation of Sue Monk Kidd's novel about a southern sisterhood of strong women helping an abused young girl.

Then She Found Me -- Colin Firth as a bumbling, lovable single dad who loves his son's teacher.

When Did You Last See Father? --Colin Firth being creepy.

Momma Mia -- Abba and Meryl Streep--what fun!

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas -- The son of a Nazi concentration camp commandant and a Jewish boy imprisoned in that camp form a true friendship.

Well, I'm listening to the awards show while typing this and my picks are not doing very well. That's okay, because the great thing about movies is that we're free to interpret and enjoy--or hate--as we like. All for the price of a ticket, bag of popcorn, and box of Junior Mints.

Kitchen Counter Tour

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday is Ari over at Beyond My Slab . She wants us to share a photo of our kitchen counter. The big question--can we resist doing a little straightening and staging before taking the photo? Well, since I'm not trying to sell my kitchen and originally titled this post "Good Enough", I'll follow Ari's directions.)

I redid this kitchen a few years ago, replacing the flooring, appliances, and countertops. Also painted the cabinets and walls in my favorite color range black-brown-tan. Joe the Remodeler referred to the countertop selection as "poor man's granite." I have the fabric to make some cafe curtains(brown checked)whenever I get around to it.

In keeping with the minimalist approach throughout my house, you'll not find much in the way of gadgets and appliances in this kitchen. I'm satisfied to do most food preparation and cleanup chores by hand. Notice the white bowl in the right hand sink. That's the garbage bowl trick that I learned from Rachael Ray. As I'm cooking any vegetable trimmings, empty cans, etc. go in this bowl until cleanup time. I don't need a garbage disposal. Nor do I need a dishwasher. It's good enough to handwash dishes and let them drain on a rack by the sink.

Moving on to the left, you can barely see some fruits and vegetables in green bags. These bags are the Debbie Meyer's fruit-vegetable keepers of infomercial fame. They actually work. I can keep bananas for over a week, cutting out expensive runs to the grocery store. Those bananas and some frozen fruit and yogurt can be thrown into the little blender with some ice cubes to make yummy smoothies when I'm trying to eat healthy.

Eating healthy comes and goes. Proof of that is the mixer and baking supplies at the ready on the counter. I've been baking cakes and bread the past few weeks. Last week it was oatmeal cake which I had every morning for breakfast. Before today is out I'm making pumpkin bread with cream cheese filling. Does that sound like the cure for the winter doldrums?

Well, this is probably the most boring kitchen tour you'll do this Fun Monday. Be sure and check out other more inspiring kitchens from Ari's place.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Day's Foot Gear

(Our host for this week's Fun Monday is Gattina over at Writer's Cramps . She dares us to expose our winter feet by modeling what we wear in the house--slippers, flip flops, or nothing. Sorry Gattina! I thought I could do it when I signed up, but I've lost my nerve for which readers should be grateful. Instead, I'll show you a day's foot gear.)

Many years ago I was a shoeaholic. My Dexter loafers had to have the regulation beef roll. I had the first pair of round-toed pumps--navy Nina's--when everyone else was still wearing pointy toes. I gave up stilletos for clunky stack heels. Then there were the pastel ballarina slippers to match every outfit. You get the idea.
Somewhere along the way my feet got tired and sore from standing on them all day earning a living. Now my shoe rack is pretty dull as you can see in the lineup below:

Starting in the upper right, I'll describe the foot gear I wear on an almost daily basis. And, by the way, Willie's foot gear is in the photo as well.

Black loafers--these stay by the front door. First thing in the morning I slip into these and put the red leash on Willie that's hanging on the door knob. We then make the loong-g-g walk to the curbside newspaper box. I counted the steps this morning and it's about 30 strides to collect the paper. Willie doesn't care. You'd think we were heading out on a marathon by his level of excitement.
Black flip flops--these are my all season indoor shoes because my feet get really hot. At the end of the summer I always buy an extra pair for the winter.
Grey ragg socks--these I wear inside if it's really cold. When the power goes off for a week I wear two pair of these!
Blue Iditarod booties--these belong to Willie. More about them later.
MBT walkers--these funny looking sneakers are what I'm wearing to train for a six day volkssport walk through five southern states in March. These shoes were designed by a Swiss engineer to mimic the benefits of walking barefoot on natural ground. His inspiration was an East African Masai tribe who are legendary barefoot walkers. The thick rocker-shaped soles create an instability that forces you to stand straight when walking and engage your leg and hip muscles more completely. All I know is that a few miles in them is a real workout!
Black wedgies--the closest I have to dress shoes and always right with my black slacks uniform.
White athletic socks--if I'm not wearing the black socks, I'll wear these white ones with the blue lines for pilates. They're ventilated and my pilates instructor, Julie, can tell when she needs to get after me for rolling my feet out in some of the exercises. The fancy word for that is pronation, I believe. So if my blue lines are straight, Julie shouldn't be ragging me about letting my feet roll.
Now back to Willie's iditarod booties. As you can see in this photo he's not nearly as appreciative of them as he should be. They're actually quite special. His Aunt Jane and Uncle Robert are great fans of Alaska and the annual iditarod dog sled races. They brought these authentic dog booties back from one of their many trips to Alaska. They enjoy being around the dogs and the mushers. In fact, in some years they've volunteered to work at a rest station along the over 1,000 mile race course. They'll serve meals to the mushers or do recordkeeping or help with dog supplies. Here they're at a musher training camp getting a little ride from the dogs. It looks like everyone is having a great time, doesn't it?

Now I'm eager to see which Fun Monday participants had the nerve to show off their feet or their bunny slippers! Be sure to check Gattina's blog for a list of feet on display.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sweepstakes Winner Date from Hell

(This week's Fun Monday is all about place--descriptions by words or photos that define where we live. Our host is Pamela over at The Dust will Wait . Thankfully, she's given us many options for this post. We can describe the geography, a man made monstrosity, a unique culture, a famous person from our place--or--find something new to excite our readers. Of course, we're not surprised that our host, she of the lite dusting, would give an out for those of us who've written entirely too much about home and place lately. So, I'll take Pamela's last option with my tale of the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes winner date from hell. You may not be excited unless you've entered the PC sweepstakes in the past, but you may find some amusement in my story!)
Around the end of the year I started noticing the commercials on TV urging us to enter the annual Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. You know, the one where the Prize Patrol van arrives at some one's house totally unexpectedly (it's the truth, I swear) with balloons, excited neighbor onlookers, and a huge check for 10 million dollars to surprise a lucky winner of grand prize that they won just by mailing in an entry form--no magazine subscription purchase required. When I see the commercial I think two things. One, there was a time when I was so financially strapped that I prayed to win the sweepstakes and entered it every year. Two, how many people actually believe that the sweepstakes is for real? Well, I don't enter anymore, but I do know someone who actually won a PCS prize, S the Accountant, my sweepstakes winner date from hell.

In the late 1970s I had just returned to the U.S. from three years of heady, exciting living and working in the West Indies. As do a lot of young people, after a spell of adventuring I wanted to come home. Home was a small college town in the Appalachian foothills where I had gone to school. I was hired by the university to run their adult education learning center. Every day I got to help adults learn to read, study for their GED high school equivalency diploma, or learn to speak English as a second language (this for foreign students or their families who were studying at the university). The work was great, the dating scene not so much.

If you're familiar with small college towns, you know that it's slim pickins' in the dating department. Most of the eligible--and desirable--men are already taken, usually by your good friends! So in the late '70s I was half-heartedly dating S, the chief accountant for the university. S was not particularly handsome (okay, I know that's shallow, but I was young!), rather boring but reliable and respected on campus. We were floundering along with the occasional dinner and movie date. Then S went big time!

He called me all excited--for S--with the news that he had just been notified by Publisher's Clearinghouse that he had won a $27,000 promptness prize in that year's sweepstakes! Now I wasn't surprised that he won the promptness prize--he was, after all, an accountant. But, in addition to the prize money, he was invited to fly to New York City, along with the other winners from across the U.S., for a whirlwind publicity tour of the city. He would stay at The Plaza Hotel on 5Th Avenue, travel by limousine, dine at the greatest restaurants, see a Broadway play, tour the Publisher's Clearinghouse out on Long Island and meet the CEO and employees responsible for the sweepstakes. Professional photographers would follow the winners for the whole tour.

And, he could bring a guest--me! Would I go with him IF I could be assured of having my own room? I can just imagine S making clear to the tour organizer that his guest would need her own room!! I said "Yes" because it sounded like a great adventure and I knew that S needed reinforcements. He had never flown before. I remember him clutching my hand when we lifted off at the Lexington Airport. He was very smart, but totally lacking in social skills. My job was to be his buffer and help him enjoy the trip. On reflection, I deserved more than my own room at The Plaza--I should have had combat pay!

I could tell so many stories about S the Accountant taking Manhattan, but will be selective. The best stories centered on S's wardrobe, especially a short butterscotch (you couldn't even call it a caramel) colored corduroy coat with a faux fur collar that he bought at the local Maloney's Department Store (where you could also buy furniture or a shovel). When S showed up in that coat at my house I knew that my lovely red wool coat that went so well with my shiny black hair cut al la Dorothy Hamil didn't stand a chance!

S and I got checked in the fabulous Plaza and went our separate ways to get settled in. First time I'd stayed in a place ritzy enough to have mints on the pillow and my bed turned down. Back to S's coat, though. Our first activity was to meet the other prize members in the Palm Court of the Plaza and head out to dinner. I got downstairs first and was enjoying meeting the other people. The 10M grand prize winner was a nice young couple who owned a dime/variety store in Florida. So, we're chatting along when MY date walks in the Palm Court with his tie in hand! The man does not know how to tie his tie! Believe me, his guest (me!) would have loved to help him in the privacy of his room. Instead, a couple of the guys in our party took him to the side and tied his tie. He then puts on his fine butterscotch coat. We get into our private limo for the drive to dinner--at Windows on the World Restaurant on the top of the World Trade Center. (How sad to remember that beautiful place which is no more after 9/11--it had just opened in 1976.)

When we arrive at the restaurant, the limo driver suggested that S leave his coat in the limo since we would take the same limo back to the hotel. He balked, saying that he'd just bought that coat and didn't want to lose it! Reluctantly he did take it off, but not before writing down the limo license plate number and chauffeur's name. Can you imagine the all-points bulletin that would have gone out to New York's Finest if that coat had gone missing! The next night we dined at The Four Seasons without a coat incident. This time it was a cutlery intervention that was required. Even with all the stress of helping S tread the social waters, I still remember the glittery dining room and my first taste of French chocolate mousse.

After that first day I learned to anticipate S's potential social blunders and the rest of the group accepted him for what he was--a good, smart, unsophisticated man who hadn't seen much of the world. It was great to be able to see and experience some of the best of New York in such great style. The highlight of the trip was actually touring the Publisher's Clearinghouse and meeting the employees, including the those who actually drew the winning entries--including our Florida friends--for that year's sweepstakes. So, in these hard economic times, you may want to think about entering the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes, but think twice before agreeing to accompany a winner to New York!

Now be sure to check out what makes the places other Fun Monday participants live special. That's where I'm headed before the day is out.

P.S. Please excuse the overuse of parentheses today. I don't know why I needed so many. . .

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Iced In!

(Tales of human survival, strength, and resiliance in the face of great conflict and challenge have been high on my reading and film lists over the past couple of months. The characters and events have been as varied as World War I trench warfare and temporary truce among German, French and Scottish soldiers; Englishmen/women sent to an Australian penal colony; Iranian -American journalist working for Time Magazine in Tehran; Jewish partisans who took on the Germans in the Belarus Woods in World War II, Dresden bomb survivors in WW II; Austrian student activists who opposed the Nazis; the Polish pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, escaped the Warsaw ghetto and hid starving in one room for two years from the Germans; and, last, a young Muslim woman who fought the Serbs in the 1992 siege of Sarajevo.

Our host for this week's Fun Monday is Bookworm Extraordinaire Angela over at the
The Lurchers . Angela wants to know what we're reading now. Are we enjoying it? Why? Why not? Well, like any Fun Monday blogger who has a story she wants to tell, I think I can make my tale of survival fit Angela's topic. See what you think.)

Earlier last week I finished Lipstick Jihad about a young Iranian-American journalist's account of her struggles to live in both the U.S. and the Middle East. Check out my Shelfari listing if you want to know more about this book. After finishing Lipstick, I immediately began reading the novel, Pretty Birds, by Scott Simon, host of NPR's Weekend Edition. Simon has covered ten wars, from El Salvador to Iraq. Pretty Birds, his first novel, is the story of Irena Zaric, a Muslim teenager who was the victim of ethnic cleansing waged by the Serbs during
the seige of Sarajevo in the early 1990s. Irena was a teenager at top of her game: pretty; star basketball player for her high school girl's team; reader of pop culture magazines; admirer of Madonna and the Clash; good friend; wearer of Air Jordans; and owner of a pet gray parrot, Pretty Bird, whom she taught to make the sounds of Sarajevo from the whirring of a washing machine to the staccato punches of mortar fire.

The good life vanishes when Irena and her parents are driven from their apartment, brutalized by Serbian thugs, and forced to cross the river which divides the city of Sarajevo to live on the Bosnian side. Daily life is a string of horrible realities in order to survive in a war zone--moving about their apartment in a crouch so they won't be shot through the windows by snipers, carrying water and dodging bullits, stealing from the dead to buy food, eating boiled grass, being isolated from friends. Eventually Irena is recruited and trained to be a sniper for the Bosnian side because of her reputation as an athlete. "Pretty birds", as the girl snipers were called , were highly prized soldiers--they freed the boys and men for the front lines; they were small, swift, and hard to detect as they moved around the hills of the city or through bombed out buildings. They were like birds in flight, here and then gone.

Luckily this was a page turner from the beginning. I needed something to take my mind off my own struggles here in Louisville. I needed a reminder that people manage in a crisis--dare I say, even learn from their misery? I've tried to keep all these survivors in mind since last Tuesday, January 27, when Kentucky was hit by the worst ice storm in recent history. All of Kentucky was paralyzed by the rain-sleet-ice-snow-ice that hit us without let up. In Jefferson County alone over 174,000 homes were still without power on Saturday. Here's a photo account of how we survived the storm on Summit Court:

Tuesday, January 26--the power went of around 10:00 p.m. Outside I could hear first the rain, then sleet coming down. The house immediately starts getting cold. The temperature drops and in the early morning hours I'm awakened to the terrifying cracks and crashes of falling tree limbs from all over the neighborhood. I go from window to window trying to see what's going on. I see big limbs down in the yard, perhaps on my neighbor's car. I hope it's not the entire tree. At 5:a.m. the power comes back on for about an hour so we can get the initial news reports. More tree branches crack and crash and the house is dark again.

Wednesday, January 27--this was the view out my front door at daybreak:

My neighbors and I stood in my front yard and watched this tree break in half over the street that leads into the Summit Court cul-de-sac, tearing down more power lines as it crashed. We are stuck. None of the houses have power.

So, we're officially without power, only communication is by cell phone (even worse for a blogger and e-mailer, no internets!). My sister lives in a senior citizen's apartment nearby. She thankfully is just fine. My neighbors start packing up and leaving to stay with friends, relatives, and in hotel rooms. Willie and I decide to stay. I drag out the storm box which contains candles, matches, batteries, flashlights and a can of sterno. I rig up this "stove" by the back door so I can kick it outside quickly in case it catches on fire. We can have hot coffee--which makes me happy--while the snow starts to come down seriously and add to the ice weight already on the trees
I decide to keep a storm journal of what happens and how we deal with each crisis. Notice the "we". As the week went on Willie was my only company, except for two cell phone calls each day to save the charge. Willie, two phone calls and the newspaper. Thankfully the Courier Journal was delivered every day. My only contact with the outside world. It was troubling to read about how people were suffering, including seven deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Thursday, January 28--the power is still off. The house is seriously cold. More snow is falling and the temperature dips to 12 degrees Thursday night. I make coffee and heat soup on the sterno stove. Willie and I stay wrapped up in everything we own. I read Pretty Birds with a booklight and Willie is by turns bored and sleepy. This is his bored look.

Friday, January 29--the power is still off. The house is frigid. The temperature hit 11 degrees before daybreak. It's getting lonely. I keep writing, recording the ice storm of January '09 for posterity. Up in the day, Willie suggests that we walk out in the neighborhood and see what the storm has done. I don my snow/ice cleats and we head out, camera in hand. Here's what we saw:

The happiest sight was at least a dozen power trucks just a few streets over from Summit Court. Adjoining states sent in crews to help restore power to the over 205, 000 dark and cold homes in Louisville. I wanted to hug them! As late as 11 p.m. I could see and hear them working on lines the next street over.

Saturday, January 31--up in the morning the boys of Georgia Power pulled their trucks in the cul-de-sac. Good things began to happen! New wires were strung and at 4:10 p.m. we had power. Hurray for the Georgia Power Boys!

It still looked like this on Saturday afternoon, but we had survived without leaving home--no harm done. And, I also finished reading Pretty Birds today. Highly recommend.

Now Angela's final question was what one book would you take with you if stranded on a desert island? That's easy. I'd take a big blank journal so I could write my own story. Although, it wouldn't be about surviving an ice storm, do you suppose? Now be sure to check out everyone else's Fun Monday reading list.