Thursday Thoughts

Master of Suspense
I have taken a break from my British mysteries to enjoy some Alfred Hitchcock movies. Most of the better-known movies I have already seen; there are others, however, that I am pretty sure I haven’t seen. Day before yesterday, I watched Shadow of a Doubt, which is purportedly Hitchcock’s favorite of all of his movies. For good reason, because it was a doozie. Yesterday I watched Strangers of a Train, starring Robert Walker and a very handsome Farley Granger. My interest in Hitchcock movies was piqued by a conversation I had this weekend with a friend about puzzles. She, too, has been working puzzle after puzzle during this quarantine. She told me about a puzzle she did that had no picture. Whaaaaaat? That’s right, she insisted. Apparently in lieu of following a picture, you followed clues that come straight out of Hitchcock movies. OMG. She hinted I might borrow it, so I thought I’d better study up! I was able to spot the Hitchcock cameos in both movies, so that’s a start.

Really? Another One?
Day before yesterday, I was working in my office when Bill hollered up from downstairs. “You got a package that you’re going to like,” he said. I knew what it was. I had ordered another puzzle from White Mountain Puzzles that featured a photo of a vineyard. I’d sort of hoped to sneak this one in, since I got two other puzzles last week. Bill is almost certainly considering having me committed. ” How do you know I’ll like it?” I asked him. “You don’t even know what it is.” “Oh, I know what it is,” he said, holding up the telltale box with WHITE MOUNTAIN PUZZLES practically flashing in neon. Why, oh why can’t they send puzzles in boxes with no identification; you know, like they do porn?

What Can’t You Make? 
Earlier this week, I got a Facebook message from my sister Bec. Paula Deen is making homemade vanilla, she said, and attached the video. A few months ago, I had pinned a recipe from Ree Drummond on making homemade vanilla, and promptly forgot about it. I watched Paula Deen’s video (in which I suspect she was tippling from her bottle of Tito’s vodka as she made the vanilla), and before you could say “you practically have to mortgage your house to afford vanilla,” I had ordered some vanilla beans from Amazon. They came a day later, and voila! With a mere two ingredients, I have vanilla beans sitting in a jar of Grey Goose vodka in my pantry. In three to six months, it will be vanilla extract!…..

If it works, you all know what you’re getting for Christmas.

It’s Too Cute to Eat
In keeping with my miniature cooking, day before yesterday, I made Bill a chocolate cake for two in my brand new 6-inch cake pan. Next time I’m trying a double layer…..

Ciao!

Five Year Plan

In that way that things happen, I came across an article that posed the question familiar to anyone who has interviewed for a job: Where do you see yourself in five years? 

If someone who was thinking of hiring me asked me that question 30 years ago, I would have said something like I hope to be working for this very company where I will have progressively moved up the ladder, and probably have won an award for my successful sales efforts. 

If someone had asked me that question after I retired in November 2007, I would likely have said I will be a role model for all of my grandchildren, I will have traveled the world, and I will have become a remarkable home cook and baker with a home featured in last month’s issue of House Beautiful

However, if someone had asked me back in 2015 where I see myself in five years, I would undoubtedly NOT have said I see myself hunkered down inside my house, unable to see my grandkids for fear of me infecting them or them infecting me with a deadly virus. I see myself (in those rare instances when I leave the safety of my house to venture to the grocery store where I will be unable to find such necessities as toilet paper and antibacterial soap) wearing a mask, surrounded by others also wearing masks. I will be unable to attend Mass, go to the gym, eat at a restaurant, get my hair cut, enjoy a manicure, or attend a movie. My children will be working from home, and my grandchildren will be taught by talking heads on a computer screen.

Seriously. Whoever would have imagined? And though things are starting to open up, I would absolutely never, ever venture to guess what my life will be like in five years. The truth is, I don’t even try to venture to guess what my life will be like in August. Hell, I’m not too sure about this weekend.

I read this morning that Colorado’s coronavirus numbers went up a tad these past two weeks. Thus far, not alarmingly as have Arizona’s, Texas’, and California’s. Still, I’m holding my breath, waiting for our governor to tell us that we are once again confined to our home and garden, forbidden from seeing those we love.

It’s enough to make me want to run and get a pedi before they lock their doors. It’s what I did in March. I just might have been the very last person who’s toenails were clipped before they shut off the OPEN sign. Even little girls like Jen’s granddaughter Lilly — who is visiting her Grammie for a bit, along with her family — need to wear a mask to get pampered…..

Arizona’s governor has thrown in the towel and sent people back to their homes, at least on a limited basis. No more movies, treadmills, or bellying up to the bar. Gatherings are once again restricted to 50 people. The 50-person limitation never bothered me because unless all of my cousins, second cousins, nieces, nephews, kids, grandkids, children, and in-laws decide to pay me a visit, I don’t know 50 people to gather.

In the meantime, I will continue to wear my mask when I’m outside my confines, wash my hands diligently (now that we can buy soap), give people wide berth in the grocery stores, and hope and pray that we are no longer seriously sheltering-in-place.

These two tourists were taking proper precautions.

Five years, indeed.

Lots of Ribbing

Last night, Bill and I decided to watch an old favorite movie — Back to the Future. As most of you know, unless you were born after 1995 or have lived in a cave below the earth for the past 30 years, Back to the Future is the movie in which Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) time travels backwards to 1955 from 1985.

As an aside, 1985 was a banner year for having advertising built into a movie. I saw more cans of Diet Pepsi and Budweiser, signs for Texaco, and other brands that allegedly would make us go out to the lobby to buy a can of Pepsi and stop at Texaco on the way home. It must not have worked that great, because you don’t see it anymore.

Anyhoo, the movie is terrific, even though we know exactly what’s going to happen during the entire movie. Michael J. Fox is awesome, and Lea Thompson (who plays his mother, both as an adult and as a teenager), is funny as heck. And speaking of funny, it is comical to see what passed as fancy dancy technology back in 1985.

We made our movie choice before deciding what to do for dinner. I had planned on cooking, but for a number of reasons, that didn’t pan out. Plus, I had been reading on Next Door that many neighborhood restaurants are closing their doors for good. Thanks COVID-19. So we elected to do our part and order food to eat while we watched the movie. Here was our order from a nearby barbecue place called Burnt Ends: Bill – two meat special (burnt ends and hot links) with baked beans and cole slaw; Kris – one meat special (1/2 rack ribs) with baked beans and tomato/cucumber salad. They don’t deliver, but it isn’t far, so we decided to order online and run over and pick it up. I did the online ordering.

Bill ran in to get the food, and came out very quickly with a bag. We drove home, opened the bag, and here’s what we got: an entire rack of ribs, a basket of burnt ends, an order of potato salad, and an order of macaroni and cheese. Hmmmm.

I wasn’t about to go back, but I also was interested to see if they owed me money. So I called.

Good evening, Burnt Ends, how may I help you? the young woman answered the phone.

We just came and picked up an order, and it’s all wrong, I said.

What’s your name? she asked me.

McLain, I told her.

Ah ha, she said.

It so happens that when Bill said our name, she thought he said McCallen. In fact, there was an order for McCallen, which she gave him. The sad news is that Mr. McCallen came just as we left to pick up his order. He probably was dreaming of the barbecued rib rack and the macaroni and cheese that, unbeknownst to him, was driving past him.

How does this tie in to Back to the Future? Apparently my brain is still in 1985, because while I typed in the order, I apparently didn’t hit GO. The really sad thing is that it never occurred to me that I didn’t get any kind of confirmation. That makes sense because I have only ordered food online about a million times since quarantine began in March.

By the way, when the pleasant young woman from Burnt Ends and I figured out what happened, she very generously took the blame. No charge, she insisted. Knowing full well that the error was on my part, I conversely insisted on paying for the food that we were about to eat. Our compromise was that I payed for the rack of ribs. Smokin’ deal on my end. No pun intended.

There is a moral to this ridiculous story: Kids, don’t have a glass of whiskey before ordering food online.

Life in Miniature

When my parents became Empty Nesters, lots of things changed, as they tend to do. I noticed the changes a few years after they moved to Dillon. My brother got married and moved away, and for the first time in nearly 30 years, it was only them. Mom and Dad no longer owned a bakery, but they both worked for other people. My dad in particular loved the chance for someone else to have to make decisions, pay bills, fix broken machinery, etc. “It’s like I’m retired,” he often said, despite the fact that he put in 40 hours of hard work each week.

One of the things that I often think about is that my mother started buying tiny things. Whereas she had bought the big-sized laundry detergent before, needing to wash Dad’s baking whites every day, now she bought tiny little containers of Tide. Since she was only cooking for two, and had a nice dishwasher, her Dawn Dishwashing Detergent was the size of a small bottle of hand cream. Tiny boxes of aluminum foil and small packages of toilet paper and paper towels. I used to laugh at her tiny world. I’m not even sure where she found such small containers.

Well, Friends, I no longer laugh. I also hope that Mom in heaven has forgiven me for my jibes. Because now I am the one buying small things.

When I married Bill, I went from a family of Court and me to a family of Court and me and Bill and Allen and Dave and Heather. Oh, they didn’t live with us most of the time, but we saw them often, and I cooked them many meals. And the family continued to grow as people got married and had kids. Both of my sisters have marveled at my ability to cook for large groups of people and still stay relatively sane.

But now most meals are at our kids’ house. Ninety-eight percent of the time, Bill and I are eating alone. For the longest time, I continued to cook using my old recipes. This, of course, resulted in many leftovers. I’m sorry to tell you that Bill and I are not Leftover People. I have seen both of my sisters put the tiniest bits of leftover food into a container to eat the next day. Pshaw! on that.

Recently, however, I discovered a website specializing in cooking for two people. Zona Cooks is like a dream come true for this empty nester. Amazon is happy also, because cooking for two has required me to purchase small-sized cooking equipment. I now own a 6-inch pie pan,…..

…..two 6-inch cake pans, a 6 x 6 x 2 inch square pan for small batches of rolls, brownies, or coffee cakes…..

…..and individual dishes for two casseroles. All from Amazon. All taking up more room in my storage area. You will see the definition of irony if you read Wednesday’s blog post.

Yesterday, for example, I baked a 6-inch peach pie. I found a recipe for a appropriately-sized pie crust, and fiddled with my mom’s peach pie recipe to make it fit into a small crust…..

Technically, we could have eaten it in one sitting, half for Bill and half for me. I, however, cut my half into two and shared.

This phase might not last. In a year’s time, I may have moved my little cooking pans downstairs to live with my picnic wine glass holders that stick in the grass. But I’m enjoying it all for now.

 

Saturday Smile: I Don’t Hate Nature

This past weekend, Court took his family into the foothills of Denver, where they fished and hiked splashed around in Bear Creek, and had a great time. Their joy at being active in nature makes me particularly happy because when Court was a kid, I would try to get him to hike. He would almost always refuse. One time I asked him why he didn’t like to hike. “It’s good to get back into nature,” I told him. His response? “I hate nature.”

Well, apparently now that he has a wife and three kids who don’t hate nature, he has come to grips with being outdoors…..

I guess nature ain’t so bad after all.

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: Westering Women

Author Sandra Dallas is a favorite of mine for two reasons: a) She writes many novels About the Old a West; and b) She lives in my hometown of Denver. Well, really three reasons, the third being that she tells a hell of a yarn that almost always feature strong women who work together to care for one another.

Westering Women begins with an advertisement for adventuresome women of good moral character to join two ministers on a cross-country trip from Chicago to the gold mining community of Goosetown, California. It’s 1852, so the trip will not be easy. All manner of women with all sorts of backgrounds volunteer to undertake the journey, which will undoubtedly be difficult. Each one has their own reason for looking for escape.

And difficult it is, as the women face extremely dire circumstances from abusive men to challenging terrain to extreme weather conditions. Over the months it takes to complete the journey, the women grow stronger, more self-reliant, closer to one another and more trusting.

Maggie is escaping from an abusive husband, whom she thinks she killed in self-defense. She brings her daughter, who is shy at first, but learns to trust the women. She grows most fond of the woman named Mary, who is as strong as a man, unattractive, but loved by all.

I enjoyed seeing how the women went from being strangers to being sisters. Seeing how they gained confidence and a sense of worth made the novel a great read.

I have enjoyed all of Dallas’ books, and this is one of my favorites.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

An Apple a Day 
After many, many months of listening to me nag him, Bill finally agreed to go Apple all the way. I finally gave him an ultimatum: either you get an iPhone and an Apple watch, or I will make you wear an I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up necklace. As Apple watch users know, there is a button on the side of the watch with which you can call 911. His new watch also one ups mine by having a feature that alerts authorities if you fall down and can’t press the button for some reason. I don’t know how it works; probably magic. Now we just have to get him set up…..

A+ Student 
Bill had his quarterly movement disorder doctor’s appointment yesterday, and they were pleased with how well he’s doing with the pump. It was good to hear, because he had a tough day on Sunday while we were in Estes Park. While I brought his meds and most of his paraphernalia to hook him up, I forgot one important piece, making hook-up impossible. We called the doctor, who told us how many more of his oral meds to take to make up for the lack of the meds coming from the pump. The doctor apparently forgot to carry the 1 (or something), because he figured wrong. Bill was a mess for most of the rest of the day. Once he got back on schedule, he was fine.

Far Away Places
The latest on our two granddaughters who apparently are going to live forever with their Aunt Julie is that they spent the week camping in the mountains around Bozeman in Julie’s little camper. They look like they’re having fun and not missing Denver at all…..

 

Puzzled 
I have figured out that one of my grandchildren takes after me in at least one way. The other day, Kaiya, Mylee, and Cole came to play. I had purchased a 300-piece puzzle for them to work on. Kaiya spent the day drawing, and Cole played with Play Doh. Mylee quietly worked away, and in a couple of hours, she had put the puzzle together by herself…..

A girl after my own heart.

Ciao!

Sparking Joy

It seems many people are/have been taking advantage of the quarantine to clean out household items they have been meaning to get rid of for years, but never had the time. I always like to use that as an excuse for not tackling our storage places, but it gets more and more difficult as I watch more and more British mystery programs. After all, I don’t see Inspector Morse working on his storage closets. He’s too busy swilling beer and whiskey and solving mysteries. That’s what I want to do instead of cleaning — swill beer and whiskey.

Jen and I were talking about our need to downsize our possessions. She has been way better than I have about cleaning out her house. For one thing, she has given herself permission to tossing items instead of dragging to Goodwill where they will be subsequently tossEd because they’re, well, nothing but crap.

“What you have to ask yourself,” she explained, “is does this spark joy?.” Listen, I watch Marie Kondo too. I think that’s a worthwhile question to ask oneself as we’re cleaning out closets and storage rooms. I assure you that the Chinese dumpling steamer baskets that I have used exactly once do not spark joy. Nor does the Fry Daddy or the Food Saver, both only used a very few times. Other things sparked joy at one time (I’m looking at you Cuisinart Double Ice Cream Freezer), but now it just gathers dust and sparks very little joy.

Those are easy problems to solve. If I can just get myself motivated to go down to the storage area and shove the sticky paper with all of the spiders under the shelf, I can easily figure out what I might use and what I will never use again. I don’t even mind taking the Never-Use-Again items that are in working order over to Goodwill.

The problems arise with those things that actually do spark joy. Like my dad’s clarinet. Like my mom’s fur coat. Like the baby sweaters and booties my grandmother knitted for me that Court never wore, not once. I love them, but the arms were excessively long and the booties were excessively big. But how could I possibly throw them away? My mind clearly sees Grammie sitting on the red velvet sofa in her and Gramps’ little apartment above the bakery knitting items for their grandchildren’s hope chest with her Swiss friends.

As for the clarinet, I tried to put it to use when Addie was playing clarinet in her middle school band. She took it to her band instructor and asked him what would be needed to get it in working order. A lot, it turned out. Not worth it, he said. So it continues to gather dust in my basement. And you can imagine the number of times I could wear Mom’s fur.

So they don’t get tossed. I assure you, however, that there will be no joy sparked when our children inherit the mess. Take my china cabinet…..

A few years ago when we redid our floors, I went through all of the stuff contained therein, and Goodwill got several boxes of china cabinet type stuff. When I was finished, I put what was left back into the cabinet. I can say with all honesty two things: 1) every single item contained in my china cabinet sparks joy for me; but 2) there will be not a single, solitary spark of joy for our kids. Who today wants 12 place settings of Royal Dalton fine china? Who wants the porcelain rose that Court gave me for Mother’s Day a million years ago? Who wants the cranberry serving tray that Bill’s mother gave me? Who wants the 12 teacups with different flowers for each month that Bill bought me early in our marriage?

No one. That’s who.

Sparking joy, indeed.

Elk Lodge

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Bill and I spent the weekend in Estes Park to celebrate our 28th anniversary. I have posted a blog about Estes Park so many times that the Chamber of Commerce should give me an award for tourism promotion. But despite how many times I’ve written about our adventures, I have to write at least one more E.P. post.

We approached this trip with a bit of uncertainty given COVID-19. Bill and I always stay at the same place — the Deer Crest Resort. We love this particular resort out of the probably hundreds of other lovely lodges, and have come here for years. The worst thing about the Deer Crest is that it is adults only. The best thing about the Deer Crest is that it is adults only.

Now, you know I love kids. I love the sounds of kids — the laughter, the excitement, the energy. And I’m always sad that I can’t bring my grandkids to the Deer Crest because of the adults-only rule. But on the other hand, the grounds are immaculately kept, there isn’t a noisy swimming pool, and the fire pit is limited to adults sitting around with their glasses of wine or cordials after dinner. It’s very relaxing…..

This visit, we didn’t even make it into downtown. Some argue that the downtown area is too commercialized, and I can hardly argue that fact. Taffy shops, souvenir shops, and candy shops galore. Still, who doesn’t love a good caramel apple? But the number of people walking the streets seemed a bit excessive for my comfort level, masks or not.

So we limited our visit to nature. Jen drove up on Sunday to spend the day with us. She and I drove into the park. We had to have a timed reservation in order to be allowed to enter. We drove to Bear Lake, anticipating that the limited numbers of people would result in only a few folks at this always-popular spot. We were wrong, as the parking lot was entirely full. We were thankful to have a handicapped placard (which Jen got when she had her knee surgery) because it allowed us to get past the park rangers. We had a lovely walk around Bear Lake, and reminisced about Mom, who loved that walk…..

When we got back to the Deer Crest, we talked Bill into driving into town to see the new Estes Park Resort. The new resort is gorgeous, sitting right on Lake Estes, with spectacular views of the mountains and the lake.

These two tourists were taking proper precautions.

We were excited to learn that our old favorite restaurant — the Dunraven Inn — has moved from its rather dark and crowded original environs to the new resort…..

We didn’t have the chance to eat there, but we will certainly do so very soon. Look at that view!

But our real excitement came when we returned home to the Deer Crest, and were greeted by this fellow right in our parking lot…..

And it wasn’t just a drop-in visit. This 12-point buck spent the entire evening at the resort, munching on the trees and trying to munch on the beautiful flowers until the proprietor gave a firm no-go…..

Eventually he was joined by a younger friend….

That evening after we ate our steaks, we sat at the fire pit and watched the Elk Show. The big one was no more than 50 feet away from us, and not a bit worried about it.

By the way, about 10 minutes after Jen left yesterday morning to return to her home, my phone rang. “I’m in a traffic jam,” she said. I couldn’t imagine such a traffic jam, especially at 7:30 in the morning. “Oh, it’s not people,” she said. “It’s a herd of elk blocking the intersection!”

And that, folks, is why I love Estes Park, Colorado.

Unlikely Shopping Again

Bill and I celebrated our 28th anniversary this weekend in Estes Park. It is one of our favorite spots, and the location of many celebrations. In honor of Estes Park, I am reposting one of my favorite stories about this mountain community. It originally posted in September 2017.

I always tell people I grew up in a small town in Nebraska. The truth is (and I actually checked the figures on the internet, so you know it’s right) that when I was born in 1953, there were probably close to 10,000 people living in the Midwestern town of Columbus. When I left for college in 1972, there were over 15,000 happy Columbus residents. Well, I don’t know if all 15,000 were happy. I’m overthinking….

Size is relative, my friends. I continue to maintain I lived in a small town. Still, that town had a J.C. Penney store, a Montgomery Wards, a couple of dime stores, a great drug store, and, of course, a fabulous bakery. My point is that if I needed to buy underwear, I knew exactly where to go.

Last weekend, I spent a few days in Estes Park, Colorado, with my two sisters. Estes Park, for those who might not know, is a small resort town of just over 6,000 located near Rocky Mountain National Park. There are lots of restaurants, two – count ‘em – two taffy stores, and shops selling all manner of chatzkies.  We have wonderful memories of Estes, and its proximity to the beautiful national park makes it one of our favorite places to visit.

Bec arrived first, driving in from Fort Collins, and I met her there. I had packed my bag quite hastily, and had included a picnic bag full of items for a cook-out that evening. At some point later in the afternoon, it occurred to me that, while I had remembered the steaks,  I had forgotten to pack pajamas.

No worries, Bec said. I have a spare pair.

Great news, except by that time I realized I had also forgotten to pack a toothbrush and, worse, underwear. (I did, however, have three corkscrews.)

Bec and I put our heads together to try to come up with a place that sold underwear. Had I been looking for a t-shirt that said My Mom and Dad Went to Estes Park and All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt, or a coffee cup with a cross-eyed bear saying I Can BEARly Think Before Coffee or a lifetime supply of petrified wood, I would have been set. But we simply couldn’t imagine where one would find ladies’ underwear in this tourist spot. No Walmart. No Target. Amazon can’t make one-hour deliveries.

So I set off to the motel office, hoping against hope that the proprietor – Fred – wouldn’t be attending the desk, and that instead a woman would be sitting there. No such luck. There was Fred, looking cheerful.

Can I help you? he asked happily.

In a voice that was truly sotto voce, I said Hello Fred. This is really embarrassing, but can you tell me where I can buy women’s underwear in this town?

Fred gives it a moment’s thought, turns towards the back room, and hollars – HOLLARS – Hey Joe! Where can this lady buy women’s underwear?

Help me Lord.

Joe comes out, and you can see he’s giving it a lot of thought. After a moment or two, Joe says, Try True Value Hardware. It’s in the Safeway Shopping Center.

True Value Hardware. Men are from Mars.  If only I had three pairs of underwear and no corkscrews. But I knew that there was a pharmacy in that same shopping center, and I had high hopes that perhaps they sold women’s underwear.

I walk into the pharmacy, and there is, of course, only a man working there. I take a deep breath and ask him if they by any chance sell ladies’ underwear.

No Ma’am, we sure don’t, he said. Try True Value. It’s just across the parking lot.

Again with the hardware store. I was successful, however, at finding a toothbrush at the pharmacy.

As I left the store, I saw the True Value Hardware Store. What do I have to lose, I thought.

I walk into the hardware store, and there is, of course, a man at the front counter. Big man. Three-day growth of beard. Chewing on a toothpick. Do you by any chance sell women’s underwear? I ask him.

You’ve probably guessed his answer by now.

Yes, Ma’am. They’re on Aisle 16, just across from the ammo.

Well, I made up the part about the ammo, but I’m not making up the part about True Value Hardware selling ladies’ underwear.  I also found a Size 2XL t-shirt that with a picture of an elk and ESTES PARK, COLORADO in big letters. AKA, a nightgown….

Ace might be the place with the helpful hardware man, but True Value has the best selection of women’s cotton briefs in Estes Park. Well, the only selection, it seems.