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, September 27, 2009

Where To, Sir?

Changing places with any character from a film, who would it be and why, is the September 28th Fun Monday assignment set by our host, Ari_1965 over at Beyond My Slab . Well Ari, this is an easy one. I'd love to be Samantha (Sam)Stewart, Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle's driver in the BBC's World War II crime drama Foyle's War. Foyle's War is set in Hastings on the southeast coast of England from 1940-45. Hastings is far from London, but not from the war. The people of Hastings are very caught up in the war effort. Young men have been called up to fight, older men make up the home guard and firefighters. Both men and women work in the munitions factories and military installations providing the resources needed by English soldiers to fight the war. Around Hastings women worked the farms, many as "land girls", keeping the farms going while the men are away fighting and growing much needed food for both civilians and soldiers.

Sam Stewart (played by Honeysuckle Weeks) is a vicar's daughter who began serving the war effort in the Mechanized Transport Corps of the Women's Royal Army Corps. She was transferred from the MTC to be a driver for DCS Foyle (played by Michael Kitchen). The other member of the team is Sergeant James Milner (played by Anthony Howell), himself a wounded soldier who was sent home when he lost a leg. DCS Foyle recruited Sergeant Milner while he was still in the hospital recovering physically and mentally from his wounds. The three of them formed an unlikely team fighting the everyday crimes of a small English town. In addition to murder and thievery, the war caused people to turn to crimes of profiteering and aiding the enemy. Here's a brief look at DCS Foyle in action:

You can see from the video that DCS Foyle is played by Michael Kitchen as a very old school detective. He observes and listens, not missing much of what people are trying to hide from him. He plays by the book and is not that impressed with either the civilian or military powers that be whom he encounters in solving crimes. He understands people, both their motivations and actions. Kitchen plays Foyle in a very understated style. I've recently re-watched the whole series and found myself really studying Foyle's eyes and body language. They reveal his opinion of the person with whom he's talking. Sergeant Milner is a younger version of Foyle.

Sam Stewart is totally unlike Foyle. She is physically awkward, but totally open, friendly and talkative. She is also very curious which earns her the occasional caution from Foyle that police business is not to be discussed. She is very concerned that she does enough for the war effort. As their relationship progresses, Foyle realizes that Sam's qualities can be put to good use in solving crimes. People open up to Sam and let down their guard. Foyle has some fatherly feelings for Sam, especially when he realizes that Sam's vicar father does not approve of her police work. Foyle also has a handsome air force flyer son who is romantically involved with Sam for a time. The most Foyle ever says to Sam of a personal nature is to ask: "Are you all right? Not very talkative today." That is Sam's cue to unload whatever is on her mind--opinions about people or cases, boy troubles even if the boy is Foyle's son!

Sam Stewart may not be the most glamorous character to want to change places with, but there's a lot to love about her life. Living in beautiful southern England, even if at war. Having a job that is valuable to the people around you. But mostly getting to work with someone whom you really admire and respect for a boss. I would put only about three of my former bosses in that category. Now be sure to check out other Fun Monday dream characters. I think we'll all be surprised at each other's choices.

(Photo credit: www.anthonyhorowitz.com. For fans of Foyle's War, you may be pleased to know that a new series, Foyle's Peace, was filmed in 2009--released in 2010. Wonderful news!)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Time Travel Cooking with Julia

Sayre gives us a very intriguing "What if" assignment for this week's Fun Monday. It goes like this: if you had a week with no obligation and money was no object, what would you do with it? Going with the "first thing that comes to mind being the best answer, I decided to do a little time travel back to the 1950s and spend the week in Paris cooking with Julia Child.

Seeing the film Julie and Julia (starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams) recently reminded me about how much I was influenced by Julia Child as a college student in the mid-1960s. I was sometimes called Julia because of my enthusiasm for cooking and entertaining. Forty years later I wonder what happened to that person. Now the idea of cooking and entertaining gives me the bends. In 1965 I was a college freshman majoring in English and home economics. The English was no surprise because I excelled in it in high school. The home economics studies was the result my living arrangements that first year of college. Growing up poor in the country I learned to cook very simple food, never anything that required a recipe. The closest my family ever came to entertaining would be to invite someone home on Sunday for an after church dinner. In my freshman year I left the dorm to live with a young family off campus as a mother's helper. They had three small children and a busy social life tied into the university. There were many opportunities to use the cooking and "gracious living" skills I was learning in my home economics classes. The family and my friends--still stuck in the dorm--were willing guinea pigs for my everyday meals and candlelit dinner parties.

I have a collection of letters written to my older sister from college and most of them contain accounts of meals cooked, parties planned and executed, techniques learned in classes. Here's a sample:

-- "Dear Sis, Wasn't I really tickled to get my new cookbook. . .have about decided that I like it better than Better Homes and Gardens. I'd love to try that mahogany chiffon cake but it takes 7 eggs." January 27, '66

-- "Thursday night five of my sidekicks came over and I fixed a spaghetti dinner for us. We ate in the dining room by candlelight. It was fun." March 14, '66

-- "When I got home from class today Shirley and some of her women's club friends were in the kitchen working on the decorations for the women's club dinner we're having here. I'm helping prepare the meal and do the table decorations." May 6, '66

-- "Last night three girls and I from my foods class gave a dinner for our teachers in the home management house. We used white tablecloths with pink dogwood centerpieces. I fixed the chicken--dipped it in evaporated milk then rolled in cornflake crumbs and baked (it was the 60s!). It was 9:30 when I got home because we had to wash dishes and wash and iron the linens." May 23, '66

-- "Here's the recipe for Mexican Wedding Cookies that I made this afternoon. They're tinted pale green and rolled in confectioner's sugar. Very pretty for a party. This afternoon I made a table centerpiece from fall leaves in a copper pot. We'll use it Saturday for the homecoming brunch Shirl and I are giving before the game." October 13, '66

-- "From now on I have to fix supper all by myself on Thursday night because Shirl has Brownie Scout meetings from 3 to 5:30. I'm gonna really do it up brown--you know--fix different things we've never had and do it all myself so that I can learn to be organized about the whole thing. Steve will be so thrilled to eat my experiments for supper when he gets home from baseball practice." November 1, '66

While studying and practicing classic cooking techniques, I also watched Julia Child as The French Chef on television. I learned from her that excellent cooking and entertaining involves practice, practice, practice. When Julia enrolled in the Cordon Bleu in Paris in the 1950s she wanted to learn about French culture through its food. Later on she became passionate about teaching Americans about French cooking through her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show. In my perfect week that Sayre allows us, I'd love to work alongside Julia at the Cordon Bleu learning how to make the perfect roast chicken and chocolate mousse. After class we'd go shopping in the Paris fresh markets and then spend the afternoon in her small apartment preparing dinner for a group of friends.

Now be sure to check out other Fun Monday fantasy weeks. I've read a few posts already and all I can say is we're a mixed bag of interests!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Weekend Serendipity

Serendipity--n the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. Chick road trip. Fall scenery. Craft shopping. Bikers. Good food, artfully prepared. Art. Alice in Wonderland acrobatics. And Robin Hood. All these things made up this past rather serendipitous weekend.

Early Friday morning I met up with five friends for a day's outing to our favorite place, Nashville, Indiana. We rarely make these trip anymore because three of our group are still working. For now anyway, as they'll all be retiring by the end of the year. But for this first almost-fall weekend they decided to sacrifice vacation pay for our favorite chick road trip. So, we piled in two cars (in case someone found a great bargain that required plenty of trunk space) and headed across the Ohio River from Louisville for the two hour drive north to beautiful Brown County Indiana, which is at its best in the fall of the year when the hills and countryside are ablaze with harvest colors. (There won't be any photographs of the chicks as they get a bit tired of my using their mugs as blog fodder.)

Nashville, Indiana is home for many artists, and no wonder that so many are drawn to this small town when you see the natural beauty of the landscape all around. There's painters, potters, glass and leather artists. On the one main street that runs through town, the shops are filled with their art. and, as you might suspect, there's plenty of crafty, kitchy stuff that none of us need, but we don't resist when on a chick road trip. Example: I bought the perfect basket for my new collection of Sharpie ultra fine pens (including the new cafe colors of mocha, hibiscus tea, pomegranate grenade, blueberry, and earl grey), an antiqued tin tray and file folders decorated with travel reminders, and a very satisfactory reading lamp. J-1 gave in to a bright red purse in a great poochey shape that she didn't need, but loved. J-2 snagged some bright orange sandals with a rhinestone toe ring for wintering in Florida. S bought a pink "Life is Good" mug for morning coffee on the deck when she retires in just over a month.

We paired off for shopping to maximize our time, arranging to meet back at the Artist Colony Inn for lunch out on the front porch where we could watch the parade of shoppers up and down the main street. And one bonus for the day, we shared the town with a biker's club which was riding in Brown County for the weekend. We had many laughs about the lengths we might be willing to go to to get a ride on a Harley--leather in unexpected places, more adventurous haircuts, torn jeans and form fitting tops, even a few tasteful "tats" for the right offer! :-) We timed our drive home just so we could inch back across the Ohio River in evening rush hour traffic. No worries, just gave us more time to catch up on all the subjects that may come up on a chick road trip.

Saturday serendipity was much different, but shared a common element--good friends getting together to have fun. This time it was with another set of friends and our mission was to help open the 2009-10 play season at Actor's Theater. We're so lucky in Louisville to have one of the best regional theaters in the south. The plays are original, award-winning (as in Tony), and affordable. The theater itself is a beautiful example of Greek architecture , as you can see from this domed ceiling in the lobby and is on the historic register for Louisville.

The season opener was Lookingglass Alice, a crowd pleaser for the whole family. I love seeing little kids in their "play-going" clothes and teen and college groups dressed in their own idea of what cool artsy people wear--all mixed in with the more staid playgoers like my group who have their season tickets and the same seats every year. Lookingglass Alice was described as "an acrobatic adaptation of a beloved classic. . .part Cirque du Soleil, part Victorian storybook. . ." It was great fun to watch Alice soaring far above the activity on the stage, thrilling young and old with her acrobatics as she learns the secrets of growing up from a lively cast of characters. It just cracked me up when the kids in the audience broken out in spontaneous giggles at the antics of all Alice's "teachers."

After the play we checked out a hip, new restaurant that's just opened in a former art gallery in downtown Louisville. The White Oak is one of the new partnerships that are springing up all over the country between chefs and regional farmers. The farm-to-table movement, such as we enjoyed at White Oak, lets availability of local produce and meats determine the menu. We had down home southern dishes with a light touch. Vegetables plates looked like an artist's palette and, according to my dining partners, tasted wonderful. I had fried banana peppers and chicken with one perfect dumpling. Nothing like what my mother made for Sunday dinner, but delicious.

And then to round out a great weekend, I was home in time to watch the premiere episode of BBC's Robin Hood. I'd been impatiently waiting for the show to get to our side of the pond, having to be contented with brief scenes on YouTube. Will Robin continue to fight for the poor of Nottingham? Will he get revenge for the wicked Guy of Gisborne's murder of Maid Marian in the Holy Land? Only the next 12 episodes will tell the tale. . .

(Image credits: Google Brown County tourism, Actor's Theater, The White Oak, BBC Robin Hood.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Uh oh. It seems that this global literacy smartpants is about to lose her title. In August 2007, Newsweek devoted its summer double issue to global literacy. Put simply, and according to the major writers for Newsweek, there are things we all need to know about our world to help us make sense of it and navigate our daily challenges. More importantly, as citizens in a democracy, we can't allow others to make decisions for us just because they're in authority positions. It's our job to be informed and not just be the lazy rubber stamps for politicians and other leadership figures. With that in mind, I'll be watching President Obama's televised speech on health care reform tonight, instead of an NCIS re-run which would be a lot more to my liking.

But, let's get back to losing my global smartpants title. Back in July 2007 I took Newsweek's global literacy quiz based on the 13 broad categories you see on the above index cards. The topics ranged from international affairs to literature. At the end of the quiz you got a Global IQ score. All the time I was taking the quiz kept thinking "Faye, you have three--almost four--advanced degrees. . ." How relieved I was to finally hit 50% GIQ! In the end my smartypants results looked like this: out of the 7,000 people who'd taken the quiz, I scored in the top 20th percentile with a 60% GIQ. Loved the fun ways Newsweek described the rankings: my 60% was "We'd invite you to very important dinner parties." (I suppose I could hold my own in a deep dinner conversation?), higher rankings might get you a "You should be advising the President." A 20% GIQ got you "How about a community education class?" Lower than that the ranking was simply "Wow. No kidding?"

After taking this quiz I decided that I didn't know nearly as much as I thought I did. Plus, when you retire there's always a concern that your brain will either seize up or turn to mush. So, for over two months I working on improving my global literacy by learning something new from one of the 13 categories each day. Here's a sampling of what I learned in the summer of '07:

international -- 3,587 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq since war began in March '03
politics -- Senator Larry Craig of Idaho pleads guilty of lewd conduct in MN airport
environment -- recordbreaking heat on 1st day of fall-96 degrees, record 77.5 in 1925
faith -- faith one of greatest influences on politics, religious diversity a fact
technology -- U.S. ranks 15th of 30 developed countries in homes connected to www
business --Bush says federal government will help borrowers refinance AR mortgages
health -- American Cancer Society says lack of health care access will kill more than tobacco
sports -- Atlanta Falcons' Michael Vick charged with running a dogfighting ring in VA
music -- Luciano Pavoratti died at 71 years of age of cancer
art -- Fox Network accused of excessive censorship of presenter and award recipient remarks at Emmys
film -- many fall releases deal with Iraq war and unrest in the Middle East

As with many of my interests, the global literacy project fell by the wayside . Until last week, that is, when I found something similar in Newsweek. Only this time the challenge was more about hard news. The Smart Quiz was described this way: "even hardcore news junkies may be surprised by what they have missed. If you master this extra hard current events quiz, then you know your news." Ah ha! Newsweek, you're on! I read a daily newspaper and weekly news magazine, watch local news and one hour broadcasts of BBC America World News, and check Google News throughout the day. I know I'll destroy the Smart Quiz. . .

Again, there is a series of questions by category, like the global literacy quiz. Only this time there are only five categories: World, National Affairs, Culture, Economy, Health/Environment. Did you notice that the questions were described as "extra hard"? Well believe me. . .

My results from the Smart Quiz were, as I said before, humbling. Scores by category:

World 36% (Av 38%)
National Affairs 23% (Av 34%)
Culture 14% (Av 33%)
Ecomony 30% (Av 31%)
Health/Environment 44% (Av 39%)
Overall 29%, smarter than 3% of users who took this quiz. Average user score 35%.

Now, if your ego can handle this quiz, go to Smart Quiz for the questions and interpretation of your scores. While you do that, I'll get on the internets and find us a good recipe for humble pie! BTW, I'm back on the global literacy regimen, learning something new each day from the 13 categories. A comforting fact that I learned under "Health" on September 7: "Boomers worried about forgetfulness, Altzheimer's, and dementia should exercise the brain to increase production of new dendrites--brain cells." Use it or lose it!

(Image credit for Smart Quiz: Newsweek)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Darlin' Companion

Here's Willie in all his baby cuteness at six weeks old. Twelve years later here he is getting ready to celebrate New Years 2008. We've been together for 13 years now and he is my Darlin' Companion (Remember the old Johnny and June Carter Cash duet? ". . .you give me understanding. . .gonna stick by you, darlin' companion). Our host for this week's Fun Monday is Sayre over at Sayre Smiles and she's given us a real easy assignment since it's a holiday for the US Fun Mondayers. Sayre want us to share some photos of our fur-fin-feather or skin babies. And, what's the story on how we came to live together?

I was not thinking rationally when I threw a milk crate in the car and went over to friend L's house in response to her telephone call inviting me to come over and have a look at these two cute puppies she had found by the Ben Franklin store dumpster near her home. But, do we ever behave sensibly when confronted with a few pounds worth of sleek puppy wiggles? The thing was, I already had a houseful of high maintenance dogs, all male--Zack the crazy border collie, Frank the chow-German shepherd mix, and Dan the golden. You already know the rest of the story though, Willie was loaded in the milk crate and brought home (my good friend S took his sister Hallie home with her). We never knew anything about the previous owners and why the pups were abandoned. They were well cared for and socialized, but all our efforts to find their owners came to nothing. We speculate that they were abandoned because of the obvious pit bull in their mix. It was about that time in 1996 that it was becoming an issue to own a so called dangerous breed like a pit bull in Louisville.

For the next six years our house was a battleground. I knew nothing about handling a strong breed, especially when mixed with three other males who had been accustomed to living together in a chaotic undisciplined manner. They never fought each other. But Willie changed the mix. From puppyhood, he methodically challenged the other dogs for alpha position, starting with Frank the chow-german shepherd and working down to Dan the golden. I mostly walked a tightrope trying to quell the squabbles before they escalated to bloodshed levels. The three older dogs hung on to old age, sadly not as peaceful as they deserved. Dan was the last, dying of heart problems in 2002. Willie finally got to be an only dog

He thrived on all my attention. I was determined to turn him around with a steady regimen of exercise, discipline and affection. When I retired in 2006 we spent even more time together. He is with me 24/7 and we both love it. We take long daily walks and he is always by my side. Luckily I don't do a lot of housework so he gets to sleep a lot, important for an old boy! We spend a lot of time in this corner of the house--on the computer, blogging, netflixing, reading, writing, sometimes watercoloring if the mood strikes. Willie lies on his bed under the desk. It is not unusual for us to be here in the wee hours of the morning. It's a good life.

People who meet Willie now can not believe that he used to be such a "bad" boy. I never have to worry about him confronting other dogs when we're out in the neighborhood. In fact, he has good friends that we stop to chat with, like Cooper the yellow lab. They have peeing contests through the fence and Cooper presses into the chain link to get his butt scratched. Never a bark or snarl. Willie is just secure that's he's number 1 with me. And it's true, he's my Darlin' Companion.

Now be sure to check out everyone else's best buddies after you've celebrated Labor Day.

(Note: Swampy, if you're reading this, notice those two purple balls on the desk to the left. Meet Paris and Lindsay--remember I recommended you sitting on a couple of these in your car when you have to do those 500 mile drives? Works like a charm to relieve the pressure on your "brain". :-)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Iraq to Wyoming, Taking Chance Home

August 31,2009--4,336 U.S. confirmed deaths in Iraq since March 2003. In Afghanistan 813 U.S. confirmed deaths since October 2001. July and August of this year were the deadliest months with 153 coalition casualties confirmed in Afghanistan. I got these grim statistics from icasualties . I went searching for this information after watching the HBO film Taking Chance this past weekend. As I studied the charts and graphs in these casualty reports, I thought: behind each of these numbers is the story of a U.S. soldier, a family, and a community.

For example, in April 2004, a total of 1,215 soldiers were killed in Iraq. Over a thousand stories that needed to be told. Among them 19 year old Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, a young Marine who was shot by Iraqi insurgents on April 9 in Al Anbar Province. Taking Chance is the story of his journey home and another Marine's, Lt. Colonel Michael Strobl, who volunteered to accompany Chance's remains from Dover Air Force Base Mortuary in Delaware to his family in Dubois, Wyoming. It is also the story of everyday Americans, military and civilian, who cared for Chance's body and honored his service in quiet ways for the eight day trip from Iraq to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany to Dover AFB in Delaware to Chance's hometown in Wyoming.

The film's producer, Ross Katz, spoke of "pulling the curtain back" from the unknowns of this precisely rendered military ritual of caring for a dead soldier. That's exactly what the film does. I, and I suspect most other civilians, had no idea of the manner in which a soldier's remains gets from the battlefield to final resting place. It is incredibly moving to see. It is important that more of us know about this ritual. Forget the days when images of the flag draped coffins were not allowed to be shown on the news. We all need to see this, even in the midst of war fatigue, to underscore the importance of bringing the war to a close. More importantly, we must remember the consequences of war, symbolized by these flag-draped coffins, and not become complacent in our everyday lives and concerns. Across the U.S. too many families are bearing more than their fair share of concern and grief as this war drags on. The least we can do is remember.

This film is compelling, deeply moving. Dialogue is spare and bare bones, but the communication among strangers is more eloquent than any words. And the quiet images say everything that need to be said to carry the film's message. Kevin Bacon, as Lt. Col. Strobl, perfectly captures the character, playing the role with respect and dignity. The other character that is always by his side is Chance. They make the journey together, inseparable. Here's a brief trailer for the film so you can see what I mean about the atmosphere:

Grace Notes-- here are a few scenes to look out for. I was just overcome by the tender care, dignity, and silent respect shown to this young soldier:

-- soldiers ceremonial passing of bags of ice to keep the bodies in as good a condition as possible on the trip from Iraq

--rows of flag draped coffins on the dimly lit air carrier (remember there were 1,215 killed in April 2004)

--honor guards waiting in the rain at Ramstein AFB to transfer bodies to another carrier for flight to Dover

--the hushed, reverential tending of the bodies at Dover Mortuary--washing away the blood, cleaning personal effects to be returned to parents, dressing in full uniform and medals even though it would be a closed funeral

--landscape workers laying down tools, removing caps and standing at attention as the hearse leaves Dover AFB

--personal effects kept in a red velvet pouch, always on Strobl's person. For Chance, it was his watch (still on Baghdad time), his dog tags, a St. Christopher medal, and crucifix--he had all these on his person when shot

--Chance's body moved from one aircraft to another(in PA and MN) by itself, separate from luggage. Cargo handlers, pilot, and other passengers stood silently beside the plane as his body was loaded and unloaded

--a trucker started an impromptu funeral cortege when he passed the hearse on the highway. He removed his cap, turned on low beams and soon 10-15 other cars joined the escort (one of the most majestic scenes in the film)

--Strobl's meeting the family in a schoolroom before Chance's funeral in the school gymnasium. He handed over Chance's personal effects (including a small crucifix given to him by a flight attendant on the trip out) and told them about the respect and honor shown to Chance on the way.

--meeting with Chance's buddies and other veterans at the local VFW hall before the funeral, sharing stories about Chance and their own experiences in war.

In my own neighborhood there's a plain little red brick house that looks like it could use some upkeep--no landscaping, curtains drawn, lawn needs mowing. Several times this past year I've seen a white sheet hung from the gutters across this house with this spray painted message: "Welcome Home Michael". I have no idea who "Michael" is, but I suspect he may be in the KY Guards or Reserves because there's also an American and Commonwealth of Kentucky flags in the yard. It was good to see that sign hanging, especially around the holidays. Now, after seeing Taking Chance, it will mean so much more because I'll know that Michael is still safe, even though the war goes on.

(Note: Image credit--HBO Films. The film premiered in February 2009. I was able to get it from Netflix in August.)