Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Here are just a few of the goblins who came to our door tonight. I was so impressed by how polite and fun these kids were. Nice job, parents!

Dan asked the boy on the right, in the photo above, what he was. "A box!" he said.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Just In Time!

This morning it was pretty chilly when I left for work. I went to the coat closet, and realized that the only coat I had was a light-weight summer jacket. That would do for today, but, I thought, I'd better see about buying a warmer coat for this winter.

I stopped at Kohl's on my way home from work. I spent 30 or 40 minutes there, shopping not only for a coat . . . they had baby items on sale too. Need I remind you? We have less than a month left until our new grandbaby arrives. But I did find a nice wool pea coat on sale, and purchased it for myself, as well.

I paid the cashier for my merchandise, and then headed out the door. What a surprise! It was snowing like crazy - great big, fat snowflakes, leaving us with almost no visibility! I got my winter coat just in time.

I tried to take some pictures out the car window, with my cell phone, but they didn't turn out very good. Once I got home, I stood on our patio in the back yard and took this one with my Sony. The flakes were smaller by then, but, as you can see, it was starting to stick.

Most of the snow has melted away already (two hours later), so this wasn't a serious snowfall. But it is early in the year for us to see any snow at all, except up on the mountains.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Autumn vs Winter

In the annual contest between Autumn and Winter, Autumn is taking it on the chin, here in Albuquerque.

Just ten days ago, on a Sunday morning, I was oohing and aahing over the beautiful fall weather. I stepped outside to take a picture of this morning glory, that had crept through the cracks in our fence while, overhead, I watched some balloons drift by.

Yesterday it was feeling enough like winter that I had Dan turn on the pilot light in our gas fireplace. Today I'm really glad that I did, for here is what it looks like outside.

And here is what it looks like inside.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Daring Bakers' October Challenge - French Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. (Recipe HERE)

Growing up in the bakery, I watched my Dad make macaroons, those small mounds of shredded coconut held together with a sweet cookie dough. But this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge was M-A-C-A-R-O-N-S, spelled without the double-“o” and pronounced with a French accent - not to be confused with the double-"o" macaroon. Here’s a silly little YouTube video (click here) that attempts to demonstrate the French pronunciation.

But saying “macaron” is only half of the challenge. The other half is the making. The ingredients are few: almond flour sifted together with powdered sugar and gently folded into a meringue, made from egg whites beaten with a little sugar. Of course flavorings and/or colors can be added, although I kept mine quite plain. It is customary to add food coloring to make the maracons bright colors - deep pinks, greens, blues, yellows.

The macarons are baked at a very low temperature (I kept my oven at 280 degrees), for about 15 minutes. Once they are cool they can be sandwiched together with your favorite ganache, butter cream or jam. I used milk chocolate ganache.

Macarons aren’t really macarons unless they form “feet,” the little ruffled part seen at the base of each of these.

I’m sure Dan thought I had stepped over the edge when he heard me whoop, from the kitchen, “YES! My macarons have FEET!” I found two things to be key in getting macarons to form feet. First, the meringue needs to be whipped to stiff peaks, but not so stiff that it becomes dry. And, secondly, the piped cookies should be left sitting on the cookie sheet for 30-45 minutes before popping them into the oven. This allows a thin shell to form on the cookies before they are baked, and I think that is what forces the feet to form at the bottom.

Macarons are characterized by a thin, smooth crisp shell, with a soft, airy inside. They are very sweet. Even the sweetest tooth is satisfied with a single macaron and a cup of tea, which is what Dan and I enjoyed after dinner. Ooo la la, délicieux!

Friday, October 23, 2009

PLAY - The Icing on the Cake of Retirement

The third "P" needed for a full and rewarding retirement is PLAY.

I couldn't bring myself to write a boring essay about PLAY! I had to have some fun doing it. And I hope you'll have some fun solving this crossword puzzle that I designed, which features some forms of play that I enjoy. If you can't read the numbers or the letters I've added to help you, click on the puzzle to enlarge it. Have fun!

How Linda Plays

7. Where Dan performs his culinary magic when we entertain friends (2 words)
9. The great outdoors
10. People love homemade ones, more than store bought
11. Solve it to see the big picture (2 words)
15. An inexpensive way to travel to Santa Fe for the day
17. A fun number puzzle
18. The "toy" I use to frame someone
19. I love doing this on the web, but not on the ocean
21. A fun and easy day-trip from Albuquerque (2 words)
22. The pause that refreshes
23. Grandma's way of helping Santa Claus

1. It's usually better to read the book before seeing this
2. My no-mess tool for scrapbooking
3. When I have time, I'll make it rhyme
4. My BFF (best friend forever)
5. I'll do it by land, sea and/or air
6. My take-along library of books
7. You have to be one to have one (2 words)
8. This exercises my left brain (2 words)
12. The results of this hobby could be used to make greeting cards or calendars
13. A lunch with Dan and the ants
14. They decorate Albuquerque's October skies (3 words)
16. Sugar and spice and everything nice
20. My favorite young playmates

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Retired with PURPOSE

Life without purpose, no matter one's age, is vain. It is valueless. Empty.

Purpose is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s what gives me hope. It’s what motivates. It’s what drives. It’s what fulfills.

My purpose in life will not change at retirement. When I speak of purpose, I'm not talking about my responsibilities, my short- or long-term goals or my efforts at self-improvement. By "purpose" I mean the very reason I exist; the very reason I am here on this earth. That does not change. Ever.

Solomon and I agree about life's purpose: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

What I anticipate changing, at retirement, is the amount of time I will have to devote to this purpose. Of the three* Ps - poetry, purpose and play - purpose is the selfless P. It forces me to choose how to use my talents, education, resources and experiences to bless other people's lives.

In a later post, I'll take on these practical applications. In other words, I'd like to spend a few minutes thinking about what this purpose-driven life will "look like" when I'm retired.

* Note: I think there are really only three Ps; the fourth, passion, should be a part of each of the other three. How can there be poetry without passion? Play without passion? Or, most importantly, purpose without passion?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The POETRY of Retirement

Annamanila, in the blog that I quoted in my last post, defines poetry as the part of life that ennobles and recharges us. I like that definition. I also like Dylan Thomas' definition, which seems to have a broader application:
"Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing."
Although I'm not necessarily speaking of poetry such as poured from the pens of Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, e.e. Cummings or Emily Dickinson, the fact is that I do love to write. I have gone through periods in life when I wrote and read poetry with passion. I've also enjoyed forays into writing prose - magazine articles, essays and devotional thoughts. Recently, I've been neglecting my writing. I know that I am most successful at and fulfilled by writing when I am being challenged through a class or a group. In retirement I want to rekindle that ember through enrolling in some continuing ed classes or participating in a writers' group. Dan, also, loves to write, so with a common pursuit I see us being great sources of inspiration and encouragement to one another.

What else makes me "laugh or cry"? Reading, of course! Because I often let the urgent tasks crowd out the "poetry" in my life, my reading time is usually limited to a few minutes at the end of the day. I do love a good book! There are books that are so captivating that I dread turning the last page and leaving that world. In retirement maybe I will explore new genres by dipping my toe into biographies and reading more historical fiction. I've never participated in a book club, but maybe . . . just maybe . . . retirement will be a time to try that.

Often, as I'm crossing the Rio Grande on my way to work in the morning, I look down on it just as the sun is beginning to tint the trees with gold. The water, though it is typically a muddy brown in broad daylight, magically reflects the vivid blue of the sky at dawn . I daydream about being down on the riverbank, with my camera, capturing the moment. I hope I don't forget to make time for moments like that once I'm retired.

How can I end a discussion of life's poetry - the part of life that "makes my toenails twinkle" - without mentioning children? I don't know if I'll be able to teach my 2- and 3-year-old Bible class forever, since it is physically wearing on my knees, back and shoulders, even now. But, Lord, no matter how old I get, please let there always be children in my life.

Writing, reading, nature, photography and children - the parts of life that ennoble and recharge me; a little bit of poetry to grace my retirement years

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pondering Retirement

Dan and I have been having some long discussions about retirement, lately. Dan is more optimistic about the financial issues than I am (that’s always been typical of our relationship – a good balance, I think), but we’re both eager for the day to come. Don’t get too excited for us; this isn’t something that’s just around the corner, but we are peering a couple years or so into the future.

The word retirement can evoke greatly divergent emotional responses in different people. For instance, I’ve heard some say, “I don’t ever want to retire. I’d die if I didn’t have my job to get up and go to every morning.”

I also remember the shop owner I worked for in high school. His name was John, and he had been dreaming of retiring, leaving the cold of Alaska and the stress of his business, and returning to his roots in Arkansas. He told me, “For the first year, I’m just going to sit in the rocking chair on my front porch. In the second year I might start rocking.” Sadly, John never got rocking, as he died before his second year of retirement.

Here are some quotations I found as I researched the subject on-line:

“Preparation for old age should begin not later than one’s teens. A life which is empty of purpose until 65 will not suddenly become filled on retirement.” Dwight Moody (American evangelist 1839-1899)

“Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to.” Harry Emerson Fosdick (American clergyman 1878-1969)

And, to quote Ernest Hemmingway (reminiscent, I thought, of Ebenezer Scrooge), “Retirement is the ugliest word in the language.”

I guess the eternal optimist in me wants to think of retirement not as the end of a journey, but as the beginning of a new adventure. This advice, from blogger, annamanila (Ode2Old) sounded spot-on to me:

“What I am trying to say is one still has to fill one’s days with a balanced fare -- enjoyable and dutiful ; fluffy and solid; physical and cerebral. What I call the three Ps: Poetry, Purpose and Play. And, not to forget -- Passion!”
Will I be able to live those three (or is it four) Ps? I think so, but that’s probably something easy to say pre-retirement and difficult to live in retirement. So, I’m sitting down with pen and paper (those of you who know me will realize that I really mean keyboard and monitor) and coming up with ideas for fulfilling the Ps in my life, in retirement. In the next few days I hope to share my thoughts. And, I'd love to hear yours!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Here's LOOKING at You, Kid

At about age 40, my arms started getting too short for reading. I went to the eye doctor and was prescribed some reading glasses. Wow! What a difference. But, before long, I realized how inconvenient it was to have to put on, take off, stash away, find and pull out these glasses, to which I quickly became dependent, every time I wanted to read. So, for the first time, way back in the early '90s, I tried a pair of graduated (progressive) lenses, thinking that leaving those spectacles on my face all day, and looking out of the clear glass for distance and the prescription glass for reading would be just the ticket. Not so! I hated them. Everything I looked at was distorted, I had a hard time walking on a straight path, much less up or down stairs, and I ended up with a crick in my neck whenever I worked at the computer. So it was back to the on-again-off-again reading glasses, for many years.

After we moved to Albuquerque, I thought I'd try progressive lenses again. Maybe the first doctor hadn't fit them properly. For one entire month I wore my new progressive glasses all day, every day. And at the end of the month I set them aside, declaring them another failure, and went back to reading glasses. By this time (after 15 years) I had quite a collection of reading glasses, some stronger than others and some just drugstore readers, but all helpful to some degree. So I kept them all over the house -- a pair by the computer, a pair on my night stand, a pair in the kitchen, a pair on the end table in the family room, a pair at work, and a pair in my purse. And still I would end up looking high and low for some when I needed to read a package label or a coupon expiration date.

Recently I was thrown a new kink. My distance vision was beginning to need correction as well! Oh, my. What to do?!

So, this fall, I bravely decided to try a new approach. I was fitted for monovision contact lenses. (Interestingly, those are what Dan wore for a long time, before his cataract surgeries. He no longer needs any correction.) Monovision means that one eye is fitted with a lens for reading, and the other eye fitted for distance. I was dubious that it would work. First of all, aren't I a little old to start wearing contact lenses? And secondly, would I really be able to touch my eyeball to insert and remove contacts? And could I possible stand to have different focal lengths for each eye?

The first prescription I was given for a two-week trial wasn't quite right. Each eye worked great, independently, but they didn't work together. As I told Dan, my vision was "wonky!" But on Wednesday I went back and the doctor adjusted the prescription in both eyes and, voila! They work perfectly! I'm so happy to put them in in the morning, and be able to drive, read, do computer work and other tasks all day, never having to hunt for a pair of readers.

I'll even be able to read to Sweetpea, without first hunting up some glasses, when I see her next month. YES - next month! Kelsey has invited me to come at the birth of the new baby. She didn't have to ask me twice! These Grandma-eyes will drink in every little wrinkle and dimple on that baby; and all the changes in Sweetpea, since I saw her last, in early February.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

No Hot Air Tonight!

It's the happiest week of the year in Albuquerque - the week of the International Balloon Fiesta. Dan and I have always gone to the first Saturday morning "Mass Ascension," but this year we didn't. Instead I wanted to go to one of the evening "Balloon Glows." Since our church congregation now has an afternoon, rather than an evening, service on Sundays, going to this evening's Glow sounded like a good idea.

I headed to the Park 'n' Ride area quite early. I wanted to get to the field in time to find a good picture-taking spot, get a bite to eat, and watch the sun set. The Balloon Glow event was supposed to start at 5:45 (inflation time, not lift-off), and there were going to be fireworks following the Glow. The bus driver told us that the first bus returning to our Park 'n' Ride area would be at 7:30 p.m.

I bought a hot dog and found a perfect spot eat it, to watch the event and to take pictures.

Then I started noticing how briskly the flags were flapping.

People began flying kites.

I saw the TV news crews packing up their trucks.

And balloon crews leaving the park.

Before long the field was nearly empty.

Wind and hot air balloons are a dangerous mix. The event had been canceled due to the wind. It was still early, about 5:30, and, you might remember, the bus driver had told us that the first returning bus would be at 7:30 p.m. I really didn't want to sit in the wind for two more hours, so I strolled over to the Park 'n' Ride area to see if there was any chance of getting an earlier ride back, due to the Glow cancellation. Unlike me, most of the crowd was staying to shop in the vendor tents and to watch the fireworks show that would start at 8:00. (Typically the wind dies down in Albuquerque once the sun sets, so the fireworks show would probably be a "go.")

I was told to wait in a holding area, and they'd find out what the plans were. A bus showed up, but it was going to the Intel Park 'n' Ride area, not mine, the Sagebrush Church lot. After some discussion between the bus driver and the line attendants, they came to tell me that the Intel bus would take me back to Sagebrush, since there were no Intel riders waiting. I was relieved, and grateful . . . and even humbled when I realized that the only people on that whole big bus would be the driver, a second bus attendant, and me!

I might venture out later in the week for one of the other Glows.

Or maybe not.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Reading Log - August and September 2009

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

What a fantastic book! The story’s main character is Amir, who is only twelve years old in 1975, when the story opens. Amir lives with his wealthy and influential father in a comfortable house in Kabul, Afghanistan. Amir’s constant childhood companion is Hassan, the son of his father’s servant. Hassan and his father live in a small hut in the back yard of Amir’s father’s great house. Despite that fact that Hassan and his father are of the oppressed Hazara class, they are loved by Hassan’s father and considered “family.” The tragic fate of Afghanistan, as it plays out over the next 30 years, is woven into the story of Hassan’s life – a story of personal relationships, family secrets, moral failures, guilt, betrayal, love, hope and redemption. I highly recommend this book.

Nemesis, Agatha Christie

Years ago, when my children were middle-school-age, I did my own Agatha Christie read-a-thon. I read every Christie mystery I could put my hands on at Newberg's public library. Having read what I thought were all of her works, I moved on and never looked back. But as I was browsing for another book to read, recently, I ran across Nemesis. Try as I might, I couldn't remember ever having read it. As I read through this novel, which was a sequel to another one she wrote - one I do remember reading, A Caribbean Mystery - I was reminded of why I devoured her novels back in the late '80s. This particular one featured Miss Marple, one of Christie's recurring mystery-solvers. Miss Marple is an elderly lady who, by all appearances, is a little "dotty," and who spends her free time knitting baby jackets out of fluffy pink yarn. But inside that rather frumpy old body lies a sharp mind with a keen sense of peoples' true character. In this novel, Miss Marple is left both a mission and a sum of money at the death of an old acquaintance. The mission seems impossible in the beginning, but Miss Marple's attention to details and ability to engage anyone in conversation bring this novel, like all of her novels, to a successful, if surprising, close. I find Agatha Christie stories to be fun flights of fancy, as well as a window into a simpler time and place (early twentieth century England). Do I recommend it? Not if it's the only Christie you are going to read; it's not one of her best, in my opinion. But she was, indeed, a talented mystery writer, and I think that at least one or two Agatha Christie detective stories should be on everyone's reading to-do list.

Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents and the Language of Love, Myron Uhlberg

Myron Uhlberg, in this book, writes an autobiographical story of growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s and 1940s, the hearing son of two deaf parents and the elder brother to a child with epilepsy. The book presents insight into the difficulties and abuses suffered by the deaf in those decades. Even as a young child, Myron was thrust into the responsibility of interpreting for his parents. Although he is honest about the resentment he sometimes felt about being in this awkward position, he is also clear about the deep love that held his family together. Each chapter of the book is a vignette told from the perspective of the boy, Myron. It’s a nice blend of pathos and humor, resentment and love, naiveté and umbrage. I have some deaf friends who have two daughters, one of whom is hearing. I’m thinking of recommending this book to them, because of the sensitive way it treats the issue. I’d love to learn about their reaction to the book.

The Weight of Silence, Heather Gudenkauf

This was, for me, a real page-turner. Until the age of four, Cassie was a normal child. But something happened in her world, at that tender age, that left her unable to speak another word. Three years later, Cassie and her best friend, Petra, are involved in another traumatic incident. Although this story, full of suspense and emotion, revolves around this nightmarish event, it is also a testament to the healing power of love.