We’ve been cable-free for several months now after paying homage to the DirecTV gods for far too many years. Not being chained to endless political programming and 24×7 news coverage as well as getting sucked in to one cable TV documentary and special feature after another is refreshing. We now have more time (though in truth never, never enough) to pursue other interests.

If ever I thought I might miss the plethora of options cable TV provides, those fears have now been laid to rest. Late this afternoon, while out and about, we caught a glimpse of some of the cable news stories du jour. The overly dramatic posturing, the hype, the propensity of the news personalities, regardless of your political persuasion, to insert themselves in such a manner as to being the story nearly induced nausea. The only thing we’ll miss is easy access to televised sporting events such as away games for our beloved Iowa State Cyclones. A small price to pay, however, for a return to sanity and clearer thinking. No regrets whatsoever. I heartily recommend cutting the cord and returning to network TV. With the easy and affordable availability of streaming and movies we don’t feel like we’re missing a thing. And saving almost $1200 a year sure feels good on the old pocketbook as well. A winning proposition no matter how you look at it!

Gorgeous fall day and all is well.  Sitting comfortably in the sun, sturdy twin-seat andirondack chairs beneath us, favorite beverages in hand, we are enveloped by nature.  Babbling brook, stellar jays and magpies flitting about, congregating three abreast on a branch high above, wildflowers and tall grasses slightly swaying in the warm autumn breeze.  Perfect venue for playing with my camera, inspired by two new photography books I picked up at Barnes & Noble earlier this week.

Bill and I took a class when we bought our first SLR almost fifteen years ago.  The assignments were fun and we learned a lot.  However, while I ‘got’ it at the time, working the manual dials on my camera is a bit of a challenge for me.  Bill retained pretty much everything and so is a good mentor.  My brain just can’t think that fast.  But I know practice is key and this is something I’d love to master.

Auto mode is easy and, for the most part, a no-brainer.  From my perspective, composition and subject selection are what I enjoy most but as Bill and I played around today stuff was starting to click.  The books I purchased include assignments to complete to help drive home the concepts.  I’m looking forward now to becoming a student again and photography is one subject I heartily look forward to studying any time, any place!

The light this time of year is like no other.  At certain times of day, whether early morning, late afternoon or early evening, I’ll glance up from whatever it is that I’m doing and be utterly transfixed by the soft glow sidling across furniture, covering walls and streaming through the windows.  It is simply lovely as it casts everything in its path in the mellow gleaming of these autumn days.  Whether you choose to bask in its warmth or grab your camera for some great photos, don’t fail to appreciate the light in these precious weeks and short months before the gray and gloom of late fall descends upon us and skies turn white and angry with ice, wind and snow.   Yes, the light is gorgeous this time of year and it only serves to amplify the reds, yellows, golden browns and purple beauty of this – my favorite – the very best season of all!

 

It would surprise me if my younger female readers have ever seen or – better yet – owned a pair of pettipants. Since I don’t wish to be accused of being partisan in any way, this sentiment might also apply to those of the male persuasion as well. But for the sake of simplicity I’m going to assume my target audience here is strictly of the so-called weaker sex (society’s purported dictate, not mine).

Quick show of hands – how many of you gals out there wore pettipants under your dresses when you were younger?

Do they even make this article of (under) clothing anymore? My dear, reliable friend Google tells me yes.

I recall owning at least two pair when I was a child, one black and one that was RED. Most likely I also had one that was white as well. When I was in second grade, I apparently wasn’t shy about telling my best friend Linda one day that I had on the pair of red ones as they were my favorite. Maybe I also told a few other friends or maybe someone else overheard our conversation. Perhaps Linda wasn’t as discrete as I would have hoped she’d be.

During recess some of the boys apparently were somehow made aware of what lay hidden beneath my skirt. Whether they asked to see my pettipants or not I don’t recall. What I do remember though is being chased around the playground, terrified. It’s entirely possible that I was secretly thrilled at the prospect of all these boys chasing me but most likely that’s just Hollywood’s way of muscling its way into my memory bank. In any case, what I certainly do recall is that I was FRIGHTENED.

The boys’ stronger and longer legs eventually caught up with me as I huddled against the brick wall of the school building. There was no other place for me to run! My friend Linda (bigger and stronger and always more self-assured) placed her body in front of mine in an effort to protect me from those nasty boys. Alas, they simply tossed her aside, lifted my skirt and gazed at the lacy reveal of those incredible red pettipants.

After a few ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ the show was pretty much over. Nothing to see here. My first introduction into the male fascination with the mystery of what it is that girls wear that is unseen, secret garments speculated about and always just (barely) out of sight. But this simple childhood episode offered another lesson as well and that is of girlfriends sticking up for each other despite the risks. It is both an unsettling memory and a reassuring one as well.

Younger generations, more of them than I care to contemplate, have never known anything other than 24×7 television, internet and social media. Growing up deprived (by comparison), as we did, our TV viewing was limited to the three networks and a local public broadcasting station. In truth, we really only had CBS and ABC since PBS and the NBC affiliate rarely showed themselves too clearly on the small (by today’s standards) black and white TV that sat in the corner of our Midwest living room.

Television was different back then in ways that surprise me now when I watch the syndicated reruns on Me TV. It was both simpler and more naïve while at the same time groundbreaking. Case in point: Norman Lear’s Emmy-winning masterpiece, All in the Family. Some of what was aired back then would never see the light of day now. One episode in particular comes to mind. The Bunker family was invited to a wedding reception of Archie’s nemesis George Jefferson’s son who was marrying a white woman. Archie offered up his trademark working class, bigoted banter and watching this just a few weeks ago, I was floored when I heard the n-word freely tossed about. Another program that I enjoyed when I was a grade school kid was Hogan’s Heroes. Certainly not in the same league as All in the Family, it is nonetheless hard to fathom now that any network would include a ‘comedy’ about Nazi concentration camps. A recent episode shown on Me TV included a scene in Colonel Klink’s office and I was shocked to see a framed photo of Der Fuehrer himself hanging on the wall.

Primetime television is one thing but when you’re a kid what you really live for is Saturday cartoons and afternoon matinees, especially when inclement weather meant a day stuck inside with little else to do once the boredom of board games, paper dolls and coloring set in (or in my case when you were between trips to the library and had nothing new to read).

Cartoons, propped up with a plethora of advertisements for the latest, must-have, sugar-laden cereals, were eagerly watched by all of us girls, especially when the new fall line-up began. Unfortunately, this was always short-lived as we had Saturday morning catechism and I always resented having to miss out on the new stuff that all my non-Catholic friends would be discussing come Monday morning when our school week resumed.

Aside from the usual animated fare, such as The Archies, Jonny Quest and Scooby Doo, we especially enjoyed programs such as The Monkees (‘Here we come…’) and The Hudson Brothers (‘Hey, Margolis!’). What middle school girl back then didn’t have a crush on Davy Jones or Mickey Dolenz? As for the Hudsons, they were a pop band on the scene at the time and I thought Bill was dreamy (Fun Fact: he was married to Goldie Hawn and his daughter is actress Kate Hudson). My sisters and I would giggle at their zany skits and swoon when they played some of their hit songs (a favorite of mine: So You Are a Star).

As morning devolved into afternoon, once dinner dishes and other chores were done, our family enjoyed watching bowling. Bowling that is broadcast now on TV (oh, it’s out there if you channel surf long enough) is nothing like it was back then. Today’s ten-pin action is a loud, noisy affair taking on what I imagine the patrons experienced back in the days of gladiator action in the Roman coliseum. However, when I was growing up, TV bowling was quiet, solemn almost. No wildly cheering crowds as the bowler prepared to throw the ball which is done today, I’m sure, in an effort to boost ratings from what some might consider to be a fading sport. In any case, we all enjoyed it and when Dad took us bowling we sometimes took on the names of the famous bowlers of the day in filling out our score sheets (my favorite back then was Carmen Salvino).

Of course, Saturday afternoons also found us glued to the set when there was something good on the Wide World of Sports. Despite repeated viewings, I recall how my dad still groaned in disbelief every time when that poor skier flew off course during the opening ‘thrill of victory and agony of defeat’ film montage. Figure skating was a favorite for us girls. We also enjoyed swimming and diving.

The real fun – and adrenalin rush – of what we watched on Saturday afternoons came when scary movie thrillers were shown. We sat through countless Christopher Lee horror films and other films of this genre such as I Saw What You Did, a 1965 suspense classic where two teenage girls become targets of a murderer after they randomly call his number as a prank. Other films of this kind that are locked in my memory include Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Picture Mommy Dead with its haunting theme The Hearse Song, which as I remember it, went something like this:

When you see a hearse go by, you will know someone has died

They bury you six feet deep and then the coffin begins to leak.

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,

They crawl through your stomach and out your mouth.

Later in the evening our family would sit down to enjoy The Monroes, a story about a family trying to settle the land and make a life for themselves on the frontier. Saturday night primetime would include The Carol Burnett Show or the original Bob Newhart and one of my favorites, Mary Tyler Moore. News and weather at ten o’clock – if we were still awake by then – and on particularly late nights for us kids, we might actually make it through yet another movie (ones that I fondly recall include Elephant Walk and The Long Ships). You knew you were getting more grown up if you were still awake when the Star Spangled Banner played to signal the end of the broadcast day. After the final notes of our national anthem: Static. Note to Younger Readers: If you are puzzled as to what I’m referring to, I invite you to check out the 1982 film Poltergeist. An early scene in the movie shows exactly what this looked like.

Today’s TV landscape is entirely different today. Hundreds of cable channels, streaming, subscriber services – all available at any time, day or night. So many options, while exhilarating in some ways, serve to numb us (and dumb us down?) at the same time. Perhaps this is why watching those old standards on Me TV is so pleasurable. Still though, I wouldn’t trade the fun and enjoyment we had from watching the new groundbreakers such as Breaking Bad, Portlandia, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. A new era of excellent TV – perhaps the best ever.

A summary of Saturday television, of course, would not be complete without mention of Saturday Night Live, which first aired in 1975. Raucous, edgy, groundbreaking and FUNNY! – this Saturday night staple has provided countless laughs and memorable moments and has launched the careers of many of the best comedic – and dramatic acting – names in the business.

Other days of the week have also offered great TV but in my opinion Saturday has dominated over the years. Today however, with easy, inexpensive access to recording devices, it no longer matters what day any of our favorite programs air. The challenge now though is finding time to watch them all.

I want to bake!

Fall weather, that wonderfully cool, crisp time of year, entices many of us back into our kitchens to whip up quick breads, muffins, biscuits, scones, pies and cookies. Seasonal spices that evoke sharp memories of childhood – cinnamon, pumpkin, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom – will soon fill our homes with the heady aromas of autumn.

Three overripe bananas sit on my countertop and fortunately, I have a new banana bread recipe to try. Facebook recipes jump out at me left and right as do offerings found in several of my favorite magazines. I peruse each of these publications when they arrive in my mailbox, scribbling small ‘to try’ notes in the margins. Interesting how, despite my best – and lofty – intentions, I often find myself baking the same ‘tried and true’ concoctions. Still though, I love to seek out new ideas to implement in my pursuit of Adventures in Baking. Occasionally I hit upon a real winner now and then, something to add to my entertaining tool belt.

Although I grew up the eldest of six girls, I never picked up any kitchen domestic skills from my mother nor (to be fair) did I have an interest in acquiring them. For family get-togethers it was understood that my contributions would fall into the category of food stuffs and eating supplies such as hamburger buns, potato chips, plastic silverware or a six-pack of soda. After Bill and I were married I became interested in learning to cook and bake. In recent years cable television programs such as those aired on Food TV and the Cooking Channel have further whet my culinary appetite and aided my self-confidence in navigating previously daunting tasks such as ‘turning on the oven’.

Early in our marriage I stumbled across a recipe for a Two Ton Bourbon Pound cake. It looked scrumptious and (most importantly) doable. I made it for a family Christmas and proudly posed for a photo that my husband snapped before we left for my parent’s house. The thing was massive (hence the name), covered with nuts and flavored with bourbon whiskey. I recall that it tasted very good and was really quite lovely. Unfortunately my family is not that much into sweets and hardly anyone touched it. Despite this seeming rejection, I now had more confidence in the kitchen and was eager to try new recipes.

Some folks love pie, others cake or cookies. As for me, I love bread (scones come in a close second). Two years ago I decided to try working with yeast bread recipes. Quick breads are easy to make and delicious but there’s just something wonderfully appealing about the aroma and texture of the dough and the satisfaction of baking delicious bread from so few ingredients. The pièce de résistance, a moment even more gratifying than the time I made my bourbon-infused cake, was when I first made ciabatta ‘Italian slipper’ bread. The whole process of making the bread is like a circus for all of my senses: getting the yeast to activate, preparing the dough in my Kitchen-Aid mixer, hearing the whir of the dough hook and the slap, slap, slapping sound as the dough encircles the mixing bowl, kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down, shaping the loaves, savoring the heady aroma as it bakes, pulling those beautifully colored ‘slippers’ out of the oven, slathering them with butter and then – oh! – sinking your teeth into that fabulous crumb. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

Yes, fall is a wonderful time to reacquaint oneself with the kitchen preparing comfort food at its finest. Soups, stews, harvest vegetables – my taste buds relish the change of pace this time of year – but mostly, I just want to bake!

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Like a window into my soul, I suppose a visitor (welcomed or otherwise) might be able to glean quite a bit about this home’s inhabitants by exploring my work space – from either the jumbled mess covering the not-quite-large-enough desk or the cluttered hodgepodge of receipts, lists, newspaper clippings, notes and photos tacked up on the bulletin board – that I use in our home office (aka My Sanctuary).

The baskets sitting on top of the desk unit store all manner of keepsakes and mementos gathered over the years. Some of their especially prized contents include every card, every note, every material witness to the history of our relationship that Bill and I have exchanged over the years. One regret I have is that there are very few photos of the early days of our courtship and marriage, practically nothing in fact. Those were the days of BD: Before Digital. Word to the Wise: Keep snapping those pics. Years from now you will be so glad you did.

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The Desiderata, a wonderful piece of prose, has been a favorite of mine for years, since I first heard in a song on the radio when I was a teen-ager. Our family used to do a gag gift exchange each Christmas. No one wanted this particular book filled with photos to accompany each of the verses. I was surprised that everyone else treated it with disdain. No matter! I gladly snapped it up and enjoy looking through it from time to time.

These photo gallery items, a small sampling of what’s on display in my little work alcove, are described as follows:

  • My son’s ID card when he served as a volunteer in North Carolina while in grad school makes me smile. Wesley read to the children patients in the hospital there and I never learned of this until he was hospitalized himself some years later and we found this in his wallet, which he then gave to me. That he never tooted his own horn while volunteering is in alignment with my own views of good deeds: they should be done anonymously and not ever for the bravos and pats on the backs they might elicit from others. Doing good should be your own reward. Learning this about my son made me proud.
  • A local theatre group performed a rousing rendition of Rocky Horror several years ago. ‘Nuff said!
  • One of my early ‘hunting’ trophies when we bought our first SLR.  These pumpkins at harvest time begged to be photographed.
  • The Sunflower Pottery postcard, tacked up here because of its interesting design, also serves to provide the contact information for a Christmas gift my sister Molly gave me last year.  (Bob & Connie:  you’re welcome!)
  • On my recommendation, Bill read The Winds of War when we were first married.  (Great book!)  Just like me when I first read this in my early 20’s, he was interested in knowing the geographical makeup of Europe and printed this map, partially obscured by a ‘silly shot’ taken one year at Thanksgiving, a 2008 Obama campaign pin and a diagram of our basement’s dimensions.
  • I picked up this little plaster red & white, laced-up ‘sneaker’ paperweight at an art fair one summer for one dollar.  Grade-school kids made and painted them for a school fundraiser.  Now how can you resist something like that?
  • An elderly neighbor crafted this wooden catch-all when Wesley and I lived in an upstairs apartment in a tiny burg located in north central Iowa.  It holds a two-dollar bill, a small pink box labeled My Tooth (not mine but Wesley’s), the tiny armband that he wore in the hospital after he was born, the tassels from when I graduated from Iowa State University in 1995 and assorted coins, foreign and domestic.
  • This wooden keychain was a gift from my first boss after graduating from college.  Carrie brought this back from one of her many trips (I believe this is from India).  Carrie, no longer my supervisor but now instead a dear friend, was the first woman I’d ever heard of to travel the world on her own.  What a novel idea!  At the time her husband had no interest in going with her but eventually (and happily!) he succumbed to her requests to join her on her travels.
  • Two items of note in this last photo.  The news clipping documents Bill’s first hole-in-one.  It happened on a golf outing to celebrate his 40th birthday.  Not too shabby of a gift to self, eh?  The other is a photo from my ID card when I was a student at Iowa State University.  I was 36 years old here, just starting my junior year after completing the preparatory work at a local community college.  Being a non-traditional student in a university setting was beyond anything I’d ever imagined when I first quit my job to enroll in a drafting program three years earlier.  Very good times indeed.  (And how about that ‘big hair!)

Reflecting on what I see here before me has provided a thought-provoking trek down memory lane.  I imagine home offices everywhere (perhaps yours?) are similarly appointed.  What’s in your sanctuary?