Survey said…

Feels like we’ve been here 2 weeks (Hubs doesn’t feel the time has sped by as fast) but the calendar assures me we are working on our last couple of 58 nights and ought to start packing. There were a lot of misconceptions on my part. I thought I’d get homesick right away-I didn’t. Mostly due to the weather we weren’t experiencing. All I had to do was check the highs and lows for Jackson, see all the new snow that fell or how hard the winds were howling to determine their awful windchill. Didn’t miss that for one second.

He let us get pretty close to him on the pier…

It’s not that the weather here in the south has been spectacular. Thus far about a third of the days have been subpar. Shitty even-until I check Jackson’s forecast, which certainly made 51 degrees with occasional showers more appealing in Gulf Shores. Our neighbor in the condo next to us moved here 4 years ago from Illinois (she knows ugly winter weather) and said this has been the coldest winter since she got here which makes me feel better.

The view from half of our condo’s sliders…

Hubs on the other hand, has not been as infatuated with Alabama as I have. This smallish town reminds me somewhat of North Muskegon. Both towns have one long, slow, busy street with water on two sides so everyone uses this main drag to make their way to someplace else. But in North Muskegon we were a couple blocks off the beaten trail. Our condo overlooks that busy street which is filled with construction trucks (hurricane repair and constant building of high rises) plus tourists. Watching the Gulf of Mexico just past this constant hum of tires is not as relaxing as it ought to be.

The Gulf of Mexico. Magnificent isn’t it?

Another issue with our front view is half of our sliding doors leading to the balcony. It’s a double pane thing and the stationary half is a mess. I think the glass has lost it’s gas seal, causing streaks, fog and just plain dirty. These stains are on the inside so no amount of Windex/vinegar, water and paper towels are going to fix that view until the glass is replaced. We love the palm trees across the road and have been anxiously awaiting the removal of all the ugly, dead, brown fronds. Day before we leave, they showed up to trim. Much better, but the timing-not so great.

These sliders really suck…

The pavement (street) out front is very wide but only 2 lanes with added walking and bike lanes, but there’s still a lot of wasted blacktop. Many folks just stop along this road’s ‘dead zone’ to yak, text, get directions or catch speeders. One such truck stopped right below our balcony a couple days ago while I was getting a dose of vitamin D. (Our railing is high and slats are close together so I’m rarely noticed sitting in my swimsuit. More on that later). Dude is leaning over in the driver’s spot, trying to do something on the floor when he finally opens his door. Out comes one leg. Nothing more, just the one leg resting on the running board. He turns sideways, loosens his laces and gently slides off his shoe. With the tender nurturing of a mom giving a newborn a bath he slowly removes his sock. Holy bat-toes, that foot’s a mess. His big and second toes are red/purple and very swollen from my view of 15 feet heavenward. He rests it there while making a call, then carefully brings his foot back into the truck and drives away. Leaving his shoe on the pavement. (Couldn’t get it back on anyway). He did return for the shoe later.

Dude was hurting after getting his shoe off..

The reason I’m privy to such scenes is the damn pool has been closed since we arrived, (57 days and counting) thus putting me on our tiny balcony instead of a comfortable lounge chair pool side. (This should have been disclosed in the amenities section before we rented the place). First I heard the pool and hot tub were closed because of Covid-19 (I don’t want to swim, just sit for an hour and read), but then noticed the fence around the pool was damaged by hurricane Sally. New sections arrived a month ago but they just started replacing it this week.

Getting my daily dose of vitamin D on our tiny balcony…

So far I sound kinda whiny but there has been much enjoyment too. First the sand. It’s unlike sand I’ve ever seen before, so fine and white. I love it, it’s everywhere-literally! The big pier, about 3 miles away is awesome, even though half of it is still closed after being torn from the pilings during Sally. What a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico from far above the water. The absence of fast food joints on this long stretch of road through town is a welcome site. The two exceptions are Hooters and Waffle House. I think perhaps the Waffle House was grandfathered in (they’re EVERYWHERE) but have no clue how Hooters got their location. All of the usual fast food spots are on Highway 59 north, not very close to the water, although there are lots of restaurants and souvenir shops (which border on outlandish in colors and large sea creatures).

Trimmer had to move this lift a dozen times while doing the palms…

The first week here, we stumbled (no, completely sober) onto this Mexican Restaurant about 5 miles away called Margarita Loca. On Wednesday’s they have their namesake at a very reasonable price, a buck for a sippy cup size and 3 dollars for the arm weight lifting size. I can count on one hand with three fingers hidden how many drinks I usually have in a year’s time, until Gulf Shores. We’ve been to Margarita Loca’s 5 times, always on Wednesday. I might see a pattern here. On the downside, we tried their food the first 2 times and were not very impressed. The following 3 times we just order an appetizer, stay for an hour and head home.

Our last margaritas (like Lake Michigan, mine’s unsalted) in Gulf Shores…

So this midweek was our last visit. Same waitress, Hannah every single week (she must never have Wednesday’s off). She seats us, hands us menus and asks, “what do you want to drink?” We say, 2 frozen margaritas. She starts walking away, stops, turns towards me and says, “you don’t want salt on your glass do you?” Hahaha, gotta love her. Guess who got an enormous tip?

The Pier, half is closed and missing several sections since hurricane Sally…

The independent neighborhood restaurants are good, (though we’ve tried pizza twice and none even come close to Klavon’s). Most are small, not very fancy but do what they do best-seafood. It’s been a week since I had shrimp and I’m not hungry for it yet. Too much shrimp, too often.

Untrimmed and not very neat looking for the first 56 days of our visit…

What would it take to cut the cord? Try a 2 month’s stay with limited, bad cable. I think we’ve finally reached a unanimous decision to say goodbye to DirectV. We’ve been a customer since 2002 except for a short hiatus where the Hubs grew weary of bitchin about the rising cost and signed a 2 year contract with Dish. When that was over we went back to DirectV but have watched our monthly bill working it’s way towards $150. Really, 5 dollars a day to watch TV? It’s got to stop and I think we’re ready and on the same page. (Josh, my techie guru has the answer that’s gonna run us about 60 bucks a month). Not really a Gulf Shores issue but it was here where we noticed we really aren’t watching much TV and haven’t missed it. Thanks to lousy condo cable.

Blue and flat one day, green with white caps the next. Always fascinating…

What else is there? Well since our massive downsizing 5 years ago, I’ve been a tad critical of my little kitchen in our little house. All it took to appreciate that tiny kitchen was a minuscule kitchen in a minuscule condo. And in case I ever need another new stove, rest assured it will never be a flat surface stove. Sucker took 21 minutes to preheat for 2 leftover pizza slices. By the time he was done eating pizza, it was time for me to start supper!

A big surprise. My favorite ice cream since I was little (and young-haha)…

Haven’t seen as much wildlife or birds as I had hoped. A beautiful pelican stopped by when we were at the big pier. I spotted an armadillo on the shoulder of the road but since he was dead, I couldn’t count him. But every time I get on the walking path, there’s this one spot where the lagoon is just a few feet away. That’s where I should see something fantastic, right? And I finally did. I think he’s a stunning Great Blue Heron. Made my week!

The Blue Heron, he’s Great right?

Would I come back? Survey says? Absolutely, though maybe somewhere farther off the beaten path. We spent a day in Pensacola (an hour east) and found much to like. Their downtown was bustling, filled with quaint shops. As far as Gulf Shores, the weather, the Gulf of Mexico, sand, CHERRY NUT ICE CREAM, and restaurants were spectacular. The pelican and heron were an added bonus. Any egrets? Not a one…

So much better trimmed, timing-not so great…

The Cruisers…

Anyone remember upper elementary classes where your teacher ‘strongly encouraged’ you to carry-on a back and forth written friendship (using neat, legible, cursive penmanship and proper grammar) with a complete stranger you knew absolutely nothing about? (Kinda sounds like stalking and a PPO should have been recommended, right) Goodness those educators were hellbent to introduce us to new relationships weren’t they?

Neese, the letter writer…

I don’t remember all the particulars but somehow our teacher had a long waiting list of eager preteens, living far away who were in desperate need of a sympathetic/empathetic/confidential friend they where they could relay their deepest fears, aspirations, hobbies and goals, without repercussions. Which meant as 5th graders, the paragraph read, (I got to go to the bowling alley for supper with my friends and without our PARENTS)!

I recall writing several letters but remember not one solitary thing about the person I’d been forced to bond with to keep all of my hopes and dreams in deepest confidence. I might have gone through this process a couple times before high school, conversing with a complete stranger in letter form, filling their heads with all the vital statistics of a day in the life of Neese. We called this strange phenomenon Pen Pals.

“But mom, do I hafta write her a letter today?”

Fast forward 50 years and a more informal means of getting acquainted or reacquainted with some unknown folks or long forgotten friends was being introduced to a more mature Neese (ha) via Facebook.

I joined Facebook in 2012, clueless and light years behind millions of savvy, hip folks of the world. I had less than 50 on my friend’s list and was content with social media. But big changes were for in store for one of the most computer illiterate gals on earth. It all started with a rather insignificant site called, “If you grew up in Rock Valley.” Holy frigid Iowa winters! I somehow met the site’s stringent, formidable by-laws. (I was born and raised in Rock Valley, Iowa). A fellow classmate of the Hubs (Ray) made it official. He ‘approved’ my initial request to join the group who were following the Rock Valley site. (That hurried approval from Ray might have been regrettable for some). I was like member number 30. Although we were a tight knit group, because of our age differences which ranged from the 50’s through the 70’s, many of us did not know each other-personally. Something else that was gonna change for some. Every day posts about growing up in our small Midwest, mostly Dutch community would appear. While most posts were a couple sentences long (mine were the exception, and tended to be quite wordy) for this small group of adults, some still in Rock Valley, others living all over the United States, the comments from these threads often lasted days.

Rock Valley’s elementary back in the day…

As our numbers grew, we became better acquainted with each other (similar to attending a 6 month, welcome to the neighborhood potluck, but without the good casseroles). I tried to hold my sarcasm in check (epic fail) in the comment department and to my surprise received several friend requests. Didn’t matter what the subject matter was from our past in the post, several folks were ready to offer their version (in the comments) to what ‘really happened’ that day at school, Benson’s Hill, the swimming pool, Doc Hegg or Doc Schroeder’s office, the drive-inn, dump, roller rink, gym, bowling alley, Koster’s market, little known ‘parking spots’ around town or the kid who had the guts to swipe the cop’s car and take it for a joyride! Still one of my personal favorites (Lyle), although Erwin Kooistra’s rendition of an office visit/chat with Mr. Liaboe ranks up there too.

Rock Valley’s Main Street during the fabulous 1950’s…

Friendships were revived or renewed. New cliques were formed and popularity no longer mattered. Just because someone was 5-10 years younger/older and not in your social circle during their youth held no merit once you hit 50. Age difference just didn’t matter anymore. What a relief and why didn’t we always do this?

Had I not joined I grew up in Rock Valley, I would be missing out on the lives of about 100 friends. That lonely life would suck right? Well this is about one of those friendships, now nearly a decade old. All of the ‘kids’ from this Rock Valley family were older than me. One was in the Hubs’ class, and one had been in my brother Larry’s class, which is how we got acquainted. Allan’s (2-l’s) brother Norm was a good friend of Larry’s and a pallbearer at his funeral. Not the happiest topic but I brought Larry up often in posts I wrote. Rock Valley was small enough that if you were in school in the fall of 1958, Larry’s tragic death had an impact on you. The whole town felt his death.

My big brother Larry, 1946-1958…

Finding old/new friends because of this nostalgic Rock Valley site, reliving everyone’s version of their childhood has been a bonus and a blessing. (Thanks to our administrator Betty Hauser who thought to start this site). Long forgotten memories re-surfaced and brought laughter and tears some times. What was vitally important to certain kids during a simpler time (50’s & 60’s) were now shared for a second time in riveting detail. Dutch slang language, used differently in every household was explained and written out phonetically because no one knew the correct spelling or pronunciation! Hut-fa-duttie. (Dutch meaning, oh for Pete’s sake).

So back to the Cruisers, not their last name, just their favorite pastime. They (Allan, 2-l’s and Dianne, 2-n’s) have taken cruises (too numerous to count) over the years. Dianne (2-n’s) was not part of our Rock Valley, Iowa history, having grown up in the south, using y’all when talking about more than one person. They are happily ensconced in Florida and offered us some advice when deciding where we would go with our newly sprouted snowbirding wings this winter. “Y’all might not be happy in Alabama. It gets cold there. Y’all need to come further south,” drawled Dianne (2-n’s). But Neese (2-ee’s) doesn’t do any better with high heat and humidity than she does with snow and below freezing temps, so the gulf coast of Alabama was our destination for 2 months.

How Dianne (2-n’s) views the world north of mid-Florida…

With a couple of ‘rub it ins’ since new year’s when their temps were hovering near 90 and ours (7 hours northwest) were struggling to hit 50 became a friendly sparring contest about watching/teasing each other about the local weather. Because of the pandemic, the Cruisers total boarding of luxurious ships in 2020 hit a standstill. They were bummed, with no noteworthy trips to look forward to. Allan, (2-l’s) and Dianne (2-n’s) decided to rough it, bring out their long forgotten winter gear, (jeans and a light jacket), heh-tah, (Dutch meaning, oh good grief) and ‘rough it’ to the frigid shores of Alabama for a weekend to meet their long-distance penless pals.

The cruisers, (2-l’s and 2-n’s) on where else? A cruise…

Gifts were exchanged (a box of my home canned goods) for one of their delicious, freshly home-baked Pecan (pee-can, Dianne (2-n’s). “Uh no, it’s (pa-con) pie,” corrected Neese (2-ee’s). After hashing over the Dutch/Midwest language version versus Southern speak and getting past the barriers of understanding (y’all), we went out for a leisurely lunch, then back to our tiny dwelling to recount the last half century of our lives. It was a wonderful day to finally meet in face to face. Hope the good Lord let’s us get together again…

Allan’s (2-l’s) secret, scrumptious recipe for Pa-con pie…

Life’s Milestones…

It started during the last half of 2000. As a kid, I didn’t think I’d be alive in the year 2000. After all I’d be turning 50 that December. Hahaha. Too old to be taking up space on earth. As I inched closer to that date, I realized my life wasn’t close to being over. It was just another milestone (they happen to all of us). I didn’t feel old. A couple years prior I had finally taken a more serious approach to the state of my health. (Women in their 40’s are prime targets for weight gains without changing their eating habits, body shifting/everything spiraling downward, sagging, except our pants and frequent, erratic reminders of everyone’s favorite-the arrival of menopause). I lost a bunch of weight and started walking ‘with purpose’ everyday. I felt great! But there were disturbing events creeping me out as I neared my 50th birthday.

This is what 50 looked like with 3 month old Landon, 2000…

A mere forty-eight hours after accepting/embracing the fact that I was starting my 51st year on God’s great earth, I came to grips with the grim reality. Shannon (my firstborn) was turning 30. That’s. Impossible. How could this be? I had literally just given birth to her, blinked once, then watched her as a 16 year old, winning a trophy in competitive cheer, gyrating to ‘Wipeout’ by the Fat-boys. It simply was not feasible that in the next minute, she was a 30 year old adult. Adding credence to this fact in the best way possible, Shannon was already mom to our firstborn grandchild, Ariana, who was almost 10 (making me a grandma at 40) and Landon, (not yet Drew to the rest of the world) 3 months old.

Shannon, 30 with Landon, 2001…

As far as milestones go, I think I accept/acknowledge the challenges before me with a loosey-goosey attitude. (Grateful to wake up each morning). But I’m not as lackadaisical about events that surround my milestones. One step in my aging process where I was completely out of whack for decades was my hair. Oh vanity, thy name is Neese. That short phase started when I was 35 and much too young to have more grey hair than brown already. I thought I’d get a ‘sign’ when the right time was right to let my hair grow out naturally. But as my mini-milestones zipped by at warp speed, for some unknown reason, I was not ready to stop the vicious cycle of my monthly scalp’s consumption of L’Oréal #7. I thought my compulsion for continuous dye jobs might wane after 5 years but it actually took me 33 years before looking in the mirror one morning and saying, “ok, I’m done. I’m ready to see how God intended me to look at age 68.” (Ok, He’d be more pleased with me dropping 20). I hear ‘ya God but it’s hard.

2019, I’m finally grey and he’s tall…

So while I’ve been ok with the constant status changes in my own life, I’m somewhat reluctant to accept I’m old enough for all the other ‘things’ that go along with aging. Wasn’t it last week when Hubs and I drove to the hospital in Dyersville, Iowa to welcome our son Joshua into the world? Didn’t we just experience a harrowing 6 weeks during my last pregnancy, praying everyday that our baby (of undetermined sex) would be born ok? (Adam was breech, face up and looking up my throat instead of having his head tucked down. He was perfect). What happened to that cute young couple on the block with 3 little kids, struggling to make ends meet? That was us one minute ago, yet here we are-great grandparents. The heart of the matter is, I’m ok with getting older, but I’m far less comfortable having my kids roar into their 30’s and 40’s, sprouting grey hair, with their kids hitting junior high, high school and college. Last I noticed, I was in my 40’s. Honest, I was just in my 40’s.

Mother’s Day, 1981. I’m 30, Shannon 10, Joshua 6, Adam almost 2, Spencer, Iowa…

On the other end of the spectrum after becoming an adult were the uncomfortable years of watching my parents age, seeing them decline. I compare it to witnessing (at times, it was not constant) something painful and unpleasant while never fully accepting what’s right in front of your nose. Sort of like wearing a set of blinders. I didn’t want mom and dad to have serious health issues, strokes, cancer and watch as they became frail (and I admit, at times I selfishly resented what was happening to them). Just stay the same and be ok. Please. But time marches on and nothing we can do to stop it. Acceptance can be hard.

Mom & Dad in their prime. Notice dad’s long johns, he wore them year round…

After coming to terms with my parent’s end of life experience, I suspect my kids are glancing sideways at their significant other when they look at me sometimes and think, dang she’s kinda stooped over lately, (how come it’s suddenly so hard to stand up nice and straight)? She’s started limping again and packing on a few pounds around her middle (for the umteenth time). And she looks a lot older with white and silver hair.

1979 when this mom was needed 24/7…

It’s still hard for me to reconcile the fact my ‘kids’ are no longer little and don’t need their mom. Although none of us are gonna get through this alive, I had no idea my first seventy years would pass me by in the blink of an eye…

Cherry, Cherry…

Baby love me, yes, yes she does, well the girl’s outta sight, yeah.

Says she loves me, yes, yes she does, gonna show me tonight, yeah.

Hey, she got the way to move me Cherry, she got the way to groove me,

Cherry baby. She got the way to move me, she got the way to groove me-alright.

(My main man, Neil Diamond)

Neil…

I’ve loved maraschino cherries since I was a little girl (and Neil Diamond since I was a teen). Mom bought cherries in small jars, swimming in sweet red syrup and let me top my (golden yellow) Hull Vanilla ice cream, covered with chopped walnuts and a substantial helping from the Hershey’s syrup can (the can was about the size of a Del Monte vegetable can). We used a V-shaped pop bottle opener, piercing two different sized triangular holes. A larger one to pour from and a smaller one to let air into the can so it would pour evenly). This delicious bowl was topped with a couple of cherries. Mom also found a gooey bar recipe from our ‘Family Favorites’ Cookbook which called for cut up cherries, nutmeats and coconut, all my favorites, (which the jar of cherries was originally intended), but once that jar was opened for ice cream, or me sneaking a few after school before she got home from work, if she wanted to make bars, she had to buy another jar of cherries (my evil plan all along).

How Hershey’s syrup cans were opened when I was a kid…

There were several ‘snack’ foods mom kept in the house for me. Hershey Bars (which she kept in the OVEN! I can’t tell you how many times she had to clean out a melted chocolate mess, including wrappers while the oven was preheating), regular and with almonds at a nickel a piece, Oreo Cookies, Hostess Cupcakes, Snowballs, Twinkies, Brach’s chocolate stars, Malt balls, Circus Peanuts and an occasional salty snack. All these were acceptable after school/supper treats (we rarely had dessert) so she was perturbed when the cherries kept disappearing from the jar. My cherry fixation might have bordered on obsessive/excessive.

Brach’s Circus Peanuts. I like them when they’re not too soft/fresh…

Although the gooey cherry bars mom made were delicious (I still make them a couple times a year), my favorite way to indulge in maraschino cherries was with Wells Blue Bunny Cherry Nut ice cream. A pink concoction chucked full of diced maraschino cherries and chunks of walnuts mixed in an ocean of vanilla ice cream. Wells is located in Le Mars, Iowa, (now the ice cream capital of the world) which is about 35 miles from my hometown. Never gave it a passing thought growing up. It was just an ice cream factory, delivering half gallons (yes, all cartons of ice cream used to be 64 ounces) to surrounding towns in Iowa.

Crusty on top and gooey underneath…

Over the years as we moved farther away, Blue Bunny ice cream was not always readily available. That didn’t pose much of a problem since the Hubs’ folks, sibs, my folks and sister all lived in the area where Blue Bunny ruled. We went home often, summers, spring break, sometimes Christmas or Thanksgiving, so I got my Cherry Nut fix a few times each year.

Dish of Blue Bunny Cherry Nut at Les and Mary Jane’s 4 years ago…

But things never stay the same. Those busy, fretful years of getting through motherhood raising teenagers also felt the loss of many family members. Since the late 80’s we lost both sets of parents, 3 of Hubs siblings and my only sister. We did not realize at the time but with every loss, there’s less of a reason to go back. That strong home base was just drifting away, one miserable death after another.

We didn’t travel to Iowa or anywhere else in 2020. Stayed close to home, saw almost no one and waited for the virus to run its course (we’re waiting, we’re waiting). The last time we went back was for my high school reunion, late summer of 2019, and I was in for a shock (besides how amazingly young and hip my whole class still looks). The newly remodeled Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor in Le Mars had some unsettling news for this Cherry Nut aficionado. My favorite flavor had been retired/discontinued. No consultation, no permission, and certainly no consideration for my feelings or healthy appetite. Cold. Damn cold.

Ice cream giants now too big to carry Cherry Nut for the not-so-little-fan…

Disappointing to say the least. Pandemic, social distancing, isolation, travel ban, masks. The hits just kept coming. The Hubs and I decided if we were going to be stuck somewhere, why not make it a better place during the winter than our cold, snowy, sad-sack state? Indeed. Which brought us to Alabama a month ago. I knew nothing about Alabama, but it was about the closest good weather to try our newly sprouted snowbirding wings. Yes, for the most part we still stay home, mask up in stores and restaurants, but the sun, the Gulf of Mexico, the warm temperatures has lifted our morose spirits. We have not been disappointed nor homesick. Yet.

Can’t be tripping wearing flip flops…

The closest grocery store is Walmart. (I’ve never been a big fan). Gotta give them credit though for the ease in refilling our prescriptions 1,000 miles from home. Thought that would be a much bigger headache. But after the first 3 weeks, I was eager to shop elsewhere, and found several choices. Piggly Wiggly, Publix, Winn Dixie and a local store called Rouses. When I stayed in Destin a few years ago, I shopped at a Publix, but knew nothing of the others.

Publix’s Rustic Cranberry Walnut Bread. Good, I mean really good…

Our goal was finding a better loaf of bread. The bread choices are kinda sad around here. Puny loaves, skinny slices and very little choice on varieties. It’s not that we were hellbent on getting the best ‘bakery’ loaf of bread, just a good commercial brand of wheat bread for a sandwich that would hold more than a teaspoon of peanut butter/jelly without wilting from the weight.

Winn Dixie got our approval rating for having a brand of bread we had not seen before so kudos to them. Piggly Wiggly offered nothing new so we left without buying anything. But the Publix Store Chain won this girl over-big time. (I comparison shopped in every store and have found the cost of living here quite high compared to Michigan grocery prices. I love doing that and always check prices when we’re in Iowa too).

Cherries/nuts, heck I even like the carton…

Found one loaf of Cranberry Walnut bread in their bakery. (I ate some years ago, even tried to duplicate it several times to no avail). This time I’ll be taking home the list of ingredients and see if I can find a similar recipe on the internet. But here’s the kicker. The biggest, best surprise of all. The Publix Store brand of their premium ice cream line carries-CHERRY NUT ICE CREAM. Thought I’d died and gone to heaven-and that was before I ate my first half gallon-I mean bowl.

No words to describe….

It’s not exactly like Blue Bunny Cherry Nut. Publix uses almonds instead of walnuts but the Hubs and I decided we like that nut flavor mixed in with cherries. My outlook on life has been much improved with my recent discovery. There will be some changes made and concessions in my life moving forward. I absolutely have to give up a meal everyday or fast one day a week. You know, Cherry Nut plus Krispy Kreme is not painting a very pretty picture of Neese (literally) for the future unless I intend on buying a new wardrobe in a bigger size. Ah, nope.

All gone…

I may have to move. Not specifically to Gulf Shores silly. There are 1,239 Publix Stores all over southeastern U.S., so there’s some flexibility with this life altering decision. We could sell the house, roam our way through Georgia, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, just hopping from one Publix store to the next. Or we could reserve a 4-month ‘winter stay’ in one of their parking lots and just rough it next to a dumpster…

Lucky my face didn’t fit inside…

Driving me bananas…

I like to think I’m basically financially responsible. Don’t get me wrong, I love shopping and spending money, but it’s not something I do very often anymore for a number of reasons. Our house is small. There’s no room for something new unless I replace it for something old that’s already there. I’m partial to my old things. The older I get, the less ‘stuff’ I want. We don’t have a lot of money to waste-period. Don’t need new stuff, I need my house deep cleaned, windows washed and gift cards.

Our first souvenirs. We have arrived…

Over the years I’ve had my downfalls. Started several different collections of cups and saucers, depression glass, Precious Moments, Lennox and lost interest after a few years. Or went clothes shopping and bought a darling top or jeans. The second time I put it on, I realized it made my butt look as wide as a 1936 Chevy. How could I not notice that in the dressing room at the store? (Or better yet, do something about that fat ass?) Dunno. The top/pants/coat/shoes/collection-whatever went to Goodwill and I never felt much guilt about those donations or the loss of moolah.

The spice rack…

Most of my mistakes/blunders/bad ideas have been put on the back burner for the last few years. Hope that comes from wisdom during the aging process but I have my doubts. I think it just hit me that I need significantly less in my life. Clutter makes me twitchy.

Sorely lacking in the necessary baking tools for the job…

Which makes for a much less stressful life. Except for bananas. It’s been over 45 years and there has been no change in my banana habits. Am I obsessed with bananas? Am I addicted to bananas? No and no. It would be a stretch to say I eat a dozen bananas-a year. (The few times a year I do indulge in a banana fix, the banana’s got to be perfect. It must be canary yellow, completely free from the colors green and brown and have absolutely no spots or bruises. Gross) But since I learned to bake after a couple of years of marriage, bananas have literally ruled my life like a 3-month-old with colic. I buy them every week or so because it’s a fruit the Hubs eats. He’ll slice one up and plop it on top of Rice Krispies (gag) or just peel and eat one-a-day.

Try creaming ingredients in this noise maker…

My banana issues begin when Hubs starts lagging behind on his banana-a-day-routine. I’ll be in the living room, reading a book and suddenly catch a whiff of an over ripe banana drifting from the kitchen. (For being a former smoker, my sense of smell is surprisingly keen and accurate). My next trip around the corner confirms my accurate surgically repaired proboscis. Yup, he’s only eaten a couple bananas and the remaining 3 now have as many age spots as my left hand.

Throw away pans, no nutmeats or raw sugar to grace this banana batter…

I’ve delved into this mysterious conundrum over the years and it just ends up hurting my head so I’ve accepted this small cross I have to bear for the rest of my natural life. I’m simply incapable of throwing over ripe bananas away. Limp salad greens, lunch meat (also sometimes green haha), dry bread, leftovers, soon to be outdated milk, old buns, cake mixes, freezer burnt chicken easily find their way to the trash bag on a weekly basis. Why in the world can I not throw out brown bananas? It’s mere pennies, and I’ve admitted to tossing out much more valuable items without any qualms. I must be missing a gene or something.

They don’t look too bad. Hope I can get them out of the pans…

This Neese peculiarity reared its ugly head again this week, which presented a whole new set of problems. We’re snowbirding for 2 months and the kitchen in the condo is seriously lacking-well everything. I thought I came prepared. Brought along baking soda and powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili powder, Les’ seasoning salt, disposable bakeware, even some of my favorite (highly sought after) recipes. But this barren kitchen resembles living out on the prairie in the late 1800’s and only getting to Walmart twice a year.

No cooling racks (naturally), so I improvised…

On the table yesterday rested 3 sad, mostly brown bananas. Nuts. Scratch that, I didn’t bring any nutmeats with me and haven’t bought any since we arrived. (There were 3 ways to go here, big decision. Banana bread, banana bars or simply THROW THEM AWAY. As if I’m capable of that bizarre notion). I did have flour, sugar, brown sugar, eggs and butter on hand. There were a couple of aluminum loaf pans and I bought a small glass mixing bowl (which is square and makes quite a racket when trying to cream the butter, sugars and eggs. No mixer here either). No vanilla, no Pam spray for the pans (I dipped a paper towel in canola oil) or raw sugar which I use to top the batter in the pans before baking. But these damn bananas were singing their sorry song and I’m a hopeless, helpless puddle of mush (kind of resembling my nemesis before it’s spooned into the mix). My biggest deterrent was not finding measuring spoons. I usually eyeball salt in the palm of my hand but this recipe calls for baking soda and powder, both which need to be kind of precise. Had to wing it with a regular teaspoon.

Looks good enough to eat, but we both decided it’s much better with walnuts…

Soon the condo was filled with the smell of baking banana bread. Nice, comforting, homey. This place is a rental and I wonder how long it’s been since such a wonderful smell permeated throughout? We’re not your typical weekly rental vacation folks. First, because we’re here for 2 months, so for now, this is our home away from home. Although we’re lacking many amenities we have at the homestead, for the most part we’re making due with what’s here. I cook almost every day, so I guess the natural progression would call for me to bake something at some point. Not surprised it was with my faithful, curvy, elongated, brown companions, around weekly for decades, the over ripe banana…

Destin-ation…

For several years I was Parish Visitor for an older congregation. My work (a calling really) included visiting a large portion of our congregation who were no longer able to attend church services regularly, but not specifically confined to those folks. I also saw a number of people who were just getting up in age-and slowing down.

One of the ‘senior’ dinners at church. Charlie and Barb are pictured…

One of my favorite couples had lost half of their duet. It had been a long, painful dementia trip. The winter following his death, Sally came to me with an unusual request. She and Paul owned a lovely place in Destin, Florida. The condo had been their second home for many years and Sally realized that part of her life was now over. This would be the first time she and Paul would not be traveling to the condo together to spend the winter. But Sally wasn’t quite ready to end her yearly migration south (like her kids were). She wanted one more trip to the condo before she put it on the market.

Street side of Sally’s condo. The other side faces the Gulf of Mexico…

Her children were adamant that she not drive down to Florida by herself. She was over 80 and had never driven there by herself. To appease them, Sally asked me to drive her to Destin, stay for a few days then fly back to Grand Rapids. I’ve loved driving since I stole, borrowed really my first car for a joyride when I was 14. Might be a small exaggeration but mostly true. (http://dvb517.blogspot.com/2014/07/petty-crimes-misdemeanors.html). Sally would be busy for the next 2 months, deciding what to keep, sell, give to her kids or donate. Plus say goodbye to several dear friends she and Paul made over the years. The plan was that I would fly down to Florida in late February, stay a few days (free in her exquisite condo), then drive us back to Michigan. Since Sally had the van, she would be able to bring back any personal, special items she didn’t want included in the sale. Dang, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

My mistake was in not doing any research about Destin and the surrounding area. I’d been to Fort Meyer’s Beach a couple of times and assumed Florida is Florida. But Ft. Meyer’s is WAY south of Destin, which lies in this skinny panhandle (which shouldn’t even belong to the state).

Wait just a minute. This panhandle should be divided between Alabama and Georgia, not Florida right?

Hubs dropped me at Sally’s before dawn broke on New Year’s Day since we were driving her van. I hadn’t packed much in the way of clothes BECAUSE I WAS GOING TO FLORIDA IN JANUARY. Five glorious days with warm weather and sunshine. (Surprise, surprise) Drove to Nashville, which was rainy and cold where we spent the night. By early afternoon on the 2nd we were about an hour away from Destin. Sally wanted to drive this last little leg after we filled up with gas near the Alabama/Florida state line (she claimed gas was always a few cents cheaper in Alabama).

We hauled everything out of the van into the condo. Don’t remember exactly what floor she was on, maybe 5 or 6. It had a lovely view of the Gulf, complete with Dolphins sluicing through the water. Sally found a can of soup so we didn’t have to go grocery shopping until the next day. I brought along a couple bags of glazed popcorn I’d made before we left which was our dessert. By 4:45 it was dark. I texted the Hubs saying we were safe and sound, went to bed early, excited about my mini vacation.

Great view of the Gulf from Destin’s condos where Sally spent her winters…

It gets lights earlier in the panhandle (central time zone). I got up early and dressed for my walk. Figured if I stayed on the street in front of the condo I couldn’t get lost. Walked past a huge state park, some beautiful homes, glancing over and checking out a shopping center across the busy highway/street. And froze my ass off. It was 30 degrees with some wind and drizzle. If it hadn’t been for the palm trees, I would’ve swore I was walking in Michigan. Brrr. Got back to the condo with chattering teeth, wet clothes and an instant hatred for Destin.

Showered, dressed in the warmest clothes I had and felt somewhat better about life (though not Destin). Sally and I trotted off to a Publix grocery store to pick up some staples. One of the things she bought was a loaf of bread from their bakery. Cranberry Walnut. Delicious. (After I got back to Michigan I tried 5 different bread recipes trying to duplicate that bread and never did succeed). Stayed in the condo for the rest of the day because it was rainy, windy and cold, but Sally was easy to talk to and we yakked for hours. (Without her cheerful demeanor I might have gotten bitter).

Clouds and windy conditions sure affect a day at the beach…

The next day’s forecast called for temperatures in the mid-50’s with periods of sunshine in the afternoon. Great, I can start my tan I thought, digging out my swimming suit and finding my way down to the pool. Soon I realized, “periods of sunshine” came in 3 minute increments-and there were 2 of them that afternoon. My goose bumps were bigger than my boobs. “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.” (She’s gone cause she froze to death).

The ceiling of McGuire’s is covered with stapled dollar bills…

Sally insisted we have lunch at one of her favorite restaurants in Destin called McGuire’s. Plank flooring resembling the inside of a barn maybe, leading to different sections of an Irish saloon. The ceilings and walls were covered with stapled dollars bills, swaying to breeze of busy waitresses. One of their signature dishes-wait for it-Senate Bean Soup, at the cost of 18 cents a cup. Sally and I supped at McGuire’s both times I stayed with her. (That’s 2 Reuben’s, fries and 2 cups of Senate bean soup for me. I am nothing if not consistent).

Sally’s favorite lunch spot in Destin, Florida…

So last week, this Alabama snowbirding couple decided to head to Destin for the day (trying to erase the bad taste I’ve held for that city, 8 years running). Again the trip researcher did not do her homework. We left at 10 thinking we would be at McGuire’s by noon. Well it was a lot further than we thought and most of it 2 lane, going 55. We were famished by the time we walked in at 1:30, but the place hadn’t changed. Hubs got the daily special, a chicken dinner and I ordered ‘my usual.’ We stapled a dollar bill on the wall by our booth to commemorate the day.

Validated our own little spot at McGuire’s in Destin…

Fumbled our way through town trying to find the condo (I must be the only person on earth not smitten with Destin). The town seems to have doubled in size. Hectic traffic, shopping centers every few blocks. The only way I stumbled my way to the condo was the Bealls store (nice department store) across the road. Shopped at Bealls for old times sake, then it was late afternoon and we still had a 2-1/2 hour trip back. There has been some serious hurricane damage to a long bridge (the bridges are all long down here in the south) by Pensacola so we had to use a different route, north out of our way, but at least our way (west) was moving. The folks going east were backed up about 10 miles and only going about that fast. I think most were commuters and I felt bad for them but ecstatic all that traffic wasn’t on our side.

McGuire’s Senate Bean Soup, still 18 cents a cup…

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Destin. My perspective was just off, like this morning in Gulf Shores. It was 62 by 9 am with 10 mph wind. (The windchill in Michigan was 14 at the same time-perspective). There were people walking by our condo in winter coats, hoods, long pants. I dressed in capris, short sleeves, slapped on my shades, headphones, grabbed my walking stick and zoomed out the door singing:

We come on to Sloop John B, my grandfather and me,

Around Nassau town we did roam. Drinking all night, got into a fight,

Well, I feel so broke up, I (don’t) wanna go home…

This is Nuts…

So I ventured out this week, (minus the Hubs), my faithful sidekick for the first time. My destination was the Tanger Outlet Mall, just a few miles north. Here it is mid-January and I’m shopping at an outdoor mall, wearing no coat! I totally got this southern weather. It hasn’t been perfect. A few days struggled to hit 50, but most days have been sunny and ideal for this gal who detests snow but is not fond of high heat or humidity either. Never said I wasn’t fussy about my weather (or my purses, as you’ll note).

The perfect candy pan and the granddaughter (Peyton) who likes to scrape what’s left in the pan afterwards…

I perused the stores listed on the internet, thinking I could hit a half dozen before my remaining original knee started protesting. (The thought has crossed my mind it’s becoming clear something’s amiss with that limb, which literally makes me weak-kneed). Say what you will about knee replacement but it took me almost a year to recover. The pain however is gone, but I dread the thought of having that procedure done again, and hope something (minor) is wrong with my leg.

Penuche with walnuts (nutmeats) and a penny…

Tooling along on highway 59, my gaze shifts to the right. As I live and breathe, there sits a Krispy Kreme bakery/store. My very favorite. Their donuts are like eating sugared air. Five miles from where I’m hanging my hat for 60 days. Well there’s 10 snowbirding pounds I hadn’t counted on, but concessions will have to be made. I sailed right on by like a dumbass. That won’t happen again, I assure you. I will remain one strong woman, allowing myself one original glazed every time I’m in the general vicinity. Like Alabama. Did you get the part about Krispy Kreme being within walking distance from our condo? A mere hop, skip and a jump. This is some serious motivation. I could easily walk 5 miles with that little carrot dangling in front of this lame old nag.

My favorite chain, none are near where I live (which is good) but bad…

Problem number 1. We’ve been here 2 weeks and I’ve finished my third book in the Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer. If anyone is interested I have 4 of them I’d happily give away) series. I only brought 5 books with me, so that’s not gonna cut it for 2 months. I stopped at a large bookstore because my friend Jeff suggested the Eve Duncan series and I thought I’d look for the first couple books but they didn’t have any. I could order some from Thriftbooks but not sure if I want them mailed here. I have yet to see a mailbox in town-period. I’ve been carrying a stamped card around for a week and haven’t spotted a mail box to toss it in. I guess Trump really did steal them. Maybe I’ll try and find a used bookstore in town. BTW, all city vehicles in Gulf Shores have this printed on the doors of their trucks: “Small town, big beach.” Accurate.

I tried desperately to snap a picture of the whole donut but it was an epic failure…

I finally stumble across the mall which is huge and very spread out. Knowing I can’t walk the length of it, I pick out a couple of stores that are close together and park nearby. First up is Corning Revere. Last night I wanted to make baked beans to go with our barbecued ribs and discovered there is not a casserole dish in the place. Oy vey. I’m wary of the handles of the pots in the kitchen, unsure if they were oven safe so I used a FRY PAN which had a metal handle. The store window is advertising 75% off everything, not a good sign. The store is 75% empty and going out of business, but I did find a couple of cheap, oven proof glass bowls that I won’t mind leaving when we head home.

Pecan pie…

Next up was Kors (Michael), Kate (Spade) and Coach, hoping one would have a new handbag for this fussy purse lady. The older I get, the more particular I get about my handbags. Don’t like stiff or structured, don’t want smooth leather, won’t buy a bag with 2 handles (am I the only woman who hates it when one strap falls off my frickin shoulder every other minute)? And I don’t want anything boxy. I like slouchy, like me, a hobo shaped bag, which appears to be quite unpopular of late. Not one purse in 3 stores cried, “take me home.”

Pecan Tassies…

There’s another bookstore advertised so I hopped in the Jeep (5 years ago I would have walked the complete length of the mall and not given it a thought. Now I look around and think, Geez, I don’t want to walk that way, there’s 6 steps. I really hate that. Getting old, not for sissies, and oftentimes I feel like a big sissie. I did not spot the bookstore but found a place called, The Fudgery. Well that looks interesting (especially since I zipped by Krispy Kreme). I walked in, all casual but I’m immediately drawn like a moth to a flame to the fudge section. I think they serve ice cream too, but my eyes only saw fudge. The glass display cabinet, home to a dozen or more varieties of fudge is now sporting a small drop of drool. I snap my mouth closed. Two clerks (bored out of their gords) slowly meander behind the counter. The clerk in charge starts by asking if she can be of help to me? Let’s just call her, BOC for boisterous, outgoing clerk.

Fudge as requested by Peyton, Ariana and Jovi (“no nuts in our fudge gramma.”)

Me: “these fudge chunks don’t look very big. Are they a quarter pound?”

BOC: “no, they’re 8 ounces, $8.99 each.”

Me: “ok, I’ll take one of the plain chocolate here with walnuts.”

BOC: “no, that’s our chocolate fudge with pecans.”

Me: “hmmm alright, how about the Rocky Road then? Does that have walnuts?”

BOC: “again, no. The Rocky Road is loaded with pecans. Welcome to the south.”

Me: “point taken and duly noted. I’ll have the chocolate with pecans please.”

My 45 year-old spoon that takes a beating when I make fudge…

I have just been given a stern lesson in the hoity-toity importance/priority of pecans in the south. I was raised on walnuts, (nutmeats, that’s what Mom called them) using them in candies and baking, except Pecan Tassies, pecan pie or frosting to top a German chocolate cake. Even with German chocolate cake, if it’s for family, I’ll use walnuts. If I’m bringing it somewhere or giving it as a gift, I use pecans.

Now that’s a perfect batch of fudge with walnuts…

If I had my trusty Club Aluminum Dutch oven here, my 45 year-old fudge beating spoon, my gas stove and using my great grandma Effie Berghuis’s 6 ingredient recipe, I could/would have schooled those two clerks on how a real batch of fudge should look and taste. My fudge is so much better. Way better. Way. With walnuts. Without. Or perhaps pecans…

Snowbirds-Week 1…

Why don’t we take off all alone? Take a trip somewhere far, far away?

We’ll be together-all alone again, like we used to in the early days.

It’ll be just like starting over. Starting over. John Lennon-paraphrased

John Lennon…

Here I thought our ‘downsized’ house was small. No, the condo rental is small. Twenty steps from the front door to the balcony sliders. That’s the farthest I can walk without taking a sharp left at some point inside. (5 doors, all on the left side) It’s a hoot! Loud colors on the walls, positive, inspirational beachy signs hung throughout, including the shower curtains. We knew this coming in so I’m not surprised. But I didn’t think it would remind me so much of the early days of our marriage.

I swear this had to be taken 20 feet beyond the balcony to look this big…

The condo is very nice and there’s really no comparison to our early years but for size. Three flat screens, 2 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms, dishwasher. We have a great view of the Gulf of Mexico across the road. How many get to enjoy that for 2 months? But it’s the little things that remind me of being young marrieds all over again. It’s about the size of the house we rented in 1970 when we brought home Shannon, our firstborn. The only bedroom was filled to capacity with a queen sized bed and one of 2 dressers, the other dresser claimed a spot of the living room (as did Shannon’s crib).

Kitchen is cute, but tiny..

We arrived here just over a week ago, around 6 pm so it was pitch dark. We unpacked, put away the frozen food, hung up a few duds and collapsed in bed. Woke up to warm temperatures, blinding sunshine and huge waves rolling in from the Gulf. I skipped walking every morning for 3 travel days so that was my first goal. Get back into my walking habit (and not get lost). To my delight, a blacktop walking path runs East/west off of the busy road in front of us. I walked (what I felt was 3,000 steps, playlist wise), checked my pedometer (pretty darn close), marked in my head how far I’d come and turned around.

The view from our balcony…

Made a list of staples needed and suppers I was hungry for, showered and we headed for the grocery store (in 8 days I’ve been to the store 3 times. Hubs has accompanied me ALL THREE TIMES!) Until this trip he hadn’t been to the store with me 3 times in the last 5 years! Brought home $185. worth of food, leaving out a whole chicken (soup) and 2 pounds of lean ground beef (spaghetti).

When perusing for this place, I meticulously went through all the amenities, noting pots, pans, dinnerware, appliances sheets, towels etc. Reality set in when I had to decide NOT to make soup the first night. Normally I’d cook the whole chicken (sorry super healthy folks, it’s the skin and bones that gives chicken broth it’s good flavor. Well that and I’m a darn good soup maker). I bent down to the cupboard, home to the extensive pot and pan collection. And laughed. The largest pan fit in the palm of my hand. Ok, a slight exaggeration but it wasn’t very big.

Nicely trimmed palm trees on my walking path…

So I had Hubs cut the legs and thighs off the chicken. No, not so the rest of the chicken would fit in the pan, that would still be a stretch. (I gave Jovi a play set of real pots and pans for Christmas last year. They honestly rival the size of the pans the condo has). I decided for the duration of this snowbird trip I had to rethink my quantities cooking. Normally when I make soup, I keep some in the fridge for leftovers, freeze a quart and give Ari and Jovi a quart. Too much soup for this place. So I made fried chicken with the legs and thighs the first night, thinking I’d only be able to make about 2-3 quarts of soup total in that little stinking pot.

Yes it’s a bit cheesy, but the happy colors are cool…

Who wants to spend a fortune on a pot I’m gonna use for a few weeks? Went to Walmart looking for an inexpensive solution. Hubs (now my constant grocery sidekick) comes around the corner of the aisle with the biggest shit-eating grin on his face, holding a pot. “It’s 8 quarts, stainless steel and only $6.97.” (Honestly, I swear my heavy duty Reynolds aluminum foil is thicker). And it was shaped kinda different too, about 10 inches in circumference and about 4 feet tall, guaranteeing a new arm burn every time I stirred something, but it would suffice. Once the clerk scanned the pot, she carefully placed it in a plastic bag, which dented the side. It’s fine, everything’s fine.

I LOVE this picture. I’m gonna try and paint one before I leave…

Another new cooking experience awaits. Using one of those glass top, surface stoves, which took 37 minutes to reach a boiling point for my now leg less, thigh less but big breasted chix. (I had reached the boiling point so much sooner). You need to stand around, checking every few minutes until you can turn the burner down to simmer, remove the floaty stuff, then cover and let it cook while you chop up the veggies.

Every piece of wall art is just beachy…

My point is the kitchen made me feel like the Hubs and I were starting out again. No tongs in the drawer to grab the fried chicken, tiny salt and pepper shakers that belong in a picnic basket, bowls the size you use for toddler snacks, cups that render your coffee tepid in 3 minutes flat. The kitchen in the condo is a vacation kitchen. Not one supplied with the necessary tools, cookware, or spices needed by someone who cooks often. That’s not why people stay here. They’re not here to cook suppers every night. They’re here for a vacation from their everyday mundane life and want try out different restaurants, taking a break from their normal routine.

My shower curtain-hahaha…

However, we’re here a bit longer and there’s nothing less appealing (to me) than going to a different restaurant every night. Ugh. So some adjustments are needed. We have company coming and I offered to make a cake (we’re going out for supper as a birthday celebration). The dilemma? There is a cake pan (yay, a 9 x 13, not layer pans which is prettier) but no mixer. I think I can beat the cake mix into submission by hand, but the Twinkie frosting requires several minutes of more than I can do by hand. I either have to buy a hand held mixer or convince her that German chocolate cake and frosting (made on the stove) will be as tasty as Red velvet with Twinkie frosting. Funny, the things you get used to and take for granted until they’re not at your disposal for a few weeks.

This is what I wanna make but not gonna happen in this kitchen…

Still, all in all, I’m enjoying our time here immensely-if only I had my kitchen…

Auld Lang Syne…

It’s safe to say 2020 was a year like no other. For everyone. In many ways not much changed for Hubs and I, the stay-at-homers. Still every time I went to the store, grocery carts were being sanitized, blue tape “x-marks-the-spot” on how far apart you should stand from the next person in the checkout lane and masks were worn by the masses, reminding me just how different life had become in a few short months. Any place of business that wasn’t forced/ordered closed I avoided anyway. I’m deaf, putting me at a definite disadvantage, trying to understand anyone wearing a mask. We didn’t do our part to help the piss poor economy by ordering take out more frequently than normal, which is almost nil.

Pat (the better half) celebrates every holiday by decorating. Seriously…

But much of life around us changed dramatically. We had not seen riots and looting like this summer for decades. It was troubling and unnerving, probably because of our age. The political atmosphere was highly charged throughout the country and everyone was worried about their future. The future of our loved ones. So while not much had changed in my own little cocoon, life was really different, and will never be the same. Ever. Which put me in a funk.

My life was in the crapper and southern folk who don’t know which way the roll goes wasn’t helping…

I was filled with this urgency (no, I didn’t have to pee) which is not something I experience often or fully understood. I guess it goes to the fight or flight in all of us when faced with dire circumstances. Do I stay and duke it out or simply leave to fight (and live) another day? I’m sarcastic as hell but really a chicken shit avoiding confrontation at all costs. I got no fight left in me. Ready to call it a day and move on. I needed to get away for awhile. Weird, coming from the gal who’s been solidly anchored to her home. Forever.

Life was slowly looking better. I fixed their “roll issue” twice. You’re welcome…

The idea of going away during a pandemic was daunting. Who does that? Yet, at the time it seemed perfectly logical. Hubs and I might as well be isolated far away (in much better weather, near water in its original liquid form) than what Michigan has to offer during the winter, so the search was on. Where to go, where to go? South of course, but not too far from home. A thousand miles ought to do it. Easy enough to pick out the worse 2 months of the year (we had a choice from 5 and that’s during a good Michigan winter).

The snowmen crew shared our bedroom.

I’m not a fast decision maker but after a couple weeks of perusing the internet, we found a location/place in our price range and made the reservation. Gulp. I thought my funk would disappear after our plans were solidified, but my uneasiness remained with me for the long haul. I guess I don’t give up anything with ease.

A horse wreath of course…

Another unusual decision I made was about Christmas. Just. Not. Feeling. It. No tree, no stockings, no cards. Minimal baking. Which did nothing to lighten my mood but at least there were no frantic days of taking the decorations down and packing them away before we left. Looking back, I now realize how much I missed seeing my ornaments. And admiring how amazing our 13 Christmas stockings look hanging up. I hope this inspires me to decorate this year.

I think this came from Norway, where Pat’s family hails…

Which brings me to Jeff and Pat. Didn’t know what a big part of this impromptu trip they would be. Jeff, I’ve known my whole life. A kid from my home town. He’s a punk (a year younger than me) and his brother Randy was one of my best friends during high school. Jeff generously offered us sanctuary on the way to our destination. If Pat (whom I had never met) had misgivings about having complete strangers in her house overnight, it did not show when she graciously gave me an elbow bump upon arrival.

Cute but I left out the antique horsehair bench below…

What did I do to deserve this? Absolutely nothing. (I’m sure God had His hand in it). He knew I was having a tough time. A wave of peace enveloped me as soon as I walked into their beautiful home on New Year’s Eve. With a slight southern drawl Pat quipped, “I thought you might enjoy my Christmas decorations, so I left them up.” Every square inch of their house was decorated. Tastefully.

Welcome to our home…

Her tree was stunning. Oodles of red and silver (like small branch inserts) with coordinated ornaments on a 9 footer. Mesmerizing. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. A fresh Christmas bouquet topped a runner in the kitchen. Festive garland with Longaberger baskets topped the cupboards (I don’t know what that space above the kitchen cupboards is specifically called). Fluffy red and white pillows piled high on the sofa. Gnomes nested on the floor beside me, watching my every move.

Yup, they were watching me alright…

As we hauled in enough bags to give the impression we were staying until 2022, 20 whimsical snowmen greeted us in the guest room. They made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Although I hate snow, I have a fondness for all snowmen. No dallying, it was time to eat. I thought Pat was serving hors d’oeuvres when I sat down at the dining room table. Of course the table was festooned with Christmas dinnerware, placemats, runners and centerpiece. Duh. Jeff patiently explained the logic of 8 different plates topping the charger. Steaks, fried potatoes, green beans, rolls, and salad/slaw and wine. Yup, just a few snackies, as Jovi would say.

Festive…

Pat barely got a word in edgewise during the first 3 hours. It was the Rock Valley kids reliving their wild youth. Ok, we were gossiping too, but we had time. We were determined to see 2020 come to a close and usher in 2021 with renewed hope (and champagne). I was the only one who partook of a second glass, the party poopers.

Such a beautiful, welcoming sight…

New Year’s Day dawned warm and sunny in Mississippi. After a small breakfast of eggs, home fries, bacon, French toast and coffee, ala Jeff, (yeah, he’s a good cook) it was time to walk around the farm to meet and greet the horses. (Jeff and Pat both come from horse families, which they have nurtured in their kids and grands). Too soon it was time for the last leg of our journey. While we were anxious to see our new temporary home away from home, I wasn’t ready to leave. I hadn’t felt at peace for months and sadly realized just how good it felt again. Doubtful if Pat or Jeff knew what an impact they had on my somewhat glum well being, but their friendship was a powerful way to end one (miserable) year and boost me into the next. Their timing in my life was impeccable. No, old acquaintances (and new) should never be forgotten. I just don’t know how to repay their kindness. Heartfelt thanks you two…

Tassie Tradition…

What are the requirements before a tradition becomes legally binding? I certainly didn’t start mumbling to myself, “I’ll be doing this for the next 45-50 years.” I swear one day I was young and dumb, eager to try something new and the next nanosecond, 5 decades have zipped by and I can’t reason why I’m doing the same thing over and over. Yet I’m a creature of habit and detest change in my life. Guess I should have seen this coming in many aspects of my life.

This is my 4th copy since I got married. I was not a very careful cook in the beginning…

Mom gave me a cookbook when she got over the initial shock her youngest had eloped and nothing she could say/bribe/cajole was gonna change that fact of life. Determined, she kept trying, but only for the rest of her life. Anyway, the cookbook was a good idea because mom had failed to teach me how to cook. She was a good cook but never wanted me in the kitchen with her, even when I was little.

Mom and her 2nd grandson, Brent around 1965…

The cookbook was from a rival school of Rock Valley Community where I attended. Many kids from our small town hopped on a bus every morning and rode 9 miles to another small Dutch town called Hull to attend Western Christian School when they should/could have been our classmates. But mom had been using this cookbook for several years and thought maybe it was time for me to learn something. The cookbook was a hoot. The first chapter was dedicated to authentic Dutch recipes, some even listed ingredients in Dutch. (Well that was something I’d never attempt without an interpreter).

Ollie Bollen (similar to a doughnut with raisins) a Dutch treat usually served on New Years…

Ha! After a few years of mistakes and blunders I would see the advantage of trying some new things, and many recipes were found in this book. Next to Betty Crocker, Family Favorites has always been my most used cookbook. And I did try (and succeed) with a couple recipes in the Dutch chapter too. Ollie Bollen, St. Nickolaas Koekjes, Balken Brei (not to my liking but the Hubs loves it) and my favorite, Saucijzbroodjes (pigs in the blanket).

Saucijzbroodjes (suh-size-a-bro-cheese) Pastry filled with ground pork/beef …

I still like trying new recipes. After 50 years of cooking I get tired of making the same suppers sometimes. Not all new meals I attempt prove worthy of a recipe card (which definitely means I’m making it again-maybe with a bit of Neese-tweaking), but several in recent years have found a home in my meal rotation.

When perusing a cookbook or recipes in the newspaper there are a couple of ‘tells’ when my eyes glaze over and I’m thinking, oh, hell no. Number one on my instant, ‘umm, this looks good and doable,’ or ‘are they out of their ever loving minds,’ is a very long list of ingredients, many of which are not in my house right now. I’m a cook. I make supper 6 or 7 nights a week. I have a lot of meat, red, white, the other white, seafood, fresh, frozen and ready to go. Plus all kinds of canned goods, tomatoes, diced or sauce, cream soups, red and white potatoes, wild rice and not-so-crazy-white, every shaped noodle there is, barley and spices up the wazoo. So if I see 6 things I need to buy before I make this dish, it’s probably not gonna happen.

Great grandma’s Dutch fudge recipe…

Another Neese drawback are recipes with enough steps to make it to the promised land. While I enjoy walking and try to get in 9,000 steps a day, if a recipe has more than 3 or 4 ‘steps’ my mind is wandering back to ok, I just realize how hungry I am for meatloaf tonight.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the labor intensive work that comes with certain entrees/desserts. While I love how appealing a lattice topped pie looks, there’s no way I’m gonna fart around trying to weave pastry strips when I’m making a dozen apple pies. I’m just not. Those braided loaves of frosted, fruit filled delicacies look amazing but not on my list of ‘must learn to do this.’ One of my favorite cookies are frosted cutouts for most holidays. It’s important to me that they taste good and look appealing. Appealing to me is a half inch layer of tinted buttercream frosting. I’m not spending an afternoon adding ‘decorations’ to my tree shaped cookies. Too much kanooey. Guess I’m really not into a lot of kanooey.

My cutouts. No they’re not fancy, just really good…

Webster’s definition. Kanooey: kah-new-eeeeeee. Fart around on a project (food or craft) endlessly/needlessly to make end product more visually appealing. Usually a complete waste of time. Don’t you have better things to do? Try studying me for a change and up your vocabulary a word or 2 for your readers. And stop saying very. Really. Just stop. (Does this explanation appear rather snotty and directed only at me)? And you say actually way too often. Stop that.

Pecan Tassie shells. The first of many, many steps…

Except for Pecan Tassies. There’s no way I would have ever attempted to make these little buggars. They are so much work just the thought makes me wanna scream, yet I’ve been making them for 45 years. Why? Why? (Well, because they are the best, richest most delicious little morsel of a dessert ever, so there’s that). Blame Mag, my mother-in-law.

Be careful, if the shell doesn’t touch the top you’re in trouble…

Ever since I was 15 and started spending Christmas Eve at my future in-law’s house, Tassies were part of the package. A big part. Mag went all out for Christmas. I think she liked to kanooey while baking. She made frozen fruit slush, chocolate covered cherries, divinity, fudge, peanut brittle and several varieties of cookies and bars every year. She was a terrific baker.

Oh the mess with dribbling. Better with these pans but still…

A Pecan Tassie tastes a lot like a miniature piece of pecan pie (2 or 3 bites). Only better. Best served with a fresh cup of coffee. I wanna say it’s the pastry part because it’s quite different from traditional pie crust dough. Tassie dough is made with cream cheese, flour and butter or margarine. That’s it. It’s very yellow, flaky and browns nicely. And while pecan pie filling consists of eggs, corn syrup, butter, salt, vanilla and white sugar, Tassie filling is made without syrup and calls for light brown sugar instead of white.

You with me so far? Well here’s the zinger. There’s a lot of kanooey work involved in making these tiny tidbits. I’m sure you’ve seen the specialty pans in kitchen stores. Looks like a cupcake pan except the cupcake openings are half the size. Each is about the size of a large unshelled walnut. Oh for Pete’s sake, how did I ever get snookered into making them the first time? Yup, I was young and dumb.

Pecan Tassies. Maybe not much to look at but they are the best dessert…

Well Mag took me on as a cooking student once her youngest and I eloped. She already knew we both liked to eat so someone had to step up and start learning to make meals. I was eager to please and she was patient, and I desperately wanted to learn how to make Tassies. The recipe is actually in my Family Favorites Cookbook but the very first time I read it, I feinted from the number of steps. (Good ole Webster is taking a tough love approach with me on this one).

So Mag gave me an in-person, visual lesson in the art of Tassie making. She made it look easy. The following is how much kanooey work this really entails.

Oh Tassie Christmas Tree, oh Tassie Christmas Tree…

1. Using chilled dough, pinch off small amount, roll around in the palm of your hand and toss in bottom of Tassie pan. Do this 2,000 times.

2. Trim fingernails. Using index finger of dominate hand, gently press dough all the way up the sides so goopy filling does not spill over, making it impossible to remove. Repeat 2,000 times.

3. Add 3 or 4 pieces of pecans to each bottom. 2,000 times.

4. Make filling. Beat eggs, add cool, melted margarine, brown sugar, dash salt, vanilla, and enough expensive chopped pecans to equal one house payment.

5. Spend 20 minutes trying to find the appropriate tool (no, not him). Add filling without spilling (hey I rhymed) a drop. There is no spoon, baster or scoop that works. This item does not exist. You’re gonna spill and make a terrible mess. Face it Sista. Own it.

6. Add filling. Carefully, between 1/2 and 2/3 full. Otherwise you will be scrubbing these pans till hell freezes over. (Not anymore, I bought non stick pans a few years ago. The Lord saw my struggle).

7. Bake 17 minutes @ 350.

8. Turn oven down to 250 and bake 20 minutes longer.

9. Remove from pans. 2,000 times. Burn every finger. On both hands. Coarse language allowed.

10. Let pans soak until next November when needed.

11. Hide Tassies.

12. Hire 24/7 guards just through the holidays.

13. Make fresh pot of coffee.

14. Raid Tassie stash.

See nothing to it. And here you thought I was adverse to kanooey work…