Friday, December 23, 2011

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I could pretend that I've been blogging regularly and just say "Hey, where have YOU been?"  However, it actually has been over a MONTH since I last shared my day with you ... and I have to blame it on Christmas!  

I have always loved this time of year .. the holidays are near and, no matter where you go, people are either rushing around madly looking for that perfect gift for Granny ... who, at 92, already has everyting she can possibly need ... or, conversely, leisurely strolling the aisles of Wal-Mart waiting for inspiration!  I'm sometimes tempted to nudge them along with my cart as my own personal form of inspiration ... the resulting headlines I imagined weren't ones I'd want my 8 grandkids to read

So, what do I love about this time of year?  Let me share my day with you and I hope you'll see why.

This morning, I was at a local mall and had a plum parking spot .. the first one next to the handicapped stalls ... so you know how close to the door that would be.  As I pulled out of my spot, a car behind me was waiting for me to leave so she could pull in.  As I backed out, I noticed her delightedly clapping her hands!  The volume of cars in the parking lot did not bode well for her.  I'm sure she felt as if she had won the lottery.  It tickled me that an inadvertent act of mine could make someone so happy and that she would be so open about her happiness.

Fridays is my "library day."  I am the volunteer "computer docent," which is an important sounding title meaning "person you ask for help if you don't know how to (choose one:  log in;  send a document to the central printer; remember the pin number of your library card; or access your email account on"  In other words, I'm a walking, talking "help desk."

So after leaving the Mall, I headed for the library.  Lots of slow traffic put me there a bit later than normal, but I I expected it to be a "slow day" with the Christmas holidays beginning tomorrow, so my frustration with traffic was at a fairly low level.  To my surprise, every one of our 14 computers was full and steady all afternoon.  I noticed a certain air of desperation among some of the patrons in the library.  The library will be closed for 3 days so folks were stocking up on DVDs, books, magazines, etc.  It made me realize that not everyone's next 3 days would be filled with wrapping paper and ribbons, eating big meals and celebrating with family.

In the middle of the afternoon, a young woman tapped me on the shoulder and told me how happy she was to find me there.  She had come to the library last Friday seeking help with accessing a state website that could provide some information she needed on child support.  She had no idea how to even log in to a computer.  I had stood with her and walked her through the steps for access, but, missing some information she needed, she had been unable to complete her task.  She had left saying she'd come back later.  I'm only there once a week, so I didn't expect to see her again, figuring she'd be back over the weekend and finish up.  Her joy at finding me there matched my surprise that she was back.  She was happy that she didn't have to explain her situation to someone else.  I settled her at a computer that had a bit of privacy to it, acknowledging her concern about someone seeing her child support paperwork.  With my help, she once again accessed the website and completed the documentation she needed.  Once she printed her documents she made a point of coming back and thanking me.  As she left, she turned and said "I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas."

A gentleman, who sounded as if he may have been a recent immigrant to our country, was printing 6 pages of a document, each page of which would cost him 10 cents to print.  He tried to print the first 6 pages, but only had $.55 to put into the printer.  I advised him that he needed to put another nickle in, and he started to dig through his pockets looking for it.  At that point, an elderly gentleman, who had apparently overheard our conversation, walked over and dropped a nickle into the machine and then walked away, saying "Merry Christmas."  No beard or red suit, but I couldn't help but wonder ... 

After printing the first 6 pages, Mr. Immigrant Patron decided he wanted another copy of the document - so he needed another $.60.  He only had a $20 bill, and the librarian could only change it into a $10 ten and two $5 bills.  The patron approached several other people in the library and asked if they could change a five dollar bill.  One man dug through his wallet and found three crumpled up $1 bills, and then went out to his car to get more change and brought it in to the man.  Hmmm?  The library's version of the Elf on the Shelf?

A woman about my age (in other words, very young!) was struggling to access her email.  She readily admitted that she had just opened this account at a local education center as a way to help her find a job.  She was a one-finger typist (no slam here - my husband is also and he navigates the keyboard almost as fast as I do!) but this woman was TRULY a novice.  I helped her get into the account. But each time she clicked on an email and read it, she forgot how to get back to the list of emails and would attempt to log in over and over.  She was near tears and I was happy to be able to calm her.  She went out of her way when she left to come to where I sat and thank me.  She also wished me a merry Christmas.

On my way home, I stopped at the grocery store.  Outside the store, a group of 4 people were standing by the "Red Kettle" ringing bells, singing Christmas carols and offering greetings to each shopper who entered.  Already buoyed by their good spirits (either seasonal or medicinal!), I have to admit I wasn't surprised to see a particularly striking customer in line buying groceries ... he wished me Merry Christmas and didn't mind at all when I pulled out my phone to snap his picture!  And no one around him batted an eye!

To complete my day, one of the top stories on the evening news "Layaway Santas" all over the United States who are "paying it forward" by going to K-Marts and Wal-Marts to pay off the layaway balances for people they don't know.  If you didn't see the story, check it out here:  Layaway Santas.  If this doesn't make you feel good about the world, you should see your friendly psychiatrist!

So on this December 23, my love of this season is reinforced.  I am happy to report that there are indeed "people of good will" out there and I do think that Mary's Boy Child must be delighted that His birth is commemorated so appropriately.  Enjoy Christmas with your families ... we are all blessed to have each other.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mugging It Up for Christmas

This morning I got out my "Christmas mug."  I bought it many years ago and every year, I get it out on the Monday of Thanksgiving week and enjoy my daily morning coffee from it right through Christmas. It's my way of saying, "Let the games begin."   It's my "Black Friday" so to speak.

After a few cups of coffee from my mug while enjoying the look of the first snow outside the window, the official whirlwind began.  Today I made fudge and divinity for Thanksgiving (my assigned task each year are the "sweets" ... my favorite food group).   I made a new cookie recipe I found in an old issue of a Rachel Ray magazine. The cookies looked the way they did in her magazine, but I can't say the same for the cook!  I'm hoping people will like the taste of the Pecan Caramel Surprises and not notice the lines and wrinkles I have that Rachel doesn't!

Cookie baking was followed by a trip to Walmart to stock up on the ingredients needed for the next few days.  Pies have to be baked for Thanksgiving .. and more cookies for the cookie exchange with my girls that will take place December 4.  And all the while, my Christmas mug will be at hand, reminding me of how much I love this time of year.

I ended the day by addressing and stamping my Christmas cards.  Yup!  They're ready to go.  I'm cookin' so to speak ... LOL!

Tomorrow I'll wrap the gifts I've bought (a few are already done) and, no doubt, come up with at least 10 more things I need to buy/do before December 25.

Friday morning - the official opening of the holiday season for the rest of the country - will find me out shopping looking for goodies.  I love Black Friday - my own and the more traditional one .. you know, the one that requires you to get up at 3:00 a.m., and stand shivering in 10 degree weather outside of Target, in line with 200 other people (mostly women) who also gave up a night's rest to save $5.00 on a toy that their child will play with for 5 minutes and then cast aside for the cardboard box it came in. The experience really energizes me and gets me set for the holiday.  There is a certain camaraderie as you juggle packages in your arms while standing in the check-out line that stretches all the way around the store and even loops back a couple of times. It's one of my favorite days of the year.

Hope your day was a good one and that you're looking forward to the "countdown" as much as I am.  Oops!  That reminds me .. have to go down and find my "Countdown Santa" to put out ... one more frantic reminder of how the days are flying by.  Isn't life fun!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thank you, God for ......

During the month of November, my daughter, Michele, is posting on her Facebook page one thing a day that she is thankful for.  I thought it was a great idea and immediately followed her lead (I've always been a good follower!).  I'm finding it a refreshing exercise and one that has already shown me how much I have to be thankful for.  It's only the 5th day of November and already I'm having a hard time choosing just ONE thing each day.

I feel sorry for people who don't often count their blessings .. or don't even realize they have blessings to count. So, in case you need help in finding things to be thankful for during this month of Thanksgiving, I offer up one suggestion.  Be thankful for our men and women in blue and the services they provide.  This gratitude isn't as altruistic as you might think .. it actually is a reaction to a small item that appears in our newspaper about 3 days a week.  "Blotter Fodder" documents what one might catalogue as "out of the ordinary" police calls .. at least in my mind, they're out of the ordinary.  I think of peace officers responding to traffic accidents, heart attacks, terrorist threats, burglaries, etc.  But apparently, they also respond to calls that fall into a more unique category.  Here for your perusal are a few examples of actual calls that have been made to local police departments.  Unfortunately, many of them seem to have come from the northern suburbs where we live.  Hmmm ... maybe it's time to expand the gene pool.

Aug 28:  A 44-year old man in the 100 block of Gibraltar Road, Fridley, wanted his mother arrested for assault.  She had slapped her son in the face to kill a mosquito.  No mosquito or other evidence was found.
Sept 19:  An officer responded to the 300 block of Hugo Street in Fridley regarding a strange noise coming from the trees.  The officer determined it was a bird. No one was cited or arrested.

If that isn't enough to give you pause, I offer the following - again from the Fridley Police Department:

Sept 25:  A woman from an unknown address called the Fridley Police Department seeking guidance.  She reported that she had passed out after drinking in Minneapolis and woke up being punched by a female acquaintance.  She asked police if she should go to bowling league with the female who punched her.  An officer advised her not to go to the bowling league.
Lest you think that our neighbors in the southern suburbs where incomes are a bit higher have been able to avoid the more bizarre police work, here is an entry to prove you wrong.  
Sept 1:  Overnight someone entered through the roof of Davanni's, 6345 Penn Ave. So., Richfield and stole $53 in change and some desserts. 
Obviously, a poverty-stricken burglar with a sweet tooth!  

So, if you find yourself in need of something for which you can give thanks on November 24, you might want to thank God for our police officers.  You might also want to be thankful that none of these callers is related to you! 


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Attention, Target Shoppers!

Did you know that you CAN shop too early for Christmas?  At least if you shop at Target, that can be the case.

I am a procrastinator by nature.  People who learn that about me are often surprised, but it is true.  I'm organized and efficient ... I'm just slow in getting started.  I "mull" things over for quite some time ... waking up at 3 a.m. worrying about what I have to get done, when I will find the time to do it, what piece of it to begin with, etc.

Take Christmas for instance  In early October every year, I find myself starting to "panic" about all that must be done in only 2 1/2 months.  What's everything?  Oh, Christmas shopping (I buy approximately 80 presents),  wrapping those 80 gifts, decorating the house, putting the tree up, writing and mailing our Christmas letter, picking a date to frost and exchange cookies with the kids and grandkids, etc., etc.  So on approximately October 10 each year, I start what I call the 3 a.m. heebie jeebies (this is where the procrastination piece comes in).  After tossing and turning for several hours in the wee hours of the morning, I get out of bed, acknowledging that "the season" has begun (my season of panic, that is), but then I might spend 2 hours that night sitting in front of my computer playing Free Cell or looking at pictures on Facebook, or working the Sunday New York Times Crossword puzzle .. all the while my stomach is twisting and turning in anticipation of all that must be done!!!! 

So I was quite proud of myself when, in April of this year, I bought my first present for Christmas 2011!  No hints.  It's a secret, so I'm not telling who it was for or what it was. Suffice it to say, I was pretty darn pleased with myself.  Maybe I was finally shedding that old bugaboo, procrastination!  The gift made its way into a closet, with a sticky note on it advising as to who it was for and the occasion (just in case, I'm kidnapped by aliens and my family is left behind to sort through all of the stuff I have in various closets throughout the house) ... or, in the more likely event, that I just plain forget by December who it was I purchased a gift for in April.

In August, I picked up 3 more gifts.  I was on a roll and was happy to say goodbye to this nasty character flaw.

One day last week, I decided to REALLY prepare early by wrapping the gifts already purchased.  As I pulled out what I had bought, I started second guessing myself as to the size (oops, a clue!) and decided that an exchange was in order in case the recipient had grown a bit since August.

A quick glance at the receipt brought a smug glow as I again patted myself on the back at my early preparedness.

A trip to Target's return desk brought me face to face with a very helpful customer service rep.  I couldn't help myself .. I had to tell her that these were early Christmas presents I had bought IN AUGUST(!) and was already returning, BEFORE I ever gave them to the intended recipients.  I explained I wanted to get different sizes and waited for her to congratulate me on being one of the "early Christmas shoppers" that we all aspire to.

Imagine my shock when she told me it was a good thing I had returned them because the receipt would expire on 11/17/11.  I pointed out that I had gift receipts that would accompany the gifts.  She said that wouldn't matter.  The gift receipts would be expired also.  I asked what that meant (I felt as if we were speaking in two different languages).

It means, all you early bird shoppers out there, that the person returning the gift would be given whatever the clearance price of the item was the last time it was sold at Target. You've all seen those "clearance stickers" on items ... some of them say things like "$1.38."  I'm frugal, but I don't want people to think of me as cheap!

I was flabbergasted.  I observed that shopping early, then, really wasn't such a great idea. She advised me to never start my Christmas shopping before October ... and to always check the expiration date on the receipt to make sure that it would occur after the date the gift was to be opened!

While I was disappointed that Target's return policy is so penurious as to discourage a population that might want to avoid the craziness of the Christmas rush, I was also pleased to finally realize that no matter how early I started worrying about Christmas' impending arrival, I absolutely cannot start shopping before October 1 if I suspect that someone might need to exchange a gift from me.   And, historically speaking, that DOES happen periodically (I really don't know why my husband didn't like those striped coveralls I gave him for Christmas that year.  I thought they would be perfect to wear while blowing out the driveway!)

So, if you are planning to do your Christmas shopping early, avoid Target until after October 1.  Oh,and that gift I bought in April?  Guess I'll keep it for myself and start all over again!  Level 2 of panic setting in ....

Friday, October 14, 2011

Just Peachy Keen

What says summer better than a peach pie?  Possibly, strawberry shortcake or corn on the cob .. or even watermelon!  Be that as it may, I look forward every summer to the arrival of peaches .. my favorite fruit.  Beginning in July, we start seeing peaches from California, Idaho, Georgia, etc.  But it's almost fall before the king of peaches arrive ... Colorado peaches.  Big, firm and yet juicy!   Perfect for baking or eating fresh.

About 2 weeks ago, a friend of mine delivered half a lug of beautiful Colorado peaches to my house.  I had ordered them as a fund raiser, intending to freeze them, providing us with a quick taste of summer sometime next January or February. But they were so darn good that we started eating them out of hand. Before I knew it, there were only a few left.  I wanted to have something to show for the peaches, so decided to make a peach pie.

Normally, my fruit pies have to be served in a bowl with a spoon. Even I have to admit that fruit pies are not my forte (although I make a darn good pie crust from scratch!). 

Being a modern woman, and following the technology standard these days, I searched the internet for a peach pie recipe.  Who uses cookbooks anymore?  Anyone???  I didn't have to be a genius to know that if I used my regular recipe it would turn out runny (sorry, Betty Crocker).

So, off I went to Recipe Girl, a great place to start ... wonderful recipes and pictures of the finished product (always a benefit).  What did I have to lose (other than my reputation as the soupiest fruit pie maker in town!)?  I wasn't disappointed.

Here is the recipe I used.  Recipe Girl's Peach Pie.  And here is the finished product.

The results?  My husband said it was the best pie I'd ever made ... and ...

wait for it .....

It wasn't soupy!  

Thank you Recipe Girl!  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Beauty in My Own Back Yard

The first 10 days of October have been absolutely breathtaking in their beauty.  We had 8 days in a row of 80+ degree weather.  We almost set a record on Monday, October 10, but the mercury only managed to inch up to 76 degrees that day!  What a paltry effort on Mother Nature's part.  Had we reached 80 or higher, it would have been our 9th day IN A ROW of 80 plus temperatures in October ... a new record.

I'm not complaining. We've gotten in several days of fall golf.  We've visited apple orchards.  We've cleaned up leaves .. sometimes 2 and 3 times in one day.  Okay ... in the interest of full disclosure, ED has cleaned up leaves ... but I've been right there applauding his efforts and praising him! We've slept with the windows open and the ceiling fans whirling.  I've washed a few windows and mopped a few floors to remove the black dirt that a 60 mph wind blew in, leaving unclothed trees (and dirty floors) in its wake.  We've gone to high school football games in tee shirts and sandals (unheard of in Minnesota in October) and applauded the work of the cute cheerleaders (especially our granddaughter!), watched a grandson play football in the Metrodome, and enjoyed a walk on a school nature trail with another grandson on a beautiful October afternoon.

In between all of these activities I've also found time to sit on our 3-season porch now and then and admire the beauty of our own back yard.  We have a small back yard which is encircled by trees and shrubs.  The first year we lived here, I didn't realize there was a house behind us until winter arrived and all of the trees were bare!  Our 3-season porch is a haven from the world for me. When we went house hunting 18 years ago, it was the one feature on my "must have" list.  There is no television on the porch.  Just windows, lovely, comfortable furniture, and the world outside.  Periodically, Ed "wishes" for a TV out there, but I remain adamant that it is the one room in the house that must remain a respite from football, cooking programs, old cowboy shows, and other daytime distractions.  A book is allowed out there ... a newspaper is allowed out there ... even a radio/iPOD is allowed there.  That's it.  In appreciation of the view from that room on beautiful autumn days, and the serenity it brings me, I captured a picture of it with my camera about 10 days ago.  I didn't have any real reason to take the picture.  Didn't even intend to share it with anyone.  The view itself just begged to be captured.  Little did I know the purpose it would later serve.

On Tuesday of this week, we made the drive along the Mississippi River (on both the Wisconsin and Minnesota sides) to "look at the leaves" and enjoy the company of good friends.  We saw hundreds of migrating birds flying low on the Mississippi River (snatching fish from shallow water?), read the history of the Indian woman who threw herself off the bluffs at Maidenrock, Wisconsin (so named after the young woman), and bought a beautiful loaf of black pumpernickle bread at a bakery in Stockholm, Wisconsin.  While we had an enjoyable time, the fall colors were a bit of a disappointment. The trees were drab and even bare in many places, victims of the wind last week.  We were a day late and a dollar short as they say.  

I have to admit to probably being a bit less disappointed than our friends as I realized that I had already enjoyed the beauty of fall ... sitting on my own porch, taking in the beauty of our own back yard.  Capturing it on my camera means I am able to enjoy the colors and the serenity of that porch whenever I want to.  I don't have to wait for a beautiful day .. I don't have to drive 50+ miles from home .. I don't have to spend $3.59 a gallon on gas to go where the colors are!

I guess it's true what they say.  The best things in life are free .. and are often found in your own back yard.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Time Management

My apologies if you've been checking in, looking for a posting from me.  I'd actually like to think that someone MIGHT have been doing that.  For 10 days now, I've been thinking, "I have to blog.. I have to blog."  

I didn't realize how hard this blogging would be.  Trying to come up with something to write about .. without having a "theme" for the blog ... is quite a challenge.  I'm beginning to understand writer's block! So, I decided I would just sit down and start writing "stream of consciousness" and see what I could make of it (remember the old exercises in journalism class?).  However, then I couldn't find the time (subconscious procrastination?)!  Yikes! There are 86,400 seconds in a day ... how could I not have found 30 minutes out of 864,000 seconds to write something!  Maybe I should think about time management.

Now that I've had time to reflect on it, I have been pretty busy during those 864,000 seconds and I did some pretty terrific things during them.

  • I have been with 7 of my 8 grandchildren ... sporting events (Megan, Landon and Cam), birthday present deliveries (Lauren and Emily), student recognition award ceremonies (Daniel) and the joy of a bonus hug and kiss from one (Nathan) while delivering birthday presents to his sister. The 8th one (Delaney) eluded me only because she was out of town playing in the state baseball tournament at the times I saw her siblings.  However, I hear she hit 2 triples in one of the games, so "Way to go, Delaney!"
  • Shared meals with several different groups of friends:  coffee and bagels with a neighbor who had just retired after 25 years as a nurse; breakfast with an 84 year old friend who sat behind us at 5:00 Mass every week until she and her husband had to leave their home of 50 years and move to a senior high-rise; lunch with a friend I have known and worked with for 25 years; Mass and dinner with a group of friends we've known for 30 years; a wonderful dinner my husband cooked for another friend turning 70; lunch with my 92-year old mother and my best friend; and lunch with my former boss (who retired the same day I did) and our former secretary.  
  • Baked my first peach pie of the season (delicious!)
  • Volunteered for 8 hours at the local library
  • Saw the movie "The Help."
  • Played 36 holes of golf (and bid adieu to my golf league until next April) 
  • Cleaned house
  • Did 13 loads of laundry
  • Cooked a few meals (Ed would tell you "a very few" and, looking at all of the meals I shared with others listed above, I'd have to agree)
  • And a bunch of stuff I've forgotten!
No wonder I haven't had time to blog.

It is October 1. Summer is definitely behind us, despite a few warm days this past week and a few that will come in October. As I write this, the sun is out .. the leaves are changing ... and the feel and smell of fall is in the air.  The maple tree in our back yard is usually at its peak on our anniversary ... October 9.  Today, the top of it is a brilliant red ... right on schedule for its annual spectacular dress-up of our back yard. 

A few days ago, a couple of our neighborhood wild turkeys (the two-legged kind) visited the ground under our bird feeder (deliberately feeding wild animals is now illegal in our community ... interesting what issues our politicians can fix while the recession runs rampant and homeless people and hungry children increase by the day).  The turkeys don't make an appearance most of the summer, but they abound in the winter, so I'm preparing myself.

And as I write this, it is 85 days, 10 hours and 36 minutes to Christmas (less by the time you read this!)  I'd better get busy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Who is Aunt Velma?

It's been a busy week since I last blogged.  We just came off a 3-day weekend which included 2 games of golf, an overnight stay at a friend's cabin, and some gambling at Black Bear Casino in Carlton, Minnesota. 

I golfed better than I have in a long time and gambled ... well, let's just say I didn't lose everything I brought with me, and that's the same as winning, in my book.  We were with good friends and ate, drank and made merry the whole time.  Great way to see an end to summer (the cool, windy weather and mist in the air was NOT great!)  If the weather had been a bit warmer, I'd say I had experienced a little slice of Heaven!

But speaking of a little slice of Heaven, I wanted to share a great new recipe with you that I made when we got home from our 3G weekend (golfing/gambling/giggling!)  

As usual ... the background.  Every September, we make an annual trip with some friends to Grand Avenue in St. Paul.  So off we went last week, choosing a weekday since we are now all retired.  It was fun to leisurely stroll down the Avenue four abreast, without having to worry about bumping into other people, or making way for someone to pass us.  Stores were equally wide open and we didn't have to fight off crowds while making our ice cream cone selection at the Grand Ole Creamery or ordering Bloody Marys at Axel's Bonfire (yes, we have eclectic tastes).  I do have to admit the people watching isn't as good on a Tuesday, but the hassle-free shopping made up for it. 

One stop we always make is at Penzey's Spice Shop.  Even if you don't cook much (and I don't!) the smells in Penzey's are worth stopping in .. and the look and sound of shoes on the wooden floor transports me back to my childhood visits to the Robbinsdale Library!

While Ed and our friend, Linda, shop for spices and herbs (those perfumey green things that can ruin the perfectly good taste of anything you add them to), Rod and I walk around and marvel at the names of some of the products (Tuscan Sunset, Northwoods Seasonings, etc.) and pick up the free 3x5" recipe cards scattered around the store.  The recipe cards always feature at least one product that is available at Penzey's, with the goal of getting a customer to buy the product in order to produce the item pictured on the card.

This year I picked up the recipe for "Aunt Velma's Chocolate Cake."  I don't know who Aunt Velma is, but the cake looked delicious .. moist and chocolatey with a white buttercream frosting.  Plain and simple, but gourmet good in my mind (e.g., no green things floating around in it).

I made the cake Sunday afternoon and the finished product was just as good as the picture promised.  I don't know who Aunt Velma is, but she is one heck of a cook.  Hope you try the recipe (see link above) and fall in love with Aunt Velma just like I did.

I've got a few other cards that I picked up that I'll try as the fall season progresses.  None of them has Aunt Velma's name attached to them, so I can't predict they'll be as good as the cake, but I'll keep you posted.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reality TV Shows and Vegetarians

I'm not much of a TV watcher.  And I really don't consider myself a Reality TV watcher at all.  Shows such as "Dancing with the Stars," "The Bachelor," "Big Brother," or "Survivor" hold no appeal for me whatsoever.  In the past, I've been less than charitable about people who do watch them (without throwing anyone under the bus, or naming names, I'll just say I do live with one such person!)

However, over the last few years, I've become hooked, quite accidentally, on a couple such shows, The Amazing Race and Biggest Loser.  The Race hooked me because my husband was watching it on Sunday nights while I worked the New York Times crossword puzzle in the same room.  Was I feeling a bit smug that I was engaged in such an intellectual pursuit, while HE was watching such drivel? Hopefully, not!

Little by little, bits of the action started worming their way into my subconscious.  I mean, how could I resist a woman my own age (a bit past my youth!) riding an elephant, or two members of the Harlem Globetrotters maneuvering a waterslide in Dubai, or men with very hairy bodies undergoing Brazilian body waxes, etc.?   Soon, I found myself taking the phone off the hook at 7 p.m. on Sunday evenings so there would be no chance of my missing one single minute of such riveting television.  The crossword puzzle?  That would still be there on Monday.

The Biggest Loser ended up on my list of "must see" TV while I was walking on my treadmill one night a few years ago, and happened onto one of the weigh-ins while "surfing" with the remote.  I hate exercising, so spending 30 minutes on a treadmill is pure torture and I'm always looking for a way to make it less painful. Mindless distraction seemed a good method, and Biggest Loser seemed an appropriate choice.

That night, I found myself upping my treadmill's speed and incline after watching people weighing 150 lbs or more than I straining to complete their time on a treadmill that STARTED at 3.5 miles an hour (usually my ending speed after 30 minutes) and ended on incline levels that felt like climbing a small mountain to me. After that first night, I didn't miss an episode. I have to admit though that I usually watch them while sitting in my recliner eating buttered popcorn and drinking a glass of wine.  That exercise stuff is way too much work.

Recently, I've added another show to my list. The Great Food Truck Race. On the Food Network of all channels.  This show has quite an interesting premise, especially for someone like me who thinks of a truck as the main character in a country western song, not as a food prep station.

GFTR is on Sunday evenings and last night's episode ended with one of the 4 "finalist trucks" being disqualified for cheating. One would think that all of the contestants would know the rules so this sounded like a pretty stupid mistake.  The disqualified "truck crew" didn't make any protest ... just left the scene.  I know they edit these shows, so possibly there was some exchange that got edited out.  I'm dying to know more about what happened (the emcee gave viewers just a bare bones account), but, apparently because of the confidentiality agreements all contestants signed, no other information has been released and the disqualified contestants can't say anything until a certain amount of time elapses.  So I guess we have to wait until spring to hear their side of the story.  I'll definitely keep watching.  Hmmm ... is there something promotional going on? 

Courtesy of last night's show, I've now discovered a new blog that I'm going to follow.  It's called The Chubby Vegetarian.  "Chubby" was featured on last night's show and I checked out his blog today. Since I have a daughter who is a vegetarian, I'm always interested in foods I can serve that might appeal to her.  Check out the "Tiny Yogurt Parfaits" ... something even a non-vegetarian like myself might love! 

I found Chubby's blog interesting and easy to navigate, so I've put his link on My Blog List shown on this page.  Check it out, especially if you're a vegetarian .. or even if you're not.

By the way, the Chubby Vegetarian is anything but chubby. Bet he doesn't watch the Biggest Loser while eating popcorn and drinking wine!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Musings on an Autumn Day

We are experiencing some beautifully warm days in Minnesota right now.  Kids are back in school and so neighborhoods are quiet, streets are busier (at least during rush hour), high school athletes are knocking at our door selling booster club coupon books, and, periodically, I smell woodsmoke as the air crisps up.

I'm volunteering at the library today.  It is quiet here.  You can tell school is back in session.  Only adults at the computers ... it's too early in the day for school to be out, so the kids won't start strolling in for another hour or so. Right now the computer screens are filled with job applications, e-bay listings, email archives, and Food Network recipes. When the kids arrive, the screens will light up with You Tube, Angry Birds, Facebook and Disney.  In a few weeks, I expect to see the kids coming in working on school research papers, science projects and SAT pre-exams. The signs of the season as exhibited on computer history logs.

Yesterday, I made homemade spaghetti sauce!  Haven't done that in years.  I get the urge to "hunker down" when fall comes.  Apparently, spaghetti sauce is the first step in my hunkering this year.  My husband thought he had died and gone to heaven.  He loves Italian food ... me, not so much ... thus, the reason why it's been years since I last made sauce.  I had even gone out and bought Italian meatballs to add to it (this hunkering only goes so far!) and a nice loaf of French bread (I try to be globally diverse).  I was just getting a pot of water ready to cook the spaghetti when, out of the blue, my husband asked me to iron a pair of shorts for him.  Thinking that was an odd request at 4:00 in the afternoon, and seeing no need for him to change clothes, even thought it was HOMEMADE spaghetti, I suddenly remembered that we were going out for dinner with friends that night!  I had totally forgotten!  And to think that just one week before that, I had passed the memory portion of my "Welcome to Medicare" physical with flying colors. So, guess what we're having for dinner tonight?  

Tonight is the first home football game for our granddaughter's high school.  She is a varsity football cheerleader and so I will go and cheer on the players and the cheerers! I'm happy it's 80 out today.  I won't need to bring hand warmers and a stocking cap to the game.  Having been a "brr-baby" all of my life, 80 degrees is my idea of perfect football weather!

Next weekend we are planning a trip "up north" with friends for golfing, gambling and good fellowship (this may include a glass of wine or a beer or two).  The golf course is part of a resort that includes a casino (another of my loves!), so I'm planning to bring a lot of golfballs (tough course) and a lot of pennies (tough casino!).  I'm hoping for success on the course and on the slots!

Tomorrow would have been my father-in-law's 93rd birthday.  He died 6 months ago today.  It is so hard to believe he's been gone that long.  He was "Pap-Pap" to our kids for his whole life and "Dad" to me ... he is dearly missed.  

Autumn seems to be a time of reflection and preparation. Reflection on the fun of the summer. Preparation for the excitement of the holiday season ahead and the cold winter months of hibernation.  Hope your autumn days are filled with gentle contentment.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Fruits of our Labors

Today is Labor Day and I've been to several stores already where people are working; my husband has cut the grass and climbed up on the roof to trim tree branches (with a recently replaced knee that was a little scary and I don't think he'll be doing it again); and I've spent a couple of hours in the kitchen cooking with the fruits of someone's garden ... ours, our daughter's and farmers across the United States whose peppers, avocados, onions and other wonderful bounty has now reached Cub Foods in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.  So, yes, it is a day of Labor!  

Right now, two beautiful loaves of zucchini bread sit on my counter, along with a quart of homemade fresh salsa, comfort food made with produce harvested at the end of summer, evidence that summer is almost over.  Not only is it Labor Day, but my thermometer said 47 degrees at 7 a.m. today; yesterday, we golfed wearing light jackets; and for the last two days, the constant thrumming of the air conditioner has been blissfully quiet.  Fresh air coming in the windows allows for the smell of fresh cut grass and fall blooming flowers to come into the house during the day and provides good sleeping at night!  School starts tomorrow ... we will have to remember to watch out for the kids standing in the semi-dark at the bus stops; I saw the first red leaf on our backyard maple tree; and I could smell a wood fire burning when I got the newspaper this morning.  Yup, reminders that summer is ending are all around us.

I love Labor Day and what it heralds ... the beginning of fall.  I DON'T love what comes after fall.  I suppose if I had ever learned to enjoy being all bundled up so that I waddled when I walked, or if I had learned to enjoy having icicles frozen to my eyelashes while I skated on frozen water (actually, I did enjoy and do that as a kid) or if I had learned to go south for the winter, then I might not hate the thought of winter.  

But since I am a true Brr-baby and never learned any of that, I will just be grateful today for the fruits of our labors:  a day of rest, beautiful sunshine and leaves starting to change color, zucchini bread and fresh salsa.  And, no, I don't intend to serve them together.  There are tostita chips for the salsa and good creamery butter for the bread.  And the best part of the day?  I don't have to go to work tomorrow!  Life is good and we are blessed.  

Happy Labor Day to all of you who labor.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Yesterday was Day #3  of golfing with grandchildren this WEEK and Day #7 of golfing with grandchildren this SUMMER.  

Golfing with #8 grandchild, Delaney, completed my personal goal to golf with each grandchild this summer.  It was my retirement gift to myself and it seemed like such an easy commitment at the time I made it.  12 weeks of summer ... 7 grandchildren .  Piece of cake, I thought!

I hadn't planned on June being a washout (and we traveled 2 weeks out of that month as well) and July and August seemed to fly by, filling up quickly with other commitments:  a trip to Chicago, golf with friends, taking mom to the doctor, golf with husband, contract work for my former employer, golf tournaments, sports schedules of the grandchildren themselves, work schedules of the grandchildren, and, oh, did I mention golf?  Well, you get the picture.  

All of a sudden, I realized there were only two weeks left until school started and I still had 3 kids to get to the golf course.  Enter "Power Golf Week."  And I prayed for good weather.

Yesterday, was Delaney's day and it was a gray, cool morning.  I worried whether we'd get the game in, and packed the golf umbrellas into the cart, along with a vest and sweatshirt.  Delaney was dressed in shorts and golf sandals (cute green toenail polish poking through) and a green sweatshirt - a stylin' chick ... how many girls do you know who wear sweatshirts to match their toenail polish?

Delaney turned 10 in May and, like the others, hasn't golfed much in her young lifetime.  But that doesn't stop her from having a darling set of pink clubs in a pink bag and even some fancy pink balls  (those quickly disappeared in the trees, the creek, etc.).  She is an excellent softball player, so I worried about whether she'd try "for the fences" on every swing.

Much to the contrary, her swing was a small half swing that quickly became very effective.  She was hitting balls 75 and 80 yards by the time we finished and her putting stroke was pretty accurate and showed a nice touch.  She was happy to drive the golf cart (after we were out of visual range of the clubhouse, of course) and, like the others, accepted the loan of my hybrid club and adapted to the heft and feel of it pretty quickly.  It is so much fun to see the smile on the face of a kid who has just hit the ball fairly well.  You know you've just planted a golf seed in fertile ground.

We moved along very quickly.  I think the weather (not to mention the State Fair) kept attendance down on the golf course, so it seemed like we hadn't been out there very long before arriving at hole #7.  With a note of sadness in her voice, Delaney said, "Oh, are we almost done already?  That sure went fast."  It was the same sentiment expressed by her siblings on their golf days and I had to agree.  Not only was the game over quickly, but the special 1:1 time seemed to fly by as well.

Delaney drove the cart like a pro, although reaching the pedals was a challenge ... I told her that even adult women (like her grandma!) have trouble with that.  This game continues to be geared toward men and the distance from the bench seat to the gas pedal in a golf cart is just one more example of that.  I think we need golf carts with adjustable seats and rear view mirrors.  Not only do I have to sit on the edge of the seat while driving, but I'm positively at a loss when I have to apply lipstick!  

A visit to the restaurant at the golfcourse completed our date.  The new grill at this course has some items that I fondly refer to as "Gucci" food; e.g., not basic Minnesota comfort food.  One example is the Ciabatta buns that all the burgers are served on.  Delaney likes ordinary food, and so we were happy to learn that she could get her bacon hamburger on a plain old hamburger bun.  That and the great fries the restaurant serves certainly left both of us full and satisfied ... with the food as well as the companionship of our day.  

Today is September 1.  It's 89 degrees right now, with a heat index of 101.  A high of 79 is predicted for tomorrow, so this probably is the last "real" day of summer. I'm happy to report that my summer was a spectacular success, thanks to my wonderful grandchildren and their willingness to spend a day Golfing with Granny.  I don't know about them, but I'll sure remember it forever.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We'll Do It Again Next Summer

When the cashier at the golf pro shop says, "I don't need to see your ID.  I know who you are," is it time to admit you're hanging out too much at the golf course?

That's what I heard today when grandson, Landon, and I checked in at the pro shop.  It's not that I know this man personally.  It's just that Landon was the 6th grandchild I've brought to golf at this course in the last 8 weeks.  After chuckling about the frequency of my visits, I told the pro that I would be back tomorrow with the 7th grandchild to complete my summer odyssey -  the good Lord willing and the rain holds off!

We had a wonderful day on the course, despite having to dodge a few raindrops here and there.  Not enough to require umbrellas, but we did have to lower the club protector awning on the back of the golf cart. Guess I spoke a little hastily yesterday about the golf God having given us such good weather all summer.

Landon had brought his own set of junior clubs, but used a good number of mine.  As with the others, I introduced him to my hybrid club.  After using it for a few holes, he asked about the price of a new one.  After hearing the amount, he observed that he didn't golf enough for that, so he thought he'd see if he could find a used one!  Pretty savvy economics.

Landon's golf swing is pretty fast and hard, propelled from the same mindset he uses when playing baseball I suspect. Slowing him down for putting proved to be a real challenge. He found a rhythm on the fairway that he could manage with my hybrid or one of his clubs, but his putting looked more like the final game in the World Series of ping pong. By the end of 9 holes, however, he was pretty much in the groove, and actually ended up with a double bogie on each of the last two holes.  Like a seasoned golfer, he quickly declared those his two favorite holes on the course.

Before we got to the course, we had stopped at a local gas station to pick up a couple of "Arnie Palmers" in a bottle.  Landon was sure this was going to bring us good luck and it did seem to help him if he took a swig prior to hitting a fairway shot.  I have to admit I sneaked a drink occasionally, thinking it might help my game, but Arnie wasn't as good to me.

We were both surprised to find Grandpa waiting for us near the green when we got to the 9th tee box.  Grandpa had one of his 4 football drafts today, so we hadn't expected him to serve as gallery for us.  After teeing off, with Grandpa watching, Landon's second shot on the 9th went into the bunker.  Thinking I was doing him a favor, I picked it up and threw it on the grass so he wouldn't have to struggle with what I figured could be humiliation in front of Grandpa. Since he hadn't been in a bunker all day, and knowing the problems I have in a bunker, I was trying to spare him! I should have known better.

Not afraid of trying any shot he was faced with, he asked me to put the ball back in the sandtrap because he wanted to try a bunker shot.  His pitching wedge out of the trap was almost picture perfect, landing about 5 feet from the pin. He was pretty tickled to have done so well in front of Gramps! And I learned not to presume.

Our apres-game bite-to-eat had to be inside today since the patio was a bit damp from the rain.  But Landon didn't seem to mind, as he and Grandpa quickly launched into a discussion of the football players Grandpa had just drafted, supplemented by the printout Grandpa had brought of the recent picks.  As they discussed the pros and cons of the choices, I was tickled with this evidence of the respect Grandpa held for Landon's sports' knowledge.  Feeling a little left out of this part of the day, I was happy to find a friend of mine eating at the table next to us, so I could turn my attention to more "girly" things while the men talked football.

Though just having turned 12 this month, Landon is a real sports nut.  He has played baseball and football for many years and last year took up basketball for the first time. He has a knowledge of sports that rivals that of most adult men.  I marvel when I observe him holding his own talking sports with my husband.  I'm the first to admit I know diddly squat about most sports, despite loving golf.  On the way home from the golf course, Landon tried to explain to me what a football "tight end" does.  When he heard my neutral grunts and saw the blank expression on my face, he politely started talking about golf instead, subtly acknowledging my sports deficiencies, while taking advantage of the fact that I was at least willing to share my course time with him.  

I'm amazed at how much fun this golf odyssey has been so far.  I'm delighted at how polite and grateful these kids all are for this time together.  The day ended with Landon saying "Thank you, Grandma,"  and then pumping his fist when I responded, "You're welcome.  We'll do it again next summer."  It sure doesn't take much for a grandchild to think a grandparent is pretty special ... and vice versa.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Five Down ... Two to Go!

At the beginning of summer (the beginning of my retirement!), I made a commitment to myself to take 7 of my grandchildren golfing, one at a time, throughout the summer. When I realized last week that school starts next week and I still had 3 kids who hadn't gotten out there, I did some fast calendaring and scheduled 3 days in a row for golf this week.  Hopefully the weather will hold!

Today, was Megan's day.  She's our oldest grandchild.  16, soon to be 17.  When she was 13, we cited her age as "13, going on 40."  I'm happy to report she has grown back into her own age.  What a delight.

Megan is a junior in high school, a varsity football cheerleader for the second year, and a good student, although you wouldn't peg her as a nerd who does nothing but study.  School must come easily to her, since she doesn't walk around with her nose in her books, and yet she consistently makes the honor roll (or whatever it is they call it these days).  A few weeks ago, she got her driver's license (the subject of an earlier blog posting), and so this morning, she was able to drive herself to our house, rather than my having to pick her up.  Easy for me, but not as much fun as when we used to have a whole trip to visit and share our hopes, dreams and silly experiences.

We had another gorgeous day.  I swear the golf God has orchestrated this entire summer experience for me.  Every one of my "grandchild golf days" has been picture perfect.  Heading out on Golf Day #5, the perfect weather gave me cause to be grateful ... grateful for the day, the weather, the wonderful grandchildren I have, the marvelous experiences we've shared with Megan and all of our grandchildren.  

It also gave me cause to be a bit maudlin about how fast these 17 years have flown and made me wonder what the next 17 might be like.  I remember so well the day Megan was born.  This little peanut with the red hair and the big blue eyes, that would eventually turn to green.  We had no clue what to expect as grandparents, but we sure didn't expect the overwhelming feeling of "first love" that filled both my husband and I the first time we held her.

I couldn't help but notice today how beautiful she is.  A lot of this is natural beauty, but she also has learned how to apply make-up with a lighter hand.  Was it just a couple of years ago that the eyeliner was so thick that you couldn't tell if there were eyelashes under there?  The beautiful red hair was covered with brown dye to avoid the teasing from the kids at school.  Now that brown dye is fading and she is proud of the beautiful red that is once more starting to peek through.  She talked of her senior pictures to be taken next summer and how she wants her hair to be its natural color for those pictures so that she won't regret them years from now.  When did she become so wise?

A year from now, she will be getting ready for her senior year in high school and a year after that, she'll probably already have left for college.  That fills me with sadness on the one hand and joy on the other .... what a great job her mom has done raising her and what a "good" person Megan has become.

We had a blast golfing.  She outdrove me several times ... and that's as it should be. Her natural strength and enthusiasm came through in her golf swing.  There was no hesitation or worry about how she looked ... was her left arm straight .. did she keep her head down .. did she follow through?  She just swung and hit the ball.  When she whiffed (a couple of times), a refreshing "Oh boy" would come out of her mouth.  Having heard the way some of today's youth talk, I was tickled with this old-fashioned, honest expression.

As with the others, we followed our 9 holes on the course with lunch.  When she ordered an "Arnie Palmer" it cracked me up  ... just a few years ago, she was trying her wings by ordering a "Virgin Daquiri," and now she's morphed into a more appropriate drink ... and one that is commensurate with the game we were playing.  Her clubhouse sandwich, "hold the tomatoes, please," was further proof that she was a young lady who knows her own mind.  One that I am proud to call granddaughter ... even if she did outdrive me on those holes today.

Thanks, Megan, for a good round of golf and for 17 years of enjoyment.  I'm eager to see what the next 17 bring.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pennies From Heaven ... and a Dime and a Quarter, too

I admit to being superstitious.  I believe in dreams as omens and I believe that those we have loved who have left this world have ways of communicating with us ... sometimes humorous ways.

Today's blog is about one of those communications.

I have to preface the point of this story with some background.  (My husband kids me that I have to start every story with, "I was born in 1944 ...."  LOL.  I think he's right)

Background: a number of years ago a friend named Mike told me of a friend of his who would always find money in parking lots, stores, etc. Mike's friend had died a few years ago, but before he died, he told Mike that every time Mike would find money, it would be the friend communicating from the other side.  Mike kiddingly said, "Well, when that happens, could you make it quarters and not pennies that I find."

A few years after Mike told me that story, my sister, Colleen, died.  She had always had a great sense of humor and I missed her and her sense of humor tremendously following her death.  Since I am one to always be picking up stray pennies (I used to find them in my daughters' wastebaskets .. they didn't think they were worth much!) I decided one day shortly after her death to use that as my touchstone for communicating with Colleen. (Secondary purpose:  I'd be able to find out if there actually is a Heaven!)

I thought a trial balloon was in order, so I sent a message heavenward to Colleen asking her to let me know that she was okay and that she was in heaven.  Sure enough, within a day or two, I found a few pennies on the ground.  I thanked her and asked her if she could try sending quarters the next time.  Periodically, I would find a quarter or a nickel, but most often it would be a penny.  I resigned myself to calling these little messages "Pennies from Heaven." Colleen's been gone almost 4 years now, but I still hear from her now and then in the form of a stray coin.

Now to the point of my story today!  About 10 days ago, I woke up very nervous.  Our golf league's Club Championship event was that night. I  haven't golfed well this summer and so didn't expect to do well.  Not sure why I was so nervous, but my stomach felt like I was about to leap off a tall building NOT tethered to a bungee cord.  

I had errands to run during the day, and all morning I found myself focusing more and more on my nervousness.  At one point, I was at the gas station and, while walking in, I saw a penny on the ground.  I picked it up and repeated the good luck saying I had learned as a kid: "Find a penny, pick it up.  All the day you'll have good luck."  I immediately thought "Hmmm, maybe I won't do so badly tonight.  Thanks, Colleen, for sending that my way."  

I took a few steps and then thought, "Okay, Colleen, if that really was you, send me another coin." I wanted to say "And make it a quarter," but I didn't have time.  I was looking down as I walked and the words were no more than out of my mouth and BINGO! There was another penny right in front of my left foot.  I promise you I am not making this up. I laughed and picked it up and found myself instantly calmed.  I put both pennies in my pocket and went about my day, still a bit nervous but nowhere near the panicked state I had previously experienced.

I stopped at a daughter's house on my way to golf.  Standing in her driveway, telling her the story, we were commenting on Colleen's great sense of humor.  As I finished chuckling, I looked down and there was ANOTHER penny in front of my foot.  We really giggled then (although a little nervously at that point) and I added that penny to the other 2 in my left pocket and left for the golf course.

As I was driving and thinking of the coins in my pocket, I couldn't help but think, "Well, this is really nice, but still no quarters."  Shortly after arriving at the golf course, a friend of mine walked up to me and said, "Here" and dropped a quarter into my hand.  When I asked why, she reminded me that she had borrowed one last week and she was simply returning it.  I couldn't help but laugh at the efforts my sister was exerting to help me relax and not worry about the golf game ... and to let me know that she was okay.  I added the quarter to my pocket.  

About that time, I started wondering if it was just Colleen who was trying to send me a message.  I have 5 family members who are gone:  my father, a brother, my father-in-law and my mother-in-law, as well as Colleen.  Were there 5 people in Heaven sending calming messages my way?  Since I only had 4 coins, not 5, I doubted that was it ... I attributed them all to Colleen.

I went out on that golf course and played like I hadn't played all summer ... in other words, pretty darn good.  Before every shot, I patted my left pocket where the 4 coins were and it had calmed me each time.  (I should have remembered to do it when I was putting .. unfortunately 3 and 4 putts haunted me that night)

When I came into the club house after those 9 holes, I walked over to an empty table and 4 chairs to wait for my golf buddies to come in.  The table and chairs were on the deck in the middle of a whole bunch of other ones that many people were walking past.  As I pulled out a chair, right in the middle of the chair seat was ... a dime.  There was family member #5 weighing in ... I attributed it to my brother, Steve who loved to collect coins, but it could have come from any one of them.

This past Wednesday night was round 2 of the Club Championship event.  I carried all 5 coins with me and patted my pocket frequently as I played.  Again, I shot better than I had most of the season and was even involved in a playoff for 2nd place in my flight.  

I didn't win the second place spot .. but I didn't care. I had won so much more.  I now knew for sure there is a Heaven and I know 5 people who are up there watching over me and rooting for me.  What more could a person ask for!