Thursday, December 27, 2012

Looking Back at 2012

One of my new traditions, since retirement, has been to create a annual photo book to summarize the year. The process of putting it together allows me to meander through my collection of photos to select the best representations of places and events throughout the past months. It used to be common to lovingly put together photo albums to keep memories. Now, with digital photography, too many of our favorite photos hide in our computers where we just don't see them that often. That's a bit of a shame. Hence my photo books, which frequently get plucked off an occasional table for re-review.

Construction of the book has the welcome side effect of stimulating remembrance. I smile and chuckle as I see pictures I had forgotten, recollecting conversations and visual snippets of activity. It all is a reminder of the abundance of happiness and love in our lives today.

2012 was a crazy busy year for us.

We packed up our urban condo life to move everything to our ranch cottage in Prescott. Then we worked like dogs to clean and paint the place to prepare it for renters. Closing that chapter was challenging and very bittersweet. Eventually we will sell the place in Chicago, when market conditions so allow. For now, we are fortunate to have found a very nice couple to live there and take care of it.

The happy highlight of our year was our trip to England with friends. There are so many special memories from our tour around southern England that I had to make a photo book for just that trip, a copy of which I gifted to our dear friends and travel companions for Christmas.

Summer in Prescott in our Talking Rock community was a giddy whirlwind of golf, parties, club events, and more golf. It was fun and exhilirating and, somehow, relaxing at the same time. It was a period of recovery from the stress of moving, and truly established us as full time residents in Arizona.

October took us to New Hampshire for my mother's open heart surgery. We were so thankful that Mom made it through the main event with flying colors. Two and a half months later she continues to struggle some through her recovery, and we are concerned about several after effects. But we are amazed by Mom's courage and grit, and thankful for the care provided by my sister Althea and the visiting nurses. Our hopes are high for continued improvement.

As this year winds down and I sift through my photos and memories - I am grateful for so much. We have wonderful, generous friends, a beautiful place to live, many things to keep us busy, and the health to allow us to keep on truckin'. We love our family and hope to see more of them in the new year.

Happy New Year to All! Let's make it a good one.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What I See

This should be a season of comfort and joy, yet last week it was shattered by the violent and tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut. I admit that I haven't watched much of the news on this, because it's grossly and inappropriately sensationalized by the media. Besides, it makes me deeply sad - for the families of those killed, the family of the shooter, for their community, our country, and for the state of our world today.

Perhaps some positive change will come out of what happened. We're thinking about it, dreaming about it, and questioning how something like this could happen. We're praying for the innocent souls of the children and adults who lost their lives. We have discussions and engage in arm-waving about gun control and mental illness. I hear people railing in anger. I suppose "something" will be done, and changes will be made in policy and laws. Will it make a difference? I hope so, but I don't know. Our need for change is deeper.

I believe there is Evil in our world. This is the dark side of Faith. I believe that given an opportunity, Evil can become resident in human souls. We can successfully fight it, but first we have to recognize it. It can be kept at bay by each of us by applying love, patience, grace, humility, and care to our thoughts, our words, our relationships with others, and in everything we do. It's not always easy - but we can try. We can make things better.

This Christmas, when I look at our Christmas tree, I see many things. In the lights, I see the Star of Bethlehem, and the stars over our own home. In the gifts, I see the wonder of the Three Wise Men, and the love my family and friends have for each other. In the ornaments, I see new angels on high and an appreciation of the blessings we have in our lives. I see hope. I see love.

Merry Christmas / Καλά Χριστούγεννα

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Any Excuse

When I chatted with my mother yesterday, part of our conversation was about our busy social calendar for the next few days. While describing the plan for that night - Ladies Poker Night in celebration of a friend's birthday - Mom aptly commented, "Any excuse for a party!" Obviously, our friend's birthday was well worth celebrating, but it's true that we residents of Talking Rock don't need much of a reason to get together and have fun.

Parties can be planned or break out spontaneously at the drop of a hat. Ladies Poker Night was a well-planned event, made easier by the willingness of attendees to pitch in. We all brought food and drink (too much of course), but our hostess and her friends added fun with a few creative touches. We were invited to dress the part of poker-players, and were provided with (candy) cigarettes and sunglasses. I'd share some cute pictures of the girls, but we agreed "What happens on Jay Morrish Drive stays on Jay Morrish Drive" and I need to respect that.

Tonight Talking Rock Club hosts their annual Holiday Dinner and Gift Exchange. Chef Richard will create a wonderful meal, then we will gather around the Christmas tree and fireplace and open gifts that can then be "apprehended" by others who wish to trade theirs for someone else's. I'm looking forward to the fun, laughter, and holiday spirit among good friends.

Friday night is the ever-popular weekly Happy Hour at the club. We'll start gathering at 4:30 for cocktails (it's great to be retired); a happy habit that normally progresses to dinner. Tomorrow, we'll be part of a table for 10 that will help us celebrate Ron's birthday. Friday is a weekly excuse to get a just a little gussied up and just ENJOY the company of others in the warm, comfortable environment provided by Talking Rock.

We are very fortunate to live among people with similar interests and attitudes. Our friends are generous with their hospitality, time, and hearts. There is no place we would rather be, and we are loving spending our first Christmas season here in Prescott.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Building New Traditions

Several friends have recently asked me whether we miss being in Chicago during the Christmas season. The answer comes quickly - yes, we do. We loved navigating snowy sidewalks while shopping for gifts, and meeting up in a restaurant or tavern for a bite to eat and a hot toddy. Each year we would attend either the Chicago Symphony's "Welcome Yule" concert, or the Goodman Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol". The season wasn't complete without buying a new glass ornament from the Christkindlmarket (the German Christmas market that pops up every year in the Loop.) Our tree was placed in the front room to provide a festive view to neighbors walking down Bittersweet Place. During our four years of city living, we created new traditions that helped us greet the season in comfort and joy.

This is our first Christmas season in Prescott. How could we not embrace new traditions in the city recently officially proclaimed as "Arizona's Christmas City"? Prescott takes this designation seriously by hosting a number of festive events open to the public.

We have attended the Christmas Light Parade, where local businesses and organizations create lighted floats that make the rounds downtown. The very next week, you can attend a Christmas Parade in the daytime, where Santa make his official appearance. That night, the Courthouse Square Lighting takes place. This creates a fabulous tableau, including lighting on the Courthouse itself, as well as on many huge trees, and the town Christmas Tree. Tomorrow night, we will attend Acker Night for the first time. Acker Night is a showcase of more than 100 musicians, who perform in numerous downtown venues, including parks, galleries, restaurants, bars, and street corners. Tips proffered are donated to music education programs for local children. I love that idea.

Our own traditions are being modified this year. In addition to some of the city's events, we will attend a Christmas Dinner and Gift Exchange with our friends at Talking Rock. There are also several private parties to which we have been invited. We'll host a few close friends in our home for champagne and hors d'oeuvres on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas tree is up and lighted, and our Christmas shopping is winding down. Soon we can slow our pace, and just enjoy the new traditions we're building.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Politics Threaten Well-Planned Personal Security

You've all heard about the "Fiscal Cliff" and the related political scramble toward the end of 2012. If nothing is done, January 1 will usher in many financially-onerous effects on the public. Some changes will affect businesses, but do not be mistaken about the very real impact on you and me.

Temporary payroll tax cuts will expire, causing worker's paychecks to be reduced by 2%. Shifts in alternative minimum tax will affect millions of taxpayers. The tax cuts from 2001-2003 will be rescinded. Many government programs (including Defense, Medicare, and Education) will be in line for deep cuts. If these changes occur, the reaction will likely spark another recession.

Possible alternatives that are being bandied about are very concerning. There has been a lot of talk about higher taxes for "the rich", or closing tax loopholes. But who decides who are "the rich"?

The really frightening stuff I'm hearing discussed are possibilities such as:

  1. Taxation of existing wealth (as opposed to income). Never mind that we already paid taxes on what we have, which came from work income. This is double-taxation.
  2. Elimination (or reduction) of homeowner mortgage deductions. How many more people will lose their homes if they don't have this deduction?
  3. Social Security ineligibility for individuals with more than a certain amount of net worth. This is not an entitlement. This is our money that we earned that the government promised would be paid back to as retirement income. We counted on that.
  4. Dividend income for investors could become taxable, further discouraging investments and economic growth. Given that companies already pay tax on their profits, this would be another form of double-taxation.
There is a very real possibility that our elected government officials will be threatening the long term plans of millions of citizens who have worked hard to earn what they have.

If you aren't following the news on this, I strongly suggest you stay tuned in. I'm fearful that some of our country's basic principles are being threatened. These are the types of threats that spark actions generated by fear and uncertainty. Companies will stop hiring and eliminate positions - again, and unemployment will rise at the same time unemployment benefits will have to be cut. People will take their money out of investments to hoard cash and precious metals. What other adverse reactions will there be when people feel their well-being and way of life is under attack?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Speak Thanks

Thanksgiving is a wonderful day to enjoy family and friends. We "give thanks" for all the blessings in our lives. My thought for today is to be sure we "speak thanks" to anyone and everyone in our lives that make us feel loved and happy. Let what's in your heart overflow and be expressed from your lips.

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy this beginning of the holiday season. Share the love.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Back to the Movies

I used to love to go to the movies. Back in the 70's and 80's not a weekend would go by without me seeing the latest new release. I even stood in line for hours to see the first Star Trek movie. So I'm not sure when and why I stopped going. There are several possibilities... My life got busier once I had a career, and movie theaters got yucky - the seats were disgusting, your feet stuck to the floor from all the spilled sodas, and too many other patrons were rude and distracting. I like watching a good movie in my pajamas, from my own sofa, where I can pause the action if I need something to eat or to run to the bathroom.

In recent memory, I've only been to the movie theater for several movies I REALLY wanted to see on the big screen. Titanic (1997 at Mann's Chinese Theatre in LA - thanks, Thom), Chicago (2002), Dreamgirls (2006), and Cowboys and Aliens (2011 - couldn't resist Harrison Ford AND Daniel Craig). I've always enjoyed Bond movies; and when the reviews started coming out for Skyfall, I wanted to go. We made plans with friends, bought tickets online, and headed to the afternoon matinee yesterday.

Skyfall is the best movie I've seen in a long, long time. (No Spoiler Alert necessary, by the way.) The story line is easy to follow, but solid and has impact. It's personal this time, for Bond, for M, and for the excellently creepy bad guy played by Javier Barden. New characters are introduced: a young and cocky Q who needs further development, and a government official barking at the heels of Judy Dench's M (who holds a few good surprises).

This may sound counter-intuitive, but there was a simplicity to this movie I loved. They didn't jerk us all over the world from scene to scene merely to show off glamorous locations(although there was just enough). The cinematography was beautiful, and avoided digression into that annoying dark, brooding lighting in which you can hardly see what's going on. Characters we already know were developed into people to whom we could relate. There were chinks in Bond's armor, and M's job was threatened. The "Bond Women" were only tangential to the story - not useless, whining women with torn bodices distracting Bond. The action was spectacular, and convinced me that some film reality is now influenced by the improbable stuff in video games. How many ways can you craft a chase scene? You would think that all the ideas and stunts were used up by now, but no! This movie elicited a few chuckles , some collective gasps, held breath, and a hint of damp eyes.  I enjoyed every minute.

All this and my feet didn't stick to the floor. Perhaps we're back to the movies.      

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Emotional Vertigo

Ron and I arrived back at home in Prescott late yesterday afternoon.  I’m suffering a little separation anxiety after spending so much time with Mom during her recovery from heart surgery.  While in New Hampshire, there were several mornings where I felt a little vertigo – a sensation of whirling or tilting that affected my balance.  It seemed to be caused by some sinus drainage settling in my ear, but I think it was exacerbated by my emotional condition.

What could have caused me to suffer what I am calling emotional vertigo? 
Photo by Althea Haropulos
(manipulation by Laurel)
  • Gnawing concern and lingering fears about Mom’s progress after surgery
  • Insidious beeps and shrieking alarms ever-present in the hospital and nursing home
  • Grinding exhaustion from sleeping with one ear at alert for signs of distress 
  • A less than optimum diet, and fractured sleep
  • Empathy for Mom’s frustration and discomfort
  • Guilt that my ability to be there full-time would draw to a close
After almost four weeks, Mom’s condition improved to a point where we felt she would benefit from a return to normalcy in her life.  We had done what we could do during our stay, and it was time to go home.

During the first night at home in our own bed, I still had issues… Waking to think I should walk down the hallway to check on Mom, and trying to recall the schedule for the next day – visiting nurse, therapist, and medical technician.  What might tempt Mom’s appetite for lunch?  Oh wait; I’m at home in Prescott.

Thank goodness that Althea and Jason are there to continue to help Mom through her healing and return to her cherished everyday life.  I'll do what I can from a distance.

Me?  I’m treating my emotional vertigo with doses of my own normalcy – long, deep breaths of our desert mountain air, gazes across the familiar landscape, dinner and conversation with friends last night, the comfort of our own bed, and plans to golf with the girls this afternoon.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Wishes for You

I've spent many, many hours in the past month in medical care facilities, around people whose bodies and senses are terribly vulnerable.  My own mother is bouncing back slowly from the most invasive procedure I can imagine - open heart surgery.  Mom must make changes to her way of life to protect what has been repaired, insure her recovery and recapture what is important to her.  It's not easy.  These wishes are for her, as well as reminders for me and others who struggle to do the right things to stay healthy, active, and engaged with the best of life.

May your world be brighter and more colorful,
and scents surprisingly sweeter.
May your appetite be responsive to healthy temptation,
and nourishment easily consumed.
May your body respond to your bidding with ease,
and your muscles feel renewed.
May your sleep be sprinkled with dreams of comfort,
and your day enhanced with energy.
May you be at peace with your existence,
and greet each day with joy.

Those are my wishes for you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Healing Comfort of Home

We become more attached to our routine and appreciative of the comfort of our own home as the years pass.  I enjoy travel and having some newness in my life, but there is never anything better than coming home.  The familiarity of everything soothes me - from the view out the windows to my comfortable bed to having my "stuff" around me.  I've been away now for almost a month, and I truly miss our home, our friends, and our routine.

Two weeks ago, Mom had her open heart surgery and valve replacement.  Just yesterday she escaped the hospital, and all its noise, interruptions, and sterility of atmosphere.  She has one more stop before home, staying for about a week in a skilled care facility.  Here we hope Mom will eat better and get the physical therapy and rest she needs to regain her strength.  But I'm convinced the most rapid progress of her healing will take place in her own home.

At our family home, affectionately referred to as "1070" (part of the address), Mom will be able to recapture the comfort and serenity I know she craves.  She can make breakfast in her own little kitchen, do the daily puzzles in the Manchester Union Leader, and enjoy watching Fall wind down outside her bedroom window.  Once again, Mom will enjoy the privacy of her own bathroom and the relief of sleeping in the bed she shared with my father for so many years.  Meals will be served on her schedule, and be comprised of her favorite items.  With all this, and her favorite people and things around her, she will heal and thrive.
So, 1070, get ready to welcome Mom home.  She needs you.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Labor of Love

There's cleaning and then there's deep cleaning.  Deep cleaning is the serious sort of intensive work you do when you are putting a house on the market, preparing for a visit-from your in-laws, or when you have some type of OCD-driven itch that must be scratched.

I'm not the greatest housekeeper, but when it's time to do a deep cleaning I am fortunate to have a good partner in Ron.  We put on our work clothes (which should be disposable if things really get ugly), roll up our sleeves, crank up some country music, and get to it.

It's hard work to scoot along the floor on your butt to wash the baseboards, crawl across the bathroom floor with a toothbrush and bleach water to scrub the grout, unload cabinets to wipe them out, climb up and down ladders reaching with a sponge to clean walls, and push a mop along the floors.  We're doing this now to freshen Mom's house while she is in the hospital.  It's important for an open heart surgery patient to be in as germ-free an environment as possible.  We won't get them all, but we are definitely running some of them out of town.  Dust balls live in fear of us.

Our friends are Mr Clean, wet Swiffers, Murphy's Oil Soap, Windex, Dawn, and packages of sponges and rubber gloves.  Hand lotion and Advil is going fast.  Who needs sleep aids after a day of this?

The reward is the obvious improvement you can see after the work is done.  Everything is brighter and smells fresh.  And Mom will be more comfortable in her home.  It's all worth the effort.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I Want My Mommy!

How does one prepare for possible life-changing surgery?  It's the eve of Mom's open heart surgery and, although she seems pretty calm, I'm feeling very unsettled.  This afternoon, Mom showed me where she keeps important papers, " the event of my demise."  Ack!  But she also assured me, "I'm not throwing in the towel yet."

We bought Mom a cell phone (her first), so she knows she can contact us at any time.  Just a bit ago we sat down for a lesson, and reviewed the cheat sheet I wrote up with basic instructions.

Clearly, my mother is in a place where she is prepared to take things as they come.  She has trust in her medical professionals, and in her own will to carry on.  "No one has more interest in my recovery than I", she reminded me this morning.

It will be a long day at the hospital tomorrow, beginning with our check-in at 5:00am.  The surgery itself is scheduled for 8:45, and will take several hours.  Althea and I will be there waiting for news.  We've already been warned that, at first, there will be multiple tubes and monitors attached, and that Mom will be sedated and restrained to insure she stays hooked up.  I am already dreading seeing her like that.  We expect the first few days to be...difficult, exhausting, and stressful.

When you go through something like this with a parent, it's impossible not to obsess a little about how your own old age might unfold.  What body parts or functions will fail first?  How will we respond?  Do we have the will to carry on through disabilities?  OK, now I'll be staring at the ceiling tonight when I go to bed.

I know; it's the Circle of Life - but I still want my Mommy!  Please say a prayer or two for us tonight and tomorrow.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Staying in the Saddle

It's very difficult for us sometimes to let go of "control" of our lives. We want to be able to plan, to make decisions, and drive our existence in the direction we have predetermined.  With a destination in mind, we can be frustrated by the rerouting made necessary by detours - temporary or permanent.

The fact is that control isn't always ours to exercise.  Other energies, good or bad, can snatch the reins from our hands and take us on a wild ride.  It takes courage to simply hang on and try to enjoy the scenery.

Mom is on her own wild ride now.  Her continued health is in the hands of nurses, doctors, and surgeons.  Her life is in the hands of a greater power.  The plan changes from day to day, and the ins and outs of medical mysteries are confusing and disconcerting.  Some would fight this situation with anger.

I'm heartened by the grace with which Mom is riding out this chaos. Certainly she is frustrated with the on and off schedule for her hospitalization and surgery, but in the bigger scheme of things Mom is willing to let go, put herself in others hands, and allow events to unfold.  She is at peace with whatever may come from this journey, and even encouraged me yesterday not to worry.

Sometimes there is peace in letting go and trusting in powers you can't control.  It's a lesson we all should learn.

Stay in the saddle, Mom.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dear Lord

Thank you for the beauty and contentedness that cushions our lives
Thank you for my husband and life partner, who is so good to me
Thank you for our families that are very important to us
Thank you for the dear people directed into our path to be friends
Thank you for our good health that allows us to be strong and active
Thank you for providing so many opportunities to enjoy your world
Thank you for the leisure we have after long work careers
Thank you for your patience in suffering my weaknesses
Life is good

Just one thing…
Dear Lord, please guide my mother to prepare for her surgery by helping her stop smoking.  Expect a battle of wills.  Please dispatch an angel to keep her under a wing while they shore up her heart.  We would love to have her here with us for a while longer.  Thank you.

Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, Ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, Ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς
Holy God, Holy Almighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sturm und Drang

As the seasons are transitioning, so is my peaceful, sheltered life – and not in a good way.

There’s turmoil within our condo association in Chicago that requires me to travel to attend an important meeting of the owners.  Our Board has resigned en mass, and we need to elect a new one (if we can find anyone willing to serve).  A change to the By-Laws to cap the number of rentals allowed is up for a vote.  Some of what is being proposed will affect me and Ron financially, and I have to protect our interests. 

A dear, long-time friend of mine was recently diagnosed with two serious medical issues.  She was very supportive of me when I went through my life-threatening illness, and I am trying to figure out what I can do to reciprocate for that kindness.  I’m aware that this is her crisis, not mine; but I ache for my friend.  I am thinking of her all the time.

Finally, and most importantly, Mom is scheduled for open heart surgery for a valve replacement next week.  I’ll head to New Hampshire from Chicago to do anything I can to assist during her recovery period.  Mom is feeling confident and has a great attitude.  I have all sorts of “What ifs?” banging around in my head that are not particularly helpful and are stressing me out, big time.  It’s important to take this one step at a time, but my own heart is pounding in sympathy and trepidation.

So for a while…  Goodbye to quiet mornings on the golf course, leisurely lunches, afternoon naps with a breeze blowing in the window, and fun with friends.  I promise to stop whining and step up to the plate as needed, and pray that everything will turn out well for those involved.  We all would like to return to our precious quiet and comfortable routines. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

As Summer Slips Away

Nights are already getting cooler, and days are not quite so warm. Soon my golf tan will fade. Summer is slipping away. I'm looking forward to fall, but can't help but take a visual look back at the fun of our first full summer in Prescott, and the beauty of the land that surrounds us.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hooray for Me and...

My old boss, Bob Wishon, was a tough guy who grew up poor during the Depression.  He had a way with words – sometimes blunt, but always effective.  When someone took an intractable, self-serving position on an issue, he would point out their failings with a sarcastic, “Well, hooray for me and fuck you!”.

There’s a lot of “Hooray for me” attitude going around lately.  I’m now four and a half years removed from office politics, but still am affected by selfish bickering and bullying taking place around me.

Our lady golfers have become divided between a competitive group and a social group.  I would venture to say that when we are on the golf course, we are all “serious” golfers.  Whether some of us are very good (yet) is another thing.  We play by the rules of the game, and strive to improve.  However, some want to impose more stringent policies on us that could adversely affect our fun.  Why can’t they let people enjoy the game as they wish?  We’ll follow the rules to ensure that our handicaps are valid.  Other than that, we want to play in a relaxed environment.  The Mean Girls need to back off, play with those of like mind, and swallow their insulting criticisms.  You aren’t going to ruin the joy I have discovered in golf.

On another front, the unfortunate real estate market conditions are causing our Homeowners Association in Chicago to consider imposing new rental restrictions in our Declaration By-Laws.  There are valid concerns, such as insurance and financing issues that could arise if our 12-building development has “too many” units rented.  Three of us (25%) are already renting our units, due to personal situations and financial considerations.  Market conditions won’t allow us to sell without substantial losses.  A rental restriction could disallow any more rentals and/or restrict owners currently renting from renewing leases that expire.  We could be forced to let our unit go empty with no rental income to help us cover the costs.  Some owners don’t mind hurting others to protect their interests.  "Hooray for me and...", well you know the rest.

As we slog through this political season toward the Presidential Election, it’s impossible to ignore the vitriolic rhetoric all around.  Rhetoric is too nice a word for some of the insults, belittlements, and threats so casually tossed around.  If I don’t have the same viewpoint as you, I’m not stupid.  I still deserve to vote, and you are not going to bully me.  I’ve hidden some of my Facebook friends' status updates so I can avoid their attempts to “educate” me with their political posts.  The "fuck you who do not agree with me" attitude reads loud and clear and repels me.  Have your beliefs, and I will have mine.  If you knew how to debate in a civil way, I might join in a healthy discussion.  God forbid, we might both actually learn something and gain some tolerance for opposing views.

So, Wishon, may you Rest In Peace.  Your spirit lives on when I encounter those that are so self-absorbed and intolerant that I find occasion to channel you and growl, “Well, hooray for me and fuck you!”.  Now I'm going to go hang out with my kinder, gentler friends who give me gifts of peace and happiness instead of sleepless nights.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Power of Friendships

In spite of all the careful planning we did for our after work lives, I never really considered one of the most important requirements for happiness…the potential for new friendships.  Ron and I are each other’s best friends, but there are other people that are important in our lives.  Many of them are far-flung geographically, and we don’t get to see them much.  We interact via telephone and internet, and see them when we can.

There are studies that show that friendships rank right up there with good health and finances as the factors most likely to boost happiness among retirees.  Friends become an extension of the support system that often is anchored by family.

When we bought our home in this community in Prescott, little did we know what a big part of our happiness would be provided by the wonderful friendships we have made.  Our friends “come out to play” with us on the golf course, hiking trail, and during events at Talking Rock Club.  They provide sympathetic ears, laughs, entertainment, and ideas for new activities.  These generous people have opened their homes and invited us in for dinners, parties, informal gatherings, and holidays.  We, in turn, have opened our home to them.  This is all what makes our neighborhood a true community, and what fosters the development of meaningful relationships.

Fortunately, we blindly stumbled into the best living situation we can imagine.  Our friends have introduced unexpected companionship, caring, fun and love into the fabric of our lives in colorful heaps.  They have banned the possibility of boredom and added a new richness.  We gladly share this phase of our lives with them all.

Please don’t overlook the important goal of enhancing your social life in a meaningful way after retirement.  It needs to be a consideration in your planning.  I hope you will be as lucky as we have.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tiny Birdie Friends

Summer will soon wind down, I am dreading the migration of our hummingbird friends from Arizona to their winter home in Mexico. They have been such delightful little companions this year, as they constantly drink from the feeders Ron has hung from the eaves on our back patio.

The first thing I do in the morning is open the sliding doors on the back of the house. This allows us not only to see “our” hummingbirds, but also to hear them as they chirp noisily and purposefully buzz around like little attack helicopters. They must have nests in the trees near our house, because we see them zoom from trees to feeders and blooming plants and back to the trees almost constantly during daylight hours.

More than 300 species of hummingbirds have been identified worldwide, but I think the most common in our area are the Black-Chinned Hummingbird and (perhaps) Anna’s Hummingbird. They are very territorial, and frequently do battle over our feeders. When multiple birds approach the source of nectar simultaneously, two birds may clash – bumping their little bodies and beating wings together until both fly off to fight again later. They seem to be working things out, because more and more often, I see two or three hummingbirds warily feeding at the same time.

I learned a thing or two about hummingbirds that I did not know, by doing a little research online:

• Hummingbirds consume up to 12 times their body weight daily in nectar.
• Other nutrients are found by eating bugs and spiders.
• Due to their very high metabolism, they are continuously hours away from starving to death.
• When food is not available, they can go into a state of torpor, which slows their metabolism dramatically.
• Most species can live a decade or more (although many die when very young).

The little creatures seem to be curious about us. Sometimes they hover in front of our screens and look into the house. Once, I had one fly to within 2 feet of my face to stop and check me out. There’s something magical about having such close contact with a hummingbird. No wonder native Indians developed so many beliefs and myths about them.

When our tiny friends depart for the colder season, we will miss them and anxiously await their return to the high desert in spring.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What if Golf Was Like a Political Campaign?

Talking Rock Ranch kicks off the Spirit Cup today with a day of practice rounds and a reception this evening. The Spirit Cup is our annual women’s member/guest golf tournament. Today I awake with a slightly sore shoulder, earned from hitting an entire pyramid of balls yesterday on the practice range. My muscles are tight from negative anticipation. This is not the way to begin the next three days.

We are in the thick of campaign season for the Presidential race. As a blogger, should I feel guilty that I write about frivolous matters, instead of hefty issues? Nah! I keep up with politics, but I don’t like to talk or write about it. The fruit from my opinions will be implemented at the ballot box.

This is what leads me to think about how civilized golf is in comparison to political wrangling. Can you imagine what it would be like if golf was played with the ethics of a political campaign? This is what I envision…

Everyone would lie about what they score. Not a lot; just enough to enhance a golfer’s reputation. Stories of holes well played would be embellished to the point where they would take on legendary proportions. Egos and power would rule the game. The best players would diminish the achievements of lesser golfers, to keep themselves at the top of the heap. The ugliest debate would be about whether handicaps are justified. Haven’t the better golfers earned their exclusive place in the sun? We should all look the other way when they break the rules, because the rules are not for them. Others could be better golfers if they just worked harder. Anyone would be free to besmirch the name of their fellow golfers; calling them evil liars and unfit competitors. We all would do whatever we have to do to win.
I wish with all my heart that politics was more honorable and politicians acted with more civility. I am well aware that politics is not a game. But it would be so refreshing (not to mention, shocking) to see our leaders conduct themselves with the honesty, grace, and humility that we experience among our friends and fellow golfers.

Wish me luck and fun during the Spirit Cup tournament. This year’s theme is “Stars & Stripes Forever”, a fitting nod to this election year.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Our Other Car is a Golf Cart

We are buying a golf cart. OK, I am spoiled. But consider these factors before you condemn me…

1. Since we retired over four years ago, we have owned only one car. Ron and I share, and that works out just fine.
2. For almost two years in Chicago, we navigated city living on foot, or via city bus or train. (We had moved the car to Prescott.)
3. We play golf four or five times a week, and pay a fee to our club to use a cart each time. We’ll actually save money owning our own.
4. Talking Rock Ranch allows golf carts on our private roads, so we can use it to get to the club house or to visit friends.
5. It’s electric; not gas-powered, so we’re being environmentally friendly.
6. We’re buying a pre-owned model. Isn’t that recycling?

Other than those justifications for our actions… I just WANT one! Remember those battery-operated cars in the Sears Christmas catalogue when we were kids? Lord, I always wished for one of those. But they were too expensive, and I never got one. So, I give! We’re just big kids, and buying ourselves an expensive toy. Oh boy!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Preparing for Treatment - Chapter 5 of My Cancer Story

This blog post is the 5th in a series chronicling my battle with colon cancer ten years ago.  For Chapters 1-4, see the Blog Archives to the right of this post.

It’s January 2002. I’ve had my colon surgery. My cancerous tumor has been removed, and I am recovering well at home. Now it’s time for the next step…to meet my oncologist and plan treatment.

Dr Margaret Gore
My surgeon, Dr King, recommended Dr Margaret Gore to manage my treatment. I make my first visit to consult with her, with my sister Althea in tow. Dr Gore is a lovely woman, and has an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a medical degree from Duke University. After introductions, she reviews my condition and my treatment options. Although the cancer did not break through my colon wall, I tested positive for a low level of activity in my lymph nodes. This requires chemotherapy to keep the cancer from spreading into other organs.

Dr Gore and her colleagues believe that the current standard recommended treatment for my situation is about to be superseded by a more aggressive plan. I choose to take the aggressive route to make sure we get ALL the bad stuff. The way I look at it, there’s no room for regrets if I make the wrong choice.

I will need three hours of chemo once a week for six months. Every fourth week, I will get a week off. I’m not that interested in all the detail on the specific chemicals that will be used. I never did do well in high school chemistry. Ron ends up doing a lot of reading on the subject (and scaring himself in the process). We talk about some of the possible or likely side effects, like nausea and hair loss, and vulnerability to infection if my white blood cell count drops too low. Then we talk about how to move forward ASAP. Let’s do this.

The first task is another surgery. Dang! I need to have a catheter surgically inserted into my chest to facilitate delivery of the chemo drugs. They call this a portacath. The device is like a screened porthole that is put under your skin and tapped into a large vein. When drugs are administered, the nurse will just need to push the needle through my skin and the screen, and we will be ready to go. This will help avoid damage to my skin and muscle tissue that can be caused by the toxic drugs.

Insertion of the portacath is completed a few days later, and I find recovery from the surgery rather painful (like someone whacked me in the chest with a baseball bat). It’s odd to adjust to having a foreign device under my skin, and it affects my sleeping positions, which adversely impacts my sleep and makes me cranky.

We decide that my treatments will be on Friday afternoons, so that I have the weekend to recover from any ill effects and hopefully be ready to go to work on Monday. I’ll start chemo next Friday and go back to work soon, after being out for eight weeks. I’m determined to get through this next six months and on to the rest of my life.

Next time: My first day of chemotherapy.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Grammar Lesson PSA

That’s it! I’ve heard it one too many times now in personal conversations and on TV. “You and I”, when “You and Me” is grammatically correct. Last night I heard “You and I” incorrectly used in the script of a TV show. It pushed me over the edge, and now I feel the need to review the proper way to use “You and I” versus “You and Me”.

This gets into a little technical grammar. I’m no expert, and I had to look up the details. Thanks, Grammar Girl, for a 2007 blog post that helped remind me of old school rules.

“I” is a subjective pronoun, meaning it is the subject of a sentence. “Me” is an objective pronoun, meaning it is the target of action. In most cases, we easily pick up the difference and know when to use which word. “I love golf” is correct. “Me love golf” is obviously wrong.

The word “You” is both a subjective and objective pronoun. “You love Mom” and “Mom loves You” are both correct. Combining the word You with I or Me complicates things. The proper use is dependent upon the context and sentence structure. Hang in with me here…

“You and I love golf” is correct, because both pronouns are being used as subjects. You can dissect the sentence and you know that both pronouns are correct: “You love golf” and “I love golf”. “You and me love golf” is incorrect. Mentally dissect the sentence, and it becomes clear that “Me love golf” can’t be right. Examples:

CORRECT: Please explain that to Ron and me. (Dissected, you would say, “Explain that to me”.)
INCORRECT: Leave the decision to Ron and I. (You wouldn’t say, “Leave the decision to I”.)
CORRECT: Please join Connie and me for lunch. (You would say, “Join me for lunch”.)
INCORRECT: Come over and watch TV with Ron and I. (You would instead say, “Watch TV with me”.)

Another important rule (only if you care about speaking proper English), is that pronouns following prepositions and prepositional phrases are always in the objective case. Prepositions (such as of, on, above, over, between) usually describe a relationship or show possession. They don’t usually act alone, but as part of a phrase that answers questions like “Where?” or “When?”. Examples:

CORRECT: Keep the secret between you and me. (Because “between” is a preposition, and “me” is an objective pronoun.)
INCORRECT: Keep the secret between you and I.

CORRECT: The next drinks are on you and me. (“On” is a preposition.)
INCORRECT: The next drinks are on you and I.

This has been a Public Service Announcement.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bailey Bros. Golf

Today was the first day of play in Talking Rock Ranch’s "Big Talk" golf tournament. For $700 a person, 46 teams of 2 compete for three days for the prestigious championship. This year Ron is playing for the first time. His partner is his brother Tim, from St Louis.

Women were banned from the golf course and the club house starting yesterday, until the closing party on Saturday night. Right now, testosterone levels around the pro shop and the club’s bar might poison us anyway – so we are pretty happy staying away, having our hen parties or quiet evenings at home with a chick flick.

The guys are being fed three over-the-top, gourmet meals a day, partaking liberally from the open bar, wagering on themselves and other teams, acquiring new golf paraphernalia, and driving around in golf carts. They are out of reach of our reminders, nagging, and pleas to avoid overindulgence. They think they’re in Heaven.

When Ron and Tim left for breakfast before their morning round today, they were nattily attired in matching outfits – white shorts and beautiful blue shirts that were a gift from Tim and his wife Emily. They had them embroidered with “Bailey Bros. Golf” on the chest, and “TEI” on the sleeve. TEI was a company founded and owned by their late father, Jim Bailey. It was a poignant reminder that Jim would have so loved that two of his boys could share this experience. He will be with them in spirit. Ron got a little choked up with it all.

It’s a special treat to be witness to all this wholesome male bonding, brotherly and friendly. Sitting in the house by myself in the evening with the windows open, I can hear laughter from the club house drifting across the fairway. The guys will come home fairly lit up, eyes twinkling, grins a little crooked, and smelling of cigars. Last night after the opening party both slept soundly, like little kids worn out by the excitement of Christmas Day.

I love this for Tim and Ron. It’s fun to watch them making memories together.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Unpacking Life

It’s been almost six weeks since we arrived back in Prescott and slowly starting unpacking and reorganizing our home. Unpacking is a messy business. Of course, there is all the packing material that has to be disposed of – but it’s more than that. The process is emotional; for me anyway.

Working on the "Family Wall"
Cookware and glassware has to find the appropriate cabinet for its function and frequency of use. Each piece of artwork is deserving of the right place to be featured. Certain favorite family photos need to rest somewhere where my gaze can trip on them frequently. Decorative items will eventually find the right tabletop, dresser, or mantle from which they will enhance their surroundings and stir our memories. These decisions require time and thought. Each time I find the right place for something, I have a little “Eureka!” moment in my heart.

It’s not about the stuff…not really. What it is about is making a house our home for the long term. Ron and I plan to live in our Talking Rock home longer than we have lived elsewhere during our married life; maybe longer than either of us has lived anywhere. So it has to be comfortable. It has to be right. It will reflect who we are, and how we live. (Crap – no wonder I stress about this!)

Over time, changes will surely be made. We already have a few projects in mind for next year (to expand the back patio and add some shelves and lighting to the fireplace/entertainment wall). I can’t even think about that right now. Overload.

Today we’ll continue to churn through the boxes, bubble-wrap, and paper. Ron’s brother and sister-in-law arrive for a visit next week. They’ll still be a few boxes stored in the garage, but we’ll be in good shape for company and are excited that Tim and Emily will be able to experience how we live and see the home we have created.

Back to work!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Headed Into Town

Gone are the days when I could stop for a jug or milk or something for dinner on the way home from work, or walk to a local market in our Chicago neighborhood. Now we live in a private community that’s kind of out in the “boonies”.

Google Maps shows we are 17.7 miles from downtown Prescott and 23.8 miles from the Gateway Mall, around which are clustered regular destinations like Costco and Trader Joe’s. We consolidate our shopping in town into one day a week to save time and gas. Often we have lunch somewhere and make a half-day of it.

The closest restaurant (not including our own club’s) is Bonn-Fire Chillin’ & Grillin’ – 11 and ½ miles away in Chino Valley. Our Safeway is over 14 miles from home. Fortunately, there is a gas station and quick mart just 5 miles down Williamson Valley Road.

None of this is really an issue; just an adjustment. It’s not so easy anymore to say, “Oops, I forgot an ingredient for dinner – I’ll just run to the store”. We’ve had to make creative substitutions for a recipe on occasion, or visit a kind neighbor to poach something from their pantry. Once I went to Coops (the club’s version of a mini-market and gathering place) to beg a cup of milk for a meatloaf already under construction.

You know those projects that require multiple trips to the hardware store? Better create a good plan and a complete shopping list. There’s an Ace Hardware near Bonn-Fire, but Lowe’s and Home Depot are all the way in town. It stinks to drive an hour, round-trip, because you forgot 50 cents worth of molly bolts.

Some first impressions of Talking Rock Ranch are that it is “too far out” from town. It may take a little longer for people to realize that the beauty of this place is not just the phenomenal landscape, but the community of people. There is always something to do, right here. Many social events are organized by the club to take advantage of the facilities – the golf course, the restaurant, the fitness center, and the pool. Members, neighbors, and friends then instigate countless other activities that keep one’s social calendar full. You have to hunker down and hide in your home to be left out. We Talking Rock Folk are good at making our own excuses to celebrate life.

Time to hitch up the wagon and head to Chino Valley for supplies. Yee-haw!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Golf Gods, Mojo, and Karma

I play golf four to five times a week when the weather allows. Golf is good exercise, a fun way to socialize, and a good way to enjoy the outdoors. Some may think it would be boring to play the same course so frequently, but it’s not. There are many, many variables in every round.

The biggest wildcard is you. Do you have your mojo today?  Will your drives find the fairways and bounce straight and true? Will you be hitting your irons? How will your short game treat you? Can you avoid the dreaded three-putt? Will you best yesterday’s score? As your game improves, there are always surprises (good and bad). You can have an awful hole; then birdie the next one. The Golf Gods are fickle that way. They can be cruel, but they don’t actually ever want you to give up. That wouldn’t be any fun.

Mother Nature also provides variation. Granted, it’s often clear and sunny in Prescott. But the wind may howl and knock your ball out of the air, the temperature can be cold or hot, the sun gets in your eyes, and the summer monsoons provide pop-up thunderstorms that send you scurrying for cover. Once we played in a snow squall. Some conditions truly test your powers of concentration.

The course itself is a constant challenge. Think about it. You never hit the ball twice in exactly the same spot. Pin positions change from day to day. The fairway undulates. The sand in the bunkers could be dry as a bone or heavy and wet. An unlucky bounce leaves you in someone else’s divot. When your ball strays into the desert, you may be puzzling over whether or how you can punch your ball out from under a bush or from behind a rock – all while keeping an eye out for rattlesnakes. There are uphill lies, and downhill lies. Your may be forced to practice a “specialty shot” out of a tricky situation. And, just because your #3 hybrid got you over the chasm on 11 yesterday doesn’t mean it will today. Trust me on that one.

The first tee at Talking Rock
Golf is a great way to make friends and deepen relationships. (For that reason, I wish I had played when I was in the business world.) Golf requires confidence, honesty, and infinite grace. You must to follow the rules, celebrate successes with humility, suffer nobly through your own failures, and support your partner’s play. People’s true nature shines through on the course.

Every time I stand on the first tee I feel intense anticipation and excitement. I take a deep breath of clear mountain air, stretch my shoulders, tee up, wind up for my first drive, and hope for good karma! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Time to Smell the Roses

Many years of work, planning, and saving have led us to be in a place where we can settle and enjoy life to its fullest.  It’s taking a little time to realize that we have arrived at a long-term destination.  For so long, we focused intently on the next steps - leaving our corporate jobs, moving to Chicago, and then finding a home the Southwest.  Oddly, now that we have achieved our goals, it’s a little disorienting.

You know that feeling you get after a long road trip, when even after you get to your destination and get out of the car, it seems as though you are still moving?  I feel a bit like that right now. 

The current plan is to live in our community in Prescott for as long as we are able.  We love the area and our home and friends, and have plenty to see and do.  Other than enjoying all that, we don’t really know what’s next.  That’s mildly disconcerting for someone like me, who is a planner.

Eventually we’ll need to have discussions about how to prepare for a point in life where we need assistance.  As we and the huge population of Boomer compatriots age, there will likely be more and more options for appealing situations for our sunset years.  I know we have to figure that out; but not right now.

Right now, we will smell the roses, nurture our health, take care of each other, laugh with friends, breathe deeply of the high desert air, explore our interests, connect with others, and stay active.  We’ll know when it’s time to start planning again.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


The official start of summer is next week, but here at Talking Rock Ranch, we are already fully engaged in seasonal fun.

When I tell people I live in Arizona, they immediately think of Phoenix and the hot, hot, hot summer weather.  But in Prescott, we are 100 miles northwest of the Valley of the Sun, at almost a mile-high elevation.  Our temps are usually about 15 degrees lower than those in Phoenix.  For example, today’s forecast for Phoenix is for a high of 104 degrees.  Our local forecast is for 86 degrees. Evenings cool dramatically, dropping into the 50’s.  This weather is very conducive to spending time outdoors.

Summer sandals, shorts, golf shirts, and sundresses are de rigueur at Talking Rock.  Common dress could be described as “resort casual”; (a bit of a change for us, coming from Chicago).  At our weekly Happy Hour gathering Friday afternoons, many of the ladies up the ante a little by fussing more than normal with hair and makeup, and adding a little fun jewelry.  Our guys may trade in their polos for colorful Hawaiian shirts.

Fun at last year's Luau at the pool.

The atmosphere during summer is festive.  It feels a little like those treasured vacations from school when we were kids, when we pursued fun all day long, and well into the evenings.  Many Talking Rock residents are retired, and we know how to enjoy ourselves.  Club management, in cooperation with involved members, our hospitable neighbors, and the city of Prescott provides numerous opportunities to stay active and enjoy each other’s company.

This summer, we will be enjoying several golf tournaments, wine tastings and dinners, BBQ’s, VIP seating at the Prescott Rodeo, spontaneous gatherings on back patios, arts and music festivals, neighborhood parties, birthday celebrations, hikes, al fresco dining on the club’s Granite Mountain patio, tending plants in the community garden, taking a dip in the pool, practicing on the driving range, cooling off with an ice cream bar at Coops, or a little bit of pampering on a Spa Day at the club. 

Whew, the social calendar is getting full!  We’re loving every minute of it.  Retirement=Boredom?  Don’t be silly.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Without a Net

In my transition from Illinois to Arizona, I have lost my health insurance.  The insurance I had in Illinois after my COBRA expired was a high risk pool sponsored by the state.  Having been declined for individual health insurance, I was eligible to apply for this safety net provided to full-time residents of Illinois.  My coverage was through Blue Cross Blue Shield, and we paid about $560 a month for it.  For Ron’s individual policy, we paid another $325 per month.  Each of us had a $2500 annual deductable.  Do a little math and you can guess that health care has been a substantial percentage of our expenses in retirement. 

Thirty-five states have high risk pools – Arizona is not one of those.  Now full-time residents of Arizona, I just sent in the cancellation notice for my Illinois insurance.  I applied for individual coverage in Arizona, and have been declined.  So now what?

The Obama administration’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, AKA “Obamacare”, will be my safety net.  Although a very imperfect bill (yes, I read the whole dang thing), it will provide the option I need to secure health insurance in this long gap I am in before being eligible for Medicare.  Obamacare requires states without high risk pools to provide them to people who prove that they cannot otherwise obtain health insurance.

But…in order to be eligible for Arizona’s high risk pool, I have to be uninsured for six months.  This is a condition of entry into the plan that, frankly, I do not understand.  I prepared as well as I could for this period, by seeing my doctor and having a check-up, making sure my prescriptions are current, and having a colonoscopy.  All I need to do now is make it through six months without a major incident.  I am very scared that my situation has put me and Ron at great financial risk.

I’m writing about this for several reasons.  (1) If you have group health insurance through an employer – appreciate it.  You cannot be denied coverage, and most employers pay fifty percent or more of your actual health care costs.  (2) Your health is precious.  Any health issues become part of your history and until Obamacare is fully implemented in 2014, could result in you not being able to obtain insurance.  Finally, (3) You must consider and plan for your health insurance needs in retirement.  There are many resources available online that will clarify the situation and explain your options.

If the federal health care law is ruled as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, I may be without my safety net for much longer than six months.  It doesn’t seem right that I can’t obtain health insurance, even though I can afford to pay for it.  Health care reform outside of Obamacare probably wouldn’t come soon enough for me.

Wish me good health!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Chapter Finished

Today I turn a page in the story of my life. 
It rarely feels this deliberate; finishing one chapter
And beginning a fresh one. 
This is one of those times.

Chicago is now where I’m from,
Not where I live.
Looking forward to a new life in Arizona,
Saving good memories of these years.

Thanks for everything, Lady by the Lake.
All the joy and the beauty;
You gave us such a great beginning.
We’ll always love you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cheers to England!

We boarded the Queen Mary 2 in Southampton on Tuesday.  From this massive ship, we watched the shores of England recede from our view.  The day before, we bid farewell to our wonderful friends, Chris and Terry Gradidge.  They were the masterminds behind our itinerary, acted as our tour guides, and were our daily travel companions.  We are so grateful for everything they did, for all the memories collected and shared as a result of this trip, and for their friendship.

In ten days we stayed in six towns and villages, and explored many more in between.  Of course, we had to experience a little of London; but other places were on paths less traveled… Those will perhaps be our favorite to recall.

From our hotel in Windsor, we walked across the Thames to Eton (where Princes William and Henry went to school).  The flag was flying at Windsor Castle, so we knew we were sharing the town with Queen Elizabeth.  Preparations for celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June are underway everywhere.

In Woodstock we stayed at the MacDonald Bear Hotel and walked to the grounds of Blenheim Castle, home of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.  Chris ably chauffeured us through winding roads surrounded by hedgerows and filled with fields blooming yellow with rape, to other small villages in the Cotswolds.

The Old Court Hotel in Symonds Yat West (near Ross-On-Wye) provided dewy morning walks along the Wye.  We discovered an old chapel and the crypts of John Graves Simcoe and his wife Elizabeth, who used to make their home in what is now the Old Court Hotel.  Wales was a quick drive away.  It was interesting to see public signs there in both English and Welsh (a language that seems to need more vowels).

Perhaps my favorite stop was Polperro, a small, picturesque fishing village on the coast.  We could easily walk into town for a Cornish pasty and a pint along the river Pol.  Walks along the ocean yielded incredible views.  My attempt to get a review of the soup of the day from the barkeep at the Blue Peter was an amusing exchange that I will always remember.  (After a few minutes of creative description, he admitted that he hadn’t tried it and fetched me a taste.)

England’s New Forest is a national treasure.  Its wildlife gazes peacefully among the small villages and in its fields, protected by law.  We saw ponies, sheep, donkeys, pigs, and horses everywhere.  What an amazing, fairytale environment!

Our journey ended in Southampton, a busy city and shipping center.  The White Star Tavern’s rooms were modern and comfortable, and Cunard’s port was just a short taxi ride away.

Our England experience will be with me forever.  My withdrawal from pub food is made easier this week, as the Queen Mary has a pub on board.  I’ll miss whitebait (tiny fried fish that you dip in mayonnaise and eat whole) and beef or game pies.  I can devise my own version of a ploughman’s lunch for home, and learn to make chicken liver pate.  For both, I need to find somewhere to buy the ever-present English condiment – Branston’s.

Cheers to England, and the Gradidges.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Storybook Village

I’ve been in Polperro, on England’s Cornish Coast, for about a day and a half.  It has all the ingredients (beauty, history, and charm) that would make a great children’s storybook.  

The streets are crooked, narrow, and lined with stones.  Buildings are centuries old, but whitewashed clean, and have colorful window frames.  Shopkeepers sell Cornish pasties and fudge made with clotted cream.  Friendly pubs dot each corner.
Polperro is a fishing village.  You can enjoy fresh mussels, cockles, scallops, crabs, and winkles sold by street purveyors, or in dishes served in inns.  In past centuries, if you weren’t a fisherman, you were probably a smuggler.  Both vocations were filled by locals, and the local museum documents the lives of many a Polperran who made their living side-by-side; legally and illegally.  The women stayed home and knitted thick sweaters for their wayfaring men, or processed pilchards (sardines).  The collection of historic photographs and letters on display is impressive.
Even some of the alcohol in the pubs seems fit for a children’s story.  A favorite in this region is Scrumpy, an unfiltered strong apple cider.  Me – I prefer the pear cider. It seems the variety of locally-brewed ales is endless.  Pubs themselves are friendly gathering places, where the barkeeps know their clients and will gratefully accept the offer of a pint for themselves.
The surrounding landscape is stunning, with the River Pol rushing to the Atlantic Ocean through the center of town.  Slate cliffs surround us.  Peak Rock guards the entry to the harbor.  Footpaths wind around the cliffs by the ocean and provide for bracing morning rambles by the sea.  English wildflowers are tangled around the paths and send their fragrances into the ocean air.
A woman we met in the Blue Peter Inn night before last asked us not to spread the word about their idyllic little village, because they don’t want to have it overrun by tourists.  I didn’t take offense.
I may never get a chance to return to Polperro, but I will remember it as a storybook village.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The English Pub

There once was a Yank named Laurel
With her waistband began to quarrel
She wondered the reason
Yet t’was travel season
And her fondness for pub food was royal.

We are discovering the wonders of the true English Pub.  We’ve been to imitations in the U.S. – but they are not the same animal at all.

The Royal Standard of England,
in Buckinghamshire
In our brief experience to date (5 days and as many pubs), my perception is that the best of pubs have been around a long, long, time.  They have tried and tested the popular dishes and beverages, and only the best remain on their menus.  Some menus are short and others long, but there are staples that seem to be constant.  We have tried some of them, including fish and chips, mussels, game pie, and ploughman’s lunches.  The ploughman’s lunch, with its selection of two or three cheeses, bread, butter, pickled vegetables, and perhaps an onion jam, is my new favorite lunch.  Oh my, the Stilton here!

Order your pub lunch and a beverage at the bar, and find a table in a cozy corner, near a fireplace to ward off the damp and chill.  Your meal will be delivered to you, while you chat up your chums.  Take your time.  Have a pint or two.  I recommend the pear cider.  While away the afternoon.

Well, I’m off for an English breakfast, with some toast, poached eggs, cheese, and beans.  It’s time to begin planning today’s foray into the countryside and to target our next pub lunch.

"Tasting" a pear cider and a local ale.