Summertime, and the Living is Easy

I love summer. I have to admit, however, that when August rolls around, I’m starting to get a little bit cranky about life. I’m hot. I can’t think what to cook any more. My pest control guy told me he was afraid of wasps, so they are still buzzing around my back yard with looks of victory in their beady eyes. Japanese beetles are eating my black-eyed susans, and last night I realized they are also munching on my basil. Ugh.

What lifts me up is that five of my favorite people (all of whom I’m related to in some way) celebrate birthdays in August. My sister Bec comes in August to visit and get out of the REAL heat. While my flowering plants are starting to look leggy and tired, my vegetables are flourishing. Well, except for my basil which now has little chomps in the leaves. Anyone know how to get rid of Japanese beetles?

If you will recall, this year I went entirely to pots. I’m talking planting my veggies in pots, not what you were thinking (though I do live in Colorado). It was so successful that I will probably never plant an in-ground garden again. I have never had herbs grow as successfully as in this pot…..

You can’t really see, but there are also chives, thyme, and dill in that same pot. The parsley really took off this year. I plant parsley every year, and almost never remember to use it. The chives and thyme yes. And the dill when I make my pickles. But the parsley gets forgotten. Cream of parsley soup?

I have tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes. My early girl tomatoes are nearly done, but I have plenty picked. We are eating BLTs, sliced tomatoes, tomato salads. I plan on making up a pot of my mom’s gazpacho, a soup that Bill won’t even consider eating. More for me.

And for the first time ever, my grape tomato plant is flourishing…..

I can eat those like candy.

In this year of Hardly Anything Good Happening, I am pleased as punch that we now have a composting bin sponsored by the City and County of Denver. I had a composting bin of my own years ago, but it never really worked out for me. I was supposed to turn it regularly, but I have no pitchfork, nor any inclination to buy one. I was also supposed to buy worms to put into the compost bin to break down the garbage. Talk about not having any inclination to buy something! Maybe that would be a job for those rotten Japanese beetles.

It doesn’t matter, though, because see above: I plant in pots these days. But for a mere $100/year, the City and County lets us use a green composting bin that we can put out on the curb on every garbage collection day. So I have become a composting fool….

It is bittersweet seeing the hot days of summer heading towards a conclusion. Still, we have autumn to look forward to, plus a visit from our Vermont family.

Plus, I have chili roasting season to look forward to.

Saturday Smile: Smile FORE the Good People

Bill, in his never ending determination to live life to the fullest and keep moving and having fun to keep his Parkinson’s at bay, has taken up golf. He started last winter when he joined our very kind Canadian neighbor at a driving range several times, and even played a round of golf on a par 3 course. Then COVID hit.

However, he recently purchased a set of golf clubs, and has spent just about every day since at a nearby driving range. Yesterday, he invited me to go along. I agreed, as long as he understood that I wasn’t going to hit balls myself. It was fun to watch him hit the ball. He has a long way to go to beat Tiger Woods (or even one of his grandchildren), but he had some good shots. More important, he is having fun.

But what made me smile is that the man who was hitting next to him — who appeared to my novice eyes to be quite a good golfer — took time to give Bill some tips. He even gave him a half of a basket of balls. Bill thanked him, and explained that he had PD. The man was duly impressed.

I too was so grateful to the man. So grateful, in fact, that I cried for the next 10 minutes while Bill finished his half-basket. It really is true that there are such good people in the world.

I’m also endlessly proud of my husband, who attacks life with gusto, no matter what…..

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Silence

For some reason, despite living right now in one of the most difficult times in my life thanks to COVID-19, the book styles of my choice has been mysteries and thrillers. Susan Allott’s debut novel The Silence caught my eye, and then delivered big time.

It’s 1997, and Isla Green — newly sober and hanging on by a thread — receives a phone call from her father Joe. He tells her that their old neighbor (and Isla’s babysitter) Mandy, who has been missing for 30 years — has been discovered, unfortunately dead. She had been in a troubled marriage, and most people believed she had fled and started a new life somewhere. Unfortunately for Joe, he is believed to be the last one to see her prior to her going missing, and therefore has become the prime suspect.

Isla reluctantly returns to the former home in Australia that she had gladly fled years before to provide support for her father. She is surprised when she learns that her mother isn’t so sure that her father isn’t guilty.

Isla begins looking into things, and it isn’t long before she starts learning family secrets — both about her father and her mother, but also about her neighbor Mandy and Mandy’s husband Steve.

Allott’s novel delve into substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness, but in a way that is intelligent, and not preachy. One of the saddest facets of the story was learning that the colonial Australians — under the guises of good will — would remove without permission children of Aboriginal natives who they believed could live a better life in a white family. It was very sad.

The Silence provided me a meaty read with plenty of clever and surprising twists and taught me a few things to boot. I liked the book very much.

Thursday Thoughts

Take a Hike 
A few weeks ago, Bill and I drove the 35 minutes it took to get to Daniels Park, a pretty park just south of Denver. I loved it so much, and immediately thought about how much Bec would love that park. So yesterday, she and I drove to Daniels Park and walked one of the trails. The views are spectacular, despite the fact that we didn’t see a single bison. It was nice to get out of town for a bit, and we certainly enjoyed the view…..

 

Declaring War 
Last night while Bill and Bec and I sat outside watching the sun go down and drinking our limoncello, we also watched a mouse come out from underneath the house where there is a gap between the patio and the house to gather up the leftover crumbs from our fun dinner with Jessie and Rob. The mouse would come from under the house and begin sniffing around under the table. When one of us would move, the mouse would scramble. Well, I hope it/they are prepared for war, because Bill McLain is declaring GAME ON…..

One for Mighty Mouse; one for Mickey Mouse, one for Tom, and one for Jerry. I’ll keep you posted.

But It Could Be Worse 
I got a text from my brother in AZ the other morning. He told me that when he stepped out of his house that morning to get his newspaper, there was a rattlesnake enjoying the peace and quiet. Luckily for Dave, the rattlesnake was as caught off guard as was he. It was not coiled to strike, and took off the other direction moving nearly as fast as he did the other direction. A few years ago, the same thing happened except that the rattler that time was coiled and ready to strike. Dave struck first, using a shovel to cut off its head. And that’s why I don’t live in the desert.

Pesky Pests 
Day before yesterday, we had a scheduled visit from our pest control service. I had told them in advance of my primary concerns: Mr. Mouse, a couple of centipedes that I had spotted, but most of all, the wasps, which are increasing in number as the summer goes by. He promised he would look for nests. After he was finished, he rang the bell to say farewell. “Did you find any wasp nests?” I asked him. “No, he replied. “To be honest, I’m really afraid of wasps.” Perhaps he needs a new line of work, I thought.

Ciao!

 

 

Feeding the Soul

I have heard all number of people complain that they are sick and tired of cooking. I don’t know what to make anymore, they’ll say. I just want to go to a restaurant and let somebody cook for me for a change, they proclaim.

I’m pretty much with them all the way. BC (before COVID), I cooked probably five or six evening meals in a week. I generally made sandwiches for lunch about half the time. The rest of our meals were cooked by someone else. And when I say someone else, you can count on the fact that the someone else wasn’t Bill. Prior to saying I do 28 years ago, he made it very clear that he didn’t cook. He promised that he would take me out to dinner any time I wanted, but I mustn’t expect to come home from work to a sit-down dinner prepared by him.

Who knew that some 28 years later, all restaurants would be closed, ground beef would be close to ten bucks a pound, and we would all be masked?

Here’s the thing: There’s nothing special about my cooking abilities, though somehow I have fooled people into thinking I’m a good cook. I follow recipes. Period. I am unable to improvise. If I am preparing a meal that calls for cumin, and I don’t have cumin, the meal is dead to me. I am unable to look in my spice rack and come up with a replacement.

“Google it,” said my sister Bec.

Having said all of the above, and speaking of my sister Bec, I have learned in the past few days that cooking with my sisters makes all the difference in the world. Having been brought up loving food and cooking, it comes as no surprise that to this day, the kitchen is where we gather. I loved sitting at the counter at Mom and Dad’s little house in Summit County and talking to Mom as she cooked.

Last evening, we invited my niece Jessie and her boyfriend Rob for dinner so they could spend some time with Bec. The weather was nice and we knew we could eat outside. We decided to grill steaks. But we also decided to make a pot of green beans,…..

…..my grandmother’s macaroni and Swiss cheese, and a tomato and avocado salad. By the way, every time I make macaroni and Swiss cheese, I put the plate of grated cheese into the cupboard. Why? Because that’s what my mother always did. She did it because she wanted to keep our grubby little hands out of the cheese. I do it because she did it….

For dessert, what else? A pie, this one blueberry…..

 

As we cooked, we talked about our kids and our grandkids, told funny stories about Mom and Dad, shared cooking tips, and had a extraordinarily splendid time.

Perhaps looking forward to this helped…..

It made me realize once again that cooking is so much more than providing sustenance for the bodies of your loved ones. It’s all about gathering and creating and laughing and family.

Too bad Jen wasn’t there with us.

Driving Thru

I’ve mentioned before that part of our geocaching ritual is that the day always ends with a trip to Sonic for a limeade. Well, a limeade for Nana; the kids always manage to talk me into buying them a milkshake or some cheese sticks or some tater tots. I’ve taken to getting a large diet limeade, drinking part of it and taking the rest of it home so that I can stealthily add some vodka. Oh don’t judge. The kids have already gone home before I pour.

The other day, Kaiya, Mylee, Cole, and I went geocaching. It was Kaiya’s idea, and Mylee and Cole were both reluctant. They were perfectly content watching The Babysitters’ Club on Netflix. I told them they were welcome to stay home with their papa while we geocached. Perhaps fearing he would put them to work, they elected to join us. I feel confident in saying they were happy with their decision because we had a really good time. We found three for four.

After words, we followed our tradition and went to Sonic. The drive-thru line was quite long, but we were patient. At some point I remembered that my purse was in the trunk, which is not accessible from the inside of the car. “Never fear,” I told them. “After we move ahead, I will get out of the car and grab my purse out of the trunk.” This I did. I got back in the car and moved ahead behind the car in front of me. It was at this point that I realized that I had driven past the box where you order the food from the invisible person.

I looked sheepishly at Kaiya, who I knew would roll her eyes, while trying not to let me see that she was rolling her eyes. Internal and imaginary eye-rolling. “Oops,” I admitted. “I have to go around again because I missed where we needed to order.” I pulled out of line, not looking at the car behind me because they had already seen me leap out to get my purse. They had also undoubtedly seen me drive past the ordering box. They, too, were probably rolling their eyes.

I got back in line, and eventually we placed our order. A medium limeade and some mozzarella sticks for Kaiya, a medium limeade slushy for Mylee, and a small strawberry milkshake for Cole. “Don’t get me chocolate,” he said. “I don’t like chocolate.”

If you were to give me truth serum, I would be forced to admit that it isn’t the first time that I have done this same thing at this same Sonic but with different grandkids. Oy vey! I don’t know what it is about the location of their ordering box, but it appears to flummox this nana.

I told my sister Bec (who is currently visiting us) this story, and she gave me a very sisterly and comforting response. “The quarantine is messing with our minds,” she said. “And our minds are old, so they don’t need messing with.”

I’m going with that.

When their dad heard they had gone to Sonic, he said, “Let me guess. Kaiya got a limeade and cheese sticks, Mylee got a lime slushy, and Cole got a strawberry milkshake.

He knows his kids.

Endless Days

The other day, I asked Court what he was going to do for his birthday, which is August 8. It’s a big one — he turns 40. He gave a half-laugh, and said, “Really, what is there to do?”

Though that is a fairly glass-half-empty response (and I can’t IMAGINE where he gets THAT), it is unfortunately also true. You can go out to eat, but you will be isolated and choosing from a much-downsized menu. And nothing says you have reached a landmark birthday like being served by a faceless person wearing a mask.

No movies. No sporting events. No concerts that you have waited a lifetime to see. Just some happy birthdays from your loved ones and maybe a pair of socks. Still, birthday kisses from your kids are a precious gift, quarantine or not.

Things just never seem to change these days. Now Dr. Fauci is suggesting we might need to start wearing protective eye gear. As 10-year-old Mylee (who is wise beyond her years) said, “Next thing you know, we’ll be wearing hazmat suits.” I laughed, but I thought to myself that a year ago if you told me I would be wearing a mask every time I left my house, I would have laughed in your face. Now I can’t even see your face. Nothing would surprise me these days.

But, the good news is, as St. Paul told the Romans, nothing will separate us from the love of God. Neither anguish, persecution, famine, nor peril will do us in, because God is always with us.

Boy, sometimes it’s really difficult to see the hand of God in our lives these days. I’m a pretty good and faithful Christian, but I often find myself asking why God keeps handing us these burdens. Just when it feels like things are getting back to some semblance of normal, COVID-19 numbers start rising. Isn’t it bad enough that we have to cheer for our baseball teams with cardboard cutouts mimicking fans in the stands? Basketball players are being isolated in a Disney World “bubble” so that they stay safe. All the Mickey Mouse you could want, with no kids to share it with.

Having said that, I don’t believe that God handed us a novel virus as a means of punishing us. I don’t believe that COVID is a sign that the world is coming to an end. COVID-19 is a result of something that we humans did. Perhaps it was a clumsy scientist who knocked over a vial of the virus without knowing. (Can you tell that I barely passed biology in high school AND college?) What I do believe is that God is standing with us, keeping us strong, giving us tools to cope.

I am keeping my fingers crossed and praying with great gusto that a vaccine is developed soon. In the meantime, I have to believe that God is standing by my side every minute of the day. I bet he doesn’t like the way I use his name sometimes. Yikes.

Saturday Smile: Beachcombers

In general, all of my grandkids make me smile. But, I mean really. Look at this photo of Micah and tell me it doesn’t make you grin…..

 

Have you ever seen such unmitigated joy?

The Hibbert-McLain family, who have spent months in quarantine, spent a few days a week or so ago on a beach in Maine. You can tell that Joseph and Micah needed the break from Vermont…..

I miss them and can’t wait until I can see them again. I am sooooo over COVID.

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Girls in the Garden

The idea of living in a gated community where children run around freely, in and out of each other’s houses, sounds delightful. But perhaps this freedom doesn’t protect the children as much as one might think. After all, sometimes the danger is within the gates. The Girls in the Garden, by Lisa Jewell, gives us a taste of that kind of a life.

After Clare’s husband Chris burns down their house without knowing whether his wife and two daughters are inside (they weren’t), he is committed to a mental health facility. Clare and her daughters, 11-year-old Pip and 12-year-old Grace, move to just such a place. Things seem fine. The girls make friends. Clare learns to survive without her husband.

And then the night of Grace’s 13th birthday party, Pip finds her sister unconscious and near death, overdosed on sleeping pills. Until Grace awakens from her coma, no one knows how this travesty happened.

Readers are led down one path and then another. Just when you are certain you know who tried to kill Grace, that person becomes just another red herring.

Lisa Jewell is one of my favorite authors. I believe I have enjoyed every book of hers that I have read. While The Girls in the Garden was not necessarily my favorite of her’s, I think the author’s writing is exceptional, and was enough to make me enjoy the book.

And enough to want to put my arms around my grandkids and keep them close.

This one is a thumbs up.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Using Up Words 
My daughter-in-law Jll told me recently that our 15-year-grandson Alastair appears to have a limited number of words he will say in a day. It has something to do with having three sisters and listening to them talk. Once he reaches the maximum word usage, it is tough to get anything more out of him. She’s joking, of course, but he does appear to get weary of talking/listening. Last night we invited him over for dinner since his mom and sisters are in Bozeman and his dad was not home either. I texted Jll and told her that he was coming to dinner, and that I hoped that he hadn’t used up his word limit by the 6 p.m. dinner bell. She texted back that she talked to him on the phone earlier and she only got about seven words out of him. You might be in luck, she said. Apparently we were, because he told us all about his three-week Colorado camping trip, and that took a fair number of words.

Harvest
When we got back to Denver on Monday, I went out to check my plants. Between Addie and her boyfriend Trent, they did a dandy job of watering my vegetables. In fact, my tomato plant was plumb FULL of ripe red tomatoes. We have been eating them with every meal since…..

 

Icy Water
The day that some of us went into Yellowstone Park and the rest went fly fishing on the Yellowstone River was kind of overcast, and even had little bits of rain. By late afternoon, however, the temperature had risen and after we watched the boat dock, Dagny and Maggie Faith were ready for a swim. And as far as they were concerned, when there’s a river, you can swim. Even if it’s icy cold. And even if you don’t have a swim suit. Regular clothes will do. They had a blast, and it was all we could do to talk them into getting into the car afterwards…..

What’s For Supper? 
Montana has what they call supper clubs sprinkled around the countryside. Usually located in small communities, they offer delicious steaks, walleye fish, and other delicious food, topped off with a full bar. Julie took us to one called Land of Magic, about 40 minutes from her house. My ribeye steak and icy cold martini tasted delicious. Simple and yummy food, with all of the cowboy decorations you could ever want…..

Ciao!