Spice Things Up

Several people have asked me when I was going to post my annual pumpkin spice rant. To tell you the truth, I’ve hesitated for two specific reasons: 1) With everything that 2020 has brought to us — particularly COVID — I’m finding it a bit hard to get too worked up about pumpkin spice; and 2) I’m convinced that the market has spoken, and pumpkin spice is not making its appearance as much as it had for the past several years.

I haven’t seem Pumpkin Spice toothpaste, for example. That, my friends, might have been the one that put me over the top. Toothpaste must be mint, and that’s that. Even bubble gum or watermelon flavor makes me throw up a little bit in my mouth. After all, you don’t hear about toothpaste that makes your mouth pumpkin spicy fresh. Or even watermelony fresh. I’m Team Mint Toothpaste all the way.

Nor have I seen a single can of pumpkin spice Spam. You think I’m kidding? And actually, I think it’s the Spam that set me off on my Get Off My Lawn rant last year…..

What’s more, much of my pumpkin spice discontent had little to do with the pumpkin spice. I like pumpkin. I’m a fan of nutmeg and cinnamon and even a LITTLE touch of clove. My issue was that the poor apple — the fruit/veggie of choice in Autumn for much of my life — had been completely set aside in favor of its archenemy, pumpkin spice.

Thus far this year, I’ve made three apple pies, two apple cakes, one apple crisp, and a partridge in a pear tree. Well, not the partridge, since I don’t know what a partridge is and I don’t think it represents Autumn. But the other three are accurate. I love apple things. I haven’t made a single pumpkin roll, pumpkin pie, and nary a batch of pumpkin spice muffins.

I’m less worried this year about pumpkin spice than I am the fact that markets have pumpkins of all shapes and sizes and colors. There are even pumpkins that look like they have leprosy Hansen’s Disease. When did plain round orange pumpkins stop being de rigueur?

I want to go back to the days when pumpkins were round and orange and perfect for carving. And I don’t mean that fancy dancy elaborate carving. I’m talking two triangles for eyes, an upside down triangle for the nose, and a mouth with three teeth. Boom. A jack-o-lantern. You could roast the seeds, but why bother when you can buy pumpkin spice popcorn?

To let you know just how much less angry I get about pumpkin spice, I will admit to you that I may — just may — go to Starbucks and buy a slice of pumpkin spice loaf for breakfast tomorrow morning. But I’m going to bake an apple pie for dessert just to play fair.

Saturday Smile: I Love You

The other day I watched Kaiya, Mylee, and Cole while their mommy and daddy went to a 40th birthday party for a friend. Court has been working from home since mid-March, as have many folks. He recently made a move from his temporary “office” in their bedroom to a new office he designed downstairs in their walk-out basement. The kids were happy to show me his new workspace. I found it to be a nice, cozy place that will undoubtedly be much quieter.

We were getting ready to go back upstairs, when Mylee said, “Nana, do you want to see Dad’s creepy doll?” Well, who wouldn’t. She showed me that he had a Raggedy Andy doll that I’m pretty sure my mother gave him when he was a kid. I love Raggedy Ann and Andy, but looking at the doll, I can see why Mylee calls it creepy doll.

“Do you want to know a secret about Raggedy Andy?” I asked the three of them. The two girls were basically uninterested. Cole, on the other hand, wanted to see the secret. So I opened up Raggedy Andy’s shirt and showed him the mark of every single Raggedy Ann and Andy: the heart with I Love You on the chest.

Well, he couldn’t have been more impressed. When I tucked him in bed that night, I laid down with him for a bit. Hand to God, his last words before those beautiful brown eyes closed were, “I can’t wait to show Daddy the surprise on his creepy doll.”

The next day, I texted Court to ask if Cole had shown him a surprise on his Raggedy Andy. He answered, “Yep, he was excited to show me. I didn’t know it was there.”

Well, he had of course known it was there at some point. Perhaps, things like providing for a family of five took priority in his mind.

Cole’s delight at the message made me smile. Cole: I love you.

Have a good weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Operator

Where I grew up in the midwest in the 1950s, we didn’t have to go through an operator to make a phone call. We did, however, have a party line when I was in early elementary school. Mom told us under no circumstances were we to listen in to a phone call if we picked up the receiver and someone else was on the line. Being the obedient sort, I would immediately hang up if I heard someone else on the line. But man-oh-man, did I ever want to listen in on the conversation. The Operator, by Gretchen Berg, made me glad I didn’t succumb to temptation.

It’s 1952, and Vivian Dalton is an operator for Bell Company in the small town of Wooster, OH. Just like the own in which I spent my formative years, it was big enough that not everyone knew every other person, but it was a small world, nonetheless. There were the rich folks, or what my mom referred to as the Little 400, and what Vivian referred to as the Four Flushers. And there were the Working Class people. And there were the Bible Thumpers. And so forth…

And unlike me, Vivian can’t help but listen in on the phone conversations which she manages. She justifies it by saying she knows the people of Wooster better than anyone. She has what she calls intuition, and what her teenage daughter calls nosiness.

And then one day Vivian listens in on a conversation that she really wishes she hadn’t heard. It changes her marriage, her relationship with her daugher, in fact, her entire life. And she can’t unhear it.

Though I enjoyed the book, I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. I loved the 1950s setting. The way people lived and thought in those post-war days was captured very well by the author. My biggest problem with the book was that I really never grew fond of the main character, Vivian. Or at least not until the very end of the book.

And most problematic of all — at least for this reader — was the repetitive use of nursery rhymes throughout the book. It begins with the first paragraphs of the story, and continues on through the entire book. And there is never an explanation why.

The book was a reasonably good look at a 50s woman taking charge of her own life. Not a stupendous book, but one that kept my interest.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

They Eyes Have It
I am fully recovered from my cataract surgery; in fact, I suspect I was fully recovered some 24 hours after the doc put down the laser (or whatever he used to make me see clearly again). Now it’s Bill’s turn. Tomorrow he goes under the proverbial knife. And just as I was, he is nervous about it all, despite the fact that I keep telling him it’s a piece of cake. I get it. The thing is, no matter how many people tell you it’s not unpleasant. THEY’RE MESSING AROUND WITH YOUR EYES. And, of course, they make you sign that form that says if you go blind, don’t blame us. He’ll be fine, but remember him in your thoughts today and tomorrow.

Tabling It
I have been toying with the idea of getting a new kitchen table. We have had our current table for something like 300 years. It worked swell for all that time. It’s big, people. Very big. And it can fold out to be even bigger. It has fit our entire family on several occasions. Perhaps not comfortably, but it fit some 11 or 12 folks that get along really well. But we almost never have that many people for dinner any more. Ninety-eight percent of the time, it’s Bill and me, looking like Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, so far away we can barely hear each other. Perhaps we just need hearing aids. Nevertheless, last weekend we went out and looked at tables. In my perfect world, we would have a smaller table that extended out to what our existing table does normally. Easier said than done. For one thing, almost all of the tables are high, requiring special high chairs. Not good for two reasons: 1) We are senior citizens and can’t boost ourselves up as easily as youngins’; and 2) If we need to pull in more chairs, well, we can’t. After about two hours of looking, we both got weary. So we are still sitting at the same table.

Royal Battles
And speaking of the Queen and her prince, as I was awaiting a cashier at the grocery store today, I glanced up at a National Enquirer. According to the magazine, the queen has HAD IT with her prince, and the marriage is in trouble. I’m thinking not so, as she is 94 years old, and he is her senior at 99. I’m thinking he’s not doing a lot cheating any more. In fact, I’m guessing he only gets out of bed to be propped up and wave at the crowds when necessary. But you can always trust the National Enquirer.

More Puzzles
I finished a puzzle yesterday that featured the Denver Broncos. It was lots of fun, and gave me a bit of a battle. (More battle, unfortunately, than the Broncos are giving their opponents.) I texted the Biggest Broncos Fan Court and told him he is welcome to borrow the puzzle and work it with his kids. His reply? No thanks. Puzzles and our house don’t go well together. I believe that to be true, as Cole made a honest attempt to send my recent puzzle flying during his last visit.


Can’t Compete

My family wasn’t particularly competitive. And any competitive-loving genes that they may have possessed didn’t get passed along to me. That’s why I don’t like most games that involve skill. The only games I can really enjoy are those that are based on pure luck. That’s why when I go to Las Vegas, the only games in which I will partake are slot machines. Though some may argue there is some skill involved, as I see it, one only needs to pull a lever and pray.

A very long time ago, Bill and I were visiting my brother David in AZ. I can’t imagine how this came about since David is probably less competitive than even me, but we somehow began playing the game Trivial Pursuit. Obviously being either temporarily insane or having had one too many glasses of wine or beer, we decided to play boys against girls. Of course, this meant that I was playing against Bill. Oy vey.

I simply don’t think quickly on my feet. In addition, trivial information doesn’t stick in my head. (You can tell that I’m saying everything to avoid saying that I’m not terribly smart.) On the other hand, Bill is a quicker thinker, and while he can’t remember birthdays or doctors’ appointments, he can remember the years that Queen Victoria was on the throne. Every time I would draw a card and read the question being asked out loud, Bill would say, “Ohhhh, that’s sooooo easy.” And I, of course wouldn’t know the answer. By the end of the game, I wasn’t speaking to him, quite literally. I even remember the question that put me over the edge: Who was the president of France during World War II? Though at any other time, I would have known the answer was Charles de Gaulle, the name wouldn’t come to me for love or money. And then Bill said, “That’s sooooo easy.”

I began speaking to him again a year or so ago.

The one kind of competition that I rather enjoy is when I am competing against myself. I have mentioned before that I am addicted to a game called Happy Color, which is a color-by-number app. My daughter-in-law Lauren got me hooked. She didn’t realize she was creating a monster. I color in the morning before Bill gets up. I color while watching television. I color while waiting for doctors’ appointments. If the house started on fire, Bill would have to grab my iPad out of my hands to get me to pay attention to the flames. It’s not good.

Happy Color allows me to be competitive without having to beat anyone else. There are picture categories, and when you color X number of pictures from each category, you get bonus pictures. I find myself checking nearly every hour to see if I am close to completing the necessary number of pictures from a category so I can earn my bonus pictures.

(Maybe it’s time I look for a part time job.)

There is no need for me to have the bonus pictures because the options are seemingly endless. Plus, every day Happy Color offers new options. But the idea of me EARNING these bonus pictures feeds into what competitive spirit I have.

(Maybe instead of a part time job, I should take up Pickle Ball. )

Easy, Like Sunday Morning

This past Sunday was a fairly quiet day. That’s not particularly unusual these days. The Broncos played — and, shockingly, won — on Thursday, but I turned football on in the background anyway and spent a lot of the day coloring pretty pictures from my coloring app reading.

At some point, I had a great idea. I invited Bill’s kids and grandkids to come for dinner. Well, obviously not Heather, though how fun would that have been if they could have come! But Dave and Jll and their kids, and Allen and Emma. To my surprise, given the late notice, they accepted. Only Dagny represented the adolescent group, but she did a bang-up job re-pre-sen-tin.

Since I quit working hard for my money, Sunday, frankly, isn’t that much different than any other day of the week. I mark it in my mind by going to church. These days, we try to go to Mass live; however, since space is limited, we try to only go every other week or so in order to give others a chance to attend. But when we aren’t going to live Mass, I watch Mass from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC on iPad, so Sunday still offers a meaningful beginning to the week.

I began thinking about what we used to do on Sundays when I was a kid. Sunday was the only day of the week that the bakery was closed. Of course, Dad still had to go into the shop in the evening after supper to set the sponge for the next day, but it was for the most part his day off. So Sunday was the day we would often get in the car and drive somewhere.

This somewhere might be to one of our aunts’ or uncles’ houses for noon dinner. They lived so far away that we could only see them on special occasions. I’m being facetious because most of my aunts and uncles lived somewhere within an hour’s drive from us. But in those days, an hour — 65 miles — was a Big Deal. Nowadays I might drive 50 miles on a regular day. Back then, it was rare to drive that much in a week, at least in Columbus, Nebraska.

While the stores were closed on Sunday for shopping in Columbus, the malls in Omaha were open. If we were in need of new clothes, or Christmas was coming, we might go to the big city. Or if How the West Was Won was coming out in technicolor and Cinerama at the Big Theater in Omaha, we might pile in the car and take a road trip.

Bill says that when he was a kid, Sundays were the days that his mom and dad would gather up the kids and drive from their home in Chicago to his mom’s parents’ home in Hobart, Indiana. There, Bill’s grandmother would serve a noon dinner featuring fried chicken and all of the fixins’. Bill’s dad Rex would spend the afternoon doing odds and ends around his in-laws’ house.

I think COVID reminded everyone for a while that Sundays are days of rest. That didn’t last long, I’m afraid. Unfortunately, now that people are back at work — even if that work is at home — Sundays seem to be the days for grocery shopping and trips to Home Depot. I went to the grocery store yesterday morning, and the cupboards were as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s.

Still, I do think that Sundays seem to be family days. I see a lot of moms and dads riding bikes with their kids around our neighborhood. I know Court often tries to take his family on day trips on Sunday. And there’s just something relaxing about the sound of football.

It’s nice to have a family Sunday.

There’s No Mystery

I just finished reading a book called The Operator, by Gretchen Berg. (I will review the book at a later date. The book takes place in the early 1950s. I was born in 1953, so I was very interested in the time period.

I think Baby Boomers — including me — think about the 50s with a fond nostalgia. We might think, Remember when we could ride bikes without helmets? Or, remember when we would walk home from school and our mothers would be there with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies?

Some of our memories are a bit edited, no doubt. There probably wasn’t a single one of us that wore helmets as we rode our bikes or scooters. Heck, we didn’t even wear seat belts. We had never heard of them, in fact. But there were plenty of us who didn’t walk into our houses after school to the smell of homemade cookies.

Lots of bad things happened in the 1950s and 1960s. You had the Cold War. You had the McCarthy hearings. No one had worried much yet about discrimination. Women mostly stayed in the home, even after having filled in for male workers during World War II. And three words: Bay of Pigs.

But lots of good things happened as well. The crime rate was much lower, at least in my small town. We could walk to and from downtown — even in the evening — without fear of getting murdered. We didn’t have much television, so we spent our time outside after we finished our homework. Boys played with their G.I. Joes. Girls played with their Barbies or with paper dolls. Do they even make paper dolls anymore?

I contend that much of what was fun and interesting about the 50s was the mysteries we faced each day. Would I be the last person selected for the recess baseball games? (Yes) Would the metal slide be hot enough to burn the backs of my legs? (Probably) I wonder what’s on the other television channel because I’ve already seen this episode of Captain Kangaroo. (As the World Turns)

Imagine life without Google. Imagine that when you wanted to find out the date of the Battle of Dunkirk, you had to walk over to the bookcase which held the World Book Encyclopedias. Then you had to try and figure out if it would be listed under B for battle or under D for Dunkirk or maybe under W for World War II battles. By that time, you’ve sort of lost interest (unless it was a homework assignment; then you contacted your friendly neighborhood reference librarian.)

Now, however, if you’re interested in the Battle of Dunkirk, you pick up your iPad, call Siri, and ask for the Battle of Dunkirk. Within a few seconds, you have the information right in front of you. Most likely it’s Wikipedia giving you the details of the famous WWII battle.

That’s mostly for the good, isn’t it? But I must admit that I sometimes miss the mystery of not having instant access. Sometimes I will make a remark to Bill, something like I wonder what the age is of the oldest person to climb Mount Everest. I don’t really want an answer. I’m just pondering the question. But he will immediately pick up his phone or iPad, and within seconds I will know the answer. (It’s a Japanese mountain climber named Yuichiro Miura, who reached the top when he was 80.)

The bottom line is that it’s much better that we all wear helmets when we ride our bikes, and that the slides are made of plastic (though they don’t slide as fast). But still, most Baby Boomers lived to tell our grandkids about the days when there were only four television channels.

Saturday Smile: High Tech

Thursday evening I opened up my WordPress application in order to write my Friday book review. Much to my surprise, nothing was as I expected. I was completely stumped as to how to write, and then post, my blog.

I say it was to my surprise, but that’s my own fault. I believe that WordPress has been notifying me periodically that changes were on the way. Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, I pretended nothing was going to change.

You see, someone a lot smarter than me set up my blog. He designed the logo, he set the format, and he told me how to post. Since then, I have lost touch with him. And so I am sort of stumbling.

I am certain that I can figure it out in time. I have no doubt that WordPress made it simpler rather than more confusing. So once I understand it all, I will be back in the saddle again.

Until then, I will continue posting to the best of my ability. There are many things I have yet to figure out. However, I will figure them out in time. If I can’t, I will ask one of my grandkids for help!

Stay tuned, and stay patient.

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Guest List

Imagine that you are rich and famous, and you are marrying someone rich and famous, and you can have your elaborate wedding anywhere in the world. Would you choose a beautiful Caribbean setting? Maybe a romantic wedding in the French countryside. Or a dark and spooky island on a cold beach off of Ireland, near a cemetery, where cell service is iffy and the frequent storms often cut off electricity?

Well, The Guest List, by Lucy Foley, features just those circumstances.

Jules is a beautiful and successful magazine editor. Her husband-to-be, Will, is the drop-dead (no pun intended) star of a reality television show. They choose this creepy island as their wedding site because of its uniqueness. Oh, it’s unique all right. Especially when the lights start flickering, there are strange noises in the night, and the next boat isn’t coming for days.

Readers learn very early that someone in the wedding party is killed, but aren’t told who the poor, unlucky person is. The story is then told through five different people: the wedding planner, Aoife; Jule’s half sister Olivia, who is her maid of honor; Will’s best man, Johnno; Hanna, the wife of Jule’s best friend Charlie; and Jules herself. As they tell their tales and make their observations, readers learn how the five are all intertwined, and why they all have reason to kill the murdered victim. Readers are fed hints throughout the book.

About three-quarters of the way through the book, if you haven’t figured out who the murder victim is, you need to go back to Agatha Christie 101 class. If you still haven’t figured it out, readers are given that answer. But as to which one of the group had finally had it up to here? That was something I didn’t solve. It’s not that the ending came as a complete surprise, since there were only a limited number of potential suspects, but it really could have been any one of them. In fact, since the plot was compared to that of the inimitable Agatha Christie, it occurred to me that it might have a Murder on the Orient Express solution. It didn’t.

Though the book had flaws, overall, I enjoyed reading it.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Bill started his physical therapy this week. Monday’s session kicked his butt. Yesterday he said it felt good. Lots of stretching and leg strengthening. Bill is probably the single most active person I know. All day long he’s doing something around the house or on the golf course or at the speed bag. But he is now using muscles he apparently doesn’t usually use, and he feels it. He is my hero. I cheer him on as I sit and eat bon-bons.

The Yeast of It 
I know you’re sick of hearing about my new Kitchenaid Pro 600. Here’s what I have learned to date: When I use the mixer to knead my bread using the dough hook, it works until I turn it off. When I try to turn it back on, it won’t cooperate. The motor just won’t start. If I let it sit for about four hours, it will start again. However, if I use my mixer to make cookies or cake, there’s no problemo. It turns back on. So, I will keep all of that in mind as I plan my baking activities until such time as they are no longer on back order. Then I will keep my fingers crossed that my new mixer isn’t as finicky. In the meantime, look at my beautiful bread…..

The Eyes Have It 
I finished my eye drops and had my last follow-up visit with the eye doctor following my cataract surgery. I wouldn’t say I necessarily see like an eagle, but I don’t need my glasses to see any longer. Well, except for reading. Bill begins his journey October 9.

Tall Tales 
When my brother was visiting a couple of weeks ago, his daughter Jessie and her boyfriend Rob told us a funny story. Before I tell the story, I will submit this photo so that you can get an idea of how tall Rob is (keeping in mind that Jessie is very small)…..

Rob and Jessie are both engineers. He is still working from home, but Jessie goes out to job sites all day. She is tired when she gets home. A few weeks ago, she walked in the door only to find a nerf gun and a note. The message was written like a Mission Impossible task. She was to find the enemy (Rob) and shoot him before he shot her. God bless her; she undertook the mission. She looked throughout the house for at least 30 minutes, but was unable to locate him. She believed she had looked everywhere, but he was nowhere to be found. She finally gave up on the mission, and he showed himself. He had hidden in their linen closet, where he had been for at least 30 or 40 minutes. She noted that she walked by the linen closet, but never opened the door because she KNEW there was NO WAY he could fit into the space…..

What one will do to complete a mission? And I am glad Bill never challenged me in that way!