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…

Tina…

We were cruising into our third year of marriage and about to move for the fourth time. Ugh. Luckily for us (or unfortunately), we had squat to move from place to place. If you wanna get technical it actually was move number 5. The first move was about 2 weeks after we eloped. Hubs was staying in my small apartment. It wasn’t a conducive environment for a healthy/romantic way to start wedded bliss. Only females rented in this big old house AND EVERYONE SHARED A BATHROOM. I stood guard by the door when John was in there or getting ready for work. I found the situation hilarious-he did not.

Around our first anniversary at the duplex in Leeds. I’m just starting to show, 1970…

So we rented a small house on Douglas Street in Sioux City. Cute house on a steep hill. It was late fall and we soon discovered just how cold a house could get when it was slapped on a slab of cement. Not only frigid inside but the heating bill was 3 times what the rent cost us every month.

Shannon 7 months, 1971…

Next up was a new duplex in Leeds (a burb of Sioux City). Nice place with great neighbors, Lee and Carolyn, who were in the same boat as we were (well, their boat had a small horsepower motor, which sputtered from time to time. Our boat had one oar. Which was broke. Needless to say, we didn’t get the paddle end). Newlyweds, both of us pregnant and our spouses worked nights, giving us hours to nurture a timeless friendship. Carolyn would have a baby girl in June and our baby girl was due in December (we didn’t know about the ‘girl’ part until the obstetrician proclaimed the news). But since I was no longer working, we couldn’t afford the outrageous rent, thus another move to cheaper digs just a few miles north.

Yes Tina’s adorable but it’s the bell bottoms that makes this pic great, 1972…

An itty-bitty three room house in Hinton (a tiny town) where we would bring Shannon Marie home. The house was on highway 75, approximately 200 hundred feet from the railroad tracks. The house twitched/lurched/heaved and Shannon’s 5 dollar crib inched it’s way across the room each time a train rumbled by. A built in soother. Shannon’s domain shared equal billing with the dining/living room. Not ideal, but doable with a newborn.

A few months later, our landlord stopped by to offer us a bigger house for the same rent a couple blocks away. FIVE ROOMS. What would we do with all that space? However, there were a couple of glitches. The house was another slab home which had a fuel oil heater in the dining room, (taking up valuable space, connected to a chimney in the corner) as our only source of heat. Which was insatiable. And discriminatory. Our dining room was a toasty 92, the bathroom and our bedroom (far away from the heater) struggled to stay above 55. But we were crowded and Shannon was mobile, so we moved. Again. I could no longer count on the train to lull Shannon into dreamland. Shoot, we were 2 blocks from the tracks now and nothing in this house moved when a train zipped through town.

The slab home where Shannon and Tina got into occasional T-R-O-U-B-L-E…

Shannon was a precocious toddler who now had her first bestie. Another toddler who happened to have fur and four legs. A Maltese named Tina. They were inseparable. It honestly couldn’t have been more work if I’d had twins. What one couldn’t think up/plan/devise, the other one could trump that-times 10.

“Let’s go outside and see how many snowballs can stick on Tina’s fur.”

Neither Shannon nor Tina had behavior issues-by themselves-but in cahoots together, they were a force to be reckoned with. Although the puny gang consisted of only 2, they were formidable. Much as I hate to admit, Shannon was the instigator about 95% of the time. Tina was the follower who would go to great lengths to complete their mission at hand (paw) any day.

Besties, Shannon and Tina, 1972…

One day Shannon (the CEO) got my purse down from the top of the dresser (the bedroom furniture was so close together, it wasn’t much of a stretch) and found an open pack of Juicy Fruit gum. With the stealth of a ninja warrior she quietly unwrapped a stick for herself and happily chomped for a couple minutes. But instead of offering Tina (the VP) her own stick, the best friends forever took turns chewing the same piece. All was well until Shannon thought it was her turn but Tina wasn’t ready to comply. (Tina knew the flavor in Juicy Fruit lasts 5 minutes-top-and didn’t want to give it up until every fleck of juiciness had been absorbed-by her). There was a bit of a power struggle, (a coup perhaps) when Tina lost some of her chomping power. Shannon might have been trying to physically remove the gum with her chubby toddler fingers. Neither would get the chance for the last 30 seconds of flavor as the wad of gum had come to a complete stop in the fur on the right side of Tina’s mouth. Almost made her head tilt from the weight combined with their slobber.

Standing on our bed, practicing how to snag my purse…

Shannon swore she had nothing to do with this fiasco. Tina had somehow managed to get the gum out of my purse, removed the wrapper and never once offered to share it with top management. Shannon completely threw Tina under the bus. At this point, Tina really didn’t give a shit whose fault it was. This wad was driving her beyond the brink. Her little mouth and tongue were feverishly trying to work the gum out of her fur-to no avail. She looked like Flo, the ‘kiss my grits,’ gum cracking, smart ass waitress on Alice.

Yes, it was necessary to prowl the house all night, looking for possible T-R-O-U-B-L-E…

By the time the lowly guard of the castle (me) discovered the 2 trouble prone toddlers, Tina was exhausted from chewing and getting nowhere and Shannon was no closer to admitting one iota of fault. The gum was as hard as a rock and the only solution I could think of was just cutting the hunk out with attached fur. Not her most attractive look the next 3 months, but the two made up and all was right with the world.

Pretty sure the fur on Tina’s right side was just growing back…

The next pickle the ‘girls’ would find themselves in could have turned out much more serious. Shannon was sick. She was running a temp, runny nose, ear ache, upper respiratory gunk. We brought her into our pediatrician, Dr. Stauch who checked her over and ordered an antibiotic for ten days. Several days later Shannon was feeling much better. After her nap, a diaper change and a snack Shannon was raring to go and so was Tina. I was enthralled with the lives of Lahoma and Sam Lucas on the new soap opera, Somerset when my scalp started to tingle. Except for our large screen TV (13 inch RCA) the house was eerily silent. What was going on? I could literally see Shannon, sitting on the floor in the kitchen near Tina’s water and food bowls. She didn’t turn her head or respond when I called her name. Something much more interesting was happening and I hadn’t been informed or invited.

Just behind daddy’s boot was our fuel oil heater…

Shannon (although she claimed it was Tina’s idea from the get-go. Poor Tina, she couldn’t argue with Shannon, who had already zipped through 3 years of law school) had opened the fridge, retrieved her antibiotic, (which tasted like bubblegum) removed the non-safety cap and slugged down a healthy portion. Not wanting Tina to feel left out, (awww) she poured the remainder of the bottle (which we COULD NOT AFFORD) in Tina’s water dish, which she was noisily lapping up. Now Tina’s fur around her mouth (which had finally grown back to a pristine white) was sticky pink, dripping all over the floor. To her credit, she was doing her best to keep her mouth clean.

Daddy’s back needed scrubbing…

I completely freaked out! (No 911 service yet) Called Dr. Stauch’s office and by the sound of my panicked voice, the receptionist got me through immediately to Stauch. After sobbing my way through the story and missing amount of medicine, he calmly said, “Denise, it’s going to be ok. This was not a critical amount for either of them. How much does Tina weigh?” “About 7 pounds,” I stammered. “Well I suggest you get a box of Pampers (still pretty new and I used cloth diapers) for Shannon and be ready to put Tina out at a moment’s notice-frequently. They’re both gonna have diarrhea for a couple days, but that’s about the worst that’s going to happen. And Shannon probably doesn’t need a refill on the script. She might not get another bug all winter.” “Thanks Doc, appreciate your help.”

They always looked completely innocent…

These two. Reminds me of a Travis Tritt song (ha, you didn’t think I listened to any country tunes did ya)?

Well hello T-R-O-U-B-L-E, tell me what in the world are you doin A-L-O-N-E?

Yeah, say hey good l-double O-K-I-N-G, well I smell T-R-O-U-B-L-E…

Bertha’s Antiques…

I wasn’t raised around antiques, at least not in the way of old furniture. Mom was extremely proud when she bought something new (of value) like her dining room set. Sprague & Carlton. Early American style, hard rock maple table, 4 chairs, nice buffet, then adding a grandmother’s clock a few years later. She and Dad worked hard for their money but it was up to Mom to pick out new furniture. Dad really didn’t care and left the household furnishings up to her tastes.

Mom’s early American maple dining room set. She loved that furniture…

My grandpa Lakey passed away when I was 10 and Mom acquired a few older things at his auction. One item she bought was a hand gun which I thought was odd. The trigger was inoperable so it posed no threat. Mom plopped it in a paper mache bowl (his), on top of a plant stand (also his) in the spare bedroom. Most of the glassware from Lakey and Coba’s short 2 year marriage, Mom and her brother Floyd had already divided up. (Coba died 10 days after Mom and Floyd were born). I remember Grandpa had a beautiful antique oak telephone hanging on the wall in his living room. Lakey might have owned the first tiny house in Sioux Center, or maybe all of Iowa. The house had 3 rooms, small kitchen, living room and a combination bedroom/bathroom. No the bathroom was not partitioned off. I doubt it was more than 500 square feet which didn’t leave much room for a lot of extras. (Mom didn’t buy the phone, something I’ve regretted since I reached adulthood).

My grandpa Lakey standing by the plane he owned and flew…

I wasn’t so much wooed into appreciating the beauty and craftsmanship of furniture built in the early 1900’s as we were simply too destitute to buy anything new after we got married. It all started with my first pregnancy. We didn’t have 2 nickels to rub together when setting up the nursery, so how were we gonna be ready for this birth? (We had no clue if we were having a boy or girl so all sleepers/nightgowns with a drawstring on the bottom. The baby always managed to stick out one skinny bare foot, rendering that limb 10 degrees cooler) were pastels, mostly mint green or pale yellow. You didn’t get gender appropriate clothes until after the baby was born. Who can live like that? A newborn’s nursery looking all helter-skelter without a real boy/girl theme. It was barbaric. Or possibly, the way nature intended.

Yeah, there was a lot of room between slats, but Shannon lived through those crib years…

When we started shopping Hubs and I were in for sticker shock. A small dresser at Sears, made primarily from particle board was priced about 40 bucks. No way we could afford that, plus a crib. We found a used crib, (with the side slats about a foot apart. How did our kids not die in infancy)? We painted it bright yellow and bought a new mattress. Hubs stopped at a garage sale on his way to work because he caught a fleeting glance of a dresser. It had been stripped, wasn’t very fancy, didn’t have a mirror but was oak. It had no drawer pulls and was priced 5 bucks. Now we’re in business folks! (Neatest part-the handles were in one of the drawers, hahaha). We were fast discovering a love for antique furniture that would last our entire marriage.

Soon after I bought the china closet from Bertha and filled it with Cameo…

Two people were instrumental in nurturing my antique obsession during the early years. The first one was John’s sister, Elly. We moved to the same town they lived in 1977, after 8 years of marriage and 2 kids. Elly had been hooked on antiques for ages (she was 18 years older than her baby brother, the Hubs). She was knowledgeable about wood types, different furniture styles but her real field of expertise was glassware. Although our funds for antiques was still very limited, we went antiquing with Elly and Dewey often, learning what our preferences were along the way. Usually day trips within a 100 miles. We had more fun meandering through Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota with them. Elly was usually on the hunt for glassware, some to keep, other pieces to resell. We were looking for the next affordable furniture project for the house for us to work on.

Joshua and aunt Elly, Spencer Christmas, 1980…

One weekend Elly and Dewey went to an auction, then stopped by our house on their way home. She handed me a shoe box filled with miscellaneous glassware, explaining she got the box for a buck and kept the piece she needed for her collection. Sneaky Elly, very sneaky. Carefully laying the groundwork to lure me in. The box contained a rectangular shaped, green glass, one pound butter dish. It was perfect, no chips (which wouldn’t last long with 2 kids under 8). Also in the box was a small green cup and saucer. Elly explained this pattern was depression glass called Cameo. An all over pattern of tiny ballerinas. Well shoot, I was hooked. The other noteworthy piece John found intriguing. A small black, hard as a brick tire (about the size of an Apple fritter (can you tell I’ve not eaten yet) with a yellow/gold depression glass insert, advertising a tire company. He scrubbed away 40 years of cigarette ash and his tire ashtray collection was born. Ha! Elly got us both with a one dollar box she had since discarded. She was a pro.

Green Cameo depression glass Elly got me hooked on. I moved onto Waterford and Lladro later…

The other lady was a farmer’s wife named Bertha. She lived west of Canton, South Dakota which is about 30 miles from our hometown of Rock Valley, Iowa. Bertha ran a used furniture business (mostly antique) in her farmhouse, down her basement. Other larger, more primitive pieces were in an outside building. For a period of about 5 years, the majority of our antique pieces were acquired from Bertha. A duck planter, a lamp for the TV that looked like a train was moving on the railway when lit. She knew her furniture, was friendly, yet quite stubborn/set in her ways of pricing. Dicker and dealing on pieces was tricky. Hubs found this out the hard way.

An antique sewing machine I bought from Bertha in 1978. Still have it…

I spotted an oak, curved glass china closet in Bertha’s basement in 1979 when I was pregnant with our youngest kid, Adam. Petite, claw footed (china closet, not Adam) with 3 beautiful shelves, it was exquisite. I HAD TO HAVE IT. SERIOUSLY. HAD TO HAVE IT. It did have one issue. One of the panes of curved glass was broke, leaving a chunk of glass missing from the bottom. I believe she was asking about $290. Hubs offered her $200. She actually sputtered for a minute. She was too ticked to answer. This was an outrageous insult. She priced pieces fairly and was not about to be bullied by a young punk. We left Bertha’s farm without the china closet so guess who was sputtering in the car. “How could you offer such a shitty low price? You blew this deal for me. I WANT THAT CHINA CLOSET.” I might have zhanicked and been aggawase (Dutch slang for being a pain in the ass) all the way back to Spencer.

Mom’s pride and joy (no, not me) her grandmother’s clock…

I fumed/cooled off, waited a couple days before calling and groveling my way back into Bertha’s good graces. Offered her close to her asking price (might have fudged the numbers to Hubs on this one 41 years ago). She accepted. I mailed her some money and we picked up the china closet before Adam’s delivery date in mid September. Shannon was almost 10, Joshua was 4-1/2 so I wasn’t worried about one of them getting hurt on the broken glass, but we had to order a new glass panel ($69.00) when Adam started crawling in the summer of 1980.

At one time Hubs had about 50 tire ashtrays, all sizes and advertising…

Looking back, much of the furniture I bought from Bertha were like stepping stones. Pieces we could afford at the time, with John doing any and all repair work, then we refinished them. We had a great time, sometimes working for weeks on a piece together. But years later I’d spot a nicer, fancier piece, some already refinished or not needing a lick of work and wanted to upgrade my furniture. Oftentimes I didn’t get rid of the piece my tastes had outgrown but gave it to one of the kids. Walking into their house looked like mine 20 years before. And now some of their tastes have changed too.

The china closet I bought from Bertha 42 years ago…

In 1982 we moved 350 miles east to Davenport, so our favorite shopping days antiquing at Bertha’s farm came to an abrupt halt. But through the years I’ve often thought (with fondness) about wheeling and dealing with Bertha. She was a charming character who taught me a lot about my infatuation with antique oak furniture and how to finesse a deal. And learning the art of compromise…

I’ve been Yelped…

Over the years I’ve heard a lot of static about the appropriateness of certain Christmas/birthday /anniversary gifts. Some women are not happy if they receive a gift that’s not personal from their significant other. They might find it down right insulting if the gift is deemed practical or for the home instead of a more personal, romantic nature, jewelry, sexy loungewear, perfume.

Some 50 years ago, I was in the early years of wedded bliss when I realized my constant lament, “I don’t know how to cook,” was wearing thin. On both of us. Changes were needed if this marriage was gonna work. Shannon was a baby but Gerber’s Blueberry Buckle was no longer sufficiently meeting her dietary needs (I loved that stuff). I could make a pretty good tuna casserole and tuna salad but I needed to expand this one trick pony show and start ‘feeding’ us good, nutritious meals.

Still pretty new at this marriage thing, 1973…

During the first 5 years of marriage and motherhood I was the recipient of 3 questionable gifts from the Hubs. None of his picks were going to score him an afternoon of hot sex or even a quickie but the dude was starving to death, so one thing at a time. John’s first ‘big gift’ was purchased at Greenberg’s jewelry store in Sioux City, so there was certainly some anticipation the gift was personal/romantic in nature. One would assume he was trying to set the mood with a lovely necklace or charm for my bracelet. Oh so very close. My gift was in a large box and way too heavy for a stinking eighth ounce charm. It was a set of red Club Aluminum pots and pans. Set him back 40 bucks when he didn’t have 4 bucks to spend frivolously. I WAS THRILLED. Bright and shiny, filling up every burner on the cold, useless stove. (Yeah, I still had to learn to cook so I could use those pots and pans for what God intended).

Had a set of Club Aluminum like this for 25 years…

But it was a step in the right direction. It wasn’t long before I was tackling homemade spaghetti sauce (thanks to Wilma Duits, a fantastic cook) goulash and potato salad (Mag, my mother-in-law) scalloped potatoes and ham (mom), wild rice and pork chops (from the wild rice package Hubs brought back from upper Minnesota one fall), and a couple home made soups. Our waistlines began expanding as fast my recipe box-haha.

Hubs second ‘gift’ was in the same category as the cookware. Shannon had mastered crawling and literally lived on the floor. Babies learn at a very young age how to use their thumb and index finger like a lobster claw. This tiny claw can separate your arm hairs individually, rendering you gasping in pain and tears running down your face. All the while contentedly slugging down an 8 ounce bottle, ending with a petite burp. This highly sophisticated claw can detect microscopic sized lint/dirt/food/leaves/thread/ on any floor surface, and their range of detection is phenomenal. After Shannon fell asleep and was safely tucked in her 5 dollar brightly painted yellow crib, I’d sweep the hard surface rooms, then get on my hands and knees on the carpet, trying to eliminate what she hoped was on the menu for tomorrow. The struggle was real-time consuming and worrisome.

Strange how happy the gift of a vacuum cleaner made me in 1971…

Once a week I’d borrow our neighbor lady’s vacuum cleaner for a thorough cleaning. Ida’s Kirby vacuum weighed more than I did and cost more than our 1972 Chevy Vega. We splurged on an area rug for the living room of our rental house where Shannon played most of the time. The carpet was approximately 1/16 of an inch thick. Ida’s big ass vacuum cleaner tried to swallow it whole every Friday.

Hubs arrives on my birthday with another wrapped box, this one slender and tall. Thank you Jesus, it was a $49.00 Eureka vacuum cleaner. I don’t think I’ve ever been more tickled with a gift since that one on my 22nd. I was ecstatic with his thoughtfulness. This wasn’t just a appliance, this was a remedy to address safety concerns and made my life (and Shannon’s) easier and better, though I did have to start supplementing her mealtimes with added snacks throughout the day since she had lost one of her main food sources.

This is what the cookbook looked when I got it in 1972…

Hubs went in kahoots on a gift with our toddler daughter one Mother’s Day. Since I had somewhat mastered mealtime they felt it necessary to encourage me to learn how to make some sweet treats, so they bought me my first Betty Crocker cookbook. Fifty years later it’s still my go-to cook book. I learned how to make chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies and baked my first loaf of bread and a pan of cinnamon rolls with Betty. My first scratch cake with Bonnie butter frosting came from Betty Crocker. Betty made me feel successful with easy to follow recipes and ingredients I usually had on hand. Not everything I tried turned out perfect on my first attempt but my batting average was higher than most ball players. I discovered I enjoyed baking far more than planning/making meals.

This is what it looks like now…

Over the years I’ve become a decent cook and a better than average baker. Most nights I’d rather eat my cooking than anyone else’s or any restaurant fare. Baking is still fun although I’m doing it a lot less often. We shouldn’t be eating what I like to bake very often.

For some reason I wrote changes, usually doubling or quadrupling a recipe right on the page…

Every Tuesday our granddaughter Ariana and great-granddaughter Jovi come over for supper. We love having them. They are a welcome break during our monotonous week. Jovi is almost 4 and keeps us entertained from the moment she walks through the door. One week she’s grandpa’s girl and wants to watch TV with him or play hard rock music (loud) and dance. The next week she seems to gravitate towards me and wants read as many books as we can and try and help with our meal.

Tuesday was the day before my birthday so they came bearing gifts. Jovi’s pick was a unicorn snow globe which she observed was sorely lacking in my life, plus an adorable wooden Christmas ornament from one of Ari’s friends who’s starting her own small business. On the bottom of the gift bag sat a small, rectangular piece of wood, which actually choked me up. Looks like I’ve gotten my first Yelp review. Oh my goodness, those 2 girls sure know how to tug on your heart strings. It’s always through the tummy…

My Playlists…

I hardly recognize the person (it is still me, I’ve checked) who started “walking with purpose” in 1998. So much has changed. Apparently twenty-two years account for quite a bit of aging. Who knew? Back then, I had just started to lose my hearing, soon after was diagnosed with Meniere’s, and had no clue exactly how either would impact my life. I walked with fairly long strides, swinging my arms for momentum. Absolutely nothing hurt! Good times. Probably the biggest difference during my walks was the willy-nilly ease of simply letting my mind wander-unfettered. Listening to music, daydreaming, planning my day and watching 1,000 foot tankers loaded down with coal lumber past to the Cobb plant.

A 1,000 footer glides past our house a few years ago…

North Muskegon had an odd layout. Sandwiched between Muskegon Lake and Bear Lake, the small town was very narrow and long. There was one main drag which was the hub to everywhere, thus the majority of people used this busy conduit to & fro every day. I was a predictable and consistent walker so after several months (and the loss of numerous pounds, yay me) I recognized cars/license plates as they zipped by and knew where they were headed.

Oh yeah, there’s the guy who turns on Plymouth, second house on the left.

That mom (left on First Street and down the hill) must have stopped at the store, she’s late.

That beautiful Caddy sits in the driveway on Mid Oak. Wonder why they never park it in the garage? (Yeah, the mind is a terrible thing to waste).

There goes the guy from the W. Circle Drive who sets up a tent in his yard every fall for Irish Fest. Yeah there’s definitely not enough room in that 7,000 foot mansion for a party.

Wasn’t really house envy, just honing up on my sarcasm skills for future use.

I do miss watching and hearing the tankers glide by…

I didn’t think much of my peculiar people/car watching habits and where they belonged for the night-at the time, just something to do while I walked. Alas times change, so two decades later I no longer have the luxury of studying cars as they race by. One big reason is the speed limit. With one main street and a 30 mph limit I had ample time to study cars and plates in North Muskegon. Here on Ann Arbor Road they’re moving right along at 50 mph and I would be hard pressed to read their license plate, let alone memorize it. Not nearly as much residential traffic here either. A huge portion of the traffic are semi’s heading to I-94.

The other problem is I can’t afford to take my eyes off the path right in front of me for more than 2 seconds. I use a walking stick because my balance is not good. I miss a lot of what’s going on right before my eyes because I’m vigilant about where each foot is stepping at all times.

5 pines I walk past everyday. This middle one is perfect tho not a blue spruce…

One thing that has not changed in 22 years of walking. Listening to music to pass the time. Some of my music preferences are different and my listening methods have changed a half dozen times, but the fact remains-when I walk, I’m playing tunes. (Singing along, making a fool of myself). It lightens my mood, keeps my feet moving and makes me smile. Like a dork.

A sinkhole appeared on Thanksgiving close to where I walk by the pond…

A couple of months ago I deleted all my playlists. I needed to switch things up a bit so I started over from scratch. I decided to go with the European calendar, thus Monday’s the first day of the week instead of Sunday, so I wanted my favorite 20 songs on Monday to start my week off on the right foot. Or left. No multiple songs from any one artist/group on each playlist but every list would include a song from: Neil Diamond, The Beatles and The Doors. (I have my standards). I have 3 exceptions. Since I don’t use shuffle, once the last song on my playlist has ended, my phone just pauses until I ‘do something’ to start it up again. So the last song on all ten playlists is one of three tunes, Jump by Van Halen, Somewhere by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole or Better be Good to Me, by Tina Turner. When I hear one of these songs and I’m not yet home I just push repeat until I hit my driveway because they’re some of my favorites that I can listen to repeatedly.

Sandhill Cranes who were spooked with every step I took. This was as close as I could get…

I always used ‘shuffle.’ (Shuffle randomly chooses a song from your playlist in a haphazard fashion). It’s like a little surprise, “wow I haven’t heard that song in awhile.” Not anymore. This time I’ve downsized my song total on every playlist by half. At least. And decided to use my daily playlist for a stimulating brain game instead. When the first song on that day’s list (Monday is-The One, Tuesday’s-Twice Baked, Wednesday’s-3’Sums, Thursday’s-4th’s B with you, Friday’s-5th of Oldies, Saturday’s-6th Sense and Sunday’s-7-Up. The 8th Wonder, To the 9’s & Perfect 10’s are extras) there’s about a 5 second gap of silence before the next song begins. My intention is to memorize the entire list so I know exactly what song is starting so I can start humming. Lofty goals I know.

I don’t have much hope for memorizing my 8, 9 and 10 playlists. I keep these handy for when I’m dinking around outside or I need a change of pace for the day, but I continue to be optimistic and hopeful about the remaining 7.

They just repainted this sign. I may have more odd quirks than I thought. Do you see anything wrong here?

Since July there’s been 2 days where walking outside was impossible because of drenching downpours but I persevered and got my steps in roaming the aisles at Meijer. (Takes a long time and I’m so easily distracted). This fall has had some great weather for walking. But I’ve also lowered my expectations significantly. Sigh. 10,000 steps a day was causing my original knee all kinds of discomfort (and I really want to die with that crummy knee still in place). Another replacement is a year out of my life-at least. Plus I’m now that much older. Still, if my original lefty starts affecting my quality of life I’ll have to consider having it replaced too. Ugh. Really.

The pond this fall. No ice yet. Thank you Jesus…

So I changed my daily steps goal from 10,000 to 9,000 and the dull ache in my left leg has cropped up with less frequency. I walk about 7,500 to 8,000 steps on my morning walk which is about 3-1/2 miles. The rest I do around the house. There’s been a few days (where I’m writing a blog and sit too much) and discover I need another 700 steps before midnight and walk loops in the basement. Boring, but I’m loathe to miss my goal. I’m shocked how competitive I’ve become with this damn step app. Out of the last 166 days, I’ve missed one day of walking because of blisters, but more importantly, have logged at least 9,000 steps every one of those days.

I love this picture! 80% of the trees dropped their leaves but this dude just refused…

I’ve also realized my daily routine now mirrors the life of a top model on the fashion runway in Milan. (Well except for the lithe body, cheekbones you can rest your coffee mug on, diet of Altoids and monstrous paycheck). I sleep in shorts and long sleeves (my arms are always cold) year round. I wake up, start the coffee, use the bathroom, change into old capris or sweats and add a comfy flannel shirt. A short while later, I don my sports bra, New Balance shoes and walking duds. When I get home an hour later and a sweaty mess, I strip and wear something very old to cool off, until I shower. Normal day clothes after my shower. Change into sweats and my pj top after supper, then into my pajama shorts when I’m heading for bed. How can I possibly accomplish anything? All I do is change clothes…

Communion bread-stuffing…

Gonna tell you right up front I’m addicted to stuffing. Don’t judge. Try to be kind. It’s November and I’m working on my winter weight. There’s nothing fancy about my stuffing recipe. No giblets, nuts, fruit or cornbread mixed in. Basically it’s the stuffing mom made when I was a kid although I use chicken broth instead of water and a crockpot to cook the rest of it after I’ve stuffed the chicken or turkey.

Mom and dad about 1960…

I don’t know when store bought, prepackaged stuffing mixes (seasoned bread, uneven squares) were invented but mom never succumbed to this shortcut so neither have I. She would melt a stick of butter in a big fry pan, add diced onion and celery and sauté until both were translucent. She’d add some water, poultry seasoning and sage. She made sure the bread (had to be white, so probably vitamin packed Wonder bread, building strong bodies 12 ways) was at least a few days old and stale. She’d set the bread slices out on a clean dish towel and let them sit for a few hours to dry out a bit. Then she’d stack about 4 slices on top of each other and get out her serrated bread knife and slice them into quarters one way, then the other, making nice, even squares. I love bread crusts but when mom was cutting stuffing bread I always swiped some of the inside white squares before they went into the pan.

She cut the bread slices with the precision of brain surgeon because of Communion. Bet you wonder where this is going right? Just hold on.

Not nearly as neat as Mom’s bread cutting technique but it’s what goes in my stuffing…

Our family changed church affiliations around 1960 from Calvin Christian Reformed to just plain First Reformed (I really can’t tell you all the differences between these large church groups, maybe something about predestination. For me it was because my friends went to First Reformed and I was tired of being the only kid at Calvin who didn’t go to Christian school. Yeah I was selfish like that) Dad became very involved in the life of the church. Wasn’t long before he was a member of The Consistory. A small group of men, maybe 8 to 12 total (never any women on the committee that I remember which is too bad) called Elders and Deacons. The Deacons were the money guys, budgets, where certain dollars were designated and so on. The Elders’ responsibilities were geared more towards for the spiritual health and growth of the congregation.

First Reformed Church, Rock Valley, Iowa…

There were literally 5 churches within a few block radius in my neighborhood. Should you become annoyed with a coworker or neighbor, you just parked your car a block away and attended a different (but pretty much the same) church. I’m jesting. Very little though. The whole town was in one church or another (about a dozen) by 9:30 on Sunday morning. Each and every Sunday morning. Every house was deserted and left unlocked. Most left with ovens on and potatoes peeled so the pot roast was done around noon.

Anyway the church nominated several men for the position of Elders and Deacons and an election was held. These terms were staggered, thus the whole Consistory never completely turned over so there’d always be a couple Elders and Deacons who knew what was going on. Dad was nominated for the position of Elder and elected several times. I think you had to sit out for a couple years then you were eligible to be nominated again.

Dad ready for another church service, 1973…

Along with all his churchy duties, (the congregation was divided into sections, assuring each family would have a personal visit from an Elder every few months. Oh good grief, I HAVE TO STOP. I’m way off topic and done giving you a consistory-history lesson which I really know nothing about. My point was Mom had some duties as the wife of an Elder. One of mom’s jobs was Communion bread. About time. Amen.

The precision mom used to cut up bread for Communion…

I’m not exactly sure how many times Communion was held but I wanna say 5 times a year. Once every 4 months, World Communion Day and Maundy Thursday. (Don’t excommunicate me but that’s pretty close to what I remember). Dad would bring the Communion bread trays home from church. They were round polished silver bowls, quite shallow with a lip for gripping and easy passing from pew to pew. I don’t know how mom got the bread, if it was provided or if she just bought it Koster’s. Mom’s job was to cut perfectly sized squares after trimming off every visible crumb of crust. (I snagged a lot little squares while she was cutting) Our congregation was huge so I’m sure she wasn’t the only Elder’s wife with this task but she cut a lot of bread cubes on the day before Communion. She didn’t want the bread to dry out like stuffing bread, so she gently put it all back in the plastic bag until Sunday morning.

The Communion plate used for grape juice signifying Jesus’ blood…

Dad would take Mom’s dainty-same-size squares, which had been emptied in the Communion bowls (which actually resembled the collection plates) and zip them over to church early on Sunday. After the solemn service dad would bring the bowls back to our house so mom could wash and dry them for storage until next Communion. But with a bonus. The wine (grape juice was served in tiny, maybe 1/4 ounce glasses. (Yes, real glass. After the minister said and I’m paraphrasing here, “this is the blood of Christ, shed for you. Drink ye all of it.” There would be scores of tiny glasses clinking the wood holders resting on the back of the pew in front of us. I smiled when I heard all those tiny clinks. Neese, for the love of Pete, just stop). Each one had a lip print and one leftover drop in the bottom. Mom had to wash, rinse and dry a couple hundred of them. After she was done there would be a half dozen dish towels hanging from our countertop and table drying until being tossed in the hamper on Monday. What a memory!

Mom’s Sunday afternoon chore was washing and drying numerous communion glasses…

This goes to show how out of touch I am sometimes. My granddaughter Ari and great- granddaughter Jovi come over every week for supper. I cook a hearty-comfort meal. They both love mashed potatoes so that’s served most Tuesday’s. I’ll throw a beef roast or pork chops in the oven, sometimes spaghetti (no spuds that week) or chicken, which of course would not be a complete meal without cranberry sauce. Jovi does not realize that cranberry sauce is merely a condiment to accompany our meal. If she sees it on the table, that’s all she wants to eat (definitely from my blood line cause I eat it year round) so I sneak some on my plate and leave the bowl on the counter until she’s almost done with her meal. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Jovi and I share our delight in eating cranberry sauce on Tuesday’s…

But I’ve just come to the realization that while I’m serving one of the best homemade meals every couple months-I’M THE ONLY ONE EATING MY STUFFING! Jovi ate stuffing for 3 years, now suddenly decided she doesn’t like it. Ari doesn’t eat stuffing, nor does she eat cranberry sauce or fresh tomatoes, which Jovi greedily scarfs up just like me so that can’t be the reason. Adding insult to injury, Hubs adds a token tablespoon of stuffing on his plate to stay on my good side. What’s wrong with these people I love?

My favorite Tuesday guests, Ari and Jovi who are missing out on my great stuffing…

Not that this makes any difference in the way I cook for the girls. They both love white meat, topped with gravy, so Hubs gets all the dark meat and I get all the stuffing. Kind of lopsided but it’s the way we roll. And yes we all agree, dinner rolls are a nice touch on Tuesday’s. Plus while I’m cutting up stale bread for stuffing during the afternoon, it’s a wonderful time to reminisce about being a kid on Saturday and eating Communion bread in the kitchen with mom…

Daisy, Daisy…

Everyone excels at something. (I’m still looking for my super power). I’m mediocre at several things, piss poor at others. My mom had her own set of gifts where she knocked it out of the park consistently. Anything that included a crochet hook or a set of knitting needles she was truly gifted and handcrafted some beautiful projects. It was something she thoroughly enjoyed. She thought she had passed this amazing ability to me, but try as I might, I could not follow the complicated patterns she breezed through. If she literally showed me how work the pattern I had no problem, but reading and applying the directions by myself proved I was not a knitting wizard like her.

Mona, mom holding me and Larry, 1952…

I’m a little tea pot, short and stout. Here is my handle, here is my spout.

When I get all steamed up, then I shout, tip me over and pour me out.

I did inherit her sewing talents though. When given the tough task of replacing a button (no not a zipper, just a button) she would often contemplate how this difficult job might come to fruition. Okay, she’d just hang dad’s shirt on a doorknob for a lengthy period until he needed a dress shirt for consistory meeting in a half hour. She kept a sewing needle with a bit of thread stuck in one of the living room curtains. Her goal was to see how long that tiny needle would remain in exactly the same spot without actually using said needle. She was more likely to wash those curtains several times or buy a new set of curtains for her windows than she was to use the needle to replace that dang button. She would prick her finger a half dozen times getting that button securely in the right spot. Yeah that’s the sewing gift I got from her which I’ve carried through my adult life.

Mom feeding me with Larry and Mona watching over her shoulder, 1951…

Oh I went down south to see my gal, singing Polly, wolly doodle all the day.

Oh my Sal she is a spunky gal, singing Polly, wolly doodle all the day.

Fare thee well, fare thee well, fare thee well my fairy fae.

For I’m goin to Louisiana, for to see my Susie-anna, singing Polly, wolly doodle all the day.

I was so hopeless in my Home Economics class, my frustrated teacher ended up completing about 75% of my sewing project or I’d still be there pulling out stitches from sewing the sleeve in wrong for the umpteenth time. I was a little bit better at the cooking/baking portion of the class and remember my Baked Alaska turned out pretty good. Mom was a good cook and better than average baker but didn’t enjoy my company in our tiny kitchen when I was growing up and she was working on a dessert. I think I made her twitchy in the kitchen. I was messy. She was not.

Mom was a lot neater than I’ve ever been. Shook out her rugs daily, dusted her oak hardwood floors on her hands and knees every morning before she went to work. I mean, really. She was dedicated to a house that was kept spic and span. Always. I’m just spic, sans the span.

Larry, mom and me, 1951…

Ada Mae where are you going? Upstairs to take a bath.

Ada Mae was like a toothpick, her neck like a giraffe.

Ada Mae stepped in the bathtub, Ada Mae pulled out the plug.

Oh my goodness, bless my soul, there goes Ada down the hole. (Hahaha)

Maybe mom was serenading us while she took the picture in 1951…

A couple of weeks ago I did a story about sitting next to mom at church when I was little, waiting for her to dole out a pink peppermint to help pass the minister’s long prayer. I figure I sat next to mom in church for about 15 years for at least one service every Sunday. In all that church time togetherness I can’t remember ever hearing her sing. Oh she had the hymn book open and I could see emotion on her face when we sang certain hymns that meant a lot to her. But she never sang. She might move her lips, syncing in a convincing manner (like Milli-Vanilli) but no musical notes escaped her lips. Why?

Oh dear, what can the matter be, dear, dear what can the matter be?

Oh dear, what can the matter be? Johnny’s so long at the fair.

He promised to buy me a bunch of blue ribbons to tie up my Bonnie brown hair.

Oh dear, what can the matter be, dear, dear what can the matter be?

Oh dear what can the matter be, Johnny’s so long at the fair.

Mom couldn’t carry a tune. Just like me. Yup, that’s another gift she managed to pass along to her youngest kid. No lie, we were both hopeless in the music department. But here’s the great thing about our shared singing incompetence. It never stopped us from singing where it really mattered. No, we didn’t flaunt our lackluster ability in front of others who would cringe or cry out in pain. By others I mean people in nearby pews who wanted to keep us on their Christmas card list and not sue us for pain, suffering and acute hearing loss.

Don’t think I was planned but mom looks pretty happy holding me in 1950…

But mom sang to me all the time when I was little. She loved to sing and felt no embarrassment when it was just the two of us. It was mostly off tune, part monotone with a good sized helping of glass shard eardrum piercing. Still, she kept on singing.

Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone, oh where, oh where can he be?

With his ears cut short and his tail cut long, oh where oh where can he be?

(Ouch, how come I never cringed at those lyrics when I was little or sang them to my kids)?

Between the two of us caterwauling on 15th Street during the 50’s, it’s a miracle the cops were never called or charges filed. Mom loved singing but was selective about her audience. She figured those listening had to be pretty attached to her so no one would flee and never return. I loved listening to her rendition of the oldies but goodies. So did my kids.

Mom bought my coat, 1976…

Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do. I’m half crazy all for the love of you.

It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage.

But you’ll look sweet, upon the seat, of a bicycle built for two.

One of her favorite songs.

Mom at our house in Spencer, 1979…

I don’t feel bad because mom never sang in church. For those who’ve never heard me should be thanking their lucky stars they were never subjected to the horrors of my squawking attempts.

I love you, a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.

A hug around the neck and a barrel and a peep, a barrel and a peep and I’m talking in my sleep.

I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around your neck.

Thanks for singing the oldies to me mom. Even if it was just the two of us…

Head-butts, pat-pat & bubbles…

I was born with a soft spot for the elderly, probably because of my mom. She was raised by 2 sets of grandparents, then worked as a nurse’s aid in our local nursing home through most of her career, plus did some caregiving around town. I occasionally traipsed along when she worked for the Dearborn’s and visited the nursing home frequently when I was young.

My man Nick! Could he be any cuter?

Not surprising when the kids were getting their (higher & higher) educations I became Parish Visitor for a large congregation. My job description was literally visiting the people who no longer attended church on a regular basis. Either still in their own homes, assisted living or a nursing home. You’d be surprised how attached you become visiting the same 50 people each month. I know the job (calling really) was far more rewarding and a bigger blessing for me than it ever was for them. They were very appreciative but all they really wanted was my time. Not to rush in and out but just sit and listen. They were starved for quiet conversation. Only downside to parish visiting were the deaths. Wouldn’t have time to grieve and cope with a loss of someone I’d visited for years when I’d get a phone call that another person on my list had passed away during the night. The losses mounted over the years and were incredibly hard to process.

Jacoby. “Then I threw him one high and tight. Swing and a miss.”

I had no agenda when we moved 5 years ago. We bought a smaller house/yard, closer to our adult children and grandchildren. The house needed a lot of work as did the yard so my days were busy. A few months later a friend mentioned a job opportunity at a nearby daycare and my interest was piqued. The other end of the spectrum. Babies. Should be a nice change.

But I grossly underestimated how much I would LOVE taking care of babies. Part of the appeal was my validity for working. I wasn’t working because I needed to make a house payment. I wanted to be there. It was good for me (and for the babies). Another plus was my coworkers. As parish visitor I was responsible for making my schedule/hours and visiting alone. At FCC although our conversations were interrupted a thousand times a day, working with this awesome bunch of gals was a huge perk for this hearing impaired loner.

Yes my incredible great granddaughter Jovi was in my baby room…

The comparison between babies and the elderly are strangely similar. For their time allotment both really want to be the center of your universe at least for a few minutes. Babies are more demanding and can become quite cranky when their needs are not met, still it was hard not to notice the similarities. Although I held hands, prayed for, hugged, cried over my elderly church family, there was something equally as inspirational when a four month old fell asleep on your shoulder, with their unique squeaks and tiny breaths hitting you on the neck.

I thought I’d still be snuggling babies and changing poopy diapers, but after 3 years both of my knees were giving me trouble. My knee cartilage had disappeared. It was almost impossible for me to get up and down off the floor (where the babies want you and where you need to be). Wasn’t fair to the little ones or to my coworkers, so I took a leave and scheduled my first knee replacement, fervently praying I would be able to return to a new batch of babies in a few months after surgery and therapy. That was 2 years ago. Sigh.

Adorable Will-i-am the sports jock. Try getting shoes on those cute, curled toes…

Recently a friend ecstatically posted she had accepted a job at Felician’s Children’s Center which made me think about my days with those adorable babies. Reflecting back I realize many of the most mundane times during the day stood out as spectacular for me. Maybe not as high on the list for some of the caregivers because they’re still performing those tasks day after day. But high on my list because those moments for me are gone.

I sang to the babies everyday. When they were in their highchairs for a meal or snack (On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese, My bologna has a first name, it’s O-s-c-a-r). When there was an imminent threat of a meltdown and others were encouraged to join the soirée (This little light of mine, Old McDonald had a farm). And when I was rocking them to sleep. And no I can’t carry a tune to save my soul. My coworkers whom I admired and respected begged me to refrain from bursting into song for the sake of their hearing and sanity, but the babies did not care one whit I sounded like fingernails on the chalkboard. Who was I trying to please here? Oh right, the babies. Now those babies are between the ages of 3 and 5. I’m friends with most of their moms on Facebook and still enjoy watching them grow. But for me, they will remain my babies who made a wonderful difference in my life, for which I’m eternally grateful. Here’s my top 3 ‘good feels’ when it came to caring for these tiny tots.

Elliot, my first arrival every morning. We read books until his “crew” arrived…

1. The pat-pat. An adorable 7 month old is hungry and tired (hangry), and the detailed posted hourly schedule indicates her timing is impeccable as usual. I know she’s going to fall asleep (she desperately needs an hour nap) when I give her a bottle. While the bottle’s warming up, I change her diaper (this is a telltale sign of my ancient age, I usually said ‘change her pants’ instead of diaper), wash her hands and mine and hope she doesn’t poop while she’s drinking (nothing like putting a damper on her nap time if I have to change her pants when she’s drowsy). She’s starting to get vocal about the list of chores I’m trying to complete before we find a rocking chair. Check the bottle’s temperature and find a new burp cloth. (She looks at me with her little scrunched up face, kind of red and mildly disgusted like, “Geez woman, get your shit together. Let’s roll.”) We finally sit down, I tuck the burp cloth under her second chin and listen to her gulp (which is really cool) an ounce or 2 before I feel her little body relax. Ahhhhh. She’s laying sideways in my arms with her right arm and hand going behind my back. I break into, “Oh where have you been Billy boy, Billy boy? Oh where have you been charming Billy?” Her gaze is so intense, it’s like she’s memorizing all my facial features (including a detailed nose hair count I think) when suddenly I feel this tiny thump-thump on my back. She’s patting me on my back-literally. Still makes me cry.

Ellie, one of my cute, spunky little girls…

2. The head butt-er. During my 3 years at FCC there were about 6 babies (all boys) who loved to head butt. Not my head but my leg. These little guys were all scooting, crawling and starting to pull themselves up. Honestly, I’m convinced this was their way of showing affection. And letting me know just because I was (pre)occupied with someone else, that was no excuse to forget how important they were to me. Did I really have to feed another kid? They would crawl towards me while watching everything going on in the room, and not get easily distracted. Each of them would slow down, lower their head and gently ram it into my calf-whether I was standing or sitting. I’d look down and he’d seem to say, “don’t forget your homeboy granny type person. Are ‘ya done yet?” It was so stinking cute.

Emerson gave the best head butts…

3. Bubbles. Absolutely my favorite little weird moment with some of the babies. Never happened with newborns, mostly the 7 months to a year old. We would get comfy in the rocker with a bottle (which they thought they needed at least 5 minutes prior) so there were no interruptions for the first ounce or 2. But when some of the milk finally hit their tummy and their gulps slowed was the perfect time to sing a lullaby. I can’t tell you how many times this happened. It’s the best feeling ever. I’d began singing, You are my sunshine, Sing a song of sixpence or Oh where have you been Billy boy, Billy boy? For one second the baby would be absolutely still, then look up at me. Suddenly the suction on the bottle’s nipple was close to being compromised. What? Oh no! They tried valiantly to stay focused, but soon I’d see a few bubbles in the nipple and the suction would let loose as they cracked a huge, milky smile. (Oh, it’s the granny person who likes to sing to me. I love her). Only lasted 5 seconds until they latched back on and got serious. But it was the best five seconds of the day for me. Thanks for the memories babies….