Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The life of this retiree

My entries have slowed down considerably. There’s a reason for that. I’m retired. And, by retired, I mean busy.

Sure, I read an occasional book. Well, make that seven Steve Hamilton books in eight days. But when I read that many books at once, I feel guilty. And when I feel guilty, I make sure that I clean, prepare meals, call bingo, deliver meals, mow the lawn, and zumba.

Speaking of zumba, I usually attend class three times a week and teach class once a week. On my days off, I zumba at home. Now, I have another zumba possibility in the works—in a city thirty minutes away. And why would I do that?

I’ll be there anyway. I’m signed up for an art class at the Alabama Center for the Arts in Decatur. Offered through Calhoun Community College, art and all other classes are tuition-free (although registration fees are required) for those who are age-challenged and willing to go through the application process (which is easy-peasy; it took them a day to accept me as a student and didn’t cost me anything other than the price of a transcript). The class meets twice a week/five hours a week from Aug. 15 to Dec. 15. I think I’ll be getting my money’s worth since, even with the registration fees, class boils down to less than $1 an hour. I now know that I have a little bit of talent in the arena—mostly drawing faces from photographs—and I want to find out if I can learn the basics so I can become a better artist. On top of that, maybe I’ll unearth a secret talent that will allow me to illustrate my own books.

Because, don’t forget, I occasionally write. Granted, I haven’t written much recently—just a couple of contest entries and some re-writes this summer—but my creativity is just waiting to burst through at any moment. To keep my skill honed, I review children’s books, usually five a month although this month it jumps to ten. I’m not sure why other than the fact that I was anxious to no longer think about the dystopian or nonfiction I was sent.

Besides, I had to get the reviews out of the way to concentrate on my two workshops this week. I need to learn what’s involved in teaching an online course. Athens State University has hired me to teach twenty-five budding teachers on how to connect to their English-as-a-second-language students.

And it’s a good thing it’s online because I won’t have to worry about missing classes when I take a ten-day vacation in September or another week’s vacation in October. And then there are Thanksgiving and Christmas to consider.

A friend asked me recently if I’d like to return to teaching full-time. I thought about it. Really. Who wouldn’t like a steady paycheck coming in for a job they actually like pretty much? On the other hand, who has time to work?

I’m busy.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Wait a Second! (Second Amendment, that is)

After the mass shooting of twenty young children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, I felt certain that we’d make progress as a nation toward stricter gun laws. Certainly, large numbers of people seemed to agree on two things: 1) the need for background checks and 2) limiting a magazine’s capacity.
Unfortunately, there’s been precious little progress. On the plus side, New York acted quickly to become the first US state to tighten gun controls since the school massacre, specifically banning certain kinds of weapons to prevent high-fatality shootings. As of January 15, other states moving toward tighter gun control laws were Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. Washington, D.C. already has strict gun control laws.

On July 1, the Associated Press reported on the status of recently-passed legislation going into effect. Concerning guns, most efforts to pass restrictions in the early part of 2013 faced fierce opposition and failed. At least 18 states, including the states of Texas, Kansas, Arizona, South Dakota, Wyoming, Tennessee, Missouri, and Alabama, my home state, shamefully loosened their gun laws. Kansas approved restrictions favored by the National Rifle Association on the use of state tax dollars to promote or oppose gun control measures or to lobby local, state, or federal officials on the issue. Some of the states passed laws to disregard federal laws (or executive order) and, in fact, aimed toward making it a criminal offense for a federal agent to try and enforce the law in their states. To top that, new laws enabled school employees to carry concealed weapons and ensured that weapons be allowed in more public buildings. Alabama passed a law that now allows loaded guns to be kept in the trunk of the car at their places of employment. How long will it take for an argument to erupt, with the disgruntled employee running to his car to fetch his gun? A lot shorter than the time it would take him to go home—the time spent wisely cooling off.
What prompted this entry was a recent promotion, dubbed the Second Amendment promotion, by The Huntsville Stars, a struggling, minor league baseball team. Anyone showing their NRA membership could get in free. What really bugged me, though, was the give-away promotion, the prizes being three guns. True, the guns would have to be picked up at Larry’s Pistol and Pawn, and that in itself was the height of hypocrisy. Those running the promotion knew guns didn’t belong in a stadium; yet, they promoted giving them away. Get your guns here, folks! No background checks required!

Guns. Beer. Stadium. Opposing sports fans. Ludicrous and dangerous. And not out of the realm of possibility.

Fortunately, though, someone killed the promotion. I’d like to think that a greater, sane segment of the public shot holes in the arrangement, but I read (with dismay) the numerous comments in support. What prompted the cancellation, instead, was the governing body up the ladder recognized this particular controversy wasn’t good business.

Isn't it good business to try to ensure that guns don’t fall into the wrong hands through proper background checks? Isn’t it good business to try to limit the number of people killed by passing legislation that limits the number of rounds a gun can shoot? Isn’t it good business to remind people that guns kept in the house for defense often end up with children shooting other children, or the defenders being shot themselves?

Apparently not. It's more important to keep the NRA happy.

One final word: As I understand it, the Second Amendment reads "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

How can something adopted on December 15, 1791, within a short time of our revolution and occurring at a time of continual turmoil, have any relation at all to bearing arms today?

(Information gleaned from USA Today, The Associated Press, and ABC News articles)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Versatile if not persistent

I was chatting with a friend the other day, and in the course of the conversation; it somehow came up that I had taken horseback lessons way back when. She said, "You sure have taken a lot of lessons!" I always supplied my kids with lots of lessons/classes but hadn't really thought how I'd applied it to myself. This need for extracurricular stimulation started back in elementary with swimming classes and went on from there.

1) Beginning swimming. I was stuck in that class for three summers until I became brave enough to jump in the deep end.
2) Intermediate swimming
3) Advanced swimming classes.
4) Piano lessons for about six months

When I could afford to pay for things myself:
5) Community ed course in Findlay when I was 18--no idea what the course content was.

When I moved to Columbus, exciting choices faced me:
6) Sewing
7) Singing
8) Cooking gourmet foods
9) Ice skating
10) Dancing to African music. (I mentioned before that I had been pointed out as a bad example. Bad, bad teacher!)
11) Ballet
12) Tap (I performed to Top Hat at a luncheon in the OSU grad school.)
13) Modern
14) Jazz
15) Horseback
16) Bowling

When I moved to St. Louis for a short time:
17) Snorkling

When I moved to Springfield, OH for a short time:
18)  Piano
19) A community class with my boyfriend Steve to show him how willing I was to learn about his chosen field of study: architecture. (The only thing I remember about that class is that we discussed Ionic vs Doric columns, and I'm pretty sure I don't know the difference today.)
20) Skiing

When I moved to Madison:
20) Piano again (Did I practice enough? No, I did not.)
21) Tennis (once at UAH, once through private class. Did I ever become good? This is more of a resounding no than the swimming.)
22) Singing again
23) Zumba
24) Drawing (I seem to be finally having some success here despite the fact that I don't practice enough!)

25) Crocheting
26) Writing

So, anyway, I've discovered that I may be curious but not necessarily persistent with the result that some classes were more successful long-term than others. It's not likely that I'll drown in a swimming pool but may not fare so well in an ocean. Seeing as I cry at the drop of a stitch, sewing didn't really work out for me. Tennis lessons  never really took, either. With my teacher, I seemed to be able to keep a steady rhythm going; but playing with Steve was another matter altogether and other forms of exercise that lacked zig-zagging like mad across a hot tennis court made more sense. When I sing better as Marge Simpson than in my real voice, you'll understand why I don't sing in public. On the other hand, I still use my ham and cheese recipe from the gourmet cooking class, I zumba like a crazy Latina, write like I love it, and draw--if not award-worthy--respectably.

Of course, I've probably left something out, but I'm sure it's made me a better person.

Can anyone beat me with their own list of lessons?

Friday, April 26, 2013

I love to see you smile

Hi, Marge speaking. I wanna tell you about my visit to the church Saturday night.

Those Unitarians sure do know their food.  They served up some scrumptious chili. Here in Springfield, we do love our meat, but I gotta say that the vegan and vegetarian gave a little extra oomph to my beehive. And coming from one who’s been called a hottie—ahem, not bragging, just a fact—I know hot. In fact, the supremely hot chili had quite a peculiar effect on me.  The spice pinked up my skin to the point that it completely obliterated my nice, normally yellow hue.

So, anyway, the crowd was so thick that I had to track Homer down with my bullhorn; no one would’ve heard my sweet voice without it. When I asked him if he noticed anything different about me, he had to confess, “Doh!” Men. And when I explained that I wasn’t wearing my green sheath because he spilled beer on it, you know what he had the nerve to say? “Waste of a good beer.”

There I was in my lovely black, glittery, one-shouldered, yard-sale dress with my hair newly styled to the greatest heights of blue perfection, and all he could think about was his beer—well, until he heard mention of a possible wardrobe malfunction. Then he said, “I’ll keep my eyes peeled for that.” There may be hope for him yet.

As I looked over the crowd, I spotted Steve, the guy from Sector 17 who works with Homer. I said, “Nice guy, we should invite him over sometime.” Homer was noncommittal. I’m thinking he was jealous.

I also saw Barbara and Gary Hitt there. They’ve sent me so many fan letters through the years that I’ve papered my bathroom wall with them. (Thanks for your devotion.)

I have to say that I relished the opportunity of singing a love song to Homer. (Click to see video!) The poor man works so hard at the factory, and Bart does so try his nerves. And, needless to say, Homer’s none too fond of Lisa’s low bluesy tunes on her saxophone, either.

“What would I do if I didn’t have you? Oh, I love to see you smile. Mmmmmm, I love to see you smile. 
I mean that sincerely, Homer.”
(And to my real-life Homer: ditto!)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Unclaimed treasures

Have you ever followed through on looking up unclaimed funds? You'll never know what treasures you'll uncover. I got $500 after my sister noticed my  name in an advertised list in her local paper in Ohio. My husband and I received another $700 through the state of Alabama. This took place more than five years ago, so I decided to look again recently. I unearthed some money for my sister-in-law's brother and another possibility for me. The trouble with finding my own name meant that I had to verify the address somehow; I knew I'd lived lots of places in Columbus, Ohio, but couldn't remember if one of the addresses had been on 11th Ave. One of my smart sisters suggested I contact the Columbus Metropolitan Library. A reference librarian, eager to face the challenges a patron offers, no doubt welcomes thorny questions presented in the on-line form. Would someone locate my addresses during the years of 1972-1982? Sure enough, she found five including addresses on 17th, 18th, N. Meadows Blvd., Oakland, and Medary. Throw in the ones I know about on 14th, 15th, and Chittenden, the one in Springfield, and even one in Kirkland, Missouri; but there were more in Columbus. I'd moved so many times from 1969-1981 that the City Directory couldn't keep up. None of them showed 11th so I remain out of luck unclaimed-funding-wise.
But having this information at hand prompted the following memories:
1969 Summer: I lived in a one-bedroom basement apartment with my sister, who was then Alice, in Cleveland Heights and worked for the temp agency, Kelley Girls.
1969 Fall: I lived in one of my sister Jeanne’s one-bedroom apartments in Findlay and then a trailer with a friend. I worked for Marathon Oil, starting in the mail department and advancing to the typing pool. When I went one step beyond to the steno pool, I quit before I got fired. (There were two documented instances of giggling when taking transcription from two good-looking 30 year olds.)
1970 Winter/Spring: I lived above Spayth’s Paints right in front of Marathon Oil. I could walk down my back steps, cross the alley, and enter work. It was a one-bedroom/2 beds, LR, very small kitchen with hot plate, bathroom with sink and toilet but had to share hall bath with old ladies ($75 a month). During lunch, I either went shopping on Main Street, walked to the library, or went home to read.
1970 Fall: Lincoln Tower, OSU (dropped out mid-spring quarter). While a student, I worked at Burger King.
1971 for 6 weeks: I lived above Ducky’s Flower Shop in North Baltimore with Ducky’s daughter Pam. I worked at Ducky’s for those six weeks until I found a job at the Republican Courier.
1971 remaining: I lived on my parents’ farm until returning to a Columbus apartment in Fall 1972 and starting work for $2.87/hour ($1 more than I’d been making at the Republican Courier (in classifieds). I found a first-floor apartment--who knows where?--that I only vaguely remember; the only distinguishing characteristic is that I shared a hallway phone.
1972: I first worked as a bookkeeper at OSU, no telling which department, getting the job partly because of my high typing score (105 words per minute with no mistakes) and my 10-key calculator speed of 212 characters per minute. Picture the Mad Men advertising floor on a much smaller scale and without the men. I quit and moved to the Educational Administration Department because the majority of women picked on someone—I can’t remember the reason—and it disgusted me. (The oddest things stick out in my mind: I remember going through a phase of eating three Jonathan apples a day while they were in season.)
I then worked at the Educational Administration Department as a secretary with Dr. Lonnie something-or-other) and a young secretary named Linda. Even though she was just a little older than me, she thought I was going way too far with my mini-skirts (which brings to mind the vinyl dress boots I wore one snowy day at which time I fell down and broke my elbow—had to look good in that mini-skirt, though). I moved to get away from a witch; unfortunately, I met up with her in a different department. That's the trouble with everyone being free to move around!
I don’t remember my address that year, but I had moved to a place that only took me 20 minutes to jump out of bed, comb my hair, and speed-walk to work. During the next few years, I continued to jump ship, both apartment-wise and work-wise. I think I’m missing a department here, but then I moved to the English Department at which time I started taking ballet lessons. I added tap-dancing and jazz to my ballet lessons.
I eventually moved to the Dean of the Graduate School’s office where I worked with Rose and Nancy. I remember Rose as being sedate but Nancy had quite a sailor’s mouth on her. She was in charge of purchasing supplies and would order things like dental tools to clean her own teeth; she also had the remarkable skill of buying a dress, studying how it was put together without taking it apart, returning it, and sewing one just like it.
While working at the Graduate School, I performed for a lunch-time bridal shower by tap-dancing to the song Top Hat. My dance teacher was in love with a young priest; I don’t think anything came of it, but she sure was pining for him.

At this point, I quit work altogether for a summer and took or helped with dance classes every day, hoping to convince myself I was capable of becoming a dance teacher. No go, so I returned to OSU. Once again, I’m not sure about the sequence of things, but I eventually went to work at the OSU Law School. It was located next to one of the student unions where we’d go bowling at lunch time.
After working at OSU for a few years and going to school much of that time for free, I had saved enough to take a 4-week trip to England and Europe. No one wanted to go with me so I went by myself. Of course, I quit whatever job I was working on at the time.
When I returned early to an overzealous boyfriend who claimed he wanted to marry me, I soon found out it wasn’t going to work and spent the rest of my savings on court reporting classes, first at Meramec Community College in St. Louis, then returning to Bliss College in Columbus, and finally ending up in Springfield at Clark Tech. Obviously, I didn’t make a go of it then either, but I experienced a life-changing event—I met a handsome, interesting carpenter who happened to be renting out Suite 101 at 806 S. Fountain in the house that he and two other  young men owned. He eventually became my husband. This was Fall 1978.
Because Steve was returning to OSU Grad School to study architecture and because I was simultaneously forced to take a break from court reporting school because I couldn’t get up my speed—can you tell me how a mandatory break is going to help increase speed?!—I got a transcribing desk job at Runfola’s Court Reporting Service in German Village. (Thirty-three years later, I'm still friends with a court reporter, Becky, I met at the time.) I moved to a one-bedroom apartment on 14th by alleys to both the right and back sides, snuggling up to the railroad tracks and beside the Ohio State Fairgrounds. (One summer day, I had opened the door, leaving the screen door in place. I was practicing my stenography when I got up to go into the other room; when I returned my tape recorder was missing.)
When I finally quit obsessing about court reporting, I finished up my final year and a half with OSU at the Human Performance Center, housed in the stadium. My son was born in February 1983 and I received vacation/sick leave until I officially quit two months later.
Two bad I couldn’t stick it out a few more months; back then, the amount of time it took to become vested was eight years, and I was just a few months shy. Of course, being the financial idiot I was at the time, I'm sure I would’ve taken the money and run regardless. As it stands, I just received notification that I have $12.95 in my retirement account with the State of Ohio. It will take a Notary’s signature to transfer it to an IRA to avoid a penalty.
No unclaimed funds for me, any way you look at it . . . but a fund of memories lasts longer anyway.

Monday, March 18, 2013

I never tire of telling people that they're not too old to learn new tricks. I personally change my view of what's possible as often as I've change my hair styles.


By trying new things as I get older, I find that I'm able to do more than I ever thought possible.

Maybe the previously unearthed talent of Spanish acquisition was only meant to be discovered for the time I needed to act on it; I wanted a job, taught myself Spanish, went after certification in the language, and got a position within the field. A few years later, I can barely remember whether I'm married to an esposo or an esposa. I can only imagine that Zumba will have a similar shelf line. Do I want to Zumba forever? Yes. Will I be able to? I have to think that I'm successfully building up my muscles and bones; but, seriously, the jury's still out.

Perhaps longer lasting will be my latest interest; it involves my hands rather than my feet. While I've enjoyed writing on and off through the years, I never felt the least bit artistic. I tried it once about thirty years ago when I drew illustrations to accompany my first picture book; they weren't terrible but showed no real talent. I only tried a very few times to draw after that, only to find that I didn't have it in me to draw a straight line or a circular circle. Faces? Ridiculous! Bodies? Stick figures only. From then on, I stuck with doing things I knew I could do, and that sure as heck didn't involve picking up a 5B pencil.

When I started writing picture books in more recent years, with an initial first-place win followed by one published book (albeit, by a nonprofit segment of an insurance company), I hoped the publishing world would clamor for more; instead, I've amassed dozens of rejections. Not one to go after the seemingly impossible for too long, I began to examine what might make a better impression on editors. Author illustrators seem to strike a chord, so I decided to search for that single artistic bone within me. Maybe I just needed a goal.

Anyway, I took a 4-day, 2-hour drawing workshop with Nancy Darrell in NC last fall and loved it. But the action of taking pencil to paper from that moment on still didn't grab me; it wasn't something I felt compelled to do. I've figured out since that I just needed time for the idea to percolate--much like English language learners need time to process before speaking. After the new year, I talked some friends into joining me for art classes at my house. Ashley Kellow, art teacher extraordinaire, teaches us the value of shading, measuring, and believing in ourselves. Andrew Loomis's Drawing the Head & Hands has become my bible.

So now, after finally dipping my toes in the artistic pond of black and white drawings, I want to soak myself up to the neck. So far I've copied a few photos; I've even used myself and my husband as live models. (And if I look younger and prettier than I really am, I claim poetic license.) I hope to eventually achieve success through what I call bringing to fruition the 3 M's (Model, Memory, and 'Magination). So far, my memory and 'magination only calls to mind another M (Miserable). But never you mind. If I were younger, I'd probably be embarrassed to share my work, but these days, that's half the fun of drawing.

So try something new yourself; you'll just never know what you're capable of until you do.

Monday, February 25, 2013

An insider's view of Chattanooga (sorta, kinda)

My familiarity with Chattanooga spans three decades. What first attracted us was white water rafting on the Ocoee, an experience that, while thrilling my friends and husband, left me convinced I would never raft again. (Let me just say that hypothermia and I aren’t strangers.) I was too sick to appreciate our lovely private cabin at the Chanticleer Inn on Lookout Mountain.

The next time we visited Chattanooga found us at the Tennessee Aquarium shortly after it opened. Hailed as the largest fresh water aquarium in the nation in 1992, it attracted droves of tourists. And, to think, it took a bunch of students to realize its potential.

Yes, eager, forward-thinking, idealistic college students. From the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the architectural students can claim the pride of ownership of the idea for the aquarium. Their well-conceived design, along with proposals from a publicly-appointed citizens’ group, formed the “Tennessee Riverpark Master Plan.” The twenty-year plan called for $750 million of mixed-use development, enhancement, and conservation along 22 miles of the Tennessee River corridor through Chattanooga.

It just goes to show you that when people band together for a common good, positive things can happen.

The transformation began in 1984. Between my first and second visits to Chattanooga, revitalization had dug in its heels. Once labeled as “the dirtiest city in America” during a 1969 CBS newscast by Walter Cronkite, Chattanooga was no longer the recession-plagued industrial city it once was. In fact, it positively shined. Following the building of the Aquarium came the Chattanooga Visitors Center, the Creative Discovery Museum, the IMAX 3D Theater, and a remarkable pedestrian-only bridge, the renovated Walnut Street Bridge. Across the river, Coolidge Park, featuring a vintage carousel, opened, spawning increased retail activity. “And on the south end of town, the convention center was expanded a block away from a new conference center and hotel. Private enterprise was rekindled, too, with at least a hundred eateries, shops and other businesses sprouting up to support the influx of downtown visitors” (from a Tennessee Aquarium Press Kit).

Through the nineties, Chattanooga was featured in U.S. News and World Report and Parade. It was found to be one of the most enlightened cities in America (Utne Reader), one of the top 10 family vacation destinations (Family Fun), one of the world’s great cities (NPR’s Morning Edition), one of the country’s best places to live, work and play (Outside), and one of America’s most walkable cities (Walking).

From 2001-2007, my husband and I often stopped in Chattanooga on our way to and from Clemson University. Always looking for a good place to eat, we were never disappointed. Thanks to my husband’s generous Christmas present to me, we were able to take advantage this past weekend to once again sample all Chattanooga has to offer.

Steve made a reservation at the Mayor’s Mansion Inn. Built in 1889, the historical house did not disappoint. The room was lovely, the service fantastic, and the breakfasts superb: fruit cup, 3-cheese quiche, asparagus, potato medallions, and a blond brownie one day; ricotta cake, stuffed French toast, bacon, and honeyed-cinnamon fruit the next. Oh, my. I’m nearly drooling just thinking about it.

On Friday evening, we first went to the Big River Restaurant. Since the line was too long, we decided to make reservations for the next evening and went on to eat at Sticky Fingers. Having eaten there before, we knew what to expect: scrumptious BBQ and lots of it. (For just a couple of dollars more, we decided to share a three-meat platter: pork, chicken, and an introduction to beef brisket. Delightful!)

The next day, we took a walk through UTC and witnessed lots of construction but very few students at 9:00 a.m. Afterwards, we visited the Chickamauga Battlefield, stopping at the Visitor’s Center to see the museum and movie and then taking a driving tour through the battlegrounds. (In case you don’t know, Chattanooga, TN and Chickamauga, GA are places rich in Civil War history.) We ate lunch at Bluewater Grille and found the restaurant to have the best fish tacos ever, and the lobster bisque isn’t shabby, either! Since we had to work off breakfast and lunch, we then took the Incline up to Lookout Mountain and walked there for the next hour and a half, gawking at the huge mansions with their breath-taking views.

That evening found us at the Big River Restaurant. The food there was also delish (but, to my ears, the music a tad loud, making conversation difficult). Steve had gotten tickets for A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (adapted by a local playwright) so we went to the Chattanooga Theatre Centre across the river. (Beware adaptations by local playwrights. Ack! Poor Ibsen must have been rolling in his grave.  But, unlike most plays, this one got us to talking about it quite a bit—mostly with lead-ins, like “Can you believe . . . ?” and “What was he thinking when . . . ?” Unlike the vicious critic within me, the local reviewer was exceedingly kind.)

After the astounding breakfast the next day, we set out on foot for the Riverwalk. First walking away from downtown, we covered an hour in one direction. The lovely path with several gazebos and benches took us past the rowing house (with which we were familiar as our son was a member of the Rocket City Rowers). When we eventually turned around, we walked to downtown where we, once again, found a great restaurant, 212 Market Street. It was unfortunate, indeed, that our waiter was an older gentleman who didn’t quite know how to wait tables; instead of saying “Excuse me,” he poked my husband with his plate of food when Steve didn’t immediately become aware of his presence.

With protesting feet but fulfilled appetites, we began our return home to pick up the car.

What a lovely way to spend a weekend.