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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Friendship Tea and Dress Up

These are exciting times for the Lunch Bunch, my group of long time friends and "playmates". Three of the group recently hit the big 60 and are celebrating by retiring between now and January. And just this morning we made reservations to storm Chicago in early January for two days of shopping, sightseeing, and other antics not entirely appropriate for women of a certain age. This is a repeat for the Lunch Bunch. In January 2006 I had just turned 60 and retired. We celebrated by making this Chicago trip. But last Friday we started what promises to be a three month party by taking S to Sisters Tea Parlor and Boutique for her birthday tea and dress up afternoon.

Sisters Tea Parlor is located in a strip mall in a small town near Louisville. And what an unexpected surprise it was. When guests arrive for afternoon, the first stop needs to be in the "dress up" corner. There everyone can choose a hat and other accessories for tea such as gloves, tiaras, boas, shawls, fake fur stoles. When we arrived at the parlor L was already dressed
in a white pillbox with organza bow and net veil, white gloves, and a "fur" stole. I had no idea about the dress up option so was surprised to see L all tricked out. She is a sometime decorator/event planner so I just thought she had a bit too much time on her hands! Imagine how excited we all were to get to choose our perfect hat and accessories for tea. S, the birthday girl, wore the glittery hat with birthday candles on top--very fetching. I went with a pillbox trimmed in pheasant feathers and a dark paisley shawl. None of us, however, could rival these two little ladies who drink tea from the Sisters website.

After we were properly dressed we went into this lovely tea room, called the Paris Pink Room. The tables were set with pink, flowery linens, delicate china and special silver just for eating tea. Each of us got to order our own special tea--I chose pomegranate in honor of Sue Monk Kidd's memoir, Traveling with Pomegranates , which I had just read. (More about it in another post.) K, the group organizer, had ordered the Friendship Tea for us. It came to the table on this lovely tiered plate--a delicious mix of savory and sweet treats such as cheddar dill and cinnamon scones; chicken, ham with orange chutney, strawberry cream sandwiches; squash tarts; maple-walnut fudge, Sisters' truffles, cookies and mini muffins with pumpkin frosting. Throughout the meal, our tea pots never got too low.

In one of the other dining rooms there was a list of Rules for Tea Decorum. Quite a long list, actually. Be sure to remove your gloves before eating, use a soft voice for table conversation, be sure to use your napkin, share the tea plate, don't slurp or blow your tea, stay in your seat until everyone has finished. J, the most ladylike of all of us, took on the responsibility for pointing out our disregard of the Tea Rules. As you might suspect, the Lunch Bunch needed these reminders. We've been together for so many years and have been known to get a bit boisterous and borderline inappropriate when "playing" together. But, how fortunate we are to have a group of friends who know how to have fun, even if not by tea table standards, at our age.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dissin' the Snuggie

This week's Fun Monday is all about comfort. Gattina, our host from over at Writer's Cramp ,wants the scoop on what we like to wear, especially on a lazy Sunday morning. I'm with most of you, I suspect. It's Wal-mart or Land's End flannel lounge pants--at least two sizes too large so they hang loosely from the waist--and tee shirts, long or short sleeves depending on the season. Now since it's against my religion to write a short post, will just take this opportunity to tell you about my change of heart on the infamous Snuggie of TV and print infomercial fame.

You've seen the ads for that unfortunate combination of robe and blanket, variously called a Snuggie or Slanket, that's supposed to keep you cozy in the coldest weather. It has sleeves so you can be hands free to sip coffee, read, work on the laptop, or watch TV while lounging on the sofa. There's even a "double-wide" version if you like someone well enough to want to sit side by side under a common covering to watch a movie or football game. I suppose it might also be handy to have one of those lounger chairs for two. . .even more ridiculous. My response to owning one of these things has always been "Never!" That is, until last January when I woke up to this out the window. During the night an ice storm blanketed all of Kentucky, bringing down trees and knocking out the electricity for more than a week. As the week went on the temperature kept dipping as the utility companies, with help from several other states, struggled to clear downed trees and string new electrical lines. Most of my neighbors stayed with family members who had not lost power or in hotels while they waited for the electricity to come on. Willie the Pit Bull and I decided to stay put in our home. In the fall I always lay in storm supplies--batteries, cans of sterno, flashlights, canned food, a booklight for reading when it gets dark. During that long week when we were without power Willie and I kept to our normal routines. In the morning I made coffee on this rigged up "stove" with heat coming from sterno cans. Kept the "stove" close to the back door so I could kick it outside if it caught on fire. The "stove" also generated enough heat to warm soup, which was fortunate because I couldn't get my car out of the driveway for that week. Thankfully, the Courier Journal arrived every day providing a link to the outside world, along with a couple of rationed cell phone calls to check in with my sister and friends. Every day I tidied the house, took a quick shower while the hot water lasted in the water heater, wrote a daily journal of the storm--for later blog fodder! The remaining time Willie and I spent on the sofa huddled under several blankets trying stay warm and hold my book so I could read. The blankets kept slipping off--Willie never understood the need to lie still and keep covered. Plus, there was the huge bother of having to unwrap for bathroom runs. How I longed for one of those Snuggies before the power finally came on!

Recently there was an article in the newspaper about this year's winter weather. It's going to be a bad one, starting earlier than usual. The woolly worms are black which is a warning for excessive snow and cold weather. It has already frosted around here which is unusual for November. Therefore, I'm laying in emergency supplies for a hard winter so Willie and I can stay in our home regardless of what happens. And, okay, I'll just go ahead and admit that I've ordered a Slanket! Now I just need your opinion. Does Willie need one also? He never expressed the same disdain for them that I did. . .

Now be sure to head over the Gattina's place and check out the at home attire of other Fun Mondayers. I've checked out Gattina's caftans and doubt that any of us can rival their beauty!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Let's Get Together

One love, one heart
Let's get together and feel all right
Hear the children crying(one love)
Hear the children crying (one heart)
Sayin', "Give thanks and praise
to the Lord and feel all right."
Sayin', "Let's get together and feel all right."

Here's a little Wednesday gift for all of you that I happened upon yesterday. Picture this: a musician sits on his doorstep in Livorno, Italy and begins playing Bob Marley's One Love on his guitar. He's joined by a young woman in Tel Aviv, Israel. Then she's joined by musicians in the Congo, then more in South Africa, India and France. Each musician used the instruments of his country, but all were in perfect harmony. Which is the purpose of Playing for Change: Peace Through Music, the non-profit organization which connects musicians from all over the world to promote the belief that music has the power to break down barriers and build peace and understanding among people of all races, creeds, and economic standings. One Love is the perfect message:

Here's one of the most powerful verses:

Let's get together to fight this Holy Armageddon
So when the Man comes there will be no, no doom
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation.

I was just blown away when I heard this, especially when the video featured the collages of the musicians playing in perfect harmony on different continents. So powerful. Just a warning: you're going to want to sing along and even dance a bit, so be careful where you play this! To learn more go to Playing for Change .

(Image credit for Bob Marley: art.com)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Age of Aquarius Hair

Hair gone terribly wrong is the subject for the October 19 Fun Monday. Sandy, our host from over at Myanderings , asks us to share some tales of hairstyling disasters. Good timing, Sandy. With the recent premiering of Lifetime's design competition, Project Runway, I've been intending to write this post on my brief foray into the world of fashion, which would include hairstyles. That time fell in the Age of Aquarius--the 1960-70s pop culture heyday for New Age thinking and lifestyles. Of course, the Age of Aquarius culture came to be symbolized by the 1967 rock musical Hair.

The years of 1964-75 were very heady times for me. I graduated from high school, went to college, found satisfying work, "saved" the world :-), and lived in some exciting places. Just what a child of Aquarius would dream of doing. We fancied ourselves to be idealists, nonconforming rebels, and lovers of grand ideas like freedom, humanity, and peace. Just for fun, here's a look at my hairstyles over those ten years. I'll interpret what they probably say about one life in the Age of Aquarius:

Mary Tyler Moore strikes out on her adventure. Her theme song, Love is All Around, says ". . .it's time you start living. . .you're gonna make it on your own." In 1964 I had that Mary Tyler Moore flip thing going. The first photo was the famous high school graduation portrait where all the girls were excited to wear the black drape. In the fall of that year I left home and enrolled in college, my first big step toward independence. In the college ID photo note that the hairstyle got better--first professional cut--while still staying true to Mary Tyler Moore. The black cat eye glasses made me look very studious. I was proud of them because I earned the money to pay for them myself.

Hairstyle goes East Coast--In a letter written from Teaneck, New Jersey to my sister in Kentucky: ". . .Got a real sharp haircut yesterday. It's very, very short in the back but hangs well below my ears in front. That sounds fruity, doesn't it?" I was a sophomore in 1966 and moved out of the dormitory to live with the family of the university baseball coach about then. Coach Hamilton was a pitcher for the New York Yankees as well. When school was out for the summer I went with the family to live near Yankee Stadium, usually just across the Hudson River in New Jersey. Coach's wife and I took that opportunity to study the New York Times fashion pages, shop for the latest clothing styles which we sewed, and get a cutting edge hairstyle that we wouldn't see back in Morehead, Kentucky when the new school year began! I notice that this style is back in fashion--think Kate Gosselin without the pouf. (My preference for boys also went East Coast--the boys from New York and New Jersey who came south for cheaper college tuition--and probably easier entrance requirements--loved to hang around Coach Hamilton's kitchen table. I enjoyed it too! This one was from Rhode Island. . .)

Always the Bridesmaid -- By the late '60s hair was BIG, so big it almost wouldn't fit in a single photo shot! To get this look you had to figure out how to sleep on brush rollers, tease the back to impossible heights and then smooth the top layer until no rats' nests showed. The finished "cage" was held firmly in place with a heavy spraying of Aquanet. By then I'd also given up the black cat eyes for more square eyeglasses, the newest thing. I was studying for an undergraduate double major in English and home economics. Clothing construction was a required course, so I also sewed all my clothes, including this brown wool houndstooth suit. And by that time several of my friends were getting married. I've lost track of the many unfortunate bridesmaid dresses I sewed and wore in the name of friendship! In that photo on the right my pillbox with tulle veiling barely kept its perch on top of the big hair.

"Saving" the World -- by the early 1970s I'd completed college studies and earned a teaching certificate. I taught high school English for one year in Kentucky and was getting the itch to travel and explore the world. So, I loaded up my Anti-establish Mint (what else for a child of the Aquarius?) green Maverick with all my belongings and headed to Clearwater, Florida to teach in a junior high school. That was very satisfying work because my students were potential dropouts whom we were trying to keep in school. My colleagues were friends as well and Florida was an entirely new living experience from Kentucky. Still, I was restless. Wanting to do more, see more of the world. I shared these feelings with a close older friend and she challenged me to "Shut up or step up". So, I did by joining the Peace Corps. I volunteered to teach anywhere in the world and ended up getting assigned to St. Kitts, an island in the Caribbean. Tough work, but someone had to do it!

The photo on the left was for my first passport in 1971. The big hair was gone for good. So was the hairspray. The wind blew constantly on St. Kitts so the best thing to do was not to fight it. Actually, this style was very much like the famous Dorothy Hamill wedge which I adopted a few years later when I returned to the U.S. A great improvement over the helmet head, I think you'd agree. For the three years that I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I lived a much freer, relaxed lifestyle. I gave up a lot of what were once necessities--even my bra at times! :-). The photo on the right was one I used for job-hunting in 1974. I was still in the West Indies, but looking for teaching positions back in the U.S.--by mail. You can see that I've gone back to a more controlled look in anticipation of returning to the U.S. In fact, this may have been one of my unfortunate experiments with home perming--don't we all have these photos! The one thing that always amuses me about this photo is that I actually thought I was cute enough that seeing it would sway a potential employer's hiring decision. Where did that self confidence go. . .

So here you have it. My life in hair from 1965-75. Like everything about the Age of Aquarius, it was a mix of equal parts good and bad. Now be sure to keep your appointments with other Fun Monday hairstylists over the next few days.

("Hair" Image Credit: Lousiana State University Theater)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Juan Valdez Needs My Coffeemaker

Our host for this week's Fun Monday is Wendy from Australia and she's asking the Fun Monday regulars to spread the word about our October 12 assignment. It's a good one--maybe even a bit risky judging from some of the signup comments she's gotten so far! Anyway, Wendy would like us to share the gadget(s) that we just wouldn't want to live without. You're also welcome to reveal gadgets that you have that were supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread but are total flops. Nice challenge,Wendy. I always welcome the opportunity to put on my Juan Valdez poncho and sing the praises of my Coffee Toddy brew system. I'm sure if Senor Valdez ever decided to branch out from his position as spokesperson for Colombian coffee and pitch coffeemakers, he'd be wild about the Coffee Toddy, too.

I began using the Coffee Toddy cold brew system many, many years ago and have stuck with it because of its great simplicity. First, I live alone so every day I struggled with making a small enough amount of coffee in a regular drip machine. I drank a cup with breakfast and then turned off the machine as I left for work. In the evening if I wanted an after dinner cup of coffee I wrestled with trying to re-heat the morning brew--yuk!--or pitching the leftover and making another pot. I could also use instant but liked real coffee too well to settle for that stuff. And with whatever kind I choose, it was never hot enough by the time I put in enough milk to get that pale tan color of coffee-milk that I preferred. So, I was always "nuking" my cup to heat it up, adding one more step.

I must have been in a cooking/chef stage when I discovered the Coffee Toddy because I ordered it from a gourmet supply catalog. My first Toddy came in this burlap sack just like in this photo. And what low tech genius that sack contained. In order to make a half gallon of deep, dark, intensely smooth and delicious coffee extract that I could keep in the refrigerator for weeks, all I needed was the Coffee Toddy, a pound of ground coffee, cold water and 24 hours! Here's how you do it:

1. Plug the drain hole in the white brewing container--using that small rubber cork.

2. Fit that round white pad (it looks like a complexion buffer) in the depression over the cork. This filter pad collects all the bitter acids from the coffee when the extract drains out, making a very smooth coffee that keeps the richness of even the more intense varieties without the bitterness and acidity that you get with brewing.

3. Add 1 pound of ground coffee to the white container. Then slowly fill the container with COLD water.

4. Cover the container with foil or saran. Let it set out on the counter for at least 12 hours.

5. When time to descant the coffee extract, remove the the rubber cork and set the white container on top of the glass carafe. The extract will slowly drip out and you'll end up with a full carafe of rich coffee extract. Store in the refrigerator for weeks.

6. When you're ready for a cup of "freshly brewed" coffee, just pour a measured amount of the extract in your coffee cup, add water and milk or cream (if you use it) and heat in the microwave for a couple of minutes to the desired temperature. At first you have to experiment to get the right strength for your taste. For a 12 ounce coffee mug I use 4 oz. coffee extract, 4 oz. cold water, 4 oz. 1% milk and heat for 3 minutes--perfect every time. No waste, no bother.

The only other thing you need for a great coffee experience is a special coffee mug. Every season I like to get a new one. This one I got last weekend at the St. James Art Show in Old Louisville. Going to this show is a fall rite for me and my friends. It's set up on St. James Court in one of the oldest parts of Louisville--great historic houses bedecked with fall flowering containers and landscaping. I chose the black mug from the Red Oak Pottery booth. My creamy coffee looks and tastes wonderful from this mug.

Now be sure to check out the favorite gadgets of other Fun Monday players. And let's keep it at least PG, people! :-)

(P.S. Can you believe I actually saw this title for a magazine article yesterday? "GIDGETS--Gadgets for Girls" Honestly Senor Valdez, I did!)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Maxine on Fall

Things we love about fall--that's the Fun Monday assignment Hoosier Girl , our host for this first week of October, handed out. There's a lot that I love about fall. But I thought I might get a little help for Maxine, the queen of bad attitudes, to illustrate my list of fall favs. Sometimes we have the same opinions, sometimes not. Maxine is pretty clear where she stands on many of the things we enjoy about fall. I hope she amuses you and offends only a bit, if at all, with her observations. (Note: if like Maxine your eyesight is "sagging", click on images to enlarge!)

Yardwork: Last week I mowed the lawn for, I hope, next to the last time this year. In a few weeks all the leaves will fall. I'll let them lay on the lawn for a bit because I'm on a corner lot where the neighbor kids love to rake up great piles of leaves and leap about in them in a mad fall frolic. In the winter they love to slide down my front yard easement when it snows. Around the first of November I'll rake all the leaves and give the yard a final mow. Should be less of a chore this year because I lost two major trees to the September '08 windstorm and January '09 ice storm. Yippee! For less raking, not losing trees.

Daylight Savings Time Ends: I'm looking forward to "falling back" when the time changes in a couple of weeks. Being a somewhat nocturnal animal, I love the idea of darkness coming earlier in the day. It's just so cozy to close up the house in the late afternoon and settle in for an evening of after-dinner teevee and reading--especially now that all the new shows are premiering. Watching Dancing with the Stars when it's still light outside would not be the same. I will admit that I didn't enjoy the time change nearly as much when working. In retirement you can be like Maxine and stay up or sleep as late as you want.

Rainy Day Reading and Cooking: In the fall I look forward to waking up to a steady rain that continues all day. It's the perfect day to make a good supply of coffee and settle in on the sofa for a day of serious reading--me on one end of the sofa, Willie on the other. This is also the perfect weather to cook up some serious comfort food--big pots of soup or stew, a retro casserole filled with forbidden stuff like cream of mushroom soup and french fried onion rings. Or, it might be baking scratch loaves of bread, scones filled with dried fruit and nuts, or a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting. Unlike Maxine, I like to share what I cook and would welcome a proper kiss for the cook!

Organization/Household Chores: With every change of season I must make this elaborate To Do list, room by room, of chores that I intend to complete during the next couple of months. I'm looking at the April-August list right now and have to admit that's it's a Maxine list through and through. Example: kitchen--make curtains, repair microwave, no; living room--wash windows, organize magazines, uh, no; office--set up files for my sister's concerns, sort out DSL service, no and no again; bedrooms--clear out closets, set up exercise area, that's two nos, outside--clean gutters, power wash siding--yep! no again. I have done a few things on the list--paid my taxes, taken Willie to vet for annual checkup, and upped savings account. I suppose the important things are getting taken care of. Besides, I have a lot from this list to transfer to my October-December list which I'll make up this week. Being more optimistic than Maxine, I won't list my chores under categories like "Things I won't do now. . .do later. . .never." Even though they'll probably end up there at the close of December. . .

New Experiences: The final thing I love about fall is that, like January, it's the beginning of the second half of the year. A great time to start something new. Today I ordered some new pilates equipment--stretch out strap and spine roller. Hopefully, I'll be inspired to work on flexibility and core strengthening. Patience over at Patience Please recently shared some miniature fall paintings that her artist husband Bill just did (scroll down a few posts to see them if you're new to her blog). I'm looking at my watercolor table and thinking about doing some fall thumbnail paintings myself. In this instance I agree totally with Maxine--never too old to learn something new, even if you might hurt yourself!

Now be sure to head over to Hoosier Girl's place to check out the many things other Fun Monday players appreciate about fall. And, you enjoy this great season however you choose!