Pay it Forward

Every year around this time, you start hearing the stories about people going through the Starbucks drive-thru only to learn that the person in the car ahead of them paid for their coffee drink. Or there are the stories of the Santas ringing the bell at your friendly neighborhood grocery store in Podunk, North Dakota, who discover at the end of the day that some anonymous person put a five hundred dollar bill in their red kettle. The former has never happened to me (at least in part because I rarely go to Starbucks, inside or out), and I’ve never done the latter because I’ve never even seen a five hundred dollar bill. Do they make them? Lord knows the bank teller whom I encountered Monday (you know, the one who wanted me to pay $500 for five $50 bills) wouldn’t know the answer to that question.

I love stories of nice things that strangers do for one another, especially this time of year, and especially since we all seem so angry with one another these days if we are to believe social media.

Night before last, I did have the opportunity to be a Good Samaritan. Bill and I ate dinner at our favorite neighborhood pizza place. At the end of our meal, the server brought over our bill. I was getting ready to place my credit card on the tray and a man who had been sitting on the other side of the restaurant (I had noticed him simply because at one point he had his head rested on the table and appeared to be sleeping) walked over to our table. Would you be willing to pay for my dinner, he asked me. I glanced down at his bill, which was a measly $3.75 for a slice of pepperoni pizza. That would be a BIG FAT YES, no questions asked. He thanked us graciously and left. When the server came to pick up my credit card, I told her I was paying another man’s bill as well. I finally got a chance to be a blessing to someone.

This time of year makes me especially sad for people without shelter or friends/family. The weather has been nice, but Thursday it’s supposed to drop into highs in the low ‘teens. I hope he’s safe. Our neighborhood seems far away from homeless shelters.

Yesterday afternoon Bill and I went to Costco. As we were driving home, we stopped at a red light. Suddenly we noticed that a man in the car next to us was madly waving his hands at us. Bill rolled down his window. The man told us that one of the brake lights on my car was out. I don’t want you to get a ticket, he told us. Wasn’t that nice? All the rest of the way home, I worried that a police officer was going to pull me over to tell me my brake light was out, and then, having seen too many episodes of COPS (Bad boys bad boys, watcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?) I was sure I would end up with my hands against the car as Bill took off running with a police officer and his German shepherd chasing him. The reality is that brake light has probably been out for two weeks.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a grocery store – not my usual store. As I got out of the car, I noticed three or four gift cards on the ground, still on their cardboard holders. I didn’t know the story of the cards, of course, but it seemed a logical possibility that someone had bought a number of cards to give as Christmas gifts, and accidentally dropped them as they were getting into the car. So I picked them up and took them into the store with me. I stood in line for customer service. When it was my turn, I gave the cashier the cards and told him I had found them in the parking lot. The cashier looked at me so blankly I thought perhaps English wasn’t his first language. I explained that perhaps someone had dropped the cards and would return to the store to see if they had been turned in. Well, okay, he said to me somewhat reluctantly. I don’t know what happened to the cards, but the story I’m creating in my own mind is that an elderly woman who had purchased gift cards for her grandkids came back to the store, assuming the worse, only to find that thanks to some human kindness, there they were! Hey, it’s possible.

Without a doubt, the nicest thing I did yesterday was make Bill his favorite fried chicken for dinner…..

 

It all comes down to those words that Tim McGraw sings to us…

Hold the door say please say thank you
Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind.

…..and the instruction that Jesus gave us…

Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 12:39

Loveliest of All

A long time ago, when the Earth was green
There was more kinds of animals than you’ve ever seen
They’d run around free while the Earth was being born
And the loveliest of all was the unicorn. — Shel Silverstein

I learned recently that Kaiya is interested in sharks. In fact, she’s interested in – and quite knowledgeable about – many kinds of animals. She discounts a lot of the things she tells me about herself by adding an I’m not very good at science disclaimer, which troubles me some. I tell her endlessly that I think she’s very good at science (or math, or making friends, or whatever else she discounts), and that we all have different strengths and likes and dislikes.

But I was struck by her telling me how much she likes and knows about sharks because it’s something in which my niece Jessie also claims interest. Every year during Shark Week on the National Geographic Channel, Jessie posts something on Facebook about being glued to the television because, well, Shark Week, which is apparently a Thing.

Anyhoo, Monday night I was watching the kids at their house while their Mommy and Daddy went on a date. Kaiya turned the television to the National Geographic Channel so that we could watch Shark Week programs just likes she watches with her dad. Except that I’m not particularly interested in or knowledgeable about sharks and he apparently is.

The program that was running when she turned it on was about hammerhead sharks…..

I think hammerhead sharks look a bit like cartoon characters though they are quite real, thank you very much. As we watched, I commented to Kaiya that I found it funny that their eyes were on the side of their, what? Nose? You know, the hammer part. Without missing a beat, Kaiya said, “I know, but that’s the same as unicorns. Their eyes are on the side of their heads too.”

(SPOILER ALERT) Now, I know unicorns are not real. But I just learned a week ago that neither Kaiya nor Mylee believe in the tooth fairy. I learned this the night that they were staying overnight. Court had telephoned me earlier to tell me that Mylee had lost a tooth and asked if I would mind playing Tooth Fairy. I didn’t mind at all, of course, but was amused to learn later that they are apparently pulling a fast one on their dad, who doesn’t know that they don’t believe there is a little fairy that comes into your bedroom, reaches under your covers, swipes your tooth and leaves cashola. What’s next in the Destroying-Childhood-Dreams arena? No little bunny that hops around the world and leaves colored hard boiled eggs and Jelly Bellies?

But back to Kaiya and unicorns. I responded to her comment about unicorns having eyes on the side of their heads by saying, “Yes, I guess that’s true.” To which she responded, “Nana, (in the way only our grandkids can say our name so that they might as well be saying You Dumb Yahoo) there is no such thing as unicorns.”

Well, I knew that, I informed her, but she eyed me suspiciously nevertheless. I reminded her that she had recently manufactured unicorn poop out of Play Doh……

And I also told her about a news article from Fast Company I saw recently from which I learned that the millennial demographic (of which her parents are part) apparently likes All Things Unicorn these days. It’s become one of the best marketing ploys.

There is unicorn hair color…..

….and unicorn Frappuccinos from Starbucks…..

…..and unicorn makeup…..

And, what’s more, there have been five unicorns spotted in real life!…..

I think maybe unicorns are real and hammerhead sharks are not. I’m firm on that.

Get Off My Lawn

I started wondering yesterday while walking home from a grocery store visit during which I was particularly cranky at what age we all start getting consistently grouchy. You know, when do we stop saying come over to my house for a backyard lawn party and start saying get off my lawn.

Because I’m convinced it happens to all of us. But why, I wonder.

Is it because we never feel perfectly good? When you’re a youngster, you might have skinned knees like my grandson Micah……

….or you might have to wear a homemade graduation cap that is too tight around your neck, like my niece Lilly…..

…..or suffer the humiliation of having to swim naked because your parents forgot your swim suit like my niece Faith…..

…..but you basically feel good. You feel like you’re going to live to be a hundred.

However, starting in the mid-50s (though it probably varies from person to person), there likely isn’t a time when there isn’t an ache in some part of your body. For me, it started in my early 40s when my neck began hurting from spending hours at the computer in the evening working on my master’s degree after spending hours at the computer making a living. It’s not a great ache, but it’s tenacious.

When we were growing up, we lived at the end of a block. We had friends in the neighborhood who lived a few houses away from ours. For reasons I never understood, there was no sidewalk on our side of the street, though there was a perfectly lovely sidewalk across the street. And our street was fairly busy. It’s true our town was small – only 10,000 folks – but the street was somewhat of a main drag from the highway heading south through town. So to get to our friends’ houses, we had two choices – walk on the busy street or walk on our neighbor’s lawn. We chose the lawn.

For many years, this caused no angst to anyone. The neighbors were our friends. My mother and the neighbor lady had coffee klatches each morning. You know, coffee klatches. What women did to communicate and bond before there was Snapchat and Starbucks. Walk through the hole in the hedge and open the neighbor’s screen door and holler, “Hellooooo. Do you have time for a cup of coffee?”

But then life happened and suddenly, when we would innocently walk to our friends’ houses, unthinkingly stepping on the lawn, the neighbors would open the front door and yell, “Get off the lawn.” I’m not sure why. There might have been a rift. They might have entered a Beautiful Lawn Contest. Their necks might have been hurting. But we took to stopping at the edge of the lawn, glancing carefully at the front door for signs of eyes peering out the little window, and then running like the dickens to the next lawn, where they didn’t care so much if we walked on their lawn.

By the way, what made me cranky at the grocery store was that the store only has one checkstand open in the morning because there are not that many shoppers at 8:30 a.m. However, if there are even 10 shoppers, and if even half of them are ready to pay, there is a line. At that point, the store managers (if they’re paying attention) call up one of the merchandise stockers to be a cashier. Except today she didn’t turn on her light. So as I walked up, I saw a long line at the one check stand that had a light on, and a short line at the checkstand at which the stocker was working. Having worked as a grocery store cashier (albeit nearly 45 years ago), I know that when the light goes off, the cashier wants to close down and go back to stocking shelves. So I dutifully got in the long line at the lit-up checkout stand.

Except others shoppers kept getting in the other lane and she kept checking them out. And it made me cranky. Which took me to the place where I started this blog post, wondering how I got so cranky. Because, you see, I’m retired. I have so much time in my day that I could stand in the checkout lane for eight hours and not miss an appointment.

So go ahead. Walk on my lawn. I’m getting a grip.

Up, Up and Away

The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon
We can sing a song and sal along the silver sky
For we can fly, we can fly. – Jimmy Webb

I hate to fly. I’m scared of flying. In fact, the older I get, the more I realize I’m scared of just about everything. Well, except for eating hot dogs. Despite all of the dire information we get about just what’s in a lowly Oscar Mayer weenie (or any other kind of weenie for that matter) I could eat one every day. But most everything else is cause for alarm.

So, when I opened my Christmas present from Dave and Jll last December and saw that it was a gift certificate for a hot air balloon ride, my eyes momentarily glazed over in terror, but I swallowed hard, said my thanks, and vowed to myself that I was just going to put on my big girl pants and go for a ride in a hot air balloon. If the Wizard of Oz could do it, so could I.

The gift certificate was for a ride for two, so despite the fact that Bill is just about as afraid of heights as I, he agreed to be my plus one. We decided to make the reservation for April because by that time any company we expected would have come and gone and the mornings would be a bit warmer. We decided on the Saturday before Easter, and couldn’t think of a thing that would go wrong.

And then Bill’s mom passed away on Good Friday. Still, our plane reservation to Chicago wasn’t until Monday, and after much discussion, we decided we would go ahead with it as a welcome distraction.

We met our balloon pilot Duane and his chaser (a human, not a beer), Keith, at literally the crack of dawn the morning of April 15 at a Starbucks near Chandler Airport. Since we were so near a small airport, I assumed that somehow the balloon would take off from that spot. Instead, we crawled into the truck with the two men, the basket perkily sitting on the back of the trailer being pulled by the truck, and took off to follow the wind.

That morning, it seems there wasn’t a great deal of wind. That was good news for Bill and me because it meant not only could we take off from the first place they tested, but the balloon ride looked to be a gentle one. Had the wind conditions not been right, our pilot and his pal would have driven on until they found JUST the right spot.

We watched as they laid out the balloon and began filling it with cool air. The brightly colored balloon needed to be full of air that could be heated up so that it would fly. The balloon’s size caught me off guard, having only seen them up in the sky where they appear to be about one inch in diameter.

As the balloon filled, my heart began thumping in my chest. I was really nervous. I mentioned my fear to the pilot, who told me that most everyone is nervous before the ride, but almost everyone is fearless by time the balloon comes to its sudden halt at the end. Yeah, I thought. Well, he doesn’t know this woman who gets nervous looking down from the church choir loft.

He had warned us that when the balloon was ready to fly, we needed to be ready to hop into the basket. There was no door like I expected. Hopping into the basket meant literally placing your feet in the tiny holes and throwing yourself into the smaller-than-expected basket (literally about the size of a small kitchen table). As you can imagine, I was all grace and gentility.

Our pilot told me later that I was shaking so hard that he could feel the basket shake. Recognizing pure, unadulterated fear when he sees it, the wise man took it very easy and kept us fairly near the ground as we began. I wanted to take photos, but I was absolutely too scared to let go of the side of the basket for quite some time.

However, just as he’d promised, it wasn’t long before I grew comfortable with the gentle gliding of the balloon. So comfortable, in fact, that I began taking photos. After about a half hour, he asked if I was comfortable enough for him to go higher, and both Bill and I agreed. I think we reached 5,000 feet. I’m sure he can go and has gone higher, but being an astute observer of mankind, he reckoned that was high enough.

We floated above the area for a full hour before he began searching for a safe place to land. In the meantime, his chaser kept his eye on us, and his experience allowed him to pretty much know which direction we would head and where we would land. Our pilot confirmed his intentions, and we prepared for landing.

It was abrupt, as landings go. Of course, I am wholly unfamiliar with balloon landings, so no complaints here. And I knew that treats and champagne were in my future.

Which they were…….

At the end of the day, I think Bill agrees that it was an absolutely lovely way to spend a clear and cool Saturday morning, and we both would do it again in a heartbeat.

This post linked to Grand Social and Blogging Grandmother’s Link Party.

Saturday Smile: Got It?

Cheese Danish as Mylee envisions it.

Cheese Danish as Mylee envisions it.

You might remember that a few weeks ago, Mylee was Student of the Week, an honor which eventually goes to each kindergarten child throughout the year. It is basically a Show-and-Tell on steroids. While in the spotlight, she was asked by her teacher what she wanted to be when she grew up. Much to my (and I think her parents’) surprise, she said she wanted to be a chef. Well, then.

The other day I was driving her home from school. It was just Mylee, as Kaiya had her first-ever Brownie meeting. As we drove home, I mentioned to her that I had taken Cole to get a cheese Danish roll at Starbucks, and that he ate it just as she did — cheese filling first.

“Of course, Nana,” she responded. “That’s because it’s the best part.” (Duh! she’s thinking.)

I went on to tell her that I thought I might try and see if I could make cheese Danish myself.

Without a second thought, Mylee said to me, “Here’s what you do, Nana. You take a slice of bread. You cut off the crusts and make it square. You put cream cheese in the middle of the bread and you bake it. Got it?”

I swear she said, “Got it?” I nodded, because she’s the boss. I was pretty sure my recipe would be a bit different than that. And, in fact, it was…..

danish

Cheese Danishadapted from Ina Garten and Food Network

Ingredients
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Process
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream them together on low speed until smooth. With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest and mix until just combined. Don’t whip!

Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it’s a 10 by 10-inch square. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife. Place a heaping tablespoon of cheese filling into the middle of each of the 4 squares. Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold 2 opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners of each pastry so they firmly stick together. Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash. Place the pastries on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry and refrigerate the filled Danish for 15 minutes.

Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking, until puffed and brown. Serve warm. Makes 8 Danish rolls.

Nana’s Notes: DO NOT USE WHITE BREAD FOR YOUR DANISH ROLL DESPITE WHAT MYLEE SAYS! Got it? I cut the recipe in half and made only four Danish rolls. 

Dog’s Life

Does this patio welcome dogs? – Person visiting Estes Park who presumed that everyone loves her dog as much as she does

I love dogs. I really do. In fact, for much of my life, I was a dog owner. Well, if an elementary-school-aged child can claim ownership of a dog. I imagine my parents, who paid for the dog, dog food and veterinarian visits would perhaps claim actual ownership. But you get my point. This is not an anti-dog blog post.

I just am amazed, however, at the number of dogs I see in stores and on restaurant patios. Perhaps my amazement is because the dog I owned most recently — who went to doggy heaven somewhere in the early 2000s – would have hated – HATED – going out and about with me, unless it was for a walk. Any time we got near the car, he presumed a trip to the vet was imminent. A doggy park? Fuggetaboutit. He simply didn’t like being around other dogs. They scared him. Perhaps that’s because he never realized that he was, in fact, a dog.

When I was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 or 8 years old, my parents succumbed to their children’s pleas to get a dog. We ended up with an unlikely selection – a Toy Manchester terrier we named Geno (or maybe it was Jeano since it was female) who had so much energy that if she had run alongside someone in a marathon race, she would still want more exercise. Let me just tell you that none of us ran marathons. In fact, after the first few weeks, we lost most of our interest in the alarmingly annoying dog. She was killed by a car when she was still a puppy. I promise it wasn’t murder.

Not long after that we managed to convince our parents that we had seen the error of our ways and now we would be responsible dog owners. We got our second dog, a mutt we named MacArthur Douglas and called Mac. Mac was part of a litter that purported to be part poodle and part Scottish terrier. Mac might have been part poodle, but the closest he got to being a Scottish terrier was that his breeders may have been Scotch drinkers.  Here is a photo of Mac, albeit not a good one. In real life, he actually had eyes……

Mac

You can see that Mac would not have won any beauty contests, at least not as he got older. He was overweight and required regular grooming. But he was a good dog that lived to be a hearty old age and gave my parents company as their kids left home.

When Court and I bought our little house following my divorce, we did the first thing most homeowners do – we bought a dog. I had done a great deal of research and decided a miniature Schnauzer was our dog of choice. And it was a good decision. Fritz provided company, comfort, and many, many laughs. He was the dog who would have thought I was taking him to a dog park as punishment. He simply wanted to be at home with Court, and I was a palatable second choice…..

Fritz and Court 2

Fritz and Court

About the same time that we bought Fritz, Bill also bought a dog that he named Bear. We were not yet married, but the dogs spent time together both before and after we wed. Bear was the only other dog that Fritz could tolerate. Bear was a Rottweiler and German shepherd mix, and despite her size, she was the sweetest dog you could imagine. When we bought the dogs, they were roughly the same size……

Bill's dog Bear and Court and my dog Fritz, when they were puppies, circa 1991. They died of old age. We didn't eat them.

That changed, however, as Bear grew to be enormous and terribly sinister-looking. She wasn’t mean, but other people didn’t know that.

Both Bear and Fritz had to be sent to doggy heaven around the same time. Bill and I sort of thought we would eventually get another dog, but it has been a very long time and not likely to happen any time soon. We travel too much, and more importantly, the majority of our grandkids are allergic to dogs and cats.

Which brings me back to my original point. When did people start treating their dogs as if they were human beings? Again, I love dogs, but I don’t quite understand the logic around bringing them with you to breakfast. Perhaps this is just me aging into a crabby person. But here’s how far we’ve come….

Jen came to spend the night with us a few weeks ago, and she brought her dog Tucker along. Before arriving, they went through the drive-thru at our neighborhood Starbucks so that Jen could order her Pumpkin Spice Latte. The person at the window noticed Tucker and asked Jen, “Would you like a Puppicino for your dog?” I’m serious. I can’t make this stuff up. A Puppicino.

To be fair, Jen said yes, and Tucker enjoyed his Puppicino immensely. Next time, however, Tucker requested a skinny half-caf with a one pump and a splash of cream.