New activity – PAPER ART

Barbara – I’ve lived in the DFW area for over 25 years but hardly ever venture into Fort Worth so I hadn’t yet been to its Arts & Culture neighborhood. But learning that the Amon Carter Museum was having an exhibition called “In the Night Garden” featuring Paper art, how could I not go in “P” month? The two artists featured were Houston based Natasha Bowdoin and Pakistani-American Anila Quayyam Agha.  I LOVED Bowdoin’s art, the main piece being the title of the exhibit and which was paint on board with cut paper and vinyl mounted on moveable supports to resemble a theatrical backdrop. “For Bowdoin, nature is not merely a subject; it represents the idea of transformation.” She uses literature as her muse. 


Agha’s art was paper cut out, pastels, embroidery and beading on paper and was also quite beautiful. This one “suggests the sewing circles her mother established in Pakistan as a forum for women to gather and communicate in a restrictive, patriarchal society.”

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If not for the ABC Life I would never have discovered these wonderful artists!

New author – Katherine PANCOL

Barbara: I started and aborted many “P” authors this month until I finally came upon “The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles” by Katherine Pancol. I enjoy reading books about sisters (naturally). In this book Iris, the more vivacious and wealthy sister, commits to writing a book which she asks Josephine, her self-effacing, struggling sister, to write for her in exchange for the money. The author has a good style and so I enjoyed the story and all the supporting characters. While I would never take advantage of my sister (and vice versa), it was believable in this instance. The only negative for me was that I was extremely frustrated with how Josephine lets everyone use her; I wanted to shake her. But I guess that means the author did her job.

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New Activity (almost) – PECANS

Texas has a lot of pecan farms and so we were both pretty pumped up and primed for some pecan sampling. Laura called one farm that mentioned in D Magazine that it allows people to shake the trees to get their pecans to fall off. That sounded like fun but when she called, she was told that their crop would not be ready until some time in November. So, we called a place in Wylie that sold pecans that were grown on their farm in Telephone Texas (population 700) and got a recording. The web showed that they were open, though, so we got in the car to drive out. We were doubly excited because we figured that after buying the pecans we would come home and bake a Pecan Pie Cake from a recipe created by one of the Texas pecan farmers. So, imagine how disappointed and pissed off we were when we got there and saw this sign:

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So, no pecans, no pecan pie cake. However, we did go to Ballard Street Café and buy a piece of pecan pie fresh out of the oven and piping hot. Even though November is no longer P month, when the time comes, we will head out to the farm, shake that tree, and bake that cake!

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New activity – Lions and Tigers and Ocelots, Oh My

To close out the month we were lucky to be introduced to a hidden gem in Wylie called “InSync Exotics.” Similar in purpose to the Center for Great Apes that we visited in Tampa several years ago, InSync takes in lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, ocelots (which are also known as dwarf leopards), et.al. that have been abandoned, sold as pets, abused, etc. and brings them back to health and a safe and comfortable life. Currently they have close to 70 residents and require $20,000 a month to feed them all. Some of the stories were heart breaking – they got a tiger that was 200 pounds underweight! – and we learned a lot about the horribly abusive exotic pet industry. These animals are majestic and we’re lucky to have people willing to dedicate their lives to saving them but sad that it’s necessary.

When we analyzed our experiences at the two sanctuaries, we acknowledged that our visit to the Center for Great Apes was more engaging and left a larger imprint on our souls. The animals there have such large personalities and are so interesting to watch as they go about their business of playing with each other and with various toys, objects, etc. Plus, when they look you in the eye, you feel an immediate connection. On the other hand, the animals at InSync were more aloof and, for the most part, mostly lying down. Their power comes from their awesome size and majestic beauty. Overall, visits to sanctuaries, regardless of the residents, are totally worthwhile and deserve our support.

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Learning Center

Barbara: Making breakfast this morning, I got to thinking about the onion I was cutting up for – what else? – my omelet. I found a lot of information about the place it was thought to have been used first (Asia) and the health benefits, etc. But nowhere did I get an answer to my question: “When the first person started cutting up an onion to eat and, after 5 minutes, couldn’t see because their eyes were burning and tearing, what made him/her decide it would be a good idea to continue?”

I did find a fun fact: Before New York City became known as the Big Apple it was called the Big Onion because it was a place from which you could peel off layer after layer without ever reaching the core. (from “1000 Places to See Before You Die” by Patricia Schultz).

And I found some great quotes about the onion:

“Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time; And sometimes you weep.”
-Carl Sandburg, American poet

I will not move my army without onions!”
-Ulysses S. Grant

“It’s hard to imagine civilization without onions.”
-Julia Child

And my personal favorite:

“If you hear an onion ring, answer it.”

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New Activity – Omelet Tasting

We both love breakfast, but the omelet has not been up there as a favorite option. So, we thought for O month we would sample a few made at restaurants in case we just weren’t being creative enough ourselves and were missing something. The first two omelets we tried were First Watch’s “The Bacado” (bacon, artichoke, and Monterey Jack) and their seasonal “Short Rib Omelet.” This one was described as: “Savory red wine–braised beef short ribs, house-roasted shallots and Crimini mushrooms, fresh spinach and Mozzarella cheese. Topped with Parmesan cream sauce and fresh herbs.” The Bacado was not a hit with us as it was very bland but the Short Rib Omelet was super delicious.

The next omelet we had at Little Gus Café. It was their “Gyro Omelet” which consisted of Gyro meat, tomato, onion and feta cheese. This one was a hit as well, mostly because of the innards and less due to the egg. We realize that what makes an omelet tasty to us are the juices of what it was filled with; otherwise it would be blah. And although we enjoyed two out of the three, we don’t think it has changed our minds about the joys of an omelet. We imagine the over easy and scrambled eggs are doing a little happy dance at beating the competition.

New Experience – Eastern Screech Owl

Laura: Imagine how surprised you would be to hear what sounded exactly like a whinny of a horse outside your patio door around 5:45 a.m.? It was a soft sound but didn’t let up. We were concerned some critter might be in distress (although we highly doubted My Little Pony was wandering the grounds). Kurt is an avid bird lover so, once we realized the sound was coming from one of the trees, he suggested it was probably an owl – either a barn owl or a screech owl. I grabbed our “Sibley Guide to Birds” and sure enough, it was the Eastern Screech Owl. Sibley’s confirmed that it sounds like the whinny of a horse and the map showed that they do populate the Eastern half of Texas, Dallas being part of that equation. It may not be a big deal to others but somehow this sighting and discovery made my day!

New activity – Opera


Barbara: I never thought that opera was for me. Yes, I loved “The Phantom of the Opera”, “Les Miserables” and “Tommy”, but I haven’t really considered them opera with a capital O. But since it was O month, I said “what the heck, I may as well find a traditional opera to see in the DFW area.” However, the stars were against me and absolutely nothing came up in my search. Luckily, though, I discovered a chamber music group in Arlington that was performing much of the music from the opera “Carmen” by the French composer George Bizet.  I didn’t realize how many of the songs were familiar to me and that I highly enjoyed them.

Optimistic that I now would appreciate opera, I came home and started to watch a video of the opera. And the verdict? Chamber music yes, opera no. Just not a story format I can get behind. Does that make me less cultured? Hope not. Maybe the fact that I don’t like soap operas either balances it out.

Laura: Knowing Barbara was headed out to hear opera music performed, I decided to watch the original Lon Chaney version of “The Phantom of the Opera.” This silent movie was playing on Kanopy but shortly after it began, there was a technical failure and it stopped streaming. That was fine with me since I wasn’t really into the silent movie genre – and what was the point if I was seeking the enjoyment of operatic voices? So, I chose instead to listen to a 30-minute YouTube selection on Top 10 “Must Know” Opera Songs. I loved it! I’ve always enjoyed opera music and these 10 selections reminded me why. To name a few, they included songs from Carmen, Rigoletto, Madame Butterfly and La Traviata. Plus, the power and magnificence of the voices of Luciano Pavarotti and Maria Callas are mesmerizing. I am hoping to carry this enthusiasm forward and make listening to opera music a weekly pursuit.

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New activity – OFF THE GRID Exhibit

We’re sometimes hesitant to go to an art gallery because we can drive 45 minutes, only to find that the exhibit we expect to see is comprised of a small number of paintings that don’t impress us. Not so in the case of the Cerulean Gallery in Dallas. The exhibit we went to see was called “Off the Grid.” When asked why we were told that the artists wanted to show works of art that were not the usual style or medium they were used to working in. Of the 3 artists we both agreed that our favorite was a Dallas artist, Leslie W. Friedman. She’s won several awards and has worked in many media but her current passion is working with hot-fused glass and stained glass. The resulting art pieces are quite lovely and very different from anything we’ve looked at.


Carmen Menza was another artist that caught our eye. She attempts to see how various materials react to surrounding light and indeed, the colors in the pieces shift with the transmission of light as demonstrated to us by the woman we talked to at the gallery. We thoroughly enjoyed this visit. Now if we can only make some room on our walls……

Movie Theme – Opportunists, Obsession

Laura: I’ve always wanted to see Billy Wilder’s film “Sunset Boulevard.” So I was pleased to see it pop up during my search for movies that dealt with “Opportunists.” After watching the movie, I’m more inclined to list it as a movie about “Obsession,” but whichever label I choose, the film itself is Outstanding! The acting, dialogue and storyline put it among the very best films about the motion picture business and its long-reaching effects on those who comprise that industry. It features a delusional has-been silent movie queen (Norma Desmond), a down-on-his-luck screenwriter (Joe Gillis), a mysterious butler (Max) – even a dead monkey in a casket! Although I agree that this film earned its 1950 Academy Award Best Picture nomination, it was a heart-breaking story – one that leaves you worn out. Its themes are definitely still relevant and make me wonder which films being made in this century will one day be regarded as masterpieces. I do think that memorable, witty and clever dialogue go a long way toward making a film stand the test of time and “Sunset Boulevard” has tons of it. One of my favorite exchanges is when Joe meets Norma and says, “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be big.” Norma answers, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

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So far, we haven’t gotten to many O activities but this week, and next, should be a little more productive – we hope!

Starting the month slowly with our more “mental” pursuits.

New authors – O’Brien, O’Toole and O’Donnell


Barbara: I’ve never had trouble finding a book that I liked by a new author for the month, but this month was an epic failure! First up was Tim O’Brien who wrote a book of short stories called “The Things They Carried,” about his experiences in Vietnam during the war. I just couldn’t get into his writing style and was not compelled to finish. OK, I thought, I’ll just switch to “The Death of Bees” by Lisa O’Donnell. The description was appealing since it involved two sisters, but the start of the book was so unenticing as she described the sisters’ attempt to bury their parents whose bodies were so rotting as to be oozing liquid. Once I got to the sentence where the author described one sister having to “scoop” the body into a bag, I said to myself “I’m out of here.” So onward to author number 3. The book “Hemingway Didn’t Say That” by Garson O’Toole should have been right up my alley. During the course of our blog, I’ve done a lot of Learning Centers that focused on the origins of a word or phrase, so I was looking forward to this book. Unfortunately, the writing style was so esoteric as to make my eyes cross. I never did find out what Hemingway didn’t say! So, alas, this month I’m going back to an Old Faithful, Joyce Carol Oates. She’s not easy and necessitates a lot of concentration, but she is very good and I’m going to attempt to read “The Mudwoman.”

Movie Theme – Olympics


Barbara: “Visions of Eight” is a documentary devoted to the Olympic Games in Munich 1972 during which the Palestinian Black September Organization brutally attacked and killed eleven Israeli athletes and coaches plus a West German police officer. The film was divided into eight segments, each directed by a different director. Interestingly, only John Schlesinger’s segment made any mention of the tragedy that overshadowed these Olympic events. The rest of the segments each highlighted a sport that was of special interest to the director. I had two particular favorites. The first was “The Strongest” directed by Mia Zetterling. It focused on weight lifting. She wanted to study that sport because she said the athletes were obsessed and “I’m not interested in sports but I am interested in obsession.” I am amazed that these men can live without their hearts and brains exploding and would like to know the statistics on their health as a group. When it showed them lifting the barbells I thought their veins were going to pop. What a sport! The other segment I liked was Arthur Penn’s “The Highest” about pole vaulters. What made it so special was the way he filmed it, sometimes in silence, sometimes blurred, or in slow motion. It really focused on the beauty of the sport and the finesse of the vaulters. I was happy that I found this film and it reinforced my love of documentaries.

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New Activity – WINDOWS TO NATURE Art Exhibit

Barbara: Fighting my naturally lazy nature, and thanks to the ABC Life, I pushed myself to go to an art exhibit titled “Windows to Nature” being held at the Lover’s Lane Methodist Church. They have quite a nice ARTREACH Gallery and this month it was filled with lovely paintings celebrating nature. The two artists featured were Donna Chambers & Elaine Jary. According to the artists, the paintings “reflect our interpretation of the restorative quality of nature in our lives. Taking time out from our day-to-day activities to observe the miracles in nature that are all around us provides much needed calmness and reminds us to be grateful for the beauty we find in nature; beauty that provides moments of peace in our busy lives

I totally can relate to what they said and so can Laura, who from time to time would take a walk and find at least one thing in nature that made her smile. As a matter of fact, on the way to the exhibit I happened to hear a song by one of my favorite singers, Michael Franti and Spearhead, which had a lyric in it that went “today would be a very good day just to have a good day all day long.” That, combined with one of Elaine Jary’s Robins in a gorgeous background of orange, which seemed to call out to me, led to a new purchase for my office so I can “have a good day all day long” while I’m posting!

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Laura: Ever heard of the recipe called “Neeps and Tatties”? Well I hadn’t but when I did, I knew I had to make it.  I came upon it last week, as I was browsing through my “Recipes from the Root Cellar” cookbook – and who could resist this smile-inducing recipe title! I had never heard of a Neep nor a Tattie, so N month was the perfect time to get acquainted.

It’s a mashed potatoes and slightly mashed turnips (or rutabagas as they are also called) combination popular in the American South.

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However, it gets its name from the Scots, who traditionally serve it as an accompaniment to haggis (a dish that will never grace my table…yikes!). I chose to serve it as a side to my bison burgers – and it was quite tasty!


Laura: Our quest to keep traveling prompted me to visit The Netherlands. I truly regret not having been there in person but rather than miss out altogether, I enlisted the help and guidance of Rick Steves in his Europe series. I saw two episodes: Amsterdam and The Netherlands beyond Amsterdam. I loved seeing, hearing and learning about this amazing country and its fascinating cities. I was particularly struck by how many bikes there are in Amsterdam. There are a million people there and as many bikes! I was also intrigued by the attitude of the Dutch people and how they are so relaxed about life. It reminded me of when my son returned from his year spent at Utrecht University as part of the University of California’s junior year abroad program. We were eating at a restaurant and he noticed a “keep off the grass” sign and he scoffed, stating that we would never see such a sign in the Netherlands since they didn’t have such “rules.”

Masterpiece Project – 1984

Barbara – While Laura continued her virtual travel, this month I decided to continue our “reading the old classics” by seeing the movie version of the classic 1984. While I did actually read this book years and years ago, I really didn’t remember anything but the idea of a Big Brother. I thought it appropriate because sometimes I feel like Facebook and Google are like Big Brother in that, the minute I search for something, ads and emails appear on that topic. The movie was very creepy and depressing and I think in this case I should have let well enough alone. I can still understand, though, why it is considered a classic.

Activity –  NOSTALGIA

Laura: With so much time spent at home these days, I have found myself watching more than my fair share of tv shows. Hulu has been my good friend, as it offers many successful older shows that are no longer being produced – offering a second chance to revisit some of the shows that were mainstays of my past – in other words I devoted some time to making N month my Nostalgia month. Wikipedia defines nostalgia as “a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” I rewatched several episodes from the The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Wonder Years and The Golden Girls. I enjoyed all of them but discovered that out of those three, the show that made me feel particularly nostalgic was The Wonder Years. That program was produced during the 1980s when I was raising my children. I find myself increasingly missing those days and The Wonder Years brought those feelings forward more than the two others shows that were not connected to my family. Not surprising when I realize that those years were among my favorite time periods in my life and any time I can revisit those memories is a joy.

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Learning Center

The Learning CenterNational Holidays

Barbara – It seems like every day on social media, National this day or National that day is announced. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a National This and That day. Do you ever wonder who comes up with these days?  Well, as it turns out – no one special.

I went online to see how to create a National Day and found out that anyone who can come up with a new day that hasn’t yet been used can do it. There is a National Day Calendar and a National Day Archives. So, I decided to create National Make a Funny Face Day. I went to the National Day Archives and filled out all the information: name of the holiday, how to celebrate it, why we should celebrate it and had to upload a picture to show what I meant. Here are the details:


National Funny Face Day




On this day celebrate by making a funny face at a random stranger. For example, you can go to the market, look at someone who is a stranger to you and cross your eyes or just make a funny face and see if they do it back to you or just laugh. Greet your friends with a funny face. You can have a secret funny face greeting, similar to a secret handshake.


Especially in these times, with so many people sitting at home and feeling isolated, the sillier we can be the better. If someone is wearing a mask and can lift it up and make a funny face at someone it should surprise them enough to get a laugh or even a similar response. I think it will be good for our mental health and enjoyment of life.


As I said in my description, go out to a place where you will meet people you’ve never met before. As you’re about to pass them make a funny face and see the reaction. If you are with friends, create your own personal, shared funny face that you have to use whenever you come upon them. See how many funny faces you can receive in return.

I got back a reply saying my day was accepted and I was excited! However, lesson learned: they wanted a fee of $500. So, I’m not sure if they are legit or not but they certainly are not going to get my money!

And here’s the picture I sent them which is as good a response to their request as any:

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For N month we decided to get up close and personal with Noodles. Due to its recent surge in popularity we chose to sample ramen noodles. First up was Ninja Ramen. The menu items all looked appealing, so we decided to order two dishes and share. We always make this mistake as we could have easily been full from the Yoki Soba. This dish wasn’t made with the noodles we think of as ramen, but it was absolutely delicious. For our second dish, we made another mistake by asking the waiter if the spicy ramen was really spicy, and he assured us it was very mild – WRONG. Our mouths were nearly on fire so next time we ask a waiter that question we will specify that we are from the East Coast! Unfortunately, this dish, while traditional ramen, did not hit the mark. The noodles were too chewy and lacked any flavor.

But we couldn’t give up there. So, we tried another place – Marufuku Ramen. Aside from the appeal of the name, the menu truly focused on ramen noodles for their entrees. We made no mistakes here. We opted for Chicken Paitan Ramen. This lived up to the ramen hype. The broth was delicious, the chicken was soft and tasty and the noodles were just right.

Learning Center


Barbara – Why should your head be associated with a long, stringy bit of pasta? I guess if you roll it around in circles it could resemble a brain. As early as 1720 the word noodle was a stupid person, but nobody is certain how that came to be. The leading candidate was the word noddle which meant the back of the head since the 1400s. The phrase “use your noodle” was originally used as an insult – comparing a simpleton wagging his head around like a floppy noodle. By 1762 noodle referred to the head itself, stupid or otherwise.  Nowadays it’s no longer an insult and simply means “think about it.” But that doesn’t sound nearly as appealing and I fully intend to flop my head around a bit the next time I use my noodle.

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We had to postpone N from last month. Between Laura’s visit to her family in San Francisco and Barbara’s visit from her family from Los Angeles, there was plenty of activity. At first, we were putting pressure on ourselves to do things for the letter N but then we took a step back and realized that it would be exactly the opposite of what our ABC Life is about.

But Nothing like the present! Starting N with a song…

Activity – NAME That Tune Bingo

Barbara – I got in the mood for N month with some bingo. But not any run of the mill bingo – Music Bingo at the City Works Eatery and Pour House. Laura couldn’t make it so I went with my friend, Pam. Somehow I had in my head that this was going to be a dive but I couldn’t have been more wrong. City Works was a nice restaurant with good food and good music. Instead of numbers on a bingo card, the emcee played a song segment and we had to “name that tune” by matching the title of the song to our bingo cards.

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Whether you like bingo or not you’ll have fun just moving to the music of the 80s, 90s and other themes.

Movie theme – Neglect

Since we didn’t take care of business with N for an entire month, we felt it fitting to choose Neglect as our movie theme. We looked at both ends of the spectrum and selected two Oscar Nominated films – one about a child and one about elderly neglect. Capernaum is a hard movie to discuss. It focuses on a 12-year old Lebanese boy, Zain, who is neglected and abused and lives a life surrounded by poverty and crime. It culminates with him suing his parents for giving birth to him. His point was if you can’t take care of your children and give them love then why have them? We can’t help but agree with him.

Our other film, The Mole Agent, is a documentary about an elderly man who is hired by an agency to be a “resident spy” in a nursing home with the purpose of seeing if the agency’s client’s mother is being neglected and abused.  We came to really like and admire the Mole who is extremely kind and patient with the other seniors. His conclusion was that there was no measurable neglect by the staff, but neglect was certainly a problem caused instead by the residents’ families. He found that the biggest problem in the home was loneliness, which could easily have been resolved (or at least reduced) by a visit to the loved one by the family that put him/her there in the first place.

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