My Writing Journey

When Bill and I took our three-month trip to Europe back in 2009, I wanted to find a way to communicate with my family and friends about our journey. My daughter-in-law Lauren was the one who suggested I start a blog. I seriously didn’t even know what that meant. She helped me get started, and the blog of our three months of travel — The Reluctant Traveler — was a surprising hit. In fact, it was not only read by our family and close friends, it was also read by people I barely knew who heard about it by word of mouth.

When we returned, a lot of folks encouraged me to continue to blog. About what? I would ask. My life is boring.

In fact, it was almost three years later that I finally embarked on Nana’s Whimsies. I took a couple of stabs at it. I tried Blogspot for a bit. I finally landed on WordPress, and have been blogging faithfully from August 14, 2013. For the most part, Monday through Saturday, I posted a blog. There were a few exceptions — vacations, trips to the hospital, family deaths — but I have been pretty darn faithful.

This past six months or so, I have found it more difficult to sit down every day and write a blog post. I love to write, and I think I am a I a reasonably good writer. I am also aware that for the past few months, my blog posts have been lacking in, well, oomph. Boring and redundant. Yuck.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the archives on my blog site and looked back at the posts in May 2014. I was looking for something specific, so I had reason to read all of the posts from that month. To my surprise, they were good. All of them. They were funny, and clever, and interesting. I made stories out of almost nothing, sort of like Seinfeld. Many people have been telling me over the years that they enjoy reading my blog. I have always been proud of that, but sort of bewildered. But for the first time, I could see what they liked. Perhaps I should have looked back more often.

While it made me proud, it also made me know that it is time that I give up writing a blog every day. My life has become encumbered with things like making a multitude of doctor appointments, managing Bill’s and my calendars, handling finances, making sure Bill is taking his medications, getting him to physical therapy. Bill’s Parkinson’s is progressing. The progression is not unexpected, but much more time consuming than I ever considered. When I sit down to write my blog, it is already late in the day and I’m seeing nothing but blurs.

I’m not giving it up entirely. Originally, as I thought about it, that was my plan. But when I told Bill what I was doing, I started to cry. I realized that blogging had become such an important part of my life. So I will blog when I think I have something to say. I hope that those of you who “follow” me will continue to do so. Perhaps after a short break, I will once again find my mojo.

Let’s face it anyway: blogging is Old School. And I’m not going to start Instastories any time soon, even if Lauren tells me I should.

Thank you to all of my loyal readers. I hope I haven’t let you down.

Cooking All Day, Redux

The past 10 years, I have prepared Easter dinner for our AZ family. Typically, we have still been in the Valley of the Sun for Easter. This year we are back in Colorado. I am once again cooking Easter dinner, but for a smaller group. Nevertheless, the post below, though several years old, still rings true.

Easter Sunday looms in the very near future, and that means a week of food preparation. Oh, and a celebration of the resurrection of our Lord, which often gets lost in the talk about ham and Easter bunnies.

This year, I am cooking Easter dinner for much of our Arizona family, but the meal will be served at the house of my brother and sister-in-law. You might recall that Sami broke her back just over a month ago, and while she’s doing remarkably well, she isn’t quite ready to prepare a big holiday dinner, or, frankly, even withstand the rigors of a holiday dinner at someone else’s house. Our answer is to provide her the comfort of her own home, but not require her to slaughter the fatted calf herself. I will do the slaughtering as it were, with help from others.

Yesterday morning I did my first last shop at Walmart, where, to my surprise, I was able to get most everything I needed except for Gruyere cheese for the cheesy scalloped potatoes. I will purchase the cheese when I do my second or third last shop somewhere that isn’t Walmart.

As I started planning out my week (just which day do I make my lemon pie and how long should I marinate my leg of lamb) I recalled an article I came across entitled 10 Tips for Cooking All Day Without Making a Mess. You know that I didn’t write the article, because if I did, it would be entitled 10 Tips for Cooking All Day and Making Such a Mess That You Can’t Even Find the First Thing You Cooked But It’s Probably Under the Soggy Lettuce Leaves.

Here are their suggestions….

  1. Start with a clean kitchen. So I’m in trouble right off the bat, because my kitchen is never really clean. There are either dirty dishes sitting on the counter or clean dishes draining in the sink that have not yet been (nor will probably ever be) put away. There is maybe a window of seven minutes in the evening when I have loaded the dishwasher with our dinner dishes that I would consider my kitchen to be clean, but by that time I’m looking longingly at my jammies.
  2. 2Make a game plan before you start. Another fly ball. No game plan. I have been known to start preparation for a cake only to realize that I have no eggs. As for a recipe, if I haven’t pinned it on Pinterest, I’m unlikely to ever locate it.
  3. Use the right tools for the job. I almost have this one nailed. I have a tool for nearly every job you could possibly think of. I just don’t know where it is.
  4. Get canisters that are big enough to fit your measuring cups. Boom. A home run. My measuring cups all fit in my canisters. Of course, the measuring cup I covet is the one used by Ree Drummond on her Food Network television shoe that is a two-cup measuring cup which would fit in exactly none of my canisters. I actually have one sitting in my cart on Amazon just waiting for me to justify it in some way and therefore hit the purchase-this-with-one-click button. I’ve come thiiiiiiiiis close.
  5. Measure over the sink. This is a good tip, something it never occurred to me to do. Since reading it, I do it and it results in fairly easy cleanup. This is a good thing as I always, ALWAYS spill my flour all over my counter.
  6. Use a plate as a giant spoon rest. I can’t. They’re all in the dishwasher or stacked up in the sink.
  7. Make friends with aluminum foil. Oh man, Mr. Aluminum Foil is my besty. That, and Mrs. Parchment Paper, both of which I carefully crinkle up and throw away and give a passing thought to not even washing the pan. I mostly do wash it. Did I say that too quickly?
  8. Get rid of food scraps. You know, I find Rachael Ray to be one of the most annoying people on television (is she still on television?). Don’t call olive oil EVOO and don’t call thick soup stoup. It’s irritating. But while on the surface, her idea of having a garbage bowl seems dumb, it actually works really well for someone like me, who finds opening up the cupboard and throwing things in the garbage to be too much work. I mean, seriously? I can’t even write those words with a straight face. But reality is reality. Having a bowl in which to place all of my various scraps and other garbage as I’m cooking works really well for me.
  9. Tidy up as you go. Nope.
  10. Schedule cleaning breaks. Nope to the second power.

And so, this holiday, like last, will remain disorganized, but we will muster through. At the end of the day we will all have full stomachs and will be able to rest in the knowledge that even if my kitchen is dirty, I have still been saved through our Lord’s death and resurrection.

Hunker Down

This past Saturday, 12-year-old Mylee and 8-year-old Cole visited us. I’m not certain whether they yearn to spend time with us, or just like the Wind Crest swimming pool, but it doesn’t matter. I count my blessings every time I get to spend quality time with any of my grandkids.

We played in the pool for a couple of hours. They reluctantly got out when I requested that they needed to dry off a bit so that they weren’t dripping during the walk back to our apartment. As a consolation prize, I promised we would stop at the cafe we would be passing and I would buy them each a cookie.

As we headed from the pool to the elevators, we passed a little library area. People have donated books, puzzles, and games, and residents are allowed to borrow them on the honor system. After all, if you can’t trust Q-Tipped Baby Boomers, who can you trust?

“Nana, you know what Wind Crest reminds me of? Mylee asked me, looking around. I said I couldn’t imagine. And I really couldn’t, because she answered, “It reminds me of an apocalyptic bunker.” I looked at her, and she was deadly serious. See above: she’s 12.

After I had stopped laughing, I asked her why it reminds her of an apocalyptic bunker.

“Because it’s got everything here and you never have to go outside,” she replied.

One of the things I like best about Wind Crest is that we have everything here and we never have to go outside. Of course, if the weather is nice, we like going outside; however, if the weather is unpleasant, it’s nice to know we can easily get from Point A to Point B. We can walk to restaurants, church, a movie theater, classrooms, pool halls, swimming pools, fitness rooms, without ever having to brave the elements. You know, like an apocalypse.

I will admit that in all of my descriptions about life at WC, I have never once referred to it as an apocalyptic bunker. However, I will never again tell anyone about our life here without that reference. As awful as the words sound, it really is the most reliable and accurate description of senior living at Wind Crest.

I’m not sure, however, that I would put it in any marketing material.

Friday Book Whimsy: These Is My Words

Tuesday was my second meeting of the Happy Bookers Book Club at Wind Crest. Just like the first time I attended, I enjoy our discussion so much. Every one of the women loved the book we read, which was These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, by Nancy E. Turner. It was the third time I’ve read the book, and I liked it just as much as I did the first time. Following is a review I did of the book back in 2020, and my feelings haven’t changed

I love books that take place during the days of the pioneers. Oh, I know. We aren’t supposed to like pioneers any more. I can’t help it. I find that period fascinating. I had an unusual break between books that have been pouring in from the library as of late. I took the opportunity to reread a book that I read many moons ago, and really enjoyed: These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, by Nancy E. Turner.

One of the reasons I enjoyed the book the first time — and again this time — is because it takes place in the Arizona Territory in the late 1880s. Since I am a part-time resident of Arizona, I am particularly interested how that uniquely-western state was founded.

The book is unusual in that it is written entirely as a journal. The journal’s author is young Sarah Prine, who documents her family’s travels from their original home in the northwest United States to the Arizona Territory. Land was available at a cheap rate for those brave enough to face the obvious dangers and willing to work hard.

In addition, the diary continues after they have settled and become successful ranchers. Their imminent success didn’t come easy, and the tales she tells of Indian attacks and robbers and rattlesnakes and birthing children in the wilderness are as interesting as they are horrifying. I enjoyed every word of the book.

The author goes on to write two more novels, making the books a trilogy. Sarah’s Quilt and The Star Garden are equally good, at least as I remember.

The books make me glad I live in the 21st Century, even with a pandemic.

Here is a link to the book.

No Neighbor Problems, Redux

Originally posted March 6, 2018

To get to Lincoln, Nebraska, from my home town of Columbus, you drive south out of town on state highway 81; 81 ends as it meets state highway 92 just east of Osceola; you turn east on state highway 92 until you get to David City; you then turn south on state highway 15 until you get to Seward, where you then make your way into Lincoln.

At least that’s how I remember it.

Somewhere before you get to Seward, there was a small two-lane road that signage told us would take you into the town of Bee, Nebraska if you turned left. Population 156. I made the drive between Columbus and Lincoln about a million times because I attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and, unlike most of my friends, I was a homesick freshman. So I would catch a ride any weekend in which someone I knew was going home.

My confession of homesickness relates to my story only because as I would drive (or ride, as the case may be) to and fro so often, I would pass that sign for Bee, population 156, and wonder what it was like to live in a town of 156 people. Keep in mind, I didn’t live in a huge metro area; however, my home town had in the neighborhood of 10,000 people at the time, and that felt perfect to me. We had three or four grocery stores, many churches, a city park, a thriving downtown WITH A BAKERY, three high schools (two public and one Catholic), and plenty of places to eat (though no fast food joints when I lived there). We even had a community college.

I’m guessing Bee maybe had a few small homes, a gas station, a post office in need of paint, a teeny-tiny food market, and a bar. Always a bar.

I remember always thinking that I would be comfortable living in a small town. On the other hand, Bec couldn’t wait until she got to a city where everybody DIDN’T know your name. She has told me that even as a small girl, she imagined living in a city the size of Washington, D.C. And she, of course, actually has lived in not just that city, but other cities for most of her adult life.

But not me. To this day, I will imagine how lovely it would be to live in a little village the size of the fictional Mitford, NC. And then I have to remind myself that while Mitford has a wonderful food market with anything Father Tim needs to make a gourmet meal, in real life that same market would have canned goods, snacking chips, a small variety of meat, beer and pop, and sad looking fruit. There would be no multi-plex movie theaters, no pho (unless you lived in a village in Vietnam), and no liquor store with an enviable wine selection. The hardware store would be the only place to buy ladies’ underwear and toothbrushes.

Recently a friend of mine posted a story on Facebook about a very real town on the north border of Nebraska called Monowi. In Nebraska, the town/city boundary signs list the name of the town/city and its population. As of this photo, you can see that Monowi had 2 residents…..

According to the story published by the BBC, there remains only one – 84-year-old Elsie Eiler. Since the photo was taken, her husband Rudy died. She is the only remaining permanent resident, though the tavern seems to attract a bit of a crowd. According to Elsie herself, she “pays taxes to herself, grants her own liquor license, and is the only remaining resident.”

She goes on to say, “When I apply to the state for my liquor and tobacco licenses each year, they send them to the secretary of the village, which is me. So I get them as the secretary, sign them as the clerk and give them to myself as the bar owner.”

The story is worth the effort it would take to click on the link, if only for the photography.

By the way, I checked the population of Bee, Nebraska. It had 191 people in the 2010 Census. A population boom from the days when I drove past the sign, wondering who could possibly live in Bee, Nebraska. Perhaps it’s on its way from a village to a township. Maybe it will even be on the map someday. Go Bee.

Freak Show

Yesterday I attended the monthly meeting of the book club about which I have written before. The club consists of seven or eight very intelligent women who love to read and take the discussion very seriously. The book we discussed is one that I have read three times now, a wonderful novel called These is My Words, by Nancy E. Turner. The novel is about a young woman who travels in the mid-19th century with her family from the New Mexico Territory to Texas, and then back to the Arizona Territory where they settle.

Prior to the meeting, we were asked to bring any stories we had about our family histories, particularly if any history included tales about traveling across the country to settle in a completely new place. There were some fascinating stories about ancestors who lived through the Dust Bowl or who spent their formative years living in a sod house in western Nebraska.

One of the more interesting stories was from a woman who heralded from Indiana. One of her great uncles — a man she never knew — was over seven feet tall and weighed over 500 pounds. Originally, he was a farmer. He was spotted by either Barnum or Bailey and invited to join the circus as the Tall Man. He did so, and spent the rest of his days as a member of what was then called the freak show. She passed around a photo of her great uncle standing next to Mrs. Tom Thumb, the little woman who was married to the famous Tom Thumb, also of Barnum and Bailey fame.

While her story was probably the most unique, there was a consistent theme running through the histories these women shared of their ancestors. Life was HARD. But no one complained. Everyone did what they needed to do to rear their children and make a living. We all agreed that we don’t think we could manage as successfully as our ancestors.

I thought about that as I walked back to our apartment. It’s true that if you took any one of us our of our current life and plopped us into 1880 Arizona Territory, we wouldn’t make it past the first scorpion sighting. But those men and women didn’t live the pampered lives with which we are blessed. If they were from farming stock, they likely worked the farm in some capacity from the time they could walk. Families were often very large, and imagine the number of cloth diapers that were being washed and hung to dry because NO ELECTRIC WASHER AND DRYER. My mother always said her family didn’t suffer as much as others during the Great Depression because they lived on a farm and could survive on what they grew. Still, imagine the look on my face when my mother would put down a sandwich made from homemade white bread and a fresh tomato. It sounds good once in a while on a hot day, but about the fifth day that it was handed to me, I would likely throw a fit.

Our ancestors didn’t throw fits. They did what they needed to do to survive.

It’s easy to take our lives for granted, isn’t it?

Curly Toes

I was chatting with someone recently, and somehow the conversation turned to this question: what are the things at which you are particularly skilled. Do you have any special talents, she asked me.

We are always hardest on ourselves, aren’t we? At least that is true of me. Because, try as I might, I wasn’t really able to think of a particular skill at which I excelled. Still, I’ve made it to 69 years old. I had a pretty decent job. I am happily married. I have a son who is not only NOT an ax murderer, but is a successful husband and father, and an excellent and hard worker. My grandkids seem to be fond of me.

Still, those aren’t skills.

I can’t juggle. I’m unable to perform magic tricks. I’ve never driven NASCAR. I can’t play tennis, golf, or even pickle ball.

And then it hit me. I remembered a fairly unique skill that I at least used to have.

I have always preferred being barefoot. My grandmother would have attested to that based on me removing my shoes and forgetting them when she walked me down to the dime store to buy me a toy when I was 5 years old. We were all the way back home before she realized that I was no longer wearing my Keds.

To this day, the first thing I do when I get home is take off my shoes. I’ve even gotten to the point where I do the same thing when we are in AZ despite the danger of stepping on a scorpion. That, of course, is only because as long as I’ve enjoyed AZ — both visiting and owning a house — I’ve only seen one scorpion. That’s few enough to make me lax.

As a child, I think my mother made me wear flip flops in the summer when I was playing outside. But winter or summer, when I was in the house, I was barefootin’.

What does this have to do with a potential unique skill? Simple. I was able to pick up a can of soup (or a can of anything) using my toes. Seriously, it was quite impressive. I was able to curl my toes around the edge of a can of anything and lift it up onto a counter.

Admitting this so-called skill begs two questions: 1) How did I learn that I had this particular ability; and 2) Did this skill improve my — or anyone else’s — life?

The answer, of course, is no. Now, you have heard about people who have lost — never had — use of their arms, and have the ability to use their feet in ways very similar to hands. They can type. They can drive. They can cook. They probably can pick up cans from the floor using only their toes.

My ability to pick up cans in this manner did absolutely nothing to make my life easier, besides not having to bend over to pick up a can of Campbell’s tomato soup should it drop on the ground. But none of my siblings could do this, and that made it unique only to me.

I have no idea if I would still be able to pick up a can using my toes, and I have no interest in trying. If I had to guess, I would think that my skill was enhanced by the fact that my feet were those of a child. My toes are much larger than they were when I was 10. Nevertheless, I prefer to think that I still have this skill, and hope it comes in handy at some point in the rest of my life.

Who Is Neil Armstrong?

This past Saturday evening, following Mass, Bill and I went to one of the WC restaurants for dinner. Seated next to us was a group of four people — two elderly couples — who had also just come from the Catholic Mass. I hate to admit to eavesdropping, but what can I say? The tables were close together.

Anyhoo, one of the fellows told the other couple this story: “I have sisters who are identical triplets. One of my sisters had a child out of wedlock. She gave the baby girl up for adoption. The other day, we were watching Jeopardy! and she was one of the contestants.”

The woman from the other couple’s response?

“I like Jeopardy!” she said, enthusiastically.

I could hardly keep from laughing. There is an old saying that you buried the lede. In this case, he gave the lede — in fact, many ledes, right up front. He had sisters who were identical sisters in the days before multiple births were commonplace. He had a sister who had a child outside of marriage some 50 years ago when that still made people gasp. She gave the baby up for adoption, something that was probably heartbreaking for the sister. Finally, unexpectedly, said baby — now an adult — surprisingly shows up on a popular television show.

None of those facts, however, made the people look up from their chicken pot pies in shock. Their only takeaway was that he spoke about a TV show that they all watch as they drink their Manhattans in front of the television while digesting their 4:30 meal.

The rest of the conversation — at least the part that I heard prior to convincing myself that my mother was right and one should not eavesdrop — was about how they can never get all of the answers to the Jeopardy, even when it’s a subject about which they know a lot. They all felt that they would be too nervous.

I wonder if the contestant who was the babe born of a young girl, one of triplets, and brought up by adoptive parents would have been nervous knowing that her blood uncle was watching her from afar. She may have had a feeling, because after all of their exclamations about the joys of Jeopardy, he admitted that his estranged niece didn’t do all that well on the game show.

I guess after living through wars and assassinations and seeing men walking on the moon, and all manner of life-changing history, it’s nice just to concentrate on questions like This man was the first human to walk on the moon, and know the answer is who is Neil Armstrong.

Saturday Smile: Sacrifice

We had dinner last night with our son Court and his family at a restaurant in the Highlands Ranch town center not far from our apartment. It is one of our favorite restaurants, and we had just as much fun as we could possibly have. In addition to just seeing each other after our return to Denver, we also gathered to celebrate Alyx’s birthday.

Bill knows how to celebrate birthdays. That is the reason that he ordered three — count ’em — three desserts. Each of the grands also ordered something, so there were plenty of sweets to go around — everything from bread pudding to bundt cakes.

Is this a Lenten sacrifice? Well, we didn’t eat meat….

Have a great weekend.

Friday Thoughts

Moving from one state to another apparently makes me lose complete track of time. I normally do Thoughts on Thursday, but instead I whined about losing my car keys. So you are blessed with my thoughts today instead of a book review.

Brown Boxes
Yesterday afternoon, the two boxes we shipped from our AZ home arrived. Rather than trying to bring some of our electronic equipment on the airplane, we thought it made more sense to send it UPS. Bill also included a bunch of his clothes and shoes. I held out some hope that the missing key fob for the Honda might be in one of his pants pockets. It wasn’t. We aren’t giving up looking for the little son of a gun, but I’m sure glad we found the spare key. It was nice to have the chance to drive to Trader Joe’s yesterday morning and stock up on necessities like toffee candy and chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches. Oh, and some flowers to make me think it’s spring despite the chilly temperatures.

I started watching Daisy Jones and the Six on Prime earlier this week, and I’m totally hooked. It was one of my favorite books of whatever year it was that it came out. Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of my favorite authors. Her books are always written in an unusual format. Daisy Jones was written like an oral history, and I wasn’t sure how they were going to carry that out. I think they have done a great job. Two more episodes to go.

We Are Family
Though we arrived back here on Tuesday, we have yet to see any of our family. That will change this weekend. Breakfast with the McLains and dinner with the Zierks. It can’t happen too soon, because I’m in desperate need for some hugs.

Last night Bill and I went to one of the Wind Crest restaurants that we haven’t visited often. Only twice, in fact. Our meal was phenominal. I had sauteed trout with chimichurri sauce and Bill had a filet mignon. We both had creme brule for dessert. It’s so nice to not have to cook or clean up afterwards. Best of all, when we scraped the last of our creme brule out of the bowl, we didn’t have to wait for the check. We just got up and walked back to our apartment.