Birthdays and Travel

Bill and I spent today at airports. What a way to celebrate his 79th birthday. But we had a nice dinner out, and despite the fact that it’s only 8 o’clock here, we are headed to bed. After all, our bodies think it’s 9 o’clock though we are in AZ.

I’ll be back tomorrow.

Another Angel

Yesterday we learned the very sad news that our stepmother passed away suddenly over the weekend. Shirley lovingly cared for our father for many years before he went to heaven in 2010. Shirley was a great lady, a loving and faithful child of God, and an amazing mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and stepmother. Shirley always had a smile on her face, and never complained, though I’m sure at 86 she had plenty to complain about. We will all miss her very much.

I originally wrote this blog post in August 2017. It seemed fitting to rerun.

Second Rounds

While my mother’s death wasn’t sudden – in fact, she outlived the odds by several years – it still was a blow to her family when she died. Not surprisingly, my dad was particularly affected. Not only had they been happily married for over 40 years, but he had patiently cared for her during her illness – schlepping her to doctor appointments, staying with her during hospital visits, providing moral support and care and love and laughter.

So it wasn’t unexpected that he was pretty lost following her passing. His kids tried to help him move on. Jen in particular (because she lived in the same town) made sure he was taking care of himself. But as the months and then a year or two went by, he still seemed lost

And then he met Shirley.

I wish I could tell you that I was a complete grown-up and accepted this new relationship with joy and support. Nope. I was a big fat baby. My siblings would probably say they were no better, but I assure you they were. I was the worst. Shame on me.

Despite all this, Dad and Shirley married. And remained married until my dad’s death in 2010. They had a happy marriage. After some time, both his family and her family came to grips with the fact that their mommy and daddy were living their lives in a way that made them happy. Dang. I hate when people act like grown-ups. The two of them did fun things – took driving trips, went to shows in Branson, MO, took in frequent movies, dined out, picnicked, made many trips to Estes Park, entertained all of their kids.

And when he, too, became ill, Shirley cared for him graciously until he died, something for which all of Dad’s children are — and always will be — grateful.

So the end of our story is a happy one. Because we all love Shirley, and she loves us back.

I am writing about Shirley because Bec and I spent a good portion of yesterday with her. She made us breakfast in her lovely little apartment in Loveland, an apartment which is cheerfully decorated with photos of her kids and grandkids and her great-grandkids. We reminisced, caught up with each other, looked at Bec’s China pictures, and ate and drank coffee. Two or three times, someone would walk into her apartment through the open door that leads to her patio telling her, Shirley, I have been trying to call you, but your telephone won’t ring. These interruptions lead me to two conclusions: 1. Her phone service must not have been working; and 2. She is clearly the most popular person at Mirasol Senior Living! Miss Congeniality, no doubt.

As we drove home, Bec and I talked about how though sometimes we don’t realize it, God really does put the people you need into your life if you just open your eyes to it…..

By the way, I had to take this picture for Dad’s grandkids’ pleasure. Shirley has kept their Poppo’s license plate…..

Desolation

Just before COVID slapped all of us silly in the face, a friend of mine traveled to southeast Asia for an extended visit. One of her first stops was a retreat place of sorts in Cambodia? Thailand? Myanmar?, one of those countries. What was unique about this particular retreat is that it was silent. You didn’t speak with anyone. Phones weren’t allowed. You couldn’t bring any kind of reading material. You just spent time completely with yourself. If you believed in God, you could pray.

What I found most interesting was that my friend — who is naturally convivial and outgoing — said it was one of the best things she had ever done in her life. In fact, she said she wished she could do it annually. I would have thought it would drive her crazy, which is exactly what it did at the beginning. And then she found peace and contentment.

Praying is what I would have done. I would have prayed that all of this was a bad dream and that I would wake up to discover I had fallen asleep reading a good book. Unlike my friend, I am not natural convivial and outgoing. I can enjoy dinner with friends and be perfectly chatty. Then, however, it is time for me to go home and be quiet and recharge my energy. But being quiet for days at a time? Without a book? NO CAN DO.

I used to think that I would love to live out in the country where I would have a huge garden. In the fall, I would can all of my fruits and vegetables for the winter. I would put potatoes and carrots in my root cellar. The same cellar where I would hide when the inevitable tornado made its regular appearance. I thought I could be Caroline Ingalls ALL THE WAY.

I am thankful that I came to my senses before I sold everything I owned to buy a house somewhere in rural America and a tractor. Because I would have lost my mind. Even if I had a roomful of books and Bill with whom I could talk, I still would have been extremely unhappy being out in the boondocks.

Who would I have spied on through cracked blinds? Who would have called to tell me that my garage door is open? What would I have done when I was in the middle of making banana bread only to discover that I didn’t have all of the ingredients. I WOULD HAVE HAD TO PLAN AHEAD! Yikes.

It is a rare day when I don’t make a visit to the grocery store. Not doing daily shopping was one of the most difficult parts of our nearly-year-long quarantine during COVID. I tried very hard to limit my shopping to once a week, but I frankly wasn’t very good at it. Planning ahead is not my forte.

At the end of the day, I’m perfectly content to have a house in a neighborhood where there are lots of people with whom to talk. In fact I have two houses in two such neighborhoods. And we are leaving to go from one to another. If you don’t hear from me, trust that I haven’t moved from an urban to a rural setting, and I will soon return.

Saturday Smile: You Have Company

My brother Dave made a surprise trip to Denver to see his daughter Jessie. We had dinner with him last night, and tonight we will be going to the Colorado National Speedway to watch the races. Bill and I haven’t been for years, and we are looking forward to it. Last night Jessie and Rob had us over for dinner. They made the most amazing filets. Like buttah.

Seeing my brother always makes me smile, and throwing the races in is icing on the cake.

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Blind Side

I know. I know. You are all thinking that you can’t believe I’m doing a review on a book published 15 years ago. Or maybe you think I’m doing a movie review of a film older than many of my grandkids. Never fear. It’s football season and watching the games reminded me of the book I first read shortly after it was published. The Blind Side by Michael Lewis was one of my favorite books when I first read it, and I liked it just as well when I re-read it recently.

It’s complete title is The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. The game, of course, is professional football, and Lewis gives readers a lesson on how the game evolved from a mostly running game — power football, not that much different than traditional college football — to a the more finessed game that we watch every Sunday.

Everyone knows the story of Michael Oher, the homeless, nearly illiterate young man whom a wealthy, football-loving Memphis family took under their wing, giving him a fresh new life. The Blind Side movie will always be one of my favorite movies of all time. Two words: Sandra Bullock.

,Lewis’s book definitely uses Oher to demonstrate the real point of the book, which is how power football became the passing football we are all used to these days. And as the passing game increased in popularity, thanks largely to San Francisco 49ers Coach Bill Walsh and his then-renaissance “West Coast offense,” the game of professional football was permanently altered. He and Joe Montana changed the game of football.

Once the quarterback began dropping back to pass more frequently, having someone to protect the QB’s blind side — namely, the left tackle in most cases — he became the second most important player on the team as evidenced by salaries. What was a fairly nondescript position suddenly was critical to the game. Keeping the QB safe was top of everyone’s minds

Lewis is a wonderful writer, turning nonfiction into readable stories that are understandable to those unfamiliar with his topic, as evidenced by some of his other books such as Moneyball and The Big Short (both which interestly also became movies).

Just as I enjoyed the movie, I enjoyed the story of Michael Oher that was written within the pages of the book very much. But The Blind Side is so much more than the story of Oher. As much as I love football, so much about the game always has eluded me. Lewis’s descriptions of football plays and football players added texture and interest to this already readable book. And I learned so much about the game of football.

I can’t recommend it enough, especially for football fans.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Old School Italian
Up in the area west of downtown that used to be called North Denver, there is an old-school Italian restaurant that Bill and I love. It’s not the cool nuevo-old-school type restaurant that you see in hip urban areas. Lechuga’s has been around since 1961. Heck! It’s almost as old as me. Their specialty — or at least what Bill and I like best — is their little cannoli. They are small pieces of Italian sausage wrapped in home-baked bread with a pepper tucked into the bread. Depending on your tastes, it might be a sweet pepper or a jalapeno pepper. Yesterday mid-morning, I suddenly got an urge for their cannoli, with a side of spaghetti covered in their delicious sauce. I suggested to Bill that we made a field trip up to what is now called the Highlands and have lunch at Lechuga. We did just that, and the 25-minute drive each way was well worth the time it took. They’re still not serving inside (likely more because of lack of wait staff than COVID), but we ate on one of their patio picnic tables. The day was lovely, the sky was very blue, and our food was delicious.

It’s All Greek to Me
Last weekend was homecoming weekend at CSU. Bill and I drove to Fort Collins to see Maggie and her kids, who were visiting from AZ. We spent the night. The next morning, we met Addie and her parents and siblings at her sorority house — Kappa Delta. I think I’ve mentioned that Kappa Delta was the sorority to which I belonged. Despite the fact that I only participated fully in that sorority for a couple of years (I quit school for a bit, and when I returned, I was married), it is fun that she and I are sorority sisters. We attended a brunch at the sorority house, and then sent them all on their way to the game…..

It’s War!
If you have Dish Network as we do, you know by now that NBC and Dish are in a fight. I don’t know who is right or who is wrong, and frankly, I don’t care. But many of the programs I enjoy are on NBC (I’m looking at you Sunday Night Football), and now I can’t see them. My sister Jen is up in arms as well, and she signed up for a free trial week of Hula + Live, and she is able to watch NBC. I’m mad as a wet hen, and am seriously considering joining the in crowd and losing cable. We rarely watch anything on cable, but I want — no, NEED — to be able to watch Yellowstone on Paramount TV when it begins. I’m going to do some research so that I can tell Dish to ^*^%&&&^%$*$%#%$.

Packin’ Up
Bill and I have begun to start stacking things that we want to take with us on Tuesday when we fly to AZ for a month. We are trying to fit in last minute doctor appointments and sprinkler maintenance and such. Plus, my brother Dave is coming this weekend to visit his daughter Jessie, and we want to spend some time with him. We better get organized. As Peyton Manning would have said, “Hurry, hurry.”

Ciao.

Driving Me Mad

When we bought our CR-V in June, we made the decision to leave our Hyundai Sonata in Arizona and keep our new car in Denver. One car each place. Since we don’t do a whole lot of driving, it made sense. Thus far we’ve done fine with one car.

We ran into a glitch, however, this past July when we got notification of our license renewal for the Hyundai, and the emissions needed to be inspected and certified before the registration could be renewed. Short of jumping on a plane to pick up our car, we didn’t know how to achieve this goal.

“Never fear!” I told my husband. “We can’t be the first people to run into this situation. DMV will know how to handle this!”

While we may not be the only people with this situation, the employees of Denver DMV certainly don’t seem to know the answer. Well, that’s not exactly true. We’ve been to DMV three times, and gotten three different answers. I spent over two hours at the DMV office yesterday, and left, entirely frustrated with the most recent answer. I won’t go into details, but I’m considering driving the Sonata off of a cliff and starting over with a new car. Licensing a new car has to be easier for these people than trying to solve our issue.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. Today I’m writing about DMVs in general. I’m not saying anything that any United States human who has ever visited a motor vehicle department doesn’t already know. Purgatory seems friendlier and more accessible than a typical DMV office. Throw in COVID, and even hell starts to look good.

They lull you in with a friendly security guard, and that’s the last smile you’ll see for the next two hours. Since COVID reared its ugly head, customers are now not even allowed to go inside until there are only five people ahead of you. Neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night keeps DMV employees from making you wait outdoors. Actually, gloom of night does because they stop giving numbers an hour-and-a-half before closing time.

I had been there a full two hours (the last half hour inside the building), staring at the beige walls (there must be a Sherman-Williams color named DMV Blah Beige), when suddenly DMV staff began turning off their lights so that they could go to lunch. I have no problem with lunch breaks. I take one every day. But have they ever considered the idea of staggering the breaks? When all but one of the employees shut off their lights, there was a collective groan among the five of us who had come so close to the Holy Grail that we could nearly touch it.

When I finally got in front of a human, they began to tell me why nothing I say or do will work even before my problem could come out of my mouth. I’m not sure if she was cranky because she wasn’t one of the lucky ones to get lunch at 11:30, but she definitely wasn’t in a congenial mood. It is my hope that she leaves her conviviality for her family at home.

Trey Kennedy says it best in this funny, but oh-so-true video…..

Thin Air

I haven’t baked a decent chocolate chip cookie in 48 years.

When I was a child growing up in Columbus, one of my best friends’ housekeeper always kept their cookie jar full of cookies. We could stop over any time after school and there would be a cookie jar full of chocolate chip cookies. We could eat them until the jar was only a quarter full, and if we returned the next day, the jar would be full once again.

By the way, I recognize that I used the phrase “one of my best friends” and of course you can’t have several best friends. I had this conversation this weekend with Mylee, who told me she had three or four best friends. I tried to explain that, by definition, you can only have one best friend. She gave me a look just shy of disgust, and walked away. It is likely that she was thinking, “Well, Nana, perhaps YOU don’t have that many best friends. Your social calendar doesn’t seem to be full. Don’t lay that on ME because I have MANY.”

But back to the after-school chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were delicious. They were soft and full of gooey chocolatey goodness. I vowed at that point in my life that I would always have a jar full of chocolate chip cookies.

That promise to myself — not surprisingly — fell by the wayside. You might have noticed that I said that her HOUSEKEEPER kept the jar full. Well, I don’t have a housekeeper and I never did. What I did have for most of my life was a full-time job that precluded a great deal of baking.

Nevertheless, I gave it a try. Many tries, in fact. But my chocolate chip cookies were always flat and crunchy, though they, too, were full of chocolate chips. No one ever complained. Court never said, “Mom, thanks for the effort but your chocolate chip cookies continue to be epic fails.”

Despite the fact that my father was a professional baker and my mother was a tremendous home cook, most of what I learned and have carried into my dotage comes from my high school Home Economics teacher, Mrs. Eckert. I took Home Ec some 50 years ago, and I still do things the way she taught.

Yesterday morning I watched a video offered by Colorado State University Extension office on high-altitude baking. I learned quite a bit from the agent who was conducting the class. Most important, I realized that since moving to Colorado in 1974, I have neglected to compensate for the altitude while baking. As an aside, I also learned that there were no compensations for high altitude baking until 1950, when a woman CSU employee spent time in a cabin on Fall River Road outside of Estes Park with the sole purpose of testing recipes. She baked her ass off, keeping notes on what worked at the 11,000 foot level in which she currently resided compared to, say, New Jersey. It is entirely thanks to her that cake boxes now have the directions for high-altitude baking. Go C.S.U. Rams!

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve been making is not measuring my flour correctly. Mrs. Eckert told me to drag my cup into the flour and level it off with a knife. I have done exactly that for 50 years. HA! the extension agent told me. No wonder your cookies are flat. A cup of flour should weigh 4.25 ounces. Since the flour I have been scooping has been sitting in my canister, settling in, a cup likely weighs more than a cup of flour that has been spooned into the measuring cup.

She gave many suggestions, all of which I’m going to try. You’re not the boss of me Mrs. Eckert.

My brother told me that Dad had a heck of a time figuring out how to bake at Leadville’s 10,152 foot altitude when they bought the bakery in that mountain community. I don’t feel so bad. Less leavening agent and more liquid is the answer, according to CSU. Dave said Dad’s answer was mostly to add an extra egg. Same difference.

Be Not Afraid

I wonder what it would be like to live a fearless life? What would it feel like to challenge oneself to take brave steps in life instead of little tentative steps, fearing what’s around the corner.

I may never know the answer to this question, because I don’t know if I could teach myself to (as the Catholic hymn proudly states) “be not afraid.” I’ve gone through life mostly taking the safe road, the route with very few surprises. Bill and I traveled throughout much of western Europe in 2008 for three months, and that took every ounce of courage that I had. I am still proud of myself, and very happy that we took that risk.

I started thinking about a fearless life yesterday at Mass. We had a guest speaker, a Catholic Franciscan priest. The priests at the church of my formative years where I was baptized, took my first communion, and confessed that I got angry at my younger sister 27 times in the past week were Franciscan. I always have a feeling of familiarity when I see their brown robes tied with thick rope.

This particular Franciscan priest is also a missionary, a common calling for the priests of St. Francis of Assisi. He is located at a missionary in Montego Bay, Jamaica, a beach community on the north side of the island. Montego Bay is a tourist community, but the area in which this Franciscan community works is quite poor. That’s mostly how it goes in tourist areas, it seems to me. There are beautiful resorts, and very poor communities a stone’s throw away. And COVID made their situation much worse.

This priest told us that only 2 percent of the people in the area of Jamaica where his community works is Catholic. And yet, he said, almost all of the schools and food banks and counseling services and so forth are provided by their Catholic community. He wasn’t whining (well, he may have been whining a bit), but he was reminding all of us that despite all of the bad things that are said and believed about the Catholic Church, it does a large amount of missionary work and education and social service.

My takeaway was twofold: I want to send money to his community and to pray for all of those working tirelessly to help the poor. But I also wish that I would have had the courage to undertake some sort of missionary work in my youth.

I can’t even imagine it. I am a homebody. If I get a runny nose, I think it’s pneumonia. I like to go to my refrigerator at any point and grab a Diet Coke. It’s just not in me to be brave enough to live in an area with deep pockets of poverty and, well, maybe snakes and bugs that I don’t like.

Through their church youth group, some of my grandkids have done a considerable amount of missionary work, mostly in the United States. Maybe I will just have to be a strong advocate for them, and live my fearless life through them.

Saturday Smile: Homecoming

Bill and I drove up to Fort Collins yesterday to see our niece Maggie and her kids Austin and Lilly, who are visiting from AZ. It’s homecoming weekend at Colorado State University, so there was a lot of energy in the air. We even ran into a friend of ours — Jll’s sister Julie — as we ate lunch downtown. She is a CSU alum and was there for the big weekend. Later this morning we are having brunch with Addie at her new sorority house. Fun times that make me smile.

Have a great weekend!