Why do people say things that are…

What do people say things that are stupid?

I spend time in public places, so I hear conversations going on around me.  Sometimes I bite my tongue so I don’t comment.  And sometimes I cannot help myself.  I just have to say something.

Last week I was volunteering at a library where AARP members prepare tax returns for free on a first-come basis.  A man and a woman, who met each other for the first time that afternoon, sat near each other and carried on a conversation we could all hear.  At first they complained about various aspects of life in general, attributing their problems to the ex-spouse, the government, and so on.

I guess the man ran out of tidbits to share, because he decided to report the news.  He prefaced his report with the phrase “Now, I don’t know if this is true, but…”  Then he said, “Obama sent all of the country’s gold to China and that’s why there are no longer tours of Fort Knox.”

I could no longer control myself.  I said, “You know that’s not true!”  He looked a little embarrassed and discontinued his report.  But why did he feel the need to share this fantasy at all???  Surely he knew that it wasn’t true.

The next day I found my supply of disposable ear plugs and put them in my coat pocket.  Now, when I ride the bus or sit in a waiting room, I have the option of closing out this type of conversation.  Today it occurred to me that I am my father’s daughter.  In his later years, he used headphones to keep out this type of noise.

The Best ways to learn…

When you have been responsibly employed for decades, you are accustomed to thinking of yourself as competent.  So learning something new can be unsettling, because for a period of time you are less than competent.  In the past few months I have been challenged to learn – and then implement – new skills.  It has been stressful, but I am on the road to new competencies.

For me, the best way to learn is either by doing or by teaching.

Experiential learning is an established approach that I put into practice when I became a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) volunteer through Community Action.  I spent two days in class, and another 20 hours in practice lab and study.  Then I passed the Basic certification exam with 100-percent correct on the first try.  It felt good!  I had to wait more than a month until it was time to begin volunteering.  My first day as a tax preparer was an anxious one, but I happily discovered that I was knowledgeable and that I could do it.  My second day was easier, and with each new client I reinforced my skills and increased my confidence.  I have no idea why I thought it would be a good idea to learn to prepare taxes – and then do it as a volunteer, but I find the work to be oddly satisfying.  (Interestingly, after nearly 40 hours of education I am still not qualified to prepare my own taxes, which are complex enough to require Advanced certification.)

While in graduate school, I worked as a Teaching Assistant.  The title is misleading as TAs were entirely responsible for the classes they taught.  We prepared the syllabi and assignments, gave the lectures, led the critiques, and determined the grades.  That is a lot of responsibility.  One of my professor-mentors told me, “The best way to learn is to teach.”  I found that to be true back then, and it continues to be true today.  I have been using Microsoft applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Outlook) for decades.  Ten years ago I taught free two-hour applications workshops at my public library.  That was easy.  Last fall I started teaching day-long Microsoft application workshops for the local community college.  I feel a greater responsibility for these classes, in part because students pay to take them.  Furthermore, instead of two-hour basic classes, I teach seven-hour workshops at the basic, intermediate, and advanced level.  To do that successfully, I cannot just “wing it.”  I need to be very prepared, and still remain flexible.  I need to study and practice so I can present the information with ease and in an organized manner.  Not surprising, my preparation for teaching the classes has dramatically increased my knowledge of the software – well beyond the skills I had acquired by using it for many years.

So, study followed by doing is a very good way to learn.  Doing followed by study and teaching is equally worthwhile.

Cornmeal

Cornmeal is one of my favorite tastes.  When I came home from college for a weekend, I would make a pan of cornbread and eat it all by myself.  I made it from scratch in those days, because that’s what we did at our house.  It was yellow and sweet and tasted as good as any cake.  Today, the Jiffy cornbread mix gives me the same satisfaction.

In addition to traditional cornbread, I love yeast bread and sourdough bread made with cornmeal, Mexican casserole with cornbread topping, cornbread stuffing, and Trader Joe’s chicken pizza with cornmeal crust.  And when it comes to sweets, the following cornmeal sugar cookie recipe is a winner.

CORNMEAL SUGAR COOKIES

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups sifted flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Extra sugar

Cream the shortening and sugar.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until light and fluffy.  Add lemon and vanilla extracts.

Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt.  Add to creamed mixture.

Roll dough 1/8-inch thick on floured surface.  Cut cookies with 2-1/2-inch cutter.  Place on greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 400-degrees for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from pans.  Cook on racks.  Makes 6 dozen.  May be frozen.

ALTERNATIVE.  Use an ice cream scoop to make small balls of dough.  Roll the balls in your hand and then in extra sugar.  Pat down to approximately 1/4-inch thickness.

Dough can be formed into cookies that are frozen individually and then stored in a plastic bag.  Bake cookies a few at a time to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Lesson learned!!!

How many thumb drives do you carry around in your pocket or purse?  Turns out, that I carry six!  Three are backups for Microsoft application classes I teach.  If they get lost it would be inconvenient, but only that.  The other three are essentially duplicates and include all of my current activities – ranging from minutes of Homeowners Association meetings (as I am the secretary) to recipes and quilt patterns to an Excel version of my check register and fund balances to MY PASSWORDS!

Every time I opened my wallet I registered that the latest duplicate thumb drive was there, although I felt a little uneasy because it was a bit bulky for its location.  I briefly thought that I should at least put it on a cord and attached it to a clip in my purse.  But I didn’t act on that thought.

Guess what happened?  When I checked my wallet for receipts, I noticed that the duplicate thumb drive, which usually shared space with my paper money, was gone!  First I thought it had fallen out of the wallet and into my purse.  So I turned the purse upside down and shook it, and then methodically went through all the pockets and compartments several times.  It was nowhere to be found.

Adrenaline rush!

Next I retraced my steps, going back to the three neighborhood merchants I had visited this week.  And I called the fabric store I had visited earlier in the day.  No luck.

I was ready to give up hope.  Only one more place it could be.  The grocery store I had stopped at on my way home.  Imagine my relief when – after waiting on hold for a few minutes – the customer service person came back on the line and recited the text that was imprinted on a green thumb drive found at checkout.  It was mine!

Lesson learned:  Carry only the thumb drives you need today.  Carry them securely – on a cord that is attached to your bag or wallet.  And absolutely never carry a thumb drive that contains information you want to keep private.  No passwords.  No financial information.

Thankfully, my scary experience ended well.  I cannot expect to be that lucky again.  From this point onward, I routinely carry NO thumb drives.

“Live with intention”

Author and artist Mary Anne Radmacher writes about living a life that is full, creative, and balanced.  Her advice that we “live with intention” speaks to me as I strive for a rich and fulfilling retirement.  Actually, I wish I had always lived more deliberately, but it is more important now to focus on the future than to regret the past.

After six months of retirement, I accepted a full-time, temporary position that filled my days until it ended on December 11, 2013.  While I worked for nearly twelve months, it felt more like twelve weeks. The time passed so very quickly and made me realize that the rest of my life will likely pass with equal speed.

I don’t want to waste any of the time that is left to me on earth.  So I am trying to live each day with intention, to have goals, and to feel content with the way I spend (almost) every day.

Triple-tasking

Some time ago, I read an article that said multi-tasking is inefficient.  We often need to do it, but we would be much more productive if we focused on one thing at a time.  Generally I agree, especially in a work environment.

However, I have discovered that when it comes to my hobbies and my free time, I can triple-task with a high level of productivity.  I do that by listening to an audiobook while stitching on a quilt or sewing project and watching HGTV, which I have set to mute.  It works really well.

I love to sew, but it is a quiet activity.  So I used to watch television at the same time.  But frequently the “sound track” on the television show is not essential, or not mentally engaging.  So now I listen to an audiobook.  It engages my mind, but is not sufficient by itself.  I still need to periodically focus my eyes on something else.  So, I watch TV (on mute) while listening to a book and stitching on my project.

Because I have been able to choose audiobooks with interesting characters and witty dialog, I want to keep listening – and sewing – longer that I otherwise would.  Consequently, I pieced a Quilt of Valor top in a single long day before Christmas, and yesterday finished hand-piecing another top with lots of small patches.

I really think I’m on to something here. Thankfully we have an excellent public library with a good collection of audiobooks.  I am working my way through the books of Susan Elizabeth Phillips right now.  A favorite dialog from one of her novels:

She:  “I have issues.”

He:  “So does Time Magazine.”

Popcorn balls

Popcorn was a favorite snack in our family.  We all liked it, especially dad.  When we were kids, we used a deep cast iron frying pan to pop the corn, and then poured it into a very large white enamel dishpan.

Popcorn balls were a special treat.  We always used the recipe from a “cookbook” mom had purchased for 10-cents when she was a little girl in 1928.  It was actually a series of magazine-size pages that were brittle with age.  The pages were rolled up lengthwise, and I remember worrying that they would shatter and the recipe would be lost forever.

I have never found a popcorn ball recipe like this one, which uses molasses rather than corn syrup.  You will need a deep 6-quart kettle, because the molasses candy syrup takes up an unexpected amount of space when it starts to boil.  You definitely do not want it to boil over onto the stove.  NOTE:  Pop the corn before making the molasses candy, because the candy needs your full attention and you need to move quickly once it is ready to pour onto the popped corn.

Clara’s Popcorn Balls

  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • 1 Tbsp. vinegar
  • 1/6 tea. cream of tarter
  • 1 Tbsp. melted butter
  • Very small pinch of baking soda
  • 1 tea. vanilla

Mix the molasses, sugar, water, and vinegar in a deep kettle.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.  When the candy begins to boil, add the cream of tarter.

When the candy reaches a hard ball stage (260-degrees F.) add the butter, baking soda, and vanilla.  The mixture is very hot, so handle with care.

Pour the hot candy over popped corn and stir to mix well.  Let it cool so it can be easily handled.  Butter your hands to prevent sticking and form popcorn balls.

How much popcorn?  The recipe does not say, but I suggest three or four full-size microwaveable bags of popcorn – or somewhere between 50 and 60 cups.  Put the popcorn in a very large pan or tub.  Don’t forget to remove any un-popped kernels.  Perhaps, start with half of it and then add more as you see how much corn the candy will cover. If you try to cover too much popcorn, there won’t be enough sticky candy to hold the balls together.  But it will still taste good!