Saturday Smile: Picture of Patience

Yesterday my sister Jen ran into the grocery store to pick up some ice cream to treat her granddaughter Lilly during their “girls’ night” sleepover. Her pooch Winston was with us, and he and I stayed in the car. He was upset when she left him behind as she ran into the door. He cried for a bit, and then decided to be patient and wait for her. When I turned around, he looked so adorable as he waited that it made me laugh…..

An adorable pooch will always make us smile! Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: Troubled Blood

Cormoran Strike is one of my favorite fictional detectives, because he seems very genuine and realistic. Strike is the protagonist in Richard Galbraith’s gritty London mystery series. Galbraith, of course, is a pen name for renown author J.K. Rowlings of Harry Potter fame. The Strike series, of which Troubled Blood is number five, is a very different sort of book, featuring no wizards or fantasy. Instead, Strike approaches his life with a grim determination, and his life isn’t always easy.

He is the illegitimate son of a famous rock star who paid no attention to Strike until he became a minor celebrity for his detective work. He served in the military in the Middle East, and lost part of a leg in the process. He faces the pain involved in his prothesis every day.

In Troubled Blood, Strike is visiting his dying aunt in Cornwall when he is approached by a young woman who asks him to find her mother. Strike is intrigued when he learns that the mother — Margot Bamborough — has been missing for 40 years, and was thought to have been murdered by a serial killer. It is Strike’s first cold case, and he and his assistant Robin tackle it head on.

It isn’t easy, because the police detective who first had the case had literally lost his mind while trying to find Bamborough. The files make little sense. But using Sherlock Holmsian skills by both Cormoran and Robin, they come closer than anyone ever has.

The author presents Robin as a true partner to Cormoran, matching him in prowness and intuition. There is a lingering love interest in one another that is intriguing rather than distracting. It will be fun to see how Galbraith carries this forward.

I enjoyed this book so very much. It’s lengthy and meaty and fairly disturbing. But it was one of my favorite detective stories this year.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Chandler Bing
Lovers of the television show Friends will likely remember the episode where Chandler Bing’s fire alarm went off and he was unable to stop it from beeping. Even when he threw it away, it ended up again in his apartment, thanks to the help of a friendly fire fighter. Yesterday, Jen and I felt like we were Chandler Bing. We were sitting in our living room, enjoying coffee with Bec, who had come to visit. Suddenly, for the first time in the 10 years that we have owned the house, the fire alarm went off. And before you could say only you can prevent forest fires, every fire alarm in our house was beeping. We live in quite a small house, and there are a total of five fire alarms within our confines. All beeping. To make matters worse, Bill wasn’t there to help us. We managed to unhook each of the alarms except for the one in Bill and my bedroom, as it is a vaulted ceiling and there wasn’t a chance in hell that we could reach it, even on the step ladder. I frantically called Bill, who was on his way home, but had stopped to shop at an auto place. “Get home right now,” I screamed. “All of our fire alarms are going off.” He flew home, and between all of us, we managed to unhook each alarm. Later in the afternoon, Bill and I put new batteries in all of the alarms. Even then, in Chandler Bing-like fashion, one continued to beep until Bill completely took it apart.

Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee
Bill was dressed to kill (or at least to box) the other day when he went to his Rock Steady Boxing class. He is so happy to be back in Mesa, where the boxing class is available. The director told me they had been shut down, but their attorney argued that they weren’t an exercise facility, but instead were a medical facility. Amen to that truth! They won their argument, and the men and women with Parkinson’s are once again working the bags in this oh-so-beneficial activity. Bill’s friend calls him Mohammed McLain…..

One Man’s Treasures
I haven’t heard of an actual orphanage since reading Charles Dickens in high school. But there is an orphanage not too far from where we live in AZ, called Sunshine Acres. They call it a children’s home, and it has been a home to some 2,000 children since it was established in 1954. A worthy cause worth supporting. One of their money-making activities is resale of donated items. We had a large number of items to give away, so Jen called for a pick-up. They came and gratefully took all of our stuff. I hope they sell all of it for a lot of money…..

Quality Control
On Thanksgiving, the job of whipping the cream went to Mackenzie. As anyone who has whipped heavy cream knows, it can go quickly or it can take awhile. It depends on lots of things. Thanksgiving evening, it took awhile. But it didn’t matter, because Mackenzie had company. Four eyes watched patiently as she whipped the cream, undoubtedly hoping they got a chance to lick the beaters…..


Picture Perfect

After Bec’s husband died, she made the decision to sell their house in northern Virginia and move lock, stock, and barrel to Arizona, where they had purchased a home a year or so earlier. Her two kids helped as much as they could, but they both had those inconvenient things called JOBS. So it was mostly left up to her. She was amazing. In one summer, she packed up a house in which she had lived for 30-some years. She filled dumpsters, she made trips to Goodwill, she packed boxes and boxes of cherished items.

Only a couple of things threw her. There were a couple of legal guns that he had owned. She didn’t want to touch them. Some may ask why. Not this blogger, because I wouldn’t have touched either gun in a million years. What if the gun is loaded? What if my finger slipped? What if I accidentally pointed it at my face and it went off? She called a friend of her son’s, who came over and took care of getting rid of the guns.

The second thing that brought her to a halt was the photos. Her husband was a voracious photographer, and a good one at that. He was patient when he took a picture — patient to the point that by time he finally pressed the button, we were all yelling at him through fake smiles: For the love of God, Terry, take the damn picture.

There were hundreds and hundreds of photos. The two of them were well-travelled, and the photos confirmed that. There were photos of their children through the years. There were photos of trips to Colorado to visit the family. There were photos of European and Japanese shops, because he liked to photographically document where he bought special keepsakes. You can imagine how they added up.

After giving it great thought, she narrowed down the photos using these two rules: the photo had to have a person in it, and she had to know who that person was. After all, he wasn’t around to help identify his Great-Aunt Lucille. That meant that photos of the Eiffel Tower or Pikes Peak were tossed. Her philosophy was if I want to see a photo of the duomo in Florence, I can google it.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to show you any more old family photos since I have inundated my blog with photos this week so far. But what occurred to me as I looked at the old photos is that I’m not sure we have made things easier by storing our photos on our cell phones or in the Cloud. That just makes it really, really difficult to show people our photos. I can recall a million times when someone has passed their germy cell phone around so that we can look at their granddaughter dancing in The Nutcracker or eating their first birthday cake.

Bill and I use Google Photos to store our pictures. It helps keep my cell phone from using all of its storage capacity on photos. It doesn’t, however, make it any easier to find a photo I want to show someone. Google Photos is good as long as you have a reasonable sense of when the photo was taken. Mostly, I can’t remember photos that I took yesterday.

Standing around a friend’s computer screen or staring at a cell phone isn’t quite as much fun as passing around photos of your grandkids opening their Christmas gifts. But it’s a technological world, and being able to take a photo of a kitchen table you like in the store makes up for the coldness of the computer screen.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing that makes it fun to look at travel photos from the person in the next cubicle, whether it’s on a computer screen or a piece of photo paper.

Black and White

Yesterday’s post included a photo of Bec, around 11; this blogger, around age 6; and our baby sister Jen, 18 months or so. We’re guessing on the ages. We’re also guessing on what exactly it is that Mom or Dad felt necessitated the need for celluloid permanence…..

It seems clear by the looks on Jen and my faces that Mom or Dad said, “Look at the camera girls.” And the photo was shot before we could even smile. As for Bec, Jen and I concluded that she might have been performing a dance of some sort. Perhaps she was imitating Salome, the daughter of Herod II, who asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. We reached that conclusion because we can’t figure out what else was going on. It was Christmas season, because I can see a wreath on the front door. We are very gussied up, so it must have been a Sunday and we were preparing to go to Mass, hence the Salome connection.

I have mentioned that I lost the book that contained many photos of myself as a child. I’m very thankful that my siblings still have their albums. Otherwise we wouldn’t have this classic photo of my brother Dave, who, gauging from the look on his face in the photo, already believes that trouble lies just around the corner, and it ain’t good…..

He’s clearly thinking, “Does Mom know I can reach the door knob to the basement and this contraption is on wheels?” He retains this “It’s just a matter of time” attitude to this day.

I also stumbled upon this classic photo of the three sisters in our backyard…..

Another holiday photo, or so I believe. This one appears to be Easter Sunday, judging from the way we are all dressed. Clearly Bec and I had recently been to see Mom’s hairdresser Fay, probably getting our Easter haircut. Fay was one mean son-of-a-gun. She used a razer to cut our hair. I’m pretty sure she left the razer out in the rain where it got nice and dull and rusty, because it hurt like hell as she yanked it through our hair. And while our bangs were short, I assure you they were crooked. She had to have done it on purpose. Oh Fay.

Mom got professional photos of all of her children as infants and at three years old. They were those beautiful pictures taken in black and white, and then touched up in color. In my 3-year-old photo, I have long hair that is flipped. Mom must have taken me to Fay shortly after that photo was taken, had her chop off my hair, and I never again had long hair until I was old enough to yell, “Mother! Stop the madness. It’s the 60s!”

I love looking at old photos. What I like most is trying to figure out the story around the photo. When we all get together, we can do a pretty good job. The wall photo, however, has me eternally stumped.

Going Home

I didn’t take a shower until I was a freshman in college.

Don’t worry. It’s not that I didn’t wash myself regularly. It’s just that for the first 18 years of my life, I lived in a house that had no shower. Yep. One bathroom for the six of us — Mom, Dad, three girls and a boy — that had a bathtub only.

At some point — maybe when the house was built — a shower was put into our basement. It was a shower head and a drain built into the cement floor. No walls. Just a place that — probably in desperation — Dad went to take a shower. No privacy, but that didn’t matter because, being a baker, his showers were taken at 4 o’clock in the morning. But dang, it must have been chilly in the winter. Not a single one of the rest of us would have used that shower. It was Nebraska, and there were undoubtedly bugs that lived in our basement. No thanks.

Bill and Jen and I went to live Mass yesterday with Bec at her church — St. Steven’s. After church we went back to her house and had what she called a “hillbilly breakfast” but what I called delicious. A homemade coffee cake using our Aunt Ann’s recipe, and some pork sausages. Our hillbilly breakfast was accompanied by mimosa’s made from prosecco and cranberry juice, with real cranberries as garnishes. I can’t imagine any such thing made by a really true hillbilly. Anyhoo, as we ate, we got to talking about the house in which we all spent our formative years.

Dad and Mom built the house. Well, I don’t mean they actually showed up every day with hammers and nails and such. But Dad bought the lot and found a home design he liked and had the house built. At the time, the neighborhood was out on the edge of town, surrounded by fields. Dad says many people warned him that he would be sorry some day that he built where he did. (He wasn’t.) Bec says she used to play cowgirl in the fields that surrounded our home.

In hindsight, we all know that the house was S-M-A-L-L, particularly by today’s standards of one bedroom per child. There were three bedrooms in our little brick home, and as indicated above, one small bathroom with a bathtub. When we washed our hair, we connected a hose with a sprayer on the end onto the faucet to get out the shampoo. That’s why I didn’t shower until nearly adulthood. (By the way, I was supposed to be showering after every P.E. class in high school, but that never happened. What? Getting naked in front of strangers? Not for this shy gal.

I also never had a room of my own until I was 21 years old and finally got an apartment when I moved to Leadville, Colorado, where my parents lived. I shared with Bec. I shared with Jen. I’m pretty sure at one point, our baby brother Dave’s crib was in with Jen and me.

Baby Boomers won’t be surprised to know that we thought we lived like royalty. Our house was made from bricks (so the big bad wolf couldn’t blow it down). There was beautiful parquet wood tiles in our dining room (which we never used except for holidays and homework).

Mom was very proud of that wooden dining room floor. Bec told us a true story that I had never before heard that shows how proud Mom was: When we were babies, Mom would spray the floor with polish, and push whichever one of her children was still in cloth diapers around on the floor to buff it…..

Bec, Jen, and I in our entryway. Jen would have been about floor-buffing age!

I can’t tell you how much I love that story.

Saturday Smile: Thanks

I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving with your loved ones. Bill and I certainly enjoyed ours with my sister Bec and her son Erik, daughter-in-law Josey, and their two children Mackenzie and Carter. We gave thanks over a delicious fried turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes (10 lbs. for seven people!), gravy, green bean casserole, and of course pumpkin and pecan pie.

Despite the difficult year, there is much to be thankful for…..

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Thursday Murder Club

For many years, my mother-in-law lived in a retirement community. She immediately made four friends, who became like family to her. The five of them did everything together. They ate together, they attended classes together, they took the bus to movies and the library, all together. They were buddies.

At one point, I got what I thought was a brilliant idea. I should write a mystery novel featuring characters based on these five women. There would be a murder of someone connected to the community, and someone of whom they were very fond would be accused of the murder. These five women would get together and solve the mystery of the real killer.

Needless to say, I never quite got around to writing that novel, but author British author Richard Osman did. His characters are, of course, somewhat different, but the notion is the same. My bad, because it worked extremely well.

The Thursday Murder Club features four elderly residents — Ibraiham, Ron, Elizabeth, and Joyce. The four become friends when they form a ad hoc organization they call The Thursday Murder Club. They meet weekly to discuss cases that the police have never solved, and are surprisingly adept.

And then, someone connected to their retirement community is murdered. Finally they have a current and active case on which to work. The four are each extremely smart in their own way. One has tech experience. One has police experience. Having met one of the police officers involved in the case when she made a safety presentation to the retirement community, they convince her to share information.

And then another community-connected individual is murdered, and these four are ON IT. In between wine parties and romantic liaisons, these four solve the murder mystery.

The Thursday Murder Club is cleverly written. Best of all, there are very few elderly stereotypes. In fact, there are few stereotypes at all, except perhaps for some of the bad guys. But the detectives are all active and funny and astute, each in their own way. And the lead detective — a middle aged man — is paunchy and balding and wholly unlike most featured detectives, at least in American fiction.

Suffice it to say, this was a wonderful book to read at a time when things are so serious. And DANG, why did I let Osman beat me to the punch (and do a much better job). Thankfully, it looks to be a series.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts, Wednesday Edition

It occurred to me yesterday afternoon that I wouldn’t be writing a regular blog on Thursday, so I thought I would share my few and unimportant thoughts on Wednesday instead.

Burning Up
I’ve spoken many times about how I grew up watching Dad cook many things on the grill. Pork chops are what his grandkids liked best. Skinny pork chops that he would douse with beer as the flames threatened to encompass the meat. They were yummy. I love my gas grills, but once in a while it makes me very happy to cook on a charcoal grill. The other night I cooked some ribeye steaks that my sister Jen had picked up at Costco. We decided to cook them on the charcoal grill as a tribute to Dad. We smelled the charcoal as the coals burned until they turned gray with ash. And I did what I like best when cooking on a charcoal grill — drank an ice cold martini…..

When You’re a Grown Up, You Can Act Like a Kid
Yesterday, we cooked ourselves a nice breakfast — bacon, eggs, and toast. Then around lunchtime, we got in our car and headed to Andy’s Frozen Custard. What the heck? we thought. We are grown ups and we can eat whatever we want for lunch. Jen and I had turtle sundaes and Bill went with his favorite: a hot fudge malt, large please. We honestly didn’t feel a bit guilty…..

At the sleek and cool hotel at which Bill and I stayed on Friday night, the main wall decoration was this…..

It took me immediately back to my childhood. I played lots of games of Jacks. How do you play? Bill wondered. You bounce the red ball and pick up one jack; you bounce the red ball and pick up two jacks; you bounce the red ball and pick up three jacks. And so on. Jacks and Pick-up Stix. Wow. Those were the days before technology. And weird wall decorations.

Yesterday around midday, the Ring app on my telephone indicated someone was ringing our doorbell. By time I got to my phone and to the correct app, she was gone. However, knowing I would watch on my phone as soon as I could, our granddaughter Addie made a little presentation to the camera. She (dressed in a heavy coat with a gigantic hood on her head) told me they had shoveled our walks and brought up our trash cans from the street. I could see that it was snowing in the background. I admit I felt nothing but satisfaction as I looked out at our blue skies and felt our perfect 70 degree temperature. We got out of Dodge just in the nick of time. Thanks Addie!