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Friday, January 29, 2016

You Wanna Bake Cookies?

Before the big snowstorm hit last weekend, I rummaged through my pantry to make sure I had enough staples to last the duration of the storm and it's aftermath.  I know, it's long could we possibly be trapped in our houses???  But, as I scanned my shelves, I spied an unopened bag of...TaDa!!!...chocolate chips.  Of course, the perfect thing to bake to comfort us through the blizzard.  Images of warm, chocolate chip cookies, steaming mugs of coffee, and a crackling fire circled my brain.  What a find.

So, I quickly got to work and began whipping up a batch of everyone's favorite cookie.  As I struggled to blend the butter and sugars together (I'm not as strong as I use to be ) my mind shifted back to the very first time I saw these cookies being made.  I was in 7th grade and visiting my BFF, Sandi. Sandi, her sister Norma and I would often get together to play cards and games like Rack-o and Yahtzee.  Remember those games?

Of course we needed sustenance to wage war on one another (Sandi's the fiercest competitor I know).  The next thing I knew, Sandi was competently taking out bowls and baking supplies and whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies as though she had done it a hundred times before.  I was damned impressed!  The most baking I had ever done to that date was assisting my grandmother with the baking of Christmas cookies.  I had never made a batch of anything by myself, so you can imagine how blown away I was to see my best friend commanding the kitchen like an expert.  By the way, the cookies were yummy. And now, I can never make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, without thinking of that day and my  amazing friend.

I once received a plaque that read: friends are the chocolate chips in the cookie of life. This is so very true.  Sandi is the only one of my high school friends with whom I have maintained a continuous friendship.  She lives on the west coast and I live on the east coast, but the distance has not diminished our deep affection for one another.  How could I forget the girl who wrote on the chalkboard (to my mortification) for all to see "Karen loves Tiger Lou."  Tiger Lou was our class's version of the science nerd, and Sandi thought our classmates would get a little chuckle at my expense... oh, by the way, he went on to be instrumental in the development of fiber optics (sheesh... who could have guessed that!  Shout out to Tiger...way to go Tiger!) That's my friend Sandi; she has a great sense of humor and a big heart.  Who else but a best friend would traverse the continental United States twice, just to attend my daughters' weddings.  Sandi really is a sweet part of the cookie of my life.  Thanks for the memories girl!

And so, I guess, the point I'm trying to make is that it is important to take the time to reflect on who is important in your life.  Family are easy to love...they're family...ya have ta!  But good friends are precious treasures...cherish them. They really are the chocolate chips of life.

I'd love to hear about your thoughts of friendship or your memories of your BFF!  Leave a comment

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Reading Round-up: January

January was a great month for curling up in front of the fire with a blanket and a book.  The skies may have been gray and the wind may have been chilling, but my spirit was warmed by the stories I read about lovers, orphans, immigrants, and displaced children of war. Here's the list:

The Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline
This was my favorite book this month.  I was unaware of the historical event around which this novel revolved: the orphan trains of the 1920's and 30's.  To alleviate the awful problem of orphaned and homeless children who populated the large cities like NYC during this era,  children's aid societies  transported thousands of orphans by train to the Midwest to places like Kansas.  There the orphans were put on display like cattle at an auction and given to just about anyone who wanted one, for better or worse! Some people were kind and just wanted to help a child, but others, as you can imagine, were depraved and cruel and simply wanted free labor. One of the main characters of the novel is Vivian, a 91-year-old survivor of an orphan train. She gives a job to Molly, a 17-year -old foster child, who needs to do 50 hours of service to avoid juvie after she stole a book (Jane Eyre, I ask you... how can that be a crime!) from the library.Vivian needs her attic cleaned out, and Molly needs the hours:  a perfect match.  But the job turns into much more. As each box in the attic is opened, a piece of Vivian's long life is revealed and the two discover much about themselves and each other.

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin
 This book begins in post-WWII Ireland and follows a bright, young Irish girl, Eilis, as she emigrates to America where she begins a new life in Brooklyn. Her Irish family believe that America can provide a hopeful future for her, a future that she will not be able to find if she stays in Ireland. In America, Eilis blossoms under the strict guidance and generosity of a parish priest and a boarding house "mother." Here, she has been carefully placed through the efforts of her older sister. The priest selects a respectable place for her to work and even assists her in registering for college courses.  Of course, life is not all rosy for Eilis as she tries to assimilate into a strange new place. The best thing about this novel is the peek it gives the reader into the flavor of life during this period of American history when Irish and Italian immigrants added to the fabric of our country with their rich and vibrant cultures.

 The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

I had never read this classic fantasy, but decided it was time to do so, as I am taking a course on the works of C.S. Lewis.  Of course, the story can be read on many levels and by just about any age has such a classic appeal.  The setting takes place during the blitzkrieg of London during WWII.  Four children are sent from the beleaguered city to the country estate home of a wealthy professor.  However, most of the story takes place in the fantasy world of Narnia that the children enter when they step through the depths of a wardrobe which stands in one of the many rooms of the mansion.  Here they are faced with the very embodiment of good and evil.  Much has been written about the symbolic aspect of the novel and the Narnia series.

Persuasion, by Jane Austen
Ahhh...Jane Austen!  What else can I say...just divine.  I think Persuasion is just as delightful as Pride and Prejudice (must be something about "P" words that bring the best out in Austen).  I love the way Jane pokes a finger in the eye of the entitled titled class...what a bunch of shallow baffoons.  Thank goodness the heroine in Persuasion is a humble, nice, likable person, because all of her relatives and most of her acquaintances are insufferable.  And what better book to read during a series of cold, gray days than one that presents a heart-wrenching love dilemma that is not resolved until the last two pages of the novel.  Delightful!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Where's Waldo

I've been meaning to write this post for quite some time, but have always kept putting it off in deference to something of more "importance."  Where's Waldo is such a silly thing, but then again in times of constant terrorist attacks, a continuing failed economy, self-important politicians who care more about re-election than improving the country, arrogant leaders who ignore the Constitution, and foreign governments who humiliate our military, I guess a little levity is not such a bad thing :)

Now that I have that off my chest.....

Meet Lilly:

Lilly is one of our four grand-dogs.  Lilly lived with us the first two years of her life, and then moved off with her "mommy", our daughter Allison, when Alli started a home of her own. Lilly is a spunky beagle with a huge personality. Lilly is like most beagles:

she loves to sleep on top of things...

she loves to eat...this is her please give me some of your food or I will die face...

and she loves to get into trouble!

I've read that beagles are like perpetual toddlers.  Imagine chasing after your two-year old, remember the energy that requires?  They are always getting into something and they never quit... it's exhausting, but they are also adorable... that's what life with Lilly is like all the time.  When she comes to visit, the first thing she does is beg for a peanut butter bone, then once that goal has been achieved , it's on to playing!  Sometimes she races outside to play with her friend Sudsy next door; sometimes she grabs the kitchen towel off of the oven door handle and runs around the dining room table hoping you will play chase with her. We always tire of that game before she does.  Sometimes she grabs a toy out of her toy basket and brings it to you to play a game of tug or throw and fetch; sometimes she steals dirty laundry out of the bin and races off with you chasing her frantically in tow.  By far, my favorite Lilly activity is Where's Waldo.  What's that you say?  She's a dog so she can't search for Waldo?  Well, that is true, but Lilly invented her own version of the puzzle.

Lilly has a favorite bone (I have to confess she first stole this bone from Sudsy...Lilly, unfortunately is also a thief) that she likes to hide.  We didn't notice at first that this was a game, until we began to find the hidden bone by happenstance after her visits.  Once we realized this was a game, we would watch her pick the bone out of the toy basket and race off with it.  We knew she was going to hide it somewhere; it became our mission to search it out after she left.  We have found that bone in just about every corner of our house:

under the bed in the spare room...

under the pillow of the day bed in the exercise room...

under the dining room table...

behind the couch...

then for the longest time we couldn't find it... we thought maybe she forgot about it, until... I was stripping the cushion covers from the wicker couch in the sun room the other day ( my grand-dogs got muddy on Christmas day and so did the couch) and...

There it was in all it's beagle-bone glory!!!

I laughed my you-know-what off... Where's Waldo is alive and well.

Oh...and just so that I don't get into grandmotherly trouble....Here is a look at all of my grand-dogs:

This is Lilly in front, with her sister Rexie

and here are my daughter Suzie's dogs, handsome Radar on the left, and pretty Emma on the right.

Dogs are wonderful people, don't you think!  I'd love to hear your dog tales...leave a comment!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Continued Learning, Key to Happy Retirement

Keeping Young of Heart

In an earlier post I proffered the thought that retirement is the time to do what makes you happy. (see my post: Retirement Means ) One of the things on my happy list was "learning new things."  I firmly believe that learning new things and exploring uncharted territory keeps you young of heart and fulfilled.  And this is true for all retirees, no matter what shape, age, race, gender, or marital status. Follow your heart...what did you always wish you knew more about? If you like history, do a quick online search of local history spots and jump in the car for a visit, or if time and money allow plan something more elaborate and spend a weekend in Gettysburg or Washington D.C. (see my post: A Walk With History).

Interested in music?  Find a local piano teacher and take some lessons. Curious about backyard birds?  Check out some bird books from your local library. Often times as we age, it gets more difficult to get out and about.  But this shouldn't stop us from keeping the grey matter from getting some exercise! There are lots of things one can do right from the comfort of an armchair: take an online course, or explore a subject through books. Even your cell phone provides opportunities for learning.  Did you ever use the free app Duolingo?  I brush up on my French with this free phone app;  it brings me back to my high school days and makes me long to read The Paris Wife again.

The Fear of Nothing to Do

Many soon-to-be retirees dread the day they will retire because they feel they will have nothing to do once they have cleaned out every closet and cupboard in the house. Are you one of those?  Can't see a full life without work? Believe me when I say that truly is not the long as you take charge of your retired life and make the most of every moment. Retirement can be the best part of the journey we call life.  Continuing your learning is key to maintaining a happy healthy retired life.  In fact, if you approach your retirement from this perspective, you will find you don't have enough hours in the day to do all those interesting and entertaining things you always dreamed of doing. If you are the procrastinating type, get yourself a planner and schedule in things to do, places to go, people to get the picture? If you put it in writing, it is more likely you will do it!

Find Your Passion

I'm starting my third online course this week since I retired two and a half years ago. I am passionate about many things and would love to learn more about them. For example, I love America and feel that many of our young people today do not know what a great country we have.  They just don't know how unique and grand our country is!  Hillsdale College (this isn't a paid promo, strictly my opinion) offers free online courses on the Constitution to any and all who are interested.  They believe that not enough people really know the founding principles of our nation. So they try to do their little part in educating the country by opening their online courses to the general public.  Free! Here is the link if you want to check it out: Constitution 101. You really do not need any advanced computer skills to take this course; it is easy!  It is filled with guest lecturers, primary documents and much, much more.  There are tests available if you want to see how well you are understanding the material, but you are not required to take the tests ever.  What could be better than that?  Learning for learning's sake.

I also took their free course on The Federalist Papers and learned so much more about the wisdom of our Founding Fathers...I am humbled at the brilliance and wisdom of Hamilton, Madison and Jay.

 And now, I've just enrolled in Hillsdale's most recent course offering:  An Introduction to C.S. Lewis: Writings and Significance.  You can check out the course description at this link: CS Lewis .  Lewis is best known for his Chronicles of Narnia, and I must admit, I have not read them all, nor have I ever studied about Lewis himself, so I am quite anxious to plumb the depths of this revered writer and philosopher.

AND!!! When I finish this, I am going to sign up for Winston Churchill and Statesmanship.  Can't wait!!!!  I don't earn any credits for these courses, but then at this point in my life, that's not my goal. I just find these subjects fascinating and am following my passions.

Your Turn

Retirement can be an amazing and fascinating experience.  However, if you wait for the amazing and fascinating to knock on your door, you are likely to be highly disappointed.  As in all things, you must take charge of your days.  I strongly recommend you keep on learning new things, follow your passions, and explore areas you never had time to explore while you were working.

I'd love to here what new things you are learning!  What subjects interest you? What explorations are you making in your retirement?  Leave a comment.