Friday Book Whimsy: A Redbird Christmas

I read this book every year because it’s one of my favorite Christmas stories. Enjoy this repeat review..

No one writes the South like author Fannie Flagg, and nobody can beat her when it comes to cozy stories as well. A Redbird Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas books, and I rarely miss a year of reading it. It doesn’t take long, as it’s more of a novella than a novel, but it’s well worth the couple of hours you will spend in Lost River, Alabama, with the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society and a redbird named Jack.

Oswald T. Campbell makes his annual visit to the doctor. There he receives a startling and depressing diagnosis: his emphysema has worsened to the point that he now only has a few months — at the most — to live. His doctor suggests he can perhaps lengthen his lifespan a bit if he doesn’t spend a winter in his hometown of Chicago. The doctor recommends a spa that his own father used to recommend to his patients. It is located in the southernmost point of Alabama in a town called Lost River.

Oswald isn’t very interested in spending his remaining time alone in Chicago, and so he telephones the spa, only to learn that it no longer exists. Still, the woman who answers the phone tells Oswald to come down anyway, and he can stay with her. He agrees.

What happens next is simply magical. Oswald’s life changes when he discovers a hidden talent, makes many friends, and comes face-to-face (or maybe face-to-beak) with Jack, a cardinal that the local shopkeeper rescued several years ago. Jack is the heart and soul of the small community, and has enhanced the life of many of the townspeople. One of Jack’s biggest admirers is a young girl, crippled from abuse, who comes to live in Lost River, and is saved as well.

A Redbird Christmas is, in a word, charming. The characters are quirky but loveable in the way that only Flagg can make her characters.

You haven’t really had Christmas until you have spent it with the people of Lost River, and, of course, Jack.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Turkey Day, Take Two
Bill loves Thanksgiving dinner. I mean the dinner. He also likes Thanksgiving, because who doesn’t love a time to gather with the people you love the most without having to buy gifts? But he loves the turkey and all its fixins’. So he was a very happy camper last night when we went to dinner at one of the restaurants at Wind Crest. He picked up the menu, and out fluttered a Thanksgiving Special. Turkey. Dressing. Mashed potatoes. Green bean casserole. Pumpkin and pecan pies. Done. Done. Done. Done. Sure, he very well knows that these were nothing more than leftovers from Thanksgiving Day. But given the fact that he could eat Thanksgiving dinner every week, he was very happy. By the way, their soup of the week was Turkey and Rice. Nice to know that even places like Wind Crest have to figure out what to do about leftovers.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
Just outside of each apartment at WC is a little shelf that residents can decorate as they see fit. In fact, they could not decorate it at all if they are willing to be the subject of gossip at WC. When we moved here at the end of September, it was All Things Halloween. There were such creative decorations! And the wreaths on the doors were amazing. After Halloween, things changed a bit as we moved towards Thanksgiving. My decorations were fall in nature, so I didn’t make any change. I probably was the subject of gossip at WC. The Thanksgiving decorations were beautiful. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas came to WC. Not just to the shelves outside the apartments, but to all of Wind Crest. There are Christmas trees and pointsettias and lights and glitter everywhere you look. I took down my fall decorations and decorated our shelf for Christmas. My evergreen wreath went on the door. It’s been really fun to walk around and see Christmas come alive all over.

Career Paths
It’s been a week since three of my grands and one boyfriend decorated my angel tree. I can’t believe it’s been a week already. That night, we had some serious — and some not so serious — discussions about what we all wanted to be when we grow up. Addie, of course, is facing reality soon. She’s considering medicine. She would be a wonderful doctor or physicians’ assistant. Maggie Faith — a freshman this year — has four years to begin planning her future. As for Dagny, she is a junior this year, and her options are endless. She initially put forth to the group the idea of being a therapist. Her sisters quickly put a kibosh to that idea, citing the fact that you needed to be empathetic to help others with their emotional issues. Personally, I find Dagny as sweet as can be. Before the night was over, she had landed on being a mob boss. I’m going to try to steer her away from that career path.

I’m Ok. You’re Ok.
Every night around midnight, a WC employee (or several employees) walks the halls of Wind Crest and puts up a latch that is on each door. The next day, as soon as someone opens the door, the latch falls. If the latch hasn’t fallen by the end of the next day, it raises concern that something is wrong. Last Wednesday, just before midnight, Bill’s cell phone rang. As you can imagine, we both panicked, because no good news is delivered at midnight. I answered the phone, and it was someone from WC security. “Are you okay?” he asked me. I assured him that we were fine. He told me that when he was putting up the latches that night, he noticed ours had not fallen, indicating a possible problem. A light bulb went on in my head. I promised him that we were fine and explained that my grandkids had visited the night before. “One of them probably thought it would be hilarious to put up the latch,” I told him. I’m sure he was so amused that his sides hurt from laughing.

Ciao.

Let It Snow

We woke up yesterday morning to the ground covered with snow, and more coming down. It wasn’t a surprise since the weather folks have been telling us that it was coming for a few days.

What I really woke up to was the sound of snowplows cleaning the snow from our parking lots and sidewalks. It was 4 o’clock in the morning. My first inclination was to be annoyed. But even at 4 a.m., a couple of hours before the sun came up, I stopped myself from being annoyed and instead, was grateful for the hard work of those diligent workers. I think I must add that not only was it snowing, but the temperature was well below freezing. God bless those poor souls who were braving the bitter cold to keep the area safe for me and the other residents. In hindsight, I wish I had taken them a cup of hot cocoa.

As for me, I was not ABOUT to brave the cold and snow. I put a heavy sweater over my nightgown and a heavy blanket over my lap and waited for the sun to rise as I checked my email and read my novel and drank my big cup of hot coffee. When the sun finally came up, I opened our shades and looked out at the snow that was still falling. I was so grateful that I didn’t have a single reason to step outside.

The snow fell most of the morning. I finally convinced myself to get dressed somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 o’clock. Bill had already gone to play pool. He could get there without going outside. I’m not sure even the cold would have stopped him from meeting his friends to shoot pool because he has really grown to love the game.

Over the course of the day, I watched something like five Christmas movies, ranging from the amazing A Christmas Carol featuring George C. Scott to Christmas Kiss II, featuring actors I had never seen before. My favorite one was The Last Holiday, a Christmas movie starring Queen Latifa that will always score among my top five Christmas movies.

I took a break to make Bill and me some lunch, and then moved to the bedroom, where I nestled under the covers to watch the remaining movies. At 4:30, I came out of my bedroom with my eyes bleary and unfocused and told Bill I couldn’t watch another single Christmas movie.

Until the next snowstorm.

Hide and Seek

As many of you will recall, Bill and I had a great deal of help moving. Not only did we have the best real estate agent of all time, who figuratively held our hand throughout the process, but we had wonderful and caring movers, and amazing packers and unpackers. A new couple recently moved into Wind Crest just down the hall from us, and I observed that she had no one helping her unpack her boxes. Well, that’s not entirely true, as she had who appeared to be her children assisting her. But she had no professionals helping her unpack and put her things away.

As a result, when I greeted her late Wednesday afternoon, she looked very tired and discombobulated. When I asked what she and her husband were doing for Thanksgiving the next day, she looked sadly down at the empty boxes, and said, “I will spend the day unpacking more boxes.”

I will admit that there are plusses and minuses to the choice we made to have professional help. The major plus, of course, is that as it turned out, I had a pinched nerve which would have prevented me from doing any unpacking for days. The minus, however, is that to this very day, I have no idea where a lot of my things are.

Bill will ask me, “Do we have a tape measure?” I will answer, quite truthfully, that I’m 94.6 percent sure there is a tape measure someplace in this very apartment, but I have no idea where it is.

I can’t tell you how many times in the past two months I’ve had to try to put myself in the mindset of two women who barely knew me and guess where they would have put our things. Like our tape measure.

Most recently, here are some of the items that I’m certain are in this apartment but have absolutely no idea where….

Poultry shears. I discovered last night when I was preparing my Cornish game hens that my poultry shears were nowhere to be found. I searched my kitchen from top to bottom to no avail. I used regular scissors, which didn’t work as easily as you can imagine.

Pearl necklace and earrings. I literally can’t remember the last time I wore my pearl necklace. Bill gave it to me, along with matching earrings, shortly after we were married. I occasionally wore it when I worked hard for my money, but I just have no real reason to wear them now. Because they were such a romantic gift, I want to know where they are. I know where they were as we prepared to move, and I have no doubt they are here somewhere. But where? Alas.

Handle cover for my cast iron skillet. Obviously, the loss of this item isn’t the end of the world. Nevertheless, it makes me crazy that I can’t figure out where they put it. I’ve searched the drawer where they put my towels. I’ve searched the cupboard where they put all of my cooking pans and skillets. I’ve picked through all of the things they put in my pantry, but I have been unable to find the cover. I finally gave up and ordered another.

Colorful serving dish. I bought a small, adorable plastic bowl with bright colors with a sole purpose to hold guacamole. I recently made guacamole, but when I searched for the bowl, I was unable to find it anywhere. While I realize I threw away a lot of things when we moved, I am entirely certain I would not have thrown this away. It had a specific purpose, and I would have kept it for that purpose.

There are likely many more things I will find missing as the days and weeks go by. It is almost certain, however, that these things will show up. The apartment simply isn’t that big!

The Race is On

No sooner is the last bit of dressing scraped into a Tupperware container and the last dab of whipped cream scraped from the mixing bowl with someone’s finger than Christmas shopping begins.

In the olden days (10 years ago?), people would trudge out to the Big Box stores at midnight to grab all of their Black Friday deals. I, myself, remember standing in line some 15 years ago in bitter cold to purchase a television set at the behest of my husband who, with his son Allen, headed to Chicago to spend the weekend with Bill’s mom. Who says I’m not a good wife?

Other than that occasion, I have never shopped a Black Friday sale. I don’t say that with any particular pride, because more than likely the sales are amazing. My biggest problem is that I hate to shop. Period. My second biggest problem is that as my stomach is digesting the day’s turkey and mashed potatoes, I have no idea what I’m getting anyone. It really doesn’t get any better as the season progresses.

I’ve never been a clever Christmas gifter. Someone needs to put a list right in front of my nose in order for me to know what to buy for them. It’s gotten even more difficult as my grandchildren have gotten older. I don’t know what kind of clothes they wear. I don’t know what they like to read. Lord knows I don’t know what kind of music they enjoy.

Bill is even worse. There will be a knock on the door, and Amazon will have dropped off a package for something Bill ordered. “Seriously?” I’ll ask him. “A month before Christmas, you’re buying yourself (fill in the blank)?”

“I wanted it now,” he will explain.

And, the trouble is, I can’t even get mad at him because I do the exact thing. If I want or need something, I order it. I am Amazon’s best friend.

So, as dull as it seems (and is), last year I gave the grands gift cards. I try to give thought to the store from which I purchase the card. I will try to do that this year once again in an effort to not be perceived as the Grinch.

Let the games begin.

Angelic

On Wednesday evening, three of our granddaughters and one boyfriend came for a visit. Adelaide and her boyfriend Palmer, Dagny, and Maggie Faith swam in our salt pool, and Bill and I joined them. We ate a dinner of lasagna and salad. But the highlight was that they decorated my angel tree. The whole evening and this precious time with my teenaged grandchildren made me a very happy nana.

Have a great weekend.

Left or Right

Yesterday Bill and I met with our financial advisor. She took a gander at our financial situation, looked at us sadly, and said, “I’m so sorry to tell you that your financial outlook looks worse than that of Bob Cratchett. Without the help of Ebenezer Scrooge after his visits with the ghosts, you are in deep trouble. I hope you weren’t planning on a goose for Christmas.”

Just kidding. In fact, she gave us a great deal of peace when she told us that our outlook was good, and that we probably would be able to buy food for another year, provided the inflation rate stays the same and we don’t plan on goose for Christmas.

Just kidding again. We’re going to fine, according to someone way smarter than me.

I’m always interested in smart people. I’m also interested in the different ways that people are smart. I wonder why she can look at a financial statement and make sense of it, while I look at a financial statement and the numbers start swimming before my very eyes. I take comfort in the fact that she probably (maybe?) can’t diagram a sentence. Or write a blog.

I, on the other hand, not only could diagram a sentence should that even be a thing anymore, but I write a blog most days. Take that!

The whole left brain/right brain is interesting to me. I am amazed that some — if not all — of my grandkids seem to have both left brains and right brains. If I look at my nine grandkids and try to figure out if they like reading, I would suggest that two-thirds like to read and write. But it seems like three-thirds (yes, I know that’s all of them) seem to either be good at, or at least get decent grades in, math. I, on the other hand, got passing grades in math, but abandoned math classes as soon as possible. In fact, I was somehow able to get a BS degree without taking a single math class in college. I did take a couple of science classes (including my four hours of F, which is another blog post altogether), but I escaped taking any post secondary math.

I couldn’t help my grands with math if my life depended on it. In fact, one night when I was babysitting Kaiya, Mylee, and Cole, I had to help them with their homework. When Court broke that news to me, I immediately told him that I was entirely unable to help even little Cole with math. He assured me that they all had full capabilities of completing math homework without my help. It’s a good thing, because I missed the whole “new math” thing and so the core math thing escapes me entirely.

At any rate, I’m thankful that God gave us two sides of our brains, because I’m bound to get one of the sides to work for me. I’m also thankful our financial advisor gave us a few more months to live.

Pizza Pie

Bill and I were recently sitting at the bar of one of Wind Crest’s restaurants, drinking a glass of wine and eating our dinner. The manager of the bar recognized us as being relatively new, so she bought our wine. In the course of our subsequent conversation with her, we learned that she, like Bill, hails from the Windy City of Chicago.

If you know anything about Chicago, you won’t be surprised to learn that the conversation quickly turned to pizza. What’s your favorite? North Side or South Side? Thin crust or thick crust? It happens that she was from the West Side, where I think the pizza preferences are a bit more on the neutral side. As long as it has a crust, red sauce, mozzarella cheese, and some sort of meat, it works.

I have no business talking about Chicago and its food traditions. I had never been to Chicago prior to meeting and marrying Bill. I grew up in a town that had NO pizza joints during my early years. When Pizza Hut opened a restaurant in Columbus, we felt like we had hit the big time. Sometime in my late teens, a Godfather’s Pizza opened, giving residents a choice. Not much of one, but a choice nevertheless.

What I quickly learned, however, is that Chicagoans have strong beliefs about their favorite foods. If you don’t believe me, ask a Chicagoan to pass the ketchup when eating a hot dog. Unless, of course, you only plan to put it on your French fries. And if you ask for a fork to assist in eating an Italian beef, you will get laughed out of the restaurant.

Bill is a thin-crust pizza man all the way. While it’s possible to find a thick-crust pizza on the South Side, pizza joints are much more likely to have the St. Louis-style pizza. The pizza crust is made without yeast, thereby yielding a cracker-thin crust that doesn’t bend in the same way as a New York-style pizza crust. The pizza is cut into squares instead of the typical triangular shape with which most people are familiar.

In Chicago, you will find a family-owned pizza place every few blocks, likely next door to a family-owned hot dog place. That’s very different from here in the Denver metro area, where there are definitely locally-owned pizza joints, but they are few and far between. Pizza lovers like Bill notice the absence, I can assure you of that.

Bill’s family had a favorite pizza restaurant, called Fox’s Pizza. There were a few Fox’s sprinkled around the Chicago’s South Side, and their particular favorite was very close to the house in which Bill spent his formative years. Fox’s Italian sausage pizza was the favorite of all of the McLains, including Wilma, up to nearly the end of her life. If you will envision a round pizza cut into squares, you will understand that there are four “corners” that are generally very small, and so, very crispy. Those are the pizza gold nuggets, if you will. The McLains fight for those four pieces. Let me tell you, Wilma was part of the fight. I think her kids let her win, begrudgingly.

I tell you that, because Fox’s pizza is the pizza to which all pizzas are measured. Many have come close, but none have nailed it. Nevertheless, Bill and I continue to search for the perfect pizza in the Denver metro area.

I was recently fed an article about good local restaurants in the suburbs. One of them was called Roca’s Pizza and Pasta. It is located in Lakewood, which is a suburb on the west side of Denver. The owner was from Wisconsin, and grew up eating St. Louis-style pizza. It sounded promising. Saturday lunchtime, we drove the 20 minutes it took to get to Roca’s to see if this was the pizza that met Bill’s expectations.

The pizza was good. Delicious, in fact…..

Was it Fox’s Pizza-good? Afraid not. Was it worth the 20-minute drive? Definitely.

You will notice Bill is eating one of the corners!

We will return.

Saturday Smile: Down to One

After literally weeks of ups and downs in a deal that was supposed to be easy peezy, that is, the sale of our house, we successfully closed sale yesterday morning. It took a mere half hour or so to sign the papers. Since COVID, the buyers and sellers don’t sit down together, so I missed the opportunity to meet the people who will be living in the home we loved so much for 30 years.

Nevertheless, I wish them many happy years at 3962 S. Olive Street. The house we own with my sister in AZ is our one and only real estate asset. That, friends, makes me smile.

Have a great weekend.