Monday, March 31, 2014

The Wonders of Horticultural Therapy~

The Wonders of Horticultural Therapy~

Spring has finally arrived in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Blooming hyacinths and a few adventurous daffodils greeted us this morning! The weatherman promised a day of sun and rising temperatures.  Finally! Signs of life after a long, bitter cold, snowy winter!

I understood it was now time to tend my plants. My love of gardening came to me in my mid 40s. Before that time, I fancied myself an urbanite and avoided any activities that caused me to perspire, commune with dirt or damage my manicure.  But then I made the conscious decision to change my attitude and approach to life because what I’d been doing hadn’t really worked for me. So, I moved to the country and embraced the challenges, physical labor, exhilaration, joys and therapeutic benefits of landscaping and gardening in a hardscrabble environment.

Digging in the soil, planting, transplanting, cultivating, nurturing, learning from misguided plant choices, researching, weeding and celebrating the beauty of nature fills my heart and soul with an abundance of joy, contentment, wonder, and peace. Gardening grounds me, keeps me cognizant of the cycle of life, and fills me with the certainty that a higher power exists.  Nothing beats the therapy of digging in the dirt, amending the soil, foiling the pests, and seeing the results of my labors. And the pain that I feel at the end of the day is a good ache.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Finding World War I Jewish Welfare Board Postcards in a Box

Finding World War I Jewish Welfare Board Postcards in a Box

S.S. Von Steuben

A couple of years ago my dad gave me some boxes and bags of old postcards and greeting cards that he thought my husband and I might appreciate. At the time, I flipped through them with a cursory look and stuffed them in a drawer expecting to sort them over a snowy winter weekend. But as it so often happens, I got distracted and forgot about them – until today.

When we awakened to yet another snowy morning, we decided this would be the ideal time to remove everything but the major appliances from the laundry room / cat litter-box haven and sterilize it. In order to make it easier to move a storage chest, we removed the drawers. That is when we found the postcards.

So after a comfort food lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and crab soup an a few hours reading my latest advance copy of a book to review, I decided to look through at least one box of cards again. And among the painted postcards of Yosemite, pictures of movie stars homes from the 1930s, and pre-war cards depicting Kiyomidzutera, Japan, I found some unused postcards with a picture of the S.S. Iowan with a Star of David in the top left corner and a message that said: “Greetings from the Jewish Welfare Board to Soldiers and Sailors of the U.S.Army and Navy.”

On the back there was a stamp that said: “Soldier’s Mail No Postage Necessary if Mailed On Boat or Dock”.

I’ve no doubt these were given to my Great Uncle Martin Conroy, who served in France in WWI. I conducted some online research and learned the cards were most likely printed in November 1918 or shortly thereafter. Apparently there were 72 different cards printed with images of 56 different transport ships.

The S.S. Iowan was originally a cargo ship that was built in 1914 by the Maryland Steel Company for the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company. It was appropriated by the U.S. Navy in WWI, conveyed horses to France, and transported more than 10,000 veterans back to the USA after the armistice.

S.S. Niew Amsterdam

Totally cool to find such a unique piece of history in a box of miscellaneous cards!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Experiencing Shoe Lust for Toscani Tieks~

Experiencing Shoe Lust for Toscani Tieks~

Everybody who knows me is aware of my appreciation of beautiful footwear. I once owned a pair of gorgeous stiletto D’Orsay suede pumps with such exquisite gold metallic trim that I perched them on a shelf to admire.  However, the heels were so impossibly high that I could barely navigate a hallway in my own house.  And yet, it was at least 2 years before I could bring myself to part with them. 

I’ve always loved heels and remember fondly the days when I could race through an airport terminal at full speed wearing 4-inch heels, make the tight connection, and saunter onto the plane without callous, corn, or agonizing pain. Ah, those were the days!

But sometime around my 48th birthday, my long abused feet began to rebel.  And my right ankle, which has experienced more sprains, twists, tendon injuries and jolts than any joint should endure, finally refused to support my habit.

So I went in search of stylish, comfortable, versatile, heart stopping gorgeous flats.  After much trial and error that resulted in painful heels & arches, blisters, skin rubbed raw, bruised toes, and overall discomfort, I stumbled upon Tieks foldable ballet flats and Marc Joseph mocs & loafers.  Both companies offer amazing comfort, practicality, versatility, a wide selection of colors and prints and take basics to a new level of style. But these features come at a price and I’m not sure I can bring myself to purchase the gorgeous Toscani Tieks that I’ve eyed since the design was at the early stages of inceptions a year ago.

Tieks just launched Toscani. I had an invitation to be one of the first to order them.  I deleted the email. But, I want them. They are way beyond what I am willing to pay for shoes.  They call to me.  I lurk on the Tieks Facebook page reading the posts of those who have already received their orders. But I resist.

If, however, my size is still available in late July when I celebrate 55 years of joyful existence on this earth, and if the longing for Toscani has not waned, I will order them and wear them to the Billy Joel Concert at Nationals Park!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Obsessed With House of Cards!

Obsessed With House of Cards!

When I first read about the Netflix original series “House of Cards” I was skeptical. In fact, because we are Internet challenged as a result of a remote location, streaming wasn’t “in the cards” so to speak.  But, we discovered Verizon Home Fusion and the rest, shall we say, is history. Just like giddy teenagers running amok on texting, we overshot out data plan exponentially in just a few short weeks. Part of the problem was “House of Cards”.  The first episode, albeit intriguing with Kevin Spacey breaking the little doggies’ neck, seemed so-so. But we decided to give it another chance.

Before we knew it, we’d become entranced, obsessed, smitten, compelled to keep watching.  Perhaps, in part, our inside-the-beltway jobs and physical proximity to Washington overall impacted our interest. Nothing causes one to be more skeptical or disdainful of the machinations of our government than physical proximity.  The more convoluted, deceptive, underhanded, distasteful, murderous and corrupt the plot – the more realistic it feels. I do not doubt for one second that similar activities are orchestrated by our esteemed elected officials.

Like the fascination of watching a train wreck of the aftermath of a mass tragedy, the narrative draws us in like a tractor beam in a Star Trek episode. We are drawn to the flame like moths. Those of us who were raised on Watergate, Iran Contra, Vince Foster, the Rose Law Firm, White Water, ABSCAM, and the corruption of majority leaders such as Jim Wright expect malfeasance. The fiction is just a substitute for what we accept is reality.

In today’s world, politicians are not thought of as altruistic public servants seeking to serve the American people. Instead, they are perceived as self-serving, sycophants seeking personal recognition, wealth and power with no more thought of serving the greater good than Saddam Hussein.  Power corrupts. House of Cards gives us a glimpse into what is more than likely a truer vision of our political power base than we feel comfortable acknowledging.

But it is fascinating and we must watch and pretend it isn’t real or couldn’t happen. For if we accept that is could be an accurate portrayal of those we elect and send to Washington, how can we the people, who elected them, sleep at night?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reconsidering the Minimum Wage Debate During My Trip to the Supermarket

Reconsidering the Minimum Wage Debate During My Trip to the Supermarket

After some debate this afternoon, my husband and I decided to make pizza at home this evening for dinner. That required a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up some tomato sauce and a few items for toppings.

Since I was making the trip anyway, I made a list of some basics that we’d need during the week.  My bill came to $109. I bought 3 jars of spaghetti sauce (on sale), a 2-pack of Bounty paper towels, a 16-pound bag of store brand cat food, a package of deli ham, 5 Yoplait yogurt cups (on sale), a 5 pound bag of flour, 2 loaves of bread, a 4 cup package of mozzarella cheese, one head of bib lettuce, plain oatmeal, a box of Chex cereal, asparagus, cabbage, 2 cans of tomato sauce, 7 loose mushrooms, a bottle of ketchup, cottage cheese, ¼ pound bulk mixed nuts, a small package of blackberries, and 2 bags of granola (also on sale).

Granted, I did not buy the least expensive spaghetti sauce on the shelves and I could have, but did not, purchase bulk granola. But I consider nothing on my list extravagant.

Please note this cache of goodies did not include milk, peanut butter, any meat other than the deli ham, beer, wine, pasta, toilet paper, coffee, chips, laundry detergent, dish soap, any frozen foods, eggs, butter or fruit.

The current minimum wages is $7.25/hour. For an 8-hour workday, an individual will earn $58 before taxes.  That means that a minimum wage worker, would have to work more than 2 full days after taxes to be able to buy what I bought at my local supermarket this afternoon. That does not include the transportation to and from the market.  This rate equates to $15,080 annually for someone working steadily for 52 weeks per year – which was my annual salary in 1981 as a trainee claims adjuster in Indianapolis. And I was scraping by then, a single person living in a $225/month apartment without a car payment [thanks to my gloriously free company car, a dark green with cream landau roof 1980 Ford Fairmont.]

The proposed increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would increase the daily wage to $80.80 and an annual income of $21,000.  It would still take a day and a half for that worker to earn enough to buy what was in my cart today, but it is a step in the right direction.  I would rather see somebody work hard for a living wage than sit at home and mooch off the taxpayers. But there is little incentive to work if the opportunities are so bleak.

When I lived in Plano, Texas in the mid 1980’s, high school students refused to work at fast food restaurants for less than $6/hour. And, that was nearly 30 years ago.  We certainly haven’t come far in the past 30 years.