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, December 30, 2010

New Year

And now let us welcome the new year,
full of things that have never been.
--Rainer Maria Rilke
Like dogs wearing party hats. All the best to you and yours in 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Calling a Halt to Holiday Feasting

It starts in mid-November with Thanksgiving turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie. By early December the baking supplies come out for cookie making--Andes mint chunk, fruitcake, peanut butter blossoms, marshmallow thingeys. Next the cute bags of candies--PB & chocolate fudge(old-fashioned and grainy), buckeye balls, coconut creams, peanut brittle, Brach's choc covered cherries by the layers. Sausage balls and chex mix. Cherry cheesecake pie. Turkey tetrazzini made with half and half and parmesan cheese. Frankly, I'm exhausted and may have to wear sweat pants to an upcoming play at the Kentucky Center. . .

So, this afternoon I've spent some quality time in the kitchen clearing out and making vast quantities of Winter Vegetable Soup and Mexican Cornbread. My style of vegetable soup is easy, economical and chock full of goodness, combining fresh, frozen and canned vegetables. It's cooked in steps so the vegetables stay bright and tender crisp. The cornbread has a touch of fire from green chillies and is almost like a corn pudding. A perfect combination. Here are the recipes:

Winter Vegetable Soup

Step 1 Start with your largest soup pot (mine is an 8 qt.) Soup tends to "grow" as you make it. Brown 1/2 lb. lean ground beef. Add two cans or 4 cups petit diced tomatoes and 4 cups water to the pot. Stir in sm can tomato paste to up the tomato flavor. Add 1/4 cup beef granules if you want a more meaty flavored soup. Bring to boil.

Step 2 While beef browns, make a vegetable "slurry" using your blender.Rough chunk 2 med or 1 large onion, 2 carrots, 2 ribs celery w/leaves, 1 med green bell pepper, small piece cabbage, handful fresh flat leaf parsley stems and all. Add these veggies to the blender with enough water to cover. Pulse until you have a "slurry" of blended vegetables. Don't liquefy. Add this slurry to your soup pot. If you're lucky the pot will be about 1/2 full by now. Simmer this mixture for about 25 minutes to make a hearty vegetable broth.

Step 4 After the broth is simmered until flavors are blended, add 4 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed; 2 potatoes, small cubed; 2 ribs celery, sliced;1 sm wedge cabbage, shredded. Simmer for about 20-30 min until vegetables are tender crisp. Don't "mush" them. All done!

Tex-Mex Cornbread

Step 1 Heat the over to 450 degrees F. Spray a 13x9" pan with cooking spray. Coat well as this mixture wants to stick in the pan. Heat the baking pan in oven while mixing the bread. Watch out as the cooking spray burns easily. You do want the pan hot when you pour the mixture in to keep it from sticking.

Step 2 Blend 1 egg, 1/2 cup milk, 2 TBSP vegetable oil, 1 TSP. sugar, 8.5 oz can cream style corn, 1/2 cup whole kernel corn (frozen or canned), 1 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese, and 2 TBSP canned diced green chillies. Add 1 cup yellow self rising cornmeal mix. Stir well and pour into heated pan. Bake between 20-30 minutes until lightly browned.

It's 9:15 pm now and I have all this soup and cornbread portioned out into individual servings and tucked in the refrigerator. Since I don't object to leftovers several days in a row, dinner is served with a quick heat. I find that if I don't have to think about cooking I do much better with eating nutritious meals. And, with food this good don't feel deprived--very important in the waistline wars.

What's your kitchen strategy in the new year?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fun Monday - 2010-11 Looking Back & Straight Ahead

In this last week of 2010 Jill , our Fun Monday host for December, invites us to do a bit of reflection. Specifically, she's asking for a look back on the year we've just finished. And, a look straight ahead--how do we see our lives playing out in 2011?

This is a task I'm always happy to take on at the end of one year and beginning of another. Not resolutions, mind you. For me, the word "resolution" carries a lot of negative energy. I think angry, gritting your teeth determination to fix some aspect of your life that you feel is lacking or wrong. Or, resolutions can be a list of half baked "shoulds"that we think ought to make us happy--but don't because they're not linked to our life priorities.

What I like to do instead is to reconnect with my personal priorities. There are only four of them and they've been the same since 2003. So, for each priority I'll tell you how I did in 2010 and what I hope to achieve in 2011:

1. Being healthy, physically and mentally active; learn new things

2010--November results from annual physical shows good numbers for most tests--except weight, of course. I walk most days and take a pilates class once a week. My brain still works pretty well for my age. Although, I did mention at yesterday's Christmas dinner that it may be time to stop doubling recipes when cooking. The math is too challenging--shouldn't need a calculator to make Mexican cornbread.

2011--add strength training to my physical fitness routine to avoid old age complaints like falls, broken bones. Get off the two simple meds I take by proper diet and exercise. Keep up with technology so I can stay connected to the world and understand what's going on.

2. Connecting, caring, relating to others, having/being a good friend

2010/11--I've spent a lot of time and effort this year in being the sole care giver for an elder sister. I take care of all her errands, business, medical, and homekeeping routines--and the odd crisis here and there. It's not a role that I'm very patient with, but it's reality for now and into the future. I've spent too much time blogging and facebooking this year, but absolutely love being cyber friends with people from many countries. Makes every day interesting.

3. Maintaining a simple, organized home

2010/11--my home is very pared down and spare which makes it easy to maintain. I'm happy so long as the basics work and there's plenty books, technology toys, and entertainment sources. This next year I need to make some home improvements and upgrades to both the interior and exterior of my home. I did major work five years ago. I plan to stay in this house as long as I can, so any re-modeling will be geared to making the place safe and convenient for senior living (auggghhhttt!).

4. Having fun

2010/11--can honestly say that I have a good life. Luckily I have enough financial resources to take advantage of the entertainment that's available here in Louisville--plays, concerts, films, art, travel, dining out with friends. Hopefully that will continue in 2011. If all goes as planned I'm taking to the skies again after a couple of years being grounded. Planning a summer trip to Scandinavia (especially Sweden) and, $$$ permitting, maybe Russia. And finally, there may be a new puppy in the new year since Willie is elder gentleman .

Well Jill, there you have my look back and ahead in four areas that are important to me. Love this time of the year for the chance to make these plans. Thank you for getting us started on this project before January 1!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

All is Calm

"Their Christmas Eve" John Sargent Noble (1848-1896)
Merry Christmas, Friends!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Church Lady's Melted Snowmen Ornaments

It's hard not to get inspired these days by so many talented bloggers busily getting their homes ready for Christmas--handmade gifts, decorating, cooking/baking. Throughout December I've been checking in regularly with a few bloggers who really have the creative knack for making their homes magical during the holiday season. Some favorite sites are Elderberry Street , Homespun Living , and Dear Little Red House .

While these artful bloggers go all out for Christmas, I also love getting updates from several longtime blog buddies on their holiday preparations. Is the tree up? How is it decorated? What are you thinking about the whole gift giving thing? What are your Christmas customs and traditions? That's where the idea for my handmade Christmas gift--melted snowmen ornaments--comes in. Last year Church Lady over at Living Life in PA posted directions for making these adorable ornaments. I really wanted to make them then, but didn't have time to gather everything. This year, I did it! So, all my friends and neighbors may be getting one of these cuties for their trees. Here are abbreviated directions if you want to make them. You can also go to Church Lady's blog site where she re-posted better directions a few weeks ago.

Church Lady's Melted Snowmen Ornaments

Directions: I found all the supplies at the local Michael's Craft, Dee's Craft, and Ben Franklin Variety stores. The snowmen hats were the hardest to find. Be sure to get them small enough that they can be folded to insert in the glass balls.

1. Remove ornament caps. Fill each clear glass ball ornament with 2 TBSP. Diamond dust "snow".

2. Next fold the hat and insert in the ball. This is the hardest part.

3. Next add a scarf--cut either fleece or flannel into 3.5"x1/2" scarves. Cut the ends to look like fringe. Use chopsticks or long tweezers to poke the scarf down in the snow.

4. Now the arms--2'' twigs. I used grapevine stems. As you place the pieces imagine how the snowman might "melt". Next add three small black buttons for his front. Then 2 black pebbles for eyes (I found these irregular-shaped beads in the jewelry making area of Michael's.)

5. Time for the carrot nose! Mold 1'' carrots from orange baking clay, add a green snip at top for carrot top. Use a needle or straight pin to make ridges around carrot. Bake according to clay instructions.

6. Replace the ornament cap and add a ribbon bow to go with your scarf choice. Done!

I confess to getting a bit grinchy about the commercial frenzy associated with the holidays, but seeing lovely decorations, making a special treat to share with friends or making something by hand makes me happy. What gives you pleasure during the season?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Stats - A Blogger's Obsession

I have a bone to pick with Karen over at Write Writing Written blog . For about 250 posts I've been trudging along, cranking out at least one post per week. Sure, I hoped people were reading my tales of dogs, travel, Richard Armitage and everyday life of one retiree. I was even happier when someone left a comment because one of the main reasons for blogging is to have conversations with people from all over. Then a couple of weeks ago Karen, librarian and dispenser of information that she is, shared a find that she'd made on Blogger. Apparently I can just zip over to the "Stats" tab on my Blogger dashboard and find out all sorts of information. The who, what,when,and where of blog traffic is all organized and handy for bloggers to obsess over at a click. So thanks Karen for turning me into Pavlov's dog! :-)

For example when I checked "Day"(it could have been Now, Week, Month, or All Time)I could see when most people are viewing my blog and how they're getting to it--google, facebook, individual. Next, I can see which posts have been viewed and by how many people. I've been very surprised at the posts that get the most views. Here are my tops in number of views:

-- Frank's House-tour of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's house in Frankfort, KY
-- Smarter than a Border Collie-tales of living with my crazy border collie Zack
-- John Thornton Makes Me Cry-love post to Richard Armitage as John Thornton in North and South
-- Hitler's Eagle's Nest-travelogue of visiting Hitler's bunker in the Alps
-- KY Barn Quilts-painting quilt designs on barns rural KY
-- Peter, Assumpta and The Baby Polar Bear-my love affair with the Irish Ballykissangel program on BBC
-- Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy-several posts about Girl with Dragon Tattoo trilogy

Of equal interest are the search words that led to my blog. Today it was: funny border collie stories, Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, Christmas ornaments, Peter and Assumpta Fitzgerald, John Thornton, Hitler's Eagle's Nest, Irish cooking schools.

The stat that most intrigues me though is the audience. How I love to see that in addition to the expected views from readers in the United States I also had visitors from Pakistan, Russia, Slovenia, Vietnam, Ireland, Australia, U.K., and Romania--and that's just today! And that people, is one of the main reasons I keep blogging--and facebooking. How else would a retiree be able to make these interesting connections and even develop friendships with people you've never met except through the internet.

So Karen, I guess you're forgiven for showing me yet one more way to spend too much time in front of the computer. The rewards are most satisfying!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fun Monday - I Am Annoyed

Our Fun Monday host for December, Jill over at Life is Not Bubble Wrapped , gives us a chance to vent this week with her assignment for Dec. 13th. She asks us to post our biggest gripe of the year--anything goes. When I read Jill's assignment I immediately thought of my favorite fictional and film character of this year, Lisbeth Salander from Swedish writer Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Lisbeth Salander is this bizarre, goth-looking, anti-social young woman who is also a brilliant researcher and computer hacker. She was the victim of abuse by her father as a child and social services whose job it was to protect her while growing up. As an adult she is attacked from many fronts, accused of crimes she didn't commit, and forced to defend herself against powerful people in government.

Her weapons of choice include a taser gun, tattoo needle to brand her rapist, golf club, kick boxing and most importantly, a cool analytical mind. She does not gripe, pity herself or expect someone else to solve her problems. She defeats her enemies with the truth.

One of my favorite scenes in the third book of the trilogy, Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, was when she showed up for her trial for attempting to murder her father, in this t-shirt that proclaimed: "I AM ANNOYED". I would love to own a t-shirt with this slogan. Lis doesn't gripe about her horrible life. She just say "I am annoyed and you better watch out!"

Now about my biggest gripe of the year. I actually don't feel totally right in even bringing it up when I think of the predicament many people are in about this very issue, but it is what it is. In a nutshell I am annoyed because of a big jump in my health insurance premiums. Here's the deal. When I retired I had been with my company long enough for them to continue paying half of my monthly health insurance premiums. I felt very fortunate to have the excellent coverage provided by our company plan. In November I turned 65 so had to go on Medicare. I expected that my company premiums would go down because of being eligible for Medicare. Not so. My Anthem plan became my supplemental coverage, but the premiums won't go down. In fact, it will increase $30-40 monthly. On top of that, a healthy chunk of my monthly Social Security check is now going for Medicare.

So that's my major gripe of the year. When I think about what my health insurance costs and that it's coming from three different sources--my former employer, me and the government--it just boggles my mind at the mess our health care is in in this country. I'm grateful to be covered, but am wondering: how can I get the same excellent coverage as our esteemed members of Congress--at what they're paying?

(Image credit for "I Am Annoyed" icon: Community Live Journal blog)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fun Monday -- Handmade Christmas Gifts

Our Fun Monday host for December is Jill over at Life is Not Bubble Wrapped . Her first assignment is to share some ideas that we've used for handmade Christmas gifts. In the days of escorted shopping expeditions, precise gift lists, cash envelopes and gift cards it is an unexpected joy to receive a handmade Christmas gift. It's also a pleasure to make a few simple gifts for friends and family. After seeing Jill's assignment, I thought of a few gifts that were both fun to make and to give.

Cooking: There have been years when I've had a kitchen assembly line going, making many varieties of candies, cookies and scoochey snacks (you know, like Chex mix). Although, by the time the holidays roll around, a lot of us are suffering from cookie fatigue. One year was particularly successful in gifts from the kitchen--the Year of the Bear. Remember when decorating with bears was all the rage? About that time many home cooks were also into making sourdough bread. In my kitchen I kept this starter going for months--feeding it every week with sugar and flour. I also baked a lot of bread in order to use up the starter. My friends were the lucky recipients of the excess. One Christmas I decided to make Bear Bread. Here's what these loaves looked like. Right off the cute meter, wouldn't you say? Popular with young and old.

Sewing: many years ago the sewing machine clicked late in the night with me making homemade gifts. It was an assembly line here as well. Most memorable year was the one where I made all the girls, young and old, red-striped flannel nightgowns. They were the classic styles with lace trimmed yokes and long set-in sleeves. The big push would be to get them made in time to be worn for the unwrapping Christmas gift photos. One funny memory from the flannel nightgown frenzy was that the guy of the house used to plead with me not to make his bedfellow one of these gowns. Said it was like sleeping with a furnace by the time she got all that flannel wrapped around him! :-)

Channeling Martha Stewart: Finally, I'll do a bit of cheating and re-post the directions for making natural evergreen wreath from a few years ago. I set up a long assembly line in the kitchen and before I knew it had about 10 of these lovelies made.

If you'd like to try your hand at making wreaths, it's a simple process:

Wreathmaking supplies: hit your local tree lots and nurseries and see what they offer in the way of greenery for free (trimmings from Christmas trees) or very cheap bundles of a variety of evergreens. Here on my work table I've got hemlock, cedar, white pine and fraser fir--and holly berries for some color. You may also be lucky enough to have some of these plants growing in your own yard. Only other supplies you'll need are garden pruners, paddles of wire, and wreath forms.

Directions: get an assembly line going, especially if you plan to make more than one (I'm going for 10). Step 1 -- make small six inch bundles of greenery. Step 2-- tie one end of the wire to the wreath frame; with your right hand, lay a bundle of greenery on the frame. Step 3 -- take the wire paddle in your left hand and wrap the wire around the greenery bundle several times while holding it in place with your right hand. Step 4 -- Continue placing the greenery bundles on the frame, overlapping to cover the stems of the previous bundle. Just eyeball the wreath as you make your way around the form to be sure that it's balanced--doesn't have to be perfect. Step 5 --add the holly last throughout the wreath so that you don't knock the berries off, using as much or little holly as you like. Step 6 -- tie off the wire securely and leave enough "tail" of wire to twist into a loop for hanging. Or, if you prefer, lay the wreath on a flat surface and nestle some candles in the middle. Finally, I made some simple two loop red bows for these wreaths and my friends could decide whether to use them or not.

This is what my first effort of the evening looked like--a bit wobbly, but quite all right, don't you think? After all, part of the charm of homemade gifts is that they're not perfect.

Finally, I have almost all the supplies gathered for this year's gift making assembly. Just a hint: There's snow, black top hats, carrot noses, scarves, and coal. Won't say any more until they're finished except to thank The Church Lady at Living Life in PA for the idea.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fun Monday - Christmas Wishes

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, lights up throughout the neighborhood, Christmas decorations pulled out of storage, Christmas specials and commercials on TV. No matter how we may resist, the holiday season is here. That includes the whole idea of gift giving which is the topic for this week's Fun Monday. Our host Julie from Another Chance Ranch finishes her month long hosting duties by asking us to share our approaches and thoughts on holiday gift giving. Since I don't do much gifting these days, I thought I'd get a bit nostalgic.

Like many of you who may read this, I'm a child of the 1950s. It was just after WW II and times were very hard. Still, when the mail carrier delivered that magical Sears or Montgomery Ward Christmas wishbook, we kids poured over the toys on every page and made sure that our parents knew what we wanted from Santa. We also wrote him letters with our lists. I remember asking for a lot, but it was a new doll that I wanted most and would have been heartbroken to not see under the tree on Christmas morning. I always wanted a girl doll with black hair like mine, wearing a pretty dress and shoes and anklets.

Aside from the doll, which I wanted more than anything, I remember getting a cowgirl outfit(like Cousin J's that my grandmother is inspecting in this photo)and cap pistol. Dale Evans and Roy Rogers were very popular then. In the 1950s little girls got home making toys like dishes, tea sets. That was a standard go along with your doll. I also remember getting fresh paper dolls to supplement the Betsy McCall paper dolls in the back of the McCall's Magazine.

When I was too old to get a doll I begged (seriously!) for a red banlon sweater. This, after all, was what all the girls in my class were wearing. And I really wanted to fit in. My neighbor worked at the local department store and I have vague memories of talking so much about this sweater that she promised to buy it for me. I cringe at the thought now because very early on I decided not to take anything from anybody. My scruples didn't hold up to a red banlon sweater apparently!

I found this letter to my sister, written in 1964 when I was a college freshman. By that time my concern had shifted from what gifts I would receive at Christmas to how my family could celebrate the season without worrying so much about gifts. I was the youngest in the family so was responsible for the Christmas cheer and traditions continuing. Sadly, there was not any money left over for Christmas.

This letter pretty much holds true today for many people. The pressure is on to buy even when families cannot afford the extra expenses. Much better to keep things low key. Several years ago my friends and I decided not to exchange gifts. We're all independent people and buy what we need or want throughout the year. None of us need more stuff. So, this year I'll get my sister a few gifts simply because she enjoys seeing wrapped packages under her tree and opening them on Christmas morning.

Finally, just to let you know that I haven't always been a Christmas grouch. These photos are from college Christmases spent with my "adopted" family. And what grand times we had. On Christmas Eve the house was full with grand parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. There were gifts galore, many home made like the year of red-striped flannel nightgowns for all the girls. The kids distributed their handmade treasures--Bobby's cans of Chex party mix, Dan's clothes pin reindeer ornaments.

There was more joy in the gifts you gave than those received.
These gifts warmed your heart because you knew they were chosen especially for you by people who took the time to select something special just for you.

This year my holiday wish for you is that your gift list be short enough that what you give is truly special for each person on the list. And that the gifts you receive were selected with the same amount of love and attention.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fun Monday - Maxine on Age and Beauty

The topic for November 22nd Fun Monday is a simple one according to our host Julie at Another Chance Ranch . It's to share our favorite beauty product. I was going to go all philosophical about aging gracefully, inner beauty, and other profound considerations on just reaching Medicare age last week. However, I think I'll just share a few hints for aging well and then let Maxine finish with her unique, but so true, slant on age and beauty.

First to favorite beauty product. For me that would be Origins, a line of plant-based skin care products made from natural botanicals. Used faithfully every day for cleansing, toning, and moisturizing, your skin will look pretty darn good, even at Medicare age. Aside from good skin care here's some other beauty aids that I believe in:

--good haircut every four to six weeks in a style that makes you happy;
color if you prefer or celebrate those grey hairs if you feel you've earned them;

--fashionable eyeglasses, especially if you wear them all the time. I just got some bold black retro frames with a modified "cat eye" to give my face a bit of lift;

--regular dental care to keep teeth bright and strong;

--regular medical checkups to spot problems before they become major; serious illness does a number on your looks;

--eat good nutritious food and enough junk to keep you from feeling deprived;

--move it! However you prefer--just keep going--and stand up straight to avoid that dowager hump;

--get enough sleep, however much that may be for you personally;

--be passionate about things great and small--your family and friends, learning something new, politics, a book, TV series, travel, cooking--your choice.

To add to my little beauty list, here's Maxine's advice for dealing with unrealistic expectations foisted on all of us by advertisers and our peers. I get Maxine's point about fad diets and unrealistic goals, but maybe hold on to that three way mirror. Just yesterday I was having coffee with friends in Starbucks and we were commenting that, based on her unfortunate back view, our girl friend at the counter must not own a full length mirror. Think of it as tough love.

And finally, I'm sure everyone has experienced this. You look at yourself in the mirror or at a photo and think: "What happened to me?" At one time I had "stuff" to strut, now it has, as Maxine says, gone off without me! Paying a bit of attention to your own needs may prevent more loss in the future.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, friends. I hope it's a thing of beauty for each of you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Decking the Holiday Halls Done Right

Our host for November 15 Fun Monday is Julie at Another Chance Ranch and she wants us to get started thinking about decorating for the Christmas holidays. Do we pull out all the stops? Put up a tree? Have a decorating theme? Actually it has been many years since I decorated for Christmas--fourteen in fact, when I adopted Willie, a mischievous pit bull pup. At the time I had three older dogs who left the tree alone, but I didn't trust a three month old puppy to not bring the tree crashing down on his head and breaking all my precious antique glass ornaments. Sadly, after skipping one year I got out of the habit of decorating.

However, I do have definite opinions about what makes beautiful holiday decorations.

Here's my thoughts on decking the halls for Christmas, re-posted from December 2008:

I watched the Rick Steves' European Christmas special on PBS last night as I do each year because it reminds me of what Christmas done right is all about. Starting in London's Trafalgar Square and traveling on to the Swiss Alps with many stops in between, Steves provides an insiders look at how people of many countries celebrate the winter holidays. Regardless of the country, the essentials of Christmas--family, friends, community, customs, traditional decorating for the home, food, music, and faith--can be found.

Many years ago I really loved the holiday season. Starting in early November, I began cleaning the house from top to bottom; nursing live plants like paper whites, amaryllis, and poinsettias into bloom at just the right time; gathering the live greenery, berries, and ribbon to make wreaths, swags, and arrangements for all through the house. I studded oranges with cloves and rolled them in cinnamon for hanging pomanders and even buffed great quantities of Red Delicious apples to a high sheen and piled them in pine bough lined baskets.

Finally the first week of December it was time to bring home the Christmas tree--which was my favorite thing about the holiday. The tree had to be a fraser fir from the mountains of North Carolina because no other tree branches would hold up under the weight and quantity of glass ornaments that I'd collected at tag sales, auctions, antique stores, and Christmas shops throughout the year.

If you look closely at the tree you can spot some of my most treasured ornaments. There's
the six huge striped and decaled balls that I found at an auction. There's all manner of Shiny Brite ornaments with their bold stripes and glittery sentiments like "Silent Night" or "Joy to the World". Shiny Brites were popular in the 1950s. I also had a great collection of fancy shaped reflectors that went around each colored light. When the tree lights came on it was magic. In addition to the balls, icicles, and pendants, my all time favorite tree decorations would have to be the German and Czech glass ornaments of every imaginable shape--houses, fruit, vegetables, animals, lamps, teapots, birds, clocks, Santas, and even the good luck pickle.

Underneath the tree, all the presents were wrapped in simple paper and tied with real ribbon. That is, except gifts for Zack the crazy border collie, whom you all have met on many occasions, and his brother Frank the chow mix with his white "taillight"! Their presents went in gift bags, which as you can see, was not nearly secure enough to last until Christmas.

So Julie, this is how I'd decorate for Christmas if I did any more. This year I'll help my sister get out all her decorations over the Thanksgiving holiday. She leaves no surface undecorated. And good for her because she gets so much pleasure from it. I'll concentrate on sending and receiving Christmas mail, going to some holiday concerts and plays and movies, and adding a few new holiday CDs--usually Celtic artists--to my collection.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fun Monday - Thanksgiving at the Races

This week our host for Fun Monday, Julie at Another Chance Ranch , has us thinking ahead. And very pleasant thoughts they are. That is, our Thanksgiving meal. What's the menu and is it traditional with turkey and fixins' or unusual? For example, one family I know has a "family choice" menu that might be white chili or crab legs. And, do we have a favorite dish and recipe to share?

First the where. I'm one of those people with no family with whom to celebrate. Luckily though, I have a good friend who always invites me to what we jokingly call "Holidays with the Jobes"! I'm thankful for their friendship and hospitality. This year however, I've decided to go uptown and celebrate Thanksgiving at Churchill Downs, home of Kentucky thoroughbred racing. A few friends who share my lack of family have reserved a table in the posh Skye Terrace of Churchill Downs. We'll work our way through a bountiful Kentucky buffet loaded with traditional, homegrown foods prepared by the Downs chef. There'll be turkey with southern cornbread stuffing, country ham and biscuits, southern vegetables and desserts liberally laced with bourbon, I'm sure. While we do a leisurely graze of the buffet table we'll be able to do a little betting and have a panoramic view of a few horse races from the Skye Terrace. With luck, we may win back the cost of our feast!

Now one downside to being invited out for Thanksgiving dinner is that you'll not have any leftovers. I usually remedy that by baking a couple of turkey legs, cornbread stuffing, fresh green beans and raw cranberry orange relish. Oh yes, must not forget a pumpkin pie--Mrs. Smith's is fine. The week of Thanksgiving you're allowed to eat pumpkin pie for breakfast. So I have these dishes stashed in the fridge for leftovers for the week.

Everyone has a favorite recipe that they pull out for the holidays. Mine is for Cheese Loaf. It's a cross between a souffle and corn pudding and its simple sweet sour taste is perfect with Thanksgiving foods. The recipe is very old and comes from the Morehead Methodist Women's Cookbook. Oh boy, can they cook! Here's the recipe just as written over 40 years ago:

Marylene Fryman

1 lb. cheese (cheddar)
1 can pimientos (not real small)
1 heaping C cracker crumbs
Grind cheese and pimiento.
Cook the following until smooth paste:
3 eggs, beaten
1 C sweet milk
1/2 C mild vinegar (scant)
1 tsp. butter, 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 C sugar

Add cheese and pimientos. Stir well. Add cracker crumbs. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake 350 degrees-30 min or until begins to brown on top.

So, there you have it Julie, very satisfactory Thanksgiving plans at Summit Musings. Can't wait to check out other Fun Monday Thanksgiving tables.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fun Monday - Election Eve Deep Thoughts

Our host for November Fun Mondays is Julie at Another Chance Ranch . And since tomorrow is Election Day she's looking for our thoughts on the state of the country and what issues are we taking with us to the polls on Tuesday? Now if there's anything that deserves a bit of cynical Maxine humor, it's our current political climate. Here's Maxine's opinion--which I share in too many instances--of our elected leaders:

When I began blogging four years ago, I wrote a lot about politics. Some early post titles included: "W's Turd Blossoms", "Campaign Kerfuffle, Dems 1", "Barney's Office", "Straddlesore", and "Willie Voted Today". You can guess my political leanings from these titles, I think. As I got more into blogging though, I decided that I didn't want to use Summit Musings as a political or religious soapbox. I have too many friends who don't share my views. And since I wasn't interested in debating these issues with them, I decided to take my blog in a different direction, one that encouraged good conversation about many interests. A live and let live attitude, I suppose.

Now tomorrow there are several races--mayoral, U.S. House and Senate--that I care a lot about. In these three races here are my deal breakers and deal makers:

mayoral -- I'm voting for the person who's somewhat smart nerdy and who lists entrepreneur, problem solver, jobs creator, and holder of a world view as his work experiences and qualifications. I'm not voting for the person who believes that lengthy service on the metro council is the best preparation for the job. Nor am I voting for the person who lists "family values" as one of his bona fides. That term is probably code for what I am not.

U.S. House--I'm voting for the incumbent because I believe that he deserves another two years to work on solving our problems--turning the economy around, responsible prosecution of the war, and equitable access to health care. Plus, I gotta love a Jewish guy who digs vacationing in Ireland! I won't vote for the candidate who lists membership in a local megachurch as a qualification or that he is a "family man". Good for him, but we all know how too many self-professed "family men" have behaved in the past. I also won't vote for the candidate who bases most of his own opinions on personal experience. Nor will I vote for the candidate who snipes from behind Nancy Pelosi's Ralph Lauren skirt tails (as in "Candidate X votes with Nancy Pelosi 99% of the time"). Come on people! At least tell us what these terrible votes were.

U.S. Senate --I'm voting for the person who has fought to protect consumers, Kentucky workers, and challenged big businesses like oil companies in his current position as state attorney general. I'm not voting for the petulant Crazy Cousin to replace the Crazy Uncle who is currently representing KY in the U.S. Senate.

So, that in a nut shell is what I'll be thinking of tomorrow when Willie the pit bull and I walk to our polling site. I'll tie him up far enough away from the door while I go inside to vote so he won't get into trouble for "electioneering" or trying to trade milk bones for votes. I'm sure he could be more persuasive than a good chunk of special interest money!

Nov. 4 Election Update: Well, it could be worse. My nerdy smart guy got elected mayor and U.S. House incumbent gets to go back to D.C. and offer a voice of compromise when the new posse rides into town in January. On the downside, Crazy Cousin will be replacing current Crazy Uncle in the U.S. Senate. I wonder how long it will take for me not to cringe every time he steps in front of a microphone--or wish he would wear a sign that says "I'm not originally from Kentucky"?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fun Monday Halloween Costumes & Characters

My, how the month flies by when you're hosting Fun Mondays! This is the last week of hosting duties for me. Thanks to everyone who has played the game in October. Julie at Another Chance Ranch takes the reins (get it?) for November. Jill at Life is Not Bubble Wrapped will do the honors in December.

October 25 Topic: Let's celebrate Halloween and the pleasures of dressing up by sharing a costume or character that you'd most enjoying being for a day. If you were going to a Halloween--or other costume--party, who or what would you like to be? Now don't everyone pick Lady Gaga. Or, if you want to share photos of your resident small goblins, that's great too.

Here's my choice:

Yes, I would love to be Ziva David, former Israeli Mossad agent and current special agent on NCIS. Ziva is a warrior who looks great in cargo pants and an NCIS cap. And she more than holds her own with other members of the NCIS team headed by straight arrow Jethro Gibbs, Italian stallion wannabe Anthony DiNozzo, and tech geek Timothy McGee. Ziva is ruthless at her job, but is famous for misusing or mangling American slang. Here are a few favorites:

Ziva as an assassin

DiNozzo: (about Ziva hitting his abdomen) Do it.
McGee: As hard as she can?
DiNozzo: As hard as you can.
McGee: You know that's how Houdini died.
DiNozzo: Ziva, did you kill Houdini?
Ziva: It is possible. I do not remember all their names.
McGee: All right, then we'll flip for it.
Ziva: If I flip you, you will get hurt.
Abby: Want to talk knives?
Ziva: Always.
And her ongoing threat for DiNozzo-- Ziva: Tony, I will hurt you.

And then the American slang mixups:

McGee: There goes the dream of a house with a picket fence.
Ziva: A picket fence would provide neither privacy nor security.
Ziva: (commenting on Director Shepard's new haircut) I see she went for the elf cut.
DiNozzo: It's called the pixie.
Ducky: I think she looks great.

So, the character I would most enjoy being for a day is Ziva the Israeli Warrior Princess. Here's the list of players who have signed up so far. As usual, if you need your name added to the list, just let me know and I'll update. The more, the scarier!

1. Joangee - Musings n Waffle
2. Sayre - Sayre Smiles
3. Julie - Another Chance Ranch
4. Janis - Life According to Jan and Jer
5. Ari_1965 - Prawn of Fate
6. Jill - Life is Not Bubble Wrapped
7. Church Lady -Living Life in PA
8. Cynical Girl -Cynical Girl

Happy Halloween and be sure to pass out plenty chocolate to all the goblins that come calling.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

10/25 Fun Monday Signup - Costumes

The Italians really know how to dress up! These glittery, mysterious, and dangerous looking masks were spotted in Venice shops for the annual Carnevale celebration. And now inspiration for this week's Fun Monday assignment, which is:

Let's celebrate Halloween and the pleasures of dressing up by sharing costumes. If you are going to a Halloween--or other costume--party, who would you like to be? I hear Lady Gaga is a front runner this year. Now don't hesitate to play because you're not partying this year. If you were going to dress up, who or what would you be? Or, if you want to share photos of your resident small goblins, that's great too!

If you want to play this last week in October--and I hope you do--just sign up with Mr. Linky and I'll provide an updated list of players in time for Monday blog visiting.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fun Monday - Procrastination Three Ways

Here we are. The third week in October and I'm still your host for Fun Monday. Your topic for the 18th:

We all do it. Procrastinate, that is. So for this week's assignment, please share your three favorite ways of procrastinating. And, if you've figured out exactly WHY you procrastinate, could you share the secret with the rest of us!

Right off the bat I'd say that procrastination is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes I delay finishing a task or making a decision because I need something more--more information, resources, or something else to fall into place first. In this state often I'm still percolating, weighing the pros and cons. Eventually, I just do it.

My three favorite ways of procrastinating are:

Listmaking -- for many years I've made lists--daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal. The lists are by categories. I have lists for every aspect of my life that needs attention. My priorities have stayed pretty much the same over the years: homekeeping, organization, health/wellness, finances, and creativity. This is a typical list for the season. You'll notice that everything doesn't get done on the list. Never mind, it just gets transferred to the new one.

Social Networking -- first there was only blogging and e-mail that I use to stay connected with old friends and make new ones from here in the U.S. and several other countries. Recently I've added Facebook, youTube, and the internet to my "outreach". I spend a lot of time daily in different forms of social networking. Sometimes I get on Facebook or blogs as a way of procrastinating. I still don't consider any of this a huge waste of time though. I meet new people, maintain old friendships, learn new things. All of this from my cozy home office. I would not feel nearly as happily retired with these networks.

Laziness -- this may seem odd, but I relish being able to be a sloth whenever the mood strikes. It's such a sense of freedom to get up in the morning and know that I don't have to do anything, even if it is on my list. I can just drift through the day doing exactly what pleases me. Saying "yes" to laziness is such a luxury because for as long as I can remember, especially in adulthood, I've had to keep to a schedule and complete tasks at work. I always felt like I moved from one big project to another until I retired. Very little room for procrastination.

So, there you have my three favorite ways of procrastinating. Here are the player for this week. Try to visit them over the next few days and find out their favorite ways of putting things off.

1. Sayre - Sayre Smiles
2. Lavon - Flowerschi's Blog
3. Cynical Girl - Cynical Girl
4. Peter - Holtie's House
5. Molly - Return of the White Robin
6. Ari_1965 - Prawn of Fate
7. Sandy - Myanderings
8. Jill Life is Not Bubble Wrapped

If your link didn't make it on the list, just add to signup and I'll update soon. Remember that Julie at Another Chance Ranch is hosting for November and Jill at Life is not Bubble Wrapped is doing the honors in December.

Topic for October 25 -- Let's celebrate Halloween and the pleasures of dressing up by sharing costumes. If you are going to a Halloween--or other costume--party who would you like to be? I hear Lady Gaga is the front runner this year. Now don't hesitate to play because you're not partying this year. IF you were going to dress up, who or what would it be? Come back on Thursday for the signup.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

10/18 Fun Monday Signup - The Fine Art of Procrastination

We all do it. Procrastinate, that is. So, continuing my Fun Monday hosting duties, for the October 18th assignment, please share your three favorite ways of procrastinating. Is your plan for time management similar to Maxine's? Or, do you have other strategies for putting off that work equally well?

And finally, if you've figured out exactly WHY you procrastinate, would you please share the secret with the rest of us?

If you want to play on October 18--and I hope you do--just sign up with Mr. Linky below and I'll provide a list of players on Monday Morning, along with my best kept secrets on the fine art of procrastinating.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fun Monday - Shirl's Fridge Blog--and Mine

Hey everyone! Your October Fun Monday host here with your assignment for October 11:

Fridge Blogs--in most homes the refrigerator door is the family communications center with a great hodgepodge of calendars, announcements, reminders, photos, cartoons, and maybe some artwork from the budding Picasso in the family. Share a photo of your fridge and describe what you have displayed on it. What does this kitchen focal point have to say about you and your family?

(I first thought of the term "fridge blog" after visiting my now 75 year old friend, Shirl. To explain, I'm re-posting this entry which I wrote back in August '07 soon after I began blogging.)

Last week I met long-time friends Shirl and Steph in Lexington for a leisurely lunch and chat at the Jean Farris Winery and Bistro on the outskirts of the city. Crisp chardonnay, crab cakes and a warm brownie with raspberry sabayon sauce--yum! Whether it's bourbon or wine, Kentucky has a handle on serving spirits and great food.

Lunch conversation turned to blogs. Shirl, who's a roaring 72 years young, enjoys reading "Summit Musings" because she shares my liberal political and social views with the exception of allowing casino gambling in the state (an issue that's getting too much attention in the governor's race, in my view). However, as do many of my readers, she warned me not to expect her to comment on any blog posts. The reason? She has her own blog to maintain--her Fridge Blog.

I've known--and lived with intermittently--with Shirl's family for almost 40 years. And it's true, their fridge has always been a massive collage of family activities, achievements, community events, and daily reminders. No visit to their home would be complete without checking in on Shirl's Fridge Blog.

So, today I'm thinking about this form of family communication that most of us have used for years and are still not willing to give up in favor of technology.

And now three years later, here's what I currently have on my fridge blog:

Freezer Door--starting from the left there's calendars, monthly and annual. Since I've retired I don't have to pay so much attention to a schedule so thankfully most everything is either routine appointments and entertainment. In the middle of the door there's postcards of some of the loveliest places in Kentucky in the fall-Barren Lake, an old farmstead, Old Frankfort Pike through horse country. Then there are the dogs--Zack the border collie, Dan the golden, and Willie as a slick black and white pup. In the upper right section of the door there's programs, announcements and tickets for upcoming entertainment--The Louisville Chorus; Burn the Floor, a Broadway play celebrating ballroom dancing; tickets to an Iris DeMent concert and Greg Mortenson's talk about his book Three Cups of Tea. And a wedding invitation.

Fridge Door--on the right there's a collection of clippings from our local paper. People send in "Trip Pics" of their travels in the U.S. and abroad. I clip out the photos of places I've visited myself. Love seeing places that I've been to as well. There's clippings of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Mirror Lake in New Zealand, gondolas in Venice, overviews of Saltzburg, Swiss mountain peaks, Tuscan countryside, and San Juan Hill in Puerto Rico. These clippings are reminders of happy travels.

On the far right near the door handle there's two old post cards which I bought at an outdoor antique market a few weeks ago. They're either of famous places or of everyday life. In one a little boy is turned over his mother's knee getting his britches patched, caption "Necessary Repairs." The other is of the famous cathedral in Florence, Italy called The Duomo. I've visited that remarkable church.

When I look over this list, the essentials are there: friends, family, dogs, travel, art and the pleasures of home. Here's the list of other Fun Monday players who have signed up to share their fridge blogs. As always, if you want on the list just leave me a comment and I'll add your link right away.

1. Janis - Life According to Jan and Jer
2. Sayre - Sayre Smiles
3. Church Lady - Living Life in PA
4. Grace - Mama Rehema
5. Peter - Holties House
6. Jill - Life is Not Bubble Wrapped
7. Sandy - Myanderings
8. Molly - Return of the White Robin

Topic for October 18: We all do it. Procrastinate, that is. So for October 18 I want you to share your three favorite ways of procrastinating. And if you've figured out exactly WHY you procrastinate, could you share the secret with the rest of us?! Check back on Thursday and Mr. Linky and I will be ready for you to sign up.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

October 11 Fun Monday Signup - Fridge Blogs

Fridge Blogs -In most homes the refrigerator door is not only decorated, it's also the family communications center with calendars, photos, announcements, reminders and, if you're lucky, some art work from a budding Picasso. Fridge blogs are a form of family communication that most of us have used for years and are still not willing to give up in favor of technology.

Your assignment for October 11 is to share a photo of your refrigerator door. What do you have displayed on it? What does this focal point of your kitchen say about you and your family?

If you'd like to play--and I hope you do---just sign up below. On Monday I'll have an updated list of all the players. And good news, we have host volunteers for the next two months: Julie for November and Jill for December. Thanks, girlz!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fun Monday - Grandma's Mr. Thornton

Welcome to October Fun Mondays! I'm your host for the entire month--you're very welcome. :-) Your assignment for October 4 is to share a favorite family photo(s)and tell us why this particular photo means so much to you. The photo can be one from the past that's perhaps not in the greatest shape, like my choice. Or, it can be a modern day digital wonder. Your choice. What's important is that you love it.

Meet my maternal grandparents, Rainey and Myrtle Hamilton. Rainey was born in 1887, Myrtle in 1890 in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. They were married in 1907 when Grandma was only 17 and Grandpa a very young 21 years old. They had five children in quick succession--two boys, three girls. In 1922 Grandpa Rainey died at 35 years old of appendicitis. I have heard stories of him being put on a horse drawn sled and carried to the doctor, but that did not save him.

Grandma Myrtle must have been devastated by his untimely death for, by all accounts, my grandpa was much respected in their mountain community. He was an itinerant teacher and magistrate even at such a young age. And, even in this poor photo, a proud and handsome Scotsman. Looking closely at my grandma you would probably guess that she was made of stern stuff. For sure, that's how I remember her from my childhood. I never knew my grandpa except by others' accounts. When Grandpa Rainey died, the four older children were sent to orphanages in Ohio and my grandma only kept the youngest boy at home with her. I've always thought that was hard of her to do, but perhaps that was the only choice. Grandma Myrtle never remarried, even though she was widowed at such an early age. She must have loved her young husband very much.

I call my grandpa "grandma's Mr. Thornton" because he reminds me so much of John Thornton, the proud cotton manufacturer and magistrate in Elizabeth Gaskell's novel, North and South, set in industrial England of the mid-1800s. Richard Armitage plays him in the dramatic adaptation. Here he is with his love Margaret Hale. According to the novel, Margaret was as stern as my grandma!

I have only two photos of my Grandpa Rainey. I look at them and regret that I never knew him. I hope that it was from him that I got my love for learning. Wouldn't have minded inheriting his looks as well--he, like John Thornton, was "remarkably handsome"!

Here are the players for Fun Monday. If you missed the earlier signup, just let me know and I'll quickly add your name to the list so you can get visitors.

1. Sayre - Sayre Smiles
2. Church Lady - Living Life in PA
3. Janis - Life According to Jan and Jer
4. Julie - Another Chance Ranch
5. Molly Return of the White Robin
6. Ari - Beyond My Slab
7. Grace - Mama Rehema
8. Joangee - musings n waffle
9. Pamela - The Dust Will Wait
10. Jan - Prytz Family
11. Sandy - Myanderings
12. Jill - Life is Not Bubble Wrapped

We have volunteers! Julie at Another Chance Ranch will host for November and Jill at Life is Not Bubble Wrapped will do December. Thanks.

Topic for October 11: Fridge Blogs - in most homes the refrigerator door is not only decorated, it's also the family communication center with calendars, photos, announcements, reminders, art work, etc. Share a photo of your refrigerator door. What do you have posted on it? Why? Come back on Thursday to sign up if you want to play. Lets keep Fun Monday going by keeping the "fun" in it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

October 4 Fun Monday Signup - Favorite Family Photos

And now ladies and gentlemen we start the third month's push to revive Fun Monday in the blogosphere. I'm your host for October. The rules are simple if you want to play. A host for the week--or month--selects a random topic and then everyone offers up their particular slant on the subject in a Monday post. All you have to do is sign up and the host publishes the list of participants. Write your post for the assigned topic and then sit back and wait for those lovely comments that we all crave.

October 4 Topic: Favorite Family Photo -- share that one family photo that you just love for whatever reason. It makes you smile. It reminds you of someone who is no longer with you. It perfectly illustrates your family spirit. Basically, you're just plain glad that you have the photo. It can be a photo from the past like this one of the Stevens Family circa 1909 (did someone say stair steps?) or this year's casual family vacation photo. Your choice.

We have a volunteer! Julie at Another Chance Ranch has just confirmed that she will take on hosting duties for November. Thanks!

Thanks to Pamela and Sayre for helping me sort out Mr. Linky, offered below for your convenience in signing up to play.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fun Monday - Three Wishes

Bravo to our host Sayre for keeping Fun Monday going for the entire month of September. She closes the month with an intriguing assignment: What are our Three Wishes? If getting our heart's desires were as simple making wishes, what would they be?

I feel almost guilty rattling off these wishes because I do believe that anything worth having is worth putting in the effort and time to achieve it. But hey, this once Sayre is going to be our genie and we can have our wishes granted just like that! Here are mine:

Wish 1 -Health

In about two months I'll hit mid 60s which is beginning to sound rather old. But truthfully, I don't worry about longevity. I do, however, care a lot about quality of life--in mind, body, and spirit. So my first wish is that as I age my body doesn't betray me and weaken with infirmaties and disease. I hope my mind continues to work and that I'll always be interested in learning something new. Finally, I want to go into old age with a peaceful, loving and tolerant spirit--a live and let live attitude.

Wish 2 - World Travel

Second wish would be that I would have the health, freedom and financial resources to travel to foreign countries every year. I've been fortunate to have visited almost 20 other countries in my adult life--some like the West Indies and Ukraine staying long enough to understand the culture. There's so much more of the world I want to see--its lands, people and culture. Next summer I hope to tour Scandinavia and then in following years more of eastern Europe, Turkey and Greece and then on to Asia.

Wish 3 - Choral Music

Final wish would be to be a part of a great community choir. I sang in glee clubs and choruses in high school. I entered college determined to major in vocal music, studying voice and participating in college choirs. In college and into adulthood I always sang in Methodist church choirs, loving the great Protestant hymns. Those groups haven't been a part of my life for many years and I miss them. I'm sad to realize that I no longer have that clear, confident soprano voice any more. This summer I've been following a wonderful almost documentary-like program on BBC where a young choirmaster goes into working class schools and communities in England and recruits locals of all ages to sing together. Here's a sample of the South Oxhey Community Choir. Just look at the pride and joy on their faces as they sing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". I'd like that experience again.

(Image credit:"Three Wishes" Ilfochrome Print by Loretta Lux)


And now a word about October Fun Mondays. I'll be hosting the full month. Check back here every Wednesday to sign up for the upcoming week. If you want to participate, just leave me a comment at any time and I'll get you on the list.

October 4 Topic: Favorite Family Photos--share one--or two--that has special meaning for you and tell us why.

And, it's never too early. Who wants to host for November?