Thursday, December 26, 2013

Better with Friends

It's better to share the joy during the holidays if you can. We can try to open our door and our hearts, and let a little extra love float around. Those kindnesses are remembered for many years, friendships are deepened, and new bonds are formed. Bless the lovely people we shared our time with on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We look forward to many more days, weeks, and years of shared experiences.


Hoping you are having happy holidays of your own, 
and that you will have a wonderful 2014!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmases Past

So many memories creep in as Christmas draws closer... As children, we waited with so much anticipation for Santa, and strongly felt the love of our parents that came with special gifts under the tree. Some early years with family were the best. There was the year Dad bought a blue spruce so big he had to take the railings off the front steps on approach to the house. Then it took pushing from outside and pulling from inside to get the tree in. It was tall and broad and almost took up the entire living room. Awesomeness Defined.

Once out on my own, still I got home for Christmas as often as I could. Other holidays were spent with friends who were extended family. Early in my relationship with Ron, we would drive all night (usually through an ice storm) from Dallas to the farm in Melvin, IL. The old farm house was packed with family and joy, cheese balls and cookies, stockings and presents. What fun it was!

Time and circumstances change our traditions. We married, our careers became more demanding, and we moved...Dallas to Las Vegas to Memphis to Chicago to Prescott. We lost Ron's parents and my dad. We gradually began to enjoy the restful peace of having our Christmases shared alone together.
Christmas at our home in Las Vegas in the mid-90's.
Christmas Eve we have champagne and sinful hors d'oeuvres, like pâté and caviar. We play hours and hours of Christmas music by candlelight, with the tree sparkling bright. First thing on Christmas, we open our stockings. Then Ron makes pancakes for breakfast. We sip mimosas while exchanging gifts and receiving happy phone calls from family and friends. In the afternoon, we prepare a Christmas dinner. By evening, we settle in for a quiet evening together, basking in our good fortune and an aura of love.

This year we will have friends over for a laid back Christmas Eve, and will join a larger group of friends for Christmas dinner. We hope you all have plans for your own kind of Christmas joy. We'll all always have memories of Christmases Past.

All the best to you and yours. Merry Christmas!   

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lost "Arts"

When was the last time you did any of these things?:

Used a sewing machine to make a garment
Changed the oil on your own car
Made biscuits from scratch
Wrote a letter to family or friend in longhand
Wrapped a present (without using a bag!)
Played a musical instrument
Sang in a chorus/choir
Created a piece of art
Went on a walk just to enjoy nature
Gave yourself a manicure/pedicure

This is not an indictment of anyone's personal practices - just an observation that we may be becoming more and more removed from certain types of activities that used to be part of our daily lives, responsibilities, and small personal joys. Sure, things change over the years. But it strikes me that we are constantly undergoing meaningful cultural change. And it's not all good. Aren't we more than a bit spoiled?

There was a time that if I wanted an outfit for a special occasion, I would buy a pattern and fabric, and make it myself. I remember, with fondness, a killer magenta dress that I made for a date sometime in the mid-80's. I recently bought a new sewing machine and have material for a summer frock, but am having trouble getting that project off the ground. Funny how intimidating a new sewing machine, still in its box, can be...

I admit that I never changed the oil on my own car, but today, when you can have it done in 20 minutes for 30 dollars - why would you do it yourself? Someone else can deal with the environmental requirements for disposing of the old oil, while you have a Starbucks.

Internet shopping and gift wrap services have eliminated the need to wrap a lot of presents. But I make sure I buy wrapping paper and bows to make some gifts extra-special for the recipient. It wouldn't seem like Christmas otherwise.

Last year, I got a long, newsy handwritten letter from a friend. It was tucked into a Christmas card. I recognized it for what it was, a true gift from the heart.

Many, many conveniences are available for a price. They help us save time, but usually at a price. Sometimes the payment comes from your wallet. Sometimes the price is a loss of connectivity to things that matter. However you do what you do; please make sure you are staying dialed in to life.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Motivation a la Fitbit

I am a gadget freak, although I believe it's less about the gadget itself and more about finding the perfect tools for life's little challenges. I continue to challenge my aging self to increase physical activity and drop some pounds. To that end, my husband bought me a Fitbit Force for my recent birthday. It has become a constant wrist accessory for me.

The Fitbit Force, at it's most basic function, is a watch and pedometer. But it goes further than that, estimating calories burned, flights of stairs climbed, and identifying "very active" periods. The free software (for desktop and smartphone), syncs your wristband with your desktop computer and your smartphone. You can set goals for yourself and your Fitbit will message you when you are approaching your goal, awarding badges when you achieve certain benchmarks.
(Partial) Tracking Screen
from Smartphone

Another feature of the Force is a "Sleep Mode" that tracks your movements during sleep and reports on your "sleep efficiency". It's fascinating to see how many times a night I was restless or awake. It seems pretty accurate, although if you wake up and are very still, it can't tell you are awake. But if you get out of bed it knows, since you have taken steps. When you toss and turn, it tracks that as restless time. Quality of sleep is closely associated with general wellness, so I find this to be a welcome feature.
My Sleep Record from Last Night
For more complete stats, detail food and water intake, and enter the data on your smartphone or computer. Log other activities the Force cannot effectively track, like swinging a golf club for 18 holes or lifting weights.

If you're all in, there is a wireless scale (Aria) that interfaces with Fitbit, which tracks progress on weight loss. We have the scale, but I'm not ready to get on it quite yet... Soon.

I'm really happy with my new gadget, and if it motivates me to move a little more every day, it was worth the $129. See www.fitbit.com for more information. Ron bought mine at Best Buy, but you can purchase directly from Fitbit or on amazon.com.

This is not a paid endorsement. Just feedback from a friendly gadget freak.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Culinary Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful for so many things on this wonderful holiday, but let me be specific in a light-hearted culinary way:

I am thankful that today is one of a handful of Pancake Holidays in our household. It was a good way to start the day.

The great debate: Sausage
vs. Bread Stuffing
I am thankful for my mother's recipes that continue to be a part of our holiday, even though Mom is many miles away. We'll have Mom's Bread Stuffing and Mom's Apple Pie today.

I am thankful for the food traditions gained from the Baileys, including Sausage and Rice Stuffing, and Oyster Casserole.

I am thankful for favorite recipes contributed by friends, including Dave Byerly's Cranberry Chutney.

I am thankful for the bounty of information on the Internet, which today is providing the means for me to make Ruth Chris' version of Sweet Potato Casserole.

I am thankful for shortcuts, like the Stouffer's Spinach Souffle that I bought.

I am thankful for Ron's skills as a home chef. He's doing so much of the work today - including the manhandling of the turkey. And he made Cranberry Syrup, for what will be an awesome holiday martini.

Enjoy the day! I am eating up the Facebook posts that give me the flavor of your Thanksgiving, and help bring you closer than the actual miles that separate us.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

50 Year Memory

In the history of the Unites States of America, four Presidents have been assassinated. The most recent was President John F. Kennedy, on November 22, 1963...fifty years ago tomorrow.

I was 8 years old, in third grade at Meadow Hall Elementary in Rockville, Maryland. When the news of the shooting in Dallas broke, I was in Mrs. Gonano's class. A teacher from another class came into our room, and she was crying. This was startling at a young age, to see an adult teacher crying. She spoke quietly to Mrs. Gonano, who then shakily told us what had happened. Minutes later, the school principal came on the public address system to make an official announcement. School was cancelled, and we were told to go home.

As young children, we couldn't completely comprehend what had happened. But the message that it was really bad news got through, and we were scared. I remember the walk home, with panicked, crying children around me. Fortunately, I lived only about 2 blocks from school, so was home quickly.

Although I clearly remember the reaction at school, I don't really recall how my parents dealt with it at home. For me, it was enough that we felt safe and reassured with Mom and Dad.

We watched the funeral procession on TV, and I remember feeling sad for Carolyn and John, because their Daddy was gone forever.

Years later, as a teenager living in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, I visited Arlington Cemetery, the site of Kennedy's grave and the Eternal Flame. Early in my work career I lived in Dallas for 14 years, and many times drove the route of the President's motorcade on that fateful day 50 years ago, past Dealey Plaza. 

We are connected to this and other historic events that occur during our lifetimes in many ways - some small and some very influential to who we are or who we become. To many people today, the assassination of President Kennedy is merely history. For some of us, it is a vivid memory.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Comforting Food

What is comfort food to you? We all have our own definition. Some of my favorites are things Mom served the family for years...meatloaf, tuna noodle casserole, and creamed tuna on toast. But I have an additional set of comfort foods that are all ethnic. The paternal side of my family is 100% Greek. My Yiayia (grandmother) was a REALLY good cook, and some of the things she made became my comfort foods.

The difficulty is that my Yiayia is long gone. She didn't write down her recipes. Now I roam the earth searching for happiness in the form of truly good Greek food.

Fortunately, I have some good recipes that dirty every pan in the kitchen, but yield good results. And I have some favorite Greek restaurants too. They include Molyvos on 7th Avenue in NYC, and Melanthios or the Parthenon in Chicago. But I keep looking...

Last night we tried Greekfest in Phoenix, and were disappointed. Several things were overcooked, and the seasonings were off base. But the owner had just made fresh kourambiethes (a Greek version of something you might know as wedding cookies). So my consulation was to take a bag of those back to the hotel for dessert. Not as good as Yiayia's, but comparisons rarely measure up.

Comfort food elicits groans of glee and memories of happy, loving times. Don't we all pursue those feelings? I'm always on the prowl.

P.S. This blog entry was written on my cell phone at the airport. I apologize for any errors caused by big fingers on itty bitty keys.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dishpan Hands, My Ass!

Our dishwasher died a sudden, dramatic death about a month ago (after a protracted illness). Since then, we have been washing dishes by hand and using disposable party plates as much as possible. The replacement dishwasher has now been identified, and will be ordered today. In the meantime, when I scuff my feet and moan my way to the stack of dirty dishes by the kitchen sink, I give myself a mental slap and think about how spoiled we are today.

We have the luxury of appliances that do most of our work for us. In the 1950's and early 60's Mom wasn't exactly down by the stream beating our dirty clothing on rocks, but with four children, it was a true and constant chore to keep clothes and dishes clean. In the early years, Mom had a clothes washer, but no dryer. There was a clothesline in the back yard. I have no idea how Mom kept up with it, with four small children underfoot.

There was no internet shopping. Instead, shopping excursions were a family affair.
We didn't download books - we went to the library almost every Saturday.
Remember the days before cash machines? If you needed cash, you went to the bank during business hours.
Cell phones hadn't been invented. Kids had curfews and came home when the street lights came on, or in response to shouted summons from the back door.
There were no movies on demand. We had a black and white TV with about 3 channels, and we all watched it together.
Designer clothes for kids? Harumph. Special outfits were made by Mom on her own sewing machine.
No video games. We read books, played Monopoly, skated on the sidewalk, and played dress-ups.
Gentlemen always had a clean, pressed handkerchief handy. We kids would iron them for Dad.

I could go on, but this sort of thing has been done to death and passed around via email and on Facebook. Every once in a while, it doesn't hurt to put things into perspective a bit. Right now, I'm going to enjoy a little "Retro Housekeeping". In other words, I'll be washing and drying the dishes by hand.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The One and Only Sedona

In the United States, we are fortunate to have a handful of places unlike any other on earth. Their uniqueness may come from landscape, climate, and/or history and culture. Sedona is one of those places and, if you haven't been there, a visit should be on your bucket list.

We are fortunate to live only about an hour and a half drive from Sedona, and come here a few times a year. Hiking, biking, sight-seeing, shopping, and golf are the attractions. Sedona is a small town, with a full-time population of only about 11,000. However, 3.5 million visitors annually come from all over the world to see the luminous towering red rock sandstone formations in and around Sedona. Some seek the fabled healing powers of the energy fields among the rocks.

Yesterday we came to Sedona with a few other couples, to play golf, dine, and play more golf. The Sedona Golf Resort at the Hilton Sedona has a beautiful course with challenging greens. The course whipped me, but I was repeatedly pacified by the stunning views from every tee box and fairway. It's difficult to stay self-focused or frustrated for long when so clearly dwarfed by the majestic display around you. "Darn, I missed my putt, but LOOK AT THAT!"


Last night we dined at Dal and Di Luca, a standout Italian restaurant. This morning we'll complete our visit by playing golf at Oak Creek Country Club. Back to the more sedate beauty of Prescott tonight. It's nice to have such an appealing getaway available so close to home.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Autumn Impressions

Decided today to do just a little composite of some photos from New England during our travels. They've been tinkered with some, using Photoshop. Hope wherever you are, you enjoy your autumn as much as we are!



Thursday, October 17, 2013

We're Leaf Peepers

Being in New England in the fall is about more that merely being a "leaf peeper". To be sure, the showy display of reds, golds, oranges, plums, browns, and remaining greens is breathtaking in its artful riot. Traveling along the highway is almost like driving through a museum. But the best of it can only be appreciated in slower motion - on foot.

We're staying on the southern coast of Maine, in Ogunquit. Our small inn is a historic home that has been updated and expanded. Part of the charm of this area of the country is found in eschewing chains for local, owner-operated businesses.

Fall is beautful everywhere but, like the foliage, seems intensified here. Ogunquit has a distinct crispness in the air, accompanied by the scent of wood-burning fireplaces in use. Leaves already carpet the grass after floating from trees. They crunch satisfyingly under our feet by the granite-lined curbs.


Homes and businesses are decorated for Halloween and fall, with pumpkins, scarecrows, hay bales, spider webs, ghosts, and goblins. Visitors and residents stroll down the sidewalks in bright sweaters. They've given up sandals for boots.

Yesterday we savored clam chowder on a cool and cloudy day. Dinner last night was lobster pizza, served on an enclosed patio with heat lamps. In our not-too-distant future, I foresee tasting a seasonal brew of some sort. Everything is enhanced by the sea air, spiced with the pungent smell of fallen leaves.

Locals can call us leaf peepers if they will, but we know that being here now is about so much more.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Happy 40th Reunion, Magruder Friends!

The Magruder High School Class of 1973 is having a reunion this weekend in my home state of Maryland. Although unable to attend, the upcoming event has me thinking about high school days and my good friends from that time.

Our class was the first graduating class in a brand new school. The Class of '73 never had to be underclassmen, as we started there in the fall of 1973 as 10th graders, with 8th and 9th graders in the school. For the next 3 years, we grew up together...8th, 9th, and 10th graders, then 9th, 10th, 11th graders, etc. We had a graduation class of approximately 300 students.

I was active in some sports - managing the boys soccer team one year (and practicing with them), playing basketball, and running track. But my first love was music. I was in Chorus and Madrigal classes, and also took Music Theory. During High School, I decided to pursue a music degree in college.

We had a close-knit group of good friends that hung out before classes started around the card catalog in the library. I didn't have a high school boyfriend, and wasn't a cheerleader... In other words, I was never one of the "cool girls". But I had fun with my friends, was a good student, excelled in choral endeavors, and cheered on my friends on the football and track teams.

Steve Waterman, Gail Hughes, Scott Clifford,
Me, and Mo Hughes
We rocked mini-skirts and long, straight hair, and made pierced ears mainstream. This was a time before tatoos, multiple ear-piercings or body piercings, flaunted cleavage, and bare midriffs were acceptable for nice girls. When I went to a party where there was drinking and smoking, I called my parents for a ride home so I wouldn't get in trouble. There were no cell phones and no personal computers. We had books at home and went to the library, and did our homework longhand. Surely I sound like a dinosaur now, but it was a good time to be a teenager.

Upon graduation, most of us were ready to move on and see what else life had to offer. But I remember several tearful group goodbyes as, one-by-one our friends went on to college or other adventures. Some are still friends today, via occasional personal encounters, emails, Christmas cards, or Facebook. I treasure these shared memories I have with you.

Happy Reunion! Raise a glass to me - I'll be thinking about you.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Seasonal Nesting Alert

There's something about the change of seasons from Summer into Fall that propels me into full nesting mode. Maybe it's the awareness that the holidays are not far behind, combined with the fact that we are spending a little more time indoors that makes me want to focus on the comforts of home.

I've already changed the bedding from summer weight to heavier linens. Next, I'll deal with putting summer clothes and shoes away until Spring. The boxes of Fall/Winter clothes have been breeched to retrieve a sweater or two. And I freely confess to having made a few internet purchases - boots and LL Bean tops in warm colors. The snuggly throws have made their way to the sofa.

Next, I have two projects in mind. The entry table is going to get a rustic coating of paint on the top, and a small chest of drawers purchased is going to be spray-painted a decorative color for the bedroom. Nesting...nesting.

Last night, Ron made a lovely lobster pie - a sure sign of Fall. A pot of chili for a day of football can't be far behind. And I have an irrefutable urge to bake cookies, which I hardly ever do!

A few trees in Prescott are starting to change color, but our days are still warm and inviting. We have a tee time for 10:20 this morning. We can't ignore it though - Fall is in the air!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

No Baklava for You

Ron and I had a dinner party last night, featuring Greek food. It included a Greek Summer Salad, Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), Spanakopita (spinach pie), and Moussaka (baked layers of eggplant and ground lamb, with bechamel sauce and cheese on top). Not a low cal' menu, this. A special meal for friends.

Perhaps I should have tackled making Baklava. But, as Ron explained to our guests, with the other things I was making, if he had asked me to make Baklava, my head would have exploded. He's right. So I opted for this easier, lighter dessert. I found this recipe a few months ago in the Chicago Tribune, and highly recommend it.

LEMON-YOGURT ICEBOX TART (or PIE)

Ingredients:
Tart/pie dough or shell of your choice
2 cups Greek yogurt (preferably full-fat)
2/3 cup lemon curd
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 teaspon powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons water
Whipped cream (optional)
Garnish of choice

Bake pie shell and cool for at least one hour, to room temperature. (I used a store-bought graham cracker crust instead.)

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon curd, honey, and vanilla. Put the water and gelatin in a small microwave-safe cup and let sit for 5 minutes. Microwave for 10-15 seconds, stirring once or twice, until the gelatin is dissolved. Do not allow to cool. Thorooughly whisk the hot, dissolved gelative into the yogurt mixture and pour into the pie shell.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours - preferably overnight. Garnish as desired. The recipe suggests fresh whipped cream and sliced citrus or berries. I just drizzled it with a little honey and scattered pine nuts.

Enjoy!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Prescott Outdoors

The fresh air of Prescott lures me to throw windows open wide, and to spend as much time as possible outside. We've lived other places where we have enjoyed being outdoors...our patios in Sachse, Texas, evenings sitting by the pool in Vegas, visiting on our back porch in Chicago and walking by Lake Michigan...but Prescott has something special to offer.

This time of year there is a welcome bit of chill to the air in the early morning and late evening. It will become very warm later in the day, and we are luxuriating in these last days of summer. The air will cool as we sip cocktails on the new patio and watch the moonrise. Last night we were bathed in the late night brightness of a full moon. I had a shawl on my shoulders, sitting contentedly by a fire.

Golf is one way we make sure we spend time outside. The views are breathtaking. Talking Rock's course is as beautiful as I've ever seen it right now, after several weeks of rainy weather. The fairways look like green carpet, and even the desert grasses are green. Blooming flowers are everywhere - you might guess it's Spring again.

It's a great time to visit with friends in the evening around one of the club's fire pits, or to enjoy the view from the Granite Mountain patio during Happy Hour.

I'm not much of a hiker, but nature walks are a great way to explore the amazingly varied landscapes in the area. Desert, lakes, pine forests, granite dells, and mountains - we have it all, within a few miles. The scent in the air is unique to our high desert. Juniper, cedar, and Arizona chaparral are prevalent. This time of year, juniper berries have fallen from the trees, and they create a carpet of frosty blue on the ground. A local spice merchant, Spice Traveler* , has captured the olfactory essence of Prescott in a unique spice blend called "1864 Prescott". It's Prescott in a can!

At home, we invite the outdoors in as much as possible. They'll be less opportunity as the days shorten and our mild fall turns into winter. For now, we are enjoying our indoor / outdoor life in Prescott.

*Check out Spice Traveler online at: http://spicetravelerprescott.com/

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Friend Hammy

This is Hamilton.
I call him "Hammy".
Quiet and unassuming,
with an air of gravitas.
Keen black eyes that never waver.
Beguiling pink nose and toes.
Hammy has a sense of humor.
His ways make me smile.
Always accepting of my mood.
He has dried my tears
while nestled under my chin.
A kiss on the jowl
is all he seems to need.
My furry, soft little buddy.
So patient and constant is Hammy.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

I Could Be Better

These days, I have plenty of time to think. Sounds like an odd statement, but there was a period during my professional life that true thinking time was a luxury. You acted, reacted, managed crises, used your lizard brain wits, and ran as fast as you could. Didn't leave any time for introspection and leisurely pondering.

Now I think about many things. How life will play out as I age, who my real friends are and why, the best ways to build a comfortable nest, how to balance fun with more specific constructive pursuits, and how to be better.

We all have weaknesses and ways in which we disappoint ourselves. Perhaps we find what we think are valid reasons to stop developing emotionally. I want to try to be a better me. It's not easy.

I write to explore my feelings and find clarity in our little corner of existence. My success on that score is inconsistent. Optimistic, I'm going to keep trying.

Like me / don't like me. Know me / don't know me. Those that matter to me will make their own decisions, and I am very comfortable with that. I'm just me, but I'm only getting better.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Restoring my Normal Routine

It's been a different kind of summer, with community responsibility taking over from my precious routine. Between a big Sweet Adelines concert in early July, our Chopped show on August 4th and the Hotshots Fundraiser at Talking Rock on August 19, I am worn out. Now that those major events are successfully behind me, it's time to guide my life (and my temperment) back to something more normal.

"Normal" here is a good stress-free night of sleep, langorous mornings with coffee, some golf, a little housework, perhaps an errand, and an evening relaxing at home or with friends. I'm used to this rhythm. It's good for me. I stay busy, but in the ways I want to be busy - not according to anyone else's schedule or priorities.

Patio project almost complete!
I'm anticipating, with pleasure, this Labor Day Weekend which will bring a friend's housewarming party, a chili cook-off and festival, and a golf scramble. Our enhanced patio will be ready for social gatherings in a little more than a week. October will bring a visit to New England to see Mom and to spend a few days on Maine's seacoast. Song of the Pines chorus is beginning to rehearse Christmas songs in preparation for Prescott's festive holiday season.

Change is in the air... A shifting of seasons and a move back to normalcy. My arms are wide open.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An Emotional, Magical Day

Talking Rock's Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew Golf Tournament and Fundraiser took place on Monday. After just seven weeks of planning driven by a steering committee of five and supported by dozens of volunteers, we hosted an event that our club manager called "historic". Our small community raised over $247,000 for the families of our Hotshots. With a little more work, and some luck, over the next few weeks we may meet our lofty goal of $250,000.

How did all that money make its way to our small community? Our members were generous, buying playing spots in the golf tournament, sponsoring holes, or writing donation checks. They found corporate sponsors willing to buy sponsorships beginning at $5,000 - up to $10,000. One sponsor combined two for a $15,000 sponsorship. Businesses and individuals were convinced (by our volunteers) to donate items for our silent and live auctions, which generated $54,000. Our club, Talking Rock, was the "presenting sponsor", covering expenses for labor, food, sponsor signage, and more. Other services were donated by printers, advertising, and a graphic designer. This event simply would not have been possible without the commitment and magnanimity of the many who wanted to honor the Hotshots and help those they left behind.

The event day itself was nothing short of magical, in so many ways. We had honored guests from the Prescott and Central Yavapai Fire Districts. The entrance to the club was lined with hook and ladder trucks, whose horns and sirens kicked off the shotgun scramble. The golf course hummed with foursomes who were there for a good cause. Back at the Ranch House, Chef Richard and his crew were nothing short of awesome, having provided continental breakfast before tee time, they then had boxed lunches available for delivery onto the course. In the evening, our guests looked forward to a prime rib and salmon buffet.

To me, the magic really began after golf. A little rain and distant lightning temporarily pushed people inside to shop at the silent auction. Then raindrops gave way to sunshine, and the live auction began outside. Guests bid on attractive items like travel packages, rafting through the Grand Canyon, hunting, fishing, helicopter rides, and a custom-made KE-15 rifle made by friends of one of the Hotshots. Bidding was fierce, and items went from hundreds of dollars to as much as $10K. 

Guardian Air landed a helicopter on the driving range and delivered a donation check of $10,000. The Artful Eye, a local jeweler from Prescott, gave $19,000 from a fundraiser at their store. They also created a beautiful medallion that Talking Rock provided as a commemorative gift to participants.

Photo by Karen Barreira
There were many memorable moments during this special day. Taylor Caldwell, sister to fallen Hotshot Robert Caldwell, spoke of her family's loss. They take comfort in the fact that Robert died doing what he so loved, surrounded by his brothers. Two close friends of Hotshot Travis Turbyfill were seen toasting their friend in front of his photo posted on the wall of the Ranch House. A fireman's boot overflowed with cash donations. Rainbows lured people back outside to celebrate after the rain. All day, tears often were quickly followed by laughter and hugs.

It's difficult to describe the feelings we had at the end of the day. Into the evening, we danced and celebrated under the stars with friends and loved ones, and marveled at the generosity of our little community. We're feeling proud and fortunate to be in a place where we could do something to make a difference.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

We Get What We Need

When things don't turn out the way we've planned, it can really throw us self-absorbed, imperfect human beings for a loop. No matter what we do, sometimes, as the Rolling Stones have been singing for 45 years, "You Can't Always Get What You Want". With red, tear-filled eyes we rail against those who block our way. Harsh, judgmental words stain our mouths. Imagining retribution soothes our beastly souls, making us feel less impotent.

As the angry fog clears, eventually we are able to see things a little differently. It's better to let the venom dissipate. Things usually work out as they should. It's hard to see, but the truth is there somewhere.

Poisonous people may harm others, but they usually are destructive to no one more than themselves. Left to their own devices, they attract misery. It's best not to engage, but to retreat. You can watch from afar, although you may very well lose interest. That's probably healthiest.

So we count our blessings and look forward to when it will become clear that the ways things are unfolding is actually better for us than what we had planned. I have faith.

"You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well you might find
You get what you need"



Thursday, August 8, 2013

Like Work, Only Harder

For the past month, I have been working with some other volunteers from Talking Rock on a fundraiser for the families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots that lost their lives in the Yarnell Wildland Fire on June 30th. Through corporate sponsorships and generous personal donations, we have exceeded $160,000 in donations. We also have collected some amazing in-kind donations to auction off on August 19th, the day of our golf tournament. The auction could generate upwards of another $30,000. Although we may not quite achieve our goal of $250,000 for the families - we could get close.

I'm out of practice, doing this sort of work. Attending meetings, juggling spreadsheets, fielding email, answering and returning phone calls...it's stressing me out, and I'm exhausted. I know, I volunteered for this gig. All I need to do is remind myself why we are doing this, and get back to work. The end result will be worth whatever it took to get there.

In the meantime, the laundry is piling up, my office looks like a tornado came through, I'm not cooking meals, my blog is late, I'm envious of Ron out on the golf course right now, and of the beer he'll be having afterward. I'm afraid I've alienated some people (volunteers) by giving them tasks and instructions that are required to accomplish what needs to be done. (Those who know me know I have a bossy streak. "Really?") I can't wait for things to get back to normal after August 19th.

This is an education in volunteer work. Next time it may be someone else's turn to take the wheel.

For anyone who would like to donate $19 for our 19, here's an easy way to do it. We would be very grateful.
http://www.crowdrise.com/granitemountainhotsh

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Grown-Up Friends

It's interesting and rewarding to gain new friends when you are an older adult. There's an inherent difference between this experience and when I made friends as a child or teenager. I'm still trying to put my finger on exactly what it is...

As a child, you expected to have friends, and stumbled upon little buddies as a normal part of life. We would take our rubber ball out into the street to play kickball, a bunch of other little kids appeared, and you made friends. It just happened. You were drawn to certain other students at school, and all of a sudden you had "peeps" on the playground. I sang in chorus and made friends with others chorus nerds. It was easy. My college friends continue to hold treasured places in my hearts, because that's where we really grew up, together.

As young professionals, making new friends became a little more complicated. Yes, work yielded some new acquaintances and friends, because we spent so much time there. We had to start being more cognizant of romantic relationships among our peers - trying not to make anyone jealous, or sending out the wrong signals. We became more transient, relocating because of our careers, leaving friends behind (geographically), and building a new life. Once committed to a spouse, our world revolved around each other more than friends.

So many distractions are out of play now. It's simply a lovely surprise to make friends when you are middle-aged. It is, perhaps, the greatest unexpected joy we have discovered early in our retired life. In our 50's, we are not as competitive in our friendships. We don't worry about hanging out with the popular kids. My girlfriends laugh if we show up in the same golf outfit. It doesn't matter if we conform with anyone else's idea of how we should look, or who we should be. It's pretty cool that people like us for who we are. At this point, we're unlikely to change much.


The passage of time and the goodness of life colors our enjoyment of each other in a soft light. Occasionally we are faced with reminders of how fragile life can be. The laughter, smiles, hugs, play, jokes, and closeness follow us from day to day, comfortable knowing that we are part of something warm, and bigger than we are alone.

Thank you, Friends.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Do or Don't

When I was still working in a corporate environment, I often experienced collaborating with those people that always have an opinion about what won't work. Unfortunately, that's all they bring to the table; they don't offer solutions. Since things have to get accomplished in spite of the naysayers, you learn to work with them, around them, or without them. It doesn't take long for it to become apparent who helps bring ideas to fruition, and who just gets in the way.

I'm currently working with a small, can-do group of people to raise funds for the families of the 19 Hotshots that worked out of Prescott. To date, we have raised $130,000 to help those who lost so much rebuild their lives. Talking Rock is providing the location and resources we need to make this a reality, and to insure that the donations are not eroded by expenses. They didn't have to do this, and we are very grateful.

Many members have been extremely generous with their contributions, as have businesses with close or distant ties to Prescott. Private, individual donations range from $19 (for the 19) to a high of $10,000. Corporate sponsorships from $1,000 to as much as $15,000 have been received. Some people have valid, personal reasons not to contribute through Talking Rock and we certainly accept that.

What's hard to accept are those who use their misguided opinions and belly-aching as reasons not to give:

This is NOT a marketing campaign by Talking Rock. It's a grass-roots effort by members, supported by Talking Rock.

It's not our place to decide how it's "fair" to disperse funds raised to the families of the Hotshots. The Firefighters Association is in the best position to do that.

If some of the families become "rich" from fund-raising efforts, so be it. Money cannot replace what they lost, but it may make their lives easier going forward. 

Nineteen young men burned to death risking everything to save local communities. They left behind families that need help.

Give or don't give. Do or Don't. But don't hide behind your bogus justifications or get in our way. 

P.S. If you would like to donate, you can do so on-line via http://www.crowdrise.com/granitemountainhotsh. Every little bit helps. Thank you.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Doing the Right Thing

GRANITE MOUNTAIN HOTSHOT CREW 
GOLF TOURNAMENT & FUNDRAISER
TALKING ROCK RANCH - AUGUST 19, 2013

Nineteen courageous young men died on June 30th, saving the lives and homes of others. Just days before, they had conquered a fire that could have entered our neighborhood. That was their work - their passion. We owe them eternal respect. We have a moral responsibility to insure that the families they provided for do not want in their absence. That's just the right thing to do.

Fortunately, this community has the means to help. Our beautiful golf course will soon become the setting for a major fundraiser to benefit the families of the fallen. Members have volunteered and organized to get the word out and solicit sponsorships and donations. Companies big and small have donated, including: Arizona Power Service, Inland Valley Construction, Granite Basin Engineering, Fry's Food Stores, and others. Talking Rock members have stepped up to sponsor holes and playing spots that have been donated back so firefighters and the families of our heroes can participate. Individuals have generously written checks from $25 to $10,000. As of today, we have chalked up $110,000 in commitments. Expenses are being covered by a major sponsor, to allow all funds collected to go to the firefighters' families.

August 19 is shaping up to be a special day. We'll have 144 golfers on the course. Each will receive a commemorative hat and t-shirt (donated by a sponsor). They can bid on silent auction items, such as hotel stays and rounds of golf. They'll all get lunch and dinner, and will enjoy entertainment outside on the grounds of the club. Member volunteers will act as hosts.

Major corporate sponsors are being invited back to Talking Rock on October 6th for more golf, and an dinner event recognizing their special contribution to this cause. We expect to be joined by the Mayor of Prescott, as well as firefighters, and representatives of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. At this event, we will present the consolidated donations to the firefighters fund.

We're grateful to those who have already given their time and/or money, but we still need lots of help to get to our goal of $250,000. Donations of any size are welcome!

Make checks payable to: "UPFFA" (United Phoenix Firefighters Association, who is administering funds on behalf of the Prescott Firefighters).
Mail to: Talking Rock Ranch, 15075 N Talking Rock Ranch Road, Prescott, AZ 86305

Please help us do the right thing. Your donation is tax-deductable. Thank you for your support.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Finding Peace

Recent days in Prescott have been gut-wrenching and tearful. We continue to try to deal with the death of 19 of our own Hotshot firefighters - brave young men who lost their lives protecting others. I think it's going to hurt forever. We are grateful for the support we have received throughout the country and around the world.

Our club is working hard, putting together a fundraiser for the families of the fallen. I've been somewhat consumed with this project, attending meetings, working on documentation, checking texts, email and voice mails, and thinking a lot about what we are trying to accomplish. The goal is to raise $250,000. In the first week, we have commitments totaling almost $45,000.

In the wake of this feeling of loss, I've mostly been running around like an idiot. Finding Peace in my mind has been difficult. My thoughts are discombobulated, and I am not very focused. This realization caused me to think about what in my life brings me Peace. It's time to focus more on these things, to settle my anxious soul and clear my mind.


The love of my husband and family 
Being with good friends
Enjoying the view (literally)
Lungfuls of clean, sweet air
Undisturbed sleep
Joyful music
Watching nature unfold
The undercurrent of my Faith

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Heaven vs. Hell

Five days ago Prescott suffered the shocking loss of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters deployed at the Yarnell, AZ fire. Prescott is a relatively small community of about 40,000 residents, so we all know someone affected by this tragedy. Nineteen young men with loved ones and families. Nineteen brave men who just the week before saved the homes of hundreds of people in the Granite Mountain/Williamson Valley area. The fire came within five miles of our home. We wanted to say "Thank You", but the Hotshots were on to the next fire where they did their jobs and lost their lives. Our throats are constricted with unsaid words and impotent grief.

As a community, we are coming together to express our love and provide support for the families of the fallen and the people in nearby Yarnell and Peeples Valley who have lost their homes. We all want to help and to take care of our own. We owe the "Prescott 19" no less than this.

Of course, the media highlights the best and the worst of us in the aftermath of this event. Westboro Baptist Church is praising God for the Arizona Wildfire that killed 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots, and claims that our heroes are currently in Hell pleading for Westboro to come and picket their funerals because, supposedly...God hates fags. WTF?? Make no mistake, Westboro is proof that Evil exists in our world - mingling with Heroes and Angels.

The false church of Westboro Baptist is one of evil and cowardice. If their screwed up disciples show their faces in Prescott, our citizens will block the Evil with the Love we are sharing to overcome this tragedy. Heaven vs. Hell.

Granite Mountain Hotshots in Yarnell.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots knew in their last moments that Death was upon them. As highly trained as they were, the conditions were too unpredictable and ferocious to overcome. I take comfort in my belief that in their moment of intense need, our Heroes were comforted and shielded from pain by Angels. Angels and firey Death - Heaven vs. Hell.

It was painful to hear that erratic wind gusts generated by the sudden monsoon rains we celebrated in Prescott on Sunday were what consumed the Hotshots on the hills in Yarnell. We needed that rain, and we needed our firefighters. For our little taste of Heaven, the Hotshots paid in hellish conditions they could not overcome.

We were miraculously saved in Williamson Valley, and thankfully enjoy our little slice of Heaven. Yarnell and Peeples Valley suffered awful destruction.

Heaven: 5, Hell: 5. I guess we'll be going to overtime. My money's on Heaven.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

EEK! It's Thursday!

Every Thursday morning, I get up early knowing that it's the day I write and post my Runaway Boomer Blog. But this morning, I was coming off a dinner party we hosted last night. Woke up late with a Greek food hangover, and enjoyed some quality time with a few much-needed cups of coffee. I checked on my Facebook friends, wrote some emails, made a few calls, and even considered a late morning nap.Then, "EEK! It's Blog Day Thursday!".

It's been a busy week. Rehearsals for our upcoming Sweet Adelines concert are taking up a minimum of 6 hours a week (2 rehearsals of 3 hours each + practice at home). We have also been consumed with preparation for our patio construction project. Tomorrow, we hope for final approval. That would mean that work and all the ensuing chaos starts early next week. I just scheduled installation of some rain gutters, which may happen in the midst of the patio project. Yesterday - house cleaning and food prep. Had our quarterly consultation with our financial advisor at 8am this morning, which is probably what threw me off in the first place.

Summer is in full swing here at Talking Rock, and that means our golf and social schedule is busy, busy, busy. In the midst of all this activity, we had the stress of the Doce wildland fire that came within about 5 miles of our home. Let's see, "Golf or evacuation, which will it be?"

So, you see, I'm a bit tired and discombobulated. It's been one of those weeks when I don't know what day it is and can't keep track of my calendar events or to-do list. I think doing laundry is about my speed today.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Preparing for the Worst

How do you prepare to leave your home (quickly), when you don't know whether it will be there when you return? It's the terrible dilemma you have when you face the possibility of evacuation because of a natural disaster.

Beautiful Granite Mountain is on fire, as well as thousands of acres of Prescott National Forest that surround it. Fifty foot flames are scuttling across boulders and cliffs, consuming the Ponderosa Pines and Junipers, and making waste of the chaparral. The rugged green landscape is blackened. It's sickening. And the winds of destruction are literally blowing in our direction.

Photo by: Michael Chow/The Republic

Our attention to the firefight is rapt. We can see DC-10 tankers spreading fire retardant slurry, while helicopters buzz around dropping water. Spotter planes lead the way. Firefighters on the ground are working around the clock and, against the wind and apparent odds, so far their efforts have kept nearby homes safe. Nevertheless, our community five miles northeast has been put on alert for possible evacuation.

Did we have an emergency plan? No... But we quickly put one together. We might have to leave the house on fairly short notice, taking only what we can pack into our Subaru. We approached the awful choices to be made by breaking things into categories:

NECESSITIES
.  Purse/wallets.
.  Cell phones/charger.
.  Netbook/charger.
.  Small backpack of clothing, and one sturdy pair of shoes. (Dammit, I'm taking those cute and impractical new jeans from Chicos that I haven't even had a chance to wear.)
.  Prescription medications.
.  Eyeglasses/Contact lenses.
.  Basic toiletries.

IMPORTANT PAPERS
.  Birth and Marriage certificates.
.  Checkbooks.
.  Receipts for household furniture and goods (in case we have to file an insurance claim).
.  Lease for Chicago condo.
.  PC tower with hard drive. (Important files have been backed up on a separate device.)

VALUABLES
.  Cash.
.  Jewelry
.  Art. (We could only choose a few things that would fit in the car. A lot of beautiful pieces could be lost.)

BELONGINGS OF EMOTIONAL VALUE
.  Photographs.
.  Beezum's ashes.
From our front yard - Day 1

I went through the house and took photos of furniture, art, and other belongings. Everything we can take is already packed and staged for departure. If we get the dreaded word, all we need to do is load the car and go. In the meantime, we are praying for the strength and safety of the firefighters.  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Remembering Dad

Father's Day is painful now. Ron lost his father in 1995, and I lost mine in 1999. Nevertheless, those of us who no longer have our dads are shotgunned with all the same Father's Day advertising and wishes as everyone else. I wish there would be even a little emphasis on remembering our fathers with love and respect. To that end, I'll tell you a little about my dad.

John Haropulos was a WWII veteran, who saw action on Okinawa. He didn't talk about it much, but I sensed that it shaped his appreciation of home and family. Dad grew up in Chicago, and I learned to share his love of the city - cheering for the Bears and the Cubs, going to Northwestern University where Dad studied Electrical Engineering, and eventually living about a mile from where he and his family lived (on Belmont).

After the war, Dad and Mom eloped in 1950, and shortly thereafter he finished his college degree at the University of New Hampshire. They lived in New York City less than a year, before Dad obtained a government job in the DC area. Three daughters (I'm #2) and a son were all raised in suburban Maryland. All of us got good public school educations and the opportunity to go to college.

Dad was an impressive figure. I used to describe him to friends as "6 foot 2 with a mustache". We were taught to think in a disciplined way and to use our brains to figure things out. (In fact it was demanded of us.)

I'm thankful that we were able to finance a trip to Hawaii for Mom and Dad in the 80's. Dad had a chance to show Mom where he was stationed at the end of the war. Hilton came through and upgraded them into a suite with a view of Diamondhead. I also fondly remember the trip Ron and I took with them to Arizona to see the Cubs in Spring Training.

Dad taught me how to throw and catch a football and a baseball, and how to swing a golf club. He paid for summer camp, swimming, hula, and piano lessons. He yelled at me when I did something stupid, and comforted me when I skinned a knee. We played wiffle ball in the back yard. Saturday nights, he grilled burgers or steaks. We all piled into a car for summer vacations, and Dad drove us to New Hampshire. When he got tired, he would sing silly songs. I remember him pulling over to the side of the road to pick wildflowers flowers for Mom. We loved it when Dad would play old 78 records and he and Mom would dance in the living room. Dad mowed the lawn, fixed the car, and built things. At the end of the day, he would often come upstairs to tuck us in at night and check the bed for creepy-crawlies. When Ron and I married in 1991, Dad placed our wedding crowns on our heads, and danced at our reception. He was the best father I can imagine.

So as Father's Day approaches, the best thing my old friends could say to me is, "I remember your father". Otherwise, a hug would be good.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Loving Desert Living

I've lived out East, in the Midwest, the great State of Texas, the South, and in the desert Southwest. The desert has a unique beauty and ruggedness to it that appeals to some of us. Over time, I have learned to love it, but it did require some adjustment. Here's a mini guide for the uninitiated:

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. The dry air sucks moisture from us. We have to constantly replenish it by drinking water. Don't drive away to run errands without drinking water in your car. If you have car trouble, exposure can be life-threatening.

Moisturize. Our skin, hair, and nails need heavy-duty protection or we will all dry up and blow away.

Suncreen is a daily requirement, especially in the summer months when the sun is brutally strong. Don't forget your scalp (or wear a hat). It's common practice to see a dermatologist on a regular basis, to examine any skin damage. Invest in good sunglasses to protect your eyes.

Water is precious, and we don't take it for granted. During the summer monsoons, we love to sit on the patio and marvel at the rain and smell the fragrant air.

Open-toed slippers are recommended so no scorpions can hide in the toes. Scorpion bites can be very serious, even on extremities. Have a professional service treat the outside foundation of your home to create a defensive barrier against creepy crawlies.

Splurge on pedicures. We live the summer in sandals (including golf sandals).

It's impossible to keep up with the dusting. Between the dust and the wind - it's just everywhere. Hopefully, you're not allergic to dust.

We share our habitat with critters. Bunnies and hummingbirds are charming. Javelina and coyotes are also prevalent. Remember that javelina are practically blind. Don't get too close (especially if they have babies), and they won't feel threatened. They may trample your garden and eat your flowers. And they are very stinky. Coyotes have plenty of food here. Like javelina, they are mostly out at night. They'll occasionally wake you with their howling, but otherwise don't bother humans.

Some of these facts of life about desert living may sound unappealing. To us, the beauty, the outdoor living, and the stark and gentle displays of nature have won our hearts forever. Every sunset over the mountains is a gift. Every patio gathering with friends is a new blessing. Every raindrop is a miracle. Every clear, fresh morning is a rebirth.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Music and Memories

I'm not one to live in the past, but sometimes a specific piece of music or an artist catapults you to a place and time. That can result in anything from a smile to wet eyes.

Some of my favorites that cause mental time travel:

GOOD VIBRATIONS by the Beach Boys: This was my first record - a 45. It brings me back to our house in Forbes Street in Rockville, MD in 1966. I was in 6th grade.

FIRE AND RAIN by James Taylor: Along with any song from his 1970 album Sweet Baby James, James Taylor's music was the soundtrack of my years at Magruder High School in Maryland.

SMOKE ON THE WATER by Deep Purple: This is the song that caused a stampede onto the dance floor at my senior prom in 1973.

COULD IT BE I'M FALLING IN LOVE by the Spinners: I fell in love for the first time to this song, ice skating at night on Northwestern's campus in Evanston, IL in 1973.

YOU COULD HAVE BEEN WITH ME by Sheena Easton: Always brings me back to the early days of my forever romance with Ron (circa 1983) in Dallas. The stereo is cranked up and we're wearing headphones and lying on the floor next to each other.

MARINA DEL REY by George Strait: Ron bought me my first CD player and George's first "best of" album when I lived in my townhouse (my first home of my own) in Coppell, TX in 1987. I had the most comfortable mauve velour sofa. It's OK, it was the 80's.

ONLY WANNA BE WITH YOU by Hootie and the Blowfish: When I hear this or any other song from  Cracked Rear View, it's 1996 and I'm floating in the pool at our house in Las Vegas.

CLARITY by John Mayer: The first song on one of the playlists on my iPod will always remind me of cocktail hour in the front room of our condo in Chicago (2008-2012), relaxing and enjoying the view of the neighborhood.

It's important to me to keep discovering and listening to new artists and musical releases. We need tunes to weave together our memories, and I'm not done with my life story.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Once Crossed

I’m a nice person. Friendly, helpful, caring – I have those attributes. Once crossed, however, the personality my mother nicknamed “Pepper Pot” takes over and all bets are off.

We are making plans to enhance our outdoor space at home with an expanded patio, a fire feature, and a spa. Talking Rock has certain design restrictions having to do with square footage and height of any improvements, to which we are adhering. Having a spa on our lot on the golf course is subject to approval by Harvard Investments, the developer of our community. At their request it’s been designed so that the portable spa will be in a sunken area with added landscaping to obscure it from view from the golf course. It will have a locking cover that meets industry safety standards.
Spa will be obscured by landscaping on the east (left) edge
of the back of the house, away from the "bad " neighbors.
To bolster our case for developer sign off, we were encouraged to obtain written approval of our plan from our two neighbors. Our good neighbors and friends to the east have already provided a letter. Heck, they may spend as much time on our patio and in our hot tub as we will – and they are welcome. The neighbors to the west; well, that’s another story.

Our bad neighbors (who come here rarely for brief visits) are objecting to our patio expansion on the grounds that it will impinge on their privacy.  To my amazement, they are also objecting to our spa, which they won’t even be able to see from their back patio. They think it’s “inappropriate”. It has been made clear that they feel there is no room for compromise.

Although neighbor approval wasn’t a requirement, now that we’ve asked and gotten a negative response we have an issue with Harvard. OK, neighbors.

Now I am challenged to make a case that overrides our neighbors concerns. The time has come to dust off my corporate executive hat, gather data, apply irrefutable logic, and go toe-to-toe to fight for what we want.

Here’s the plan:
> Complete the detailed design that shows property lines and distance from the neighbors’ homes.
> Take photos showing the sight lines from and to the neighbors, showing that their view is unaffected.
> Provide documentation on the decibel levels of the spa when the jets are in operation, and when it is in standby mode.
> Measure the distance from the neighbors patio to the spa area and calculate the decibel levels of the spa dissipated over that distance.
> Use a sound meter to measure current ambient noise levels in our backyards.
> Compare converted decibel levels to measured common ambient noise. Here that includes birds chirping, wind blowing, casual conversation, and golf carts driving by.
> Put together a presentation with all the data and obtain approval.

Game on.

Sincerely,
Pepper Pot

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Five Years of Retirement Fun

Five years ago this week, we walked out of our Hilton offices to start our retirement. Within days, we moved from Memphis to Chicago and began to savor our new lives. Since then, everything has changed - for the better. We are endlessly grateful for how much joy has entered our lives. From Memphis to Chicago to Prescott, from hiking to golf, from Italy to Greece to England... What a wild ride so far! Thank you to everyone sharing this wonderful journey with us. It wouldn't be half as much fun without you.




Thursday, May 9, 2013

Feels Like Home

While Ron and I were dining out last night, we were chatting with a man at the table next to us. He asked where we were from. When we hesitated and looked at each other, he said, “Where do you live now?” That, we could easily answer. As to where we are from… I grew up in Maryland, but am most recently from Chicago. We’ve also lived in Dallas, Las Vegas, and Memphis. Prescott, Arizona is home now.

"Home is Where the Heart Is”. If that’s true, I have multiple places to call Home, where I have strewn pieces of my heart. Home is a place you look forward to getting back to when you are away. Your pulse quickens when you fly over, or round a corner in the neighborhood. Thoughts linger there, replaying vivid memories.
 
Yes, Prescott is home now. Our house and our belongings are there. Our friends and community are there. But my heart still sings when I arrive in Chicago. I have history there, as does my father’s family. It’s where Ron and I started our retirement. I can walk through the neighborhood, past the block where my grandfather’s furrier store used to be. When I go to Wrigley Field, I think about Dad attending games there as a kid. I became an adult while attending Northwestern University in adjacent Evanston. I “get” Chicago, and I will always love it in a visceral way.

Mom’s home in Manchester, New Hampshire is also my home. The knotty pine paneling, the jays cawing in the trees, and the tiny, homey kitchen – all Home. Mom’s grandfather, parents, and brother built the house with love, and it oozes from every seam. I’m always happy there.

Ron’s family recently sold the farm and home place in Melvin, Illinois. We haven’t been back since. It felt like Home and an emotional touchstone for years. There are generations of history there, and so many memories of family gatherings. It was hard to let go. The feeling of home-ness in Melvin will fade over time, because we don’t belong there any longer.

Everyone should have at least one place to call Home. If you have more, you are blessed.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Basic Facebook Safety & Privacy Tips

I admit it; I'm a Facebook fan. It has been a great tool for me to keep in touch with far-flung friends since I joined four years ago. Of course it's not perfect. Facebook annoys with sponsored postings and ads, but hey, this is how they keep the service free. I have a highly developed ability to ignore what doesn't interest me. On the positive side, it has helped me stay close with friends and reconnect with so many dear people, and I am thankful for what Facebook has to offer.

I'm not an expert - but there are a few really important basics users should understand before getting too involved with Facebook and it's allure:

  1. LOCK DOWN PRIVACY SETTINGS: Click on the lock icon on the blue task bar at the top of the Facebook screen. "Who can see my stuff?" should be set to "Friends". Unless you are a public figure courting a following, the Public should not be able to see your Facebook postings.
  2. SECURE BROWSING: Click on the little wheel icon on the blue task bar at the top of the Facebook screen. Select "Account Settings". Now, in the column on the left, select "Security" and activate secure browsing. You will see that your URL now begins with "https" instead of "http". Activating this feature greatly reduces the possibility that your Facebook account will be hacked.
  3. CONTROL WHO CAN CONTACT YOU: Facebook facilitates other Facebook users sending you private messages and/or inviting you to connect as a Friend. Click on the lock icon, and then "Who can contact me?" I have mine set to "Basic filtering", but you can be more restrictive by selecting "Strict filtering". Only my Friends can see my email and telephone number. "Who can send me friend requests?" can be set to "Everyone" or "Friends of Friends". I have mine set to Everyone, which has allowed some long lost friends to find and contact me. You can always ignore a Friend Request and even block an undesirable person if you receive stray, random requests from strangers. It happens; don't freak out.
BE AWARE that Facebook can be an intrusive little bugger. If you are logged into Facebook and have another window open to browse the Internet, Facebook reads your cookies (a trail of where you have been on the Internet), and will display advertising content consistent with your implied interests. This is a little creepy.

BE SELECTIVE about pages you "Like". You are opening the door to more postings and advertisements on your Wall. That's not always bad. You can be kept up to date by neighborhood organizations, your favorite band, politicians, etc. I welcome ads for golf products and travel packages that I see because I "Like" Golf. But too much can be too much. You can always "Unlike" a page if it's postings are useless and annoying.

BE CAREFUL about signing up for other applications from Facebook, including games! If you read the Terms & Conditions for use of these fun and convenient apps, you will see that most of them require you to agree to share not only your Facebook data, but your Friends as well! Sorry, Friends, that's why I don't accept your invitations to play online games through Facebook.

Enjoy Facebook with discretion. If you haven't already, go check your Privacy and Account settings. My friends are welcome to contact me for assistance if needed.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Make a Mess - Reap the Benefits

"You know that point in time in the middle of organizing/cleaning during which you have created a bigger mess than you had when you started? I'm there."

That was my Facebook post yesterday. I hate being "there". But it's a place you have to go when you are switching our winter clothes for summer, and cleaning your closet. Invariably, you find things that have been hiding, are stored in the wrong place, or just waiting patiently to be hauled off to Goodwill. This is tedious, time-consuming work - but the results are worth the effort. It would be embarrassing to tell you how many times I've gone into my closet to see how great it looks now. I'm pretty proud of myself.

Yesterday I chatted with a dear friend who shared his disappointment over an inconsiderate action by his spouse. He's fuming and hurt, but hasn't yet told his other half that he's angry. I understand that. You don't want to make too much of something that might blow over. You don't want to be a nag, and stir things up and cause a fuss. But you have to say something. Sometimes you must make a mess to make it better. Letting things fester only makes them worse. My advice to my friend was to get his frustration out in the open and clear it up.

Procrastination is in my genes. To be fair, it's my Haropulos genes. If I can put off something unpleasant, I'll put it off until the last possible second. This has made me a Master of Crisis Management. It's not that I'm proud of it - it's just the way I am. But as I get older...I have less tolerance for the unsettled feeling fomented by unresolved messes. Everything should have its place. Harmony shall reign. It makes me happy and allows me to sleep well at night.

Stir things up and tackle a little mess today. Then take a nap. You'll feel great.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Beyond Reason

"We still do not know who did this or why," said President Obama in his first official statement about the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15th. "But make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this, and we will find out who did this, we'll find out why they did this."

I'm sure the President's statement was meant to convey confidence and provide some semblance of comfort, but it fell flat with me. There is no "why" to discover. Whoever did this despicable deed hates the United States and wants to threaten our collective way of life, our freedom. They want us to suffer. The perpetrators are godless, evil, sub-human creatures, who murdered and maimed innocent people. I believe the authorities will find them, and they will be punished and (in the President's words) "feel the full weight of justice". But the truth is that our civilized Justice system won't allow the punishment to be gruesome enough to fully fit the crime.

I am haunted by this picture of 8-year old victim Martin Richard; a mere child who understood humanity:

Those who choose to do harm will always find a way - guns, bombs, hatchets, ice picks, knives - we can't do away with all the implements that can be used in evil ways. The "why" is beyond reason. Let's pray for Evil to be conquered (in this case, preferably in an Old Testament kind of way involving impressive fire and brimstone) while we protect our loved ones as well as we can. Let's live our lives in a way that allows Faith and Grace to overcome.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Now I Get It

Funny how as you age you begin to understand and appreciate your parents’ perspective on so many things that were lost on you as a youngster. I could take it as a depressing sign that I am getting to be a fuddy-duddy, but I prefer to look at it as hard-earned maturity and wisdom.

SO MANY READING GLASSES:  I don’t know how many pair of readers my dad owned, but they seemed to be everywhere. Now I understand that no matter how many pair you have, and how far and wide you strew them around the house – you can never put your hands on a pair when you need them. Dammit.

A LITTLE RESPECT IS NICE:  My parents belonged to a country club. Dad seemed to get an inordinate amount of pleasure from being greeted by name and called “Sir”. What I failed to appreciate at the time was that being a member of that club meant a lot to my parents – especially my father. They enjoyed their leisure time among friends with similar interests. Dad spent hard-earned money there, and the staff treated him with respect. It made him feel good. Now I get it. We belong to a community club. The bartender knows what I drink. The F & B Director makes sure we get a good table for dinner. We appreciate the service and the recognition we have as active members. (Dad, it does feel really good.)

ROUTINE IS COMFORTING:  We had a few cherished routines in our family, and if any of my siblings read this, they will remember. Saturday night was Burger Night at home. Dad would grill them and give Mom a break in the kitchen. Sunday Night we watched Disney and had popcorn, apple, and ginger ale for dinner. It was nice to know that we would be together on those evenings, sharing a tradition. Although routines have changed for Ron and me over time, with our moves, we value certain constants that add comfort to our lives. Part of our evening routine is that Ron tucks me into bed every night. Sweet.

THE MIDDLE-AGE BATTLE OF THE BULGE:  Once, when I was little, I said to my mother, “Mommy you would be so pretty if you would suck in your tummy.” It made her cry. I was shocked and upset at her reaction, because I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings. If someone said that to me today, I would cry too. I’m still sorry, Mom.

REVEL IN YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  My parents were always proud of their children and their home. The night before my father died, he and Mom talked about what they accomplished together in their married life. Over the years, Ron and I have enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) the fruits of our efforts. It’s good to talk about them and reinforce their importance. They got us to the happy place we’re in today.