About Me

My photo
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.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Love Lost and Found, Part 1

(Musings on love and marriage is what Hoosier Girl ,our host for this week's Fun Monday, is looking for. She wants to know what we consider important in a good marriage or relationship. And, do we have any stories or images of love that we're willing to share. If real life experience were a prerequisite for participation, I'd have to sit this one out for I have never even come close to marrying except perhaps once. And, when I think of the men on my "boulevard of broken dreams" I'm not sure I ever truly loved any of them enough to live differently from how I've chosen to live for over 60 years. Even so, I know that I've had--have--a very romantic, adventurous life. Come with me to Tuscany and I'll explain. Oh yes, we'll also need to take a brief detour to England to explain the title of this post--Love Lost and Found.)

Villa L'Apparita is situated in the rolling hills overlooking Siena in the Tuscan region of Italy. According to it's owner, the writer Giovanni Guiso, it is the most beautiful farmhouse in Tuscany. Dott. Guiso made this grand pronouncement when he entertained the group of gardeners that I was traveling with on a horticultural tour of Florence and Tuscany in 2000. The farmhouse was built in the late 1400s and was indeed beautiful, especially the rosy brick facade, the arched doorways covered with clipped greenery that could accommodate horses and mounting posts in the lower level, and these lovely red roses--the flowers of love--growing up the walls.

Visiting this garden was different from other Tuscan gardens. While the surrounding landscape was beautiful, our host had more theatrical interests that he wanted to share. For he was involved with Siena's theatrical society, writing and designing costumes. He also used Villa L'Apparita as a stage for some of his productions. Before lunch we gathered in a small drawing room for a miniature opera in his puppet theater. Everywhere there were reminders that this place existed to celebrate the beauty of love, landscape, and words. Here are two examples that I've carried with me for almost ten years. They remind me of how I want to live my life.

"Jai longtemps habite' sous de vaster porticos." Baudelaire ("I have long lived under vast porticos.") This was the inscription on the stuccoed wall by the door leading into the living area of the villa. When I heard the translation, I was just floored. Like Baudelaire, I have "long lived under vast porticos." My life has been filled with exciting adventures, experiences, and opportunities. I've tried to live romantically by always saying "yes" to every new experience, trying not to hesitate or fear making the wrong decision. I have been rewarded. Sometimes my head just whirls with memories of the past and what I'm interested in right now. Even in low times--and don't we all have them--I know that life will eventually be good again. This is what you get when you're willing to live romantically.

"Perduto e tutto il tempo che in amore non so' spende" from "Aminta" by Italian poet T. Tasso ("Lost is time not spent in loving."). This quote was inscribed on the terra cotta column near an outdoor theater beside the villa. Imagine watching a play of love, grand or common, here as the sun sets over Siena in the distance. Very romantic! How wise of Tasso to remind us that love comes in many forms, except perfection. Time spent grieving for someone or something that we cannot have, or that is not right for us, is time lost. What a hard lesson to learn when you are sure that your heart is broken by a love that you cannot find or keep. It's a lesson I finally learned. Even though I may not have a life partner, I love a lot--friends two and four-legged, community, ideas, learning, books, music, travel and more. At times I wonder how I would have enjoyed sharing my life with another on a daily basis, but I do not grieve for what did not happen.

Now we'll need to save the English detour to this love lost and found tale for another day out of consideration for Fun Monday readers. Check back on Wednesday or Thursday for the rest of the story. In the meantime, be sure to check out Hoosier Girl's Coffee Table for other wise stories about love and marriage.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Dangerous" Breeds

(Sayre, our host for this week's Fun Monday, over at Sayre Smiles is looking for photos of what inspires us, what helps us have the best day possible. This is a no brainer for me. It's Willie, my 13 year old "dangerous" dog.)

This photo that came across the internets a couple of months ago just makes me laugh. I saved it because I too have one of these feared "dangerous" breed dogs. Mine is a 13 year old foundling that probably has some pit bull, among many other breeds, in his ancestry.

Willie and I joined up on an impulse around Halloween 1996. At the time I definitely did not need another dog. I already had Zack the border collie, Frank the chow mix and Dan the golden. All the dogs were older and none of us were trained. Frank was allowed to be the boss and fully embrace his chowness. Zack was a smart, under-exercised, willful working dog without a job. Dan was a handsome lump of sugar. A friend from work brought in photos of two black and white puppies that she'd found by the Ben Franklin dumpster near her home. She told my friend Sally and me we ought to stop by her place and see how cute they were. . .

So, I promptly did what I would NEVER do now. I threw a milk crate in the car and drove over to "look" at the little foundlings. I brought the little boy home with me and Sally took the little girl. I still can't believe that I would be so casual about adding this little wild card to my pack. I certainly was not the leader of the pack. It was chaotic before Willie came and got worse as time went on. The other dogs tolerated him. They shared the sofa and played with him. When we all needed a break, I put him in this rabbit cage that sat in the living room. I should have studied this photo more closely. You can see from that evil eye he was just biding his time until he could rule the world.

By the time Willie was a year old, he was already methodically asserting his boss dog status. He started with Frank, then Zack and finally Dan. They all bowed to his will, as did I. He choreographed all our movements. Any displays of independence from the other dogs caused horrible fights. I had no idea how to control them. I just tried to read the subtle signs and anticipate and deflect trouble. We lived this way until 2002 when Willie, through old age and ill health on the part of the other dogs, became an only dog. No, he didn't destroy the other dogs, but he certainly made their old age a challenge.
However, it was very wrong of me to impulsively bring Willie in our home when everything was so peaceful among the other dogs.

Willie thrived on all the special attention he got as an only dog. About the time this happened, Louisville was in the middle of a great debate about owning and controlling "dangerous" breeds like pit bulls and rottweilers. I wanted to take Willie out in public and have him behave in a way that contradicts the bad reputation these dogs currently have. So we got to work. I read books on dog behavior and training. Dr. Patricia McConnell's The Other End of the Leash; Caroline Knapp's Pack of Two, the Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs; and Dr. Nicholas Dodman's The Dog Who Loved Too Much, Tales, Treatments and the Psychology of Dogs. Jon Katz's books on living with border collies and labs were also high on my list. I also adopted Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer's principles for living with dogs. Cesar believes that this formula will result in a happy, well-balanced dog: Exercise, Discipline, and Affection. He also is a proponent of using calm, assertive energy in dealing with dogs.

By applying what I've learned about living with dogs in working with Willie, I have gained a companion who gives me a great deal of purpose, pleasure and inspiration on a daily basis. I love being stopped by people when we're walking. They study this "dangerous" dog, see how well he behaves and invariably ask: "What kind of dog is that? Looks like a pit bull?". I always just smile and answer, "You know, I'm not sure. He was a foundling. He's certainly my good old boy though."

Now be sure to pop over to Sayre's place and get the list of other Fun Monday participants so you can see what inspires them every day. I suspect that Willie will not be the only four-legged inspiration.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Traipsin' Women

(It's never too early to think about a vacation according to Patience , our host for this week's Fun Monday. She wants to know how we'll spend the upcoming summer vacation. Or, if like her family, there's no children's school schedules to consider, how and when will we get away from it all to rest and rejuvenate for what is surely going to be a hard year for many of us?

I actually just got home from the major vacation travel I'll do in '09. My walking buddy and I spent a week traipsin' all over the south. Yes, I know, it's early in the year, but travel is like eating dessert--in uncertain times better to do it early! I described our trip in a March 12 post titled "Going Walkabout" if you want to scroll down and read it before I tell you what actually happened on the trip. Warning: I'll be as succinct as possible, but we covered a lot of territory in eight days. The greatest disappointment of the walk was that I messed around with my camera about halfway through and accidentally erased all the photos I'd taken--dogs a day, people, interesting natural and man made sights that would have given you a real flavor of the walk. I've googled like crazy to find some illustrations without totally violating copyright laws. Hope I didn't steal any of your images.)

The question to be answered by the owners of these two pairs of feet was,"Do we still have a long walk in us?" After a week of walking an average of 10K daily through some of the most lively and interesting cities in seven southern states, the answer is a definite "Yes we do!" This photo was taken in Knoxville, TN after my walking buddy Sally (who earned the nickname Rocket Butt for her walking prowess) and I completed the last walk of the trip. Notice we're wearing the same kind of shoes. How precious. However, the similarities end there. The feet on the left belong to me and they were definitely not happy feet. I mistakenly walked the first day in the rain wearing MBTs, shoes that are supposed to help you mimic the barefoot distance walking of African Masai tribesmen. My hiney! We walked 12K that first day with hills and many steps to climb. At the end of the day my feet were wet and sporting baby blisters that no amount of space age bandaging could prevent the blisters from growing and getting really ugly and painful as the week went on.

I first learned about this walk through my favorite cousin. We grew up together and made the effort to see each other often even after we entered college. Last night I was re-reading letters to my sister from college days and most of them warned the family that I planned to spend time with Cousin M when I returned home from college for family visits. Cousin M was in college too so I'm sure we had a lot to talk about on these infrequent visits--boys,clothes, classes, plans for the future, parents--all the important things. Anyway, Cousin M and I reunited last summer after losing close touch for most of our adult years. She and I shared this interest in distance walking, so she urged me to sign up for this Southern Express walk which she and her husband planned to make with their local walking club which is a part of the Ohio Volkssport Association. I did and also recruited Sally to join us. Sally is always up for an adventure that involves physical activities and even more she loves to ask me the question: "So, whose bright idea was this?" when into one of my schemes too far to bow out!

I learned that most every state has local walking groups affiliated with the American Volkssport Association. They're run by volunteer walking enthusiasts. Wandering Wheels of Fairborn, Ohio is my cousin's club. A few leaders of the club did all the planning, recruiting and leading of the Southern Express trip. Forty + people of a variety of ages, interests and temperaments participated. We traveled on a comfortable tour bus to each walk location. We stayed in inexpensive but nice hotels that were convenient for the walks. There was lots of entertainment and camaraderie on the bus that you could participate in or not. And enough snacks to guarantee you wouldn't lose a pound even though you walked at least 10k per day!
Here's how the walk day went. Walking clubs for each of our destinations mapped out both a 5 and 10-12K walk that highlighted the most interesting and scenic parts of their cities. They provided written directions and maps of the area for us. Each walk was rated 1-3+ in difficulty based on terrain,number of steps, etc. At the beginning of each trip we were met by a local contact and got our books stamped and certified. Serious walkers are intent on marking off these different events. And there's a code of ethics that goes something like "No walkie, no stampie." After the books were stamped we headed out, breaking into smaller groups for the walk. Sally and I walked with Cousin M, her husband, and another couple--gratefully because we both suck at map reading! A couple of times Sally, aka Rocket Butt, joined up with another couple who were extra strong walkers. However, she mostly stuck with us because they didn't stop for lunch and we laggards did.

Finally we get to the actual walking. I'll just highlight a few details and impressions of each walk:

Day 1, Saturday, March 14--Nashville, Tennessee--12K, rated 3

--steady rain had to deal with rain ponchos, wet cameras, wrong shoe choice

--enjoyed walking and talking with Cousin M and husband, catching up on family news

--definite country music influence with Ryman Auditorium, Brad Paisley concert near hotel, musical notes imprinted in sidewalks, Printer's Alley where many country singers got their start

--spring was bursting out around the capitol grounds in flowers and trees

--I saw a definite influence of architect Frank Lloyd Wright in several buildings, streetlights and building ornamentation. The Nashville Public Square, a good example. Earned one of 12 American Architecture Awards for 2008

--first dog of the day was a handsome white retriever mix enjoying a capitol grounds walk, recently adopted from local shelter

Day 2, Sunday, March 15--Memphis, Tennessee--11K, rated 1+

--home of Elvis Presley and the blues

--bright, colorful cable cars throughout the downtown area

--Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated

--22,000 seat Pyramid stadium on banks of Downtown Harbor

--walked along the Downtown Harbor with grand mansions on the hill overlooking the Mississippi River

--saw the pampered ducks and bronze dogs of hades at the Peabody Hotel. Saw the rooftop duckery where the pampered quackers are kept when not making a grand parade through the lobby of the hotel. The elevators had duck feet mosaic tiles on the floor
--went looking for blues and BBQ on Beale Street. Found BBQ at Pig on Beale a 1950s bar and
restaurant, appreciated by the locals for its good mix of blues, country, and rock 'n roll bands. The "Pork with an Attitude" probably comes from the overworked and understaffed waitress who kept turning people away at the door with threats that the wait would be a long one--it was

--horse drawn carriages on Beale Street and downtown had great dogs as the co-pilots. Two favorites were a proud boxer and chow-pomeranian mix that looked like a little red fox

Day 3, March 16--Baton Rouge, Louisiana--10K, rated 1

--Spanish Town historic district old neighborhood with homes still decorated with remnants of Mardi Gras celebrations. Houses owned by a mix of artists, working class, and professionals. The artistic influence could be seen in the bold paint colors for camelback
bungalows and narrow one room wide shotgun houses

--bright pink flamingos were all over the area as Baton Rouge proudly embraces this standard for tackiness as their own special symbol

--dog of the day was a gorgeous border collie romping on the state capitol grounds with his owner, catching a Frisbee and then happily following her off leash as she pushed a baby carriage down the street on what seemed to be a familiar route for them
Day 4, March 17--Ocean Springs, Mississippi--5K, rated 1+

--easy day's walk around the Halstead Bayou Nature
Center and trails
, looking for alligators and birds of the marshlands--saw the birds, missed the alligators

Day 4, Continued--Mobile, Alabama--5K, rated 1

--easy stroll through Church Street East historic district, beautiful area with many homes showing a plaque for historic home registration

--bought a used book at Bienville Books on Dauphin Street

--saw a tree decorated with Mardi Gras beads

--took a photo of Cousin M and Sally in front of the National Junior Miss headquarters doing a proper beauty pageant wave, lost that photo with all the rest

--started really missing blog friends, but couldn't remember my new password to get on the internet

--my buddy and I were hitting a wall, tired of living out of ziplock bags, missing Willie. We asked Sally's husband to put out an Amber alert for us, but he wouldn't!

--had a great oyster dinner at Wintzell's Oyster House and celebrated St. Paddy's Day--lots of atmosphere and characters in this old oyster bar. One "Irish" lassie with green braids and a very short skirt came in to celebrate. If she'd dropped her shillelagh she couldn't have decently picked it up!

--trying to get Sally hooked on reality TV and crime shows. After dinner we watch Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, The Mentalist with sweet baby Agent Jane, and even America's Top Model

Day 5, Wednesday, March 18--Tallahassee, Florida--10K, Rated 1+ ha!

--hardest walk day. We walked in mid-afternoon, temps were in mid-80s, I despise hot weather, my blisters have turned bloody. Tallahassee has seven hills on this walk--we did all of them

--we passed the Greyhound bus station. I wanted a one-way ticket back to Louisville

--I accidentally erased all my photos. "No image" was not what I wanted to see on my camera

--I did however love the red striped awnings on the old Capitol

--and this sculpture on grounds of the governor's mansion. It's called "Follow the Leader" and gives me the dog of the day photo

--Sayre, if you should still be reading this epic to this point don't think I'm 'dissing Tallahassee. Just the most challenging walk of the whole trip

Day 6, Thursday, March 19--Madison, Georgia--0K. rated Shopping Break!

--rated as +1 Small Town in America, historic Madison was said to be too pretty for General Sherman to burn on his march through Georgia. The Hunter House is a great example of Queen Ann architecture and is referred to as Gingerbread House--get it?

--filled with interesting shops around the town square. I bought a very cute baby gift at Cotton's, aptly names because the town was built up around the cotton economy in mid-late 1800s. Couldn't resist Dog Ear Books just off the square. Sold new and "experienced" books. Met a beautiful black and white feminine cat named Evie

--Sally and I had a relaxing lunch and rest at Amici's on the town square. Pleasant to sit outside and drink a tall iced tea and tuck into a memorable salad called The Bistro--romaine lettuce topped with sundried tomato, red onion, mushrooms and London broil strips sauteed in lemon butter and dressed with warm Marsala wine vinegarette. Yum!

Day 7, Friday, March 20--Atlanta, Georgia--10K, rated 1+

--walk started in Centennial Olympic Park, site of the 1996 Olympic Games, just across the street was CNN headquarters

--passed the Olympic Flame Tower and on to Turner Stadium, home of Atlanta Braves

--had a retro lunch at Johnny Rocket's in the Underground--old fashioned service and politeness at a fast food joint

--coming up from the Underground we saw and heard musicians in a drum circle. They were playing the west African djembe drums, like these players at Piedmont Park

--I was familiar with djembe drumming from having recently seen the excellent movie The Visitor starring Richard Jenkins as an isolated,disengaged college professor who joins life again because of his interest in a young djembe drummer who gets in trouble and needs him

--chess players on a lunch break were intent on their al frescoe games in several city squares

--World of Coca Cola exhibition--just the shop not waiting in line to drink unlimited Coke samples for the price of admission

--after Atlanta walk we got back on the bus for drive to Knoxville, TN for last day's walk. Our little group of six walkers celebrated the end --almost--of a successful walk with Long Island style pizza in of all places Tennessee

Day 8, Saturday, March 21--Knoxville, Tennessee--10K, rated 2

--left hotel at 7:30 a.m. for last walk. Bus would head north around noon. We were all ready

--Knoxville deserved the #2 rating--very hilly, especially to get to the UT campus. I spotted a street named Summit and thought "Yes! The hills are conquered." Imagine how sad I was to discover that the street was named for Pat Summitt, Tennessee's legendary women's basketball coach!

--World's Fair (1982) city recreational area with outdoor concert bandstand. Site of Rachmaninoff's last concert

--Tennessee riverwalk--saw a team of women rowers from Minnesota University putting their boat in the water and rowing off down the Tennessee River--synchronized beauty and power

--had a wonderful breakfast at a charming country restaurant on Market Square and saw an impressive final dog of the day--a Great Pyrennees

Now if you've managed to get this far, I admire your stamina! And be sure to check out other Fun Monday vacation plans. Would I do this kind of walk again? Well certainly as long as the company's good and the feet are healed.