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, August 30, 2009

TV Love

Oh dear. I'm afraid this is how I look when in the grips of my favorite TV show. Except I usually wear pants. . .
Fun Monday topic for August 31 is TV viewing. Our hostess with the mostess is Janis over at Life According to Jan and Jer . Janis asks us to share a bit about our tastes in television programming. Since September is TV premier season, what shows do we look forward to--either old favorites or a new possibility? Well, as you'd guess from my "double" photo, I love television. Usually don't turn the TV on until evening, but there's something almost every night that I don't want to miss. In fact, my buddy S still complains about having to stay in our hotel room on vacation to watch Dancing with the Stars and America's Next Top Model when the rest of our group went out on the town for dinner after a hard day's walking.

So, when dark falls on Summit Court I crawl in one corner of our brown leather sofa and Willie takes the other corner. We make no pretense at multi-tasking to justify time in front of the TV, like reading, flipping through a magazine or folding laundry. Heck, most of the time we don't even have a light on. Our sole purpose is entertainment. Here are the favorites by category:

News/Current Events
BBC America World News--preferred evening news because you get one hour of national news in context with what's going on in the world, good in-depth interviews from unexpected sources.
Meet the Press -- best Sunday AM news show, admire David Gregory as moderator because he's fair and balanced and have no hint of his politics--good thing for a host.

Crime/Police Shows
The Closer -- Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson, lately of Atlanta, takes on a male chauvinist L.A. police department and earns their respect when she turns into a confession-getting ninja disguised as a dumb southern belle.
Lie to Me and The Mentalist -- very smart observations of behavior, psychological profiling to identify the criminal. And Simon Baker, aka Sweet Baby Jane, is just irresistible in The Mentalist.

Globe Trekker -- smart young guides help us tour some of the world's most out of the way places, on the cheap. Especially love scruffy Ian Wright and the way he's game for any local fracas. Doubt that he brushes his teeth the whole tour. . .
The Amazing Race --great concept of couples flying off to all corners of the world where they complete physical and mental challenges that demand that they work together in a strange culture. Being a closet travel snob, I also like to say, "I've been there, done that." :-)

Project Runway -- ten young fashion designers compete weekly for the Top Designer title of the season. Heidi Klum, Seal's wifie, is the runway host, Tim Gunn is the designers' mentor, and judges are Michael Kors and Nina Garcia (Elle Magazine)
Tim Gunn's Guide to Style -- spin off from Project Runway. Tim takes on individual clients who need wardrobe rescues in the real world and teaches them how to select and wear clothes that are fashionable and right for them. Tim's fashion mantra is: Ten basic wardrobe pieces selected for silhouette, proportion and fit. . .

Top Chef --on Bravo, ten aspiring chefs already working in their own or other well-known restaurants compete in various challenges--catering a movie premier buffet for 200 ppl, for example--for the title of Top Chef
Next Food Network Iron Chef -- established chefs compete to become a member of the select Iron Chef's club. Totally agreed with Michael Simon's being selected last year.

Viewing Gifts from BBC
Masterpiece Theater -- 9 pm Sunday night--be there be square for the best English drama from Jane Austen's Persuasion to Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit.
Masterpiece Mystery -- Foyle's War set on the coast of England in midst of WW II, Inspector Lynley Mysteries pair blue blood and blue collar for an unbeatable crime solving team with a good measure of romantic tension thrown in, Wallander set in a sleepy Swedish town--local detective battles increasingly violent crime and personal demons.
MI-5 or Spooks --working from Thames House in London, a small group of intelligence officers (spies) work to protect the UK from international terrorism, and other threats to the peace. Richard Armitage just joined the Grid in Season 7 as Lucas North, a MI-5 operative who has been held in a Russian prison for the past 7 years. Also, my lesson in patience since we won't be able to see it, except for snatches on YouTube, until early 2010.
Robin Hood -- Richard Armitage as the evil Guy of Gisborne battles Robin Hood for control of Nottingham and Maid Marian's heart--plenty of swashbuckling, horse riding, sword fights, brotherhood, thievery,and intrigue to satisfy the whole family. Season 3 starts on September 6 on BBC America.

Entertainment, Simple and Not So Pure
Dancing with the Stars --Gilles Marini, of Sex in the City fame, dances the tango with Cheryl Burke. 'Nuf said.
American Idol -- please don't embarrass my hometown by telling the audition judges that your hobby is shooting rats at the local dump on Saturday night.
Survivor -- will the real sleaze please step forward? And is there a clause in the contract that says you must show your butt or boob in every challenge?
The Bachelor and The Bachelorette --I should be required to do community service for watching this trash, but still I do even though it's wrong on so many levels. (Jillian, I warned you that Ed was a jerk, but you had to hear it from US Weekly before believing it, didn't you?)

Now I fear that I've vastly overestimated your interest in TV viewing at this house. Don't spend too much time here. Instead, be sure to check out other Fun Monday TV obsessions--it may make you feel less guilty about how you waste your time! :-)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Keith Urban & Little Matt

Here's you a little "feel good" story for the weekend. It has been state fair time in Kentucky this past week. One extremely cute little eight year old, Matthew, is probably still on Cloud 9 after getting invited up on stage to perform "Kiss a Girl" with Keith Urban at one of the headliner concerts of the state fair.

Matthew came to the concert with his parents. He was dressed in jammin' clothes and had his guitar--which he started playing at the age of five. He also had a bright orange poster on which he had written: "I Want 2 Play Kiss a Girl W U". They were sitting in the second row from the stage. When Keith launched into "KAG" Matthew's mother tried to caution against disappointment, but a guy in the seat beside them hoisted Matthew up on his shoulders. Matthew waved his sign. Keith saw it and motioned him up on stage. And one little boy got his wish:

The rest of this story is that Matthew has a rare bone disease and was unable to run and play outside with other children. He spent much of his life since age four traveling back and forth between his home in Elizabethtown and Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. He and his mother passed the time inside listening to country music. When he was five, he got his first guitar and started taking lessons. And then on August 23 before 50,000 people Matthew took the stage. On his website, Keith called him "the bomb." And he's right! BTW, Keith is "the bomb" too for giving this little boy his time in the spotlight.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fun Monday -- Back to School?

Fun Monday
Back to School?
August 24

Late August signals the beginning of the new school year for students of all ages. For weeks stores were packed with students and parents selecting just the right clothes and supplies to get ready for the first day of school. Schools were cleaned and refurbished. Planning meetings with teachers and administrators were held to be sure that everything is in place for the start of school. College students loaded up all their belongings and left the family home for a year of dormitory living, study, and frolicking. Then last Thursday around here the big yellow buses began making their rounds, taking students off for their first day of the 2009-10 school year.

How about you? Do you also have that "Back to School" feeling even though you're all grown up? As your host for this week's Fun Monday, and perennial student myself, I'm asking you to share your thoughts on the importance of lifelong learning:

-- Do you still think of yourself as a student? A lifelong learner? Or, did you "finish" your education when you earned your highest diploma, degree or completed a training course to prepare for a particular job?

-- What are you currently learning? Something job related to improve your work performance? Technology skills to keep up with modern styles of accessing information and communicating? Personal skills such as financial management, stress relief, family and interpersonal relationships? Expanding your borders through travel, learning another language? DIY home improvements? Hobbies and leisure activities--knitting, ballroom dancing, writing your memoirs, car maintenance, gardening, photography? You get the idea--the list of learning options is endless.

-- How do you enjoy learning? Taking a class? Online study? "How to" books or DVDs? Tutorials on computer or TV? One on one with instructor or coach? Practice on your own?

As of Sunday evening, just before I need to stop tippy tapping to watch Masterpiece Theater and Globe Trekker, here's the list of Fun Monday participants who have signed up to share what they're currently learning--or interested in learning. Be sure to check everyone out over the next few days. Also, if you want your name added to the list, just leave me a comment and I'll get you on right away. Finally, our host for August 31 is Janis over at Life According to Jan and Jer . Check back with her after Wednesday for next week's topic. Thanks Janis!

1. Janis (host August 31) -- Life According to Jan and Jer
2. ChrisB -- Ms Cellania
3. Karisma -- Karisma and Kids
4. M(the misanthrope)-- M is for Misanthrope
5. Debs (first time player--welcome!) -- Daydreams in the Shed
6. Hulagirlatheart -- Growing Older But Not Up
7. Stephanie -- Mama Drama
8. Bobbie Leigh -- Welcome to Bobbieland
9. Sayre -- Sayre Smiles
10. Jo -- Chocolate and Other Things
11. Michelle, Evan's Mom -- Mama Drama
12. IamwhoIam -- Dungarees Ablaze
13. Gattina -- Writer's Cramps
14. Mommy Wizdom -- Mommy Wizdom
15. Swampy -- Anecdotes, Antidotes, and Anodes
16. Church Lady -- Living Life in PA
17. Jill -- The Adventures of Lil Mouse
18. Gracie -- Mama Rehema
19. Mariposa -- Mariposa's Tales
20. Sandy -- Myanderings
21. Ari_1965 -- Beyond My Slab
22. Hootin' Anni -- Hootin' Anni's

A favor--if you have a problem with any of the links, please let me know in a comment. I'll try to get it cleared up. After all, no fun in laboring over a post if no one comments, right? (Postscript: I just doublechecked all the links and they work fine--blogger gremlins keep away!)__________________________________________________________

Now here are two quick examples of what I'm learning right now. I think it's good to be involved in a variety of learning, feeding the mind, body and spirit. Hopefully, I'll always be excited at the thoughts of learning something new.

Geek Squad: I am so lucky to have a very good friend who is my guru for all things technological. Although she's not quite as cute as this little Geek Squad, J has other talents that put her at the top of the list. Before I retired she helped me purchase a home computer with enough bells and whistles to keep me happy for several years. J understands the secret language of computerese--she speaks html fluently. She also understands how I learn best. She is very creative and an excellent digital scrapbooker. My very tasteful header is her creation. It pleases me a great deal. Although J does not blog, she loves learning about web design and helps me improve the appearance and publication of my blog. There's only one area that she's failed me miserably, that's installing a "Smiles of Harry" screen saver so I can obsess daily over the lovely British actor Richard Armitage. . .

Here's how we work: I keep a running list of technology questions and when there's enough J will make a Geek Squad house call after work. She shows me how to sort things out in layman's language and leaves me with these crib sheets that I can follow for a variety of tasks from scanning photos to defraging my whatever that needs defraging. In return I allow her to pet Willie the pit bull (she has two Cujos and a victim in her dog family) and send her home with a delicious sack dinner. Perfect!

Pilates: every week I meet another friend, S, at the Core Pilates Studio for a duo pilates session. We've been working out with a young thirty-something instructor who combines her knowledge of pilates and nursing to ensure that we don't hurt ourselves for almost three years now. We're not very good at the practices, but we show up and try. Mentally pilates keeps me connected with two good friends and helps ease some of the stresses of everyday life.

Physically, pilates slows down the effects of aging by building core strength and stability, balance and coordination. With consistent
pilates exercises, I feel taller, and have more muscle strength and flexibility. We alternate between sessions on the various pieces of equipment and mat work using the different size and weight balls and resistance bands. We get so much out of these classes that neither of us would willingly stop, even if it became necessary financially to cut back. Pilates would be the last to go.

Now I'm also working on my own to improve my blog. More about that in an upcoming post. And , like you I'm sure, there are many unfinished projects that could be finished--like a beautiful log cabin quilt or creating a digital photo album of my travels--whenever I take the time to learn that next step.

Thanks everyone for playing this week and I'll be around to visit all of you to see what I can learn from you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fun Monday Sign-up - August 24

Fun Monday Topic: Back to School
Date: August 24

Last Thursday the big yellow school buses hit the road, picking up students from all over the county for the first day of school. Those students ranged from scared and excited kindergartners to sophisticated high schoolers. However, I'm sure they all shared the same feelings: excitement at meeting old and new friends, concerns about liking and getting along with new teachers, were they dressed "right", and would they fit in this year? Some may even be thinking about what they'd be learning this year--would they like their subjects and could they do the work?

How about you? Do you also get that "Back to School" feeling even though you're all grown up? As your host for this week's Fun Monday, and incurable student myself, I'm asking you to share your thoughts on lifelong learning:

--Do you still think of yourself as a student? A lifelong learner?

--If so, what would you like to learn? Something job related to improve your work performance? Technology skills to keep up with the modern times? Personal financial management skills? Stress management strategies? Playing bridge? Belly dancing? Writing? Better blogging? Speaking another language? Car maintenance? DIY home improvements? You get the idea--the list of learning options for adults is endless.

--Are you currently taking a class or online study? What is this experience like? What are you learning?

--If not actually in a class, how do you learn something new? Tutorials on computer or TV? How to books? One on one with an instructor or coach? Practice on your own?

If you want to participate in the "Back to School" edition of Fun Monday--and I hope you do--just leave your name and web address in a comment. On Sunday evening I'll provide an updated list of participants with links. The following eager learners have already agreed to play:

1. Janis (and our host for August 31--muwah!)
2. Karisma
3. M(the misanthrope) aka Margaret
4. ChrisB
5. Debs (first time player)
6. Hulagirlatheart
7. Stephanie, Mama Drama
8. Bobbie Leigh
9. Sayre
10. Jo, Chocolate and Other Things
11. Michelle, Evan's Mom from Mama Drama
12. IamwhoIam
13. Gattina
14. Mommy Wizdom
15. Swampy
16. Church Lady
17. Jill, Lil Mouse
18. Grace
19. Mariposa
20. Sandy
21. Ari_1965
22. Hootin'Anni

Also, who would like to host on August 31? You would? That's wonderful!

    Monday, August 17, 2009

    Keeping Warm, Catching on Fire

    The topic for this week's Fun Monday is scars, either kind--physical or emotional. Jill ,our host for this week, asks us to describe scars we may have, how we got them, and what did we learn from the experience. I have a large heart-shaped scar on my right leg and into adulthood extensive scar tissue on my right hand. The scar on my right hand is not so noticeable anymore, only I know it's there. I got both scars in a childhood accident trying to keep warm.

    In the 1950s my family lived in several coal mining camps along the C&O railroad in eastern Kentucky. The camps were Big Shoal, Little Shoal and Keiser Hollow, getting their names from the Big Sandy River along which the railroads ran. The camps were built by coal companies and rented to miners who dug the coal from the mines in these hollows. That coal was shipped out of the region to fuel industry in the eastern and northern parts of the US. The houses in the mining camps were sorry affairs by the 1950s. Most were three to four rooms, including the kitchen.

    Our houses were heated by open fireplaces in the bedrooms and a cast iron cookstove in the kitchen. Coal from the defunct mines was stored in
    coal sheds near the house and served as the main source for heating and cooking, along with some wood to get the fires started. It was so cold in the winter that we were never warm enough. Most families grouped 3-4 straight chairs around the fireplace and once you claimed a spot you didn't want to move because someone else was always ready to take your place. Water for bathing was kept hot in the reservoir of the kitchen cookstove. The warmest place to bathe was behind the cookstove.

    So when winter set in, the fireplaces were heaped with coal and kept burning into the night. Another trick that I used to keep warm was to wear one of these chenille robes in the evening. (Sorry for the somewhat hoochie photo, but this one was most like the robes I wore with the big flowers around the bottom of the robe. And this color was quite popular in the '50s.) On cold nights I stood in front of the fireplace as close as possible, warming my front until it got too hot for me to stand and then turning around to bake the other side. One night I accidentally caught my robe on fire. Of course, it has been so many years since this happened. But I do remember trying to run through the house--which I understand is a very typical response (I didn't know the "Stop, drop and roll" drill that all children are now taught). I remember my mother grabbing me and snatching a bedcover off the nearest bed and wrapping me in it to smother the flames. I escaped with only burns on my leg and the very painful one on my right hand. I also remember that the treatment for the burns was to rub them with butter--which we now know better than to do.

    What lessons did I learn from this experience? Well, keep a safe distance from the fireplace no matter how tempting. But most importantly as an adult I refuse to freeze in my own house. I keep the thermostat at a comfortable level even if the bill is a bit scary in colder weather. I survived the cold in childhood. Now that I'm grown and paying the heating bill I'm going to have a warm home.

    Now go over to Jill's place and check out other Fun Monday participants. Also, I'm hosting the August 24 Fun Monday. Our topic will be "Back to School". As we near the end of August the yellow school buses start rolling through our neighborhoods. With the beginning of school do you start thinking about taking a class or learning something new yourself? What do you want to learn--new technology, photography, yoga, painting, line dancing, writing? The list is endless. Either sign up in the comments for this post or wait until Wednesday when I'll put up a more complete description of the topic. Hope you'll join me and keep Fun Monday going.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    The New Forest Postscript

    Small world. Earlier this week I was thrilled to get this "Moods of The New Forest" postcard from Bournemouth on the southern coast of England. I received the card through the worldwide Postcard Crossings Project, which I've been involved in for about a month. Scroll past the previous post on peach roadtripping to read the "Postcards Crossing the World" post if you're interested in how the project works.

    Now I'm happy to get many beautiful, humorous or interesting cards from all over the world, but this one is extra special. The postcard links the present to the past as I know it through my all time favorite novel. The English writer Elizabeth Gaskell sets the first part of her 1850s novel North and South in the small village of Helstone in The New Forest. Her heroine is Margaret Hale, the daughter of a New Forest clergyman, who grew up in Helstone in the New Forest. She loved the people in her father's parish and the woods around Helstone village.

    Kelly, who sent me the postcard, wrote this present day description of The New Forest: "this pic is of the lovely views from the forest. . .in the forest live animals such as horses, cows, foxes and deer".

    In North and South, Gaskell wrote: "It was the latter part of July when Margaret returned home. (from living with her Aunt Shaw in London) The forest trees were all one dark, full, dusky green; the fern below them caught all the slanting sunbeams; the weather was sultry and broodingly still. Margaret used to tramp along by her father's side. . .crushing down the fern. . .out on the broad commons into the warm scented light, seeing multitudes of wild, free, living creatures, revelling in the sunshine, and the herbs and flowers it called forth. This life--at least all these walks--realized all Margaret's anticipations. She took pride in her forest. Its people were her people." Chapter II

    For those not familiar with North and South (I wrote an entirely too long post about the work a couple of weeks ago--"John Thornton Makes Me Cry"-- so won't re-hash the full plot) Margaret and her mother are forced to follow her clergyman father to the grey and gritty industrial town of Milton in the north when he decides to break with the doctrines of the Church of England. Leaving home in Helstone, a modest cottage covered with yellow china roses, and the surrounding sun-dappled forest was a shock for Margaret and her mother. Milton was dirty, smoky and chaotic. The people were intent on trade, not the gentle agrarian ways of the south. And to complicate matters even more Margaret was soon involved, against her will at first, with the stern cotton manufacturer, John Thornton.

    From the beginning, Thornton and Margaret's relationship was rocky,but compelling, on both sides. Both judged the other based on lifelong prejudices from their ways of life--a battle of north against south. We are not sure that they will ever resolve their differences. Margaret returns to her Aunt Shaw's in London after almost two years in Milton; Thornton loses his cotton mill after his workers strike. Margaret lives with deep regret for refusing Thornton's offer of marriage. Thornton travels to Havre to try to sort out his business affairs.

    Although Thornton is dealing with the loss of his cotton mill, he still longs for Margaret, trying to understand this woman of The New Forest. He makes a detour to Helstone on his way back from Havre to Milton. He walks the forest and spots the yellow roses in the hedgerows that remind him of Margaret. He makes one more detour in London to explore some business options. He and Margaret meet there and finally understand each other and are reconciled.

    In this reconciliation scene, Thornton says " 'Do you know these roses?' drawing out of his pocket-book, in which were treasured up some dead flowers. . .Margaret looked at them, wondering for a minute 'They are from Helstone, are they not?. . .Oh! Have you been there? When were you there? Thornton answers: 'I wanted to see the place where Margaret grew to what she is, even at the worst time of all, when I had no hope of calling her mine. I went there on my return from Havre.' " Chapter LII

    So, just when I imagined that there was nothing else for me to say about North and South, this wonderful postcard of The New Forest arrives in the mail. Thanks, Kelly, for this connection you helped me make with a favorite book. Now where would I like the next postcard to come from? I think the Middle East--maybe someone in Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan?

    (Photo credits: from the BBC's North and South, www.richardarmitageonline.com)

    Monday, August 10, 2009

    Peach Roadtrip

    Fun Monday July 10 Topic--We're talkin' peaches here. Not that these red-golden orbs of deliciousness are growing in my garden, but I do know where the best ones are to be had within driving distance. Karmyn, our Fun Monday host this week from over at Dreaming What Ifs , wants to know what's growing in our garden. Well Karmyn, the quick answer on Summit Court is "nothing" unless you count lawn grass (entirely too much), some ornamental grass or a couple of huge hostas. So, I'll have to follow the proud Fun Monday tradition of stretching the rules in order to participate this week. We'll head south of Louisville on I-65 to Jackson's Orchard near Bowling Green where the best peaches in the state are ripe and ready to eat--about a two and a half hour roadtrip.

    For the past two weeks my roadtrip partner Kittyhawk and I had been studying the peach ripening schedule on Jackson Orchard's website to time our trip for when the best peaches, in our opinion, would be ripe. We were looking for anything that had "haven" in the name--preferably Cresthaven. The "Havens" or any of the other redskin yellow freestone varieties are tops on our list. That's been the case for many years. Kittyhawk grew up in Bowling Green and I started making these peach roadtrips with her when we became friends and work partners over 30 years ago. We worked for the state department of education and always welcomed a chance to do some teacher in service training that brought us close to Jackson's Orchard in peach season. According to the '09 harvest schedule there are new varieties with promising names like Blushing Star, Redskin, or Contender. There's even some new white freestone options. Kittyhawk and I sampled some of the new varieties, but loaded up the trunk of her car with Cresthavens--enough for ourselves and sharing with friends and family.

    Jackson's Orchard sets up on a high hill, the highest point in Warren County. The farm market is nestled in the middle of the orchards of apples and peaches, other fruits and vegetable gardens. The orchard/farm store is a part of Kentucky's agri-tourism initiative. These businesses specialize in fresh fruits and produce and, in addition, give city folk a taste of the country good life. Families can bring their children to the farm to pick their own fruits, go on hayrides, pet farm animals, or select their own pumpkins. The day we were at the orchard we were amused to find a large striped cat lounging in a cardboard box on the checkout counter. The box was labeled "cat box"! A big chocolate lab, Jake, lay in the aisle and cheerfully accepted petting from the customers. That is, if you didn't mind a little pond scum. When I spoke with Jake I believe he had just cooled off in the pond.

    Gilding the Peach--as if these ripe, juicy fruits would need any help except a quick wash and peel, if you must. But in case you wanted to combine them with some freshly picked farm blueberries, butter, and sugar you could make a classic southern dessert in a few minutes--Blueberry Peach Cobbler. This recipe was on the checkout counter by the blueberries.

    So, as we head into fall I hope you're enjoying the fruits and vegetables grown on your own land or bought from local farmers. While you're at it, start some traditions like a peach roadtrip. In a few hours on the road you can catch up with a friend and bring home some peaches like none you'll eat at any other time of the year.

    Now keep Fun Monday going by sharing your gardening stories and checking out other Fun Monday participants.

    (Photos of schedule, Jackson's Orchard, and cobbler recipe all are from their website. Click on images to embiggen.)

    Thursday, August 6, 2009

    Postcards Crossing the World

    Lately I've been really eager to hear Willie's bark warning me that the mail carrier is in the neighborhood. Most days the only good thing mixed in with the bills would be the latest Netflix DVD rental. Now there's nothing wrong with that in the summer of TV reruns, but about a month ago I found something that has made getting the mail even more exciting. I was reading blogs and ran across junebug's post about the Postcard Crossing Project, a website ( Postcrossing ) which links postcard fanciers worldwide. It was a simple sign up: create an "about me" profile, user name, and description of kinds of postcards you'd like to receive. Next request up to five addresses of other postcarding participants. The addresses are assigned randomly, so the first cards I sent went to England, The Netherlands, Finland, Germany and Taiwan. In a couple of weeks I started receiving these really cool postcards from all over the world:
    In all I've sent out about 20 postcards to people in Finland, China, Russia, Poland, Thailand, Hungary, and Lithuania to name just a few countries. In return I've gotten cards from Holland, Taiwan, Finland, China, and Thailand with more to come, I'm sure. In just a few comments you learn such fascinating tidbits about other people, their culture and their country. For example: teenager Stephanie in Holland told me that she has a really nice "chamber" (bedroom) decorated with posters and rides everywhere on a bicycle. Hsueh-Lin in Taiwan plays college basketball, once on TV, so I sent her a postcard of Kentucky's giant arena where the KY Wildcats play (she said it was the best card ever!). Liissa in Finland shared some censored art created by a politician. Virenque of The Netherlands sent a card with just the Dutch flag sticking out of the water--the joke is that since most of the country is below sea level, the flag is the only way to find your way home. Of course the postmarks and stamps make the cards special as does a sample of another language like this card from Carol in Beijing, China. She shares this, what we would call a timber frame, Hall of Prayer built with no iron nails and then writes her message in both English and beautiful Cantonese:

    Now a little truth in advertising. All the cards on this display are not from Postcarding participants. Many are from my own collection--some are over 30 years old. Friends who travel abroad send me cards because they know how much I treasure them--Susie's from Stratford-upon-Avon when she was doing some college studies in London, Chuck's reminder of the romantic Grand Canal in Venice, sallymademedoit's "thinking of you" from the West Indies, kittyhawk's magical Istanbul. Other cards I collected as souvenirs of my own travels: the onion-domed Eastern Orthodox churches of Kiev, Ukraine; Tuscany's red poppy fields; England's Lake District; Canadian Rockies waterfall; Walt Disney's inspiration for the Magic Kingdom castle in Bavaria; Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris; pohutukawa, the New Zealand Christmas tree, in bloom; Gap of Dunloe in Killarney, Ireland; Mozart's Salzburg; and Mount Pilatus near Luzerne, Switzerland. As I receive more postcards I'll replace the ones from my collection with new ones of places where I may never have traveled.

    Last September when I took a pretty good tour of about eight European countries, I borrowed an idea of a favorite writer. In Without Reservations, the Travels of an Independent Woman Alice Steinbach writes of her own solitary journey "through Europe and the self." Every day, or at least from every place she visited, Alice wrote a postcard to herself describing her experiences and feelings at each point in her travels. She then mailed these cards so they were waiting for her when she got home. I did this for my European trip as well. What fun--and how revealing--to read these messages to myself when I got back to everyday life.

    So in these times when our family responsibilities, health, or financial limits keep us from seeing as much of the world as we would like, I heartily recommend The Postcard Crossing Project as a way of connecting with people from all over the world. For sure, the mailbox gets to be a lot more interesting!

    Sunday, August 2, 2009

    Salad Days

    Topic for August 3 Fun Monday--favorite summertime dishes. Our host this week is Sayre over at Sayre Smiles . She invites us to share the recipe, or directions, for making a favorite quick and easy summertime dish. Anything goes--entree, vegetable, casserole, dessert. Well, excellent timing Sayre, because I'd just gotten in all the ingredients to try out a salad recipe that, from the way it read, was going to be a favorite. Made it this afternoon and bingo! It's easy, delicious, and healthy--Red Pepper Deli's Black Bean and Rice Salad.

    One of the most enjoyable sections of The Courier-Journal, our local newspaper, is the Wednesday Cook's Corner. People enjoy a particular dish at a local eatery and start craving the recipe. The writer for this column has a great track record for wrangling recipes out of local chefs. This week it was all about salads. The local farmers' markets are exploding with the freshest vegetables of the season, the weather is hot and humid--perfect time to make salads. Cook's Corner featured three local salad recipes: Mama Grisanti's house salad, a chipotle chicken pasta, and black bean and rice salad from the Red Pepper Deli. All three were tempting, but I decided to try this one:

    Red Pepper Deli's Black Bean and Rice Salad

    1. Cook 2 C basmati (I used texmati) rice in 4 C water until al dente--only takes about 15 min., unlike long grain rice

    2. Make dressing: combine 1 C apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp. grill seasoning, 1/2 tbsp. cayenne pepper, 2 tsp. garlic salt. Whisk in 2/3 C vegetable oil

    3. Pour 1/2 of dressing over rice while still warm. Let rice cool.

    4. Chop these vegetables in 1/2 in. dice: 1 green pepper, 1 red pepper, 2 tomatoes (seed and drain the tomatoes to keep salad from becoming watery), 1/2 C red onion

    5. Drain liquid from 3 15-oz. cans black beans, rinse to remove some of starch

    6. In a LARGE bowl combine the chopped vegetables from step 4, black beans and 1 lb. frozen corn (you could use fresh corn--boil ears for only 1-2 minutes and then cut off cob) . Pour remaining 1/2 of dressing over vegetables. Marinate for about 1 hour.

    7. Then carefully combine the rice and vegetables so you don't break up the beans or mush the rice.

    8. Refrigerate for several hours to let flavors meld before serving.

    9. Serves 6-8 generously as an entree salad. It would be a great salad for a picnic or cookout because there's nothing to spoil--good cold or room temperature. I served it with some plain mixed salad greens and simple grilled salmon. Delicious!

    So, there you have it--my new favorite summertime dish. And, how I enjoy having something tucked away in the fridge so that cooking dinner requires no more effort than filling up a salad bowl and pouring up a glass of my best summer drink: an Arnold Palmer iced tea. That's simple too: just combine equal parts sweet tea and lemonade (I use Crystal Light country lemonade mix with an extra shot of fresh lemon juice). Add ice cubes and stir. Now dinner this easy leaves lots of time to go over to Sayre's place to check out other Fun Monday summertime favorites!

    (Photo credit: Pam Spaulding, The Courier-Journal)