About Me

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Recent retiree--35 year's experience teaching reading, English, adult basic education and volunteer leadership skills. Started this blog to exchange ideas and commentary with friends and others having an interest in joining the discussions. Greatest life accomplishments include: 1.organized my 3rd grade class to check out library books for me to get around librarian's weekly limit--Amazon.com, the Mullins Elementary 3rd Grade Class of 1956 is still waiting for "thank you" notes; 2. volunteered in the Peace Corps, island of St. Kitts, West Indies; 3.taught adults to read, earn their GEDs., and speak English as a second language; 4. bought a border collie puppy for $6, got evicted rather than give him up, and began a life-long love affair with all things "Dog"; 5. joined a physical fitness boot camp in my mid-50s--don't mess with someone who's been doing regulation pushups in wet grass at 5:30 a.m.; 6. walked across Northern England with best friend Sally--over 80 miles from the Irish to North Seas; and 7. travelled to many foreign countries for pleasure and work.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fun Monday - Final Citron Presse, A Love Story

Our host for this month's Fun Mondays, Ari at Prawn of Fate , has thrown out a rather unusual, but appealing, topic for January 31:

Your first novel is published to wide acclaim. What's the title and what is it about?

Any novel that I write would be based on travels to a foreign country--a particular location, experience, or person whom I had met while seeing the world. Many months ago another Fun Monday host asked us to write the beginnings of an unusual love story. I set my story in France. Here's a first attempt at writing a tale of love. One as bittersweet as the citron presse shared by the lovers on their last morning together.

Final Citron Presse, A Love Story

Eduard left his apartment just off the Place Stanislas in Nancy, France. His route through the town was a familiar one. Four days a week Eduard met groups of tourists and students in the square and led them on explorations of Nancy's world famous Art Nouveau architecture. Today would be different though. He was meeting only one person, Madeleine.
Eduard was pleased that the blue doors of Madame Perrin's flower shop were open. He carefully selected a small bunch of lavender for Madeleine. The fragrance would remind her of the warm afternoons they spent together on day trips through the French countryside. Madeleine sat on the steps of King Stanislas' statue in the square, waiting for Eduard. Without saying a word, she held out her hand. Eduard gave her the lavender and picked up her suitcase with his free hand.

They walked silently to the cafe across from the train station. Eduard stopped at the ticket window to buy Madeleine's ticket back to Paris. She went on in the cafe. He found her at their special table. Two citron presses were already on the table. By his drink, Madeline had carefully placed four packets of sugar.Tears stung Eduard's eyes. On their first meeting many months ago, they had shared a citron presse. Madeline had given him her sugar that day. Today, however, Eduard knew that no amount of sugar would ease the bitterness of saying "Goodbye."

Thanks Ari, for hosting January Fun Mondays. This host for a month seems to work out well as there's always someone willing to take on hosting duties for the entire month. Ari passes the baton to Molly at Return of the White Robin for February, the month of love. Perhaps I should have saved this story for then! No worries, as I'm sure Molly will have many interesting post ideas for us to tackle.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tuesday Teaser - The Holy Thief by William Ryan

It is 1936 Moscow. The Stalinist reign of terror is just beginning in Russia. Religion is forbidden, but the Russian Orthodox Church's great art treasures was being pillaged by the government and its criminal element, for sale to dealers and museums in other countries to fund the revolution.

Kazanskaya, Our Lady of Kazan, a 19th century Russian icon is missing from a "deconsecrated" church in Moscow. A young woman's tortured and mutilated body is found on the altar of a Moscow church. How is her murder, and that of several other people in the same manner, connected to the stolen Russian icons? Who is responsible for both crimes? Those are the questions answered by British writer William Ryan in his excellent first novel, The Holy Thief.

Teaser Tuesday is described by its host Miz B over at Should be Reading as a "weekly bookish meme" open to any reader who wants to play along. If, like me, you're always curious about what people are reading or on the lookout for the next great read, then this may be your meme. If you want to play, just click on Miz B's link for the very simple rules.

The Holy Thief
by William Ryan

"Koyla smiled. 'Would you like to know the name of the Chekist commanding the search party? The one who took the icon from us?'
Korolev nodded, half suspecting he knew the answer."
p. 204

Book Description: This novel is first of all a police procedural. A crime is committed. The local police are called out to investigate and solve the crime. As in any police department there are competent, sometimes even brilliant, investigators, and there are slackers and dishonest cops. And there are commanders with hidden, often political or personal, agendas.

This novel is interesting and original in that the investigation is set against the paranoia, fear, and confusion of a country being overrun by a repressive Stalinist government. Captain Alexei Dimitrivich Korolev of the Criminal Investigation Division (much like Scotland Yard) is the good cop assigned to solve the murders. In doing so, he must maneuver between the political NKVD State Security and the Thieves, a prison based mafia responsible for much of the Moscow crime--with the blessings of the NKVD. Korolev must also deal with a fearful, distrusting public as well. All this intrigue makes for an exciting read.

The main thing that I enjoyed about this book is its consistency. It may have been 1936 in a dictatorship, but good police work is the same as in a modern city--investigate, follow the leads, keep good records, build trust, think of justice for the victim, and try to stay clear of the politics. That's what Captain Korolev did.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fun Monday - Sounds of Silence

This week's Fun Monday topic is all about sounds around us. Our host for the long month of January is Ari over at Prawn of Fate . She asks: what is the most beautiful sound in the whole world? what sound do you dislike the most?

When I'm going about my day, the sound that I most want to hears is silence. For most of the day I don't want to hear the TV, radio, gadgets that make noise, or people talking. One sound that I do love is that of Willie the Pit Bull snoring like an old man as he lies on the sofa. He likes keeping me company and I like that too. I read. He hangs his head off the sofa and snores peacefully. That's just enough noise.

The sound that I despise is that of the telephone ringing, or even the answering machine. I can't even think of the last call that I received that was enjoyable. If it were not for needing a land line for the computer or for my sister to be able to contact me in emergencies I wouldn't even have anything except a cell phone.

Back to the sounds I love, I forgot about our local public radio, all classical station. It's just pure music with the only talk being to announce the piece that's about to be played. Enjoy having that station on when either working or as a backdrop for reading.

In modern times it's not exactly easy to enjoy the sounds of silence, but I try.

(Image credit: Phone Phobia, artist Jordan Clarke)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Remembering Sargent Shriver and His Peace Corps

With the death of Sargent Shriver, the great public servant and brother-in-law of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, on Tuesday and today's 50th anniversary of Kennedy's inauguration as President, I'm thinking about both men and their influence on my life as a young adult in the late '60s-early '70s. At that time I was two years out of college, still excited about the possibilities, and trying to decide what to make of life. What I decided to do was to accept President Kennedy's challenge to service and joined the Peace Corps in 1971, just 10 years after Sargent Shriver created the program for young Americans to serve as peace time ambassadors -- one of Kennedy's first directives. Here's how my Peace Corps experience unfolded:

Inauguration Day, January 20, 1961--here JFK steps out of the White House and walks with his elegant, beautiful young First Lady Jacqueline (wearing a greige wool melton coat by Oleg Cassini for you fashionistas :-) to deliver his inaugural address. It's one that most of us remember. ". . .The torch as been passed to a generation of young Americans. . .Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." The next day Kennedy asked Shriver to develop a program that would send young Americans all over the world as working ambassadors in under developed countries. The Peace Corps was the result. With Shriver as its first director, the Corps sent over 200,000 volunteers to share their skills, knowledge, and friendship with people in 139 countries worldwide since its establishment in 1961.

In 1971 I had just completed two very satisfactory years of teaching, first in Kentucky and then in Florida, remedial reading for high school and middle school students who had gotten this far in their education and still hadn't been able to learn to read. In the evenings I taught reading in an adult basic education program for grownups who were having the same reading problems as my younger students. But I was having some Alfie moments--you know, as in "What's it all about?" During a summer break I talked with an older friend and mentor and career volunteer herself about my concerns. Now this is a woman whose children never dared to say they were bored. In her mind there was always something that needed to be done. I got the same advice--if you're not happy with your life, do something about it by helping others in greater need. Forty years later I still remember where we were--in the school pick up line--when she laid down this challenge. I took it.

While finishing the year's teaching in Florida I went through the lengthy application process for joining the Peace Corps--it's the U.S. government so there were forms and more forms; medical, criminal, and employment checks; character references.

I volunteered to teach but, having never been out of the U.S., I didn't list any country preferences, preferring to just go where needed most. Work colleagues gave me a lot of grief over this , predicting that I would be sent to Outer Mongolia or deepest Africa most likely.

To this day I have to chuckle at how this decision to not seek a specific volunteer location played out. It turned out that elementary teachers were needed in the eastern Caribbean on the tiny island of St. Kitts. And further, that all teaching volunteers would need to spend six weeks on Barbados, another island and vacation spot, in the Caribbean, working in local schools to become familiar with the English system of education used on many eastern Caribbean islands. Let me have time to think. . .

(St. Kitts and Barbados are just above Venezuela on this map--have to look closely!)

So, in July 1971 I sold my Anti-establishmint Green Maverick (bought in the 60s, of course), stored a few boxes of personal belongings at my parents' home, and took a first airplane ride to the Caribbean to teach 9-11 year olds at St. Joseph Infant School in Basseterre, St. Kitts. I lived in Pond's Pasture, a community near my school. This was my view every day because my home was right beside the sea. Early in the morning before school, I bought fresh fish for me and my dog Virgil from fishermen who lined up on the beach to sell their nightly catch.

For three years I tried to be part of the community where I taught, learning from my neighbors how to live richly in a poor country while teaching their children. I became friends with the young teachers that I work with at St. Joseph and with local trades people. I wore their clothes, cooked their food, and celebrated with them. It was an exciting, fulfilling time marked with some personal sadness that I'll leave for another time.

Luckily, there were some other Peace Corps volunteers assigned to St. Kitts as well as some English and Canadian volunteers. We became fast friends, helping each other through tough times and longing for home. I'm still friends with few today. My best friend was West Virginia (hey, I'm from the South and everyone has to have a nickname). Here we are in 1974 staying up too late, based on what I'm wearing, on a school night chatting with my roommate Diana. Apparently this was not one of those serious conversation nights as I'm playing "pretend to pick your nose for the camera." West VA now lives in Baltimore. We are still friends--mainly because he gave up wearing pocket protectors. I ask you, would you try to protect THAT shirt?

So, here's to two great men on this 50th anniversary. First, to a brave young President who knew that Americans could be more and that we could be trusted to spread good will, friendship and aid to our world neighbors. And to Sergent Shriver who was able to see need both at home and abroad and figure out how to help those, as the great Bob Marley said in One World,
". . .whose chances grow thinner." I am proud to have had a small part in the plan.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday Book Teaser -Sara Donati's Into the Wilderness Series

Teaser Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted by Miz B over at Should be Reading and is open to all readers who enjoy sharing their current book.

For the past few months I've been spending entirely too much time reading Diana Gabaldon's very popular Outlander series--my first foray into historical/time travel fiction. After reading the seven lengthy novels that tell the great love story of a Scotsman and Englishwoman set in Scotland, France and the American Colonies during the Jacobite Uprising and American Revolutionary War, I wanted more of this genre.

Which led me to Sara Donati's Wilderness Series. There are many similarities between the Outlander and Wilderness series--the love story between a Scots and English, memorable minor characters even with the smallest children, countries at war, strong families, the culture of the times. Sara Donati's Wilderness series begins in New York State, Canada, and Scotland. The conflicts in these six novels revolve around claims on the American wilderness by the colonists and the native American Indians, the prejudices experienced by black slaves, women's rights, and religious intolerance. Also swirling in all this conflict is the struggles for power and trade domination among the colonists, French and English which will lead to the War of 1812.

So far I've read Into the Wilderness and Dawn on a Distant Shore. I've chosen the first novel for this week's Teaser Tuesday. If you'd like to join this meme, the directions are simple:

--open your current read to a random page;
--share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on the page, being careful not to give away too much of the story;
--share the title and author and, if you like, a brief synopsis so other readers can decide if they want to add your selection to their TBR lists; and
--post your link in the comments on Miz B's webpage before checking out other Teaser Tuesday links.

Into the Wilderness
by Sara Donati

December 1792 "Elizabeth Middleton, twenty-nine years old and unmarried, overly educated and excessively rational, knowing right from wrong and fancy from fact, woke in a nest of marten and fox pelts to the sight of an eagle circling overhead and saw at once that it could not be far to Paradise. All around her was a world of intense green and severe white mountains, a wilderness of deep and bountiful silence, magnificent beyond all imagining. This was not England, that was clear enough." p. 3

Synopsis: in December 1792 Elizabeth Middleton leaves her comfortable English estate to join her father and brother in a remote New York mountain village. She intends to open a school for village children. Her father has other plans for her, a marriage to secure desirable wilderness property. Almost immediately upon arrival in Paradise, Elizabeth gains an unlikely ally and admirer in Nathaniel Bonner, a white man who dresses like and lives among the local Mohawk tribe. This is the story of two strong people and the life they struggle to build together in the wilderness.

I have not read ahead to see where Elizabeth and Nathaniel's story takes me over the six novels. That's one of the great pleasures of a series like this. You meet the characters and want to follow them on their adventures without knowing too much ahead of time about where those adventures will take you.

(Book collage image credit: http://alphareader.blogspot.com )

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fun Monday - Ok Go's This Too Shall Pass

The Fun Monday challenge for January 17 is to get up and dance! Or, at least share the music link that makes you want to dance. Ari continues her hosting duties for January at Prawn of Fate . I first thought about the great Bob Marley's "One Love", but decided to go with Ok Go'sThis Too Shall Pass. Same upbeat, hopeful message, marching bands in a swamp a bit crazy but fun to watch:

When the morning comes
When the morning comes
When the morning comes

Let it go now
This too shall pass
When the morning comes!

Not a bad way to start the week off, wouldn't you say? BTW, if you enjoy marching band Ok Go, check out their other zaney videos like dogs on treadmills.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuesday Teaser - Henning Mankell's Man from Beijing

Teaser Tuesday is described by its host Miz B over at Should be Reading as a "weekly bookish meme" open to any reader who wants to play along. If, like me, you're always curious about what people are reading or always on the lookout for the next great read, then this may be your meme.

The rules are simple:

--Grab your current read,
--open to a random page,
--share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on the page,
--be careful not to include a spoiler,
--share the title and author--and a very brief synopsis--so that other Tuesday Teaser participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teaser, and
--post your link in the comments on Miz B's webpage.

The Man from Beijing
by Henning Mankell

District Judge Birgitta Roslin: "Long afterward, when the memory of everything that had taken place began to grow dim, she sometimes wondered what would have happened if she had in fact gone on the holiday to Tenerife, then come home and gone back to work with her blood pressure lowered and her tiredness banished. But reality turned out differently ."
p. 57

Synopsis from book jacket: January 2006: In the Swedish hamlet of Hesjovallen, 19 people, mostly elderly, were massacred. The only clue was a red ribbon found at the crime scene. Judge Birgitta Roslin is shocked to learn that her grandparents, the Andrens, are among the victims. She also learns that an Andren family in Nevada has been murdered in a similar manner. In trying to find the link between these two murders she discovers the 19th century diary of an Andren ancestor who was a gang master responsible for the brutal treatment of Chinese slave workers forced to work on the American transcontinental railway.

Judge Roslin cannot persuade the local police to pursue the links among these three events. They insist that the Swedish massacre must be the work of a lunatic. So, she sets out to investigate on her own. This dangerous mission entangles her in power plays in modern day Beijing involving the Chinese government as it becomes a political and financial super power.

The Man from Beijing solidifies Henning Mankell's reputation as a
great Swedish crime writer that began earlier with his Kurt Wallander mystery series, following the driven career and tortured personal life of Inspector Kurt Wallander in the southern sea coast town of Ystad. Mankell's novels are so much more than standard police investigations because he deals with modern day issues like unchecked immigration, governmental inefficiency, financial and social collapse. This background makes for a very relevant read. Final note: if you enjoy the Mankell novels, you will more than likely want to check out Wallander on PBS' Masterpiece Mystery where Kenneth Branagh gives and award winning performance as Inspector Kurt Wallander.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fun Monday - Unfinished Business

"For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin--real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life."

--Father Alfred D'Souza

This week's Fun Monday topic--dealing with unfinished business--is important to anyone who tries to manage the ever changing circumstances of daily living and have a halfway decent life. And don't we all? Our host for January is Ari at Prawn of Fate and here's her question for the 10th: from the mundane to the emotional, from paneling the basement walls to patching it up with the brother in VA you haven't spoken to since you voted for Carter and he didn't. Unfinished business is something left undone or incomplete. It even can haunt you. What's your unfinished business?

Well Ari, my basement does need a serious clearing out and cleaning, and has needed it for about five years. I did vote for Carter, but am not sure that my brother (in TN) did, but there was a time when I "divorced" him over a family situation. We've since reconciled, but are not close. Our relationship doesn't haunt me any more, but it did at one time.

Going back to Fr. D'Souza's quote and drilling down to the impact of unfinished business on our lives, there was a time when I may have lived in a bit of suspended animation, putting of moving ahead with living because of some perceived obstacle. Usually that obstacle was something unimportant. You know the bargains we make with ourselves, lose 25 pounds and you can get a new wardrobe, clean your office and then work on the presentation for tomorrow's meeting--that kind of nonsense. I've left a trail of those things undone in over 60 years.

However, when it comes to big decisions about what to do with my life, I am bold, independent, and fearless. Even in my teens I soon learned that in life the stars were never going to be perfectly aligned. If I wanted something badly, I stepped out into uncertainty and never looked back. Went to college with no money. Moved to a new state with no job waiting. Bought a house without the requisite 10% down payment. Adopted a border collie and found us a home after getting evicted. Traveled to many foreign countries and lived on my own in one for three years. Retired as soon as possible without listening to all the financial planner advice about how much one needs to have in the retirement nest egg.

There is one area of unfinished business that I'm determined to get done--that's planning for my senior living and beyond! That may seem a bit macabre to you, but it does have some humorous moments. Throughout my life, except for some wonderful friends, I've had only myself to depend on. It has allowed me great freedom, but, at the same time, is a bit scary when I think of growing old alone. So, for the past couple of years I've been trying to get my house in order so that the friend who has lovingly agreed to be my power of attorney and health care surrogate (or, as we call her "my nurse executioner") will have it as easy as possible to settle my affairs. I bought this wonderful planning book, BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE by Emily Oishi & Sue Thompson, and have recorded all manner of personal, legal, financial, estate, and end of life provisions under one cover. My "executioner" knows that this booklet and everything else she needs to fulfill her duties can be found in the left hand drawer of the file cabinet in my office cubbyhole. We've had many laughs about this process, the latest being disposal of my ashes. She doesn't have to take them and put them on her mantel. Instead, she's to make sure that the funeral director sets my urn on the shelf at the funeral home beside someone who's interested in good books, dogs, films, and travel! I certainly don't want to be bored for eternity!

So Ari, there you have my most pressing unfinished business and I'm pretty close to moving it to the "finished" column. Can't wait to see what other Fun Monday players have on their unfinished list--mundane or otherwise.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

First Day of the Month - Kentucky Sunsets

In a rather roundabout way, just discovered an exciting blog photography meme started by Jan at Murrieta 365 . Saw the first entry on Pamela's The Dust Will Wait blog. She had seen it on Lisa's Chaos photography blog. Anyway!

Jan is calling her new meme First Day of Each Month. Here are her directions: "The goal is to capture one thing repeatedly on the first day of each month. It can be a landscape, a person, an animal, a project; whatever your focus is fine. It can be a record of where you are each first day of the month." Interesting exercise, right?

I decided to photograph Kentucky sunsets. Regardless of the season, we have some spectacular evening light shows or just a quiet dissolve into night. I'm anxious to see what the year reveals. So, here we have Kentucky Sunset 1, taken on January 1, 2011:

Now in the interest of full disclosure I did not shoot this wonderful photo. My friend Janice did. But since the time, date, and subject was right I'm sure she won't mind my using it. Next month I'll do my own!

If you'd enjoy seeing some more beautiful photography from all over and on many subjects, just click on Jan's webpage for a list of other First of the Month players.

( Top Photo Credit: Kentucky Sunset by Garry Walter)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Fun Monday - Winter Weather Arsenal

Ari, who can be found over at Prawn of Fate , is the January host for the Fun Monday meme. For this first week she's chosen a very timely topic: winter weather gear. As we settle into winter, Ari wants a description of the clothing and items we use to keep warm--our winter weather arsenal.

Now Kentucky can get pretty cold. About this time two years ago we had a statewide ice storm that left us immobilized and powerless for over a week. I wished for warmer clothes and even a much snickered at "Snuggie" blanket/sofa jacket to keep warm in my home until the power was restored. That storm was unusual. Temps can get below zero and snow and sleet can move through but not a lot. So, I tend to ignore winter gear except for this lovely Italian wool scarf that Willie is pleased to model in the above photo. :-)

I wear this shawl when sitting at the computer, watching TV or reading. It's just enough to keep the chill away without being bundled up in sweaters and long-sleeved shirts in the house. I throw it around my shoulders to run out to the paper box or when I'm doing quick in and out car errands. I take it with me to a movie or play for just the right amount of warmth. On long trips on buses or planes I like to wrap up in it--my own little cocoon from the rest of the world.

My winter dog walking gear pretty much consists of a turtleneck sweater, pullover hooded sweatshirt and gloves. Oh yeah, I do wear pants--sweats!
My friend Kittyhawk just knitted me a great black 'n white patterned head band which I'm anxious to try for dog walking when it gets a bit colder. This same friend asked recently I even owned a winter coat. Why yes, I do Kittyhawk. However I mostly wear it in Ukraine when holding hands with Count Mucheve!

So that's my short report on winter weather gear. If you're reading this and haven't participated in Fun Monday for awhile or at all, I hope you'll sign up and join the fun. It's just like the Little Engine That Could--just keeps chugging along because we're too fond of it to let go.

Be sure to go over to Ari's blog to check out who's playing this week and see what she has in store for us for the rest of the month.

Let's bundle up now! It's cold out there.