Have You Abandoned Cursive?

On Father’s Day my family had an interesting discussion about cursive handwriting.  My husband said he practiced cursive with a fountain pen.  This laborious method involved dipping the pen in a bottle of ink. He continued to write in cursive throughout grade school. Now his handwriting is practically illegible. He tells me, “I can read it right after I write it, but if it sits there awhile I can’t understand it.”

As a parent, I forced my son to practice cursive every day for a whole summer, yet none of those exercises improved his penmanship. I remember being embarrassed during a parent teacher conference. A middle school teacher described his handwriting as primitive. Today he’s a successful attorney who signs documents electronically with an x.

Prior to the adoption of Common Core Standards, cursive was a large part of the third grade curriculum. My featured photo is from a worksheet I distributed every year to my third graders. Prior to retiring in 2013, I loved teaching cursive. Most of the children were excited about learning it. I remember spending hours grading their handwriting. I proudly displayed their excellent work on a bulletin board. Today I wonder if any of them still write in cursive.

For most schools, cursive is out and keyboarding is in. My husband and son think cursive should not be taught and view it as a waste of time. I can’t imagine living without cursive. I journal, take notes, make grocery lists, and sign my name in cursive. I think of it as a more efficient way to write.

My mom, age 85, joined our discussion. “What about people’s signatures? Isn’t that important?”

“Not anymore, Grandma,” my son responded. “Who writes checks? I pay all my bills online.”

Grandma shook her head. “Not me.”

In the distant past, cursive was considered a trademark of literacy. Mastering this skill meant you could not only write, but read other’s cursive. If cursive is no longer taught, future generations won’t be able to read historical documents. Journals and letters written by family members who’ve passed on will not be understood by their children. I imagine technology already exists to scan cursive and turn it into print. And the reverse, creating script from print. This seems so impersonal. A person’s handwriting used to say a lot about themselves.

What will become of people who analyze handwriting? According to graphologist, Kathi McKnight, cursive gives a good indication of our personalities. She asks people to write a simple sentence in cursive. A right slant means you’re open to others and like to socialize. A left slant means you like to work alone. No slant at all indicates you tend to be logical and practical.

I guess graphologists will be out of a job. Too bad, Kathi.

I’m afraid cursive has become an ancient artform. Its continuation now relegated for parents to teach at home. By the way, Amazon sells workbooks for adults and children. But what child wants to spend their summer vacation practicing cursive? Ask my son. It didn’t work for him.

Have you abandoned cursive? Do you think teaching it in school is a waste of time? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. I’m growing my audience and would love to have you as one of my followers.

 

 

Cardinal Virtues

This spring a cardinal family visited our enclosed patio. The parents were fussing because their baby couldn’t fly above the fence to make an exit. The baby would flap its wings, rise a bit, then fall back to the ground. For a few minutes I debated whether or not to intervene. Should I pick the baby up and carry it somewhere?

I knew the nest wasn’t in our courtyard. I sought out my Facebook friends, who responded with a number of ideas. “Cover it with a towel and take it back to a grassy area.” Another person told me, “Don’t move the baby without a clothes basket on your head because the father cardinal will attack you.” My husband told me to wait and see what happens. (That’s usually his advice about most things.)

I watched the cardinal family for an hour through the back door window.  Finally the baby cardinal made it to the top of the table. Encouraged by his mother, he managed to fly from the table to the top of the fence.  My husband got a terrific photo of him preparing for final take off.

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This event sparked my curiosity. I wanted to know more about cardinals. I discovered they were named after the red robes of the cardinals of the Catholic Church. Immediately the term “cardinal virtues” came to mind.  I applied the seven virtues to a cardinal’s behavior.

Faith: Believing the promises of God. Cardinals stay in the same general vicinity twelve months out of the year.  God provides for them through the cold, grey winter months. The male cardinal’s red color reminds us to “keep the faith” during bleak times.

Prudence: The ability to use foresight, knowing when it’s the right time to take action. Since cardinals do not migrate, they grow extra feathers and eat more to prepare for winter.

 Hope: Cardinals sing cheery songs which lift our spirits and encourage us to persevere through trials.

Love: Male and female cardinals mate for life and share the duties of child raising. The female cardinal calls to the male who responds by bringing her food when she’s nesting.

Justice: Male and female cardinals sing together. Both compliment one other. Each gender has a “voice” in cardinal matters.

Temperance: Both male and female cardinal parents restrain themselves from exploring other interests when they are raising their young. Cardinal babies hop around on the ground for a few days until they learn to fly. The parents stay close by to feed and protect their young.

Courage: A male cardinal is a fierce defender of the nest. He will attack other birds, cats, dogs, and snakes who intrude upon his territory. Males are know to even attack their reflection in a window (side-note: Intelligence isn’t one of the seven virtues).

I’m impressed. After I shared the extensive list of cardinal virtues, my husband asked, “What about the seven cardinal sins?”

I guess that’s one cardinal matter I’ll never know.

 

 

 

The Majestic Marigold

Welcome to my garden. Like other city dwellers, I have a very small space to work. Consequently when plants die, it’s a great loss. Last fall I planted marigolds. My mom is a terrific gardener and told me they are easy to grow. I agree. However, the stems become woody and their fresh green leaves fade after awhile.

Since Florida experiences a year round growing season, I replace my flowers every few months. But something different happened this spring. During March we had a few cold snaps. I didn’t want to replant my garden, so I let it go. By the time I took a closer look, I noticed the weeds were taking over. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “Those aren’t weeds. The leaves look like marigold plants.” The dead blooms from the parent plants fell to the ground and new marigold seedlings were starting to grow. I ran in the house to tell my husband, “Honey, we have a second generation of flowers out here!”

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Check out these interesting facts about marigolds:

Marigolds are versatile.  They like full sun and hot days. They need little care. Water them twice a week and they’ll do great. Dead head the spent blossoms and the plant will produce more blooms. You can save the spent blossoms and replant your next crop. They are perfect for Florida gardeners who replant often.

Marigolds are good companion plants.  I don’t mean for people, I mean for other plants. They actually repel pests like beetles and snails. (And I’ve fought many battles with snails.) If planted as a border for your garden, their aroma discourages rabbits and deer from eating vegetables.

Marigolds are edible.  This was new information for me. Hybrid varieties can be added to salads, teas, stir fries, soups, and any dish that needs color.  If you have ever tasted one, let me know. I’m a little hesitant.

Marigolds can be used to make dye for cloth.

Marigolds were named after the Virgin Mary. Native to the Americas, the plant was treasured by Aztecs for its medicinal value. Spanish explorers brought them back to Europe and referred to them as “Mary’s Gold.”

I didn’t know marigolds were so valuable. Long live marigolds! I spread more of the seeds from the parent plants on the soil in my garden and they took root. As they grew I removed some of the parents and replaced them with seedlings.  Now there are only three parent plants. They rest of the bed is new growth. Have you ever stumbled onto an exciting discovery by accident? Leave a comment and let me know.

Read another post about gardening by clicking on “The Attack of the Killer Snails.”

The Attack of the Killer Snails

Recently I planted twenty pretty pink vincas.  Since the summer rains returned to Orlando, I thought my new flowers would do well. Little did I know the rain activated a hungry army of garden snails. When my trowel scraped through the soft soil it was like a dinner bell announcing, “Come and get it. Dinner is served.”

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Snails like to feast on plants during the dark of night. When morning arrives they take cover under the soil. The day after I planted the flowers I noticed some sawed off leaves lying near the base of several stems.  Oh no, I thought.  How can I stop the snails from destroying my garden?

I remember the snail war of 2015. That year I introduced a successful tactical weapon.  SNAIL BAIT!  I don’t like to use snail bait because of our beagle. Although the label on the package explained the product was safe for pets, Buddy nibbled on some of the pellets and became ill. At the time I was so scared I made an appointment for Buddy to be examined by our vet.  Upon receiving the results of his blood test, the doctor informed me Buddy was alright. However, he suggested I discontinue the use of snail bait in my garden.

Back to the battle at hand. My mom suggested I put broken eggshells around each plant. The snails hate walking on the sharp edges, and leave. I ate two eggs for lunch to build up my artillery.  Still, two eggshells couldn’t begin to defend twenty plants.  An avid gardener herself, Mom sympathized and donated a few more eggshells to the war cause.

My brother offered another idea. “How about fireplace ashes? I heard they keep slugs away, maybe they’ll work for snails.” I liked his idea because I still had some ashes in our patio fireplace that we burned last winter.  Besides, I didn’t really want to eat more eggs. I carefully ringed each plant with ashes to build up my fortifications before another nighttime attack would ensue.

The next morning I rushed out to the patio to check on my plants. Let’s put it this way. If I was keeping score it would be Snails: three / Debbie: seventeen. (Remember, I started with twenty.) Sadly, I carried three vinca casualties off the battlefield.

Desperate, I sought advice from the internet. When I searched “snails” a number of links came up. I watched a YouTube video which explained how to harvest garden snails and eat them. Yuck! In the video a man gathered the snails and boiled them in beer. Then he removed the shells and sautéed them in garlic butter. I want to kill my enemies, but I don’t want to eat them.

During my research I learned snails breathe air. If sealed in a zip lock bag the snails will suffocate. That’s a good plan as long as a person can get up early enough to pick the slimy pests off the plants before they retreat into their underground tunnels for the day.

I’d also heard of setting out little saucers of beer to drown the snails. That idea seemed hit or miss. With my luck the snails would feast on the flowers before they belly up to the bar! All of these methods took too much time.  I wanted a solution now.

Yep, you guessed it. I chose the nuclear option. I drove to Home Depot for a box of snail bait and quickly placed the pellets around each suffering vinca before nightfall. The box was labeled non toxic and safe for wildlife. The snails eat the bait, stop feeding on the plants, and crawl away to die.

But what about Buddy?  Suddenly  I realized  I could keep our dog away by fencing the area.  I used our patio furniture to build a fence around the bed and filled in the openings with pots. Someone once said, “necessity is the mother of invention.”

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This morning I surveyed my brave vinca troops. Snails: zero /  Debbie: seventeen.

The Gem of Winter Park

One of my favorite places to visit is the Morse Museum of Winter Park, Florida.  The Morse Museum contains the most comprehensive collection of works by American artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Exhibits include leaded-glass lamps, unique windows, and architectural elements from Tiffany’s Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall. My favorite part of the museum is The Chapel which Tiffany created for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Inside The Chapel, intricate glass mosaic surfaces reflect light from a ten foot by eight foot electrified chandelier in the shape of a cross. Sitting in the chapel makes me feel as if I’m in another world. Similar to the great cathedrals of Europe, The Chapel inspires me to consider the beauty and holiness of God. I am reminded that darkness will never extinguish the light.

Stained glass as an art form reached its height in the Middle Ages. The stained glass windows of medieval churches taught the narrative of the Bible to an illiterate population. During the twelfth century in England the Tree of Jesse Window  displayed the genealogy of Christ. Pictured at the base of the tree is Jesse, father of King David. On higher branches are the kings and prophets of Judah. At the top Christ and Mary are shown. This window shared Isaiah’s prophecy: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a Branch shall grow from his roots.”

As America became more industrialized during the late 1800’s and cities grew, churches sought artists who could work in stained glass.  During the nineteenth century, pot metal glass was commonly used. Craftspeople often painted this regular looking glass with enamels.

Tiffany’s windows took stained glass to a new level. His invention of opalescent glass used chemicals to create the variations of color found in nature. The result was a more realistic looking product.   Tiffany’s windows fulfilled a long-desired American goal of countering the perceived artistic superiority of Europe. He mastered the art, and by 1900 America led the world in the production of stained glass decorations. Tiffany Studios produced a range of products including lamps, pottery and jewelry.

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Tiffany was inspired by nature and intoxicated by color.  Winter is an example of opalescent glass from the Four Seasons panel on display in the Morse Museum.

Maybe Less Really is More

Somehow I convinced myself I needed a new chair. Did it matter we already have fifteen chairs in the house? Not at all. None of them seemed to suit me anymore. I wanted an easy chair which would give me more back support. I also wanted to be able to elevate my feet. I’m short, and the two big recliners in our family room do not fit me well.

I discussed my dilemma with my husband, Herb. He understood and agreed, but with one condition. Herb wanted me to be “sure” I found the chair comfortable before  the purchase was made.  After all, I was “sure” about the recliners we purchased two years ago.

That’s hard  to determine. How can I know about a chair unless I sit in it for awhile? I wondered how the furniture sales people would react if I brought a book and sat in their showroom for an afternoon.

“I’m just going to look around,” I said as I grabbed my purse and drove off to the nearest Memorial  Day home sale. Believe it or not the store had what I wanted. A comfy easy chair and ottoman which coordinated with the style of our sofa. I called Herb and asked him to meet me in the showroom with a pillow from our sofa so we could match the colors. The salesman informed us we would need to special order the set since we wanted a color change. The order would take about four weeks to fill. With additional charges for a fabric protector and delivery, Herb and I knew we were looking at a major purchase. And did I mention the chair was not on sale?

When I looked at Herb’s face something told me to wait.  I remembered the mistake we almost made about the purchase of our camper. I politely told the salesman I needed more time to think.

The next day our son came to visit. I told him I thought I needed a chair. He looked around the room and said, “I think you have too much furniture in here now. Why don’t you get rid of the coffee table?” The funny thing is I agreed with him. After we carried the table out to the garage, I rearranged the remaining furniture. Now I could place the ottoman from our existing recliner near the sofa. Did I mention I’ve always been comfortable sitting on the sofa? Shazaam! Now I can sit on the sofa and elevate my feet! My furniture dilemma was solved.

I can’t help but get philosophical about this. How many other times have I thought I needed something and ran out to buy it without really thinking? I am not a minimalist, by any means, but I want to be more deliberate about the purchases I make.  I recently watched a documentary about minimalism.  Minimalists rid themselves of excess possessions in order to focus on what’s important. I didn’t need another chair. I needed a different way of arranging my furniture.

Rearranging the furniture also opened possibilities for other changes in the room. I found an accent table, a candle holder, and a picture in an upstairs bedroom.  Voila! I created a new look out of things I already owned.

Anyone need a coffee table?

The Case of the Green Bean Casserole

img_8118How did green bean casserole become part of our traditional Thanksgiving feast? I’m pretty sure the Pilgrims and Indians didn’t have it on their table. And what do French fried onion rings have to do with an all-American holiday?

I don’t really like green bean casserole. In the past I’ve tried to swap it out with a different vegetable dish. After all, I’m the menu planner, shopper, and cook at our house. I have rights, too. During the month of November grocery ads feature new recipes to make the perfect holiday meal. I’m usually pretty adventurous about trying new recipes, but hesitate to risk springing something new on my critics. Still, I discussed the possibility of change with my son.

“Why is green bean casserole on the chopping block?” he cried. “Can’t you get rid of something else?”

I relented. After all, the thought of disappointing my family on Thanksgiving Day over- ruled my own needs. Still, there was the additional matter of another ingredient in this dish, the mushroom soup.

My daughter hates mushrooms. For the past two Thanksgivings I modified the casserole by making it with cream of chicken soup, cheese, water chestnuts, and of course the onion rings. I did it to make her happy. Everybody had a spoonful to be polite, but as a leftover, it simply never disappeared.  I decided to call my daughter.

“Honey, the green bean casserole with mushroom soup is in high demand over here. We need to make some trade-offs this year.  Can I prepare sweet potato casserole with mini marshmallows for you?”

“Sure Mom,” she responded. “How about throwing in one of your cheese balls as an appetizer?”

“OK, no problem. See you soon.” After I hung up the phone I felt like I had just brokered a peace agreement between two countries.

My menu was taking shape. Although I purchased the turkey the week before, I still had to buy the sides. I made my list. At the top I wrote in big letters:

REMEMBER TO MAKE THINGS EASY ON YOURSELF!

After cooking thirty-five Thanksgiving meals, I know how stressful this holiday can be. I suffer from my own past successes. Achievers always feel the need to at least live up to their own expectations. Still, I am starting to tire of myself.

Before I walked out the door to Publix, my brother called.

“Anything I can do to help with the meal this year?” he asked.

“How about bringing some pre-made mashed potatoes?” I responded. “And a can of cranberry sauce.”

“You got it,” he replied.

I smiled to myself. That’s the change. I will not stand at the sink peeling potatoes this year. I am thankful for microwaves.

As we gathered around our Thanksgiving table, we gave thanks to God for our many blessings, including the green bean casserole.

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