Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"You Have Cancer" - Chapter 1 of My Cancer Story

Ten years ago, on December 26, 2001, my gastroenterologist called me at work to deliver this bombshell. “You have colon cancer,” he said, and my world came to a grinding halt at the age of 46.
Blood was rushing in my ears, so I almost didn’t hear the doctor when we asked me, “Do you have a surgeon?”
“No.” Who the hell has a surgeon?
“I’ll have your gynecologist call you”, he said before he hung up.

This was the beginning of my journey with cancer. Many of my friends have heard bits and pieces of this story. Others may be curious. On the 10th Anniversary of my diagnosis, it’s a good time to tell all. I’m thankful for what I went through and learned, for the love and support I received during the difficult times, and for the gracious God that allowed me to survive. Maybe hearing about my experience will push you to face any nagging health issues you have, sooner rather than later. I hope you will be inspired to extend kindness to someone fighting their own life-threatening battle. When people are ill and afraid, little gestures are really meaningful gifts, and are remembered fondly.

People ask me whether I had symptoms of my cancer before I was diagnosed. In retrospect, I did; but I did not recognize their significance. I was often tired, which I attributed to being overweight and getting older. On occasion, I had blood in my feces, which I blamed on hemorrhoids. Constipation was a sign, but who doesn’t get constipated now and again? I explained away every symptom, because I couldn’t admit to myself that there might be something seriously wrong. There was some history of colon cancer in my family – but only at advanced ages.

Pelvic exams related to another medical issue (in preparation for a hysterectomy scheduled for January 7th) shed light on my other symptoms. My gynecologist tested a stool sample then recommended a colonoscopy to “rule out” any other issues before my surgery. Dr Gilbert Thayer’s diligence saved my life.

In shock and teary after the abrupt call with my diagnosis, I was in my office with the door closed with my husband Ron. All I could think is, "I have cancer, and I am going to die". Minutes later we got the follow-up call from Dr Thayer. He was calm, sympathetic, and reassuring, and asked me if I could see the surgeon he recommended, ASAP. We left the office for the hospital immediately to meet with Dr W Scott King.

COMING SOON – Chapter 2: Meeting Dr King, learning more about the seriousness of my cancer, and undergoing a double surgery (hysterectomy and colectomy).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Apricot Jumbles

We’re gliding into the heart of Christmas festivities, with Christmas Eve on Saturday and Christmas itself on Sunday. My shopping and shipping is done, and I have just a few presents left to wrap. Now there's time for a little baking of holiday treats!

The first thing I made, yesterday, was “Apricot Jumbles”. These are tasty little bites introduced to me by my friend Dave’s late mother, Nancy. I asked for the recipe as soon as I consumed one. They are easier to make than I expected, and I think the dried fruit and nuts in them is a little reminiscent of fruitcake – but so much yummier!

I don’t think Dave will mind if I shared the recipe. And I know Nancy would have been pleased.

APRICOT JUMBLES

Ingredients:
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Cup Dried Apricots – chopped
2 Large Eggs
1 Cup Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
½ Cup Nuts – chopped
1 Cup Graham Crackers – crushed small
1 Cup Shredded Coconut (optional, but recommended)

Melt butter and add apricots. Beat eggs and add sugar; then add to apricots. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in everything else (except the coconut). Chill. Once chilled enough to handle, roll into bite-sized balls. Cover with coconut if desired. Best stored chilled. (Makes 3 dozen.)
My Notes: I love coconut, so IMHO it's a key ingredient. It also makes the process of creating balls easier, because the dough is very sticky; plus they look more festive. I didn’t have enough dried apricots, so I also used dried pears, and that combination tastes great. For nuts, I chose Walnuts, but either Pecans or Almonds would be good too.  Lastly, to reduce the sugar levels somewhat, I used half sugar and half Splenda, and unsweetened coconut (already naturally sweet).

Our thanks go to Nancy and Dave for this recipe. Next, on to Ron’s Rum Balls.  Merry Christmas to All!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hidden Treasures

If we lived in Chicago for the rest of our lives, I am sure we would not discover all of the city’s hidden treasures. But yesterday we found another one – the Mercury Theater. We attended a wonderful musical there, called “The Christmas Schooner”, for Ron’s birthday.

The building that houses the Mercury Theater opened in 1912, as a silent film nickelodeon called the Blaine Theater. With the advent of “talkies”, the Blaine moved to a larger space down the street, and eventually became the Music Box Theater, which is still in operation today. The original Blaine lived many lives for the remainder of the 20th century, and housed numerous retail operations and even a carpet-cleaning business. Thankfully, a veteran Chicago theater producer purchased, renovated, and re-opened the theater as the Mercury in 1996. It has been operating as an active live theater since then.

Little of the original Blaine Theater still exists, although they salvaged several stunning plaster pilaster busts (pictured) that now flank the house, which has 292 seats. The seats themselves were recovered and refurbished from a 1933-era Boston movie house. The interior walls are a warm, exposed brick.

This wonderful “hidden” treasure is within walking distance of our condo.

“The Christmas Schooner” is a beautifully produced and performed show that had us completely engaged for two hours. A mini live orchestra provided the musical backdrop. The costumes for the actors, portraying subjects from the 1890’s, were spot on and visually effective.

Creative staging allowed the action to transition credibly from the captain’s living room to the deck of his ship. The ship’s anchor was raised and the sails hoisted, and we believed. We laughed and we cried – glued to the storyline and the professional performances. I’m sure we will recall the experience for years to come.

What a delight to stumble across this hidden neighborhood treasure!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Merry and Bright

Our Christmas tree is now decorated and glowing in the front windows of our home in Chicago. The possibility that it brightens the evening commute of our neighbors as they trudge home pleases me.

We trimmed the tree last night, after hors d’oeuvres and while sipping champagne and listening to Christmas music. This night is so special to us, and we savor every moment. Some of the magic of the season is here. Almost every ornament sparks memories of good times, dear friends, and places we have enjoyed. Over the years, holdovers from childhood have been retired and new additions added to reflect our own sentiments and traditions.

The Knights Templar were a gift from Dave…the handcrafted angel made by Tracy…the hand-blown ornaments from Germany we purchased on annual outings to Chicago’s Christkindlmarkt… this one commemorates the show we saw the week we got engaged…the collection of ornaments we have received from Aunt Elaine and Uncle Jerry over decades… The stories and memories go on and on, and we revisit them every year during the tree trimming ritual. Our Christmas tree will never be mistaken for a designer tree. We wouldn’t want that. It is a reflection of our life together, and it makes us proud and happy.

This will probably be our last Christmas living in Chicago. Next year, we will start new traditions in our home in Prescott. We look forward to that.

I hope these holidays provide each of you with opportunities to make your season merry and bright, to treasure traditions, and celebrate your blessings. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Feeling Grateful

I’m back in Chicago after a long and, thankfully, uneventful travel day yesterday. What with all the sitting and waiting, I had plenty of time to let my thoughts wander pleasantly. There is so much for which to be grateful…

We are fortunate to have two beautiful and interesting places to call home, when many are struggling to maintain a single residence. This is a temporary luxury in which I am reveling.

It warms my heart to have a friend and neighbor who allows us to invite ourselves over in the evening to visit (when I already have my pajamas on).

The grace and benevolence of my golfing buddies has not only led me to fall in love with the game, but also provided an environment in which my skills are improving. What fun it is to play with friends!

This city of broad shoulders and bright lights will provide me with one more exciting and sparkling Christmas season. I will enjoy every minute of it. Let it snow!

Our circle of friends has grown and our ties have strengthened over the past year. I hope you know how much you mean to us, and how much joy you add to our lives.

Prescott and Talking Rock Ranch have accepted us for who we are, and will shape who we become. It’s so exciting to explore this new chapter of our lives with such interesting friends and neighbors.

Our planning and decision-making have led us into a life we love. Luck and good fortune have graced us. I am so grateful. Thank you.  Enjoy this holiday season!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Holiday Recipes


Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!  As we prepare to spend Thanksgiving with friends, I thought I would share the recipes for our contributions to today’s holiday meal.  These are two special treats we often prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I hope you will enjoy them sometime.

OYSTER CASSEROLE

Ingredients:
2 pints of shucked fresh Oysters (retain juice)
Saltine crackers
Butter
1 pint Heavy Cream
Pepper

Break up saltines (into smallish pieces, but not crushed to dust) and cover the bottom of a (greased) 8” X 8” round dish with a thin layer.  Add a layer of oysters that have been patted dry.  Add pats of butter on top of the oysters.  Repeat until you have three layers of all three ingredients.  Add pepper (no additional salt needed because of the salty crackers).  Pour a mixture of cream flavored with a touch of oyster juice over the casserole, allowing it to filter through the layers.  Top with another layer of broken Saltines.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour.

THE BAILEY’S BAILEYS IRISH CREAM

Ingredients:
1 cup Irish Whiskey
1 cup Half & Half (or Heavy Cream)
2/3 of a 14 oz can of Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 Tablespoons of Hersheys Chocolate Syrup
2 fresh Eggs*
1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract

Optional:
1 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee

Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until well mixed.  Serve directly from the blender over ice, or refrigerate until chilled, remix and serve in a small glass.  We like to funnel it into a fancy bottle and give it as a gift.

*Disclaimer:  Consumption of uncooked eggs can be risky.  Be sure yours are from a trusted source and are fresh.  To eliminate risk, remove them from the recipe entirely.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Holidays Here and There

We are barreling into the holiday season and getting ready to wrap up 2011.  At the same time, I’m staring at the calendar for 2012 and trying to figure out how to manage the permanent transition from Chicago to Prescott.  There are so many moving parts; the very thought of it stresses me out.  The work starts now, but the move is some months away – so I’d rather focus on the near term activities and fun.

Thanksgiving will be spent with generous friends here in Talking Rock.  We’ll contribute a few things, like Ron’s Oyster Casserole (oysters, butter, heavy cream, and crackers) and my homemade Bailey’s Baileys Irish Cream (try this and I predict you’ll never drink the non-dairy version again).  I anticipate a great day of eating, drinking and laughing. 

On December 1st, we’ll be back at home in Chicago to enjoy Ron’s mid-month birthday and all the trappings of our last Christmas in the big city – decking the halls in the condo, shopping, lunch in festive locales, a holiday stage show, watching the skaters in Millenium Park, and snowy views out our front windows.  Christmas Eve and Morning we have our own traditions at home as a couple, but we’ll join family in Evanston in the afternoon for a buffet lunch.

By New Year’s Eve we’ll be back in Prescott to usher in 2012 at Talking Rock, among friends, wined and dined by our marvelous Chef Richard Saldivar, within a safe walking distance of home (just in case we have too much fun).  Last year’s party was a blast.  Who remembers tearing up the dance floor to “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”?  If I had any pride, I would be embarrassed at the memory.

The hectic and exhausting process of preparing the condo for sale or rent will be dealt with in the spring.  After that, I’ll gird my loins for the big move.  Three and a half years after our retirement, we find ourselves on the home stretch before the next big chapter in our lives.  I can do this.

Enjoy the season, one and all.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Morning Coffee

One of the great luxuries of retirement is that time is more flexible. The alarm on our bedside clock is rarely used. My life is full and busy, but not scheduled to the ‘nth degree. I love it that way.

Early morning is a time for coffee and my slow process of getting in gear for the day. I enjoy watching the sun begin to light up and warm the world.

Our Chicago and Prescott homes have one thing in common – they both have great windows from which we can observe the weather and the happenings in our neighborhood. In Prescott, we see rabbits, birds, neighbors walking dogs, and golfers. Chicago offers an urban bustle of people coming and going to work, shops, parks, clubs, and restaurants.

Getting the pulse of my surroundings encourages me to jump in and participate to savor the day. It’s so beautiful outside that I need to get out there too! Steve’s watering the flowers; let’s go visit with him. I’m booking a tee time! Let’s take a walk. Connie’s out on her patio; I’m going over to see her. The 146 bus is due in five minutes to take me shopping at Water Tower Place. Life sings in tune when I find the rhythm of the world around me.

It all starts at home with my morning coffee. I’m about ready to roll.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Take a Deep Breath of Life

Yesterday was our first full day back in Prescott. Once again, we seem to have brought Chicago’s chill with us. The day struggled to climb out of the 40’s, but brought sun and clear, clean skies to enjoy. We headed for the driving range at noon, and were on the first tee by 12:30.

Talking Rock Ranch has a stunning golf course. It has emerald green fairways, but the desert hazards have their own beauty. This time of year, the high desert is smudged with dramatic swaths of gold, green, rust, and purple. Native birds provide flashes of blue in the landscape, and jackrabbits and roadrunners dart among the scrub oaks. Climbing the hill up to the 15th tee is rewarded with the gift of a 360-degree mountain view. The color of the sky is only upstaged by the intense sapphire blue of the pond between 9 and 18; the water attracting ducks and the occasional heron or other water bird.

Being outside in the fresh air amidst so much beauty is cleansing. I’m not sure what I had going on that needed to be cleansed…maybe emissions from CTA buses or the noise of a big city. I enjoy the bustle and excitement of Chicago – I truly do. But whenever I come back to Prescott, my soul is soothed.

Several times yesterday, I found myself standing still and taking very deep breaths of the clean air. It felt as though my lungs expanded with each inhalation, and that the oxygen was energizing all my nerve endings. It was euphoric.

Take a deep breath of life today, and enjoy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Still Clueless

Baby Me - January 1956
Today’s my birthday and I’m 56 years old; well into middle age. Yet I am still trying to figure out a lot about this wonderful life. I can’t say that I spend much time wondering about the MEANING OF LIFE, but I do think about what’s important and what’s not. I look for opportunities to be a better me.

This blog is a means to explore my experiences and feelings and reach out to friends and acquaintances. Writing has always been rewarding for me, and it’s great to be able to write when there are no rules (or grades). Friends who have encouraged me have provided motivation that has sometimes been much needed. Comments and reactions are always welcome – in fact I wish I heard from you more often.

This is what I know and believe so far: My husband is the best life companion I can imagine, and I look forward to many more adventures for us to share. My family is always close to my heart, even when we are miles apart. Friends are definitely the spice of life – and I like lots of flavor! We only get one body this go-around, so we have to listen to it and take care of it. Fun isn’t trivial – it’s a celebration of life. Kindness elevates our humanity. Faith picks us up when we stumble, pats us on the butt, and keeps us going.

Where I still feel a bit clueless is whether I am fulfilling my purpose in this world. What was planned for that naïve, vulnerable babe born on this day in 1955? How much am I still meant to do that hasn’t occurred to me yet? I wish I knew. In the meantime, I’m facing life with open arms and a loving heart.

Happy Day!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Give Yourself Credit

I’m not sure exactly how my credit got screwed up, but somehow Experian included dozens of negative items on my credit report that did not belong to me. We discovered this when we refinanced our condo about a year and a half ago. Not wanting to delay the refinancing, we moved forward using only Ron’s credit, figuring we would clear up my issues later.

Time moved on, and I kept delaying the resolution to my credit issues. We don’t rely much on credit these days, so it hasn’t really caused a problem. Besides, when I researched how to resolve the issues, the process seemed so onerous. Supposedly I had to write a letter listing all the disputed items and explaining how they weren’t mine. The whole thing made me angry, so I stuck my head in the sand and tried to ignore it. But it kept niggling at the back of my consciousness as something that needed to be resolved.

We all need to work to maintain our good credit. It can too easily be adversely affected by our own laziness, rough spots in our financial life, mistakes on the part of credit bureaus or other individuals, or by identity theft. Once damaged, your credit can take months or even years to repair. Bad credit can keep you from obtaining a needed line of credit, a loan, a good interest rate on an approved loan, or even a job. If you rely on your spouse or partner’s credit, you must consider the situation you would be in if something happened to them and you were left on your own.

After giving myself the lecture above, I printed my free annual credit reports so I could reassess the situation and finally tackle the problem. Here’s what I learned in the process that may be helpful to you if you have never done this before:

1. Annualcreditreport.com is the ONLY authorized source for the free annual credit reports that are yours by law. There are other sites that will try to lure you to get “free” credit reports but try to confuse you and trick you into purchasing other services.

2. Once a year, you are entitled to get a free report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You need to check all three every year, as their results can differ. (My Experian report was awash with faulty information that did not appear on the other two reports.)

3. I went on Experian’s website to submit disputes to bad information. I didn’t get very far before I got error messages that directed me to call their 800 number for assistance. After a little VRU Hell, I got to a real person. When I described my issues, I was directed to a specialist, and we really started to get somewhere.

4. My report included negative information owned by people with other names and social security numbers! There was even a judgment against one by a civil court in Ohio. This person (or people) defaulted on tens of thousands of dollars of credit and bills. The specialist was pretty quick to recognize that this wasn’t consistent with my personal information, and started flagging the 50+ negative items for deletion from my credit report. She said, “Wow, this is really going to make a difference in your credit score.” Ya’ think? She told me that it would take a few days for the report to be reissued, and the link to login would be sent to me via email. For the next 90 days, my report has a fraud alert applied to protect me from the addition of new inconsistencies. This process took about a half hour on the phone, which I thought was pretty efficient for what we accomplished.

5. It may take a few months before my credit score catches up with my new, clean report. I’ll pay $7.95 to obtain the score, which is not included with a free credit report.

Going forward, I’m marking my calendar to ensure that I obtain my free credit reports every year. My financial advisor’s assistant had a good suggestion – obtain two of the reports every January, and “save” the third in case you need to check your credit later in the year.

It feels good to have resolved this issue. If you haven’t faced this foggy unknown, take charge, protect your financial health and give yourself credit.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Pleasure of Your Company

One of the most rewarding things about retirement is that I have more time to interact with my friends in a meaningful way. One of the biggest and most welcome surprises is that I am still making friends. All told, the warmth of my friendships bathes me in happiness and comfort.

This week, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the company of several good friends and long distance encounters with others:

• I spent almost an hour on the phone Sunday with one of my very closest friends and confidantes. We live in different cities now, I miss him, and I treasure our weekly phone calls.
• One of our neighbors has become a close friend. Sunday evening, we chatted with him for about an hour after our condo association meeting, and promised to keep an eye on his place and collect his mail while he is out of town this week. It’s good to have a trusted friend so nearby. (Ron calls him my texting buddy, since that’s often how we keep tabs on each other.)
• Earlier this week, a friend from college sent me an out-of-the-blue message telling me what it means to her that we have reconnected online. It was a heartwarming surprise that made my day.
• Last night we went to dinner and the theatre with friends in Chicago. Over dinner, we caught up on each other’s doings, and then shared a wonderful experience enjoying the play together. We’re already talking about planning a get together during the holidays.
• My new friends in Arizona are a true blessing. I look forward to the day we are full-time residents at Talking Rock Ranch, so we can enjoy that sense of community full-time.

Even surprise acquaintances can offer bright spots to your day. Ron and I golfed with a man two days in a row this week that we met at the starting tee. We discovered that we not only have a friend in common, but also several mutual interests – the symphony, theatre, and golf. Our golf experience was greatly enhanced this week by our conversations with Bob.

Keep expanding your circle of friends. It adds a richness to life at any stage, but may be particularly important to your health and happiness during retirement.

I just downloaded a book to my Kindle - Vital Friends by Tom Rath.  It features results from Gallup studies on friendship, explores how friendships contribute to health and happiness, and even explains how having strong friendships can improve engagement and productivity at work.  I hope it’s an interesting read.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Deciding Where to Settle Down for Retirement

A treasured friend of mine recently sent me an email looking for my opinions about his list of possible retirement locales. He is a successful surgeon who is having trouble imagining his life after retirement. The request he sent, punctuated by, “C’mon Runaway Boomer, don’t let me down!” not only made me laugh, but got me thinking about how to approach the big decision about where to retire in a systematic fashion.

It’s very important to try to visualize how you want life to unfold once you are free from a career that absorbs most of your time and energy. What are the things you would do more of, if you only had time? Many look forward to having the freedom to spend more time socializing with friends and family. Others dream of travel and exploration. For some, it will be a time for more physical action and creativity. You may have thoughts about pursuing a second career, or volunteering in your community. This visualization step requires some pleasant introspection over a period of time.

Picking a geographic location can be complicated. First, consider that you may not need or want to move at all! If you already have a great social situation and the support of friends and family nearby, do you really want to start over in a new place? Or does your soul yearn for the beauty of the mountains or beach and a new beginning? Here are some practical suggestions for going about narrowing down your list of possible locations:

• Start taking short vacations (even 3-4 days) to check out places that you think you might be interested in. Make an appointment with a realtor to take you around, so you can get a feel for housing and neighborhoods available.
• Pick up magazines like "Where to Retire" or “Money”. They do nice profiles of towns and highlight different aspects for consideration, like cost of living, healthcare, taxes, etc.
• You can think about your post-working life in phases. If you decide to buy somewhere, it doesn't have to be forever – it may merely be your next chapter.
• See if you can narrow your options a bit... Mountains, desert, coastal, urban? All have their own beauty, but are all very different.
• Make a list of what you definitely want in a home... Single family or condo, # of bedrooms/baths, view, fireplace, garage, porch or patio, single level or 2-story, etc. This will help you when you work with a realtor, and also help you visualize how you want to live.
• Browse home sales websites for different locales so you can get an idea of what is available and see what places look like.
• Go visit friends in different areas so they can introduce you to what it's like to really live somewhere.
• Look at official websites of cities and town. Email requests for visitor and/or relocation guides. Most places offer them for free.

One more important thought… Be open to surprises changing your plan. My husband and I visited Prescott, Arizona a year and a half ago because it kept popping up on lists of good places to retire. It was love at first sight, and we bought a home in Talking Rock Ranch (SURPRISE: two years earlier than planned), on a golf course (SURPRISE: we had never discussed this before), and making scores of lovely friends (SURPRISE: an amazing bonus to buying into a community). We are having the time of our lives.

Enjoy your decision-making process. It’s a luxury to have the freedom to create your own grand plan.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Embraced by the Family Home

Yesterday Ron and I arrived for a visit at Mom’s home in Manchester, NH. This is a very special place. To the casual observer, it’s just a modest mid-century ranch-style house. To us, “1070” is a family treasure.

The house was built in 1952 by Mom’s parents, Barbara and Frank Roberts. Along with help from my Uncle Jerry and Barbara’s carpenter father Carroll Powers, they turned their long-time dream of owning a home into reality. Board by board and shingle by shingle, they created a home full of love and happiness. Over time, it became a magnet for friends and family – both unscheduled drop-ins and planned vacations.

When we were kids, many of our vacations were spent as guests at 1070. The four of us slept on cots in the basement. It was a little creepy, so we compensated by telling stories and giggling ourselves to sleep. In the morning, Grammie would make biscuits from scratch. Grampa would play the organ full blast, we would collect acorns from the yard, Grammie would weave charming stories about fairies in her garden, and assorted extended family would pop in for visits. It was always wonderful. There are many, many memories ingrained into the walls of this home. The spirits of Frank and Barbara are here.

Today, Mom and my sister Althea share the home. Our parents expanded it in the early 90’s, converting part of the basement into a family room with a fireplace, adding a master suite, and renovating the kitchen. But the bones of the original house are intact…the exterior that blends into the wooded lot, the wide, golden pine paneling in the living room and all the way down the hall, and the beautiful windows that welcome in the sunlight and cool breezes.

I’ll always feel at home here.


1070 Living Room.
(photo by Althea Haropulos)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Day at Wrigley

Nothing like a day at Wrigley
Last gasp of summer
Sun-soaked diamond
Winds blowing out
Taunting big bats

Loved our day at Wrigley
El rumbling past Addison
Home run, Byrd!
We sing in the seventh
Take me out

Cheered this day at Wrigley
Garza was the man
Sweet late season win
Spilled beer forgiven
Go Cubs Go

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Farewell to Prescott (for now)

What a great summer it has been in Prescott!  We have a few more treats planned for today (a Ladies golf event) and tomorrow (Happy Hour and dinner at the club), before heading for Chicago Saturday morning.  My heart is full and my mind’s eye is reviewing all the fun we’ve had with friends.  I think the best way to share that is via some photos from the past few months.
One of the many beautiful mornings from our back patio.

"Tee Party" on the golf course.


Ron and friends at the Labor Day weekend Luau.

Celebrating the Spirit Cup with my partner Elin.
Fall Festival Prescott Pops concert at Talking Rock.
(Photo courtesy of Janet Cameron.)

One of our friendly hummingbirds.
 
Already looking forward to being back in November.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Good Friends, Good Food, Good Times

Last night we had friends over to dinner. We enjoyed the preparation, the company, and the food. Ron and I planned and executed the menu together. It’s fun to have time to make this kind of meal on a week night!

Here’s the menu for the evening at Chez Bailey:

Amuse-Bouche

Proscuitto Pillow
Proscuitto stuffed with herbed goat cheese, radish, & red pepper jelly. Served with a dash of basil oil.

Salad

Caprese Salad
Fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, & basil leaves. Drizzled with extra virgin olive oil & fig-infused balsamic vinegar.

Entrée

Fried Trout
Panko-encrusted trout filet with lemon & capers, served with a side of lightly sautéed zucchini.

Dessert

Berries Jubilee!
Raspberries & blackberries flambéed in Grand Marnier, tumbled onto sponge cake, accompanied by mango sorbet.



Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Spirit of the Spirit Cup

Last week I played in Talking Rock Golf Club’s annual ladies’ invitational golf tournament, the Spirit Cup. My handicap is high, my partner was a stranger to me, and I was pretty bound up with trepidation about the whole event. But I had set myself a goal to compete this year, and I am pretty stubborn about meeting my self-imposed goals.

The biggest hurdle in my mind was whether my partner and I would be compatible. After playing a practice round with her last Thursday, my concern was quickly dispatched. Although a much better golfer than I, we got along famously, enjoying the course, the beautiful weather, and each other’s company. She has had quite a bit of tournament experience, and I appreciated her knowledge about the formats (Best Ball and a Scramble), and the finer points of the rules and regulations.

On the first morning of the tournament, a party atmosphere reigned. The theme for the Spirit Cup was “Wild, Wild West”. Carts were decorated accordingly, and the creativity was impressive. We had several stagecoaches, a saloon, a jail, and a chuck wagon, among others. Some ladies had coordinating golf attire, or even costumes such as pigtails and Indian feathers, ponchos and six shooters, and saloon girls with feather boas.

Both days of golf included 18 holes of play, with 9 holes of a Scramble, and 9 holes of Best Ball. These formats take a lot of pressure off us lesser golfers, as your partner can save you if you have a bad shot or a bad hole. Of course, you still want to feel that you have contributed, which I did – hitting some good drives, some great pitches onto the green, and a few really good putts to close out scoring on holes. My intimate knowledge of the geography of the course was also a big help to my guest, who was unfamiliar with it.

We played respectably, and could hold our heads high as the top teams went on to the high-pressure Shoot Out for the championship. The Shoot Out drew a gallery of club members and guests that moved progressively from the 14th hole to the 18th, where the champions were determined by a Chip Off after a tie between the finalists on 18. Congratulations to Kim Dornan and her guest for their big win!

The trophy presentations were accompanied by food, drink, laughter, and hugs, among a large group of happy people. As the sun set, washing Talking Rock with golden sun, we relished our celebration.

I am most pleased that I pushed myself outside my comfort zone to take on a new challenge and have a wonderful new experience. My hope is that more of my golf buddies will take part next year in this event that is a great confidence-builder.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hubris and Golf Don't Mix

Last year I promised myself that I would start posting my golf scores and get a handicap, so that I could play in Talking Rock’s Spirit Cup ladies golf tournament. That seems like a reasonably innocuous, maybe even fun goal; right?

A day before this year’s tournament begins, I regret my dedication. I have an embarrassingly high handicap. It’s 47.7. Ugh. For a ladies tournament, the maximum handicap that can be applied is 44 point something. If I scored 126 for 18 holes (pretty average for me), my adjusted score would be 126 minus 44, or 82. Let’s just say I won’t be going pro in this lifetime.

I am so nervous about this tournament! My friends tell me not to worry, because it’s about the fun and food and drink – not the competition. I’m good with that, yet still sincerely fear hacking up the course and humiliating myself.

So here’s my plan…

1. Golf clothes and shoes are already washed. I’ve put my tournament outfits together, all the way down to undies, socks and caps. I can’t think about attire on game day.
2. Try to relax and enjoy my practice round today, while getting to know my partner.
3. Lean on my friends who are at a similar skill level and the ones who are pretty darn good golfers.
4. Avoid the temptation to overindulge at the welcome party. This is going to be hard enough without being hung over tomorrow.
5. Lastly, I will think repeatedly of this last line from Roy M. Barineau’s “A Golfer’s Prayer”: Most of all, God, let us find happiness in our game, experiencing joy, fun, and delight even though the ball does not always roll our way. Amen.

Hopefully by this time next week I will be telling you what a wonderful experience I had in the Spirit Cup. Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What - Me Worry?

Yep. Life is good; incredibly good for me these days. I am thankful for all the blessings.  But... I have to admit that I still worry.

My chronic worry list:

• I hope our happiness isn’t disrupted by illness or injury.
• The stock market volatility has a direct effect on our retirement finances, and the wild fluctuations are disturbing.
• Our siblings that have personal and financial issues.
• I want my aging mother to enjoy the rest of her years in comfort and surrounded by love.
• If we can’t sell the condo in Chicago next spring, we may have to rent it.
• Keeping my Type 2 Diabetes at bay.
• How I’m going to find health insurance in Arizona.

It’s a pretty short list, but all important stuff.  Some things we can prepare for, but we don't have plans for everything and I haven’t figured out how not to worry.  I hope that meditation and prayer can help me lighten the load.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Afternoon with a Teenager

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with a neighbor’s 17-year old niece from England. I offered to take Julie for lunch and shopping, as her uncle was going to be tied up at work for the day.

This wouldn’t be an unusual event for most of my friends. But, remember, I have no children of my own. I have a niece and nephews that are spread across the country and I don’t get to see them often. I don’t have much recent experience relating to teenagers. Nonetheless, I looked forward to our outing.

I think we had a good time (I know I did). Perhaps I learned a few things about contemporary teenagers – or did I merely recall some things about being 17?

TARGET: Target turned out to be Julie’s “favorite store in the States!” We enjoyed browsing among the sale racks, and she purchased some lip gloss.

HOODIES: Julie shared that she is not a frilly kind of girl and that her closet is full of hoodies. Didn’t we all have some sort of favorite clothing as kids? (I remember an addiction to frayed jeans and flannel shirts.)

SKULLS: When I admitted that I don’t get this whole skulls-in-fashion trend, Julie found it pretty amusing. But she couldn’t really explain it either. She thinks it’s kind of cool, and would buy something with a skull design, except she was pretty sure her parents wouldn’t approve. Good call.

DRIVING: You can get a permit to drive at 17 in England. Julie’s learning, but for now gets to school and visits friends on a motor scooter. (I would have killed for a scooter when I was her age.) She’s a little nervous about making the transition to a car.

LUNCH: Julie ordered Chicken Fried Chicken with white gravy, and a Chocolate Milkshake. I was so envious. Remember when you could order anything you wanted to eat?

THE FUTURE: I was stricken by Julie’s mature look toward her upcoming university education and future employment opportunities. She knows she wants to study Child Development, but is leaving the door open to exactly where her interests will lead her from the many options she hopes to have.

It’s good to spend some time with people that give us a different perspective. Julie is a lovely young lady and a credit to her family. She gave me a gift by sharing the afternoon with me.  On one hand, she made me feel decidedly 55...but I also clearly remembered being 17.  Both are cool with me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Arizona Morning

One of the things that clinched the deal for me on our home in Arizona was the view from the wall of windows on the back of the house. Every day we see the green of the golf course, the desert scrub, hardy trees, and distant mountains…a wide, serene, and sweet-smelling landscape that lightens my heart.

Dawn is a magical time. The sun washes a warm gold light onto the hills. The grasses and flowers start to glow. Hummingbirds and cottontail rabbits feed, seemingly undisturbed by the mowers grooming the 2nd fairway. I don’t mind either, as the scent of freshly-cut grass adds a welcome dimension to the scene.

Even in this first week of August, nights cool down considerably. This morning’s 6:00am temperature on the back patio was 68 degrees. We’ll top out at over 90 degrees late this afternoon. With luck, monsoon rains will help cool us off in the early evening. For now the windows are open and we can smell the desert flowers and hear the buzz of hummingbirds zooming past.

I didn’t used to be a morning person; but an early Arizona morning is not to be missed. Excuse me while I go get my second cup of coffee.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The End of a Family Era

Coming up the lane to the home place.
Eventually it becomes inevitable that ancestral history and emotional family memories are trumped by the need to face the end of an era. The Bailey/Buchholz Farm is in the process of being sold. A deal closed yesterday on the portion of the land that includes the home place, the “North Farm”. Sale of the remainder, the “South Farm”, will close next month. That land will now be owned by a local farmer who is a family friend.

My husband’s maternal family, the Buchholz’, owned hundreds of acres of farm land in central Illinois' Ford County since settling there in the mid-1800’s. Rons’s grandfather and namesake, Ronald Buchholz, was the last in a long line of family farmers. He retired in 1980. The livestock and chickens had already been sold, and local sharecroppers Ray and Jimmy took over farming the corn and soybeans. Ron’s parents, James Bailey and Barbara Buchholz Bailey retired to the farm in the mid-1980’s. Jim reveled in his retired life as a “gentleman farmer” until his passing in 1995. Barbara succumbed to Alzheimers and spent the rest of her days in a nursing home in Springfield, IL. Ronald lived until he was 95. A cousin sold her acreage to a corporation over ten years ago. The beautiful old farm house has remained, loved but unoccupied, except for occasional family gatherings since 1995.

For many, many years in Melvin, generations of Buchholz’ were not only farmers, but entrepreneurs in the small town, and pillars of the community. The building housing Melvin’s general store and “opera house” even had the Buchholz name carved in stone on the façade. It was demolished about 10 years ago, a depressing harbinger for the town of Melvin as well as for Bailey/Buchholz progeny.


Amandus Buchholz (Ron's Great Great Grandfather) in his general merchandise store.
 
The five Bailey heirs are scattered across the country, living their own lives and building their unique legacies. There is not a farmer among them. The rising value of farm land and commodities, and the deteriorating condition of the farm house, pushed the possibility of a sale to the forefront of consideration. It became clear that it was time to let go. So the sale moves forward.


Ron on the farm in the mid-80's.
Divestiture of the farm is providing an unexpected boost to our retirement. We always included Ron’s share of the farm as an asset in our net worth, but did not count on it being sold during our lifetime. It’s a bittersweet turn of events.

Current generations of family do not share the same dreams as our ancestors; however we believe that they would want us to live our own lives and follow our dreams. I think they would be pleased that they could help.








Thursday, July 21, 2011

We're Meant to Be Here

It's no secret that I love the home we have established in Prescott, Arizona in the community of Talking Rock.  Recently I wrote this rhyme, which I have also applied as lyrics for a "campfire" song.  It's been fun to work it out, accompanying myself on my ukulele.

TALKING ROCK RANCH

Way out West
Far from city lights
Where coyotes sing on
Bright and starry nights
There is a place
Nestled in the plains
Where rabbits dance
In fragrant summer rains

It’s Talking Rock
We’re meant to be here
In Talking Rock
It’s so darn clear
We’ve found our home
No need to roam…
Talking Rock,
Talking Rock Ranch

In desert heat
And winter’s falling snow
Where toasts are shared
And treasured friendships grow
There is a place
A mile high
Where sunsets paint
The canvas of the sky

It’s Talking Rock
We’re meant to be here
In Talking Rock
It’s so darn clear
We’ve found our home
No need to roam...
Talking Rock,
Talking Rock Ranch

We’ve found our home
No need to roam...
Talking Rock,
Talking Rock Ranch

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Unencumbered

I am beginning to understand why my mother tells me that she doesn’t want more “stuff”. This makes gift-giving more challenging, and generally results in purchases of consumables such as food items, luxurious toiletries, or clothing. At 80, Mom doesn’t feel the need to be in acquisition mode any more. Now I get it.

Stuff makes life more complicated. Stuff has to be organized, stored, maintained, and sometimes (worst of all) packed and transported in a move. We get so accustomed to having our stuff around us that we don’t even know why we have some of it anymore. Regardless, it’s hard to purge ourselves of it.

Don’t get me wrong… I like my creature comforts. I have gone to great lengths to create a comfortable nest for myself and my husband. But after moving households several times, I have also experienced the euphoria of leaving mountains of unwanted baggage by the curb for garbage pickup. It’s a freeing feeling.

The purging process is painful. It has to be accomplished a drawer, a box, a closet at a time. We must face some hard facts like, “OK, I’m never going to be a size 8 again”, or “My snow skiing days are behind me”.

Letting go allows us to move forward unencumbered, fully enjoying the present and looking to the future instead of being tangled in the flotsam and jetsam of the past.

Now go tackle that junk drawer!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chicago's Best

My sister, Althea, heads back home to New Hampshire today after a week-long visit with us in Chicago. I have to say, Chicago really gave us her best over the past week. It was a reminder of why we love this city and how much we will miss it when we move to Arizona next year.

Our week started with an extra-innings win by the Cubs at Wrigley. Considering that the Cubs are currently well under 500 this season, that was no small feat. Singing “Go Cubs Go” at the end of the game allowed us to walk home on air. We celebrated by stopping for dinner at Fornello, our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant.

Friday, we had lunch in Evanston with an old college friend. It was fun to catch up with his doings in the entertainment world. He’s sold a series pilot to Spike TV that is awaiting a contract. His other project is a movie script, which has also been sold and has a director and producer. It will start shooting in October in Puerto Rico. Nice.

We enjoyed an early morning in Lincoln Park over the weekend, buying goods for Sunday dinner at the Green City (Farmers) Market. The fresh tomatoes and radishes were amazing. Breakfast was a rhubarb tart and a stick of buffalo jerky. After the market, we strolled through Lincoln Park Zoo and saw Polar Bears, a Rhinoceros, and a pair of Lions sunning themselves. From there the park continues into the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a stunning historic building with beautiful displays. My favorite was the orchid gardens.

A visit to Chicago would be incomplete without an evening at a neighborhood tavern. The weather cooperated, and we sat on the patio at Bar On Buena to enjoy burgers and beer just a few blocks from home.

The 4th of July was celebrated with extended family, at a backyard BBQ. That evening, we walked to Montrose Harbor to see fireworks. Some were unofficial (I don’t know how more people don’t get their fingers blown off), others in the distance were larger and more impressive. The atmosphere on the lakefront was very festive.

Tuesday evening, we were invited to join generous friends on a sailboat outing from Monroe Harbor on Lake Michigan. What a gorgeous evening with great friends! The view of the skyline and the color of the water were both unforgettable. We tried to convince our Italian captain, Lorenzo Career, to just continue sailing on to Italy.

Althea’s last evening in Chicago was spent “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” Aquarium. More beautiful views of the lake and city – this time accompanied by live jazz, and a chance to walk through the aquarium. We especially enjoyed the Beluga Whales and the special Jellyfish exhibit. The evening ended with the fireworks display from Navy Pier.

Chicago performed marvelously for us this past week. We love this city, and can’t help but already think of missing everything it has to offer when we relocate next spring.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Once a Cubs Fan...

We live 4 blocks north of Wrigley field, home of our Chicago Cubs. I’ve been a Cubs fan as long as I can remember. Dad grew up 4 blocks from Wrigley, in the other direction – on Belmont. So, you see, I was destined to follow the “loveable losers” on the North Side of Chicago. Once a Cubs fan, it doesn’t matter how hopeless they are…we love them as unconditionally as a mother must love an unfortunate-looking child.

When I grew up in Maryland, in the days before cable and the WGN Superstation, Dad would watch the Cubs whenever they were televised in our area. That’s when he sucked his children into the lost cause. Remember, the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. We had a good team in 2008, and hoped against hope that there would be a hundred year miracle. But, no. The Chicago White Sox won the Series in 2005. If you think that helps mollify a Cubs fan, then you know nothing about the cross-town rivalry in Chicago. Cubs / Sox – worlds apart.

In the 80’s, I went to spring training in Arizona for the first time and went to games at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa. What a great atmosphere, with lifetime Cubs fans all around! We’ve seen many young players and always tried to guess who would become new baseball stars in Chicago. Ron’s dad picked out first baseman Mark “Amazing” Grace, who spent 13 years with the Cubs. Grace was the National League’s Rookie of the Year and earned 4 Gold Glove Awards. Good pick, Jim.

Visiting Harry outside Wrigley Field

Harry Caray was the unforgettable voice of the Cubs from 1981 to 1997. At each home game, he led the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame’. Although Harry died in 1998, to this day the 7th Inning Stretch includes introduction of a celebrity guest who sings with the crowd and leads them just like Harry did. It begins with a windup, “a-one, a-two, a-three…”, and ends with “Let’s get some runs!” Harry, glad I got to meet you that one time when you were leaving the Pump Room.

Today is a nice summer day, and we have Cubs tickets. We’ll walk from Irving Park down Seminary, past the Fire Station at Waveland into the park. Once in our seats, we'll have a hot dog and a beer and soak up some Wrigley Field magic. I hear the wind will be blowing out. Cubbies, let’s get some runs!



Thursday, June 23, 2011

Managing a Financial Windfall

When substantial, unanticipated money comes your way it can create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to re-chart the path of your life. Depending on the amount and on your age there are a number of good choices possible, and a few pitfalls you should avoid.

When I was 27 years old and living from paycheck to paycheck, I inherited some money from my Aunt Katee. It wasn’t a huge sum, but it was enough to change my life for the better. I paid off my credit cards and car loan, put a down payment on a townhouse, and bought some furniture. Admittedly, I also splurged a little by going on a cruise with a girlfriend (my first non-family-centric vacation ever). In hindsight, I feel good about all of my decisions. What I feel best about is that I know exactly where the money went – I didn’t just piss it away little by little on frivolous purchases.

Looking back, I would give this advice to young adults who come into a financial windfall:

PAY OFF TOXIC DEBT - NOW
First, pay off any credit cards, or high interest loans like car loans. Resolve not to accrue any more toxic debt if it can be avoided. Put your credit cards away somewhere safe, and use them sparingly and wisely. Cancel department store cards and cut them up.

WRITE DOWN YOUR LIFE GOALS
Spend some time thinking about what you want out of life. Money can’t buy love or happiness, but it can help you attain other goals. Do you want to own a home, start a business, live abroad, share your life with someone, and/or have a family? Be sure decisions you make with your money support your life goals. Understand that your goals may change over time. This is fine; but keep thinking and talking about them.

CREATE A BUDGET
Do you know where your money goes today? Get a handle on it, before you start spending your newly-acquired funds. Determine whether you want or need to revise your budget going forward.

TAKE TIME TO MAKE DECISIONS
You may get plenty of unsolicited advice (and requests) from family and friends. Don’t make major decisions too quickly. This is your money and your life at stake. The money can sit in the bank for a while you think it over and get advice.

INVEST IN YOUR EDUCATION
Nothing will enhance your quality of life long-term like a good education. If you don’t already have your college degree – invest some money toward that goal. There is nothing that can replace having a positive college experience, or that credential on your resume. Aside from what you learn, you will meet smart people who will become influential friends for life, and part of your supportive network. Do not miss this opportunity.

PROTECT YOURSELF
Be sure you are properly insured. You need health insurance, comprehensive automobile and property insurance (including liability coverage). If you’ve been relying on your parents for coverage, it’s time to make the leap to independence. Open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). You may think it’s too early to plan for retirement, but it’s not.

RETAIN SOME CASH
No matter what you decide to do, you will want to retain a portion of your windfall in liquid cash reserves. Unexpected things happen, and sometimes you need immediate cash that is not tied up in investments.

INVEST WISELY
You will need some advice if you have money to invest. There are a confusing variety of options available. Ask an experienced, trusted friend or relative to recommend a financial advisor.

INDULGE YOURSELF A LITTLE
It’s OK to give yourself a little treat in celebration, but it should be something memorable and lasting – not a budget-busting trip to the mall. Set an amount aside for your planned indulgence and stick with it. Your long-term goals are more important.

A windfall can have a life-changing impact if properly managed. This is your money and your life at stake. Make good decisions and reap a lifetime of rewards.



Thursday, June 16, 2011

Daddy's Day Blues

Father’s Day promotions never seem to take into account the feelings of those of us who have lost our fathers. It makes the day a little hard to bear. I’ll never stop loving Dad and missing him. He was the best father I can imagine having, and was a tremendous influence on my life. I can still clearly hear his voice in my head, comforting and guiding me to this day…
John Haropulos 1924-1999

“Your daddy loves you.”
“Quit yarming around and get in the car!”
“What were you thinking?”
“You want something to cry about? I’ll give you something to cry about.”
“Go to your room and think about it.”
“I’d sell you for a nickel right now.”
“Isn’t your mother beautiful?”
“You can be whatever you want to be.”
“You’re not going out dressed like that.”
“Don’t talk back to your mother.”
“You dare to speak to me that way?”
“You’re smarter than that.”
“Because I’m the dad, and I say so.”
James Bailey 1928-1995
“I’m coming to check for creepy-crawlies!”

Ron is missing his dad too, and had these to offer…

“Do it right, or don’t do it at all.”
“Respect your tools.”
“You’re not going anywhere.”
“You’re not old enough to _________.” 
“You’re too old to cry.”
“Pay attention to what you’re doing.”
“Don’t EVEN…!”
“So you think you’re so smart."

John Haropulos and Jim Bailey, we love you both and will be carrying you in our hearts this Father’s Day.