Category Archives: Stories

Scrapping By

I inherited a few nightmares when I purchased this house (hence the excellent price).  The folks who lived here before me had a fairly “jerry-rig” attitude about things.  Although I can completely get behind the path of least resistance, over the years I’ve had to fix and/or update a bunch of stupid stuff.

One of the biggies is the textured paint that they used in several places.  I’ve managed to get rid of in most places, but the front porch is going to be the end of me.  The porch is concrete and has been painted repeatedly; the first layer was a peach color, the second layer was a pale green and the final textured level was beige.  Over the years, it was cracked and chipped and generally become an eyesore that is driving me crazy.  Then several years back, I ripped out the ratty indoor/outdoor carpet that was stained and torn.  I bought a bunch of stick down carpet squares from a neighbor who was moving and I thought, this is the time to re-finish the porch.

The paint was in such bad shape, I assumed (yeah, I know….) that we would be able to fairly easily scrap it off like we had in the other rooms.  Surprise, surprise.  Several authorities (hardware store, paint store) have basically said that we’re hosed unless we bring in professionals who can sand blast it.  $$$$.   So we are scraping by hand.  This is very boring work and hurts my hands; the only way I can make myself stay with it is to keep each session down to 20 minutes.  Otherwise I don’t go out there.  All this hot weather hasn’t helped.  Last summer YA tried some stripper, but it was nasty and messy and didn’t actually work all that well. 

This project is in its third summer.  YA started out strong but now that she’s working full time, her interest has dwindled significantly.  I’d really like to get this done before the cold weather arrives, but I’m not holding my breath.

Any projects that took an embarrassing long time?  That you’ll admit to?

Let’s Go Right to Dessert!

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.

I have spoken critically in this forum about my mother’s cooking. She was a typical 1950s Midwestern housewife cook, and I fear that isn’t a flattering standard. Unlike my classmates at college, many of whom grumbled bitterly about the food service, I thought I’d never eaten so well. But my mother took desserts seriously. I can forgive her those Jello desserts she served so often, for her cakes and pies were tasty. Relative to other areas of cooking, she did desserts well.

Her social world was centered on bridge clubs. The hostess of a bridge club meeting was expected to serve a dessert so special that club members would be talking about it for days. At one bridge club meeting, Mom’s chocolate devil’s food cake was a huge hit. Someone called out, “Charmion, this cake is wonderful! You have to share your recipe!” Mom didn’t have the nerve to admit that the cake began life as a Duncan Hines box mix. Her embarrassment doomed her to spend many hours one week researching library books for made-from-scratch chocolate cake recipes. She had to find a recipe that was both tasty and credible as the source of the cake she had served.

Each member of my family had a strong dessert preference. Dad thought nothing on earth could be better than apple pie. My mother loved her Graham Cracker Pie, a simple dish made from Eagle Brand Condensed Cream mixed with eggs and lemon, served in a crust that was smooshed graham crackers. My sister came to favor French silk chocolate pie. On my birthdays I always requested a white angle food cake that was heavily frosted with chocolate-flavored whipped cream.

When I tried to teach myself to cook I thought the logical thing would be to collect recipes. When a recipe appealed to me, I’d type it out and add it to my personal recipe book, kept on my computer’s hard drive. I see now that I collected about a hundred dessert recipes, of which I only ever used two. I’m actually not much of a dessert person. The really big sections of my cookbook are salads, chicken and soup dishes. My erstwife was a fine cook, but she too cared more about main dishes than desserts, so I failed to learn how to make good desserts from her.

While I’ve mostly ignored desserts most of my adult life, now and then something catches my fancy. When my erstwife and I traveled in the UK, we discovered a tiny London cafe that served crème brûlée, and I was totally smitten. Still am. I once won a writing contest whose reward was a free trip to the Florida Keys to flyfish for tarpon. While I never caught a tarpon, I sure made a pig of myself with Key Lime Pie, something I’d never encountered before. The dessert I’d now request on my birthday would be pecan pie served with a generous scoop of cinnamon ice cream.

What’s your favorite dessert? Which desserts do you remember most fondly? Do you have a recipe to share?

Timmy, The Brawler

Today’s post comes from Steve.

Timothy Gruncheon Grooms, born in a barn in Iowa, was adopted into my family in 1946. He was officially my sister’s cat and always seemed to understand that. Although she did things to him that were beneath the dignity of any cat, he slept each night in the crook of her arm.

Timmy was a fighter. My parents had never heard of a cat being confined, and they would have been appalled at the suggestion pets should be neutered. So Timmy was a free-range tomcat who roamed the neighborhood fighting with other cats and filling the world with orange and white tabby kittens. All the fighting he did caused Timmy to have a fat face because so much scar tissue built up on his cheeks. His ears were riddled with cuts and holes. I did witness one epic encounter in our backyard, Timmy relentlessly chasing another cat, and I was shocked by the violence of it all.

Timmy obviously lost some fights. Once he came home with a chunk of tissue the diameter of a nickel missing from his left cheek. Our vet gave us a spray to keep the wound clean, but our dog had a better idea. Danny, a sweet golden retriever, began following Timmy, licking that wound. Danny and Timmy never had physical contact before or after that incident, but Danny licked Timmy’s wounded cheek until fresh skin formed over the hole.

My sister bonded with Timmy as if he were her child. As I recently wrote, she dressed him in doll clothes, including a bonnet. She plopped him on his back in a baby stroller and went about the neighborhood with him that way. The set of Timmy’s ears were a clue to how he felt about this, but he accepted it all. When Nancy’s fascination with medical issues led her to subject Timmy to some treatments, including an enema administered by eyedropper, he put up with that, too.

Timmy was the most remarkable athlete I’ve ever known. Two stories established his legendary status.

Once our family was in the dining room watching television (eating Swanson’s TV dinners on our TV trays). A bat entered our home and began flying from room to room. Timmy was sitting on a braided rug in the middle of the dining room. As the bat wobbled through the dining room a second time, Timmy shot off the floor like a jack-in-the-box, snatching the bat midair. To my eye, Timmy’s leap took him five feet into the air, and it could have been higher. With the bat in his mouth, Timmy went to the back door and asked to be let out.

In our last home in Ames my mother kept her precious chinaware in a cabinet by the front door. Timmy’s way of letting us know he wanted to be let out was jumping to the top of that cabinet. One afternoon he did that, just as he had countless times before. Timmy, from the floor, could not see that my mother had filled the cabinet’s top with stacks of china. My mother screamed in terror when Timmy walked to the cabinet and launched his leap. Once he was in the air, Timmy saw the china and performed a desperate midair gymnastic maneuver. He managed to land with his four paws in the tiny openings between the stacks of teacups and plates. Standing there, Timmy was unable to move, and he let out a dismayed yowl so we could rush to his rescue.

By 1964 our family, Timmy included, was living in Wayzata, Minnesota. He acquired one annoying habit late in life, crawling around inside the family Christmas tree in the middle of the night, eating tinsel and knocking glass ornaments to the floor. Timmy still lived much of his life out of our sight, and he still got in fights. His health declined. My sister, who was then a student at the University of Minnesota, fell in love with a young man, and they soon got married.

In 1965 Timmy disappeared for four days. We feared we would never see our 19-year-old cat again, but at long last he dragged himself home in terrible shape. He clearly had lost a big fight. Stroking his scarred old head, my mother had a heart-to-heart talk with him. “Timmy, old guy, you have been Nancy’s baby all these years. She is now married and will soon have a baby of her own. You look like you’re at the end of the line, but I’m asking one last thing of you. Can you keep it together a few more months? Can you keep alive until Nancy’s new baby arrives?”

Nancy’s baby arrived in August. A few days later, Timmy died.

Timmy was a vivid character in our family life for nearly two decades. Have you ever had a pet with a distinctive personality?

Red Cross Day

My phone pings me every day with a “this day in history” note.  Yesterday’s was about the founding of the American Red Cross in 1881.  I already knew that Clara Barton was instrumental in the beginnings of the Red Cross, but didn’t realize that she had worked with the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian war and that she began lobbying for an American organization when she came home after that.  She headed up the Red Cross well into her 80s. 

This tidbit of history caught my eye because the very first charitable work that I headed up was for the Red Cross.  I don’t remember what was going on in the world and I also don’t remember how I got interested, but when I was in the sixth grade, I started a drive to make care packages that were sent to the Red Cross.  My school let me mimeograph some flyers and kids brought items that we used for our kits:  soap, washcloths, socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste.  We had two or three meetings to put the packages together using paper lunch bags.  I don’t remember how many we made, but it seemed impressive to me at the time.  I felt very proud when my mom drove me to the Red Cross center to turn them in.

Like I said, this was my first organized good work but not the last of my support of the Red Cross.  The following summer a friend and I went all over the neighborhood (repeatedly) with a wagon, collecting pop bottles from people.  Then we carted them up to the Kelloggs store and collected the refund, which we donated to the Red Cross.  It wasn’t very much, but it felt like we were doing something important.

Do you have a cause that you’ve been passionate about?

Accidentally On Purpose

I woke up at seven this morning thinking “Dang, I forgot to set the alarm” – I needed to be up at 6:30 if we’re going to do our regular Zoom workout class. But then I remembered it’s also our 41st anniversary, and wondered if I had unconsciously planned this so we could “sleep in” this morning.

As kids we would have called this “accidentally on purpose.” We might “forget” to go home at the time our moms had told us, or do that extra chore, or tell ourselves we couldn’t find the borrowed toy that we didn’t want to return just yet.

Do you remember this phrase from your childhood?

Can you recall doing anything “accidentally on purpose”?

Do you see any “accidentally on purpose” actions going on around you – personally, or in the greater scheme of things?

Goodbye, Big REd

My most delightful coworker told me a very funny story the other day about the demise of her beloved red Honda van. It must date from 2000 or so, and has a gazillion miles on it. She has kept it going far longer than the mechanics or her husband thinks she should have. For a while , she could only get it into gear by sticking a screwdriver in the top of the steering wheel. She just had new tires on it and planned to keep driving it, when she started to have trouble with the horn.

My friend told me that she was on her way to a home visit for a client when she parked in front of the house, turned off the engine, and opened the door. The horn started honking and wouldn’t stop. She phoned her husband in a panic. He told her to drive the car a couple of blocks and see what would happen, She did, and the honking stopped until she again turned off the engine and opened the door. She tried starting, driving, parking, and stopping four more times. By the final attempt the honking wouldn’t stop at all, and she drove across town with her horn honking until she got home and her husband disconnected some cable. She said she was so embarrassed driving like that, as other drivers were pulling over and letting her pass as she drove by. Many waved at her in recognition, and others started following her to see where the big emergency was. She said “I always wanted people in town to know who I am, but this wasn’t quite what I meant!”

I commented that this was the end of Big Red, her pet name for the vehicle. She still thought she could get it fixed, but her husband put his foot down and said it was the end for the van. Now she is stuck driving the brand new Honda van they bought this winter that she didn’t like very much because of all the fancy gadgets on it.

What is the most embarrassing thing that happened to you in public?  What has been your favorite vehicle?

Lost and found

Steve’s lost skillet put in mind the losing and finding of things. Husband and I often wonder where our cat has got to inside the house. She never goes outside, and we are always careful about not leaving the doors open, but we both have this irrational fear of her being lost outside when she isn’t immediately visible. All I have to do to get her to come is to roll up a piece of paper into a ball. The minute she hears that crinkle of paper, no matter where she is, she comes running, expecting me to toss it for an exciting game of fetch and chase.

I don’t remember much of this, but when I was about four, I left my security blanket draped on a post on the side of the road on Minnesota’s North Shore. I must have been ready to give it up, as I reportedly shrugged off its loss. Prior to this, my mother could only wash it when I was asleep, because I wouldn’t be parted with it.

These days, the things we lose are most often things that are right in front of us as we look for them. We also have so many accumulated recipes compiled in cook books and ring binders that it is hard to find the exact ones we want at times.

What is your strategy for finding lost objects? What have you lost lately? Did you find it?

Contain Yourself!

Photo Credit:  Bored Panda

After a request for photos yesterday, I thought I’d expand a bit on the wild dog story.

My first trip to South Africa was with a client who wasn’t crazy about working with my company.  Her previous company had just gone through a merger and she inherited the job of overseeing the travel programs.  We were already contracted for two programs when she came onboard so even though she had contacts in another incentive house, she couldn’t change suppliers at that point.  She was professional about this but she never seemed happy or excited.  Now it’s completely plausible that she just wasn’t a person who like to emote but we’ll never know.

We had a large group, bigger than any one safari camp could hold, so we needed to check out three different camps and decide which winners would go in each.  That meant that we had to stay in each of the three camps, one camp each night.  Boo hoo. These were luxury camps with incredibly nice rooms (all three camps had gorgeous indoor bathrooms and great outdoor showers), amazing food and, of course, the safari runs.  You got up very early for the first safari run of the day (think 4 a.m. early) – heavy “snacks” before you left then a massive breakfast when you got back 3 hours later.  Then a late afternoon safari, getting back in the dark for a huge “boma” dinner.  And you’re in Africa all this time.  Amazing.

It was all I could do to contain myself during the trip.  (Actually I can hardly contain myself on any of my trips.  I can’t think of a single time I’ve gone on a site inspection that hasn’t been wonderful.) My client was the opposite; she was doing her job by being there but she couldn’t muster any enthusiasm.  It wasn’t surprising when she bailed on the last safari run of the trip.  When the driver and guide came to pick up the Account Exec and me, they told us that they’d heard from other guides on the radio that there might be wild dogs up near “the cut line” (this is the edge of each camp’s territory.  Guides are not allowed to take their charges into another camp’s territory).  They said if we wanted to try to find the wild dogs, it would take a bit and we’d have to head straight there.  The Account Exec and I immediately agreed.  As we were driving up, we both acknowledged that if the client had been with us, she would not have wanted to do this.

Well thank goodness she didn’t come.  The wild dog pack was indeed on our side of the cut line and it was amazing.  They weren’t too worried about us so we were able to observe them for almost 2 hours.  There were a lot of puppies and they were very cute.  It was a defining moment during the trip, a trip with many unbelievable moments.  The photo above is not mine (long story about where those photos are currently stored) but it is very similar to some of the photos I took that day, especially when the dogs and pups came a little closer to the jeep. The puppies are much cuter than you would think, with huge ears and puppy faces.

Even now, after almost 20 years, I feel sorry for that client.  I hope she enjoyed South Africa, even if she didn’t show it.

What makes it hard for you to contain YOUR enthusiasm?

The Pacifier

With the nice weather over the weekend, my nextdoor neighbors got their chalk out and went to work creating a village on their driveway (designed by Margot, who is 6).  When I stepped outside to appreciate it, Matilda (the almost 2-year old) informed me that she had a new bed.  Turns out it is just her crib but with the side down and a bed rail attached, but she was happy about it.  There was more big news… last night was her first night without her pacifier.  It was apparently a trade – the pacifier for the big girl bed.  I laughed and thought about my experience with pacifiers when YA was little.

When I went to China to pick up YA, there was a big list of “suggested” items that I take with me; a pacifier was on the list so I dutifully packed it.  YA, even as Tiny Baby, was not interested.  After a couple of futile attempts, I stuck it back in the duffel bag.  Nonny was at the airport when we got back to Minneapolis and she stayed for a week or so while I got my feet underneath me.  Nonny was absolutely sure that if she presented the pacifier enough times, Tiny Baby would accept it and all would be right with the world.  (It’s funny looking back because Tiny Baby was not fussy, there really wasn’t a great need.)  But Nonny kept trying and every time TB rejected a nook, it would end up on the side table or a chair or someplace where it became irresistible to someone else:  Baron. 

Baron was an 85-pound ball of fluffy, sweet, calm Samoyed.  He wasn’t the brightest bulb but he was sure that these pacifiers that Nonny kept leaving around were meant for him.  Of course as soon as he absconded with one, it became off-limits for the baby; slowly but surely over that week, we went from having a collection of 10 baby pacifiers to a collection of 10 dog pacifiers.  If ever there was a dog that didn’t need a pacifier, it was Baron.  He had self-soothing down to an art.  Eventually he chewed them all enough that I had to throw them away and we never had any more, since Tiny Baby didn’t need or like them.  Nonny wasn’t amused but I thought it was hilarious.

Do you have any self-soothing practices?  Are they working well for you?

A Watery Surprise

For many years, I was a Marvel / DC movie fan.  Not a rapid fan, mind you, but enough of a fan to watch the movies.  And not enough of a fan to pay money for those movies…. that’s another story.  The last few years have soured me however.  I never could keep the X-Men timeline straight and the movies became darker and darker.  When I started to see spoilers about who would die in the last big Avenger extravaganza, I decided it was time to take a pass. 

Over the weekend, I was surfing around the on-demand movies and saw the Aquaman had once again jumped to the top of the list.  I turned it on with a little trepidation, telling myself that I could always just turn it off – not like I had and expensive ticket stub in my pocket or a full tub of popcorn on my lap.

It was a classic underdog good guy against bad guys who just seem to be bad because they can. Aquaman’s human name is Arthur, which was a bit endearing, and I managed to suspend all sense of reality.

But the big surprise was the lead female character, Mera.  She was intelligent, strong, driven and a magnificent warrior.  In every fight scene (and there were many) she held her own and in fact, saved Aquaman at one point.  Never did she scream, faint, shrink back behind the hero or need to be rescued by him.  Towards the end of the final battle, she is the one who plants a whopper kiss on him, not the other way around.   The only other female character (Arthur’s mother) was also fabulous – a warrior queen who made the ultimate sacrifice for her family.

It’s too bad that there were only two of these splendid characters.  The rest of the movie was fairly predictable, although it had a few minutes of wry humor here and there.  It was entirely because of the two women that I can say I enjoyed the overall film. 

Tell me about your favorite women movie characters!