Is This Heaven? No It’s Iowa

Late yesterday morning, Bill was out in the garage working on his car and I was reading a book. It occurred to me that it was a holiday – Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Holidays used to be pretty meaningful to me back in the days when I worked hard for a living and got paid to write. When Court was little, a holiday meant a day off to spend hanging out with him. After he was grown and on his own, a holiday still meant that I got to get up when I felt like it and spend the day with Bill doing whatever I wanted.

If we’re in Colorado when a holiday occurs, my grandkids might stop by our house and we may watch a movie or or go geocaching or make some cookies. But when we are in AZ, I pretty much need to be reminded of a holiday as one day is kind of like the next, in a good way.

As it happened, however, I was unwilling to spend the entire day – holiday or not – sitting in my easy chair even though the latest Longmire novel is quite enjoyable and more important, due back soon to the library. So I asked Bill if he wanted to celebrate the amazing civil rights activist Martin Luther King by getting an Italian beef sandwich at Portillo’s.

Well, duh. Of course he did. How better to honor a great man than with a sloppy, juicy beef sandwich?

While driving to the Chicago-based eatery, we passed Sloan Park, home of the Chicago Cubs’ spring training. You might recall that many baseball clubs west of the Mississippi train in the Valley of the Sun in the spring, and play spring baseball games. It’s the only time that I pay much attention to baseball, I’m afraid.

Seeing Sloan Park made me start thinking about baseball. Which further led me to spend the afternoon watching a movie that I hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years – Field of Dreams. I’ve only seen Field of Dreams one time, and that was at the movie theater, likely with Court, who would have been 9 years old when it was released. If you had asked me what it was about yesterday morning before I saw the movie, I would have said it was about baseball. That, of course, is true. But the movie is also about making peace with your past. It isn’t until literally the end of the movie that you realize that everything that happened led up to Ray Kinsella (played by a very young Kevin Costner) playing catch with his father, long dead. Ray’s biggest regret was that he had, in anger, said something hurtful to his father, and then never saw him again before his father died. Here was a chance to make peace for a past hurt.

Oh, if only this could happen to all of us, right?

But enough of that. Let’s talk about the beef sandwich. Oh, and don’t forget the onion rings.……

Italian beef sandwiches have had to grow on me. The first time I ever ate an Italian beef, I found it to be, well, ordinary. Haters, don’t hate. Because I came around. I learned to order hot peppers instead of sweet. I discovered the benefits of having my sandwich dipped instead of wet. Wet means they pour the juice over the sandwich; dipped means they fill up your sandwich and then, using a tong, dip the entire sandwich in the juice. This practice, of course, results in a drippy mess that requires a multitude of napkins and a willingness to sacrifice a clean shirt. There’s an art to eating a dipped Italian beef sandwich, my friends. After 25 years of marriage to a Chicagoan, I have learned the art.……

My late mother-in-law loved herself a Chicago hot dog. I never saw her eat an Italian beef sandwich, but up until her final couple of years, she was always eager to go to the Portillo’s near her house where she would order a hot dog and French fries. She saved her chocolate shake for Steak N Shake…..

Arizona is required by state law to post the calorie count for all restaurant foods. Party poopers. Each Italian beef sandwich was 530 calories. Of drippy goodness and, unlike Ray Kinsella, no regrets.

Thursday Thoughts

It’s Not Just for Dessert Anymore
Last Sunday after Mass we stopped for breakfast at Steak ‘n Shake Restaurant, which is right next door to the church. It’s quick and inexpensive – darnright cheap, in fact – and isn’t half bad. Anyway, we began looking at our menus, and suddenly I saw the placard on the table which read Breakfast Shakes – Solving the breakfast problem. First of all, I didn’t really realize that breakfast was such a problem. Maybe it isn’t for me because I’m retired. Perhaps working people begin stressing about the problem of breakfast the night before. Maybe it even keeps some people awake. But Steak ‘n Shake has your back. You can have cereal and milk all in one beverage. Oh, and don’t forget the ice cream. Because you see, it’s a breakfast milk shake: milk, Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, and ice cream. Breakfast of champions…..

It frankly didn’t even sound remotely good to me. However, the peppermint shake with chocolate chips did. I will return sometime before the holidays are over and the peppermint shakes are gone until next year.

I rarely binge-watch a television program. That isn’t to say that I won’t sit down and watch several programs in a row in the afternoon while I’m crocheting. But I usually like to hop around. But the other day, I sat down to watch Season 3 of Broadchurch, the gripping Netflix mystery that takes place in a little seaside town in England. Each season, there is one mystery that the two detectives solve over the course of eight episodes. This season it was a violent rape of one of the citizens of the small town. I literally sat on my chair and watched all eight episodes in a row. I simply had to find out who was guilty of the crime. As in Seasons 1 and 2, the solution was a total surprise. I won’t give it away, but I recommend this program. Just make sure you have enough time in your day!

It Isn’t Ugly; It’s Just Seasonal
I got a telephone call the other day from Adelaide. Nana, she said, Sunday is our annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Day with our youth group. Can Alastair and Dagny and I borrow one of your Christmas sweaters? You might remember that they borrowed sweaters last year for the same purpose. I agreed, managing not to be insulted by the request. The truth is, I went through a period where I bought a new Christmas sweater every year, and the more garish it was, the better I liked it. So the two girls came over later and selected their sweaters, choosing one of my sweaters for their brother. They returned them on Tuesday, and proudly informed me that Dagny won the prize for the ugliest sweater. I admit I teared up; maybe it was from pride but maybe it was from embarrassment.

Open For Business
One of the new pieces of furniture I bought for our family room was a coffee table. Our old table didn’t work with the new colors. I selected one that not only had storage on the bottom, but opened up to be a table. I envisioned times when I would work at my computer while watching television. In fact, it’s Cole who broke it in earlier this week, using it as his lunch table as he watched Boss Baby……


Amazing Grace

Bill and I are coming up on 23 years of marriage, preceded by a three-year engagement. So I have been intimately acquainted with Bill’s mom for 26 years or so. I don’t know (and it would be nearly impossible to even guess) how many times in those 26 years we have visited her or she has visited us.

What I can tell you is that every single time we have been together, she has enriched my life. Aren’t I so lucky to be able to say that?

I wrote a blog post about my exceptional mother-in-law awhile back. You can read about her here.

But having spent the past week with this woman, who is about a month shy of being 98 years of age (and don’t tell her I told you that), I was struck by how graciously she is growing old.

Bill and Wilma enjoy lunch and a chocolate milkshake at Steak N Shake.

Bill and Wilma enjoy lunch and a chocolate milkshake at Steak N Shake.

What really impresses me is how she handles the natural way of things as you age. Don’t get me wrong. This is not a woman who never complains. I never trust non-complainers anyway. Wilma told me on a number of occasions during this past week that it bothers her that she can’t see very well, and her inability to hear without her hearing aids annoys the heck out of her. She apologizes for being slow and needing help getting in and out of the car. She can’t remember a lot of names and many words escape her, and that frustrates her. But what she doesn’t do is whine. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself. Or if she does, she keeps it to herself.

Just imagine what it’s like to outlive all of your friends. For all intents and purposes, she has. She told me that makes her sad. But it doesn’t make her whine.

Here’s a funny story about something that happened this past week. (Likely funnier to me than it is to Wilma.)

wilma-2014Wilma is an exceptionally beautiful woman. Funny to say that about someone creeping up to the century mark, but it’s true. She has a complexion that I can only dream about. It’s as if she never spent a day in the sun. I would be astonished if a stranger was able to guess her age. Once a week she has her beautiful snow white hair styled in the salon into a beautiful, natural, soft wave. Guests in the dining room at her retirement community are required to dress nicely for dinner. Wilma ALWAYS looks pretty. She wears makeup (although she did tell me this past week that she’s stopped wearing lipstick; enough is enough, I guess) and always has on pretty jewelry. She really cares about how she looks, and it shows.

One day this past week, Bill and Wilma and I went out for breakfast at the Original Pancake House a few miles from her apartment. We were enjoying our breakfast when we noticed that it had begun to rain. Of course we had not brought an umbrella. Bill and I NEVER have an umbrella when we need it.

By time we were finished with breakfast, it was pouring rain. After we paid the bill, Bill said to us, “You stay here and I will go get the car. We can sit in this little area and wait for the rain to stop.”

Wilma and I sat down and Bill went to get the car. As he drove up, Wilma gets up from the chair and began heading to the door.

“We’re supposed to wait here for him until the rain stops,” I explained to her.

“Nonsense,” she said sharply. “I don’t mind getting wet. Let’s go out to the car.”

One doesn’t argue with Wilma. Or at least I’m too afraid to argue with Wilma.

Ladies and gentlemen, it was coming down in sheets. Furthermore, it isn’t like she can exactly sprint to the car and leap into the front seat. She uses a walker, for heaven’s sake! Needless to say, we were all soaking wet by time we got into the car. Drenched. Quite literally dripping water.

Little was said on the way home, though I knew Bill was frustrated that we hadn’t waited as he had suggested. As she got out of the car at the entryway to the retirement community, Wilma said, “Well, I can’t go inside looking like this.”

Oh boy.

I calmly explained to her that she really had no other choice. It was the only way to get to her apartment.

It seriously took a great deal of persuading on my part to convince her that she had to walk through the lobby to get to the elevator that would take her to her apartment.  Persuading, and a promise that I would run shotgun and let her know if anyone was coming. Of course, many people were coming, and she nearly died of embarrassment.

And for the next few days, she wouldn’t leave the apartment because her hair was straight. Finally, Monday morning I found an old curling iron, blew off the dust, and did my best impression of a hair stylist, which, frankly, is lousy. It’s why I have short hair. But I did a good enough job that she agreed to go out to dinner with us on Monday evening.

This story is not to complain about her at all. In fact, I was duly impressed that a woman nearly 98 years old still cares enough to look her very best. I, on the other hand, have no qualms about looking like a wet chicken. Sigh.

God bless Wilma. She is an inspiration to me in many ways. Maybe I’ll dig out my makeup.