My Sabbatical Year

by Christine

A year ago I shared with you my desire to take the time and dedicate the energy to delve into goals that were not driven by work. To that end, this past year I did just that. The outcome was not as envisioned, it was better. My sabbatical year allowed me to decompressed and refocus on the people and "work" that I cared about and helped me clarify how I want to live the Fourth Quarter of my life. My time has been well spent.  If you're thinking of taking a sabbatical year, here are a couple of things to help you with your planning. 

First, make a plan for the year but be open to unplanned opportunities. Everything I read before committing to taking a sabbatical year stated that having a plan would help make the most of my time. I found that my willingness to follow the path where ever it would lead me to be the most rewarding and enlightening part of the journey. Don't let adherence to "the plan" take over your sabbatical.

Next, be prepared for friends and family to be confused by the term sabbatical. Sabbaticals are traditionally the purview of college professors and eccentric designers, not small business owners.  The idea that you may deliberately take time to do something other than work is foreign to others and in my case always ended with the other person saying, "Oh, you are retired".  No, I am on sabbatical.

And finally, there may be no ta-da or grand fanfare at the end of the year. In my case, I will make a few changes in my life based some of my experiences from the past year but I am not running off to join the French Foreign Legion or start skydiving. An example of a change I am making is spending more time out of doors everyday. I will no longer be tied to a computer for hours on end without a "go outside and play" break. 

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing with you some of the other changes I am making. So let's chat and catch up!




It's Summer So It Must Be Jacksonville

by Christine

[Sunday morning rain showers]

The count down is on and today is the last Thursday my grandchildren will attend classes for this school year. I headed south to be part of the moving up ceremonies for the preschoolers and 5th graders. To be part of the waning days of school uniforms and homework as they give way to sleeping in, water shirts and summer camp is a special treat for me. Preschool graduations and 5th grade moving up ceremonies are amusing and candidly a bit overwrought. The preschoolers are baffled at the rows and rows of parents, grandparents and siblings seated in the auditorium as they march into the room but quickly get into the event once they realized that cake is at the finish line. There was even a preschool no adults allowed "Prom"; we passed on that event. 

My poor 5th grade grandson had to listen to his Principal talk about adhering to "core values" and committing to a path in life "if they didn't want to end up nowhere". I felt for the 5th graders seated in the room because those were some heady admonitions for 11 year olds particularly since I know some 40 year olds who still are looking for their path in life. The most depressing speech of the day was delivered by the Assistant Principal who stated "if you think 5th grade was hard, just wait until 6th grade!" And oh, have great summer. For a moment I thought the only wise thing to do was buy an island and scoop up my children and grandchildren and run away. But them I remembered I don't have enough money to buy an island...even a small one so the best I have to offer is help developing organizational skills and be willing to answer really, really easy math questions. 

Being part of my grandchildren's school life has taken me back to the basics in education. Almost every day I am asked what a word means and truthfully I have to pause to gather my thoughts so that I can clearly and succinctly define a word. The more basic the word the harder it is to define; I've even had to say, "we need to look that up." My mother used to do that to me and I was convinced that she was holding out and just trying to get me to use the dictionary. Now I wonder if she too was struggling to be a good teacher. 

All this musing about grandchildren, education and words brings me to Footsteps. I started writing this blog as a tool to help me as I struggled with my mother's failing health and her death. I very much wanted to share what I learned with others going through a similar journey. I was hoping for a dialog that would educate and enlighten and many of you shared your journey with me for which I am grateful. I have been thinking about the evolution of Footsteps and as has been my pattern over the last couple of weeks, I looked up this word to learn if I had inculcated it correctly. I was surprised to find that the specific meaning of evolution is the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form. I do want Footsteps to gradually develop but I don't want to go from a simple to a more complex form. At this point in life I understand that complex is not necessarily good. 

I am no longer posting weekly about aging parents, health insurance, hospitals and funeral homes. The Footsteps archives houses helpful information on all those subjects and please feel free to look at past posting. In the future I will be writing about Living in the 4th Quarter and how to make the most of that time in life. I've always had eclectic interests and you will see in the future that I will blog about assorted ideas and themes. It could be anything from living alone to second or third marriages later in life to how to make the perfect Southern dessert. I hope you will share your thoughts on these posts. 

Finally, social media can be overwhelming and time consuming. I write this blog to authentically share ideas, themes and information. I know many of you look for my blog updates on my personal FACEBOOK page. I will no longer be putting the link to the blog on my personal FB page, it will only go up on the Footsteps' FB page. So much of the FB feed these days is made up of Upworthy, Buzz and other "informational" threads. I don't want to add to the clutter.  I have a personal FB page because I want to keep up with people I care about and who care about me.

The very best way to keep up with the Footsteps post is to sign up for the newsletter. The newsletter has been redesigned and can be read easily on your phone. I subscribe to several blogs that now use this format and it's great. I find that if I am waiting to have the oil changed in my car or picking up the grandkids from school I can catch up on my reading on my phone. Sign up for the newsletter in the upper right hand corner of this page and please know I will not give or sell your email address to anyone. Also, if you would prefer, sign up for Footsteps on FB to keep up with the post updates.  



Chocolate Pound Cake: Oh My, This Is Yummy!

by Christine

I was not a big chocolate person growing up. I hear the gasps of astonishment but it's true. My favorite ice cream was strawberry; I preferred the licorice jellybeans in my Easter basket and always chose caramel over chocolate when given a choice. The same can't be said for Marty. He loves chocolate. He loves chocolate ice cream, chocolate bars, hot chocolate and chocolate cake. This is one of those opposites attract clichés but truthfully it is the reasons we can't share a dessert when dining out. I want the dessert made with caramel or toffee and he wants the rich chocolaty sweet treat. Compromise is not in the forefront where chocolate is concerned so in the interest of relationship harmony, we get one of each. 

As I was mulling over which pound cake to bake next, Marty came up with an idea. How about a chocolate pound cake? So chocolate pound cake it is! Before sharing the recipe with you, I have 3 suggestions to help make your chocolate pound cake the envy of every true chocolate connoisseur. First, use the best cocoa you can afford. I used Hershey's Cocoa power because it was in my pantry but the chocolate lovers in my family wanted a deeper chocolate taste. Hershey's is now making a dark cocoa that blends natural and Dutch-processed cocoas. Since venturing into the world of cocoa, I have learned all cocoas aren't the same. If you want to know the difference, read Joy the Baker's post on Natural Vs Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder

Next suggestion, give coconut oil a try. The first thing I though when I opened the jar of coconut oil was "this looks like Crisco." Coconut oil is the same color and texture of Crisco but has additional health advantage. The coconut oil will make your cake moister.  

Finally, serve with hot fudge. Yes, I know you've heard me say a dozen times that a good pound cake doesn't need add-ons but the one thing chocolate people love is chocolate with their chocolate. Hot fudge drizzled on this cake is the perfect topper. I conducted a little taste test between two hot fudge brands, Mrs. Richardson's and Smucker's. The adult vote went for Mrs. Richardson's because it "wasn't as sweet". What the vote tells me is that the kids will go for the Smucker's brand. 

So that's it. But one last thing, what is your favorite brand of cocoa and hot fudge sauce? 


Chocolate Pound Cake


2 sticks of butter plus more for greasing pan, room temperature
3 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of cocoa
1/2 cup of coconut oil
3 cups of sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350°
Grease a 10-inch tube pan with butter

1. Bring butter and eggs to room temperature.
2. Sift flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa together. Set aside. *
3. Cream butter, coconut oil and sugar until fluffy. 
4. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each egg.
5. Add flour mixture and alternate with milk, beginning with and ending with the flour mixture.
6. Add vanilla.
7. Pour batter in to tube pan and bake for 90 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.**
8. Cool for 30 minutes before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.

* I use salted butter so I don't add additional salt. 
** Check the cake after 60 minutes so you don't over bake. 








Finding A Home For Your Books

by Christine

"When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes." ~Desiderius Erasmus

I'm a book person. Books are my friends, mentors and teachers; every book that entered my home found its own special place. I didn't loan out my friends or give them away. My books were always at my fingertips in the event I wanted to research a favorite passage or look for an illusive quote.  Well, before on line bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Amazon, I discovered a marvelous bookstore in London. I was attending classes at Cambridge University and I was euphoric over the ideas and concepts being discussed in my classes. On my return journey home I bought books instead of clothes and accessories. I stuffed my suitcase with so many books that I had to pay an overage fee when checking my bag. 

As with most things in life, my attitude towards my books evolved. I started to feel selfish that all my books were just resting on a self or stacked on the floor collecting dust. My enlightening and stimulating friends had transitioned to the role of interior decor joining the ranks of the lamp and sofa. I made the decision to start giving away my books and the first one to go was Reader's Digest Complete Do-it-yourself Manual. My anthropomorphic feelings about that book gave way to guilt that I had sent my friend away. That was the one and only book I gave away until my mother died.

My mother and father didn't collect books on the scale that I did. They read a variety of novels regularly, particularly after my dad retired, but instead of purchasing books they borrowed them from their local library. Mom was a docent at the Jacksonville Art Museum* and she collected large, heavy and stunningly beautiful coffee table art books. As my sister and I were closing down my parent's home after my mother's death, letting go of the books because a struggle. We took more than we really wanted but we did let many go. 

The introduction of the iPad and Kindle helped start me down the path of letting go once again. In my research to find a good home for my friends, I learned of several outstanding opportunities to share my friends. Here are a few ways to find new homes for your books if you are ready to let them go. 

BookMooch-These guys let you give away books in exchange for books you really want. There is no cost to use the site.

The Home Based Bookstore- You can sell your books on Amazon, eBay or on your own website. The highlighted link is a book that tells you how to get started. 

More Than Words-is a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless or out of school to take charge of their lives by managing their own retail and online book business. 

Donate to your local library- Not all libraries want donations all the time. The American Library Association keeps a running list of who is accepting books. Also I would encourage you to just call your local library and ask about their donation policy.

Books for Troops-was founded to send "care packages for the mind" to the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq by providing a variety of books. 

International Donation Programs-This program looks really interesting because it helps institutions and programs that have little or no money to post their need for education material. Textbooks and other hard to place books might find a home here. This is a kooky but engaging concept. Put a BCID label in your book and then release it into the wild. Leave it on a table in a restaurant, on a park bench or give it to a friend. Then plug in the BCID number in the bookcrossing website and watch your books travel the world.  

Finally, my daughter shared this idea with me. Kathryn and her friends have a book exchange. They meet over a glass of wine and exchange books. They are all young mothers whose budgets are tight and this is the perfect way to keep a new book on their nightstand. 

I would love to hear any ideas you might have about finding a new home for your treasured books. 


*The Jacksonville Art Museum has been renamed the Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art.





Monday Musings

by Christine

Spring fever has a grip on me. The browns, blacks and whites of winter have been replaced with the primary colors of spring. Lemon yellow tulips, azure skies and spring green leaves lift my spirit and call to me to head out of doors.  After such a long, cold winter it's good to see the return of milder temperatures. I hope you forgive me for putting on hold our discussion of life in the Fourth Quarter while I share with you my Monday musings. 

Have you ever read a book whose ideas and characters stay with you for days or weeks after reading the last word? Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz is just such a novel for me. The book is a thriller that explores the stories that the heroine Grace Reinhart Sachs tells herself about her perfect husband, her perfect job and her perfect life. Korelitz brilliantly shows Grace's journey as she confront a terrifying truth putting an end to life, as she believed it to be. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a good read and engaging ideas. Should Have Know got me to thinking about the stories we tell ourselves. 

My company helps organizations tell stories to their key constituent to achieve a goal. Now a story isn't necessarily a falsehood; it's an account or a vision of a real or imaginary event. I love the work because I love telling stories.  I even volunteered one year to tell stories to elementary school children. Stories frame who we are and what we believe about ourselves. 

I do wonder about the stories that bombard us daily. TV shows about murder and mayhem, news reports about the heartache and disasters in the world that seem to have no solution or end and the constant narrative that success is celebrity and extreme wealth.  Is this who we believe we are now? Maybe the media are the modern day Brothers Grimm sharing cautionary folk tales that warn of us the evils of the world. But I do long for stories that bear witness to (wo)man's successes as individuals and as a group. I worry that we, like the fictional Grace Reinhart Sachs, are mono focused but unlike Grace, our stories are not about perfection but about a world is so horrific and despairing that it's deadening.  I believe we need stories that highlight the best in humans so that we can hold on to our humanity. 

What do you think? What stories are we telling each other as a nation? What stories do you tell yourself? Do they lift you up or tear you down? Let me know what you think about the stories we tell ourselves.




Living In New York

by Christine

[ West Community Garden cared for by a passionate group of volunteers]

Today I am going to take a break from posting about planning for the Fourth Quarter to write about living in New York City.  I'm not one of those (transplanted) New Yorkers who believes the City is the epicenter of the world but I do understand why most of the 8,405,837 people that live in one of the 5 boroughs feels that way. Marty was born and raised in Brooklyn and he proudly points out that "Made In Brooklyn" is stamped on the bottom of his foot. He is in fact one of THOSE New Yorkers.  Brooklyn, Marty's hometown, is the largest borough followed by Queens, Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island.  The total population of the state is 19,651,127 and the residents of New York City account for almost 43% of the state's population. One day I will share with you some of the internal politics of a state whose rural areas are more red than voting records indicate and how they feel having the richest, most powerful blue city in its midst. 

Why do I understand that most New Yorkers believe their city is the best in the world? Because you can always find a group of people who share your interest. Are you a quilter? Join the NYC MOD QuiltCuild on the first Saturday every other month. Want to learn about native plants and wildflowers in New York City? Check out the free tour in Central Park.  Or discuss the 21st Century Renaissance, dance the salsa in Bryant Park or Kayak the Nissequogue River...yup, those groups are waiting for you to sign up. 

I had a civics teacher who once said you can get 50 people in the United States to believe anything. I submit within the 8.5 million people living in NYC, you can find at least 100 individuals who share your passion and have already organized a weekly meeting. For most of the people who live in the City, it is a point of pride that if they wanted to they could attend a lecture on Powerful Women in Greek Tragedy even though they never would. 

I've lived in towns and cities up and down the Eastern Seaboard and I know that each place has it's own allure and attraction. To make a place your home, means to find others who you care about and who honor your passion. Yes, it may be easier to find your group out of a large pool of individuals but it is not a requirement. What is your passion? Do you have people in your life that honor you passion? 





African Violets And My Mom

by Christine

My mom was not an outdoors person. She did not garden, camp or participate in water sports. Like many of the families in the 1950's and 1960's, Mom tossed the salad in the kitchen while Dad grilled the steaks in the backyard. She did not venture out into the wilds of the backyard. Mom firmly believed that her children were born for the sole purpose of mowing the lawn, weeding, sweeping the front porch and deck so that she would not be required to go outside.

She did have one love that put her in touch with nature, African violets. Mom was the Alexander the Great of African violets. She conquered and subjugated every African violet that came into our home. In her later years, African violets multiplied under her care to the point that every surface in her kitchen was covered with plants that bloomed in a range of colors from white to dark purple. Mom had a lot in common with the neighborhood cat lady.  If one African violet came into the house then 50 were sure to follow. She grew them in little tea cups and ceramic pots. The introduction of African violet pots allowed for more plants with less work. Mom propagated plants by leaf cuttings and as a kid watching a whole plant emerge from a single leaf reinforced the feeling that my mother had powers beyond normal people.

African violets were the perfect flower for my mother. They came to the United States from Tanzania and southeastern Kenya in 1894. I would love to visit Tanzania or Kenya one day to see these beautiful plants growing in the wild. The African violet develop a reputation for being difficult and finicky to grow in the States because they were and are temperature sensitive. They need a night time temperature of 68-70˚ and day time temperature of 75-80˚ and homes in early 19th Century were drafty and uncomfortably cold at times. The introduction of the florescent light and better built homes helped increase the popularity of African violets. An estimated 22 million African violets are sold a year in the United States.

My African violet took a real beating this winter in the kitchen window. The herb window was a cold and drafty place for a little hothouse flower. I divided the plant in two and gave it a good dose of African violet fertilizer. When it blooms I will post pictures on the Footsteps FACEBOOK page. Did your mom have a favorite flower? Does she now? What good memories come to mind with spring flowers?



How To Organize Your Family Photos-Step Three

by Christine


[Love Dad's socks]

For the last two Wednesdays I have been writing about organizing your family photos. Today I close out this mini-series with a look at how to store all your scanned photos and digital images. The challenge is to keep your images safe for your own enjoyment and for future generations of your family.

Each media whether film, video or digital has its own challenges. I am reminded of photographer Jacques Lowe. Lowe had unprecedented access to President John F. Kennedy and his family. His photographers weren't just works of art but a record of U.S. history. Lowe's archive was irreplaceable which made it uninsurable. Lowe stored his precious photographs in the safest place he JP Morgan's vault in building 5 of the World Trade Center in New York City.  After the 9/11 attack the vault was retrieved in tact but inside the vault, Lowe's film archive was in ashes. 

In the digital age your concern for the safety of your images moves beyond Acts of God and man. If not stored properly, the images degrade and can be lost forever. That is why I don't rely on CD's as backup for my digital images. I had some family video transferred to CD several years ago and learned that the best CDs are only guaranteed for 100 years. While a hundred years sounds like a long time and it is, I have black and white photographs of family over 100 years old and there is no loss of image. Unless the technology changes, CDs aren't the best media to house valuable images. 

So how do you protect your images? First, back up your photographs to multiple media. You can keep them on your computer; use a flash memory drive, external hard drive or on-line storage service. I back up my photographs to a LaCie external drive. There are many different brands of external drives and pricing is based on storage size. I like the LaCie rugged because it is a good travel size and has a cushy outer layer that can take a hit now and then. My cloud service is Dropbox. I started with these guys though my company and have stuck with them for my personal stuff. Again there are multiple cloud storage services to help with photo storage. Choose one that works for you and start uploading. 

Next make sure you have a copy somewhere besides at home. Give a copy to your sister, put it in your safe deposit box or keep it any other safe place off-site. (This is really a good thing to do for the back up to your whole computer system.) If you are using a cloud services, this can be considered your off-site location for your photographs. It's all about redundancy!

I hope these three posts inspire you to organize and protect your photographs. Let me know if you have any hints on how to make this DIY project easier. 


Nugget: Why the Library of Congress believes preservation of your photographs and communications is important




What Do Your Spending Habits Say About You?

by Christine

Boy! A month goes fast. How did it go with your spending log this past month?  Was it difficult to keep the log? Or was it the perfect tool for you to keep a record of your daily expenses. Now that you have recorded a month's expenses, you can analyze how you spend your money and what changes you can make to reach your Fourth Quarter goals. Are you spending your money like you thought? Were there any surprises? What did you learn about yourself?

How you spend your money says a great deal about what you value? If you spend $6.00 a day on a cup of coffee or $700.00 dollars a month on shoes, it could easily be said that you value coffee or that you value shoes. How you spend your money is a tangible expression of what you value in life. But understanding your motivation behind how you spend your money may not always be clear. Paying your mortgage doesn't necessarily mean you value the house you live in; it could mean that you value the security of owning your own home. Paying premium for coffee, shoes or other goods could say more about the lifestyle you value as opposed to the object themselves. 

Take time this week to look at your spending log and think about what your expenses say about you and what you value. Are you careless with money? Are you frugal with money? Do you profess certain values but spend you money contrary to those stated values? I'm taking about understanding "the why" of how you spend your money. When you understand your motivation, it becomes easier to set priorities when making changes. Take some time this week to sit quietly and think about how you send your money and what it says about you. 





Finding Balance: Living In The Moment And Planning For The Future

by Christine

Recently a family member asked for advice on how to balance living fully in the moment with planning for the future. This question brought to mind the days when my kids were still young and in school. More than one Sunday evening Matthew or Kathryn declared that a book report, a difficult to source poster board or a dozen cupcakes was due at school the following morning. My children were in school during the days when teachers believed it was the responsibility of the student to plan their work and communicate with their parents.  There were no weekly folders from the teacher or on-line student accounts with school calendars to help the parents monitor their child's schoolwork.

Each time, the hair-on-fire moment created by these pronouncements put me into a quandary. Do I stop every thing and edit and type the half finished book report, scour every store looking for that special poster board that can only be found in the local arts store that's not open on Sunday or stay up to midnight baking cupcakes. The other option was to calmly explain to the kids that part of the planning process was giving me notice and unfortunately it was too late to do what they needed done. They would suffer the consequence of a failing grade or the discomfort at spoiling a class party. I was never able to follow the second option, I would kick into gear to solve the late night challenge, yelling at my child the entire time. We hit the deadline but my home was not a calm and nurturing place during those episodes. This was definitely extreme living in the moment. 

I don't believe planning for the future is in conflict with living fully in the moment. Planning means putting into place a set of actions that have been thought through as a way to achieve your future goals. Have you taken the time and energy to think through what you want your future to look like and put a plan in place?  Each January I spend a dedicated amount of time putting together my goals for the coming year. This exercise helps me visualize what I want my life to look like and how I am going to achieve my goals. I work the plan during the year. I may change the plan depending on opportunities and challenges that come my way but having a plan takes some of the pressure off when looking towards the future. 

Planning for the future is not the same as obsessing about or worrying over the future. If you haven't developed a plan or aren't living your plan then the tension between living in the moment vs. the future maybe more about your lack of a satisfactory plan. If your energy is directed towards second guessing your plan or second guessing the future of the world then you will find it difficult to live in the moment. If you are feeling uneasy about being fully engaged in your life today and planning for the future, I encourage you to dig a little deeper. Worry steals joy from today and pays no returns in the future.