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February 2, 2009

Reflections on Life Changes

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Kathy, Kelly and Charley (December 2008). Kelly is now 15 years old.

I thought I would write about my life and career today and how it has changed since we went on our long trip in 2004-2005. Part of this is an unposted piece I wrote for my blog about a year ago.

It has been almost 3-1/2 years since our family returned from our 14 month "Grand Tour of Europe." Our family's life has settled into a new and very different pattern from the way we lived before the trip, especially for me. For 27 years I had responsible corporate jobs, leaving early in the morning and getting home just in time for dinner at 7 pm or occasionally later. I worked on weekends a lot, and my work involved overnight travel a couple times a month, in the last few years to not-so-interesting places. I had three weeks of vacation a year, and I worried about work part of the time I was away. I made pretty good money-- and was good at spending it too.

Our long trip was a good way for me to make a break from the company where I'd worked for ten years. But I thought when we got home, I'd look for a similar job as another company's head of Human Resources, probably here in Knoxville. This wasn't something I worried about while we were away. I had decided I didn't want to think about my career very much at all while we were in Europe. I wanted to focus on enjoying that experience-- not work on my resume, look at on-line job postings, and network with possible contacts. We had enough money that I could take six months when we got home to figure out my next career step. I was actually pretty excited about the idea of having time off at home. Other than my eight-week maternity leave (when I did work part time), I'd never just been at home without a job.

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February 3, 2009

A Friend Visits from France

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Sophie and Kelly at dinner tonight

Our friend Sophie arrived today to spend several days with us. Sophie is the assistant manager of the B&B where we stay in Provence and has become a very good friend. Last spring she invited us to be her guests and stay in an apartment on the lower level of her parents farmhouse in Bonnieux, and biw we are happy to have her as our guest. Sophie speaks English fluently after living in Glasgow for a few years when she was younger. She loves visiting America.

On this month-long trip she's seeing a lot of our country, mostly visiting with American friends she's met through the B&B. Before coming to see us, she stayed with a friend in Princeton, New Jersey. During that time, she went into New York City on her own for four nights. (She found a budget accommodation near Penn Station where she paid only $200 total for the four nights!) She spent yesterday in Philadelphia before flying from there this morning. After leaving us, she'll fly to Chicago and take a bus to Buffalo and Niagra Falls (apparently a place she's always wanted to see), and from there will fly to Santa Fe to stay with another friend. She got a wonderful fare for all these flights in the USA.

I drove to Chattanooga this morning to pick Sophie up at the airport there. Originally she planned to take a Greyhound bus from New Jersey to Knoxville, an idea that had us a little concerned. The airfare to Knoxville was just very expensive. I posted about this on Slow Travel, and got some great input as usual and some other ideas for her travel. It turned out that a ticket to Chattanooga (an hour and a half away) was much cheaper, and we told Sophie that we would pick her up there. It is an easy drive down I-75 to Chattanooga. I've never been to the Chattanooga airport before, but it's north of the city, five minutes off the interstate, a small airport with parking just outside the door. Her flight from Charlotte was ten minutes early and Sophie was already at the top of the stairs as I was getting off the escalator. Her bag arrived in baggage claim in maybe five minutes. I didn't even have to pay for parking, since my car was in the parking lot for less than 15 minutes.

Continue reading "A Friend Visits from France" »

February 4, 2009

Snow Days!

We have had a little excitement in Knoxville this week-- snow!

It doesn't take much snow to create excitement here. In 1993, while I was pregnant with Kelly, we had about 14 inches of snow in mid-March. We already had tulips blooming in our yard! Now that was exciting-- a blizzard! But most years it doesn't snow at all. We've never had enough snow here for Kelly to build a snowman. Most people don't know how to drive in snow. They stock up on bread and milk, stay out of work, and hunker down at home. People here don't own snow tires or chains, snow shovels or sleds. The city doesn't have much snow removing equipment and can really only take care of the main roads. It's also very hilly here, with lots of small shady back roads, where snow doesn't melt quickly.

Half-an-inch of snow can shut the city down for several days... which has what happened this week.

Monday started normally. Kelly went off to school and I was getting organized to leave for the university. Then it started to snow, actually quite hard. The University of Tennessee is one of those places that never closes, so I headed off in the snow to prepare for my morning class. Kelly's school was closed mid-morning and Charley brought her home for the rest of the day. A snow day! Every kid's dream. It snowed until mid-afternoon, and maybe we had an inch of snow on the ground, not much on the roads. I got about 15 messages from students asking if I was cancelling my afternoon and night class or telling me they couldn't make it to campus. About 20 of the 40 students missed my 3:40 class, and about ten students missed the 5:45 pm class.

Kelly watched the television all Monday night, hoping for the announcement that her school would be cancelled again on Tuesday. Most of the schools in the area made their announcement on Monday night, but her school (a private school) didn't decide until early Tuesday. Lucky Kelly got to sleep in. The main issue on Tuesday was ice. This was the day I drove to Chattanooga. There was some ice in our neighborhood, but all the rest of the roads were cleared. It seemed funny that schools would be closed.

Amazingly, most of the schools in the area (including our country public schools) were closed again today. No more snow, but it is very cold with a major wind chill. I guess the buses can't get back into the more rural areas of the county, where ice continues to be a problem. Kelly's school was not cancelled. She likes school, but she reported that no one at school wanted to be there today. "It isn't fair that everyone else got off and we didn't."

I wish I had a photo to post, but there really isn't enough snow to show!

February 5, 2009

Our House (in the snow!)

I did run outside this morning to take a photo of our house in the snow. This looks like we had a LOT of snow in Knoxville, but the front of our house is in the shade in the winter for most of the day, and it takes a long time for any snow to melt! We seem to have more snow in our little neighborhood than any other area around! It is supposed to be sunny and in the 60's this weekend.

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We live in a condominium development of attached homes in West Knoxville. There are 46 homes arranged around two sweeping cul-de-sacs with a "glen" in between the two ends of the development. We share a swimming pool. There are lots of very mature trees, and in the summertime when the leaves fill in, you almost feel like you're living in the mountains. Our house backs onto the glen, and in the summer we can't see the houses on the other side. It's almost like living in a little European village.

I was an original homeowner here in 1987. I bought a brand new unit when I was single (32 years old). In 1992 Charley and I got married and he moved in with me. Then we had Kelly in 1993. The house that had seemed too large for a single woman with two dogs (1850 square feet) all of a sudden seemed too small. In 1994 we bought a house right across the street! It's actually the same basic floor plan (slightly modified) but with an above-ground basement and 1000 square feet more than my other house. Later Charley turned the screened-in porch into a new room, a small family room where we read and watch tv and movies together. Our house has a huge great room, three really big bedrooms, three full baths, and Charley and I each have an office. I'm not all that crazy about West Knoxville-suburbia, but I like our little neighborhood and I love our home. We also have nice neighbors, several of whom have also been here since the beginning.

We are also less than two minutes from Kelly's school-- an enormous plus for us. And our house is almost paid for!

February 6, 2009

A Dinner Party for Sophie

It is after midnight, but I'm determined to post before I go to bed. I don't want to get behind on my February blogging commitment.

Today was Sophie's last day with us in Knoxville. Tomorrow we are driving to Nashville and staying overnight there. We have tickets to the Grand Ole Opry tomorrow night. We'll have most of Sunday to explore Nashville, and we'll drop Sophie at the Nashville airport on our way back to Knoxville Sunday evening.

Tonight we had a dinner party in Sophie's honor. I invited four couples from Knoxville who have been on our trips the last couple of years and stayed at Le Clos du Buis, the B&B where Sophie works. Two of the couples had been together the same week on our trip, though they didn't know each other before the trip. The other two couples were with us at different times. Sophie has met so many guests at the B&B, she wasn't totally sure if she remembered any of the people. But of course to them she was a big part of their vacation memories.

Despite the fact that most of the people didn't know each other, the group was amazingly compatible! I think that people who enjoy travel end up having a lot of other similar interests. Everyone arrived at 6:30 pm, and left about 11:15 pm. I don't think anyone realized that it was that late! Perhaps they wouldn't have left even then, but Kelly was at a friends house and called to check on when we could pick her up. All of a sudden everyone realized how late it was and took about ten minutes to say final goodbyes.

Here was my menu:

Appetizers: Smoked salmon with crackers, capers, onions, eggs, mustard, dill spread. Alouette cheese spread. Little cheese crackers from France. Marsha brought crabmeat appetizers.

Salad: Dorothy brought a really good spinach salad with mandarin oranges.

Main course: Beef burgundy with mushrooms and carrots. Wild rice. French bread.

Dessert: Chocolate mousse cheesecake garnished with strawberries. Coffee.

The beef burgundy cooked in the oven at a very low temperature for over four hours. The recipe that our family loves is a bit of a "semi-home-made" dish, as is the chocolate mousse cheesecake. I do love to cook, but I also believe in shortcuts.

Several people brought wine, and Charley said we drank six bottles of wine. Sophie doesn't drink wine (!!), and I didn't drink much tonight.

I started cooking at 2:00 pm. (We went to downtown Knoxville to look around, do a little shopping, and have lunch.) Sophie helped me set the table. I used my Provencal dishes, and it really looked nice. I forgot to take photos of my beef burgundy or my dessert, the beautiful table, or the whole group. I don't usually take photos at home like I do when we're traveling, and I was just too busy with the meals and visiting with our friends. (I did take a couple pictures of the group after dinner, but I just looked at them and they aren't good enough to post.)

Two couples brought photo albums of their trips to France. It was fun to see how people photographed the week differently. Everyone really seems to have such positive memories of their trips, and that's a very rewarding feeling for me.

Sophie helped with the some of the clean-up and Charley has the dishwasher going. With eleven people and several courses, we used a LOT of dishes, glasses, and silverware. I normally handle the cooking and he takes care of clean-up-- I'm relieved not to have to do much with the clean-up this time. Charley said he'll finish cleaning up tomorrow morning. We plan to leave for Nashville at 10:30 am.

February 11, 2009

Some Observations after Sophie's Visit

Sophie is now visiting another friend in Santa Fe, and maybe even reading this blog! We really enjoyed having her visit. She was an easy houseguest who joined our family very comfortably, and she was very interested in experiencing our part of America. She loves to come to America and we love to go to France!

Sophie was really the first foreign friend who has come to visit us. I found myself looking at our way of life, our surroundings, and customs from a different perspective, trying to explain them, wondering how she was responding to them. Some things made me very proud and some made me very embarrassed. Here are some of my observations:

- Despite our current economic problems, most of us in the USA really do have a lot: big houses, cars, appliances, electronics, closets full of clothes, music, books, etc.

- Restaurants serve really big portions.

- There are lots of overweight people here.

- Eating out is really pretty inexpensive, especially compared to France.

- People here are mostly very warm and friendly, especially welcoming to a foreigner. Casual conversation is very easy.

- Knoxville, Nashville and Tennessee are interesting places that have played important roles in history.

- Pat Head Summit is one of the most amazing women in America.

- If you live in Knoxville, you must own several pieces of bright orange clothing.

- American teenagers are attached to their cell phones, mainly for text messaging.

- It is great that you can now watch television episodes on your laptop computer.

- There are really way too many mobile homes, and many of them aren't well maintained.

- There are too many billboards on the interstate that really do detract from the natural beauty of this area.

- We have many more big stores, restaurants, fast food places, gas stations, movie theaters than we could ever possibly need. (Not that I'm wanting any more to close...)

- Businesses, shopping centers, subdivisions, parking lots etc. have taken over what was once very scenic countryside. Our beautiful vistas seem to be disappearing.

- The old wooden barns weren't built to last. It seems like most of them are falling down, and no one seems to care.

- There are an awful lot of commercials on television for pharmaceutical products, including some that seem very personal.

- The ads for car dealerships, with the shouting salesmen, don't make you want to buy a car.

- Some people from East Tennessee have accents that really are hard to understand, and some words we use here don't seem to be English.

- It's nice to have two very different places that feel like home.

February 12, 2009

Lunch with Two Travelers

Last week I got an e-mail from a former student Jay who graduated in December. His roommate Bret, also a December grad, was a student of mine too. I liked both of these young men very much, and I knew they were planning a trip to Europe soon. Jay wrote to invite me to lunch so they could talk with me about their travel plans and get my input. I jumped at the opportunity to talk travel with two young travelers heading off on their first big adventure.

Jay and Bret are leaving in two weeks and will be in Europe for 11 weeks. They have been friends for eight years and said they have been talking about this trip since high school. Neither of them took a "real' job right after graduation, since they knew they were leaving soon on this trip. So they've had lots of time to dream and plan, and they have a somewhat amazing itinerary... definitely not a Slow Travel plan!

They have Eurail passes and will carry backpacks and stay in hostels. They even hope to do some "couchsurfing," an interesting approach to free/low-cost travel. Their trip begins in London and ends in Cairo. Here are at least some of the places that they'll visit in between, at least those I can remember:

Dublin, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Paris, the Normandy beaches, Mont St. Michel, Barcelona, Nice, Interlaken, Lucerne, Munich, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Vienna, Zagreb, Prague, Rome, Florence, Venice... I know there were some other Eastern European cities, and maybe another place or two in Italy. I have probably forgotten a third of the places.. It was an amazing itinerary really-- well planned out. They have done some very good research. Most places they will stay just two or three days (four or five is the longest), and sometimes they will sleep on night trains. They want to rent a car for a few days in Ireland and also in northern France. I was pleased that many of the places they want to visit are places that I love.

They are hoping to do the 11 week trip for about $7500 each. It helps that they have Buddy Passes from a friend who works for Delta, so their airfare to/from Europe is minimal. They are going to take a few intra-European flights.

We talked about their itinerary and I offered a few suggestions. And we talked about some of the practicalities of traveling in Europe. These are two bright young guys with lots of interests. They are so excited about seeing all these wonderful places they've read about. I know this will be only the beginning of their love affair with Europe.

I wanted to do a trip like this after high school, but I didn't have anyone to travel with. (This was back when you could do Europe on $5 a day.) I remember writing away to all the Tourist Offices and all the exciting information I got back. I started a European Trip Fund, but I didn't end up going when I was 17 or 18... I didn't make that first trip until I was 35, and I never did a Eurail/hostel/backpacking trip. It was fun today to share in the excitement of two young people heading off on a trip like that. They'll be keeping a blog and I'll be following along.

February 13, 2009

I like Asian food-- but Charley doesn't!

We are just back from dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Knoxville, the Stir Fry Cafe. This is a small chain of contemporary restaurants that started here a few years ago and is expanding to nearby cities. They offer Chinese and Thai food and also sushi. My "Cookie Day friends" and I meet at Stir Fry occasionally for drinks or dinner or sometimes I'll meet a friend there for lunch. I could eat at the Stir Fry Cafe every week or two.

The problem is that Charley does not like it! Actually, he doesn't really like Chinese food or any kind of Asian food. I'm not really sure what the problem is. I used to think he didn't like "slimy" sorts of food, but I think he just doesn't care for the flavors or the mixing of the various ingredients. He does like egg rolls.

Tonight, though, we ended up at Stir Fry sort of by default. Both Kelly and I wanted to go, and it's tough in that situation for the third person to veto the choice. Kelly had gone shopping with a friend, and they met us at the restaurant. Her friend Becka is going to spend a few weeks in Europe this summer, so we thought it would be good for Becka to spend a little time with us. So Charley and I were there at Stir Fry early and had a good 10 minutes or so to peruse the menu.

I didn't even need to look. I knew I wanted potstickers (Charley does like these) and the spicy noodles, with chicken and shrimp. Charley studied the menu in detail. We even talked to the waitress and asked about dishes we saw at a few other tables. Finally he decided on pepper steak. Kelly had won ton soup and chicken with snow peas, and Becka had General Tso's chicken.

Charley didn't like his meal. He picked and poked at the brown rice and pepper steak stir fry, but he probably didn't eat half. He didn't care for Kelly's dish and even asked to try Becka's and didn't like hers either. I know he didn't get enough to eat, and he'll probably have a bowl of cereal later on tonight. This isn't a cheap little Asian place either (our bill was $70 for the four of us), so I hate that he didn't have a good meal.

I don't think I'll ask Charley to go to Stir Fry again. We don't eat out as much as we used to, and with so many restaurants to choose from, it doesn't make sense to go to a restaurant or for a type of cuisine that one of the three of us doesn't care for. I love it and I was very happy with my meal tonight, but there's no need to prod him into eating there.

Kelly suggested that maybe our family stay away from Asian food and focus on Mexican, which we all do like (though sometimes it doesn't like me). I'll try to use Stir Fry for my girlfriend dinners or lunches or a mother-daughter meal with Kelly.

February 16, 2009

The Letter "N"

I saw a post on Kim's blog (the letter "R") that she got from Girasoli's blog (the letter "G"), which came from someone else's blog. I thought it was very neat and ended up asking Girasoli to assign me a letter. I got the letter "N." I was relieved it wasn't "Z" or "X" but initially I was taken aback by my "N." For some reason I couldn't think of anything that started with "N," much less something important to me. I started Googling around, looking at dictionaries, lists of various things, and soon I had a list of 44 things that all were possible contenders for 10 things I love that start with an "N." Then my challenge became to narrow down to only 10! I had 15 finalists and then let it sit for a few days. Tonight it was suddenly easier to chose the 10.

Drum roll!

1. Nicolette This one is easy. Nicolette is the fourth member of our family, the sweet little black cat who has been with our family now for three years. We got her at the animal shelter; she has a French name, but this is the name she was given at the shelter. Nicky is the first cat I've ever had (I've always been a dog person), and I can't imagine a better cat. Here she is sitting among the presents under the Christmas tree.

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2. Nativity scenes. I love Christmas decorations and I'm sentimental about them. We have two important ones in our living room at Christmas, both of which are special to me. The first is an elaborate set of Fontanini, a collectible that originated in Tuscany. We must have at least 50 figures (plus animals), and a couple of buildings and all sorts of accessories. Our second nativity set is from Provence: a handmade creche and handpainted santons ("little saints") that we started collecting when we lived there. I add another santon or two to our collection every year.

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3. NCIS. This is our family's new favorite show. We are honestly addicted. In fact, Kelly and I are watching a re-run at this very minute. My favorite character? Well I love Gibbs, but also DiNuzzo, McGee, Ducky, Abby, Ziva... all of them actually.

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4. Nephew and Nieces. I have one nephew and four nieces... all very special young people. We enjoy getting together with my family and I'm happy Kelly has grown up knowing her cousins. Here is the group with my dad at his 75th birthday celebration this past summer.

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5. Newspapers. I read the local newspaper every morning while I drink my coffee. I love newspapers-- real newspapers! I do a case study on the newspaper industry in my business strategy class and the last two semesters I've taken my students on a field trip to our local paper. I feel sad about what's happening to newspapers-- how many will there be 10 years from now?

6. Napkins. I love a beautifully-set table, and the napkins are important. I have lots of cloth napkins, and Kelly knows how to fold them special ways. I also like to buy nice paper napkins. I usually bring several packages of paper napkins home from France.

7. North Carolina . I think this is my favorite US state. We've vacationed in North Carolina a lot, on the Outer Banks and also in the mountains not far from where we live. I love Asheville and the little towns and villages in the western mountains: Brevard, Cashiers, Highlands, Bryson City, Blowing Rock, Hendersonville. I'd really like to retire to one of these towns.

8. Netflix. I truly do love Netflix! We enjoy watching movies as a family and Netflix works really well for us. Right now I have 148 movies in my queue. I use a Harvard case on Netflix in my strategy class, and I love teaching this session. Here is an interesting fact from the Netflix website: "If you stacked every movie Netflix ships (on average, 2 million DVDs a day) in a single pile, the stack would be taller than Mt. Everest within a week."

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9. Neuschwanstein Castle. My parents lived near this famous castle in the Bavarian Alps when I was born, so I grew up knowing about the incredible castles of King Ludwig II. It was such a thrill the first time I visited the castle (though quite a hike up the hill to get there before closing time), and I've been back now three or four times. The view of the castle from the Marienbrucke (seen below in April 2005) is so spectacular.

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10. Nyons olives (and Salade Nicoise). I wanted to have something I love from Provence, and there really aren't many things that start with "N." (If someone thinks of others, let me know!) But I do love these wonderful olives from the Drôme, and I also love a Salade Nicoise in a hot summer day. We visited Nyons for the first time last March.

Other contenders for my "N" list: Neighborhood and neighbors, Notting Hill (the place and the Hugh Grant movie), Nashville, novels, nuts (especially cashews), noodles (spicy noodles from the Stir Fry Cafe), nature, Nova Scotia, nachos, New York City, notecards, and the Nutcracker Suite.

I also thought of several things that start with "N" that I definitely do NOT like. Here are a few: the NRA, negative and narrow-minded people, Nazis, the movie "Night of the Living Dead," and nail polish in colors like blue, green and black.

February 18, 2009

The Cookie Day Girls

I was very interested in Marcia's post yesterday about her group of friends. Marcia's group went all the way back to grade school, which I think is so great. Friends for almost 50 years! I also liked Jan's recent post about her book group-- they have been getting together for going on 17 years.

I have been wanting to post about my special friends too, and today is a good time because we just got together for dinner last night. Our group is called the Cookie Day Girls. I don't usually describe myself as a "girl," but it fits for this group. Sometimes I'll call us the "Cookie Day Friends" or the "Cookie Day group," but we're really the "Cookie Day Girls."

Cookie Day started back at Christmas 1980. There were four of us: Val, Becky, Sandy and me. We were all a few years out of college or grad school and we were all working at Union Carbide, living in the Knoxville area. None of us had family here, and somehow we all connected early in 1980. Initially we were all single, though I think Sandy was actually a newlywed at the time of the first Cookie Day. That first year we got together at my apartment a week or two before Christmas to bake cookies, drink too much wine, and talk about life.

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The First Cookie Day: Kathy, Valerie and Becky

28 years later we are still getting together for Cookie Day and a couple of times during the year too. In some ways this is a group that is as close as family, even though we may not see each other as a group all that much.

In the mid 1980's the group expanded to include Mary and another Kathy. Mary moved to Texas a few years later, but we've taken Cookie Day to Texas twice and she's come here several times too. In 1990 Jeanne joined our group. The rest of us are all within 15 months of age (most were born in 1955), but Jeanne is about 15 years older. She is very very special in our group.

We have seen each other through so many life changes. In the beginning we were in our mid 20's and single, dealing with dating and love affairs. We've been together for weddings and the birth of children, the purchase of our homes. We've held hands through disappointments in love and a few divorces. One friend got remarried and then divorced again. Only three of the seven of us still have our original husbands. One friend wasn't able to have the child she wanted so much. Five of us have one child, and Mary has three. Some have stepchildren too. There have been a few health issues, financial struggles, and job changes, though four of the seven will spend their whole careers at the plants in Oak Ridge. I quit my job and went to Europe for a year. Several have experienced the deaths of parents, one just two weeks ago. One friend also had the very unexpected loss of a significant other. We've had many moments of happiness, travel, and now also the marriage of children and the possibility of grandchildren. And one friend (my age!) just retired. Now she is going to go live with her boyfriend on a boat. You see each other through a lot in 28 years.

For Cookie Day 2007 we went away for a weekend and rented a big house in Blowing Rock, NC. We made a gingerbread house instead of baking cookies.

This past Christmas we got together at Sandy's house on a Friday afternoon for Cookie Day. Mary was here as a surprise for Val's retirement, and I put together a slide show with music in honor of Val. Most of us spent the night. We do still drink wine (though not as much as we once did) and we still bake some cookies (though not as many as we once did). We always exchange gifts, the same gift for each person, this year a $10 per person max. If you visit any of our houses, you'll find the same Cookie Day gifts from the years in various places.

We always take photos and we love to reminise. We appreciate these friendships so much these days. Somehow I've ended up to be the "historian," so I'll share a few more photos from over the years.

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Cookie Day 1987

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Cookie Day 1993. The baby is Kelly. Mary came and gave us all special Cookie Day aprons.

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Cookie Day 2000

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Cookie Day 2006 at my house. Mary came and gave us all these crazy Santa hats. Notice that most of us are still wearing the aprons from 1993.

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Cookie Day 2008. Mary came and gave us all these sweaters. She swears she got them at an outlet store, had a coupon and only paid $10 a person.

I can't imagine ever not having Cookie Day or these special friends in my life. It's about so much more than the cookies.


February 23, 2009

A Conflict between two N's

A few days ago I posted a list of ten things I love that start with the letter "N." This was a fun project to do, and I really put a lot of thought into the ten things that I picked.

But now I have a conflict between two of the things on the list!

It is not between Nieces and Nephews and our cat Nicolette, or a choice to visit North Carolina vs. Neuschwanstein Castle.

It's a dilemma involving my beloved Netflix and our family's favorite show, NCIS.

We got involved with NCIS a few months ago. Kelly had been watching it, and somehow Charley and I got pulled in. There are two cable channels (USA and Ion) that play NCIS re-runs, sometimes three in a row. Kelly watched on the small TV on our eating bar. We watched an episode or two as a family and boom-- we were addicted! I haven't really been interested in a tv show for a while, so it was nice to find something again, especially a show we all enjoyed and could watch as a family. We've been watching the new episodes on Tuesday nights and then the reruns on these other channels.

When Sophie came to visit from France, she arrived on a Tuesday and we suggested watching NCIS together that night. To our surprise, we learned that NCIS was Sophie's favorite show too. She watches in France. During the time she was with us, she also watched some reruns and discovered that she could watch the current season episodes on the internet. Whenever she had some downtime during her stay with us, she was watching NCIS.

Sophie left us to stay with other friends in New Mexico, and a few days later I got a message from her. "I've just done something completely silly ... I was on amazon getting French grammar books for my friends here in NM & guess what? there was a bargain today on NCIS 5 season set ..... so I ordered it .... and you should get it by the end of next week or maybe the following Monday, Feb. 24."

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Our family was thrilled, especially Kelly. I had thought about buying Kelly one of the season sets, and now we were getting Season 5. Kelly started checking the mailbox every day to see if Sophie's gift had arrived.

The package from Amazon arrived this past Friday. I thought it was going to be Season 5, but I misunderstood Sophie's message-- it was ALL FIVE of the first five seasons of NCIS! We have EIGHTY HOURS of NCIS episodes to watch! Sophie was far too generous and we have thanked her profusely. What a great friend! On Saturday night we had a family NCIS marathon and watched five episodes from Season 1, plus one of the special features. Sophie was with us in spirit!

Meanwhile my red Netflix envelopes are lying on the table in our little family room, unwatched now since before Sophie's visit. We have enjoyed our Netflix movie-watching so much, but who wants to watch these movies now that we have NCIS to watch?! And we're all so busy these days with homework, school prep, Slow Travel (!)... we barely have any time to hang out in our little room together anyway.

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I decided this was an opportunity to save a little money. I switched my "three at a time" Netflix subscription to "one at a time" until we are caught up on our NCIS watching. That might be sometime this fall, after our summer trip to Europe-- the remaining 76 hours of NCIS will keep us busy for quite a while. We'll use our Netflix to watch an occasional new release movie or something really special we're all interested in seeing. And we'll save about ten dollars a month.

Kelly has just informed me that we're meeting in the little room in eight minutes to watch an NCIS episode before bedtime. I'm glad we've found a show that we can all enjoy together. And that we have such a special friend like Sophie who found just the perfect gift for us.

February 26, 2009

I'm happy to have a job, but....

This is an unusual time we're living in now... in 2009 and in the midst of a recession. Sometimes it seems that life is normal and times are good. We went out to eat last weekend and the restaurant was packed. There were plenty of people shopping at Target. But I know all around us, people are worried, even if they are not saying anything. And some people's lives have been affected deeply.

I teach Business Strategy in the College of Business Administration at our state university. This is a new career for me, after 27 years in the corporate world, most of it as a VP of Human Resources. I pursued this type of work after our long trip to Europe because I wanted flexibility. I would have summers off to travel and we could have our little business on the side, running our small group trips in Provence and now other places. Initially I started teaching as an adjunct, but I'm now in my second year with a 75% faculty appointment. 75% means that I teach six classes a year and get benefits. I also do some project work that I get paid extra for, sort of like an in-house consultant. I make about 50% of what I made in my former corporate life, a trade-off I was willing to make to get summers off and much more flexibility.

I also have a different kind of "risk" in my work. After years being part of the "inner circle" in my corporate world, I'm now part of a second-tier group in the university world: a "non-tenure-track" faculty member. Sinice I don't have a PhD, I don't have the same kind of job security. People like me get a new contract every year. In today's world that can be an uncomfortable feeling. If my contract isn't renewed, I don't get severance pay. I'm not even sure if I would qualify for unemployment.

Because of the work I do, I'm immersed with the stories of the recession. My students and I read the Wall Street Journal every day. We start each class with a discussion of current events-- what's happening in the external environment that companies need to respond to? How are companies adjusting their strategies? Which companies are finding opportunities? Which are going out of business? After several students report a continuing saga of business downturns, I'll usually ask "Does anyone have any good news to share?"

My students are seniors in their last semester of college. Last year's seniors were busy interviewing, trying to decide between job offers. This year's graduates are facing a different job market. Many fewer recruiters are coming to campus. I've heard of very few offers. Some students are now planning to go directly to graduate school, and others hope they can at least continue working their retaurant or retail jobs. At least they don't have house payments.

Our state is in a budget crisis, and higher education is impacted. They are looking at a 25% cut across the entire state university system. At my campus, this will potentially mean a 9% tuition increase as well as a few hundred layoffs. Our heat has been turned down to 68, and travel has been eliminated. I'm lucky I got a new computer in August, as equipment purchases have now been frozen. I'm happy to have a job, as it appears that I am "safe" and will be continued next year.

The biggest impact on me personally is that my classes are much larger-- 50% over last semester. This is one way to cut costs-- make classes bigger which means fewer classes and teachers. In six previous semesters of teaching strategy, my classes have averaged about 30 students. This semester I'm teaching four sections (the most I've had before is three), averaging 45 students in each class. It's a heavily discussion-oriented class, with 20% of the grade is based on class participation. I now have 180 students, and I should know each student's name. I use name cards and try to use students names often. I've made up picture charts too, but it's very hard. Right now I might know half.

I enjoy the interaction with the students very much and I like the classroom teaching. I think I'm becoming a good teacher. The worst part-- the terrible part-- is grading. I have a grad student to grade my quizzes and enter the grades in a spreadsheet. But the written assignments need to be graded by me. There are four short papers-- how I wish I had constructed the syllabus to have only two! So figure this-- 180 papers to grade for each assignment. Even if I spend just 5 minutes on each paper, this is 900 minutes (15 hours!) to grade each lot. I make up little grading rubrics (kind of check sheets) to help me move through the process fairly and quickly. This is one of the most tedious thing I've ever done. Just between us-- I absolutely hate it.

Still, as I said, I'm happy to have a job these days, and what appear to be good prospects to continue it next year. My husband's home renovation business is slow, but he does have some work, and he's drawing social security too. We're in good health. We don't owe much money. Our European trips are remarkably mostly full for this year, and we are spending 2-1/2 months in Europe this summer.

My stepdaughter works in retail and her job as assistant manager was recently eliminated. She was given a chance to stay as a sales clerk with a pay cut, which she took. She's not happy, but she has a job.

My former company, where I was head of Human Resources for 10 years, recently closed abruptly when they lost their bank financing. This was a 65 year old company, an industry leader, employing 450 people. There was no notice, no severance pay, no vacation pay. Many people have been hired by competitors, but I know many are still out of work.

Elsewhere in our community, two other major companies have closed. Our boat companies have closed several plants. Our city newspaper had a layoff and did an across-the-board pay cut. And our community is in better shape than others.

These are challenging times we live in. I'm struggling with my realities right now (all those @%#! papers to grade), but at least I have a job... a family I love... and the flexibility to travel.

February 27, 2009

Beware of dogs

It was a pretty day in early April, late on the afternoon of Good Friday, just two years ago. We had returned a few weeks before from a great spring break trip to Provence. Kelly was 13 years old and had a holiday from school. She had a new ball glove and suggested that she and Charley go outside to play softball. They headed down to the open grassy area in the "glen" between the two dead-end streets of our neighborhood. I stayed at home, working in my office.

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Charley and Kelly in Marseille (March 2007)

From my desk at the front of the house, I have a clear view of our little street just a few yards away. I happened to notice two white dogs trotting by, big dogs I hadn't seen before. They looked a bit like white chows, with big heads and pointed tails. I briefly wondered if Kelly would see the dogs. Although we no longer had our own dog, she was a big dog lover and never missed a chance to interact with dog owners and pet their dogs. I quickly turned back to my computer.

Some time later I became aware of a frantic screaming outside. Was it Kelly? I could not hear her clearly from inside I opened the front door and there she was, shrieking hysterically for help. "Don't let the big dog get Daddy!!!" Everything was happening in a blur. I saw Charley coming down the street... staggering down the street, it seemed, carrying a big rock. Our next door neighbor was running alongside, waving a cane. The two big white dogs were following behind.

Kelly and Charley came inside, and Charley went immediately to the bathroom. I saw that his hand was bleeding. Kelly was still screaming. I called 911 to report two stray dogs in the neighborhood that had apparently attacked my husband. The 911 operator told me that Animal Control was already on the scene. Did I need an ambulance? I didn't think so. I was more worried about the two stray dogs on the loose in our neighborhood than my husband's injury.

Charley called me to the bathroom. "I need to go to the emergency room," he said. "I can see the bone." He had wrapped his hand in two old towels. We live only five minutes from the hospital, the place where Kelly was born. The three of us quickly got in the car and headed out. Near the front of the neighborhood, I saw a group of neighbors clustered by near the doorway of a house. An Animal Control truck was nearby, a woman officer in the car. She was watching the two white dogs.

"Those dogs attacked my husband," I said. "I'm taking him to the emergency room." I vaguely remember asking her a few questions. I was worried about rabies, thinking that these were stray dogs. I had heard about shots in the stomach with long needles.

"I'm about to pass out," Charley said from the back seat.

A few minutes later we were at the emergency room. Kelly went in with Charley while I parked the car. Only when we were together in the emergency room did I see how badly he had been hurt. His blood pressure dropped terribly and he was ice cold. His left hand was ravaged, and he had been bitten on both arms. The doctors and nurses stabilized his blood pressure and then strangely left us alone. I had forgotten to bring my cell phone and was still focused on the possibility of rabies. I used Kelly's phone to leave a message for my parents and then to call a friend who was a top official in our county government, to try to connect with Animal Control and find out about the dogs.

Two sets of neighbors came by the emergency room to see us and were allowed to come back. One couple had been walking their dogs and the big white dogs had tried to attack them. They used pepper spray to drive the dogs away. They told us that the dogs had attacked another neighbor's pet, and that dog was seriously injured. (We later learned that a dog in another neighborhood had also been attacked.) The other neighbors lived next door to us, and the woman was the one who had been outside with Charley. Kelly had banged on their door, screaming that Charley had been attacked by a dog. Kelly hoped the husband could help, forgetting that he had broken his ankle and was using a cane. The wife ran out with the cane to help. The Animal Control officer was already in our neighborhood because they had received three calls about about these dogs.

I learned more from Kelly and Charley about what happened, and still more over the following days. The two dogs had appeared in the back grassy area where Charley and Kelly were tossing the softball. They seemed friendly and eventually approached my husband and daughter. Charley bent down to let the dog sniff his right hand, palm down and fingers curled. When he straightened up, the dog lunged for his left hand, the handd with the ball glove, knocking the glove off and fastening his teeth on Charley's left hand. The smaller dog laid down and just watched. Kelly began screaming and threw her ball at the big dog. At some point she ran for help. Charley said the dog was tossing his hand like it was a rope pull toy. He tripped on some rocks and fell backwards, the dog on top of him. The dog weighed about 100 pounds.

Charley is a strong man and somehow he found the strength to pull open the dog's jaw with his right hand and get his poor left hand out. The dog then began attacking both of Charley's arms. Charley grabbed one of the rocks and stood up. He thought he would kill the dog with the rock if he had to. He managed to make his way back to our street, where he met Kelly and our neighbor. The two dogs followed behind.

The dogs were Akitas, originally bred in Japan as fighting dogs. (I remembered the Akita only as the type of dog owned by Nicole Simpson when she was killed.) They are considered a highly dangerous breed of dogs. These dogs belonged to a family who lived six miles from our home. Their teenage son had been left in charge and left a door open and the dogs escaped. It was the next day before anyone realized they were gone. The dogs came across three of the busiest roads in Knoxville (including the interstate) to reach our little neighborhood, intersecting with Kelly and Charley the only time that they had ever played softball in the grassy area out behind our house.

After about five hours in the emergency room, Charley wounds were cleaned and bandaged and he was admitted to the hospital. His left hand was especially badly hurt, the most serious damage on the inside of his hand. My parents rushed to join us as soon as they got our message and were with us much of the next few days. Charley was in the hospital three nights, and had microsurgery on his hand the day after the attack. The doctor said the tendons weren't severed, but the damage was extensive. His two fingers (the two left fingers of his left hand) were almost ripped off.

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After surgery, the day after the attack

We learned from Animal Control that the dogs weren't strays but did have owners and that their shots were current. So my initial concerns about rabies were at least set aside. The Animal Control officer told me there hadn't been a case of rabies in a human in our county for something like 40 years.

When Charley came home from the hospital, we had to change the dressings on his hand and arms twice a day, a process that took about 30 minutes each time until some of his wounds began to heal. He wasn't able to drive for the first ten days and had physical therapy three times a week for several months. About six months later he had a second surgery to remove scar tissue, outpatient this time, which was much more extensive than we had expected. Skin grafts were taken from the inside of his arm (where it bends) to repair his hand. The second surgery resulted in another round of major physical therapy.

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After the second surgery, almost six months later

Charley had just turned 62 at the time of the attack. Although he spent most of his career in chemical sales and later worked as a stockbroker for several years, in recent years he's had a home renovation business. He has enjoyed using his woodworking skills, and he enjoys solving problems and helping people. For hobbies, he does woodworking (he's made several violins), plays piano and uses his computer. He's played the piano pretty much every day since he was a boy. See a theme? He makes his living and finds much of his pleasure using his hands. Because of his injury and the two surgeries, he wasn't able to work for most of 2007.

Now almost two years later, Charley's left hand is permanently damaged by the dog attack. His two left fingers are curled to the palm and other than some tingling, he has no feeling. They're useless. At one point he even talked about having them amputated, since they were useless and got in his way. In the year since his last surgery, he's found other ways to get things done (he never typed with 10 fingers anyway), but some things he'll never do the same. He's started playing the piano, learning to play again using only eight fingers. He can't lay his palm flat when he works and is unable to do projects that require full use of both hands. Two simple things-- he can't wear his wedding ring or hold my hand with his left hand.

We're are lucky, though, and so thankful that Charley wasn't more badly hurt. His fingers or hand could have been severed. The dog could have ravaged his right hand instead. (He is right handed.) The dog could have lunged for his throat while he was struggling on the rocks. His face could have been attacked. The second dog could have gotten involved. Charley could have been killed. Or the dog could have gone for our beloved Kelly, who so loved dogs, instead of Charley. Charley would have tried to save her, and who knows what would have happened. An older person, a weaker person, or a child would not have been able to defend themselves as Charley did. We hate what happened, but it could have been so much worse.

We just assumed that the dog would be destroyed. As you read this, you might assume that too. But that didn't happen. The dog (named Zeus) went to "trial" and was found to be "dangerous" (but not "vicious"). The owners actually appealed the "dangerous" verdict, which meant that they were supposed to use a muzzle to take the dog off their property and put a cover over the outdoor pen. We submitted a protest along with some photos, and the "dangerous" verdict was upheld. When we read the summary of the hearing (which we were not allowed to attend), it was obvious that the owners were highly distraught about their pet and the inconvenience to them-- not Charley's injuries and the impact on his life.

We ended up filing a lawsuit, since we had major medical bills, loss of income for about nine months, and Charley's permanent disability. At the time of the attack, we had private insurance with a high deductible, so our out-of-pocket medical expenses were significant. Our case was just settled out of court a month or so ago. The dog owners' were covered through their homeowners insurance company. We've been able to pay off the medical bills and some other debts that accumulated over that time. We're happy to have the money and get those bills behind us, but it wasn't a large amount considering how Charley's life was changed. Half of the settlement went to our health insurance companies (who paid most of the medical expense) and our attorney. (Note: The laws in Tennessee have since been strengthened to protect victims of dog attacks and hold owners more responsible.)

Our family is now extremely cautious of dogs. We definitely stay away from big dogs who aren't on leashes. When Charley goes for a walk, he carries a baseball bat, just in case. Kelly was initially extremely fearful of dogs and had a lot of guilt about leaving her dad down on the rocks with the attacking dog. She was shaken by the image of her strong father screaming after being knocked over by a big dog. We've assured her that she did the right thing to go get help, and she's worked through her issues in a very mature way. She now much prefers cats to dogs.

I have posted a few photos to show what happened to Charley that pretty April afternoon. You might be shocked, so please look at these pictures with caution. Don't feel you have to look. I thought the photos were important to share to give an idea of what a dog can do to a person.

In the emergency room

Four days later - palm

Four days later - top

Five weeks later

Two weeks after second surgery

For those who love dogs, as I always have, do be careful. Be especially careful around strange dogs or dogs who may be anxious. Watch young children around dogs. I never would have thought that a dog could change my husband's life in just an instant. And I'll always thank God for watching over Charley and Kelly that Good Friday afternoon.

February 28, 2009

Reflections on February Blogging


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It's the night of February 28th and the official end of the Slow Travel "February Bloggers." I've actually managed to post every single day of the month (fortunately a short month), and only posted late a handful of times.

I was one of the very first Slow Travel bloggers back in 2004, recruited by Pauline when we went on our long trip. Most people didn't even know what a blog was back then. My "Grand Tour" blog was like a diary, as I posted very detailed journal entries for much of the 14 months. I didn't post many photos at all back then. I didn't know how (!) and was working from internet cafes and over a phone line most of the time, and it was difficult to upload photos.

Then in 2006 I started this "Trails" blog, mainly to blog during our travels. I blogged consistently during our summer trips in 2006 and 2007 (and did post lots of photos), but I decided not to blog last summer. It made the trip more relaxing, but I missed the discipline of periodic blogging and even viewing my experiences from the perspective of what I might write about.

This month is the only time I've ever blogged about my daily life; my other blogging has always been about our travel experiences. Even though I've blogged about our travels, I've always been pretty open about sharing something of myself and our family interactions, but this month was something different. I experimented with several different kinds of topics, so my posts seem kind of all over the place. Sophie's visit at the beginning of the month created a little excitement, including our trip to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry. I shared something of my past, my family, my friends, my work, and my city. I really enjoyed "the letter N," but I didn't do any other lists or quizzes. I didn't post any recipes (which I thought I might do if I ended up with "bloggers block"). I thought about joining in on the photohunts and maybe this is something I'll do later.

Here's what I enjoyed about my February blogging:

- I liked the interaction with the other bloggers very much. I enjoyed reading their blogs, leaving comments, and interacting with them when they commented on my posts. I learned more about some Slow Travel friends and got to know some new people I hadn't known before. It was definitely fun to be part of this February blogging community.

- I enjoyed writing again. I've missed it! I enjoyed coming up with an interesting topic every day and writing about it. I think that writing causes you to think introspectively and keeps your mind agile.

- I think I have a perspective and some interesting experiences to share beyond my travel stories.

- I did like the discipline of blogging every day. And because there was a group of us doing this together, I felt I had some accountability to keep it going.

Here's what was difficult for me:

- This was a stressful month for me and the daily blogging added a bit to the stress. This month I had my regular teaching, a non-credit class one night a week, a houseguest, a dinner party for 12 people, and an overnight trip. I had a lot to do for our summer tours and family trip. I started working on our taxes. Daily blogging definitely added to the load.

- I enjoyed the blogging much more than some other things I should have been doing... like grading those stacks of papers. It gave me another reason not to take the papers out of my case.

- I realized once again that I'm not that good at taking shortcuts. I'm somewhat obsessive. I can write quickly, but I like to edit and look up details. None of my posts were really quick and easy. I don't think I could work in a newsroom on deadline.

- I felt a little guilty about not getting around to everyone's else's blog on a regular basis, especially those people who were good about coming to mine.

- Blogging involved more time working on my computer when I could have been interacting with my husband and daughter. I think I spend too much time on the computer and internet already. (This is why I'm resisting Facebook and Twitter...)

Despite these difficulties, February blogging was a great experience for me. It wouldn't have been near as much fun alone, so thanks to my fellow bloggers and others who have been reading along with us.

I am going to continue regular blogging, though beginning tomorrow, I will no longer be a daily blogger. I admire those who can do it! My plan now is to try to post every weekend (on Friday, Saturday or Sunday) in March and April and occasionally more often if there's something to say. We leave on May 5 for our 2-1/2 months in Europe, and I will blog again while we are traveling. I also want to keep up with the blogs of all these friends I've gotten to know.

Here's to March and springtime!


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Before wrapping up tonight, I want to announce a new blog just started by the Slow Travel Tours group. There are nine of us in the group, all Slow Travel members who lead small group tours in Europe that follow the slow travel philosophy. We've been communicating over the last year, sharing ideas and encouragement-- I've described the group as an "informal affiliation." With Pauline's help, we put up a simple webpage that lists all our tours and links to our individual websites. Now we have a blog too. Each week one of us will post to the blog, sharing some aspect of our approach, our trip, or the area where we base our group.

Last weekend's post was our first weekly post, written by me. I gave some background on the Slow Travel Tours group and our approach to travel. Bill Steiner of Adventures in Italy will be posting tomorrow. Charley and I met Bill and his wife Kristi at the Slow Travel Gathering in Savannah last spring and had a long lunch with them in Asheville last week. They are great people who offer unique weeks in Orvieto, Italy.

Check out our Slow Travel Tours blog every weekend-- you'll hear a new voice every week.


This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The Trail's Our Thing in the Our Lives at Home category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Nostalgia is the previous category.

Paris is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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