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.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kentucky Barn Quilts

In mid-December my older sister and I headed out from Louisville on a four hour drive to eastern Kentucky. It had been over a year since we had been back to Pike County where we were born and raised. In 2008 a fire destroyed my sister's apartment building in Pikeville. I moved her to Louisville so I could do a better job of caregiving. She was happy with her new apartment in the city, but she wanted to see her old apartment and we both wanted to visit my elderly Aunt Draxie who still lives on the family farm. A long roadtrip with my sister can be a challenge because, sadly, we don't have a lot to talk about. However, on this trip we would be traveling part of the time on one of Kentucky's Quilt Trails. Once we left I-64 and got on more rural roadways of eastern Kentucky we were on the lookout for the brightly colored graphic quilt designs painted on barns--like this flower basket on an old rusty tin-roofed barn.

Quilting in Kentucky is a functional art form. Country women saved scrap pieces of fabric and sewed them, usually by hand, into bed covers that provided warmth and beauty for their homes. Mothers taught their daughters to cut out, piece, and quilt these traditional bedcovers. The patterns were handed down through the generations. The quilt designs had names like: Flower Basket, Little Dutch Girl, Log Cabin, Flying Geese, Bowtie, Grandma's Wedding Ring.

The idea for barn quilts probably originated with the hex signs that were painted on barns in Pennsylvania. Painting quilt patterns on barns was first done in the mountains of West Virginia and then spread to Kentucky and North Carolina as a way to celebrate rural life. Kentucky's Quilt Trails were organized by the Kentucky Arts Council.

We had not been driving long on KY-460, a quilt trail that runs through eight eastern Kentucky counties, when we spotted our first barn quilt: I pulled off the road and tried to get photos without getting run over by the traffic. My photos aren't great because the barns were usually at a distance from the highway, but you can see the variety of barns and patterns that we spotted.

The next quilt was the flower basket on the tin-roofed barn above--which was my favorite for it's rough weathered beauty. Next we spotted this newer barn with the Bowtie pattern painted in bright orange, green and yellow: As I mentioned earlier, we made this trip in mid-December so there were Christmas decorations out. Look closely at the barn and you'll see a simple star over the quilt. At night it's quite common to see barns lit with these huge stars. A lovely sight when you're driving through the country on a winter's night.

We were having good luck with our barn quilt hunt. In less than 100 miles we spotted five barns with quilt paintings--all very different. The next one was in a small community by the highway. It was painted to resemble print fabric which would commonly be used for quilts:

Once we got into Pike County we had to leave the main highway and drive this narrow road to the end of Joe's Creek hollow. If we met an oncoming car, one driver would have to pull off the road--please not me--to let the other car pass. My Aunt Draxie, who is in her late 80s, lives alone on the family homeplace which is nearly a hundred years old. She is a true mountain woman in the best sense. She is a keen quilter so after lunch we admired her latest creations, including this pansy appliqued quilt top: Aunt Draxie was really enjoying sharing her quilts so we kept digging through the quilt chest and found this treasure. This embroidered muslin bedspread was over a hundred years old and had been a gift to my Aunt Draxie from her aunt. This cover would have only been used for special occasions like when the house was cleaned for Sunday or when company came. I was fascinated by the embroidery stitches--quite different from modern embroidery, perhaps because of the heavy thread used many years ago.

Late in the day we reluctantly left my Aunt Draxie and drove into Pikeville so my sister could see her old apartment building. She was satisfied with just a passing look at the building and said she was happy to be a city "girl" in Louisville. We drove back home and before leaving the KY-460 Quilt Trail we ended the barn quilt search with this last example, a patriotic red, white and blue:Although I've been a city dweller for over thirty years, these beautiful quilts and visiting my dear Aunt Draxie reminded me that I'll always be proud of my mountain roots.

Note: if you are interested in learning more about barn quilts, the Kentucky Arts Council has published Kentucky Quilt Trails Views and Voices which describes the community by community establishment of these quilt trails by folk art scholars. The book includes pieces by both literary and visual artists describing the impact of quilts on rural life in Kentucky. It also includes interviews with the families who participated in the project--how they chose the patterns for their barns, its significance to the family, the history of the barn itself. The introduction to the book is written by Silas House, a rising young Kentucky writer. House has earned national critical acclaim for his novels such as Clay's Quilt , The Coal Tattoo, and A Parchment of Leaves.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fun Monday - Favorite Hidey Hole

Topic for January 25th Fun Monday is "Favorite Rooms." Our good host, Janis over at Life According to Jan and Jer , is asking us to share photos of the favorite room in our home. And why? I've written about mine in a previous post. At that time I called the room an "escape." A year later life is calmer, but this den/office/hidey hole is still the room where I'm most happy and at peace. It's the place where I stay connected with the world and also retreat from the world when I need to.

When I retired in 2006, I converted an unused bedroom to an office/project room. The idea was that all the spare time I would have in retirement could be spent to good use in this room. I would read, write, and work at the computer. There was space to paint, sew, or craft at the drafting table. I could leave out all my supplies between times since no one ever saw this room. This space is special to me also because all the great office furniture was a retirement gift from my former colleagues. Was that a grand gesture, or what? Beats a gold watch any time!

Quite honestly I spend most of the day in this room. Early in the morning I leave Willie in bed and come in here and fire up the computer to get the late breaking news, check e-mails and blogs. Willie waits patiently on the bed until I sign off and give him a boost off our bed. He's 13 now and doesn't do a lot of jumping. We collect the morning paper and spend the next few hours reading and having breakfast. By noon I'm back in the hidey hole and Willie takes up his spot under the desk. We spend more time at the computer, read, and watch Netflix movies. A few months ago I joined the worldwide Postcrossings Project, a postcard exchange with people all over the world. The cork boards that you see on the wall are filled with cards from about 30 different countries--from Brazil to Belarus. I get such a kick out of these goodwill messages from all over. Eventually I hope I can cover a whole wall with these postcards. My latest favorite thing in this room is the colorful world map that friend S gave me for my last birthday. It's handy because there's not a day that goes by when I don't need to figure out where some place in the news is located or where a blog or postcard friend lives. What a great way to brush up on your geography.

With only an occasional break, Willie and I spend most of our day in this room. Around 2:00 a.m. I turn the computer off, let Willie out one last time, and take in the quiet sleeping neighborhood. Retired life in the hidey hole can't be beat!

Now be sure to check out other Fun Monday favorite rooms. Janis is doing the home tours over at her place.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Assumpta, Peter & the Baby Polar Bear

A tall open-faced young man is hiking the last three miles into Ballykissangel carrying his belongings in a large backpack. When he left the bus a few miles back, the sun was shining. Before long the famous Irish showers poured down on him. A blue-green Renault van slows as it passes the hiker; the driver rolls down her window and offers him a ride into the village of Ballykissangel. Assumpta Fitzgerald, publican, meet Peter Clifford, priest.

I just recently watched the first three series of this engaging BBC Ireland comedy of life in the fictional village Ballykissangel. And, like one of the fan video producers for the series, I can't get the characters out of my head. Especially Peter and Assumpta. So, reader warning: this will be a very long post that may overestimate your interest in the everyday joys, comedy and heartaches of the inhabitants of this small Irish village. Read as much as you have time and, if you've watched the series, I'd love to hear what you think of it, especially the Assumpta-Peter connection.

In that short ride down the mountain in the rain you can begin to see the contrasts between Assumpta Fitzgerald and Peter Clifford. Peter is friendly, enthusiastic, and excited about his assignment as the priest at St. Joseph's in Ballykissangel. Things are "beautiful" to him--Assumpta's unusual name, his new church. Assumpta is complicated. She is a keen observer of people, their behavior and motivations. More importantly, for this relationship, she is the resident cynic about organized religion, especially the Catholic Church. In their short conversation in the van she needles Peter about how much they "need" an English priest. She calls him a hippie priest for his sunny outlook. And when Peter thanks her for the lift, she says that the people are used to "carrying the clergy." And then there's her stock response of "uh-huh", accompanied by a sly glance. Peter does not rise to her bait, though. He's gentle with her but doesn't let her digs go unchallenged.

Peter and Assumpta are friend/adversaries from the time he arrives in the village. He doesn't have suitable living quarters for a priest. The resident wheeler dealer, Brian Quigley, has rented the house he was supposed to have to some vacationing young women. He has no reliable transportation, only an motor bike that usually won't start. His initial meeting with Father MacAnally, the parish priest, didn't go well. Father Mac ruled as priest/politician and was not impressed that his new priest was more concerned with getting to know the people and figuring out how to minister to their needs than suitable housing and transportation. He ordered Father Clifford to sort both problems out immediately. Before that happens though Peter gets a middle of the night call to administer last rites to a mountain parishioner. As usual, his bike would not start. He races to Assumpta for help. . .

On that second ride up the mountain, Assumpta sees Peter in a different light. She sees how he tends the dying and bereaved. She sees that he cares. What he does matters, especially to those who are left. He would give her the last rites, even if he couldn't understand her--just as he did with the mountain man. He thanked her for coming out with him, especially when she didn't believe. She said he left her speechless. . .

As time went on Father Clifford made a place for himself in Ballykissangel. The village people liked having him as their priest. He married them after getting them through some pre-wedding jitters, he baptized their babies and even babysat for Kieran, the child of Niamah and Ambrose Egan. He involved himself in the parochial church school and community activities. He fought teen pregnancy through sex education with the local Dr. Ryan. And, he joined the regulars at Assumpta Fitgerald's pub for a pint. And, par for the course, Assumpta observed from behind the bar, handing out challenges and advice to Father Clifford. In time, there was no denying that they were more than friends. The pub regulars saw it and so did Father Mac. Even though they never crossed the line, the love between them was there--"even the dogs in the street could see it." Finally, Father Mac sent Peter on retreat, ordering him to "scrub this woman from his mind forever."

Peter left Ballykissangel for awhile, but when he returned Assumpta was still in his heart. . .

This evening the two of them were thrown together by accident, both agreeing to babysit little Kieran so Niamah and Ambrose could have an evening out. The yearning and despair is palpable in that kitchen as Peter busies himself preparing his oriential dish for the community fund drive. They try to make conversation, but there is too much between them that can't be said. He tries to explain his feelings, admitting that, like the baby polar bear, he is confused. He desperately wants to do the right thing, but cannot deny her. He asks, "Why am I always thinking about you?"

That evening was a turning point in Assumpta and Peter's relationship. They make plans. They burn bridges. And then the lights go out one more time in the pub when everyone is gathered for the oriental supper. Assumpta goes to the basement one more time to fix the problem. . . I won't reveal any more of the plot in case you'd like to see the series. Instead, here's the most recent video montage of Ballykissangel--by someone who, like me, can't stop thinking of Assumpta and Peter.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Automobile of Life

Automobile of Life
by Roy Acuff

Some people are just like an automobile
They'll run fine when everything is right
When the roads are all clear
and the weather is fine. . .

But often they come to a washout
and then get stuck and have to detour. . .

What a novel topic our host for this week's Fun Monday, Sayre at Sayre Smiles , has given us. Sayre is after our Personal Car Fax. What was our first car? Our favorite car? What are we driving now and why? This topic has the makings for some mighty interesting posts because, as Mr. Roy Acuff says, "people are just like an automobile." What we choose to drive reveals a lot about where we are in our lives. Here are the automobiles of my life:

Ford Maverick, color Anti-Establish Mint (first car for the rebel years) I didn't learn to drive until I was a junior in college in the late 60s. No point in it really because my family never owned a car. In college I lived just a short walk off campus. When I was about to graduate and had gotten my first teaching position, my adopted grandfather, who was well in his 70s, taught me to drive in his sporty little car--don't remember the model, but do recall a spunky color and that it was duck-butted. Just the car for Lester P. I got the license and an Anti-Establish Mint (loved this color name!) Ford Maverick, with help from this wonderful man, and headed out for first year of teaching in a town about two hundred miles from my college town.

That first year on my own was great, but I was restless, needing to experience something other than my home state. So, I looked on a map of Florida and picked out the town of Clearwater and the Pinellas County School System as my next stop. I loaded this Ford Maverick with all my belongings and drove to Florida without a place to stay when I got there. I ended up in an efficiency apartment on Clearwater Beach for one year. I made great friends with work colleagues and loved the experimental teaching I did with middle school age students who were potential dropouts. But I was restless. At night and on the weekends I put many miles on the Ford Maverick. One night I decided to drive even further. . .

Island Mini Moke (adventure car) The summer of 1970 after Clearwater I moved on. I volunteered for the Peace Corps and got a teaching position on the island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean. I stored my few belongings, sold the Ford Maverick and became an islander. Another Peace Corps volunteer, who shared my adventurous spirit, and I decided to pool our government living allowances and rent a house out in the country on a working sugar cane estate. For a time we rode an open transport truck to and from work. This truck ringed the island, picking up workers and market produce for the trip into Basseterre, the major town on St. Kitts. Soon my housemate and I tired of the unreliable transport and being stuck in a sugar cane field on the weekend, so we pooled our money again and bought one of the island's dirt cheap mini mokes. Actually, it was little more than a golf cart but suited our purposes just fine.

Chevrolet Concours, Colts, Crown Victorias and Ford Windstar Minivans (the responsible years) After three years in the West Indies I came back to Kentucky and spent the majority of my working life in education. For over 30 years I worked for either the state department of education or Kentucky Farm Bureau, a statewide agricultural organization. With both organizations I was expected to drive their fleet cars for work purposes. My own car became less important--more of a fallback vehicle. I was mostly concerned about hauling capacity because I worked as a trainer for both organizations. I conducted workshops and organized conferences. I schlepped boxes and boxes of workshop supplies and audio visual equipment. Minivans were my friends. After work, these minivans could be used to ferry my friends all over under one car roof. In retirement we often threaten to pool our resources and buy a flower-decorated hippie van for our pleasure outings. :-)

Toyota Scion xB (the retiring years) In 2005 I bought my first personal car in many, many years. It was somewhat daunting taking up the responsibilities of car ownership again, but I was retiring in January 2006 and had to give up the company Windstar minivan. Like everything else in my life, I went after a simple, no bells and whistles kind of car. The Scion had just been released a year earlier. It was marketed as a Y Generation modification to Toyota's reliable Camry. Many of the Gen Y group loved the reliability of their parents' Camrys, but hated the design. So, Toyota "iced" the Camry chassis with this really cool Scion body (get it? Scion? offspring). It was amusing at first to drive this car because of its look. Fellow Scion drivers actually waved at each other as if to say, "Aren't we just too cool for words!" I call my Scion the "bread truck." A friend said she saw a Scion bumper sticker that said "You've just been passed by a toaster!" Anyway you take it, it's a perfect retirement car and probably my favorite of all the cars I've driven.

There you have it, my automobiles of life. And before too long, be sure to cruise on down the road and check out other Fun Monday drives.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Runnin' the Tank Out

Today we're enjoying the first significant--for Louisville--snowfall of the winter. A perfect excuse to share this delightful image from a Christmas card that I received from B. The message inside ". . .to my favorite free spirit."

Now it's wonderful to be thought of as a free spirit and, until recently, I saw myself as a person who looked for new adventures and took full advantage of all that life had to offer. The motto was "decide, plunge ahead, and never look back." As a result of this attitude I've had many exciting and challenging experiences in many great places. Sadly, I can't claim that same free spirit and zest for life in 2009.

As 2009 wound down there were all the discussions of significant events and "best of" lists for the year. The Courier-Journal printed a very clever collage of events for Kentuckiana--from Obama's presidency to the firing of U of L's football coach. I decided to collage Faye's 2009 and stalled out in March. In January I survived--at times thrived--for five days without power during an ice and snow storm that crippled the state. In March I completed a five state Volksport walk--averaging 10-12 km per day--with cousin M and friend S. The significant events ended there. For the remainder of my accomplishments, I read almost 40 memorable books and saw about the same number of movies. I walked Willie every day and kept him happy and well-balanced. I did monthly volunteer work. Every week I handled care giving issues for my older sister. I mowed grass in the spring and summer and raked leaves in the fall. I watched too much reality TV and NCIS re-runs. I joined the Postcrossings Project and now enjoy exchanging postcards with people all over the world. And I've blogged steadily for the year--an unusual follow through effort for me. It has been a pleasure sharing 2009 with you, dear readers.

So, how does all this free spiriting and tracking relate to "runnin' the tank out" ? The last week of December I watched the Kennedy Center Honors, as I'm sure many of you did. Of all the tributes for the honorees, Jon Stewart's description of Bruce Springsteen's, everyman's musician, life and work made me realize that 2009 had not been a year that I lived to it's fullest. He spoke of Bruce's working class beginnings, his drive and commitment to his music, his fans and his beliefs. He said that after all these years The Boss was a man who always "ran the tank out." And I thought: "Yes! That's what I'm missing and what I intend to recapture in 2010."

So, I'm not exactly sure what 2010 will bring. And I don't have to know the year's layout. Like The Boss, the important thing to do, regardless of what's in store, is to "run the tank out." None of us can afford to live any other way.