Saturday Smile: The Sunny Side of Life

In a period that was sort of sad for Bill and me following the death of his mother, the grandkids once again provided necessary smiles.

We hadn’t even gotten home from Chicago when this photo arrived in my inbox with the message Guess who got her braces off?…..

The answer, of course, is Kaiya. Since she is only 8, I’m sure the braces were only preliminary, since orthodontists have figured out that if they can convince parents that kids should have braces twice instead of once, they could take more vacations. But isn’t she pretty? And proud. And happy, because now she can drink root beer.

The night of Wilma’s funeral, the family gathered at a restaurant. The adults liked chatting with family members they hadn’t seen for a while, but it was kind of boring for the kids. Joseph and Micah, however, were able to keep themselves occupied and content for quite some time, perhaps enjoying some quiet time away from cousins — and each other….

We stayed at a hotel that served a free breakfast each morning. Alastair came down the first morning, hair quite askew, and made his version of the perfect waffle — no butter, no syrup, lots of whipped cream….

I couldn’t stop myself from taking a picture of Micah’s fully little-boy knees, all scraped up….

Last but most assuredly not least, Miss Dagny shows off her beekeeper’s attire as she and her family embark upon a beekeeping adventure. They have the clothes; they have prepared a spot in the back yard; now they just are awaiting the bees. A lot of cuteness underneath the protective gear…..

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Hundred-Foot Journey

I’m a big fan of books that deal with food and cooking. Think Julie and Julia, which remains one of my favorite books (and movies, for that matter) of all time. So despite never having seen the movie, I was excited to read The Hundred-Foot Journey, a novel by Richard C. Marais.

But despite my eagerness, I have to admit that I was disappointed.

The novel actually is two stories. The first part of the book tells the story of the Haji family, Muslims who operate a restaurant in pre-World War II Bombay, India. Young Hassan watches his exuberant and frankly, almost overbearing father and gentle, food-loving mother as they take over the restaurant from his grandfather. Hassan grows up smelling the aromas of cumin and turmeric and curry, and learns to cook by watching the family. Eventually, tragedy strikes, and the family is forced to leave Bombay and move elsewhere with some unexpected money.

They first land in England, but that never quite pans out. Eventually, the Haji family’s truck breaks down in a small French village called Lumiere, and Mr. Haji decides that destiny mandates Lumiere is where they stay. He opens up an inexpensive Indian restaurant across the street from a restaurant operated by a well-renowned Michelin two-starred chef. But Madame Mallory will not have it, doing everything in her power to run the Haji family out of town. She becomes particularly enraged when she discovered that young Hussan has a perfect palate.

Once again, tragedy strikes, and Madame Mallory ends up taking the young man under her wing and teaching her everything she knows about cooking.

And then we move on to the second story, which I found, frankly, boring. Haji cooks at a variety of restaurants until he finally opens his own in Paris. He has a series of love affairs which never really amount to anything. There is only a vague tie-in with the previous part of the novel.

One of the main problems that I saw was that the food part of the novel – always my favorite – simply didn’t grab me. Generally when I’m reading a novel dealing with food, I begin yearning for the food being described. It’s true that at the beginning of the book, I craved Indian food. But in the second half of the book, the food descriptions simply didn’t connect with me. There was not much description of the cooking or the enjoyment of the meals. The author simply told us that Hassan made this or that. Boring.

Personally, I would have liked to see either an emphasis on the relationship between Madame Mallory and Hassan, or a more interesting story of Hassan’s time in Paris. The two stories simply seemed disjointed to me.

The book isn’t awful, but I couldn’t overwhelmingly recommend it either.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Happy Memories
Yesterday was my dad’s birthday. He would have been 91 years old. He passed away in 2010, but I never fail to think of him on his birthday, in the same way I think of my mom every September 16. Sometime about mid-afternoon, I got a text from my brother, saying Happy birthday Dad. I wrote yesterday about Bill’s father, but today I tell you all that I had a very good man for a father too. I hope our kids will say the same sorts of things about Bill and me when we’re long gone. I’m pretty sure that today was my paternal grandfather’s birthday. Funny how I remember that, and he’s been gone for 40-some years. And yet, I can’t remember where I’ve left my telephone most of the time.

T-Mobile, Can You Hear Me Now?
And speaking of my telephone, when I purchased my new iPhone awhile back, I did so on the installment plan from T-Mobile in which they simply add the cost of the phone to our regular bill monthly until it’s paid off. Up until then, T-Mobile was one of the bills my husband paid. He would get an email from T-Mobile and act accordingly. But when I bought my telephone, I told Bill I would be happy to just take over that entire bill, including my telephone, and he agreed. Our thought was we would just change the email address so that I would get the bill instead of him. Easy peasy, right? Except, not. First of all, when we suggested that to the telephone salesperson (who was probably 20 years old), he looked like a deer in the headlights. “Um, um, um, I can’t do that here,” he stammered. “You need to talk to Payment Services.”  Which would be fine, except we can’t find payment services. So Bill went online and found a link to an account representative you could talk to online. He did, and explained that he would like to change the email address of the person paying the bill. We worked with her all afternoon, I kid you not, but finally had a vague thought that we might have gotten through to her. But no, because the next month Bill once again got the email. He forwarded it to me, and I paid the bill, hoping, but certainly not confident, that the next month it would come to me. Nope. I finally told Bill, just forward the bill to me each month and let’s not worry any more. So Bill got the bill yesterday, and for inexplicable reasons, it was only half of what it had been.  He spent his afternoon trying to get it worked out, and believes he has, but I’m not confident.

Hot Stuff
The temperatures are starting to warm up here in AZ. This past week, the highs have hovered very near 100, though as of yet, it hasn’t reached three digits. I guess it’s time to get out of Dodge, as they say.

For the past few months, Bill has been experiencing a lot of hip pain, and I finally talked him into seeing a doctor. They did an x-ray, and not surprisingly, there was evidence of some bone degeneration in his back. My guess is if you shot an x-ray of every single person over the age of 60 here in the Valley of the Sun, most would show degeneration. Still, the day that he went to his first physical therapy appointment, I was somewhat amused to see that every person in the office was around Bill’s age…..

I was further amused when one of the fellows said to the guy sitting next to him, “I wonder which part of my body I should have them work on today?” It came as no surprise that the background music was Frank Sinatra.

Pretty Flowers
And finally, as every spring when the cactus bloom, here is a photo of our beautiful prickly pear cactus showing off its color. I’m always sad that my sister Jen isn’t here to see it…..

And a few years back, Bill planted what was called a hibiscus tree, which purported to be an annual, but the fact of the matter is that it has bloomed every year since. This year it is especially pretty….


What Nots

I never really got the opportunity to get to know Bill’s dad, Rex. By the time we first met, he was in early-to-middlin’ stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and as is common with that awful illness, it went steadily downhill from there. We met, but he likely didn’t really know who I was or where I fit in.

An old family photo that shows Bill standing just in front of his father.

But for the entire time I have known Bill, I have heard the stories – legends, really – about William Rex McLain. Enough stories that I feel as though I know the man fairly well. He was born on a farm in rural North Carolina, the youngest son (third youngest child if I read the faded handwriting in the family bible correctly) of 11, many of whom had good Southern Baptist names like Jehue and Isaac and Eula Mae. This boy, who grew up working the farm somehow made it to North Carolina State, where he majored in Engineering, and eventually earned a master’s degree from Ohio State.

He was a smart man, and worked in upper management for 40 years at U.S. Steel in Chicago. But most of the stories Bill tells of his father aren’t about his work at the steel mill, but about his work at home – both the physical work around the house, but also the work of bringing up four rambunctious kids and teaching them to be honest and hardworking.

He could – and did – fix just about anything. Anyone who knows Bill and is reading those words is now thinking, hmmm, that sounds familiar. And it’s true, because Bill will tell you himself that everything he learned to do around the house, he learned from his dad. Occasionally, when I will suggest a shortcut to a project (because you can imagine just how much I know about fixing things), Bill will look at me and say patiently for the 50th time, “My dad always said if you’re going to do something, do it right.”

In those days, at least in the Wilma and Rex household, you didn’t throw things away when they broke. You fixed them. For example, Wilma and Rex received a toaster as a wedding gift in 1940. When Wilma moved into Smith Crossing some 60 years later, she packed up the toaster and brought it along because it still worked. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It hadn’t worked perfectly for 60 years without fail; however, when it would break, Rex would fix it. Her kids finally talked her into throwing it away when it broke and Rex was no longer around to fix it, somewhere in the neighborhood of 2006.

Wilma cared for Rex at home for as long as she possibly could. One day he fell in their home and she was unable to lift him, so she called 911. The firefighters came and helped him back into his chair, and he was luckily unhurt. Still, at that point they sternly told her she needed to put him someplace where he could be cared for, and the family strongly concurred. So he was moved to a nursing home, where he died not too long after.

Not surprisingly, Wilma visited him daily, providing him comfort and bringing him foods he liked and making him laugh if she could. She would take his clothes home at night, and wash them. One of my favorite stories about Rex is that she would frequently find nuts and bolts and hardware and pieces of the windows or the shutters in his pocket. The reason that story pleases me so much is that somewhere deep in the recesses of that mind that couldn’t even remember the name of his wife of more than 50 years, he remembered that he fixed things.

This a long-winded lead-in to a simple story that I want to tell you.

When we were at Wilma’s apartment the day that the movers were going to come and pack up everything to send to Bill’s sister Kathy to sort and disperse, Bill’s brother Bruce suggested we walk through and see if there is anything we would like to take. Wilma had very nice things, and I’m so grateful that she gave me many lovely gifts over the years. But she still had Royal Doulton porcelain pieces and Lladro porcelain pieces and some Tiffany glass. She had some very nice art prints that she had collected over the years. But when it came time to select items belonging to Mom/Grandma/Great Grandma, Bill and his kids chose things like a fork and knife that she had used to cook bacon…..

…..and pieces of costume jewelry that Wilma had collected over the years…..

….and a needlepoint refrigerator magnet that says Jesus if you look at it correctly, and gibberish if you don’t.

But the thing that made me smile was the single item Alastair selected from his great grandmother’s house…..

…..a wrench that had originally belonged to his great-grandfather – or hell, maybe even his great-great-grandfather.

Guess that fix-it gene runs through the family. I may call Alastair if our washing machine starts acting up.

This post connected to Grammy’s Grid.

Fare Thee Well

Funerals are funny. Not ha-ha funny, of course. Strange funny. Laughter and tears make strange bedfellows.

I remember when my mother passed away 20 years ago. She was in the hospital in Fort Collins, and the powers-that-be provided the family a private room to congregate that was just down the hall from the room in which my mother stayed and eventually died. All four of the siblings were there, and so, of course, was my dad. We would all come and go from that room, maybe going to spend a little time with Mom or visiting the bathroom or grabbing a cup of coffee at the cafeteria. But what I mostly recall is that we told stories about Mom and laughed and cried and hugged and held hands. A plethora of emotions, just as it’s supposed to happen.

That’s what I witnessed this past week as family gathered to send Bill’s mother Wilma on her way to heaven. She will make a beeline there, no doubt about it. Do not pass GO; do not collect $200.

Bill’s family is spread out and no one lives in Chicago. Birmingham, AL; Winston-Salem, NC; Kinnelon, NJ; and of course Denver/Mesa. Grandkids are even more spread out than that. So they aren’t able to gather often – the occasional wedding, a vacation or two. Once in a while, one of the siblings’ trip to visit Wilma would overlap for a day or two with another’s. That was about it.

Bill and his siblings.

So while there were plenty of tears (and likely even more than this blogger knows about since I wasn’t involved in some of the private time they spent with their mother), there was also plenty of laughter. All but one of Wilma’s grandchildren were present, and each one had a different and funny story about their grandmother. While the stories were varied, the sentiments were all the same. Grandma was funny and smart and loving and would be missed. My personal favorite was that the chocolate-loving Wilma would give the visiting grandkids M&Ms every morning with a wink, and tell them, “Here’s your vitamins.”

Some of Wilma’s grandkids.

It’s funny (again, not ha-ha funny) to live to be just three months shy of 100 years old. You know why? You outlive so many of the people you loved. While there were people at the funeral from the senior residence where she lived, only one of her four best friends from Smith Crossing is still alive.

Wilma and her friend Margaret on Wilma’s 98th birthday.

Her husband has been dead for 15 years, all of her sisters are gone as well. People she shared her life with, raised her children with, attended neighborhood parties with, all gone. It’s the natural order of life, but I imagine there is going to be some kind of party in heaven once St. Peter has her all settled into her heavenly home.

As for Bill and me, we had the opportunity to see most of our grandkids, all of whom loved their Great-Grandma Wilma. In celebration of her life, the first night we gathered, we went to a neighborhood ice cream place and had treats in her honor. Wilma would have approved.

Now we are all back to our real lives and Wilma’s in heaven with her friends and family. I’m happy that she is no longer in pain, but I will admit that the world will be a bit emptier place without her in it.

The Accidental Tourists

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” – Albert Einstein

I’m pretty sure the airlines – particularly Spirit Airlines – are about to remove Bill and me from their approved fliers list, if in fact they have such a list. Because this is the second time in only a few months that Bill and I erred – FLUBBED, really – when trying to simply fly from Point A to Point B. Last time it was Denver to Phoenix; this time it was Chicago to Phoenix.  You can read about our earlier debacle here.

As you may know, we made fairly last-minute travel plans to fly to Chicago for the funeral of Bill’s mother – who was, as the minister pointed out, 99.9 years old. We left the return date open-ended because at the time we made the reservation, she was still living. She subsequently passed away before we got to Chicago.

Once we arrived, we hit the ground running – connecting up with Bill’s siblings, who all live far apart and don’t see each other often, as well as our own children and grandchildren, most of who came to the funeral as well. In addition, Bill and his siblings needed to meet with the minister and the funeral home folks, arrange a dinner after the funeral, figure out what flowers were needed and what they should look like, determine what music Wilma would have selected as she was a music-lover and had been a long-time member of the choir at Morgan Park Baptist Church. You’ve got to get all of those details right so that your deceased loved one doesn’t come back and haunt you.

In the midst of all the chaos of the week, Bill realized we needed to get a return flight home. He began making the arrangements, intermittently between ordering flowers, selecting photos for the slide show, and comforting our grandkids who were sad that their great grandmother wasn’t sitting in the chair where she always sat.

At some point the day of the funeral, Bill told me we had reservations to fly back to Phoenix on Saturday morning at 8:46. Perfect, I thought, and then never gave it a single other thought.

So the week went by, and people began leaving little by little, until Friday, when it was just Bill and me and Bill’s brother Bruce. We enjoyed our day together……

and had a wonderful dinner that night…..

After our dinner, we finished our packing, and then set our alarm for 5:30 that we would have plenty of time to drive to O’Hare Airport, turn in our rental car, check our ENORMOUS suitcase at Spirit, go through security, and maybe still have time to grab a bite to eat before we got on the plane.

And that’s how it all went down – just as we planned. Until we went to the Spirit gate to check our suitcase.  (Did I mention that it was ENORMOUS?)

Back when we were on our big European Adventure in 2008, we once got on the wrong train. The conductor looked at the tickets Bill handed him, and got truly the SADDEST look on his face. “This train no go to Padua,” he told us, much to our chagrin. It all worked out.

But I was reminded of that because the man at the Spirit gate weighed our ENORMOUS suitcase, and then looked at our boarding passes, and got the SADDEST look on his face.

“These tickets are for a flight that leaves at 8:46 this evening,” he told us. “Spirit doesn’t have any flights to Chicago during the day.”

In the words of the Jetson’s dog Astro, ruh-roh.

“Can we at least check our bag?” Bill asked hopefully, and was crestfallen when the answer was a sound no. The earliest they could accept our bag was three hours before the flight.  Eleven hours from that moment. Another example that the terrorists are winning.

After we pulled ourselves together, we learned these facts: 1) There are no storage lockers in airports any longer because, see above. The terrorists. 2) O’Hare Airport is perhaps the single international airport that has absolutely no restaurants outside of security. None. 3) After frantic googling, we learned that there is a Hilton Hotel attached to the airport that will allow you – for a steep price – to rent a room for eight or nine hours, even if you are not a prostitute. Which is what we did, because we had no other options because of our ENORMOUS suitcase.

We killed time at the Hilton Hotel, using every single item we could, and taking what we couldn’t, from our hotel room. We took showers; we took a nap; we used as many towels as we could. We took little bottles of shampoo and conditioner and tiny paper tablets and cheap pens. The only thing we didn’t do – which we would have been allowed to do – was use the fitness center. What, do you think we’re nuts?

At the end of the day, I texted my sisters this message: Hotel room = $150; Hotel breakfast=$57; Hotel lunch=$43; Blog post=Priceless.

As for Bill, throughout the day, he chastised himself for the error. I wasn’t having it, however, and reminded him that he had a few things on his mind and plate during the week.  It happened to him, but it could have happened to me just as easily.

And as I always tell him, between the two of us, we have one good brain.

This post linked to the GRAND Social