Finding My Voice – AGAIN

This week, I got an email and blog post from a blogger that I haven’t heard from for three years. She told a story that resonated with me; she got sick of worrying about SEO and sponsors and monetizing her blog and just stopped writing. She went so far as to say that she didn’t really care if anyone read her blog, since she was mostly doing the writing as a way to collect recipes for herself.

Interesting. There are other ways to collect recipes, but I sure could empathize with her decision to stop worrying about making her blog make money and just use it as a sounding board. That’s mostly what I have been doing all along.

It’s been quite a while since I wrote anything meaningful, and today may not add to the gems I have written. Yet, I feel the urge to get it down on paper and out there…

As I do every year, I am prepping our house for a visit from our relatives. Almost every year for the last thirty-six years, Music Man’s family has flown in from the West Coast, stayed at our house for a couple of nights, and then we have driven 200 miles together to go to our family reunion. Every year I say I’m going to start the prepping and fluffing earlier, and every year things get in the way. I love having them visit, let’s be clear about that, but unfortunately due to my poor planning, now I have about 72 hours to get everything ready for house guests.

But what got in the way today, you are probably asking? Let me count the ways…

  1. Catching the award travel plane reservations on the first day I could buy tickets for our trip to France; that took a few hours, but is oh-so satisfying to use points to get to Europe and far more important than cleaning.
  2. Cleaning out my guest bathroom, which ended up including sorting medicines and pitching expired stuff. That led to cleaning out the back-storage closet where we keep medicines and supplies. You know, like the FOUR heating pads we have collected along the way. I’m trying to figure out how anyone could need four heating pads, but we are certainly prepared for any such emergency.
  3. Cleaning out my shoe rack, because of course I am a professional at buying (and returning) travel shoes from Amazon in the attempt to find the perfect shoe that can be worn with both trousers and dresses. I know there is such an animal, but I can’t get it in the size I need. Since I was already cleaning my shoe rack, then I had to go through the boxes full of orthotics and inserts that I have collected to keep my sad sore feet a little less sad and sore. Once again, I haven’t found the perfect match between my feet and my orthotics. But I have enough of them to outfit an army, it seems.

So now, I’m tired and ready to sit down with some juice derived from grapes and watch some British television. But I still have to put those orthotics away and clean off my bed before I can lay me down to sleep. And then I felt the need to write, so here you are. In the immortal words of Julie Powell, in Julie and Julia, is there anybody out there? I feel you…

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Photography Challenge Week 2: Straight Out of the Camera

I’m running a little behind on my posting, but I have a really good reason. Just in case you have forgotten or didn’t know, I live in a Chicago suburb. And, as Januarys are wont to be, it’s pretty cold here. AND — my furnace went out last week. More on that later, but today’s post is all about Photography Challenge Week 2: Straight Out of the Camera.

This week’s challenge as described by the Dogwood administrators:

WEEK 2 Technical: SOOC Straight out of the Camera. No Photoshop. Shoot a compelling image and post it without edits. No cheating! (Be sure and save the image file for the end of the challenge!)

I took these photos with the challenge in mind, trying to get the best light I could and to crop in my camera rather than in post-processing. All of them would improve with some processing, so I look forward to touching them up later in the year. I’m not really a big processor, but I do improve lighting, color, and almost always do some cropping on my photos.

Tiny Tavern table flowers Navy Pier

Taken at our table at the Tiny Tavern on Navy Pier in Chicago, this photo does a decent job of following the rule of thirds. It’s the best of the four I took.

Quilting tools

I’m part of a crafting group at our church and I loved the POV on this photo of the quilt patch and the quilter’s tools.

Crochet project

The craftwoman’s hands as she starts a new crochet project.

Next up on the photography challenge:

WEEK 3 Artistic: Land Your inspiration this week is land. This could be a landscape, or an image inspired by the land in some way.

Link up your photos in the comments or on my Facebook page if you want to participate with me. I’m always looking for constructive criticism and I know you will be kind.

As far as the furnace story goes, it took us three visits by the repair tech and two replacement parts to figure out what was wrong with our furnace. We were early adopters of a high-effeciency heating system and over the years our furnace has saved us a lot of money in gas bills. Since we sign up for a service contract every year, we have also received both warrantied parts plus labor and discounted replacements over the years. This time was a doozy — with our tech finally figuring out that we still had a first-generation electronics board when most of them have been replaced over the years because they failed. Carrier is now on the fifth-generation board for this furnace — versions one, two, three, and four were all faulty in some way or another. The tech never thought to even check the serial number on our board because he just assumed it had been replaced long ago. The board was unable to talk to our fancy thermostat and eventually just gave up in disgust and shut down the furnace. Obviously it was a relief to get it fixed, and then today, our tech came back again for our maintenance check and to fix our humidifier, which was also not working. I have asked multiple times if I should just replace our aging furnace, and our guys keep saying no.

I’d say that I’m assuming they know what they are talking about, but my experience this week tells me that assuming makes… wait for it… an A** out of U & Me. 🙂

Did you watch the first episode of the new PBS series about Queen Victoria? It looks good so far, and sent me and my friends to the internet to look up all those tangled family trees that got her on the throne.

Have a wonderful week!

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Photography Challenge Week 1: Rule of Thirds Storytelling

This is my story and I’m sticking to it.

I got booted back into writing on my blog by my son who posted a very personal story on Facebook about his annus horribilis of 2016. It’s his story to tell, but I share it because I want to give him some credit for giving me inspiration to write again. I’ve also had a difficult year, but that’s no reason not to write. Actually, for me, it should have been a reason TO write.

Although I didn’t stop taking photos, I did stop posting them on photo sharing sites. I also began to curate who saw my photos on Facebook. What a knucklehead way to react to depression. Enough said.

Back in the photography saddle again

For 2017, I’ve decided to participate in the 52 Week Photography Challenge from Dogwood Photography. Each weekly assignment will include a thematic hook plus a photography technique. Week One’s task is to tell a story using the rule of thirds, a common photography technique.

“Story Telling: Good photographers can take beautiful images of something. Great photographers can take an image that tells its story. This category makes use of compositional rules and directed prompts to push you towards not just looking at the beauty of something, but to find a way to tell that something’s story.( ).

Interpreting the rule of thirds at the Lincoln Park Conservatory

During the holidays, we decided to go to Chicago’s Lincoln Park to see the seasonal display at the Conservatory and the lighting festival at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The two venues are adjacent to each other and admission is free. They are Chicago treasures! I took my camera along hoping for some inspired rule-of-thirds photos.

lincoln park conservatory windows

Looking through the steamy and city-smogged glass of the 1890s-era Lincoln Park Conservatory, you can see the beautiful luxury apartment buildings along Lincoln Park West.

A visit to Chicago during holiday seasons should include a visit to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, which has special seasonal flower displays (and so does the Garfield Park Conservatory).

Garden Girl by Frederick C. Hibbard [1881-1950], Carved in marble: 1937. Location: Lincoln Park Conservatory.

Even Garden Girl by Frederick C. Hibbard [1881-1950],
carved in marble (1937), is decked out in a Santa hat.

 Storytelling in the urban community

A rainy grey day emphasizes the geometric forms of the cityscape.

A rainy grey day emphasizes the geometric forms of the cityscape.

That’s it for this week — thank goodness there are no rules that I need to follow. Next week’s theme is straight out of the camera. No cropping, no color adjusting, no brightening up the lighting. I’m wishing myself good luck on this one.

This photography challenge is based in Flickr, which I do not use.  I plan to share my photos here, on Google +, and on Facebook where I normally share my blog posts. Feel free to follow me on Facebook, but you know how it is with non-boosted posts. You may not see my feed. You will always see my feed if you use email or Google + delivery, or whatever you prefer for your social media feed. I appreciate all of you who stop here to visit and please comment on which photo you like better! Constructive criticism is welcome.

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Another year, another philosophical post

Life is challenging and sometimes scary. Life is exciting and oh-so-fun. Such a dichotomy fills my days. And here we are with another year flown by in the unyielding dance toward the final destiny.

Those of us who are baby boomers have been hit hard at our cores that many performers and influential people of OUR generation have passed away. Every time one of the death notices shows up on Facebook, we are forced to examine our own mortality and admit that it just as easily could have been us. That’s hard, friends.

As most of us do this time of year, I’ve been trying to re-imagine my life for 2017. What makes me happy? How do I want to serve others? What am I going to do to support a healthy lifestyle so maybe I won’t have a heart attack on a plane between London and Chicago? And where is my safe, drama-free place?

I know you don’t want to see photos of my recent foot surgery ( just ask, and I’ll share privately 🙂 ) but having the bunionectomy and hammer toe correction this fall helps me believe there’s hope of a more active and pain-free 2017. If recent days are any indication, I might actually be able to walk those daily 10,000 steps and ride my elliptical bike for an hour a day. And I love my aqua aerobics classes!

Realizing that I can lose that damn weight if I want to is freeing. I’m setting my sights on simple changes in my diet — a fruit, a vegetable, and a protein at each meal will go a long way toward making me healthier and happier. At least for the time being, I’m cutting out processed grains, potatoes, rice, and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) because they all cause inflammatory reactions. I’ve got enough inflammation in my joints to last me the rest of my life, thank you very much.

I’m also looking at finding the right niche that needs me for volunteer work. It’s been suggested to me that my relative youth, computer skills, and upper body strength make me a good candidate to work at the local medical equipment lending closet. I’m heading over there to return the shower chair I borrowed for use after my foot surgery and to sign up to help. More on that as we go along.

As a lifelong learner, I’d like to up my photography game this year. I have seen lots of changes in my photos and my gear since I retired four years ago, and I love that I’m still a student of this beautiful art. The plan is to set up a little studio in my office (which needs some massive decluttering and reorganizing). It’s a process. I also plan to do another photography challenge this year to keep me disciplined and learning new techniques.

Recently, I discovered that there’s an actual college degree program and career as a food historian. I’ve always been fascinated with the cultural and familial connections of what people eat — and it seems a perfect way to meld my love of preparing and eating food and of photography. Again, more on that in future posts.

Finally, one year from today, Music Man and I will be entering the next chapter in our life together. He retires on December 1, 2017, and I’m discounting the holidays as a lost month, but January 1, 2018 will begin to tell the truth about what we have done in 2017 to prepare for it and who we will be in the future. Frankly, I can’t wait to have my buddy around more.

Happy new year to you, dear friends. I intend to focus on a positive path through the issues that are likely to present themselves in 2017, and hope we navigate this year in peace and productivity.

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What’s In A Word?

Click into photo for bio and photo source

Click into photo for bio and photo source

Anyone who’s been around me more than a few minutes knows that I love language — its sounds, its clarity and lack of clarity, and its anthropology. A friend of mine sent me an article about learning Potawatomi, the language of an indigenous American people who are now scattered to the winds in “a tribal diaspora” — as the author puts it — and the language of her ancestors.

I loved Robin Wall Kimmerer’s understanding about the Potawatomi people’s language and their relationship to the earth — their language gives life to inanimate objects. In this excerpt, she talks about how a noun moves to a verb, giving it animacy. The language lovers among you will totally “get” Kimmerer’s thrill when she sees the relationship between language and the natural world.

An electric current sizzled down my arm and through my finger, and practically scorched the page where that one word lay. In that moment I could smell the water of the bay, watch it rock against the shore and hear it sift onto the sand. A bay is a noun only if water is dead. When bay is a noun, it is defined by humans, trapped between its shores and contained by the word. But the verb wiikegama–to be a bay–releases the water from bondage and lets it live. “To be a bay” holds the wonder that, for this moment, the living water has decided to shelter itself between these shores, conversing with cedar roots and a flock of baby mergansers. Because it could do otherwise–become a stream or an ocean or a waterfall, and there are verbs for that, too. To be a hill, to be a sandy beach, to be a Saturday, all are possible verbs in a world where everything is alive. Water, land, and even a day, the language a mirror for seeing the animacy of the world, the life that pulses through all things, through pines and nuthatches and mushrooms. This is the language I hear in the woods, this is the language that lets us speak of what wells up all around us.

Click here to read the entire essay on The Daily Good.

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a botany professor at SUNY Syracuse in New York, and has published several books and essays. Here’s an interview with her in a podcast. Fascinating!

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Road Trip to End All Road Trips

Do you have a spare two months coming up soon — before it snows? If so, you can drive a road trip route that hits all of the national parks in the continental United States, in just under 15,000 miles, and celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary.

My parents were fans of summer camping trips, probably because it was the cheapest way for us to travel, and I’ve been to many of these national parks. But not all of them. This is a fun goal for our retirement travels!

The link is shared from House Beautiful’s Facebook page and I just discovered this wonderful feature. It’s called “embed” and you get to it by clicking on the carat in the top right hand corner of a Facebook post. The code embeds directly into your blog post and voila! You’ve shared something wonderful from Facebook.

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BelgraviaBelgravia by Julian Fellowes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Julian Fellowes’s magic pen is at work again with Belgravia. A classic “wrong side of the blanket” story is spun elegantly and eloquently against the drawing rooms and societal divide of the English class system. For fans of Downton Abbey, this is a nice follow-up. You can also listen to it in serial format (

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Duvet Day

I had a duvet day today.

From Pinterest -- original source unknown

From Pinterest — original source unknown

Frankly, I did not know that there was such a thing as a duvet day, but the picture tells the story. I’ve been known to stay under the covers all day and read, but today’s tale is not one of reading in bed. I was actually trying to get something done!

The big snuggly down duvet needed cleaning. It was only the hottest day of the summer so far, but I was determined that I needed to get this off the floor and put away for the summer. Did you check the date of today’s post? Summer is practically over, although it doesn’t feel like it today. Even after four years of retirement, I still think in “teacher calendar.”

I let my fingers do the driving first, and found a web site that said I should wash, then rinse the duvet twice, followed by many dryer cycles to be sure all of the feathers were fully dry. Otherwise, they would mold, being a natural product. It was also suggested that I put tennis balls in the dryer to help fluff up the down.

Music Man had some money left over on a laundromat debit card, so I went there first to see what type of extra-large washers and dryers they had. Two of each – check. The card had $1.03 on it and the place was kind of sketchy. Maybe not my best choice of the day.

I knew of another laundromat that a friend recommended, so I went there next. This place didn’t use a debit card, only quarters. The large washer was $4.50 per wash, so that would be $9.00 in quarters just to get the duvet washed and rinsed thoroughly. I couldn’t even bear to count up how many quarters it would take to dry the sucker.

I did a quick check on the price of tennis balls on Amazon – I was in the car and took the easy way out. Another two bucks.

On to the next option.

Imagine my relief when I discovered that my local dry cleaner would do the whole duvet for $19.99. Add it up, friends. It would cost about the same to wash that thing myself, plus the hours I would spend in a laundromat waiting for it to be done.

I went home, stripped the duvet cover off the comforter, and read the tag. DRY CLEAN SUGGESTED. Bam!

There’s a reason why God created convenience retailers. Let this be a lesson to you.

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Death of a Gentle Lady

Death of a Gentle Lady (Hamish Macbeth, #23)Death of a Gentle Lady by M.C. Beaton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’ve got a good thing going, why mess it us? Number 24 in the Hamish Macbeth series is predictable, yet charming. Maybe someday I’ll read them again in order to get the lady friends’ stories right — Priscilla and Elspeth just keep coming back for more of Hamish’s bumbling romance and frankly, I’m not sure why. Beaton always comes up with an original cast of characters that are likely drawn from real life. I would hate to be one of the author’s friends and acquaintances as I’m sure I would end up in one of her books. Yet I keep reading these cozy mysteries, one after another, so in that I’m like Hamish’s girlfriends.

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On Sunday, the children’s message at church was about “what kind of penny are you?”



The church member delivering the message had a bunch of dark and oxidized pennies and a bunch of shiny new ones. She asked the children which they would rather be.

I squirmed in my seat during this message. It should have been a simple little lesson, but as a grownup, the characterization of even a penny as being dark made me uncomfortably aware of how often our language demonizes dark or black as being a bad thing.

In these very difficult times, insulated white people need to think carefully about what message we are sending with our words, not to mention our actions. Do we really want to tell small children that dark equals bad? In this case the lay minister used the word mean to talk about bad behavior.

I saw a quote in which someone said that the United States is ripping off the band aid of equality and democracy and underneath it is a seething infection of racism and prejudice.

As a lover of words, I hope that my words also speak love and tolerance – and even using the word tolerate makes me squidgy. I need to do better than tolerate people of different colors and ethnicities. I need to love them wholeheartedly.

And I need to do more than just love – I need to help spread the word. Maybe someone reading this will think twice about characterizing dark as bad. It’s not just political correctness; it’s reality for many people in our country.

Are you going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?

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