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.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Yin and Yang Sisters

Messiness is the topic for this week's Fun Monday. Gattina, our host over at Writer's Cramps ,wants to see a photo of what we'd call our messy place. If I were still working, it would be my entire office. Colleagues used to stick their heads in my work space and mutter something like "You better hope the fire marshal doesn't show up." or "This must be your job security--who would be willing to clear out this place if you were ever fired?" That was some time ago, three years to be exact since I retired.

In my home I live a very pared down existence with minimum stuff to leave messy. However, I do have a messy situation in my life that causes conflict and frustration--the challenge of caring for an older sister with whom I have very little in common. We are the yin and yang sisters.

My sister and I were about the same age, probably 14 or 15, when these photos were taken. M (on the left) is nine years older than I. Recently I've been scanning and organizing family photos and when I studied these photos of us side by side I thought: we are so different on every level. And, it got me thinking about how different our life paths have taken. We could not be further apart in personality and interests. I see these contrasts in our photos and the effects on our relationship now--over 40 years later. Over the past year, my care taking responsibilities for M have grown--to what seems like full time some weeks. This is not how I planned to live out retirement years. I hoped to spend my eagerly anticipated retirement years freely pursuing a quiet, creative, almost scholarly lifestyle. However, that's not my current reality.

My family has never been very close. Now it's only my sister and me left except for a brother in another state who doesn't involve himself in our lives. That's the way it has always been. My sister left school at 16 and stayed home with my parents, working for a few years as a housekeeper/babysitter. She never married, nor did I--one thing we have in common. I loved school and saw an education as the way to ensure a happy independent future for myself. I left home for college and never returned, managing to graduate from college without any support, financial or otherwise, from my family. Work took me to many different places, but never back to my parents' house except for obligatory visits.

After my parents died, M lived independently, which was just the way she liked it. She dealt with some chronic illnesses, but nothing serious. She built a big network of friends, keeping in touch with many people by phone and extensive correspondence. She never learned to drive which was not a big issue in the small town where she lived. I made regular trips to see her and help with any business that she couldn't sort out. I will have to admit that these were strictly duty visits--a stepping up to the plate because no one else would. I became my sister's "fixer."

About this time last year I had to re-locate my sister to Louisville, where I live. She lost her apartment to a fire and her health and ability to manage on her own was declining. We had a rough few months trying to live under one roof. And there was a lot of stress in having to sort out all the red tape of moving her, finding her new housing, and lining up medical and legal provisions for her ongoing care. I did this alone without much cooperation from M. But, after a year, things are on an even keel. My sister enjoys her safe new apartment and the companionship of other women her age in the apartment building. She has good medical care and never has to worry about affording her prescriptions. She spends her days chatting with friends, watching TV, and keeping up her extensive correspondence. I live about 10 minutes from her so am always on call for chauffeuring, shopping, laundressing, business responsibilities. I am my sister's fixer. Most days my "halo" is a bit crooked because I think: how did this happen? And why is it that in every family there plays out this same drama? Mostly though I feel sadness and regret that I've lost the freedom to live the way I always planned without being bound by someone else's needs and expectations.

Now dear readers, this is the closest you'll ever see of me lying on the virtual psychoanalyst's couch on this blog. I usually go for something happier here. But, if we're sharing the "messy" places around us, this yin and yang sister relationship would have to be what I'd write about. What about you? Are you dealing with the same issues? If so, how do you manage?

Be sure to hop over the Gattina's place and see what other messes need tidying up.

(Image credit for yin yang symbol at the top of post: www.redbubble.com )

Sunday, July 19, 2009

John Thornton Makes Me Cry

In Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, John Thornton asks Margaret Hale to marry him and is stunned and hurt by her angry rejection: "He took up his hat. 'One word more. You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by me. . .I have never loved any woman before. My life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absorbed with other things. Now I love and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part.'

Margaret, changing her whole tone and bearing to a most womanly softness, said 'Mr. Thornton, don't let us go on making each other angry. Pray don't!' He took no notice of her words. . .smoothing the nap of his hat for half a minute or so; and then, rejecting her offered hand, and making as if he did not see her grave look of regret, he turned abruptly away, and left the room. Margaret caught one glance at his face before he went. . .she thought she had seen the gleam of unshed tears in his eyes and that turned her proud dislike into something different and kinder, if nearly as painful--self reproach for having caused such mortification to any one." pp 128-9 North and South

Yes, John Thornton makes me cry even now as I type this passage. I've read and re-read this novel over the last couple of years, watched the 2004 BBC adaptation of the story many times, and seen interviews and fan videos of North and South. Without fail, this story of the "antagonistic friendship" turned romance between John Thornton, the northern cotton manufacturer, and Margaret, the southern clergyman's daughter, always touches my heart.

Fun Monday assignment: I've been thinking about this post for a long time and now Mariposa, our host for this week, over at Mariposa Tells gives me the opportunity to write this ode to North and South. Mariposa wants us to talk about TEARS--what images spring to mind when we think about crying? Sadness? Joy? Laughter? Well, truth be told, in real life I'm more apt to swear than cry. But the human stories I experience from good writing, drama, or music will always cause the tears to well up in me. Caution: I may "overestimate" your interest in 1800s English literature and drama so just take what you like from this post--the story itself, the interesting interviews with the actors, the memorable characters, or the beautiful fan videos. I have just been wanting to collect all this background in one place. So, here you have all things North and South:

North and South is the story of light and darkness, have and have nots, class wars, pride and prejudices. But mostly it is the story of several principled people who begin their relationships by mistrusting and misunderstanding each other. These rough beginnings evolve into friendships across class divides, appreciation for different ways of living, respect for worthy adversaries. It is the story of parents' love for their sons and daughters. Most of all it is the love story of John Thornton and Margaret Hale--one that began with strong dislike on her part that changed to great respect for him, especially when she saw the great lengths he would go to protect her reputation, even after she rejected him, for a rumored indiscretion that threatened her reputation in Milton.

Characters and setting: first we have The Southerners: Reverend Hale, his wife,daughter Margaret and son Frederick. Reverend Hale was a parson of a small parish in the village of Helstone, Hampshire. The village was an idyllic place for the Hales--green, sunlit, rose-covered parsonage. The parson and his family were much loved by the villagers. Margaret spent much of her childhood in London society with her Aunt Shaw, but came home to Helstone to help with her father's work when 19 years old. Frederick,joined the navy as a young man and ended up in a mutiny against a deranged sea captain. He was forced to flee to Spain to avoid capture and hanging for the mutiny. The Hales had not seen Frederick for many years.

Mr. Hale decides he can no longer, in good conscience, continue to support the teachings of the Church of England. He becomes a Dissenter, deciding to leave his parish and move the family north to the industrial town Milton where he will find work as a teacher. Neither Mrs. Hale nor Margaret want to move, fearing that they will not be able to live in a place so different from their beloved Helstone.

The Northeners in Milton: John Thornton is a young wealthy cotton manufacturer at Malborough Mill. He has a reputation for being a progressive mill owner, a tough but fair master to his workers. Thornton's chief ally and business adviser, is his mother, Hannah Thornton. Mrs. Thornton is fiercely proud of her son and his accomplishments. When John was 16 years old, his father speculated in some risky dealings causing the family to lose everything and then he committed suicide. John left school and he and his mother and sister Fanny lived a bare bones existence, putting aside money each week to repay the creditors long after they had forgotten the debt. At their first meeting, Mrs. Thornton told Margaret and Mrs. Hale this about her son: "Go where you will, the name of John Thornton, manufacturer and magistrate, is respected by all men of business and sought after by all young women of Milton." Margaret got off on the wrong foot with Mrs. Thornton by responding: "Surely not all of them?"

The other Northener that's central to the story is Nicholas Higgins, a mill worker and union organizer. He is known by all the mill owners as a man to be feared, a terrific firebrand. He meets Margaret when she first arrives in Milton. He admires her "bonny face" and spirit and appreciates her friendship with his daughters Bessy and Mary. The relationship among the Hales, Higgins and Thorntons is a tangled one that eventually evolves into a mutually beneficial business relationship and friendship, but not before they are almost destroyed by a strike at all the Milton mills. Higgins does a great favor to Thornton by clearing up a misunderstanding that Thornton holds against Margaret--making way for them to pursue their love for each other.

The two years that the Hales spend in Milton are hard. Margaret writes to her cousin Edith: "I am so lonely. It is so cold and harsh here. Everywhere there is conflict and unkindness. I have seen hell and it is white--snow white." (speaking of the cotton fluff that floats in the air in the mills). The Hales live in reduced circumstances. Mr. Hale teaches at the local lyceum and also takes on private students. John Thornton is his prized pupil. They spend many evenings studying the classics--that is, when John can take his eyes off Margaret! Mrs. Hale soon becomes gravely ill. Out in Milton, the mill workers go on strike, led by Nicholas Higgins. Children starve. Margaret sympathizes with the workers which puts her in conflict with the Thorntons. Death comes to the Hale and Higgens' households. Margaret and Thornton clash regularly even as the attraction builds between them. Margaret's reputation is damaged by secretly getting her brother Frederick home to visit their dying mother. There is trouble involving Frederick and Margaret, but she cannot tell Thornton about the visit. As the local magistrate, Thornton intercedes on Margaret's behalf in a police investigation even though he is tortured by Margaret's rumored unmaidenly behavior.

Against this background of social and labor unrest, Gaskell plays out the love/hate relationship between Thornton and Margaret. He loves her because in many ways she is like his mother--stern, principled, proud. When John is troubled or in need of advice he goes to his mother, Hannah Thornton. She does not approve of his attachment to Margaret, but urges him to go to her and make his case because she believes Margaret would make him happy. When Margaret rejects him, this proud young man kneels by his mother's chair begging for comfort. He says: "I was right mother, Miss Hale will not have me. No one loves me but you." This fan video, "Tears of an Angel" is a beautiful description of Thornton's feelings for the two women in his life:

In addition to the music videos I also found this interview with Richard Armitage who played John Thornton and Daniela-Denby Ashe who played Margaret Hale in the BBC adaptation. This interview was so interesting because you get to hear how they worked together. And they were so well suited for the characters as Gaskell described them in the novel. Plus, Richard Armitage always has such an in depth, intelligent approach to the characters he plays. As a bonus, I wanted you to see the rail station scene at the end of the film. I've seen many fan videos of this scene. No wonder Richard became the new Darcy--what a kisser!

Finally, this fan video featuring the music of Clifford Ward, "The Best is Yet to Come" perfectly sums up the twists and turns in Margaret and Thornton's relationship. I especially love the last scene when they are sitting close together on the train heading back to Milton. Each is lost in thoughts of their future together--a happy one.

I'm amazed if you're still reading at this point. You get the prize for endurance. I'm happy to have all these North and South favs collected in one spot. If you haven't read the book or seen the film, I highly recommend them. And, if you've got a romantic bone in your body, John Thornton will make you cry happy and sad tears at some point in the story.

Now be sure to check out the other Fun Monday crybabies over at Mariposa's place!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer Escape to Sherwood Forest

(How are we spending the lazy hazy days of summer? That's Janis' question over at Life According to Jan and Jer , our host for this week's Fun Monday. She asks us to share favorite outdoor activities and ways we keep cool in the summer heat and humidity. Frankly, I despise and complain about summer weather from May to September. But, never fear, thanks to Netflix I can regularly escape to Sherwood Forest where it's always cool and exciting.)

Okay, to be totally honest I would never have thought about watching this BBC series which puts a modern spin on the legend of Robin Hood if it
were not for him. Yes, the lovely and brilliant English actor Richard Armitage plays Sir Guy of Gisborne, a major villain in the series. RA totally won me over playing John Thornton, the smouldering northern cotton manufacturer in the 2004 BBC 1850s costume drama North and South. So, I was happy to follow him to Sherwood Forest(actually filmed in old growth forest near Budapest, Hungary)to see him play the chief thug and enforcer for the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.

First a little stage and character setting: Series 1 opens with a boyish Robin of Locksley just returning to his estate from five years fighting the Crusades in the East with King Richard I for the rights of Christian pilgrims to journey to Jerusalem. When he arrives home accompanied by his freed manservant Much, Robin finds that his estate has been usurped by Guy of Gisborne under the new Sheriff of Nottingham's authority. Even worse, the old sheriff, Sir Edward, and his daughter Lady Marian have been driven out of Nottingham by this new sheriff. Villagers around Nottinghamshire were being systematically plundered, terrorized, starved, and taxed by the Sheriff to build his treasure chest and finance a rebellion against King Richard while he is away from England fighting in the Holy Land.

Robin's Hood: Robin returns from the Crusades weary of bloodshed and suffering from what we now call post traumatic stress disorder. He sees how his people are suffering under the new sheriff and immediately begins to challenge his authority. Since Guy of Gisborne has claimed his estate, he and Much retreat to Sherwood Forest, emerging to help the villagers and rattle the sheriff and Guy. In the forest he and Much are attacked by another band of outlaws and end up banding together to fight for the villagers. In this photo you have, as they called themselves Robin Hood, from the left: Robin Hood (Jonas Armstrong), Much, Little John, Will Scarlett and Allan A Dale.

Notice the costumes. No green leotards, tunics and feathered caps here. The Hood's look is kind of an Old Navy meets grunge, don't you think? Guy is into black leather at all times except that one time when we see him bare chested in the fire light trying on new armour. :-) The sheriff is kind of Versace meets drag queen. And then there's Marian with her modern hair cuts--one at the hands of the sheriff in the public square as a punishment for defying him--, braided bodices, riding pants, and Night Watchman's cape and mask. Very cool.

The Love Triangle-- the most interesting twist to this telling of the Robin Hood legend. Robin and Marian were sweethearts before Robin went Crusading. He was interested and pleased to see that Marian was still unmarried when he returned. However, Marian was not so impressed with him. She had been doing much of what Robin wanted to do on his return--feeding the poor, running interference for the villagers, masquerading as the Night Watchman delivering food and medicine to the poor. She thinks Robin is immature and a showoff. But she is attracted to him and wants to use her position as a lady to wrangle information out of the sheriff's camp--to be the spy for the people and help him.

And then there's Guy. What Robin has, he wants, especially a woman with the status of Sir Edward's daughter. At first Guy's efforts to win Marian repulses her ("Guy is sniffing around me like a spaniel" she tells Robin). Then she realizes that she can use Guy in a variety of ways, so she launches her charm offensive. As the story develops, Marian becomes much more to Guy than a status symbol. His love for her and jealousy of Robin Hood begin to unravel him, especially when he wants to protect her from the sheriff and she resists. In some of the publicity for the series, it was written that women under 30 were in love with Robin Hood and the over 30s were wild for Guy of Gisborne. You'll understand if you watch the series! This was funny also: apparently a young male fan wrote a review where he complained of too much "snogging" going on for his 13 year old tastes. . .

In order for you to fully appreciate exactly how much pure escapism and fun to be had from watching Robin Hood, here's a very short video trailer for Season 1:

BBC just showed the last of Season 3 in June. So far we can get the first two seasons on DVD or Netflix rental. Although the last two seasons get much darker, Robin Hood is truly entertainment for the whole family. There's plenty of archery, riding, sword fights and other high jinks. Very little bloodshed is shown, even when villagers are getting their tongues cut out for not ratting on Robin! There's really subtle humor that adults would appreciate. And there's surprising parallel to modern events--crooked politicians, excessive taxation, war in the Middle East and damaged soldiers trying to fit in back home, greed, lust for power and suspicion of other cultures. And then there's Marian, Robin and Guy--who will win the lady in the end? So, if you're still looking for a summer's escape I highly recommend heading to Sherwood Forest with the Hood!

Be sure to check out Janis' place for some other summer past times--perhaps a little closer to home.
(Photo Credits: RichardArmitageOnLine.com)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bryan and Mutt

Like big brown friendly dogs with black snouts? Like Bryan Adams ballads? Well, look what I found this morning when wasting time trolling YouTube. Enjoy and you're welcome.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Harem Cookout

(Celebrating independence is the theme for this week's Fun Monday. Grace, our host over at Mama Rehema's , asks us to share how we observe our country's Independence Day. That's July 4th in the U.S. This year was a special one, a Cookout for the Harem, prepared by the Sultan himself.)

On the right is the Grilling Sultan, called Laddio in less formal situations. He has just recently upgraded his deck and was most eager to entertain his harem of six middle-aged women with a patriotic cookout. His chief assistant is Hallie the Pit Bull and sister of my own boy Willie. In the photo above Hallie is checking to be sure everyone will have their drinks of choice properly iced down.

Sally, the Number One Wife, is the only married member of this group of long time friends. Therefore, she very generously shares the Sultan with her friends--we call ourselves Laddio's Harem. He takes us out to dinner and on rare occasions is loaned out to "screw" for us--that is, putting up window boxes, curtain rods, etc. Here's the benevolent Sultan relaxing with his harem while the brats and burgers grill. As you can see, he enjoys his role:
How lucky we are in these friendships of over 30 years. All started by working for the same company for all these years. I'm the late-comer to this group and that was over 20 years ago. When we're together, I look at each of them and wonder how we've stayed friends for so long. We are so different. There's Z the social animal, J the witty and smart geek squad, S the hard-working romantic and Sally my heart friend and partner in many adventures. We don't necessarily share the same interests. In fact, sometimes we don't even understand what the other is talking about, but there's a glue that melds us together. It's is the experiences of a lifetime--work, relationships, family joys and troubles, illness, dog love, adventures.

So Friday night we sat out on the deck until almost 10:30 pm. We ate brats and burgers with all the trimmings prepared by our Sultan. And, after some trial and error and much needed direction from Hallie on how to get the ice cream maker cranking, we finished off the evening with homemade strawberry ice cream under the summer's night sky.

After I got home I read the ending to the last work of the Irish journalist and writer, Nuala O'Faolain, before her untimely death in 2008. In Best Love, Rosie Nuala writes of the challenges of late middle-age and how many of our support systems fail us in our later years. One thing we can always count on though is friendship in its many forms. Here's what Rose sees in her motley crew of friends at her own birthday celebration:

"The breeze was blowing the hair on all five heads in the same direction--so that you'd think, to look at them, that they belonged together: that they were all in the same little gang. But I knew how many hesitations there were between them--and between me and them. And it made me like them even more: that I knew how every one of them found it hard to get life right, and still they were willing to make a celebration, still they were generous. . .Yet I was moved by our middle-aged selves much more than if we had been young. It seemed a wonderful thing that we had come out of our separate lives and gathered on the top of a ridge for no reason but that we were friends." p. 368, Best Love, Rosie by Nuala O'Faolain

So, there you have it, Grace. My independence day celebration--good food, friends and a reminder of how precious the role played by each of these people in my middle-aged life. Now be sure to check out other Fun Monday celebrations. I suspect they'll be similar to mine.