Sunday, January 31, 2010

Knocked Out

I took my walk downtown Saturday, stopped at a craft fair, scooted through the farmers' market and stopped in a couple of the shops. I was looking at some candles when I all of a sudden started to get a little sneezey. By the time I got home I knew for sure I was coming down with a cold. My head is stuffed up like the vacuum that time I inadvertently sucked up a stray sock from under the bed--no air getting through. I have a three point headache--behind and right between the eyes--my ears itch, my throat is scratchy, and my nose is raw and red enough for me to enter the Rudolph look-alike contest. I miserable!

I went to bed early last night after a healthy shot of quality brandy. I took an hour nap this morning and a two hour nap this afternoon. I made myself a big pot of spicy chicken noodle soup and I've been sipping on that or green tea with honey while I'm awake. At least the high fluid intake conspires with my bladder to get me out of bed and shuffling on into the bathroom once in a while.

It has been a long time since I've had a cold. Now that I have whined sufficiently, it occurs to me that I should be damn grateful for the good health I usually experience. And I am because this has been a particularly rough year health wise for many family members and friends--big stuff, not piddly colds.

Still. another shot of that brandy seems to be calling my name. With luck, six days to go...

Lunch Guest

We went out for lunch the other day at a funky old Florida place on the Intracoastal Waterway called Pop's Sunset Grill. We really like it on a nice day. You can sit outside in the sun, sip a cool drink, munch on a fish sandwich, and watch the boats go by.
This time we were joined by a rather unusually tame yellow crowned night heron. He noticed the french fries in my basket were not getting gobbled up and apparently thought he could help out with that. I pointed out a number of times the sign that was directly behind me: "DO NOT feed the birds! PLEASE!" He was quite pushy in his campaign to get me to believe that the sign referred to the gulls, not to a fine specimen such as himself. He was practically on my shoulder eyeballing those fries (which cannot be good for a heron's general health). Mike, always the soft touch when it comes to animals, did slip him some shrimp tails, and I have to say the bird was very polite about snatching them up.
When our stuff was cleared away, he moved on to the neighboring table where a man and two women were finishing up their lunches. One of the women freaked out, huddling into the wall in apparent terror. The other woman kept flapping at the bird, yelling, "Get away!" Of course, all the arm flapping meant to the bird was that she must be throwing it some food so it kept getting closer (kind of funny to watch). Then the man had to get up and start kicking at the bird (not funny to watch). I hope next time that trio chooses an indoor restaurant.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pasta Night

I always learn something about cooking when we visit Mike's daughter. This year it was a stock base called "Better Than Bouillon," and it really is. I got a lobster base and used it with milk and flour to make a sauce for spaghetti and sea scallops. Added fresh green beans and crusty rolls--yummy. I try not to use too many processed foods because of the salt. This is so much easier to accomplish now that I am not dragging home form my job feeling tired and hungry. Now that I have the time to put into shopping and preparing food, it's a lot more fun. Still, a spoonful of that stock base really made a nice addition to the meal and I just did not add salt at the table.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Home Shopping

At one point in our lives (before retirement) we were seriously considering a full time move to Florida. We have some land and we had met with a contractor and come up with a design plan, even made a down payment. We applied for the appropriate permits but then our plans were pretty much sank in the swamp of bureaucracy. For reasons we do not comprehend, the woman at the Army Corps of Engineers decided to make our lives a living nightmare. A process we thought would take about six weeks took well over a year. Since this was in the midst of a boom time the estimated cost of construction kept going up until a house we could afford with the money from selling the house we already have became way out of our range. Finally, in complete frustration, we pulled the plug on the project, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I would be seriously grand children deprived if we had moved down here year round. Now we get to come down for the winter, but can enjoy what we like about Vermont--family and friends nearby, camping, fall weather, a house we love, a familiar community. Also the real estate boom crashed a couple of years ago and we would have been stuck with a house worth considerably less than it cost us. So sometimes really annoying people serve their purpose.
The down side is having to look for a place to rent. We'd hoped that we could rent our current place for several years. It's in a great location and it's roomy and well equipped. But now the owners have retired and want to use it themselves. We really cannot afford to own two homes and, more importantly, we really are not inclined to have to maintain two houses. So we will have to start looking around for another rental for next year and I will entertain myself on Sunday afternoons by going to open houses in the area and thinking about "someday."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More Dancing

My maternal grandfather was not successful in turning me into a famous ballerina, but my paternal grandfather taught me to polka. My Grandpa Sam was one of the kindest and sweetest individuals to ever walk the face of the earth. He was playful and fun loving in a quiet kind of way. It is not at all hard to picture him dancing and having just the best time swinging the dance floor on a Saturday night. It is quite a bit more difficult to picture my grandma dancing along with him, but I know there must have been a side to her that I never got to see.I wonder if there are still radio stations that have a polka hour? I know there are tapes and reruns of the Lawrence Welk Show. It was on the rotation at my mother's nursing home--wonderful therapy for Alzheimer's patients. It's amazing how people who can't remember the names of their children can belt out the lyrics of the old songs. Different part of the brain or different pathways to retrieval...I don't know. I do know, my mother came more alive whenever there was music playing.
Anyway, I can remember one afternoon when my grandmother, mother and father had gone out shopping and my brothers and sister must have been off playing somewhere. My Grandpa and I were alone in the living room and watching TV, maybe Lawrence Welk, and a polka started playing. My Grandpa Sam got up and held out his hand to me. "Can you polka?" he asked.
"No I don't know how," I replied probably thinking along the lines of: "Duh, that's not the kind of dancing we do. Polka is for old people."
But he pulled me to my feet. "Every body should learn to polka. I'll show you. You'll always have fun at weddings if you know how to polka." So he taught me the basic step, told me to relax, and we swung around the living room together for the rest of the song. When it was done, I was praying for another polka to come on.

And on the subject...this from my e-mail:

An old prospector shuffled into the town of El Indio, Texas leading an old tired mule. The old man headed straight for the only saloon in town, to clear his parched throat. He walked up to the saloon and tied his old mule to the hitch rail. As he stood there, brushing some of the dust from his face and clothes, a young gunslinger stepped out of the saloon with a gun in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. The young gunslinger looked at the old man and laughed, saying, "Hey old man, have you ever danced?" The old man looked up at the gunslinger and said, "No, I never did dance... never really wanted to." A crowd had gathered as the gunslinger grinned and said, "Well, you old fool, you're gonna' dance now," and started shooting at the old man's feet. The old prospector, not wanting to get a toe blown off, started hopping around like a flea on a hot skillet. Everybody was laughing, fit to be tied. When his last bullet had been fired, the young gunslinger, still laughing, holstered his gun and turned around to go back into the saloon. The old man turned to his pack mule, pulled out a double-barreled shotgun, and cocked both hammers. The loud clicks carried clearly through the desert air. The crowd stopped laughing immediately. The young gunslinger heard the sounds too, and he turned around very slowly. The silence was almost deafening. The crowd watched as the young gunman stared at the old timer and the large gaping holes of those twin barrels. The barrels of the shotgun never wavered in the old man's hands, as he quietly said, "Son, have you ever kissed a mule's ass?" The gunslinger swallowed hard and said, "No sir..... but... I've always wanted to."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Two New Tricks

I bought this shrunken wool sweater at a resale shop--"felted" by mistake at some point in its life. I wanted to turn it into a kid's sweater--kind of cheaty, but much easier than knitting the whole thing myself. It will be donated somewhere.

Mike and I like to have Sunday morning breakfast--something a bit more than our usual coffee and English muffin with peanut butter. This morning I made waffles from scratch. This is the very first time in my life that I served waffles that did not pop out of the toaster. What a lot of work. Any recipe that requires separating eggs and whipping the yolks and whites separately is a major project in my book. They were good, though--light and tender--and we had brought some Vermont maple syrup down with us so we had that to pour over them.

Isn't it great to learn and do new things right into old

Friday, January 22, 2010

Texting TImes

I caught two “texting” related items on the television this past week. Oprah did a show about the danger of texting while driving with deaths resulting. Yeegods, that seems like a no brainer and yet people were convinced they had the dexterity and driving skills to manage it. Of course, I have seen people putting on make-up, shaving, and reading the newspaper while driving so such inattention isn’t unique to the cell phone.
The other item was the tail end of a news story about an International Texting Competition. No kidding. I didn’t catch where this took place. The team of teens from Korea won and the United State team took second place.
Is a mixed message being given here?
P.S. I guess my computer is old. Spell check is not recognizing the word “texting.”
(Image from PhotoXpress)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why I Am Not a Ballet Dancer

Several years ago I was taking a class in counseling women as part of a post graduate program I was in at the University of Vermont. At one point the professor asked us first, what profession we each most admired, and second, what profession we each would choose if we were given a “do over.” There were probably a dozen women in the class and if memory serves me, eleven of them said they most admired dancers and they wished they could have been ballet dancers. (Maybe one or two admired and wanted to be classical musicians.) I felt kind of like an oddball when I said I most admired writers, but when we went around again to say what we would have liked as the idealized profession, I said I would have really loved to have been a publisher. Psychologically, this was supposed to demonstrate that I have a strong identity as a nurturer. I don’t know if that is true, but it is a subject for another post. Right now I want to explain why I am not a dancer.
So it’s really not a secret to anyone who actually knows me. I trip over my own feet. I have little to no sense of balance and an impaired awareness of my body in space and motion. My attempts at anything athletic used to embarrass my father and I was encouraged to be the studious one in a family that maybe valued athletic skills maybe more than academic. I’ve fallen off bicycles and skis more times than I can count. I was fired from the only witnessing job I ever had because of the spilling things on people and tipping trays of food on the floor. I would occasionally amuse students during my teaching career by backing into a chair or desk and landing on my bum right in the middle of some brilliant pedagogical point I was trying to make at the time.
I have scars to prove all this, if you think I exaggerate.
No it’s not a mystery why I didn’t end up a dancer, famous or otherwise, BUT that is exactly what my maternal grandfather envisioned for me on the very day of my birth. My grandfather was a Russian émigré of some education and culture. He was immediately convinced on viewing my little eight pound ball of a body for the first time that I would follow in the footsteps of the great Russian ballerinas he so admired.
And he wasn’t one for idle wishful thinking either. Before I could even walk, he had set up a foot high ballet bar across the middle of our living room--exclusively for my training as it must have been quite the inconvenience for everyone else. Then one day he found an old tennis racquet in the basement. This gave him (what he considered to be) a brilliant idea. He took out the useless strings and, yes he did, put the racquet over my head and settled it around my middle so he could train my wonky little legs to hold me up and twirl me around.
I blame being encouraged to stand, walk, and dance before I even learned to crawl for derailing something in my neural development. My grandfather thought he was training a ballerina. In reality, he was dooming me to the life of a klutz.
(image from PhotoXpress)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some Thoughts

I am ready to give up watching the news. It's too depressing.

Today I saw a bumper sticker: CRONE--creative researcher of new experiences. Now, that's a group I would join on Facebook.

Both Mary Matalin Corville (on CNN) and Rudy Giuliani (on ABC) stated publicly that there were no terrorist attacks on the United States during the George Bush presidency. UH, I guess if you don't count 9/11...

On the subject of terrorism, I TOTALLY believe blogger Betty ( has the answer. I hope she will run for president.

I want to be just like Helen Philpot ( when I grow up.

When is common sense going to return to our political process in this country? Every recent development seems fueled by anger. It's not healthy and it's certainly not productive.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Walk Like You Mean It

I have always liked to travel and I like to walk for my exercise. Many years ago I read that you should always walk looking like you know exactly where you are going--to look lost is to look vulnerable. So even though I am directionally challenged and therefore often lost, I have practiced and manage to carry off a purposeful stride. It works. I know because it is amazing to me that people often stop and ask me for directions so I must look like I know where am and where I am going. Of course, it does blow your cover when some one stops to ask for a good breakfast place and you have to admit you haven't a clue.
Today, I was loading some groceries into the back seat of the car at the Publix when a woman stopped. "Excuse me," she said. "I'm new here. I'm from Michigan. I'm looking for a nail salon. Can you tell me where I could find one?"
Not a very observant individual. First of all, I look like the snow bird that I am. (I wore shorts to the beach the other day and someone notified the Coast Guard that someone was sending a crazy SOS signal because the sun was bouncing off my knobby white knees.) If the lack of sun tint wasn't clue enough, I was standing next to my car with its Vermont license plates. Finally, with the return to typical Florida weather and its humidity, my hair was blowing wild in a frizz tangle and my hands...clean, but hardly manicured. Let's just say I am not the likely candidate to direct anyone to the area's beauty services.
Actually, I've been coming to Venice enough so I did actually know the locations of several nail salons and day spas (because I happen to walk by them a lot). I gave her directions even though I could tell she was noticing my stubby fingernails by then. I got in my car and drove back home...making a wrong turn one block away from the house.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Frost Damage

The Florida cold snap appears to be over. The frost did a number on the tropical plants here in this subtropical area. It was starting to look like October with sheets draped over plants like Halloween ghosts. Sadly, the bougainvillea that was so beautiful over the neighbors fence succumbed. We'll know soon enough how hard the citrus crops were hit.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Horrors in Haiti

It sure is hard to watch the coverage of the earthquake aftermath in Haiti. These disasters can bring out the best in people. Every where I have been in the past few days has had some sort of collection set up so people could give to the Red Cross. Unfortunately, the worst comes out, too,
just adding so needlessly to to the suffering--bogus 'relief' agencies, price gouging and black markets. Nature can be cruel enough; it seems like human beings ought to come together in a situation like this.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Baking Power

I received this e-mail and it just cracked me up because my mom was always shooing us away from goodies she had made "for the church." When my brother brought an apple pie he'd baked to family Christmas dinner, his wry presentation comment was, "It wasn't good enough to give to the church, so you can eat this one."

A very old man lay dying in his bed. In death's doorway, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favorite chocolate chip cookie wafting up the stairs.

He gathered his remaining strength and lifted himself from the bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and with even greater effort forced himself down the stairs, gripping the railing with both hands.

With labored breath, he leaned against the door frame, gazing into the kitchen. Were it not for death's agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven.

There, spread out up on newspapers on the kitchen table were literally hundreds of his favorite chocolate chip cookies.

Was it heaven? Or was it one final act of heroic love from his devoted wife, seeing to it that he left this world a happy man?

Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself toward the table. The aged and withered hand, shaking, made its way to a cookie at the edge of the table, when he was suddenly smacked with a wooden spoon by his wife.

"Stay out of those," she said. "They're for the funeral."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I went to church last Sunday. Worth the price of admission: a choral meditation by the twelve voice choir. It consisted of the word "Imani" (which I believe means "faith") sung slowly over and over again. It doesn't sound like much, but I cannot describe how beautiful it was. I just sat with my eyes closed and could feel those voices reverberating through me. I found myself repeating "Imani" as walked down the beach this morning, experiencing again the meditative benefits.

Monday, January 11, 2010


The car trip from Vermont to Florida is a long one--something like 1580 miles--so it provides a lot of time to think. Every once in a while I would think of something that I wanted to remember as a topic for my blog. Whenever that happened, I reached into my bag and pulled out the pocket sized notebook I keep as an external brain, then jotted down notes to myself. As the first day wore on, Mike saw me do this several times. Finally he was unable to contain himself any longer and asked, “Just what are you doing in that notebook you keep writing stuff in?”
My answer had to be, “I’m making notes of every time you do something annoying so I can remember and bring things up at an appropriate time in the future.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I was afraid of!”
Are those not the words of a man obviously feeling guilty, knowing his annoyance potential when focused on driving a long distance with his long suffering wife by his side?
When he starts the car the schedule is set and unalterable (annoying*)--right down to each gas station stop (planned in advance: annoying*) at which exit number (and he remembers them: annoying*) “because that’s where we stopped the last time…” (not open to new experiences: annoying*). Fortunately, years of teaching conditioned me to maintain bladder control for long periods of time, but that is beside the point.
*I really hadn’t written any of this stuff in my notebook, but when I think about it, it is kind of annoying.
On the first day of our trip this year, we ended up leaving early because of a snow storm predicted for mid morning and it made sense to try to get ahead of it, which we did. I thought that gave us a little extra cushion of time, so I suggested, as we were driving down PA route 81 that we get off and I would show him my home town, the place where I was born and my ancestral home--Olyphant, PA. He’s always been half convinced it is a place my family made up as an insider joke on the rest of the world. Thirty minute detour, tops, but no deal, not on the schedule, never likely to be.
I have contented myself with looking up 534 Delaware Avenue in Olyphant, PA on Google Earth. There’s a good picture of it actually. I haven’t been there since the early 1980’s but it hasn’t changed much.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I have finished reading two memoirs recently: Lit by Mary Karr and Lucky by Alice Sebold.

I read Mary Karr's The Liar's Club a couple of years ago and really did enjoy her perspective on her childhood years growing up in a dysfunctional family. (Have we all seen the cartoon of about five people in a huge conference room, attending what a banner across the back wall proclaims to be the annual meeting of The Children of Functional Families?) Anyway, I thought I wouldn't mind having a cup of coffee with her and discussing childhood memories and life in general. Then I read Cherry, about her rebellious teen years, and now Lit, about her adult life struggles with alcohol and her religious conversion, and I got over any fascination with Mary Karr as a person. She's a good writer, but true stories about trading one addiction for another have begun to bore me in my old age.
Lucky is an older book that I never got around to reading before. It is Alice Sebold's memoir of her brutal rape as a college freshman, the conviction of the rapist, and the long term effects all this had on her life. It was a pretty rough read, but worth it for the reminder of the intersecting cultures of women, police officers, the judicial system, and victims of violence. It sparked some good discussion even though some it was the boring bits about addiction.

I kept feeling the need for society to be more sensitive to rape victims--on a personal level wondering how much I may have offended survivors of trauma I've dealt with in my life--and maybe that was part of her motivation in writing this book to get that conversation going. I was disappointed and dismayed in the end, though. Sebold's response to her friend who was raped was just plain thoughtlessly hurtful. So much for sensitivity to the pain of others. I guess we just have to do the best we can do.

Friday, January 8, 2010


My step daughter has four active children. About ten years ago they decided they all needed a puppy and they found Gracie, a female boxer. She was a great choice as their family dog. Boxers, as a breed, seem to genuinely like children and enjoy being active and playful. They require little in the way of grooming, but they need a lot of exercise, something four active kids who really wanted a puppy could easily accomplish. Gracie has grown into quite the gentle lady--quiet, obedient, well-behaved, intelligent, sweet, gentle, loving, loyal, and trust worthy. Then there is their second boxer, Buckwheat.

Buckwheat is a male boxer the family took on in his adolescence five or six years ago. He'd belonged to a couple with a new baby. They just did not have the time or energy to give him the attention and activity that he needed. I don't believe he was physically abused, but his emotional needs were definitely neglected. Buckwheat is playful, loving, gentle and sweet. He can act dumb, but he's like a fox. Cunning describes him better that intelligent, I guess. And, he is obsessed with food. Really, he doesn't know the meaning of "full" and he'll eat until he is sick given the chance. That chance is what he is always looking for.

Gracie used to be fed in the morning and she would eat what she wanted, going back to graze as the day wore on. After several months with Buckwheat in the house, the family started to notice that she was getting thin, ribs starting to show, energy lagging. Buckwheat was gobbling everything in his dish and then hogging down her food as well.

Now the real goal in Buck's life is to get as much people food as possible. He keeps a steady watch on the garbage can, and he hates the new can with the tight, self-closing lid. He sits by anyone who is having food, inching closer and closer to the one he deems most likely to drop or hand over a morsel. He is not to be trusted alone when there is food waiting on any table.

For New Year's Eve, 2008, my step daughter (an extraordinarily good cook) prepared a buffet for a dozen or so guests plus family. There were beautifully presented fruit plates, cheese platters, cold meats, salads, crudities, and a plate of beef fillet tender enough to cut with a fork. It looked beautiful and tasted even better. As people filled their plates and drifted out of the dining room, Buckwheat was biding his time. Both dogs were ordered to stay on their beds in the family room and they did until the party was in full swing and the dining room was empty at some point. Buckwheat made his stealthy move. When Renee noticed his empty bed, she called his name and heard two paws hit the dining room floor. He'd made it half way down the table, sampling various dishes. The beef was at the far end and he was caught before he got to that so he wasn't so smart after all.

This year was a much quieter, smaller affair. Still, the two doorways were blocked with chairs after we had eaten as we were all going out to set off some New Year's Eve fireworks (legal in South Carolina and a source of great excitement for the grand kids). Buckwheat looked and acted defeated by those chairs, but guess what...he had no problem pushing them out of his way and working his way into the dining room and reaching anything left close to the table's edge. He was happily, and oh so innocently, asleep on the couch when we returned within the hour.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sunny Florida

We arrived in Venice on New Year's Day at around 2:30 p.m.--having made exceptionally good time on the road even with the infamous route 301 Florida speed traps. That was nice as it gave us some time to unpack the car and get a bit settled before crashing into bed and sleeping for ten hours straight. For Mike, "settling in" means quickly hanging up his shirts and then hooking up the lap top. His eager hopefulness is a bit sad to witness since history tells us quite clearly that an easy and immediate hook-up is just not going to happen--and it didn't. Once again we have spent out first five or six days in Florida without our internet security blanket, but I have to say we are developing a more Zen like attitude of acceptance as time wears on. Tech support at Comcast came through, we just had to wait our turn.
Now that we are here, we are enjoying the "new" house that we rented. It is in the same neighborhood as the house we used to rent (which went into foreclosure last March and is for sale by the bank now) but it is bigger and more updated. The kitchen here is equipped as well (or better than--newer appliances) as my own. If it had a gas stove and and a Kitchenaid mixer I might be forced to live here forever.

The weather, though, has been cold and windy. I understand it's been quite miserable in lots of places. I'll bet our Vermont house is buried. Does this mean we have solved the global warming crisis already? No--I'll try not to confuse the weather with the climate. But I'm glad I brought fleecy lounge clothes and bathrobe. Mike is a hardier breed.