Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

All is cold, All is white

Rule #48 - You can’t control what happens, only your response to it

     Boy ain’t that the truth! Especially this week in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and our Blizzard of 2016.
     I sit here in beautiful downtown Maryland after Ma Nature dumped 29.2 inches of the white stuff in the greater Baltimore area. You remember that scene in “Ghostbusters” when Dan Akroyd channels the Stay Puft Marshmallow man? Yes, my entire neighborhood looks like the dude exploded before our eyes. My sister suggested we toss several boxes of Rice Krispies out and make a super Krispie treat. If it really was marshmallow, we could do it.

     As of today, it’s been 5 days cocooned in my house. I did a journal exercise for my therapy session and thought I would share some of my musings.
     Head back to last week and storm prep day, or days. Storm prep included a mini-date with the 4-letter S-word on Wednesday. We didn’t get much snow at all, but it was just enough to send some folks into panic mode. The grocery stores were loaded with people shopping for supplies for a long weekend. Lots of snack food found its way into shopping carts of young and old alike. Hardware stores sold out of shovels, sidewalk salt, ice melt, generators and snow blowers. It was time for me to check my prep list here at home:

  • Ice melt – got that in October when everyone was fully stocked. Moved it to the front porch before the snow started on Friday.
  • Home made scoop for the ice melt... necessity is the mother of invention
  • Shovels – I have 2 and I found them hiding behind the gardening equipment. I moved one to the front door, the other to the back.
  • Food – Last minute stock up run at 10 pm on Thursday evening. And guess what? No one was in the Safeway at that time. Made turkey stock for soup, and processed up salad items. Found the Sterno.
  • Firewood – moved some wood to the back porch door and covered it with plastic. Moved purchased DuraFlame logs on to front porch, and a few made it inside.
  • Water – already had a supply of drinking water. Got any gallon jugs from the recycle bin and filled them for flush water. Filled one of the bathtubs too. If we lose electricity, we lose water too. (Well and septic systems). That means toilets don’t flush – and the result is not pretty.
  • Car with wipers and side mirrors covered
  • Car – pull car to the end of the driveway facing the street. Put socks on pulled-up wipers and bags over side mirrors. Gas tank is three quarters full and that will do.

     Now to pray that the electricity holds out.
Saturday morning - I can see a hint of the 18-inch ruler I put on the lower shelf
     From Friday evening to Saturday morning, the snow fell at a steady rate, but not too much. I was able to move about 4 inches by the time I went to bed on Friday night. I did decide to do the shoveling in stages, since the Friday snow was really light and fluffy. The first shovel pass went quickly. Saturday morning’s shoveling went quickly too. I was able to get to the street both times. The speed of the snow picked up on Saturday as the day went on. What I shoveled was quickly covered over. When I went out on Saturday afternoon, I was only able to clear out part of what I already shoveled out. The moisture content of the snow was increasing, meaning the load got heavier. Time to let Ma Nature finish and pick it up again Sunday morning.
Poor Mathilda! This is not her kind of weather

     You know travel is dangerous when an Archbishop gives general dispensation for Sunday Mass. That’s what happened in Baltimore. Some churches were open in the city, but most were not. If a neighborhood church was having services, it was because the pastor lived within walking distance to the church.
     Most of us spent Sunday trying to shovel our ways out of the house. I timed myself for 20 minute stints shoveling. I totaled out with over an hour actually moving snow and got back through to the street by nightfall. Someone with a morbid sense of humor said we should shovel a gurney’s width in case of emergency. I thought of songs I’ve sung with chorus, like “Marshmallow World”, and “Let it Snow”. I was beginning to hate those songs. And if someone asked me if I “Want to Build a Snowman?”, violence may have erupted. Muscles were sore and I am not a patient patient.
Front of the house after the second round of shoveling on Saturday
Snow's getting higher
     Monday, the goal was to clear in front of the car so I could get out if I had to. Thank Heaven for one of my construction neighbors who had a bobcat! He cruised the ‘hood and helped where he could. Yes, I did pay him. He took no more than 20 minutes to move all the snow from in front of the car, drifts and all. I took care of the side of the car. Then the job of cleaning the car began. My poor Dori-mobile had a deep dish snow pizza on top. Clean it off, shovel around the car, repeat. I was able to get the snow pizza pushed down to a “snowhawk”. With temps above freezing, it melted in the daylight. Whatever melted turned to ice at night. By today, the car was totally clear of snow.
Monday afternoon - car is cleared, only traces of snowhawk left

Driveway opened up thanks to the bobcat

Mailbox is accessible so bills can still arrive
     Through it all, we kept electricity, even with blizzard type winds. That was one of the best gifts Ma Nature could have given me. I didn’t lose water, I kept my heat, and I was able to binge-watch TV shows and clear off my DVR. I got to see a decent football game between the Broncos and Patriots. The Cardinals/Panthers game was more of a blowout and got boring really fast. But now I have to decide on what to fix for a Super Bowl party and who to invite.
     Closings and cancellations abound on Monday and Tuesday. Many of my teacher friends have a pool going on when they will get back to school. I’ve got teachers on Friday and kids back on next Monday. Just some friendly wagering, for educational purposes only, no money exchanged.
     Now, as I look back on the storm, I realized how anxiety free the storm was for me personally. My reaction might have been different if I lost electricity. But with the lights – and computer – on, I didn’t feel so cut off, in the dark. I looked back and saw that I did as much storm prep as humanly possible. After that, it was up to Ma Nature and I couldn’t do a thing about it. That part alone reduced my anxiety level. The phrase “Thy will be done” took on a whole new meaning.
     Plus, I was by myself through it all. It gave me a chance to think a lot of things through. I had the chance to plot out some projects once all the snow is cleared away. It was as if Ma Nature knew we all needed to kick back for a few days and chill. She sure knew I needed more activity and I got it shoveling (aka, lifting weights). It gave me a chance to remind myself how physically pffft I am. No time like the present to rectify the situation… gradually.
     Isn’t it amazing when you feel like you and the universe are on the same wavelength? All is calm…. Even me.
     Now to start on the back porch… or I can wait for spring…

Going to have to remove screen to begin shoveling...

...and where do I put the piles out back?
 Photos are the property of Marge McGugan. No reuse without permission.
Video from YouTube: "Ghostbusters- Stay Puft Marshmallow Man", 2016

Monday, January 4, 2016


Rule # 54 – Never stop learning

Welcome to the New Year! I haven’t been on because I’ve been collecting data, like a good researcher should do. I like first person research, like when you get off the tush and go get the info from your experiences. Granted, what I write about is my opinion of the experience. And that is how it should be.
My big thing is traveling. I enjoy getting out of Dodge and seeing what the world has to offer. I’ve been overseas, to Ireland and Japan. I’ve roamed the lower 48 of the US. Yet I still haven’t seen a lot of what is nearby in the DC/Baltimore Metro area.
Now, I’m going to assume you enjoy traveling around too. Don’t look here for money-saving travel tips. Some places are not worth doing on the cheap and I’m not that type of traveler. I look for places where I can soak up the local flavor, and learn to blend in with everyone else. I like to live like a local when I travel… talk to people, not just be a tourist.
Now how about you? And how do you get started?
Are you the type of traveler who needs a focus for your trip? Or are you one who takes off and lets the destination show you what it has to offer? Honestly, I can do both, but for some destinations, I prefer to have a focus. Take New York City, for example. There is so much to do in that town that you need multiple visits – or you need to move there (if you could afford it).
                In 2014, my New York City trip was short and focused on historical things. I saw Ellis Island for the first time. I saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time since I was a teen ager. I went to the 911 Memorial and Museum (tough place to visit but worth it). This year, it was time for serious fun. It was time to do the crazy touristy things. And it was time to plan.
                The main reason for planning – Broadway shows. If you want to see a particular show, you need advance tickets and sometimes you need to wait a long time. “Hamilton” is one of those shows right now that is sold out until June. If you don’t care what you see, there is a ticket booth in Times Square where you can get discounted tickets for that evening’s performances. The problem – you don’t know what will be available on any given day. It’s a real crapshoot.  Another way to get discounts is to queue up at 5:30 when the box offices open for the evening at the show of your choice. You get put into a lottery to get any unsold seats for that evening. It requires you to stand in line (sometimes the weather can be an issue) and it doesn’t guarantee that you will get a seat to see the show. You may be walking away disappointed.
                I took the more expensive route – I went online at Broadway.com and purchased seats for the days the shows I wanted. So, when I left for New York, I had tickets for five shows in my pocket. I spent a week there and needed to schedule down time (Many of us don’t do that when we travel. We think we have to see it all the first time there). I needed to schedule walking time. Many visitors to New York don’t realize how congested the streets are. Sometimes it’s faster to walk to your destination. It’s easier too. Yes, the sidewalks are crowded (if you don’t like crowds, don’t go to New York). But taking a cab at certain times of the day can take just as long as walking. The subway system is good, as are the bus routes. But you have to learn where to get which subway, where it goes, what busses it connects to… that part alone is an education in NYC101. I only got part way through that course last year heading to Battery Park.
                So this year, I was hoofing it around NYC (got the Fitbit buzz each day). And I saw some fantastic sites. But I want to concentrate on the shows. Yes, I was there near Christmas and, yes, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular was one of the shows. However, should your next trip to the Big Apple involve some live theater, I can recommend four shows you should not miss… as in, pay what you can afford and be sure to see these shows.
                The first show I saw was “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”. This particular Saturday evening our program said the leads would be played by the understudy actors. Seems the main lead actors were in Washington DC honoring Carole King at the Kennedy Center. So they send in the “second string” and you couldn’t tell, they were that fantastic! The story covers Carole King’s life from her first song sale, through her relationship with collaborator/husband Gerry Goffin, to her solo singing/writing career. What a trip down memory lane! It wasn’t necessary to grow up in the 60’s and 70’s to know her music. Her songs have been covered by the best in the music industry. This show was a 5-out-of-5 stars.
                “The Lion King” is also a must-do. The costumes make you forget there are people inside them. The puppetry of some of the savannah animals is masterful. And the story – so vividly told in animation on film – translates with the same tension and beauty on the stage. Another 5 star production. And lucky for all of us, this show goes on tour every few years.
                In the middle of all the musicals, I saw a comedy play. Put “Sylvia” on in your gotta-see-it list of plays. Matthew Broderick plays the straight man for a comedic wife, a park buddy/counselor/sorority sister (all played by Robert Stella, who steals each scene he’s in), and a wonderful golden lab dog (Annaleigh Ashford). Any dog lover would relate to the issues brought out in this play. Ms. Ashford allows us to get into the mind of man’s best friend with her many conversations with Broderick. It was a classy and smooth production in a classic 1912 theater venue. Another five stars goes to “Sylvia”. Unfortunately, this show closes on January 3. But I understand the play is done in local theater and touring companies all over.
                I wondered how the week of shows would end. So far, everything I saw got better and better. The best, it seems, was yet to come. A bit of untold American history came to life – and light – in “Allegiance”. Yes, it is billed as a musical. But I would classify it as a story with elements told with music.
                The story of “Allegiance” is a personal one to its star, George Takai (Trekkies know him as Mr. Sulu). His family was pulled from their homes after Pearl Harbor and sent to an internment camp in Arkansas. This play is based on the experiences of American citizens interned on their home soil, one of the overlooked portions of the World War II history. The story focuses on one family, the Kimuras, and their life in California before Pearl Harbor in 1941, through the life and political strife of Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in Wyoming during World War II, to events of the present day. The characters have no choice in the camps, but look for opportunities to fight their way out of the camps by serving in the 442nd Division of all Japanese American troops. Many were heroes in the Italian campaigns. Many returned home to find families divided politically because of the camp situations. As with any returning veteran, the land they came home to was not the land they left. They were not the same people.
                I need more stars for “Allegiance”. Five isn’t enough. The show was so powerful and so well done, it left me in tears – real tears. It was not a comfortable show to watch at times. That in itself makes it worth seeing. If you see no other show this year, see “Allegiance”.
                There are so many more plays to see in New York. I just may need a long weekend to catch a few more shows. I also need to plan time to see the Art Museum, the Natural History Museum, get lost in Central Park, take a buggy ride through the park, do more live studio audience things, tour the baseball stadiums…
Looks like 2016 will be a busy year. Yeah! Bring it on

Video - YouTube "Eddie Murphy Merry New Year", (from Trading Places, 1983) retrieved 5Jan16; 12:44 am