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.