Progress…

I’m a fence jockey where ‘progress’ is concerned. I support the miraculous advancements in the world of medicine which has ensured me of a better life. Had I been born a couple hundred years ago, it’s doubtful I would have lived to celebrate my 29th birthday. My last pregnancy (at the ripe old age of 28) was complicated with a breech baby and for a couple hours around lunchtime on September 12, 1979, things got pretty dicey in the delivery room. I didn’t think either of us would see September 13th, and that was with the help of 2 doctors, several nurses, a ghastly pale husband who thought he might be raising our 8 and 4 year old by himself from that day forward. (Should have had a C-section but my doc didn’t think it was necessary. A miscue on his part, which could have turned out much worse). But it all turned out just fine with a healthy baby boy.

4 yr old Joshua, 8 yr old Shannon and me a couple weeks before having a breech baby, 1979…

If I take that a step further back, Hubs probably would have died before he ever had a chance to have sex (horse fell on his foot/leg resulting in multiple breaks and gangrene at age 15. He’s gonna huff & puff, insisting he had sex by 15-hahaha). If that nasty accident didn’t do him in, a ruptured appendix after we’d been married three years probably would have. I’d been left a widow raising our toddler Shannon by myself. Guess there wouldn’t have been a Joshua or Adam from that union. But God had other plans for this young married couple with 3 kids to raise.

Although the birth part was difficult, Adam turned out just fine, 1979…

I’m the first one to cheer for modern medicine like root canals, nitrous oxide, novocaine, pain medication, capped teeth, braces, a tonsillectomy, tubal ligations, vaccines, appendix/gall bladder surgery which allows you to go home the same or next day with the smallest of incisions, joint replacements, organ transplants, stents, bypass, chemotherapy. These advancements have saved millions of lives.

Hubs about the time he wrestled a horse-and lost…

Although it seems like I was born during the Stone Age I assure you I was not. Where I get goofed up is when I look back at my childhood. My family suffered a tragic loss in 1958 when my 12 year old brother was killed while he was riding his bike to our grandparent’s house. I was 7, making parts of being a kid painful, but there’s actually not much I’d change about growing up in my little home town.

Our family a year before Larry was killed. Dad 40, Larry 11, Mona 14, Neese 6, Mom 31 in 1957…

My best friend through school was a sweetie named Char who lived a few blocks away. She was one-of-four girls in her family, all quite close in age. I would say 90% of the households in Rock Valley had a landline phone, but only one. (Our house didn’t fit that large percentage though because we had 2). My dad worked for the Iowa State Highway Commission and was frequently called into work during the middle of the night usually for a miserable blizzard. We all slept upstairs and our staircase was steep, narrow and harrowing to maneuver when you were wide awake, let alone half asleep. In the interest of mom and dad’s unbroken limbs and good health, they added a rotary dial phone which sat on a small table in between their twin beds. Once I hit the phone yakking age, this was an awesome advantage because our main phone was in the kitchen. My conversations were uninterrupted as I laid on mom or dad’s bed. When they thought I was up to no good, they’d quietly lift the receiver downstairs to listen to my conversations.

Junior high bestie Char…

Though most families had a phone, there were no answering machines or call waiting. With Char’s family of 4 popular girl’s, many days when I called, I’d get a busy signal. The phone’s busy signal was just part of our life. When I got frustrated, unable to get through, the easiest thing to do was hop on my bike and ride to her house and speak person to person.

The best place in the world to talk on the phone when I was a teen…

By the time we were in junior high there were lots of extracurricular activities which kept us busy and entertained, band, cheerleading and attending every sports function our public school offered. As great as all the games were, the most fun we had was on the Pep Bus. You signed up at school, paid (50 cents or maybe it was only a quarter) and at the designated time, piled on a bus with 40 other kids from 7th grade through high school.

I don’t think schools have used/promoted pep busses for a long time which makes me sad. That kind of camaraderie is hard to duplicate, especially since most have a cellphone. Listen, I’m not against cellphones. I’m profoundly deaf and texting is the main way I communicate. I just feel teens and 20-something’s are losing a lot of personal friendships if they use their phones for most social interactions.

Diane, Faye, Neese and Kay…

Whenever I think about this I’m reminded of something I witnessed a decade ago. I was on a 4-lane divided Highway, in the left lane, passing a school bus. It was late afternoon. As I pulled alongside the bus I noticed every single teen’s head was resting on his or her chest. No, they weren’t sleeping, but texting/listening to music/playing games. No one I saw was smiling, but deep into their own little world, probably texting the kid 3 rows ahead. This image still bothers me when I think about pep bus rides with my peers. How we teased, laughed, gossiped, sang, told silly jokes on a simple bus trip to a town 30 miles away. I hope kids still experience the goofy joy of a pep bus/field trip ride and the special friendships formed that were ignited on the bus full of exuberant teens…

Let’s talk turkey-quietly…

Full disclosure for those new to my blog, I didn’t know how to cook when Hubs and I eloped in 1969. We’d dated long enough, but John wasn’t interested in my cooking prowess-yet. Until we had to start eating at home for real. After a leisurely honeymoon of 2 days, a 100 miles away, he discovered the first night that supper with a non-cooking spouse meant a small can of red sockeye salmon, flaked to perfection (devoid of slimy skin & spiny bones), a loaf of Hillbilly bread, iceberg lettuce and a stick of real butter at room temperature. I should’ve aced it just for using butter, right?

Just before we moved to eastern Iowa in 1974…

Over the next 3 years we grazed our way through Hamburger Helper, tuna casserole, chicken on the grill, more tuna casserole and 39 cents a pound hamburger. The hamburger patties contained so much fat they fell through the grill and started the house siding on fire. Hubs lost the hair on his arms, eyelashes and eyebrows. Good times. Eventually I did learn to whip up a decent meal.

Shannon 4-1/2, newborn Joshua a few months after the turkey debacle, 1975…

It was the fall of 1974 and we had just moved across the state. We’re both from the northwest Iowa and moved about 350 miles east, fairly close to the mighty Mississippi River. We had just celebrated anniversary # 5, Shannon was 3-1/2 and we just learned I was pregnant (spacing our children was a top priority). This would be our first Thanksgiving not celebrating with the rest of our family. We were going home for Christmas but decided it was too expensive to drive that far two months in a row. Money was in short supply, transportation was dicey, while the bills just kept stacking up.

New Vienna, Ia. Summer of ‘75. The year of the weird picture fungus…

I would be roasting our first ‘turkey’ (the slang definition for this word pretty much describes how the meal turned out). Mistake number one was the size of the bird. Enormous. Hubs thought he was doing me a favor buying a big one. No Butterball site to peruse for guidance. No Google to help me out. Mom explained (in a hurry, who could afford those long distance rates unless you talked very late at night) how to make stuffing but I didn’t research how LONG A BIRD THAT SIZE NEEDED TO BE IN THE OVEN. So when the turkey was a beautiful golden brown, the potatoes were mashed, corn was cooked, gravy was lumpy, brown & serve rolls were on the table right next to my fresh cranberry sauce, we discovered the bird was a couple hours away from being fit for human consumption, along with my second favorite accompaniment-the stuffing.

My go-to turkey…

From that day forward however, a turkey dinner with all the fixings has remained my favorite meal, once I learned to roast it right. I’ve tried countless brands of turkey from every grocery chain, but over the years I’ve come to prefer Butterball. With exorbitant inflation and shortages on the grocery shelves I thought I might be roasting a chicken this year, but the Hubs came through and found a Butterball for 98 cents a pound.

Hubs new-old means of transportation, a 1962 Studebaker Champ…

I’ve been out of the house twice in the last 13 days because of my out-of-whack-back. We made an appointment (a week in advance) to go to the Secretary of State for new plates, pay sales tax for Hubs’ 1962 Studebaker Champ, tags for my Jeep and renewals on both our driver’s license (my picture shows me without glasses and brown hair-I stopped dyeing my hair 3 years ago) so we were hesitant to reschedule. Although it took almost an hour to get everything accomplished, I stood because I can’t sit in a straight chair, but the appointment went without a hitch (except in my get-a-long).

Stopped dyeing my hair in 2018, guess my driver’s license should reflect that…

I had not been grocery shopping in 2 weeks! (How Meijer remains open for business without my business is a mystery). It felt good to wear shoes (can’t bend over, Hubs had to tie them) and put my phone in my hip-clip to record my steps. Since I’ve barely moved my phone’s been sitting idle, waiting for me to heal. Usually I criss-cross the store several times to boost my step total but not on this shopping day. My list was long and I didn’t want to risk more of those electric shock back spasms.

Jovi & Ariana….

Our granddaughter Ariana and great-granddaughter, Jovi come over for supper once a week. I plan our favorite suppers, mostly comfort food. I’ve got a hankerin for chicken pot pie. No puff pastry or single top crust allowed, it’s old school here, all homemade with a double crust. A couple times a year I buy several packages of split chicken breasts with skin and rib bones, (which adds flavor to the broth for gravy, stuffing or soups) and simmer 6 at a time. Let them cool, remove the skin and bones, dice, package, plus freeze the broth. (I’ve canned broth before. It’s a lot of work and you have to remove every iota of delicious chicken fat or you might pop a lid or break a jar while it’s in the pressure cooker). It’s much easier to freeze it but you lose on the longer shelf life you get with canning.

Chicken pot pies waiting for the top crust a few months ago…

So split breasts were running $2.09 a pound, yikes, which means 15 pounds would cost about 30 bucks. I use 4 heaping cups of diced chicken for pot pie, (the recipe makes 3) the rest is frozen for cream chicken buns, soup, chicken salad or more pot pies. I think the last time I bought packs of split breasts they were about a buck a pound. Hmm, what else could I make this week?

‘Duh-Neese’ finally saw the light…

A couple minutes later I experienced an food epiphany-smack dab in the middle of Meijer’s with a hundred bucks of groceries in my cart. I had zipped right passed the frozen turkeys (since Hubs already bought one) when it dawned on me. Meijer brand birds were 33 cents a pound. HOLD THE PHONE! My head was trying to accept a message but the rest of me was in denial. Would if? Absolutely not. No.

Chicken pot pie filling. When I make this tomorrow it will have some dark turkey meat added…

Since I learned to cook 50 years ago, I have never made an unstuffed turkey or one without all the trimmings. Is it even possible to cook a turkey and use it for another purpose? On purpose? Could this warrant a technical foul against my favorite fowl? Might even be a flagrant (or fragrant) foul. No, not something I can wrap my head around. Still. I turned around and headed back to the frozen birds. I gingerly picked up 2 turkeys (the limit), each 15 pounds, which cost me 10 bucks. (No one needs to know they would be cooked under extenuating circumstances, but I looked guilty as sin) Pretty sure I would net 4 quarts of diced meat from each bird. Buck and a quarter per package. Mighty economical. And who doesn’t love the flavor of turkey pot pie, cream buns or salad? Plus all that turkey broth!

Turkey broth…

Hubs brought the groceries inside with raised eyebrows (they grew back) as he was lugging 30 pounds of dead weight turkeys. I explained my devious plan to use the birds for various, nefarious deeds, other than stuffing them. “Great idea! I never like it when you use all white chicken meat for pot pie or cream chicken buns. Dark meat has more flavor.” He put one in the fridge to thaw and the other in the freezer. I cooked and diced one yesterday and will make the crusts, cook the veggie/gravy/filling on Monday. Pumpkin bars sound good for dessert.

4 quarts of diced turkey. Definitely darker than all white meat chicken…

My cooking world has been rocked, so I’m probably gonna need help working my through this. Any long time cooks know a support group based on using fowl for other than what God (and the pilgrims) intended?…

2 steps forward, 1 step back…

While perusing Facebook Monday morning, (November 1st) I noticed a post by my friend Sabrina. During the month of November she’s going to write what she’s grateful/thankful for every day of the month. Wow, that’s a great idea. I know what I should say the first day. I’m thankful my back hasn’t gone out in 20 months (I’m keeping track). That’s a new world record for me.

One of Sabrina’s heartfelt messages for November…

These chronic back issues began when we moved to Michigan almost 35 years ago. Didn’t happen often but when it did, it was debilitating. It’s always in the same spot. Lower left back, below my waistline, a patch the size of a 5 cent plain Hershey candy bar back in the 1950’s. I’d be laid up in bed for 3 or 4 days and then it would just get/be better. But I was in my mid-30’s and healed at warp speed.

One of the best deterrents for minimizing my back problem has been my faithfulness in trying to walk every morning since 1998. But I’m also 20 plus years older, 20 plus pounds heavier and realize I don’t ‘bounce back’ as fast as I used to. Since then, I’ve had this spot flare up about twice a year. I’m bending over to nab a ploujes, (slang word for a piece of lint in Dutch) dirty laundry, or pick up a pair of shoes when I suddenly feel something slip out of its normal habitat.

A Hershey candy bar was “a nourishing food” in the 50’s…

Just like that (snap) I can’t stand up straight. I grope for walls or furniture to get to the nearest place sit down that isn’t a straight chair. The spot immediately feels hot, swells and throbs. I don’t know if you call it a spasm but if I breathe wrong or make a move not in compliance with that candy bar sized rectangle which now rules my body, I’m in for one hellava shock. Literally.

When I barely in my teens I accidentally grabbed an electric fence while wearing wet gloves. I don’t recommend this-ever. A painful lightning bolt/jolt ripped through my body and I couldn’t seem to let go of the fence. When my back is revolting against me, this is exactly the pain I feel when I move wrong. Most often occurs when I’m trying to sit down or get back up. Ugh.

But no one warned me…

On October 28th, Hubs had minor surgery, which of course turned out to be more invasive and complicated than the surgeon predicted, so he needed to go back to have some packing removed (don’t ask). Oh alright it’s his nose/sinus. He hasn’t been able to breathe out of one nostril for 5 years. After tests a polyp or 2 were thought to be calling his right nostril home. But it wasn’t 2, more like several so his nose bled like a stuck hog and he needed some serious packing for a few days. As we were leaving after surgery, 3 different nurses specifically told me, “be sure to have him take a pain pill before he comes in on Tuesday. Removing the packing can be quite painful.”

Shannon’s Mother’s Day gift 18 months ago. It’s gotten so big I’ve removed 5 different succulents and replanted them all-separately…

Less than 24 hours after I foolishly tested the fickle finger of fate with my nonchalance, (November 2nd) you know what happened, right? I had showered, was dressed and killing time watering my plants, exchanging summer clothes for warmer weather duds (I hate winter) in my dresser drawers and closet while Hubs got ready for his appointment. Storing my capris/Keen sandals until May is always a downer. If I could squat more than 6 inches instead of bending completely over at my waist for everything this probably wouldn’t happen as often. But as I leaned over to pick up a stack for my bottom drawer my back slid out of place. (Why hadn’t I expressed gratitude for my healthy back in September or October? Why hadn’t I done those 2 loads of laundry sitting in the basement?) Hindsight.

Hubs offered to put clothes in my dresser but I’ll get to it when I can bend again…

I think this back hotspot has close ties with my chronic hamstring pain which started ailing in 2000. After I’d been walking daily for a couple years, the back of my left leg always felt sore and tight from the upper thigh to the back of my knee. (The tingling/swelling didn’t start for another decade). My son Josh told me to stand straight, cross my legs close together and bend over at the waist, stretching that taut muscle which usually helped. With my balance issues I could never attempt that exercise now unless a face plant was in order.

Christmas cactus’ looking good but went through a rough patch and shows no signs of getting ready to bloom this thanksgiving…

I never doctored about my back until a few years ago. Figured it just part of aging. I had some routine tests and was given a vague description of some nerve endings in my back losing their sheath lining or something. But lately I’m not getting over these back issues in a few days. The last one was a killer. In February of 2020 my back doled out (free of charge) frequent flyer spasms lasting 3 weeks. This happened about a year after my knee replacement and I swear the back/electric shocks were worse than pounding in my new joint and kneecap with a mallet.

Since I bore no fondness for the last 3 week freebie, I bit the bullet and called the doc’s office, making a virtual appointment. I was using 2 canes and still stooped over when Shannon suggested hauling out my walker (used for a few weeks after knee replacement). Walking from the parking lot to the office, sitting in the waiting room, then in a straight chair waiting for the doctor to come in was out of the question for at least a couple days and I really needed some relief.

My ever present companions this week, walker and heating pad. Ugh, I feel ancient…

I’m at the end of day 5 and seeing some improvement with the help of 2 prescriptions. I cooked supper for the first time since Monday. It doesn’t hurt too bad to stand so I prepped the veggies and measured the spices this afternoon. Tonight I browned crisp bacon, then hamburger, diced the redskins, sautéed the veggies, added broth and milk, simmered it, tossed in 2 cups of cheddar cheese and ta-da, Cheeseburger Soup.

I have such high expectations when I’m waking up. No pain, even when I carefully turn on my side or move my legs. I stand up fairly straight, walk gingerly-but not grasping for something to hang onto, turn up the furnace, start the coffee but it’s all downhill after that. I cannot avoid the bathroom any longer. When my back is in this shockingly super charged active mode, sitting down the first time is going to cause a spasm of shocks 95% of the time-guaranteed, no matter how slowly, carefully or where I place my seat on the seat. And I spend the rest of the day trying assuage it back to my morning high hopes, before my first formal sit-down.

Up north with Shannon a month ago. I walked and shopped all afternoon. That’s awesome Lake Huron…

Life-threatening, surgery worthy? Nah. My overall health remains good. It’s an acute reminder of how many times you bend over in a day-until you suddenly can’t. Pulling socks on, grabbing my pj’s off the floor, picking up a celery leaf on the kitchen floor, filling my drinking glass with ice (our freezer’s on the bottom) & lemon so I can gag down some water. But eventually it does get better.

Walking everyday makes me a better me…

Remember my 2020 walking record? Starting in early July, I walked 167 days in a row until my hamstring got the better of me in late December. After sporadic walking in Alabama, physical therapy when we got home, tests and a short jaunt using prednisone (a miracle drug but carries a whopping list of nasty side effects) I was determined to break my 167 day record. Made it to day 71 when my back decided to throw this latest shit fit. So I’ll start over as soon as I get my back under control. (And be more diligent about giving thanks for my parts that continue to work smoothly)…

Hopefully I’ll be ‘just starting over’ again soon…

The Calumet…

When my parents started a slow decline during the late 1990’s, I went home more often. Mom was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which responded well to chemo but the side effects caused a stroke. She was not in very good health after that. Though dad was 10 years older, he was doing well. My visits were the quickie variety, usually from Thursday until Tuesday. I’d run errands, cook their favorite meals, fill the freezer with appropriate size portions, soups, sweet breads, cookies and candy. (She had such a sweet tooth).

Made by the Sessions Clock Company for Calumet, probably during the 1890’s…

Since Mom was no longer driving, I could borrow her car if I wanted to go somewhere for a couple hours. Sometimes a trip to Sioux Falls or Le Mars, both about 40 miles away in different directions. One day I headed out to Le Mars which had a handful of nice antique stores. It wasn’t that I needed ANYTHING, my house was packed but I still liked browsing for an unusual piece of furniture, which is exactly what happened.

I love old cookbooks and have collected them for years…

It was a nice store near the railroad tracks, a couple blocks from the famous steakhouse called Archie’s. Carried a good assortment of antiques, a little something for everyone. I probably bought a piece of Blue Delft or an old cookbook. But then I spotted this oak clock that made my heart start thumping. There’s no reasoning when you covet something from the moment you lay eyes on it. It’s happened a half dozen times over the years and I usually just give into these intense feelings of “needful things.”

When Calumet was invented it started a vicious, competitive 40 year war. Royal Powder used cream of tartar, Calumet used alum-phosphate powder. Mrs. Housewife, ugh…

It was a clock advertising the wonders of Calumet Baking Powder, which had been invented in the late-1800’s. (Finally giving some competition to the Royal brand). Unlike any clock I’d seen before. ✅ It had advertising on it. ✅ It was big, maybe 40 inches tall, 18 inches wide, so it hung on a wall. ✅ It was oak, my favorite wood. ✅ It was running. ✅ Oh man, I was ✅ing all the boxes like crazy. My mouth was dry. This clock had to come live with me. Period. It was perfect.

The back cover from Calumet’s competition, Royal Baking Powder which enthusiastically endorses using cream of tartar…

Except for the price. Out-rageous. I certainly didn’t need it and they were asking way too much. No way could I justify paying that. I offered a hundred dollars less than the tag read. No, he couldn’t take less than the asking price (which drives me insane). When I’m antiquing, I gotta feel like I’m getting/making a deal. That means dickering/dealing a little. For any antique dealer, if you insist on a set amount, then jack the price up so you can come down and your customer thinks she’s getting a deal. Logical right?

The Calumet Baking Powder factory and workers in Chicago around 1900…

Got my heart rate slowed down and left the store. But I never stopped thinking (ok, coveting, sinner that I am) about that neat clock that was supposed to be mine. Over the next 4 years, every time I was in Le Mars with ‘time’ on my hands, I went to the antique store to see if the clock was still there. And if it was, had they lowered the price? Yup-it was still there, nope-same ridiculous price.

Notice they state Calumet’s sales are 2-1/2 times their competitors…

Shortly after Mom passed away in October, 2004, dad asked me to come help him for a week to sort/save/donate some of Mom’s things. I drove that trip because I would be bringing some of Mom’s stuff home with me. That trip was a game changer in a couple ways. Dad, now 87, told me he didn’t want to live in their house anymore (the place he and mom called home for 50 years). He no longer wanted to mow, shovel or pay property taxes. I convinced him to move to Michigan, a mere 750 miles east. And he agreed. Yikes! This was a surprise for both of us. We’d never been close.

After 2 years of phone calls begging for the recipe book that belonged with my clock, I stopped calling and bought a few Calumet’s on my own…

We decided to get the house ready to sell and in a month Dad would come visit us for a couple weeks to look for an apartment. When I was ready to leave Rock Valley, I thought about that unique clock in the antique store. Boy this would be the perfect time to bring that beauty home. If they were still in business and it hadn’t been sold. So I started my trip home by going through Le Mars. If the clock was still there, it definitely was a ‘sign’ it should be mine. Finally.

Calumet made double action baking powder. Activated when added to wet ingredients, then released more gas when heat (cooking) started…

I nonchalantly walked in, my heart ♥️ pounding. There she be! Same place on the wall, looking 5 years older but still ticking. (Well no one could afford her, that’s why she’s still taking up space). Told him I was interested and would he take less? “Well, it’s a very special, unique clock. Calumet Baking Powder donated this particular Sessions clock to a one room schoolhouse here in Plymouth county for free advertising.” There was an antique Calumet Cookbook that came with the clock. He would come down 50 bucks. No more.

They used the Calumet Kid as a mascot because he loved making muffins…

I couldn’t stand it anymore, it had been too long. “Sold,” I squealed. Bit the bullet and wrote out the check. Gulp. He removed the pendulum, gave me the key to wind it (every 8 days) and a fancy headed screw to keep it level once it was on the wall. But he could not find the cookbook. He’d ask his mom where she put it and send it to me. (Yeah, right) Loaded MY clock in the backseat and I was off with a song in my heart. My clock was coming home. After five years of pining, longing, yearning, hankering and yes, coveting!

Many of their ads appeared defensive because of their competitor’s bitter campaign which included bribing state congressmen over baking powder!

I ‘adopted’ that clock 17 years ago. It’s lived in two houses. And I’ve not regretted writing that check for one ticking second. She doesn’t chime or even tell you the hour with a gong, but she’s always kept good time. If she started running a bit fast or slow, Hubs made minor adjustments to the pendulum. Until this spring. We were gone two months this winter and since we came home, Ms. Calumet has had an issue with me. Don’t know if it was not being wound for 60 days or too cold in the house or she just stiffened up after being in my greasy kitchen for 17 years, but I could not keep her ticker going. I was lost without her soothing sound (I can only hear it when I’m wearing my hearing aid).

I searched for clock repair guys and found one nearby. He was busy repairing some clocks for an estate sale which would take him another 6 weeks but I could drop the clock off anytime. “No, I’ll keep her here until you have time. I’ll call back in a few weeks.” (Our great granddaughter Jovi comes over for supper once a week and never fails to mention if the clock is not running while we’re eating). I called him back after Labor Day and he was ready for my clock.

Definitely from the late 1950’s by the colors and design. She’s not very appealing though…

Gave it a quick once over while we were there but didn’t see anything major wrong other than years of dirt and crud on her little cogs and a couple of worn out bushings. Said it should take about 3 weeks, then call back. (He has the clock run for a week in his house after he’s done to make sure everything’s working properly). When the clock was repaired I called and set a time for pickup. A lady answered the door and I said, “I’m here for the Calumet.” She said, “my husband’s fixed a lot of clocks over the years and I just love yours. If you ever want to sell it, please see me first.”

That lock of hair though…

Can’t believe I was homesick for a clock. It’s so good to have her back. Hubs hung her up, got her leveled, attached the pendulum, gave it a little push and she was off and running. She’s been ticking along ever since, right as rain. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…

Under lock & key…

It was the spring of 1994. After living in Jackson for 7-1/2 years, we’d sold our rambling ranch and were moving 160 miles northwest to Michigan’s west shore. The new location included several small towns and lakes (plus the biggie, Lake Michigan) to choose from but our deciding factor leaned towards the best high school for Adam, who would be a sophomore. For what we wanted, North Muskegon offered a smaller school district and 2 lakes which might allow us our first crack at lake living.

Our view from the lake home…

The moving company was spending several days in Jackson, wrapping and boxing our belongings. We bought a 3 year old house on Muskegon Lake in North Muskegon, a few blocks from school. Hubs had already started working in Montague and Josh was on his summer break from MSU, so they were staying in our new empty house. Adam was finishing his freshman year, so we were staying in Jackson with Mildred, one of our dear neighbors.

Our ranch in Jackson, 1992…

Adam and I went to North Muskegon to get a feel for our new pad and bring John back to Jackson to supervise the crew as they loaded the moving truck with 14,000 pounds of our bare necessities. Yikes, where did we get so much stuff? (Those oak antiques are mighty heavy).

The truck in Jackson was loaded and leaving at 7 am, destination North Muskegon around noonish to start unloading. The McCain Road house was empty and spit-shined but for the white 1964 Stingray Corvette Coupe sitting in one stall of the garage. John would drive the Vette, I would follow in the car and arrive a good hour before the movers. Ah, the best laid plans. After spending the night in a hotel, I drop Hubs off to pick up the Vette. We walk through the house one last time (new owner’s will take possession the next day), John raises the garage door, reaches in his pocket, opens the Corvette door and slams it back shut.

Ari on grandpa’s Vette in Jackson, 1993…

Looks at me and says, “where’s my Vette keys?” (Immediately running through my head is, Oh Lord, grant me the serenity). “They’re not on your key ring?” Got to mention I usually keep a duplicate set of whatever Hubs is driving because ‘at times’ he’s left them on the console when he gets out to ‘fill ‘er up’ and pushed the automatic locks without thinking. Then the doofus can call and ‘here I am to save the day’ can rescue his sorry butt. And yes, he already had a cell phone although it was as big as those little smart cars you see tooling around.

His first cell phone took up an entire seat in the car…

But I never had an extra set for the Vette. I drove it sometimes but never carried a set on my key chain. John didn’t drive the Vette during the winter from December until May, so he kept his keys in a neat old oak box on the top of his dresser. The realization of where that antique oak box was at the moment was heading due north in a semi filled with boxes and our furniture.

This is where Hubs kept the Vette keys…

Hubs yelled, “we gotta stop the movers. They said they were eating breakfast in Leslie. Let’s go!” We hop in the car, hit 127 north doing 80 and breathed a sigh of relief when we spot the semi parked alongside a restaurant. The table of familiar faces look surprised when they see us striding towards the table. “Hi guys, what’s up?” (Hubs is as frantic as if he’d misplaced one of our kids). “The keys to my Corvette are in a wooden box which was on the dresser of our bedroom that you guys packed. We need that box. I can’t move the Vette and the new people take possession tomorrow. Come on, I’ll pay for breakfast, let’s start looking for the box with the box inside.” (He was so upset he didn’t realize the hopelessness of this situation).

“Ah-John there’s no way we can find that exact box without unpacking the whole truck, which would take us most of the day. We just can’t do that. Here’s what I suggest. We drive to the new house, unpack as fast as we can.” (though the bedrooms were first on the truck, so would be coming off last) “You and Denise go through the boxes as we unload them until you find the keys, then you drive back to Jackson and pick up the Corvette.” (Now doesn’t that sound like a fun moving day? Guess we should be happy it was only 160 miles one way).

After a few years Hubs had the Vette repainted to its original Tuxedo Black…

John looked like he was passing a kidney stone, but what could they do? At least he didn’t sling the rest of their breakfast on the floor to get them moving faster. He drove like a maniac to get to North Muskegon which did absolutely nothing. The moving truck only goes so fast. By early afternoon they had backed up into our weird driveway and had their unpacking rhythm going.

A few tense hours passed while they hauled out furniture, boxes and more boxes, but I had 4,000 things to do before I was forced to drive back to Jackson. I wanted the boy’s rooms set up and their beds wearing clean sheets before I left, but the Hubs was ripping through boxes like a shark eating frenzy. (The cleanup of half empty boxes would take me days).

View of our house from Muskegon Lake…

Finally around 9 pm John found the right bedroom box holding the wooden box with the Corvette’s precious keys nestled inside. “Found ‘em, Neese, let’s go!” Dang Dude, chill. (Although, technically it would be the new owner’s home in less than 3 hours, we doubted they would be there at midnight. At least we prayed they wouldn’t be there yet).

Luckily we were in our mid-40’s and still rambunctious at 10 pm. Hopped in the Caddy and made it to Jackson around 12:30. Unlocked the house, raised the garage door, Hubs got in Vette, revved it up and backed out. I closed the garage door, placed the garage door openers and keys on the ledge inside the breezeway, turned out the lights, locked the door and got in the car. Again. That’s 320 miles-twice plus unpacking in between for our long moving day. But the trip back to our new house was fun. We had walkie-talkies with a range of 3 miles so talked back and forth the whole trip so neither of us would fall asleep.

Around our 25th year of wedded blisssssss…

This goofy life event got me thinking about people and their keys. Before Hubs retired, he always carried a big ring of keys, most of them for work. Keys to the building, office door, tool room, supply room plus house keys and whatever means of travel we were using at the time. My daughter Shannon has so many keys, she’s divided them up on different key rings somehow.

Not even half of Shannon’s keys…

As a stay at home mom, my key chain was never been bogged down with numerous keys. After the kids grew up my key ring held a key to open the front door to the McDonald’s restaurant where I worked. No I wasn’t a manager or even an employee of importance, just a prompt one. I often had to wait to get inside because the morning manager was late. (A pet peeve like no other). Not only was I missing money cause I couldn’t punch the time clock but I had a lot of tasks that needed to be done before we were ready to open.

My puny key chain…

For many years I had a key to the door of my church. As Parish Visitor I made copies of the Sunday sermon to mail out to the folks who could no longer attend church (hate the word shut-ins). These days my key ring is puny. Key for the house, Jeep and lock box. The key ring does carry some weight from a dangling piece of Black Hills Gold, a couple leather key fobs I’ve had at least 25 years. Plus the only copyrighted high school mascot image in the US for the Yuma High School Crims (Yuma Criminals, one of my favorite stories and it’s true-look it up). Right now I’m waiting with bated breath for an extra key for Hubs new/old pickup truck, a 1962 Studebaker Champ. He’s having trouble getting an extra set made. No one has the right blank to make this oldie which means if John loses or misplaces them, he’s sunk. Fear not, he can’t get the truck door key to lock or unlock so at least he won’t get stuck outside…

The door locks (so cute) on the 1962 Studebaker Champ Hubs just got…

The Champ…

Trying to remember the year we finally became a 2-car family. Trust me, it wasn’t soon enough. I believe it was around 1980. A few years earlier Hubs restored a cute 1936, 2-door Chevy, (not an ideal daily driver) he literally lugged home in boxes and put back together which took him a year. He sandblasted it himself. He traded the ‘36 for a Kawasaki motorcycle. He drove the bike as long as Iowa weather permitted (including any day during the winter when the streets were dry, no matter how cold) so I wouldn’t be without a car with 3 kids to haul around. For at least the first 11 years of marriage we had one car.

John’s 1936 Chevy, Spencer, Iowa 1979…

By the late 80’s we had at least two or more cars (Shannon started driving). Shannon drove a 1978 Nova my folks gave us. When Josh turned 16, he and John restored a 1949 Ford Pickup for his first set of wheels. We bought a yellow 1972 restored Volkswagen slug-bug for Adam when he turned 16 (didn’t last long, he was hard on cars). Hubs caught the classic/antique car bug long before so by the time he was done paying for cars the kids drove (and wrecked) he bought a 1964 Stingray Corvette Coupe in 1992, which we owned over 20 years.

Josh & his 1949 Ford pickup, North Muskegon, 1995…

Once we both had decent transportation, one of us would get something relatively new every four or five years. He got a new Silverado in ‘89, and 2007 with company cars provided in between. We bought cars with less than 20,000 miles for me every few years. When it was John’s turn around 2012, he said he really liked his truck and wasn’t ready to trade it. So he kept it while I drove my dad’s 2006 PT Cruiser after he passed away in ‘08, a Dodge Journey in 2011, a Jeep Cherokee in 2014 and another Jeep in 2018. And still he contentedly drove his ‘07 Chevy truck.

1964 Corvette, North Muskegon, 1998…

The times grew less frequent when we drove a long distance separately, and we rarely used the truck for hauling stuff anymore. When we did go away we always took the Jeep. After we retired we stayed home more. The truck began showing its age. Little bit of rust was cropping up around the wheel wells, the 4-wheel drive was temperamental, and the passenger airbag light usually glowed bright red. Hubs started looking on the Internet to replace the truck box and got quotes on fixing the Chevy’s worn out parts. He would rather fix what he had (but hardly drove) than replace it.

2007 Silverado during a nice April snow squall. Ugh…

A month ago Hubs was on his way to Menards, the only store he does not detest, which is about 5 miles away when an oncoming car turned right in front of him. John swerved towards the ditch but still got clipped on his left front end. Neither the ‘clipper’ or the ‘clipee’ were hurt, thank heavens. Cops were called, who then called me to pick John (the clipee) up. Clipper got a ticket.

The Silverado had seen better days and was not drivable, so it was hauled to the tow truck’s lot (100 bucks for the tow and 30 dollars a day to keep in their back lot-yikes). Felt strange to open our garage door and park the Jeep smack-dab in the middle.

Hauled a lot of firewood in that truck for 14 years…

We were unsure of what to do next. Although neither of us drive a lot, were we really ready to backtrack to a one car household again? There’s a lot of issues if you’re in the market for any kind of vehicle these days. You might see a car lot with an abundance of new rides but many can’t be sold because they’re missing that all-important semiconductor chip which is made in Taiwan and back ordered. Used car lots are pritnear empty. Do we need a new car or truck? Definitely not. But are we ready to share one car? Ah-no. I don’t like sharing.

A 1932 Ford like John and his dad found in Minnesota in 1973…

Somewhere around 1973 we were on a fishing trip/vacation at Lake Ottertail, Minnesota with John’s parents (who rarely took vacations). Shannon was 2-1/2 so one day we went to a nearby Dairy Queen in Battle Lake for ice cream. While we were riding around John spotted a black, 1932 Ford pickup sitting in a repair shop’s lot. Of course we had to stop. Shannon was on a sugar buzz so she was content. After a quick look (it was so cute-and little) Mag and I went back to the car to wait. And wait.

Both Jim and John were salivating over that little truck. Everything was original and it ran. Guy was asking $500. It was out of the question for this young family. We didn’t have 50 bucks to spare, let alone 500, but with some finagling, Jim could have bought it, I think. I know he was sorely tempted but at the end of the day, they both walked away. John has regretted not buying that truck ever since 1973. ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ didn’t work on either of them in Minnesota.

1962 Studebaker Champ found its way to our house…

Hubs decided he wanted an ‘old’ new truck. Holy Hannah, has that been a trip. Scams abound. Every where. Found a gem in Florida. Dude was selling his dad’s old pickup, perfectly restored, unbelievably underpriced, but he was working on an oil rig and using a local auto broker for the sale. All Hubs had to do was wire the money to the broker who would put it in escrow and ship the truck to us on their dime. John would have a week to inspect and drive the truck to see if he wanted it before the broker paid the guy for the truck. If John decided against the sale, we’d get our money back and they’d pay shipping to get it back to Florida. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Later we saw the exact same truck which had magically turned up in New York State with a different owner’s name (but was still working on that convenient oil rig, had lost his dad and was using an auto broker).

It’s not nearly as big as I thought it would be…

John noticed an interesting truck on the Internet at a small Classic Car dealer 250 miles away. Called to make an appointment to drive down and look at it in person but John had a doctor’s appointment and the dealer was leaving town for a few days and would call when he was back. (John called him 3 times-stalking from afar). When the guy, Phil finally got back to Ohio I was gone for the weekend. Hubs couldn’t go by himself in case he bought something, someone needed to drive the Jeep back.

What a little Champ…

John made an appointment for the day after I got back. I brought my tennis shoes and headphones so I could get my steps in while they talked (and talked & talked some more) about cars. When I got back 45 minutes later Hubs and Phil were huddled together in the office, haggling over the price. I had just spotted this really neat car and tried, (to no avail) to get John’s attention away from the pickup for 2 minutes so I could convince him to buy the car instead. A 2-door, 1947 Ford Deluxe for a grand more than the pickup, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He only had eyes for one vehicle that day and it was baby blue.

The tires are too cool…

The pickup was adorable. A 1962, baby blue Studebaker ‘Champ’ with huge whitewalls. Two wheel drive, 3 speed on the column. He was smitten-bad. No rust anywhere. They settled on a price with some adjustments. A spare tire had to be thrown in with new windshield wipers and a half a tank of gas to get us out of town. We waited for our proof of insurance to be faxed over and we were on our way home. Me, pulling up the rear in case Hubs needed to stop if something went kaflooey.

The ‘47 Ford Deluxe I was coveting this week…

We stopped for gas and at a rest stop for a few minutes but we were both anxious to get home before dark. Is it perfect? No. It needs carpet, a headliner, arm rests, visor, someplace to store the spare tire and a radio. But there’s nothing wrong with the engine. It’s got 61,000 actual miles. The little truck putzed along between 55-65 all the way home. You could say it ran like a Champ…

Not ‘Great’ Nate…

I’ve not been enthralled with TV the last few years and have grown increasingly fussy and impatient with what I’m wasting my time on. My hearing loss probably has something to do with it. I’ve used cordless headphones (to control my own volume so Hubs doesn’t get blown out of his Lazy Boy) for 12-15 years and I still miss some dialogue. Usually because there’s too much background noise/music or actors are whispering their lines.

Great grandma giving Jovi a book review (along with my expert knowledge of TV series)…

A great example is a series called Star Trek Discovery, the latest in that never-ending franchise. True to the nature of warping through space, encountering all kinds of alien mischief makers, the title role is played by Sonequa Martin-Green, an Exquisite Young Woman, (who’s an expert on everything). I made it halfway through season 2, mostly because I love Anson Mount, (the Discovery captain in season 2 and former star of a fabulous series called ‘Hell on Wheels’). No matter how dire the circumstances, whether she’s (EYW) fighting for her own life or saving someone else’s, she whispers her lines. And breathy whispers to boot. I find it more annoying than enjoyable. Plus not being able to understand her, I just had to stop watching or risk an ulcer over something I don’t give 2 hoots about (never been a Trekker, much to Hubs’ disappointment).

EYW. Now I know why she whispers. She’s got something stuck in her throat…

While I usually feel some loyalty to a series I’m invested in, that’s not always the case. There’s been a handful of series when I felt ‘all in’ for the duration, yet when a certain character was written out/died/killed, I was done watching-period. The second Negan swung his barbed wire bat, (named Lucille after his dead wife), pulverizing Glenn on ‘Walking Dead,’ I walked out of the family room and haven’t watched one minute since. Same thing on “The Good Doctor,” when Dr. Neil Melendez died, I was out. (although I still miss Dr. Alex Park).

Glenn from ‘Walking Dead’ in the middle. Since he was killed, the series is ‘dead’ to me…

About 18 months ago I bought a new iPad Pro (which I love). Included with my purchase was a year’s worth of Apple TV which had recently launched. Hubs was immediately impressed with ‘For all Mankind,’ a twisty version of our ‘space race’ with the Soviet Union, which has the Russians beating us to the moon. Major bummer. It starts around 1970, so the clothes, cars, smoking, hairdos and macho stereotypes brings back a lot of memories. When the pandemic hit, Apple graciously allotted me another 6 months of free Apple TV since we were in lockdown and watching more, so I actually just started paying for this channel.

After Dr. Melendez died, there was nothing left on ‘The Good Doctor’ for me…

Once in a while (not nearly often enough with all the remakes/reboots these days) a writer/creator comes up with something so unique and clever, it immediately wins over the masses after the series begins. Most of these ‘limited series’ attracts big stars because the number of episodes are much shorter than your typical network season of 20 or more. This can be frustrating to dedicated watchers as there’s only 8-12 episodes and the season is over in a couple months. Their content is usually more adult oriented and the language is pretty salty.

Joel Kinnaman’s role as Ed Baldwin on For all Mankind…

One such series causing a big buzz since last year is called Ted Lasso, which was developed by real life Ted, (Jason Sudeikis), Beard, (Brendan Hunt) and another guy (Joe Kelly). It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite movies called ‘Major League’ which came out about 30 years ago. Bitchy female owner is saddled with a team from an ex or dead spouse. She has no use for this cumbersome, money sucking bunch of losers and would just as soon see the franchise fail or move.

Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso…

Ted Lasso hit all the buttons for me. He’s a successful college football coach who moves to England to coach soccer (which he knows absolutely nothing about). He’s sincere, folksy, charming and a people-pleaser. Of course the whole country hates him and chant “wanker, wanker,” during games, on the street or pub (still better than what’s being chanted in football stadiums this fall, but probably means about the same thing) which makes us root for Ted even more.

Ted has his hands full. The team’s owner Rebecca, (great actress, Hannah Waddingham) ‘got’ the team in her divorce settlement from her unfaithful, lowlife husband who adored the team. She’d love to see the team lose every game just to hurt her loathsome ex, which is the reason she hired Ted. To fail. The team has two excellent players who hate each other, Jamie, a cocky young snot, and Roy, an aging icon everyone loves. Fellow coach Beard also made the move from the US and appears to have some knowledge about the sport. He’s helpful and a good friend.

Ted Lasso, Beard & Nate…

One of the neat side stories in this series is about a young man named Nate. He’s the equipment manager (he talks very soft and fast, even with my headphones I miss some of his dialogue and have to back it up or ask Hubs what he said). He’s bullied by team members. Ted takes him under his wing and chastises the players. Nate proves his worth because he knows the player’s strengths and weaknesses and game-of-soccer-inside-out. Soon Ted dubs him, ‘Nate the great.’ Ted wisely moves him up to be an assistant coach. Nate’s opinions and advice usually prove to be spot on, though they still lose a lot of matches. Or is it games?

Thus season 1 of Ted Lasso was a rousing success, winning numerous awards, while we impatiently waited season 2. Dang those sophomore years can be tough. Maybe it’s just me but I’ve been sorely disappointed in year two of Ted. There have been some touching moments, delivering Christmas gifts to the less fortunate (Rebecca stops by to pick up Ted, who’s spending Christmas alone after his recent divorce). Roy Kent, beloved, cantankerous, retired player, now assistant coach (who says “f#@%” in every other sentence), searching for a dentist on Christmas Eve for his young niece, Phoebe. But Ted’s suffering panic attacks, Coach Beard is trying to find himself, rambling around the city drunk and Nate’s been anything but great. Nate made a gutsy call after Ted ran off the field and has become a darling of the media, which he takes a bit too far. He’s rude to players, scrolls through his phone constantly reading accolades from his adoring fans and bullies the new equipment manager who took his place. Even after getting called on the carpet for his bad behavior, he continues to be a bully.

‘Sam’ the soccer player. Will he get the girl?

One shining star this season has been a soccer player from Nigeria named Sam. Everyone wants Sam to end up with ‘the girl’ and be happy forever. Since there’s a couple episodes left I remain hopeful that Ted, Nate, Beard, Rebecca, Roy, Keeley, Higgins, Phoebe (and heartthrob Sam) will return to their winning ways, which has nothing to do with who scores the most goals in their matches. Or is it games?…

Destiny…

It wasn’t a sure thing. The odds were lousy. Probably an easy way to lose money if you were a betting man. They didn’t have much in common except both were the youngest of their respective broods. She was spoiled, overly protected and coddled, he could do pretty much as he pleased by age 6. Had their roles been reversed, she would have been a detriment to society (probably still is in most eyes), whereas he turned out ok without a lot of fanfare or guidance.

Year 5 after we eloped…

Neither set of parents were crazy about their exclusive dating when they were teens, although her parents dwelled on the issue at length. His parents were a bit concerned he might get hurt (and he did-several times, she could be a shit) but did nothing to stop it like her parents did. But through their breakups there remained a bond in spite of all the detractors. Might have been destiny.

The prom-sters 1965…

Once they’d made the decision to get hitched, they up and eloped, telling no one except the good friend (plus a total stranger) who witnessed their Monday night, 4 minute event in front of a judge in Elk Point, SD. When they reached out to their parents with the good news, her mom hung up without well wishes or a goodbye and his mom asked politely, “to who?” (Hahaha, what a way to start).

Where it began…

He was barely out of his teens and she had about a year and a half before hitting the big 20. She was highly skilled in the art of making tuna salad and a tasty batch of her great grandma’s fudge, which was all she brought to the table (over and over). He had a job he loved and did excellent work but didn’t make much money. She had a job she enjoyed but made minimum wage which was a whopping $1.60 an hour. They had 2 car payments (and could ill afford either one) rent, a Bank Americard bill which had recently financed a trip through the Black Hills, Yellowstone and British Columbia. Not with his soon to be spouse. Call it an expensive bachelor party with his best friend. This had epic failure written all over it and the odds were it wouldn’t take long to collapse.

This is the wedding portrait you get with eloping on a dime…

He liked beer. Heineken when they could afford it (which was rare), Milwaukee’s Best the rest of the time. She was addicted to Tareyton’s (she’d rather fight than switch) and would drive to multiple gas stations or grocery stores if Tareyton’s weren’t in stock. Neither of these items were in their budget, yet he’d have a beer after work and she continued to smoke half a pack a day, which still totaled under a buck. Not the point when they couldn’t afford the 75 cents. They were young and dumb, but in love and determined to make it work.

Year 4…

Two days after she turned 20 they were blessed with a baby girl and their lives changed forever. They were still broke, in debt, switching jobs, moving throughout the great state of Iowa but except for the debt part, were quite happy. And the naysayers were perplexed how they managed to stay together when most facets of their lives screamed, “those guys are doomed.”

Year 13…

Yet their marriage seemed to gain strength and momentum. They added 2 sons to the mix by their 10th anniversary and were content with their family of 5. They were mediocre parents, gifted with healthy, bright children who excelled in school and adulthood, contributing to the world in the best way.

Year 16…

They realized too late how quickly life was passing them by when their three children were through with college, getting married, starting businesses (getting more degrees) and having kids of their own, just as their lives were slowing down. Circle of life. As it should be.

Year 43 for the crazy ones…

No one warned them in 1969, 1989 or 2009 that their life together would go this fast. Between work, changing jobs, learning to cook, moving, raising babies, toddlers, elementary kids, sports, teens, bills, junk cars that constantly caused grief, there was always something to stew about. Who had time to think eventually they’d be slowing down and retiring? Yet this is where they are. Most of what they do is at a slower pace. They like that pace. They stay home a lot-part pandemic part-home is their sanctuary and they remain fairly content.

On the way to catch some fish in South Dakota, year 40?

They determined long ago this life together was their destiny going back to the mid-60’s when they met while nervously sharing the back seat of a salmon and cream 1954 Plymouth, cruising the streets of Rock Valley with Bob and Helen. As they celebrate anniversary number 52, they reminisce how fast those years have appeared in their rear view mirror and show no signs of slowing down. But if given a choice, there’s not much they would change. Fate? Luck? How about God’s big life plan for Johnny Wayne and Neese…

Been awhile since she received yellow roses…

Dad’s Garden…

After 8 years of marriage, which had produced 2 children and another one on the way (me-unplanned), Mom and Dad began talking seriously about a job change. (Mom would not start working outside the home until the ‘unplanned’ was in school). Dad had been working on the railroad (all the live-long day) which included periodic layoffs. In November of 1950, a couple weeks before I was born, Dad took a job with the Iowa State Highway Commission where he would remain until he retired on the last day of 1981.

Dad, Denise & Larry, summer of 1951…

Working for the road commission in Iowa was not an easy job. Iowa’s extreme weather conditions often dictated what type of work was done on that particular day. During their blistering summers, the highway’s pavement actually buckled from the heat and humidity which is very dangerous for cars and drivers. A state work crew would be notified from a passing motorist or farmer, alerting them another ‘blowup’ occurred so many miles east or west of Rock Valley. The guys would remove the buckled portion (usually concrete) and replace it with nice flat blacktop (a quick fix).

A nice little ‘wall’ of snow in Iowa, probably ‘59-‘60. Never knew our license plate was our phone number!!

During the spring, Iowa’s ditches along the roads needed constant upkeep. Culverts needed cleaning out and weeds, wildflowers even errant asparagus patches needed to be mowed. Dad had this task often. I always knew when he was topping off the shoulders or riding a tractor through the ditch because he had awful allergies and his sneezing fits would start about 5 a.m. when the birds started singing. I was just down the hall sleeping, often finding myself wide awake by sneeze # 20 or so. Poor dad, I don’t ever remember him taking anything or doctoring for his allergies. He refused to use Kleenex and went through several hankies a day (blue and red paisley ones for work, white ironed one’s for church or elder duties). Red watery eyes with those long bouts of petite allergy/hay fever sneezes.

Dad driving the snowplow after a blizzard…

Iowa’s hardest season of work (and the longest) for Dad was winter. Often starting in November, the state seemed to be in a perpetual state of sleet, snow, ice, wind or blizzards. Boy howdy. We moved to Michigan almost 35 years ago and people like to compare the 2 states winter’s, but there’s no comparison. While Michigan might get more snow (especially lake effect near Lake Michigan’s shoreline) the big lake also keeps the temperatures warmer. Iowa has more days of below freezing and below zero. Way below. The other biggie is how the snow falls. In Michigan many times you’ll see several inches on snow on top of a tiny fence post. Aww, so cute. Most of Iowa’s snow comes to us in wretched fashion from Nebraska-accompanied by a 40 mph gentle breeze from the west-with nothing stopping its progression (Iowa does not have an over abundance of trees like Michigan). A portion of your yard might still boast a few blades of visible grass while the other side will have a ten foot drift trying to compete with your roofline.

See how high it piles up in Michigan without wind! Ugh, I hate every flake…

During these whiteouts, blizzards, ice storms, and tsunami winds Dad’s job was keeping highways 75 and 18 as safe and clear as humanly possible, and their work day never stopped at regular quitting time. He often got called into work during the middle of the night and would end up working 16-20 hours before coming home. Mom would have his supper in the fridge on a pie plate, covered with aluminum foil which he’d pop into the oven for a few minutes if we were already in bed.

Dad retiring after 31 years of sneezing, mowing and plowing snow on the roads of northwest Iowa. His ‘gift clock’ looks like the state of Michigan and now hangs in our family room…

It’s easy to understand dad’s lack of bubbling enthusiasm for most chores around our hovel. He literally updated our house on the inside for 50 years but never really cared for all the work involved on the outside. By the time he got home from work, he’d either been mowing for 8 hours or plowing snow for 8-or more. He mowed because he wanted the yard to look nice like the neighbors, shoveled because our sidewalk was used by students trudging their way to school 2 blocks away. He had no interest in landscaping, buying or planting shrubbery. That task belonged to Mom. However when she brought home a new Blue Spruce he’d plant it without complaint, exactly where she deemed appropriate.

One of Dad’s many signs over the years on Highway 18 or 75…

He loved to ‘tinker’ in our huge garage, hand painting large, religious signs he posted (along those same highways, 18 & 75 where he worked everyday) to encourage unbelievers to find their way to Christ with catchy, thought provoking statements.

One of Dad’s messages…

As much as Dad disliked mowing, raking and shoveling (I don’t think he ever used weed & feed) he enjoyed growing a garden. Mom might have had something to do with this. She loved green beans, peultjes (peas in the pod) soft garden lettuce, radishes but most of all-fresh tomatoes (my favorite food in the world). Lucky for us, Dad could grow tomatoes like nobody’s business (although he was growing veggies in the best soil on earth)! If there was a dry spell for a few days and Mom and I were in the midst of an uncomfortable tomato withdrawal, we’d drive to the west edge of town where Luke & Tilly Van Berkum (no relation) had a small acreage-green house cause they grew enough tomatoes to feed the town.

Ok, the biggest one’s mine. “Mom make some tuna salad please.”

There weren’t many meals from mid-August through September that didn’t include tomatoes. Mom and I always liked something cold with our meal like pickled beets, applesauce or cranberry sauce-unless there were fresh tomatoes. She’d slice (not thin, skimpy slices either) a cereal bowl full to go along with whatever she’d made for supper, meatloaf, ham, pork chops. Although we were not really a ‘sandwich’ family, BLT’s were on the menu every few days when tomatoes were at their peak.

A version of the garden salad Mom made with eggs, bacon, garden lettuce, potatoes and bacon dressing….

But my favorite way Mom served fresh tomatoes was with tuna salad (which Dad refused to eat so this was our lunch most days when he was at work). Don’t get in a snit about the way Mom made our tuna salad. Water based Starkist, drained with a couple diced sweet pickles, celery and just enough Miracle Whip to hold it together. (I add green onion). She would carefully look through Dad’s stash of fresh tomatoes sitting on the counter and pick out the 2 best, biggest ones available. She’d take a steak knife and cut/carve out a pretty big section surrounding the stem, then pack that gaping hole with tuna salad. (Not gonna lie, it makes my mouth water, it was so good).

The way I eat tomatoes and tuna salad these days…

Guess I’ve not changed much in the amount of fresh tomatoes I eat or how I eat them. If we’re having a ‘good’ supper I’ll eat at least one tomato sliced with my meal topped with salt. For lunch it’s a BLT or simply sliced tomato on buttered bread topped with sugar. I’ll make tuna salad every 10 days (it lasts me 3 meals) although I no longer dig out the tomato middle. I slice it thick and chunk the slices in a bowl topped with salt. Dip my fork into tuna then stab a big chunk of tomato. A fond memory of Dad’s gardens during the 50’s and 60’s, how many times and ways Mom and I managed to eat tomatoes for 2 months a year…

My favorite picture of Dad. He was embarrassed he was wearing ‘work clothes’ when he was interviewed for the newspaper, but this is how I remember him, overall, 2 or 3 layers of shirts because he was always cold like me…

‘A’ is for annoying…

The first car I ever drove didn’t belong to my parents. The year was 1964, I was 13 and Mom’s car was in the shop. Santema’s Chevy garage gave her a loaner for the day. I remember whining/zhanicking/begging her to take me out for my first driving lesson. The reason I was so adamant (and she so agreeable) was because the ‘55 Bel Air was an automatic. My parents only drove cars with a manual transmission and a clutch. No radio, no air and shifting from 1st, 2nd to 3rd was part of the package.

It wasn’t fancy and I don’t remember the color, but my love for driving started in a 1955…

I wouldn’t take driver’s training for another year. It would take lots of practice easing the clutch out while giving it some gas before I got my hand/feet/coordination while driving with no power steering. However, I have never tried harder about anything than learning to drive, passing the written test and driving our 1963 Chevy with an Iowa Highway Patrolman sitting next to me on our bench seat while I parallel parked the beast with ease.

Mom taught me to drive that day and I was in heaven! I drove for about 10 minutes, just 14th, 15th and 16th street. We never attempted crossing Main Street. Not many things in my life has been as exciting as the day barely-teen-Neese learned how to drive and I’ve loved driving ever since. But it would literally be 2 decades (1987 Astro Van) before I had dependable transportation.

Wish we still had a 1965 Impala…

When John and I eloped in 1969 we both had decent wheels. Hubs was driving a very cool 1965 2-door hardtop Impala. I was tooling around in a Cubby blue 1968 Ford Mustang, but there were red flags everywhere. Hubs (barely out of his teens) had gotten several tickets for drag racing his ‘65 on Douglas street in Sioux City, and had driven it, unintentionally over a cliff (cool as that car was, it couldn’t fly). So for the first couple years of wedded-frickin-bliss he was not allowed to drive anything as requested politely by the state.

One & done with this Ford lemon…

We could scarcely make one car payment let alone 2. Since there was only one driver who was street legal, we sold the ‘65. Making matters worse, the Mustang was proving to be a lemon. The passenger seat broke routinely, shooting half of you into the back seat while inflicting spine/neck injuries. When the temperature hovered between freezing & 45, the Mustang refused to leave the corral for the day (or week).

We didn’t exactly get off on the right foot where reliable transportation was concerned. The 1965 International pickup’s clutch went out, so we parked on inclines and popped it in gear after we were rolling downhill, plus the passenger door flew open randomly, threatening to fling all living souls out. Our 1968 Nova blew a gasket so often, Hubs carried 6 of them in the car at all times, just dangling from the gear shifter, each patiently waiting their installation turn.

Our family car in 1957…

The 1969 Toyota idled at about 4000 rpm which was nice when driving in town because you never had to step on the accelerator. It went 20 mph all by itself. One day the whole dash exploded. John was disenchanted with our first ‘foreign’ car, and paid to have it crushed. Four year old Josh was with daddy and crying as the yellow cab colored POS was being squished. “Oh Buddy, are you gonna miss that car?” “No, my bubblegum is in the glovebox.”

The 1976 Dodge Aspen Wagon was better-except when you turned left. It would stall every freaking time. We were living in Davenport, a pretty good sized city with traffic lights at most intersections. I became adept at driving and only making right turns. Took me longer, but hell hath no fury like rush hour traffic, a stalled car with a mom and kids (sitting dead in the water in the left turn lane).

Never did run right but we drove it anyway, the Sapporo….

We bought a 1978 Sapporo with a blown engine for a song. Hubs thought he could just slip in another engine without much fanfare. It was a lot of work, engine didn’t quite fit and he had to rebuild/refit the fuel system. It ran like a dilapidated POS, but looked cool.

In 1984 John bought a brand new Chevy S-10. Crowded with a family of 5 but Adam was small enough to sit among 3 sets of legs on the floor. At least it didn’t strand us anywhere. Three years later we got the Astro Van with 12,000 miles on it for me. Two dependable vehicles-finally.

The gasket guzzling Nova…

Let’s recap. These are just a few examples of the rundown, dilapidated modes of transportation I’ve been subjected to during 20 years of my life. Every single one of them left me stranded at least once while I was their embarrassed/frustrated owner. That dubious sinking feeling, my panicking racing heart, mouth void of spit when your car won’t start, or stalls at a stop sign/traffic light has a negative impact on the day. You’ve got kids with you, one of them has practice or a dentist appointment, the trunk is full of groceries and you’re stranded in a car that’s not going anywhere and no cell phone. Maddening/depressing.

I’m not fussy when it comes to cars. I want something that’s safe, drives great, keeps me warm or cool, has good brakes, tires and starts when you insert the key. (Haha, I’m becoming my folks. I’m deaf and never listen to the radio anymore) Doesn’t seem like I’m too needy or demanding.

Too dark to get a picture of my Jeep in the garage, but it’s like this one…

So why subject you to 2 miserable, morass filled decades about the junkers in my life? Because of a feature on my present means of moving me from one point to another. I drive a 2018 4-wheel drive Jeep Cherokee. It’s not fancy or expensive as cars go these days. I like my Jeep.

After I’d signed on the dotted line the salesman walked me out to show me a couple of ‘new features’ before I drove away. (I had traded in my 2014 Jeep and was familiar with the model). So there’s this capital ‘A’ button with a semi-circle around it. ‘A’ stands for Annoying. He explained when I stop at an intersection, turn lane, stop sign, or traffic light, the engine shuts off. To conserve gas of course. Feeling that engine die when you’re focused on driving is instantly disheartening. Immediately I think I gotta call Hubs to rescue his damsel in distress because the POS car has taken a dump and left me in a pickle.

The capital A circled gets punched every time I start the Jeep. How annoying is that?

Every time I start the Jeep, its default auto-stop state is activated. I am able to press this ‘Annoying’ button to temporarily disable the feature but I have to do it every time the Jeep is started or as soon as I come to a stop, the engine stops which produces a sweaty brow and heart palpitations-until I realize I forgot to hit the button. It’s not the running errands part like buying gas, groceries, bank, then picking up Klavon’s pizza because those stops require me to literally stop and get out of the Jeep. It’s the driving to all those destinations with starts, stops and lights. Let’s say those 4 destinations (maybe 15 miles of total driving) include 4 left hand turns, 4 stop signs and 8 stoplights resulting in approximately 15 automatic shutdowns. How much extra wear & tear is that doing to my starter? Battery? My patience? My nerves? My sanity? This auto-stop feature is a huge bust. Annoying isn’t my favorite’A’ word but it’s a close second. My favorite ‘A’ word I’ll save for the idiot environmental/design engineer who came up with this asinine idea (asinine-another great ‘A’ word but coming in third)…