Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The King Cake Mardi Gras Kitchen Adventure...........My Cooking Bucket List

I've been making quite a fuss all week about the King Cake that I want to make for Mardi Gras. Today I made that cake, and here it is!

Mardi Gras is not a huge event in Ohio, but my Cooking Bucket List included a King Cake. 

I only tasted one King Cake some years ago, and after I scraped the last morsel off the roof of my mouth, I started collecting pictures and recipes of this thing. It went onto the Bucket List that day.

The Bucket List includes things like French Bread and Stuffed Grape Leaves, and my Facebook friends have seen the photos as I've checked them off the list. I still have plenty of things to go......

I asked for recipes from Facebook friends, and was rewarded with at least four via email, postings, or referrals to websites. I printed them off and looked them over.  All I knew for sure was that I wanted a cake with that creamy, mooshy, cheesy feeling in my mouth when I hit the first bite. I chose one from Southern Living Magazine that is from www.recipes.com . It allowed me to have a cream cheese filling, or not. I chose to add the filling.............I'm looking for "mooshy," remember.

A friend who is a chef told me I need to put a dime into the cake to give the finder good luck all year, along with the plastic baby that is traditional. I decided to use a quarter so nobody would choke on a dime. I did not have a plastic baby, so planned to use a raisin, until a small "miracle" occurred this morning.

My neighbor arrived at our door carrying a King Cake from the West Point Market.  This is THE grocery store for fine foods. (Go to their web site at www.westpointmarket.com to see how wonderful this store is.) This cake looked exactly the way I hope mine looks tonight, and for one brief moment I actually considered not making my Bucket List item, but then knew that since it was THE PLAN for today, I was going to make it and have "dueling King Cakes" instead. (Do you hear strumming banjoes?)

Actually, the "dueling" thing isn't going to happen now, since the first thing I did was cut into that West Point Market cake and pop a slice into my mouth.

THE MIRACLE happened at that very moment, since I chewed down on the plastic baby from that cake. Good luck to me!  and also I will be doing a baby transplant this afternoon.......(try THAT, Cleveland Clinic!).........so it gets to serve double duty, and I won't have to settle for a raisin in my cake. 

I assumed this to mean there were no calories in the West Point Market cake, so had two more hefty slices before going on with my preparations. Hubby ate a couple of pieces also. The "dueling" is over, since there isn't much left of the gift cake. I've also tossed out plans for lunch and dinner, since the only thing being served in this house today is King Cake.

I gathered up my ingredients and washed the plastic baby and the quarter.  I mixed the yeast, sour cream and butter and heated it on the stovetop, then lowered the temperature to 110 degrees and mixed it into the flour with the yeast, which I added to warm water and some sugar.  My mixer did the rest for awhile.

I kneaded this mound of dough for nearly ten minutes and let it sit in a greased bowl, covered, while it rises.  My recipe says it needs to sit in a place that is 85 degrees.  THIS IS OHIO in March. There IS no place that is 85 degrees, so I put the bowl on top of a heating pad and covered it. It worked for the French Bread, so I hope it works for this, too! After forty minutes the blob hadn't risen, so I turned the heating pad up to HI.

While waiting for the rising, I evaluated one of the ingredients for this thing. I'd spent nearly $8 on yellow, purple and green sugar for the topping. To kill time (so I wouldn't keep peeking to see if the blob was rising), I mixed food coloring with some Turbinado Sugar, also called "Sugar in the Raw," and lo and behold, I was able to make my own colored sugars.  Aside from the colorful fingers, this is a hit! The purple is not true purple, but maybe next year I will get that right......
The first time I make anything is usually a "trauma drama," and this is no different.  The blob rose, and I rolled it out with my heavy rolling pin to a 22" by 15" rectangle.  Now, if you really think that it was a true "rectangle," you're doing better than I am. It was a large ovalish-rectanglish thing.  I took the cheese filling that I mixed up separately and spread that over it, then rolled it up like a jelly roll, being sure to throw in the quarter and the baby.

It didn't roll up as if it were even, and I could feel the filling moving around in there. The directions said to join the ends to make a circle and then to put it seam-side down on the baking sheet.  I knew that if I did that all the filling would ooze out the bottom, so my cake has its seam sort of on the top.

Unbelievably, the recipe also said to bake it at 375 degrees for only 16 minutes. How can that be? At the end of 16 minutes it was not "golden," and did not look what I'd call "done," so I left it in there for about 22 instead.

It is done. My colored sugar adorns it.  Check off one more thing from The Kitchen Bucket List! Will I make it again?  Maybe.  I've got to get the purple right.  Was I entertained all day?  YOU tell ME. :)

Recipe that I followed is called "Cream Cheese Filled King Cake" from Southern Living. Thanks to my friend, Alexis, for sending it to me!

copyright:  KP Gillenwater 2014

Monday, May 20, 2013

My Feng Shui Experience............or, " Our House"

I found a book titled Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life, by Karen Rauch Carter, in a stack of books near the living room window.  I don't have a clue where I got it.  I suspect a visitor left it.  It may have been deposited behind a couch cushion or slid under a door by a kind neighbor.  Its arrival is of no importance, actually, as it may have lingered in that pile for years, unnoticed. The title got my attention two weeks ago, and I took it as a command: Move your stuff! Change your life!

Feng Shui is the study of spatial relationships of things.  It's an ancient art that uses common sense and wisdom. "Thoughtful placement," the author calls it. I like how she placed those words together. Certain that I exude common sense and wisdom, I sat down on yet another pile of books and prepared to read.

I wisely got a clipboard before I started.  I put sheets of clean, white paper onto it, and stole a sharpened pencil from my husband. I was ready to find out what to do to get ENERGY to move through my home, unhampered.

 The key word here is "unhampered," meaning without anything being in its way. (uncontrolled laughter..............)

My hallway had been set up to trap thieves and thugs who break in at night.  Three plastic bins filled with rice, bread flour, and a bag of sugar kept us safe all this time, and THEY WORKED! No one broke in to slit our throats. My husband had asked me to move them. No way!

But it is interesting that Karen Rauch Carter, whom I've never met, got me to move them in less than a week.

ENERGY!  The book names it "Ch'i" and says to pronounce it "chee". (The tea is Chi and you pronounce that "chie."  I became addicted to chi tea this winter.  Between the CHEE and the CHIE, I seem to be speaking Chinese a lot. The Chi gives me Ch'i, I suppose.  (OK, enough of that.)

Back to Feng Shui.  This is also a pronunciation issue.  Karen Rauch Carter says to call it "Fung Shway," but I've heard it called "Fung Shwah," and "Fung Shwee" and actually one person called it  "f--- you," but that's another story.  Let's call it  FUNG SHWAY so we know what we're saying in our heads.

I couldn't read the whole book in a day. Oh, no............I have STUDIED this book, taken notes, and given myself ASSIGNMENTS. Why do it half way? (Would it then be called only "Fung?")

I drew a diagram of my house, divided it into nine areas, labeled them, colored them, wrote body part names on them, and put numbers into each area. My diagram was a masterpiece.  I thought I might be done then.  Wrong! The idea was to fix the house, not just to draw a pretty diagram.

Each of those nine areas represents an aspect of our life, and my assignments were to fix the spaces so that positive energy would encompass us, move into and around our home, and make everything that isn't perfect, better.  OK....................

In the past two weeks, I have done things, in the name of good energy flow to improve the quality of our life, that seem incredible.

I rearranged the bedroom to stop energy from flowing over my hubby's hips, so he could sleep better and be cured of back pain. I moved a dresser to a corner so as not to throw "negative" energy back towards us as we unsuspectingly slept in a state of danger.  Who knew?

I placed a large red piece of cardboard under the bed, which is to energize us both.........

My bedside table drawers are lined with purple wrapping paper, and a purple sweater rests in a drawer, bedside.  Our bedroom happens to sit in the "prosperity" corner of the house, so not only will we be sleeping better, but we will prosper financially from these moves.

Outside the house, by our front door, I buried four large, plastic, green army men to guard us from intruders. To think that all these years I thought the rice, sugar and flour were doing that in the hallway!

The color of the front door will be changed, too. Red is the color to bring the best energy inside.  Red would look terrible with our brick color, so we're going to use salmon. Red salmon.......get it? (We've bought the paint, so don't call with a better idea.)

A metal frame with all three of my children is in the kitchen, which is the "relationship and love" area. This is to bring them closer to me and more into my life. I received text messages from two of them right after I moved the photo. The third sent love. (One brought laundry yesterday.)

 I tied red ribbons on the outgoing drains to keep good energy from going down them. I hope nobody sees them. Our plumber will think I dressed the pipes up for him. The ribbons look silly there, but if they work..................

In a hallway, the "helpful people and travel" area, I've placed a statue of David, shiny boxes and folders holding lists of helpful people and immediate dealings.  Interestingly, two of the helpful people, whose names I tossed into the silver box, have already helped or completed an expectation I had for them. David is there to ensure that I get back to Italy some day.

My front hallway, the "career and life path" area, has a starfish and a beach photo. This represents water, the element of that area.  Since I consider my career behind me, the life path part might be towards a beach. It doesn't hurt to think so.

Chimes are ringing on a porch, and a small bell is hanging in the guest bathroom.  Energy is being called up.............and it is lingering in the bathroom, since it can't go down the drain...............red ribbons, remember.

I wrote two notes and hid them somewhere in the house. Don't ask me where. I really don't remember. They are to generate positive energy to bring about respect and a good reputation, just in case we could improve either.

The house looks tidier, I admit.  I've sold items, donated books to a library sale, and Easter Seals took another pile of "stuff." I can move around easier, so I guess energy can, too. I wish I could see it.

I erased each "assignment" from my list as I completed it. If something in the book made sense, I wrote it on the assignment sheet, and carried it out the next day.  Small details apparently make big differences in Feng Shui. ("Feng Shway")

There's still a lot to learn, and many things to relocate. I might move my husband to the other side of the sofa next.

 I have laughed a lot in the past two weeks.  I've done things that the hubby doesn't know about, and I won't tell.  It feels as if I'm doing a magic trick and waiting to see if it works. Maybe this is some of the energy!  I can walk without stubbing toes on things, too, I notice.

Absorbed in this topic, I took several more books about Feng Shui out of the library.  I am not one to do things partially or without enthusiasm.

 I'm drawing diagrams, adding numbers, breaking down sums, moving things here or there, and doing these bizarre things ...................but I've been laughing, and if good comes about, then MORE POWER TO IT!

 It surely can't hurt anything. ........

Tomorrow I will bury a small mirror behind our house, facing the home of barking dogs across the way. This should deflect negativity coming towards our home, and reduce the annoyance we feel when four beasts bark in unison for long periods of time.

 If that annoyance is reduced, believe me, I will have become a devotee............

Copyright: KP Gillenwater

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Tried and True Tips for Road Trips,........or, "No Particular Place to Go"

My hubby and I have a framed United States map where we've kept a visual record of our auto travels around this marvelous country.  It's funny how a few roads have been colored with magic marker many times, and one area of the country shows that we haven't been there, together, at all. The rest of the map is marked with routes lined in various colors, reminding us of our car trips on the road. Cruises are marked with dotted lines in the water. The few flights are dots on the places we landed.

I write a blog that tells about our trips for the past few years at http://ramblingsofroamers.blogspot.com  and have books of hand-written journals from "BB," or "Before Blog."

In other words, we are seasoned travelers, and over our years together, we have acquired a certain amount of "savoir faire," which makes our trips easier and more fun.

Since we just returned from fifteen days on the road, it is all fresh in my mind, and because I am, by profession, a teacher, I am willing to share these with you!  Pick and choose the ones you like.

1.  Join AAA.  Before we leave for anywhere, we get recent maps and guidebooks. It's all part of the membership, so it's not expensive.  You can have AAA make you a Triptik to show you how to get somewhere, at no extra cost.  We ride along with the current state's guidebook on the "navigator's" lap, and the non-driver can tell the driver what's coming up that might be of interest. We also take along "Thelma," our trusty GPS unit. She has only tried to kill us twice, and she can usually get us where we decide to go.

2. Make plans, but DON'T MAKE PLANS.  If you suddenly realize that you are about to encounter an area you want to investigate, you don't want to say, "Oh, too bad..........we have reservations...." You  may never pass this way again!  Stop and see it...............trust me, there's a hotel waiting somewhere for you. We managed to be in South Dakota not once, but twice, during the Sturgis motorcycle rally. Instead of going elsewhere, we went with the flow, met some bikers, and had a wonderful time. We found hotels in spite of the crowds.

3.  Pick up the hotel and motel booklets at the rest areas on interstates.  There are coupons in there for great motels at discount rates!  I have stood behind customers in motels who are paying twenty or thirty dollars more than I am, for the same kind of room, simply because they didn't know about those booklets.  They are only available on interstate rest areas, so don't waste time looking elsewhere, and they are generally for motels near an interstate. Check the fine print to see if there are restrictions on days of the week or holidays, but they are a gem! We make reservations only if we know for a fact that we need them. Without coupons, we "shop around" for the best price and accommodations before we settle down for the night. We always ask to see the room, too.  Just because a lobby is clean doesn't mean that the room itself isn't reeking of mold or too much air freshener. Don't be afraid to say, "No, thank you," and walk away!  You can negotiate, sometimes, for a better price, too. And don't forget to say you're a AAA member or AARP, or a member of their chain!  Use the tools you have!

4. Join hotel and motel chain clubs.  Fill out the form and carry the card.  Over the years we have had several totally FREE NIGHTS at Choice Hotels due to being a club member.  We are card-carrying members of nearly every hotel chain in the country, and hope to use our points some night at other chains, too. If the points expire before we can accumulate many, we don't use that chain.  We don't know where we're going to stay ahead of time, and expiring points don't help us. Read the fine print, as I said. Look for motels that offer a free breakfast, not just continental breakfast. It will save you money, and if you have had enough to eat before you set out for the day, you don't need to spend a lot of money on food.

5. Pack lightly!  This last trip I wore every item in my suitcase.  You really are never going to see the people that you meet on a road trip again.  They're wearing jeans, so you might as well be, also. One sweatshirt, one pair of jeans, a few tee shirts, one sweater, a jacket and one coat if it's not summer.  A pair of black slacks and a black sweater goes along in case we "go somewhere special," but let it be wrinkle-free-easy-pack, so you don't have hanging clothing all over your car. Walking shoes, sandals, shower shoes and a pair of black flats are ENOUGH for your feet. One swim suit and a cover-up will be fine in any hotel.  Remember: You will never see those people again.  They won't know you wore it at the last hotel. Take enough fresh underwear, as it's the only thing you won't wear twice. Take a hat, preferably a ball cap, to keep sun out of your eyes as you drive.

The only other hat you might need is a sun hat for a beach.  If you even think you're headed towards a beach, throw in a beach umbrella and two beach chairs, but only if those chairs fold flat, so the don't consume space! Leave the boogie boards at home: For the space they take and the two minutes you'd use them, it's wasted space.

Your clothing won't get dirty sitting in a car, so many times I can just leave my suitcase in the car instead of dragging it into each motel.  I carry in fresh undies, my robe, and that bag with the laptop and cosmetics, and travel truly lightly. This works best if your motel door is near the car, but it's most appreciated when it's not, and there's a flight of stairs to climb.  Some motels don't have elevators.

6.  You don't really need to take shampoo and conditioner. For a week or so you can get along with the hotel stuff and save room in the car.  Take all your make up in one little bag. I pack my cosmetic equipment on the morning we leave, dropping each item into the bag after I've used it.  If I didn't need it that morning, I won't need it any morning. Leave the fluff at home! DO take a night light from the Dollar Tree, a can of air freshener, and a flashlight.

7. I take a laptop, so we always look for free Wi-Fi, which is now almost a given.  Do I need anything other than the laptop and my cell phone?  No.

8. Do not take valuables along with you.  I wear one set of jewelry, and I am wearing it!  Almost every theft I've heard about took place in a motel room when the people were at breakfast or the room was being cleaned.  The key is:  Don't take valuables along to be stolen. Leave the jewelry in the safe deposit box, and carry your purse everywhere you go, so your credit cards are always on your person.  If you haven't put the laptop into the car before you go to breakfast at the motel, stop, go back, and put it into the locked car before you eat.  Lock the dead bolt before you go to bed, and use that metal thing that keeps the door from opening, too. If there's noise in the hall, call the desk, and don't open the door to see what it is. It's their job to keep the hotel safe and quiet, not yours.  Also, when you park your car, don't park it behind the motel. Put it right out front under a big, tall flood light! Having light and possibly a video cam up there may deter break-ins.

9.  Make lunch a picnic! Some of our fondest memories are the picnics. We stop at grocery stores for fried chicken or lunch meat. Then we stop at a rest area or city park.  We carry a large plastic container holding a loaf of bread, a jar of almonds, peanut butter and crackers.  A little candy is important, too. We take a large bag that holds salt and pepper, plastic silverware, paper plates, paper towels, napkins, and an old tablecloth in case a picnic table needs covering.  I carry a smaller bag that holds single servings of mustard,mayonnaise and artificial sweetener, so I can make my famous "egg salad breakfast" at motels.

10.  I include the famous "egg salad breakfast" directions for the sake of those who are sick of the motel waffle and refuse to eat that gunk they call gravy and the fattening biscuit.  If you are at a motel that offers hard-cooked eggs, you are in luck. (If not, you can now buy small packs of 2 or 6 hard-boiled eggs at grocery stores and keep them in your cooler or motel frig until you need them.)
The egg salad breakfast:  Cut up a hard-boiled egg in a bowl.  Add one of those single-serving packs of mayonnaise and half a single-serving pack of mustard. I like my egg salad sweet, so I add two packs of fake sweetener, mix it up with a fork, and then I spread this over a toasted half bagel, an English muffin, or a piece of toast. It is filling, delicious, easy to make, and when I add a piece of fruit from the breakfast bar, I am totally satisfied for several hours.(It is also not fattening.)

11. Dinner is a special time, but not every night.  On the nights we are too tired or cheap to eat at a special place, we order pizza to be delivered to our room, or do the fast food thing. Since I am pretty picky about what I eat, we might visit a local grocery store for deli specialties, a Lean Cuisine (if our room has a microwave), or make a sandwich using that loaf of bread in the car and fresh lunch meat.  Since food is not the most important thing on our road trips, we are fairly easy to please, but as we enjoy trying local foods, if there is a special restaurant to visit, we splurge!

12. Wear a pedometer!  It's fun to know how far you've walked each day, especially if you are "foot-walking a city," for your sightseeing. We bragged about walking 13 miles the day we were in The Magic Kingdom, and had the proof of it on my waistband!

 If you're missing your workout at home, consider the steps you took as your exercise, but if you're not satisfied, check to see if your motel has a work-out room. Once, we went to a Lowe's Home Improvement Center and did our walk inside the store.  We weren't sure of the neighborhood, and Lowe's was safe. We just briskly walked up and down each aisle until we'd gotten half an hour of walking done.

13. Throw stuff out as you move along!  If you're done with Georgia, toss out the maps and advertisements. It will keep your car clean and tidy. It's where you are living, in a way, for the trip time, so it's nice to have it neat. Put a small trash can in the front area of the auto, so little stuff gets tossed into it, instead of littering where you sit. When you hit a rest area, the navigator can empty the can.

14. Take turns driving.  Nobody wants to spend the whole trip at the wheel of the car.  The other person navigates and reads the guidebooks.  Every hundred miles or so, switch!

15. Visit the library BEFORE you leave home! Tell the librarian you are going on a trip, and he will let you sign stuff out for as long as a month! We take three or four audio CDs with us, and have become totally engrossed in mysteries, laughed a lot at Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegone stories, or been terrified by a Stephen King novel. We've also read whole books aloud to each other as we moved across the country, the navigator reading. It makes the traveling time go faster, trust me.

16.  Souvenirs and gifts need to be small enough that they don't crowd the car. I once bought a lawn chair, and had to tote it all the way from South Carolina, only to find that I could buy the same thing at my local store.  I like to take food gifts home, as they are consumable, and the receiver doesn't have to clean off a shelf or keep it for posterity.  Nobody really wears the Stone Mountain tee shirt, so we gave up on clothing, but the pickled okra and Himalayan pink salt was a hit. Wine from wineries we visited has also been well-received.

17. Write a journal as you travel, so you know where you've been!  My volumes have come in handy many times when trying to remember a town's name or the route we took.  It's also fun to share your travels with people who are interested. Those who aren't, aren't. You will get over it. But DO take pictures, and include yourself and your traveling partner in the pictures.  A mountain is a mountain is a mountain, but a mountain with Randy in front of it is a souvenir and proof that he was there!  A moment in your life, and his, has been captured! Don't be afraid to ask others to take your picture together, and then offer to return the favor for them.

18. Have fun! Your trip is not an assignment!  This is to see the world, after all, not to "get it done!" If something appeals to your curiosity, STOP THE CAR, get out, and SEE IT!  We would never have seen Mark Twain's grave or the World's Largest Frying Pan if we had just driven by and said, "I wonder what that is ..................."

19.  Coming home should be wonderful.  Since you don't have a lot of STUFF that you didn't use but took along, the trash has been left behind as you travelled and the souvenirs are small, it's not a big deal to unload the car.  Move it in, put it away, toss the laundry down the chute, sit down with a drink and talk about how much fun you had!

I am newly retired, and hope to be able to continue to take road trips for many years.  We discussed taking a tour to another country soon, but instead we might go see that area of the country where our wall map doesn't have any colored lines running over it, and change that!

Copyright:  KP Gillenwater 2013

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Complaint Department : Issue 2, or "Rave On..."

 Although I am generally a positive person, I do have some gripes.  My list of things that were bugging me last year needs updating,  which I shall now briefly, but not too briefly, do:

1. Congress.  Need I say more?

2. Packaging. I just cut my hand trying to open a new CD,  packed well enough for placement into a time capsule.  Opening it involved two tools and blood. My blood. Wait!  I see I complained about this last year.  Apparently "they" didn't fix this yet?

3. Vaccum cleaner cords.  No sooner have I worked up a sweat with my vaccum, or am two inches from finishing a room, than the cord unplugs itself from the wall. Mine automatically zips itself back into its internal storage, so I have to RE-pull the cord out and then RE-plug it. If my room were only 6 feet wide, the cord would be adequate, but I have rooms larger than a closet, so FIFTY FEET or more might be enough.  The cord, when it does its zapping thing, always hits me in the leg or foot, too. Lawsuit material. (However, if it were fifty feet long, zipped itself back and wrapped me up like a mummy in electric cording, I might want to reconsider this one.)

4. The word VACCUM. or Vaccuum. or Vacuum.  Even Spellcheck doesn't know how to spell it. Depending on where you are writing whatever, it always says I am misspelling it.  Look it up.  Use several dictionaries. Then vote. Or find a synonym. Please don't email me with your "correct" spelling.  Keep looking. You will find more "choices," too.

5. People who can't ignore a cell phone ring while eating dinner. You're saying, "ME?"  Cell phones IN GENERAL, are really being used as RUDE-MACHINES. Not only have they interrupted lovely dinner parties where we ALL had to listen to a conversation, but smaller affairs, also. When a friend and I are conversing about something important, and that damned thing rings...............LET IT RING.  Even if it's not important..............
  We witnessed a couple having dinner out. The man was fondling his wife's arms and hands, trying to get her attention. She sat there with her cell phone on her lap, looking down at it the entire time he was all but dancing a jig for her attention!
  I see mothers pushing their quickly-growing-and-soon-to-be-out-of-the-house-forever beautiful children through grocery stores, talking to or texting a friend while the little child tries to get Mom's attention (any way possible.) Instead of saying, "Look, Tommy, this is called an eggplant," they're saying, "Hush. I am talking to my fourth cousin twice removed about her mom's toenail surgery."  BE PRESENT WITH THE ONES YOU ARE PRESENTLY WITH!  (You note three paragraphs on this topic.  It is really bugging me!)

6. TV "Laugh Tracks": TV producers and directors............If it's funny, I will laugh at it all by myself!  You don't need to have a bunch of hyena tapes in the background letting me know this is the "joke."  Mostly there's nothing that funny, so STOP trying to cue me to giggle.  If it isn't funny, it isn't funny, and no guffawing of strange voice is going to make me laugh. (No, I am NOT an old fogey.)

7.  Facebook images saying, "Remember This?" Of course I remember the Corning Ware pans and the electric skillet..........I AM STILL USING THEM!!!  These posts of "old" things keep showing up on my Facebook friends' posts, making me feel older than I AM!  I realize that today's young people don't keep their hair dryers for forty years, but I don't need to be reminded I AM OLD by seeing my General Electric Deluxe Hair Dryer, complete with its plastic large-sized bonnet and nail dryer, dragged onto Facebook and portrayed as a dinosaur!  It still works, I love it, right along with my Corning Ware.

8. Price Stickers:  I previously mentioned the packaging, but I forgot to mention the price stickers that are glued permanently onto the gift I'd like to give soon.  I've rubbed it with olive oil, warmly blown it with the aforementioned hair dryer, dug at it with a thin knife blade, rubbed it with my now nonexistent fingerprint, and banged the damned gift on a tabletop in frustration, thereby ending the problem.  If manufacturers and stores have to post the price ON the item, at least make it REMOVABLE!

9. Greeting cards with only a signature inside:   Hallmark wrote a nice little ditty inside the card, and you sign your name under the ditty?? Hello?   PLEASE,  SAY SOMETHING.............even if it's, "Hi, Old Fart, Yes, I am still breathing."  I still send "The Christmas Letter," and picture you reading it with great interest, if not holiday glee. I want to know about your boring year, too!

10. Toilet paper holders installed stupidly.  The men who install these things in women's restrooms need to SIT on the commode while they are doing it, and then try to pull the paper out. They should do this with bare asses and a real need for the paper, also. That should be a requirement of the job. Having my face rubbed across a filthy bathroom floor while I unravel torn tissue, or try to figure how to pull the paper out of a maze is not my idea of a good time. This action is performed while trying to keep a thick winter coat from touching the floor, by the way. Bending my right arm into a pretzel isn't fun, either. Hang the paper at eye level! That's where our eyes are.

Enough griping for this year.  I am certain that The Powers That Be will fix these little things immediately.

Of course, I am still seeing those stupid coupons for Macy's, so "The Powers" may not be reading this.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Soup Swap........or, "Get Together"

My Bean Soups
My niece, Kimberly, (named after me.....) just hosted a SOUP SWAP.  I made 7 quarts of  Akron's Famous Bean Soup from Art's Place to take there, and I came away with 6 quarts of different types of soups, as did all the other guests.  Kimberly ended up with eleven different quarts of soups, because she had eleven guests. I'll bet you want to know how this works.

I have hosted a "Swap Meet" several times, and those of you who are familiar with a "Cookie Exchange" know exactly what I am talking about. My Swap Meet involved clothes, cosmetics, household items and other things that people brought home from the mall and didn't like, didn't use, or realized were mistakes purchased.  The Cookie Exchanges involved ten dozen cookies. (As I am not a baker, that was a humongous effort and a one-time shot for me....)

Soup's All Ready for Swapping!
For the benefit of those who haven't thought about this type of party, I will elaborate. I am planning to have a Soup Swap this winter, as the rewards are wonderful.

Let me explain HOW-TO HOST A SOUP SWAP, and you can figure out how to do the other types based on this.  I'll give some hints at the end about Swap Meets and Cookie Exchanges, but they basically work the same way.

In the Soup Swap, each guest goes away with 6 quarts of freshly-made soup and the hostess ends up with one quart from every guest, as I said before.

Here are the How-To's:

1. Pick a Date and send out invitations.  My niece put her invitation on Facebook.  I send out postcards  and emails.  Explain that the guests are to bring 7 quarts of soup in individual one-quart containers with screw-on lids to prevent spillage. They should also bring a cooler to put soup into to keep it cool until it is time to take it home. My niece has the guests email the recipe for the soup to her so she can create a cookbook for everyone to take home, which is really nice. She also tries to be sure there is only one of any type of soup, by knowing ahead of time what soups will be coming.

2. It is understood that the hostess will provide drinks and h'ors d'oevres for the event, and so as a hostess gift, she will receive one quart of soup from each guest as soon as she arrives.  The hostess puts this into her refrigerator and it is out of the exchange. She does not have to prepare soup for the party, as she has already worked hard enough for the swap meet.
Kimberly's  Efforts

3. When the guests arrive, they put their soups, labeled with the type of soup, on a table.  The exchange itself does not begin until all guests are present and all soups are there.

4. The hostess lets guests pick a number from a basket, and that is the order in which guests get to choose their soups.

Which to Take?
5.  Starting with number 1, the guests go, by themselves, to the table and take a quart of soup and place it into their cooler.  When number 1 is done, she needs to shout out, "Number Two!" so that there is a continual flow of picking.  If the guests are all seated together, there is no need to announce who goes next.

6. The "picking" continues until the table is empty and all the soup is gone and stashed into coolers.

7. The party, however, continues.

For a Swap Meet, I used a roll of tickets, which I bought at a craft store. (One roll has lasted through several events.)  Some guests come with a few items, and some come with many, and I give a ticket for each item. There are rules about what can be traded. Clothing must all be on hangers, and  must be in nice enough condition and still in fashion enough that people will want them.  In other words, NO JUNK.  Household items must be clean and usable. I  toss the stubs into a basket.  As the evening progresses, we pick the stubs out, call the numbers, and the guests get to select whatever they want from the amazing array of "stuff."  Everyone goes home with great exchanges, and anything that  left over goes to the Goodwill the next day.

Kim, Kimberly, and Alison
For a Cookie Exchange,  each guest brought ten dozen cookies to the party. Each dozen was packaged in a separate container or on a plate.  Depending on how many guests attend, you could either do the Soup Swap rules or only have ten guests, but everyone should go home with ten dozen cookies.  This type of part is a hit just before Christmas when the cookies don't all end up on one person's hips.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Address Book Issue......or,........."On the Street Where You Live"

I've been looking for a new address book to replace my old one that I've used for more than ten years. The aged thing is black with little ABC tabs that help me find the right names inside of it.  When I got it, I wrote in all the people I know and love or am related to, with their addresses and phone numbers, in my neatest writing.

You know what happened.  People moved.  It's a hazard of having an address book, I suppose, but the folks just kept on moving!  I scratched out old addresses, and sometimes wrote new ones in.  More often than not, however, I just tore their return address label from a Christmas card and stuck it into the closed book, hoping that it would somehow alphabetize itself.  It didn't.

I carry my address book when we travel, so I could call someone if I turn up in their city, because I came prepared with their address and phone number!  Travel has one negative effect.  I buy postcards to send to friends. Invariably, there are leftover post cards stuck into the address book, too. The book swelled with the addition of hundreds (it seems) of torn-off address labels, post cards and of course stamps I put in there so I can actually mail things.  I think I saw some directions to a cottage in Maine, photos of my kids, and a brown paper bag that held a souvenir, tucked in between the M and N section, too.

One other thing that led to the outdating of my old address book is that people died.  For some reason I find it difficult to remove the deceased from my book. I still care about them.  I can't change their address, although once I did list "Heaven" as a forwarding address.  There will be at least ten blank spaces in my new address book, once I start copying names into it. It will be like driving by that place that used to have a magnificent old tree that got felled in a storm, though.  I will know that those names are missing, and I will "see" them there anyway.

Which brings me to the real crux of the "Address Book Issue," that motivated me to write this.  It is almost impossible to FIND an address book for sale these days!~  I suppose that all those young people with the smart telephones have their address book at their fingertips, and many have them on a computer, so they just print a label if they want to mail something.  Of course many people don't mail things anymore, so they probably don't even need the addresses of their friends and relatives.  They contact them in Cyberspace, so who cares where their real home is? They don't need to visit them. They can just Skype them.

I began looking several weeks ago, and spent a long time in a Staples store searching out address books.  They didn't have any at all.  I muttered while I shopped, threw my hands up into the air a few times, hoping that a salesperson would come along so I could berate the store for not carrying what I needed.  They avoided me.  I would have, too.

Today I knew that I either had to find an address book or else.............so I spent forty minutes in Office Max.  I have never seen so many little books for people to write into!  Every person in our country must be journaling, writing out by hand some profoundness each day of their lives!  Big, small, and even mini-sized versions of journals filled the shelves.

Not only are people apparently journaling like mad, but they are also PLANNING.  Oh my goodness, I have never seen so many planners! Humongous ones, tiny ones............planning for the day, the week, the month, the year, and the veritable life,  not to mention the wedding, can all be done with pen or pencil in an expensive planner!  This world would be so much better if those planners were actually filled with plans! (and if the plans were carried out, too, I suppose......)

There were some very small address books at Office Max, I confess, but they were so ordinary looking, and after having viewed all of the marvelous PLANNERS, I felt that my new address book at least needed to measure up to those. 

At last, my mind said, "Where do you buy a BOOK? At a book store!" So I arrived at Barnes and Noble, and located the "gift" department.  Giving an address book as a gift would never cross my mind, as I consider it to be such a personal item that no one could possibly choose just the right one for anybody else.

Barnes and Noble had a veritable FEAST of address books!  Several sizes, prices, colors, designs!  I was nearly giddy looking at them all!  Some actually had whole pages inside, filled with positive quotations and words of wisdom, so you could pause while looking up names and get motivated or wise.  I intuitively knew that I would forget the name I was in search of if I got waylaid with a quotation.

For a good fifteen minutes I played with the display of address books, then decided to go for broke and pay twenty dollars for a beautiful and LARGE brown leather address book that I could add pages to, in case I increase the number of people to whom I write or send cards.  I may not even need a page for the Z's, since the only Z I knew had a name change. (She actually changed it three times and moved half a dozen times, too...........a lot of crossing out on that name.....) I don't think I have any Q's either, but there are lots of P's and S's.................and I can use the pages I need and then buy additional pages later. I will also be able to see the addresses, since I got the big book.

I have to tell you, though, that the real reason I bought this gorgeous leather address book is because I have a feeling that in ten years, when it is time for me to rewrite you all, there may not be any address books at all, and this one looks as if it could be around for the rest of my life.

Technology has done away with so many things. (Some of them very nice things....)  My goodness, it's trying to kill the very books I read and replace them with those Nooks and Kindles.  Other peoples' phones can practically entertain them all day and night, doing away with basic conversation.  The address book has been taken over by email and "send" buttons.

I still cannot figure out why there were so many JOURNAL books, though.  Wouldn't you think that if we're so progressive that we don't write letters and need addresses, that we wouldn't sit down and write in a journal, either?  Or why not just put one's journal online, along with everything else????

Tomorrow I plan to get out a really good pen and transfer all of my people into my new and beautiful leather-bound address book.  I plan to keep a few of the no-longer-with-us folks right in there along with those who ARE with us.  (Some of those "gone" are more with me than some who are very present in reality, these days, in actuality.)  I will make a little pile of the torn off envelope corners after I copy them into the book, then toss them like confetti into the recycling bin.

 The first person who dares to MOVE and get a new address after tomorrow, though..............................

And those of you who are family members~~~~~~~~  I am planning to put my new address book into my will.  By the time I leave this planet, it should be a valuable antique, and the person to whom I leave it can tell people, "Did you know that this is how people used to know where other people lived?"

And somebody might say, "What a good idea!"

Copyright: KP Gillenwater

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sustained Silent Reading, or, "This Magic Moment"

Our local paper reports that a huge percentage of college freshmen are having to take remedial English courses before they can begin their college courses.  I am not surprised. I don't think those students can read.

 I think I have a cure, and for sure I have an opinion:

Sustained Silent Reading, also called SSR.  Reread those words and translate them to mean: for a decent period of time, without any other noise, students READ.

In elementary schools, it is sometimes called DEAR time, which means "Drop Everything And Read." Whatever the catch phrase for it...............it is, I believe, close to sacred time, or should be, in all schools, all grades.

Thinking adults do this, also, but we just call it READING. It is also good for children at home. Whole families could do it together.

 I am worried that schools are chipping away at SSR time little by little, until it will no longer exist. One school I worked in removed it so subtly that we hardly noticed: First they took ONE SSR time per week away for data collection, and then, lo and behold, the next year, SSR was not even mentioned in the school schedule............POOF!  GONE!.....but we certainly collected a lot of data about what those same kids couldn't read!!!!

As a language arts teacher for the past thirteen years, I see SSR as one of the most valuable learning tools for reading instruction.  For twenty minutes or so each day, every student gets to READ material of his own choice SILENTLY, and as a result of this, kids are forced to READ. (The word "forced," used here, is not a negative word, by the way.)

 A previous school where I taught endorsed SSR religiously for a number of years. The building was almost totally quiet for twenty blissful minutes each morning as the minds worked. Those minds translated symbols into words, words into ideas, and voila: comprehension! The teachers sat and read silently right along with the kids. We modeled the behavior, showed them that we loved to read, and they mimicked us.

Guess what happened?  I watched kids who did NOT value reading, did NOT come from homes where the "lap method"* of reading was practiced, did NOT have books in their homes, and did NOT think that reading was fun, suddenly become mesmerized by stories, get lost in books, and start carrying books around with them for "free time." Kids HAD to read, so they DID, and they found out that they COULD, or if not, at least they could TRY, and they had time allotted to them to figure out how to do it.

 Schools are giving up SSR or DEAR time. Teachers have to prove that they are doing everything they can do to pass state tests. SSR time seems to be giving way to test-related tasks instead.  (Data collection.) No wonder our college freshmen are so ill-prepared!

We want to create a society of readers, yet we are taking away the scheduled time, sometimes the only quiet time kids can find for reading, to do activities which, while of value perhaps, are not READING:  the thing these kids do not do well.

Without reading, kids cannot do ANYTHING. They will fail language arts, science, social studies, math (story problems, remember?), history, health, and not be able to read school rules posted on the hall walls. If they cannot read, they cannot write. If they cannot read English, we may as well not dream about reading Spanish or French. (Not to mention Chinese.......) EVERYTHING begins with READING!

SSR takes work for teachers to set the expectation and model the behavior at first, but once in place, it is a haven for kids to have quiet time for reading something of their own choosing.

I saw non-readers become READERS during the years that SSR was ENFORCED. I saw one boy fall in love with the Harry Potter books. He began SNEAKING around to read! I would find him under his desk with a book, instead of working on classwork. I loved it!  Books appeared in the hands of kids in hallways,  study hall, on the way out of the building when the day was done. I'd bet those kids were reading at home, too. Without SSR in our school, the librarian had very few books checked out, where before the cut students were constantly searching for their next book, and the library was busy.

If I were not a READER, I cannot even begin to imagine the joy I would have missed.  Most of my good conversations sooner or later involve a book.  In my youth, we didn't have to schedule a quiet time to find to read. We had time, libraries filled with books, teachers who showed us the value of reading and had the TIME TO READ TO US in class. They let us sob in class when the dog died at the end of one book, and then they got out another book!  We had quiet places, time to read, and a slower pace to our lives. Teaching to the state test doesn't leave time to read a book to students.

 Today's kids carry cell phones, iPods, have perpetual "entertainment," and have few quiet places to retreat with a book. No wonder many cannot read well.

You know that old adage,"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink"?  If we don't even LEAD the horse TO the water, how will it know if it wants to drink or not?!!!

What do I want YOU to do about this? Tell principals, teachers, and school board members that you want SSR to happen in the schools your children attend.  If this doesn't get results, I would  suggest that parents set aside twenty minutes a day in their home for the entire family to sit quietly and READ.  You don't need a school system to do it for you.

I wonder what they do in China and Japan, in schools and homes of  nations that shame us educationally. Their college freshmen can read.  Gee, I wonder if they have some type of sustained silent reading going on, daily, do ya think?

I'd bet on it.

* "Lap method" means a parent put a kid on his or her lap and read to him.

copyright:  K P Gillenwater

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

High School Reunion.......or, "Let's Twist Again"

Our high school class just celebrated a 65th birthday party, called "The Class of '65 Turns 65!"  It has been 47 years since Randy and I graduated from high school.  One classmate noted that most of us were born in the year 1947, making that "connection" more meaningful. That same classmate remarked that to attend both evenings of reunion bliss cost a mere 65 dollars per person.( I hope you caught that numbers 65 and 47 kept repeating themselves here.) We were the first graduating class of our high school, which makes us even more special, we think.

With those "signs" that this was all good, we let loose and had such a wonderful time together after lo' these many years, that today's "letdown" seems more like a blissful hangover, and I cannot stop smiling.

The pettiness and cliquishness of high school drama-trauma hasn't reared its ugly head in all the reunions I have ever attended, high school OR college.  We must have grown up!  We've all survived good times, tragic times, highs, lows, wins and losses. For two days we celebrated the survival of it all.  We mourned for those who didn't make it, and missed others who could not, or would not, join in the "wild rumpus" of celebration.

There was genuine joy in finding a person long unseen, yet remembered, fondly or otherwise, in the group of happy folks who made the effort to come and see the rest of us. 

Serving on the "committee" for this weekend, I saw that "ice breakers" were never needed.  Who needed to take a quiz about the school colors when all around us were the very people who helped us to choose those colors?  Prizes for that icebreaker and other quickly-planned things to "get them talking" never needed to be used.  We were talking when our feet hit the ground on Friday evening, talking while we danced, and we were talking when we sadly bade farewell until "next time" at midnight on Saturday night....or thereafter.

In previous writings I've referred to class reunions as a time when people who gestated together in the turmoil of adolescence come together to "rub souls and brush up against each other." It is when we remind ourselves that we knew each other "then," somebody knew us, we know them yet, and then we board planes or cars and leave them behind until the next time.  It is reinforcement of who we are, who we were, and finding out that our roots remain intact.  It is, in some ways, a spiritual happening and renewal of our very being.  We are who we are because of this connection to our past.

My mother was a folk dance and square dance teacher.  In her  obituary, the headline called her "The Folk Dance Lady," as nearly every youngster in the west side of our city had learned to dance from her in schools or scouts.  She touched souls in our community, bringing them together for an hour here or there to dance, and then sent them on their way.

 Mom headed up the all-school May Festival each spring in a large gymnasium. She taught dancing in the schools for the year, and then on a sweltering night in May, elementary students from all over the city, up to a thousand children, were dropped off by parents to have their moment of stardom as they performed a folk dance from some distant land. Each dance lasted perhaps four minutes, then with grins on their faces, the children left the center of the gym, to applause from proud parents, and sat and watched the rest of the kids do their dances. The children beamed with pride, parents clapped and smiled, teachers glowed with the feeling of having produced, joy prevailed, and all would then go home.

It was a coming-together, an event:  A happening.

Sometime after midnight of this Saturday I saw the similarity.

Ninety class members and thirty spouses came together this weekend, performed rituals of renewing friendships and reviewing memories, embraced each other with sounds of glee, beamed with joy and pride in the very knowing of each other, danced a few steps, and then departed, taking fond memories home.

 I am still enjoying the glow of the renewed ME. 

I wonder if my classmates feel that, too: renewed.  I've touched home base.  I got here.  I've worked. I've aged.  I've crossed over a bridge of troubled waters.  I've endured. And so did they!  And I will most surely make every effort to go around once more, and then come back again to touch home base once more, as this is pretty good stuff.   I want to do it all over again!  I surely hope they do, too.

copyright:  KP Gillenwater

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Button, Button.........or, "School's Out!"

Did you notice that I didn't write a single post on this blog for two months?  It's not that I ran out of things to say.....(you wish!)..........but that I was involved in the retirement process.
"Winter in Chains"

 After 21.2 years of teaching in my city's public schools and another 4 years of teaching at a children's hospital, for a total of nearly 25 years,  I called it DONE.  I put the proverbial fork in my career.

4 days to go!
You may know that I kept a paper chain for over 135 work days, (see post of 3/18) counting down to this final day with great anticipation.  It finally came to an end on June 8th at 10 AM.  I drove away from my school with a grin on my face and no trepidation about the decision to retire, made some months ago. I may have plenty to say about that decision in months to come, but right now I just want to shout out my freedom, and express my happiness over it. I came home and ripped that final link off the curtain rod with joy in my heart, shouting, "Free at last!"
"The Missing Link!" All done!

So far I've taken two loads of teaching materials, bulletin boards, my special chair, and a huge number of desk organizers to the Goodwill.  I also have cleaned out clutter at home. I've totally cleaned my laundry room, sorted my shoe collection, made a gift for a friend, and sorted my button collection.

Sorted my button collection?

That sounds strange, I know.  Margie called on my first "real" day of retirement and asked,"What wonderful thing are you doing with your freedom?" to which I responded, "I am sorting buttons."

I needed a mindless activity after all those years of constantly thinking and speaking.

 An enormous box of buttons from my mother's sewing days sat, taking space, next to my sewing area. I use the term  "sewing area" loosely. It's really a sewing machine that's ready at any moment to sew on a button or fix a torn seam.  I do not produce sewed projects.

The buttons, on the whole, are old.  Mom would tear them off clothes that she tossed out. Since she was a sewing woman, she bought lots of buttons, and some remained unused. Many are beautiful mother-of-pearl, some have rhinestone centers, and there are metallic buttons and varying shades of pink, green, blue, yellow, red, and hundreds of shades of brown and black. A huge collection of little envelopes labeled "extra button" which could have gone with anything we'd worn in the past fifty years awaited opening, like time capsules. There were a few buttons I remembered from our childhood clothing or my grandmother's long dresses.  The box was full of history and color! I had bought a box of buttons at a garage sale once..........(somebody else's history)..........so there were thousands of them.

I used sandwich bags, one for each color, and felt like a kindergartner as I sorted.  Varying shades of blues and greens, beige and deep browns............I used my small motor skills, picking them up and putting them into the sacks. This kept me occupied for a very long afternoon...............of peace.

Yes, I had plans for the buttons, but that was not the important part.  What was important during those hours that I sorted and moved each button to a bag was that I RELAXED.

My brain has been so busy all these years with planning and working, that something as trivial as sorting buttons was delightful.  Hours later, when I had finished, and all the buttons were safely ensconced in little plastic bags ready for my button projects, I felt such a sense of accomplishment!

I COULD SEE MY WORK!    I knew what I had accomplished!

In 24.2 years of teaching I could only surmise, sometimes, whether I had accomplished what I'd planned to teach. Good responses and test results may have shown that, yes, my students HAD learned............but with all the diverse students, and their personal issues, who knew, at any given time, if I had finished a job?

I never got to ziplock those brains and know that I had sorted all the material into the compartments and minds.  Too much depended on whether a child had eaten breakfast, had problems at home, dealt with a bully on the way to school, or came prepared to class, to know what was going on with his or her learning experience.  Add this to the many ability levels in any one class, and the huge number of students, each differently motivated (or not), and you get the picture.

It wasn't as easy as sorting buttons.

Throw in some behavior issues and the fact that each student was only in my classroom for 42 minutes..........Imagine, if you will, a huge box into which you have poured 28 bouncing and uncontrollable Ping Pong balls that are miraculously imbued with brains, and then jiggle the box for awhile before you set it down. Then try to be sure that each ball is in its correct spot, still, and learning.  Did I mention the "pacing guide" that tells you what you are supposed to 'learn these young'uns' after they get settled down? (No pressure here..........just be sure to cover ALL the stuff in it.)  And did I mention that the test grades for these balls will show your "worth" at the end of a year? In future years, your very income may be based on these test scores.  Imagine that one, or six, is rebellious, decides to talk aloud all period, keeping all the rest from learning,  or to throw wadded balls of notebook paper at your back while you try to teach......or gets up and leaves in the middle of class.....(and you have to stop class to let the office know this......)

 Aha! NO WONDER sorting buttons was so relaxing!!

I plan to clean out every single drawer, cupboard, closet and hiding place in my home during the next few months. That may be therapeutic, too!

I am not voluntarily turning my brain to mush, mind you...........just giving it a much-needed break from stress, turmoil, and w-o-r-k.  There will be plenty of sorting and cleaning to do in my home and in my life, I am sure, but for now................."School's Out For Summer!" and actually School's Out Forever, for me!

In the fall, when I normally would feel those "sharks circling my feet" (see blog post of  August 24, 2010) I plan to pack my bags and travel some of this marvelous country. (I meant it when I pledged to the flag each day!)

Meanwhile, if I find buttons at a garage sale, I will consider it an "adventure in a jar," and spend some quiet time sorting.......not only the buttons, but thoughts, feelings, and plans for my life!

My Perpetual Students.....The Cat, Snowman, and Paddington spent 13 years in my classroom.

Copyright: KP Gillenwater

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Comforthood of the Traveling Pants...........or, "My Favorite Things"

Twenty-five cents.  That's what I paid for this pair of shorts in a 1991 garage sale.  They were pre-worn, pre-softened, pre-stretched, and pre-faded. Actually, they were pre-thrown away, and technically pre-recycled by the time I got them.

 I really liked how they were faded and how soft the old 100% cotton felt. I wore them nearly every day of a month-long van trip west with my family, that summer. We drove all over Kingdom Come on that vacation. We showed the kids a lot of their country.This included Lincoln's tomb, every buffalo and snake ranch by the side of the road, San Diego, Disney Land, and Dodge City, Kansas. I was in my traveling shorts for most of that time.  As the driver,  I enjoyed comfort, and if I spilled something.......oh well. Cotton dries quickly.

 Since then, these shorts have been all over the United States, and into Canada, generally worn by moi as we  drove, and since we drive nearly everywhere we go, you sort of have to get the picture of these soft, blue and white striped pants getting softer and more faded with each washing and wearing. (I admit that I've left them home when we've been cruising.)

 I noticed, a couple of years ago, that the edges by the bottom hem had totally worn out. That leaves the hem a separate entity entirely...... an attachment .....it might as well not be there.  The pockets leak, and the back one has no stitching on the bottom, so it is useless.  Before our most recent trip, I realized that the elastic waistband was stretched so far (from exhaustion) that the shorts might fall down around my hips very loosely. 

Did I throw them into the Goodwill pile?  I did not.  Instead, I put the shorts under the foot of my old Singer and added another length of elastic to the waistband.  It puckers funny, but they're still useable.

There's a saying about not being wasteful ............"Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without!"...............and it's not so much that I am proud of my thriftiness with these pants as it is that they are like a dear old friend that travels with me.  I can forsee the day when they look so worn and so tacky that I will have to leave them behind for good, but as we all do, I need all the friends I can get, and these are that. I do believe that I have gotten my twenty-five cents worth out of them.

My traveling pants are not the only things I am "using up" and "wearing out"...............This is a photo of my beloved Bruegger's coffee thermal mug and my favorite water mug, both of which I've had "forever."  Note the screw that Randy replaced on the handle of the Bruegger's mug.......I dropped it one day, cracked the handle off at the top, and felt miserable.  He fixed it!  The only thing is that I can't stick it into a microwave to reheat my coffee...............but that's not a biggie.  You might note that the lid has a missing part, too.............I just turn it around.  Oh, I have several fancy stainless steel mugs for coffee, and a few "travel mugs" for the car.............but THIS is the one I like best. It has character.

As for that red mug with the duct tape around it................no, this is not a joke.  I've been carrying it like that for a month or so.  My sister gave it to me for Christmas about thirteen years ago.  I like it.  It works. It holds lots of water, keeps ice cubes frozen, and it's red so I can find it when I put it down in the wrong place.  Alas, it also got dropped, and cracked the outer frame.  True to form,  my darling husband, "Mr. Fix-It," said he'd try to repair it................and after using Super Glue a time or two in vain, he brought it up from the shop, proudly smiling, and presented the repaired version of my favorite water mug. It does get some peculiar stares from people who don't know me when I've carried it out in public, but hey.........maybe they're just jealous.  :)

Now, I have other water mugs...........my sister actually gave me a new mug or two along the way.................but either they don't keep stuff icy cold, or they tip over when I set them on the floor, or  seem to be invisible when I am searching for them............THIS is the one I love. 

So when you see me in my ancient, frayed traveling shorts, carrying a duct-taped drink mug.............please don't think that I can't afford NEW ones!  I already HAVE them...............but I am a creature of habit, and enjoy and love comfortable old things.

 It won't be easy to move this "stuff" into my past and walk away, and I'd probably be wise to look for some form of replacements before then.  (Sort of like getting a new puppy after the old one dies, huh?)

I just wanted to show these off, actually.  It took a lot of living to get those pants so frayed and those mugs so shattered.................

                                 sort of like laugh lines and wrinkles....................

copyright: KP Gillenwater

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Time Traveling......or, "The Wanderer"

I just got back from Disney World...........actually, that trip was in 1990, but I "went" there again recently when I heard the song "Hot Hot Hot" play while I shopped. This recent "trip" was short, but nearly real, as I stopped still, closed my eyes, and for a brief minute or two, there I was, standing in the heat at Disney World with three excited little kids, watching an afternoon parade through the streets of the Magic Kingdom.  I saw my daughter wiggle, and my sons throw their hands up and sing along to the chorus while we all shouted, "Hot Hot Hot!" in the heat.

I call it "Time Traveling," for lack of a better name.......and I do it often.  It is less expensive than real travel, and sometimes more enjoyable.  A "little trip" can be started by music, a scent, or just being somewhere for a moment.

I can be on a warm beach at any opportunity,  by stretching my arms out in front of myself when I am sitting, closing my eyes, and tilting my head upwards. I imagine the sound of waves and squawks of a lone seagull. I take "little vacations" frequently when the stress of life starts to wear on me.

If I walk into an old school building, the smell of orange peels and peanut butter takes me directly back to third grade at Fairlawn School..........walking timidly to the lunchroom.

"Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) " puts me in the driver's seat, with my three children singing along in the back seat, driving me crazy with the same lyrics over and over............or taking a walk in the Poland Woods with the three straggling along behind, hanging on to each other for support, hounding me with the same nagging tune and lyrics.  ("Travel the world and the seven seas....")  I roll my eyeballs and laugh inwardly, "being there" for these brief visits to the past. Oh, to be there again.....

Music is a huge tool for time travel . An "our song" from a long-ago love, we all know, brings nostalgia.............good or bad.

Hymns take me back to the third pew of the church where I raised my children. "For All the Saints" makes my tears flow, and I can smell hyacinths at an Easter service.  "Amazing Grace" puts me in the front pew, at Philip's funeral.  There are some places where I just don't travel , so I shut that one off. I can't always control the time traveling.

Smells are interesting vehicles. A whiff of pipe smoke brings my grandfather briefly into view, and the foul odor of a cigarette takes me to college bars and stuffy apartments filled with ashes.

The Rolling Stone's "Satisfaction" puts me at a college freshman "mixer," where I danced for the very first time, having always been too timid, until I knew, at that moment, that it was do or die.  It was an 'Aha Moment' in my life.

A magazine ad that invites me to visit South Dakota actually takes me there. If the South Dakota tourism advertisers only knew how successful their ad is!  I mentally travel through Spearfish Canyon, eat an Indian flat bread breakfast, and I haven't even turned the pages!

A photo of beautiful food served on a colorfully-set table can put me right there, inspire me to cook that meal and set that table, while at the same time taking me back to a similar setting and meal. I can almost hear the conversation and remember the comfy feeling of the padded chair.

The sight of a bag of coconut at the market this morning took me soaring back to Mom's kitchen, and hot Impossible Pie steaming on the corner counter top.  I could almost taste it............so bought the coconut, came home and recreated that moment in my own kitchen!

Attached to my neck is my head, inside of which is my brain............the storehouse of the finest computer in the world. While I may type on my Toshiba and store photos in Picasa, my brain can take me back to times or places, if I let it. I can be three, learning to ride a bike, seven and learning to write in cursive, nineteen and experimenting with new friendships, or thirty-five with my children in tow.

My hope for my real-life future is to travel to faraway places, see what is yet unseen, revisit favorite places, sit on quiet beaches with good books, and love passionately.

I've  already done those things, and not that I won't again, but in case I ever cannot,  I know that as long as my mind is working, I will be able to be somewhere in time, given a reminder by song, scent or scenery.  We are all capable of taking mini-trips and mini-vacations, mentally, if we let ourselves just go and enjoy!  I may go back to Disney World again soon!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Paper Chain, ...........or, "Unchained Melody"

The day I decided to retire, for sure, I made a pastel-colored paper chain and stretched it around the upper part of my guest room, which is really my "closet."   The pretty chain went totally the length and width of two of the walls, and on that day had 135 links in shades of lavender, pink, and yellow.

I removed a link here and there as autumn passed, sometimes forgetting for an entire week at a time.  As the leaves outside fell, links fell until it had shortened by half of one wall.

After Christmas it was down to 100 links, and suddenly it became slow and torturous work to remove one simple link.  I decided that I was so done teaching that if I could set fire to the paper chain and watch it go up in smoke, I would be joyous, as long as those days also disappeared.  I knew that would not work. I was reminded of Marley's Ghost, wearing the chains he forged in life.............."made link by link..........gartered it on of my own free will.......and by my own free will, I wore it."  I wanted to shed the whole thing.........the chain, the job........ALL OF IT!

Today there are "only" 62 links left.  That is 62 more 5 A.M. alarm clock shockings, 62 more one-cup-o-coffee preparations in my bedroom the night before, 62 more lunches for my husband to creatively and lovingly pack for me, 62 more rides across this city I love, and 62 more exhausted rides back across this city, too tired to even stop to pick up a carton of milk.

I am not old.  I am going to turn 65 in a few months, but I am a young 65.  I have taken care of myself over the years, and look forward to many years of enjoying NOT working.  I have traveling to do, books to read, recipes to cook, people to meet, and things to do at long last, without having a bell tell me when to stop and start, like Pavlov's dog, with whom I have come to relate.

The retirement package sat on my desk since last July waiting for me to fill in the blanks.  I only have one more page to write on. It shall be in the mail by the end of this weekend.

I have filled a hole in a landfill with advertisements for Medicare supplemental health insurance received over the past year.  Most of them went directly there, unopened.

I have removed personal items from my classroom, and given away teaching tools when I knew they had seen the light of day for the final time in MY career.  Stacks of teacher-created materials have been graciously received by the "recycling team" as I tossed out tests and writing directions that I have written over the years for my students.

The sticker collection has been weeded out. Holiday pencils have been awarded, even for the wrong holiday this year. My "little library" has been packed and taken to Randy's grandchildren, and the encyclopedias given to a student whose family values education.

The paper chain will NOT get shorter any faster, no matter what I do, however.  I cannot seem to go to bed one night and then wake up surprised to find lots of days disappeared, unnoticed!  Every single one is the same 5 A.M. shock alarm, the stumbling trip to the kitchen, the what-to-wear-today dilemma, and then the early morning ride, in the dark, across this city that I love.

Some days I go directly to my dressing room when I get home, and purposefully rip off that day's link. There!  One less! Enough, already yet!!

Paper chains were useful tools when I was a child. My sister and I would count off days until Christmas, and I am sure the making of the chain kept us out of the way while we cut and taped or stapled or glued. (I have a vague remembrance of making my own glue out of flour and water, actually.........Maybe I am older than I think I am....)

Once Randy had asked me to marry him, the first thing I did was make a paper chain to count off the three months until our wedding day.  I think that chain seemed to have an eternal life, too, as I recall.

"Wishing my life away," is how I chastise myself when I realize that I am obsessing over how many more days until I get my life back, and let the Youth of America figure out how to get along without me, (which, I daresay, they are more than eager to do.)  The guilt over treating even a single day as if it is to "get it over with" makes me cringe, but I still do it.

I have a day off coming, to go to the dentist. That link is decorated with pictures of teeth. (Until it is past, the link must remain on the chain, you see.....) I also get a "personal day," which I have chosen to take on my sixty-fifth birthday:  NO ONE should work on her sixty-fifth birthday! (or ANY birthday, methinks....)  That link just says "BIRTHDAY" on it.  I try to visualize the paper chain with those two less links in it.............for a mental boost, of sorts, and know that on the days when I get to remove them, like GET OUT OF JAIL FREE cards, I will gleefully laugh aloud and feel total joy!

To make my life even more exciting, I have added a Google "tool" to my homepage:  a countdown counter.  It tells EXACTLY how many days, hours, minutes and seconds until the final bell rings on my last day in the classroom!   It moves like the National Debt counter----very quickly.  Can you tell I am really IN to countdowns?  I've caught myself before the screen, in a mesmerized state, eyes glued to the second counter, as it ticks backward...............a very freeing feeling!

The paper chain still has 62 links as I type this.  By the time I hit the "publish" button for this blog entry, it will have a few less.  If I told my students about the chain, they would think I am a crazy old lady (which even YOU might be thinking right now............and they already think), but what I see is a person on the brink of changing her life, and going on to new adventures with huge anticipation.

 It is like seeing the end of the diving board in one of those dreams that we all have ............and the approach is going in such s-l-o-w  m-o-t-i-o-n.....and the board seems to be growing, and the end is so very hard to reach...!

On June 7th, by 3:00, I will have removed the last link.  The wall will be bare, the trash can will hold the pink, yellow and violet remains of my "tool of anticipation."   I will shout, "Free at Last!" several times, and go out and celebrate with family and friends. (I certainly hope that Somebody will have planned Something.....!)

This is probably not my final paper chain. We chain-makers get little thrills out of them, after all.  I believe Charlie Brown once said that, "The anticipation exceeded the actual event."  I will let you know if that holds true.................but I don't think it will.

Copyright:  KP Gillenwater

Saturday, February 18, 2012

It's All Relative......................or, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E"

My former husband's aunt died recently.  I loved her from the first moment I met her, forty years ago.

Over the years I was married to "M," we frequently saw this aunt and her husband, watched her children grow to adulthood, and sometimes got together for family events, especially when other "family" showed up from out of town.

When I moved out of this marriage, this aunt of his remained an aunt of mine. I moved to her city, and she included me in events with her friends.  When I moved and eventually remarried, we maintained an email correspondence for the next thirteen years.  We exchanged cards on birthdays and Christmas via snail mail, sent photos and family news by email, and laughed at each others' forwarded jokes. I realized she was ill when a joke came back from her overloaded and unread email address, and I sensed that she had passed on before her husband called to tell me so.

 I visited her at the Hospice twice before she departed, and we tearfully told each other of our love for each other, and I thanked her for being MY aunt all these years.  She knew how much it meant to me to have her in my life, especially since my blood-relative aunts had long ago passed on.

What constitutes a "relative?"  Do I have to share genetic material in order to be "related" to someone?

In my continually growing wisdom about Life and Truth, I know (and you wise ones also know,) that the answer to this is a resounding "NO!"

I have a real sister and then a few "sisters" who have come into my life by the grace of friendship.  I have some real cousins and have found kindred spirits, more "kin" to me than DNA could prove.  A wonderful and elderly friend of my mother's stood in as a "grandmother" to me for many years. There is no blood test for love.

A wise counselor once told me that if we could see underground, we would see that the roots of all the trees and plants we see above-ground are intertwined beneath the earth, each connecting one to another and helping to support the whole.  He looked at me, waiting for me to "get it," which of course I immediately did:  We as people are ALSO all connected underneath the titles, facades,  DNA and family trees.  I am not going to write a song about this, mind you.  I just happen to know that this is a Truth.  Maturity has helped to bring this understanding to my reality.

Is my now-husband's ex-wife still related to my sisters and brother-in-law, his mother, his aunt, his nieces and nephews?  Absolutely,  and she comes to weddings and funerals of those no-longer-legally-related-to-her people without my having to question that. As I know that we are all related, this just is part of  learning truths about LIFE.  I love her daughter, my stepdaughter.

A divorce is ugly enough without someone contributing to the trauma drama by "stirring the pot" and creating animosity where there is none.  I have seen and heard parents blame all of Little Johnny's problems on "the ex."  I've heard this said in front of Little Johnny.  The message given to that child is that this immature parent, dropping this load of dung on the "ex," cannot figure out how to control her own life, feel self-worth, and take charge of problems on the plate in front of her.  Passing the buck, per se, yet screaming jealousy, rage, and acrimony, at the same time making herself look small and petty...........and putting that child in the awful position of being in the middle of two parents.....and that child loves them both.

Maturity and wisdom, if it ever comes to these people, need to teach them that divorce is between two adults, and it does not include the children. Custody means physically housing someone, but no parent can have custody of their child's heart.  That has to be earned, and it is earned by acting wisely and lovingly on behalf of that child's feelings.

This summer I will attend a wedding of a beautiful young woman who happens to come from "a broken home."  Both parents will host the wedding, both parents will celebrate the joy of their daughter's happy day, both parents will greet friends and relatives, both parents will act like parents, putting this young woman where she belongs: first. Neither of these remarkable parents need to say unkind things about the former spouse.  They are grownups, and they behave like grownups.

How pitiful to be a part of a broken family and then to have someone, whether one of the members of the former marriage or an immature, petty, jealous new spouse involve herself in a divorce that they really know nothing about, creating stress and hostility for the children of that divorce.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, knows what goes on, or doesn't go on, in someone elses marriage.* 

We've all heard a version, or a particular "side" of their story, but unless we were sleeping in the same bed with that couple, or hovering over their breakfast table, I guarantee that the paragraph above is true. I've never understood why people feel they have to take sides in someone elses divorce! 

Are we still related after a divorce?  Of course we are, especially if we have children, young or grown.  We are bonded by blood to the former spouse: The blood of our children or child.  We owe it to those children to demonstrate maturity, wisdom, and self-confidence, because we love them.  Once the papers are signed and the divorce is granted, the children come first, and putting them between ex-spouses for the benefit of making one look better than the other is, in my opinion, one of the lowest forms of child abuse. Only lower is when a new spouse puts herself or himself in the position of abuser, talking trash about the real parent to the children involved, and putting them in the middle of that new spouse's insecurity issues. (*Reread the paragraph above.)

If one of my children marry, or has a crisis, or loses a beloved family member or friend, I would hope that both of her parents could be there to support her in her new marriage, or to help to grieve the loss. With maturity and wisdom this can be achieved.

The roots of trees and plants must be far wiser than mankind. If they grow in different directions, they just do.  They don't poison the earth around the ones they leave behind, and they don't seem to need training or lectures to intertwine and support themselves: They just do it.