Thursday, December 29, 2016

I'm not the brightest candle on the cake

Several days ago my computer stopped working.  I would turn it on and hear the noise it makes when it comes on, but the monitor remained black.  The little blue power light was blinking, so I knew the monitor was plugged in.  I mentioned it to Cliff reluctantly because this computer and monitor are under a year old. I have an iPad, so it doesn't even get that much use.  Cliff, predictably, asked just how much money I think we've spent on computers over the years... thousands?  

"It's OK," I said.  "I can use your laptop when I need a computer."

The one he uses was originally mine, but when the old one he had before ceased to work, I told him to take my newer one and I'd buy a cheap desktop.  That laptop he inherited from me always had some problems, but it's a Dell, and I got it at Costco:  Dell gives a one-year warranty on all their computers and Costco adds another year.  The power cord wouldn't plug in tightly even when we first got it, and finally wouldn't work at all.  Costco's Concierge service had us send it to them and it came back better than new.

Believe me when I say I'm done buying anything but Dell, even though they aren't as dependable as they used to be, and I'm only buying them at Costco.

So, we were back to sharing one computer.  I'd log on and have my own favorites, etc., and log off when I was done.  Sharing wouldn't have been a big deal ten years ago, but since Cliff retired he spends a lot of time on the computer.  He enjoys Facebook and Craigslist, and has numerous tractor-related sites he keeps up with.  He spends more time on the actual computer than I do, although if you count all the playing I do on the iPad, I'm still way ahead of him in hours spent.

He could tell I didn't like sharing (my siblings were grown and gone by the time I was three, so I led the childhood of an only child:  I don't share well).

He told me it really would be OK if I ordered another laptop, so I did some shopping on the Costco website, found one that would serve my purposes just fine for around $500, and was about to order it when I saw that if I would avail myself of Costco's Anywhere Visa, the warranty would be for four years.  We only have two credit cards, one of which we seldom use.  We pay the total amount due every month.  We don't need another credit card, but this seemed like such a deal, I applied and, of course, was approved.  Now I sat at home waiting for my card to arrive before ordering my new laptop.  

Cliff asked me if perhaps the problem was the monitor, not the computer.  "Of course not," I said.  That monitor is practically new."  

"Cora tipped the computer chair over the other day," he went on.  "Maybe she unplugged something."

"No, I used the computer a few times after that.  And I know the monitor is plugged in because the blue power light is blinking."

Yesterday the grandson's wife, Heather, messaged me and asked if I had any use for a monitor.  I told her I'd take it, thinking that this would prove to Cliff the problem didn't lie with the monitor.

Early this morning I decided to do something I hadn't yet tried, since I was going to be messing around down there on the floor later on hooking up a different monitor anyway.  I laboriously got to my aching knees and shone a flashlight on the back of the computer:  The monitor, although it was plugged into the wall, wasn't connected to the computer!  

I will tell you that I still wouldn't mind having a laptop again, but we are trying to get a vacation trip together for the coming year.  The $500 plus I was going to spend on a computer would have come out of the money I'm saving up for that trip.  So I have somewhat mixed feelings.  But for the most part I'm glad at how this turned out.

I'm not proud of my stupidity (laziness?) at not checking my computer's connections sooner, but all's well that ends well.  I'm sure glad they took their sweet time sending my new credit card, which I will likely cut in pieces and toss in the trash when it arrives.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Not everybody feels merry at Christmas

I loved Christmas when I was a kid because, after all, it seemed to be "all about me".  I ate candy and cake and cookies, never even thinking about calories because I didn't know about them.  I usually got the presents I wanted most, with the exception of a pony.  I had to grow up and get married before that wish came true.  My kids came along and Christmas was special again, mainly because I saw it through their eyes.  But even then, there was a shadow over the Christmas season.  I remember telling my hairdresser Vicki, years ago, that I was a scrooge.  She was aghast!  How could anyone not love Christmas?

Cliff and I got off the gift-giving merry-go-round years ago, except that we bought gifts for small children in the family.  When they got old enough that they were hard to buy for, they fell off our list.  Of course everybody likes money or gift cards (same as money), but what's the point?  If we're all going to exchange money and/or gift cards, let's just give it to ourselves and save all that trouble.  

I have finally come to realize it isn't Christmas that depresses me, but wintertime.  I'm one of the myriad folks who, for no rhyme or reason, find themselves a victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).  I get a brief feeling of the Christmas spirit watching "A Christmas Carol" or "It's a Wonderful Life", but it doesn't last long.  I don't wallow in self-pity and I don't talk a lot about it.  After all, why drag all the merry-makers down with me?   

I can tell you that during this time of year, I really feel for those who have text-book depression year around.  I've learned that, as much as I like the quote attributed to Lincoln that says "most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be", you can't just tell yourself to get over it (after all, it's pretty well-known that Lincoln suffered from depression).  

A numbness settles in like a spectre and makes its home with me, starting sometime in November and staying with me until after February.  

I sit dispassionately scrolling through the exuberant Facebook greetings of "Merry Christmas" like someone in a daze, feeling totally left out and even more depressed because, once again, I am "not normal".  Why can't I get in the spirit of things?  They say you can buy a light therapy lamp that really helps; I ought to try it, but it just seems like too much trouble, and then what if it doesn't work?  

This is not something I would ordinarily burden my readers with, but I'm pretty sure there's a big percentage of the population that has this same problem.  Many of them put on a happy face and disguise it better than I do, but beneath the surface they're numb.  Sometimes the problem is compounded by memories of loved ones gone before their time.  

Don't pity me.  I've dealt with this for years and I'm used to it.  But do remember there are many of us behind the scenes who would love to share your enthusiasm but can't.

Forgive us.  Spring will come and we'll be back with the general population. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Great Depression (ramblings)

I'm reading a book about how the Great Depression changed America's eating habits: "A Square Meal:  a Culinary History of the Great Depression".  It has sparked memories of stories my mother told me about that time in her life.    

Mother and Daddy got married on Christmas Eve, 1932. (you can read the account in her own words HERE).  They survived by working for farmers as "hired hands" during those years.  Now, according to the book I'm reading, farmers' crops weren't worth much at that time, so it's no wonder my parents worked for such low wages.  Mother used to tell me how much Daddy got paid per week:  I don't remember the amount, but I'm sure it was less than $3 weekly.  She told stories of walking to town when snow had drifted over the fences, or how they would put the last of their coal oil in the gas tank of their car in order to drive to town to buy more coal oil to use in the lamps that supplied their lighting.  I asked Cliff, "Is that even possible?  Can a car run on kerosene?"  

Apparently so, at least in the cars of those days.  

Mother always said the Great Depression didn't affect them and their friends much, because they didn't have much to start with.  However, there was one winter when they lived mainly on cornfield beans, frozen potatoes, and water gravy.  Evidently the farmers' cows were dry, because there wasn't any milk to make gravy.  The "cornfield beans" were simply pole beans planted with the corn so the vines could use corn stalks for support.  They were picked when they were dry, to use as dry beans.  The potatoes were given them by the wife of the farmer they worked for:  As long as the potatoes stayed frozen, Mother said, they were usable... toss them in boiling water still frozen and they were OK.  If they thawed, they turned black and were useless.  Knowing what I know about Missouri weather, I imagine these frozen potatoes were used over a short period of time.  Nobody had a deep freeze, or even a refrigerator. so they wouldn't have stayed frozen for long.    

According to the book I'm reading, casseroles came into being during the Depression, devised by nutritionists as a way to use up leftovers and scraps.  This reminds me of a time several years back when Uncle Leo and Aunt Mary came to visit my mother, who lived on our property at the time, and I made spaghetti for all of us.  Uncle Leo was eating enthusiastically when he put down his fork, looked up smiling, and said, "Boy, this is a meal fit for a king!"

I was telling my cousin, his daughter Betty, about this and she said, "Well, Mom and Dad generally had the kind of meals with meat, potatoes, and a vegetable or two arranged on a plate.  They would never have had spaghetti at home, so it was probably a treat for him."  

Mother told me plenty about the Depression as I was growing up, and I soaked the stories up like a sponge because, as everybody knows, I like stories.  She talked about how neighbors would get together and play cards or make ice cream.  She told how her mom, my Grandma Stevens, always invited someone to their house for Sunday dinner when she was growing up, and recalled she and her sister "looking" the dry beans they'd be cooking for dinner before church.  Do I remember Mother and Aunt Ruby were going down memory lane and talking about using a rock to scour the dirty skillet?  Is that a figment of my imagination or a dream?  Did they really use a rock to get pans and skillets clean?  Who knows.

Mother and Aunt Ruby liked to talk about all the Church-of-Christ congregations they remembered, naming the preachers they'd heard (Brother Campbell was mentioned most often), verifying or correcting one another's stories.  

Of course, Mother carried on the tradition of Sunday dinner.  If strangers were passing through and showed up at church, she'd invite them home with us.  She liked to feed people, but most of the people of that generation were like that.  Cliff and I visited his grandparents at Versailles one time, making it a point to eat before we arrived so his grandma wouldn't be burdened with having to prepare a meal for us.  As soon as we arrived, she started taking food out of the refrigerator and setting it on the table; we assured her we had already eaten.  She got so upset there were tears in her eyes.  She wanted to feed us!  We actually had to eat a little snack to make her happy.

Home economics was sort of a new thing at the start of the Depression.  The government had people who tried to teach housewives different ways of preparing food in those hard times.  It turns out a couple of my childhood favorite foods was made popular back then:  creamed vegetables and creamed macaroni.  When I was probably 13, I asked Mother to fix some creamed carrots.   She told me how to make them myself, since she was tired from working at a factory all day, and for once in my life, I ate creamed carrots to my hearts content.  I used to beg Grandma to make creamed macaroni when I was staying with her.  I think she found it peculiar that someone would actually request that dish, but I loved it.  It really isn't so much different from pasta with Alfredo sauce, only without the parmesan. 

Gypsies didn't move any more often than my parents!  (Click on the picture to make it larger.)  I think it was some time in the 40's they stopped working as hired hands and became switchboard operators.  

And this only takes it up to 1952.  

I'm in my wintertime blogging slump, so what you see here is what you get.  I won't be babysitting much in the next several days (holidays, bad weather, etc.), so maybe I'll get my mojo back.  Or not.  


*I'm adding a link, thanks to a reminder from a Facebook friend.  I had forgotten about Clara's Depression Cooking, a series of Youtube videos.  Click HERE.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Oh Ebenezer Scrooge, how I love you!

Many years ago I was part of a book club group at the church I attended.  My friend Shirley, from nearby Napoleon, also took part in the group, so I had transportation.  I enjoyed the monthly discussions about our current book.  I hear the group eventually was asked to go elsewhere for their meetings because we weren't always reading "religious" books.  Somebody probably complained.  You know how people are.  But I digress.

One winter the leader of our group asked if we'd be interested in going to see "A Christmas Carol" in Kansas City on the UMKC campus.  I don't recall what the price per ticket was then, but I do know I had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to be able to afford it; those weren't prosperous times for us.  I wasn't expecting to enjoy the performance much because, after all, I've been familiar with the book, as well as several movie versions, since childhood.  But it sounded like a fun outing.

However, seeing it live, with the cast members actually running through the audience at times, was a whole new experience.  I've never forgotten it.

Believe it or not, Cliff and I are much better off financially living on Social Security than we were back then, mostly because the only bills we have now are utilities:  Phone (Internet), electricity, propane, and cell phones.  Plus gasoline, which we charge to a credit card and pay monthly.  So when there's some event I want to see, I can actually afford to go.  This year I had a strong desire to see "Christmas Carol" again.

Cliff didn't share my desire, but then he seldom does.  His hearing impairment makes it difficult for him, but honestly he wouldn't want to go even if he could hear well.  He doesn't like driving in the city, he doesn't like crowds.  He really likes staying home.  So I had to find a sucker relative willing to be my driver.  At this point, someone always likes to point out the fact that "if you could drive, you wouldn't have to find a driver".

Seriously?  Does anybody go to something like this alone?  I don't think I would; I'm a loner, but not to the point of going to events alone.

I talked to a granddaughter who was willing.  Later on, I mentioned the event to another granddaughter who I've never asked to take me anywhere except Van's Warped Tour one time, because our interests are so different.  She thought she might enjoy the Dickens' classic.  So I ordered three tickets, for myself and two granddaughters.  It was expensive, but we don't buy Christmas gifts, so I could afford it.  What a nice way to celebrate the season, with two people I love.

Enter the coldest temperatures we've had in three years plus an ice storm that turned sidewalks and roads into a skating rink.  Saturday, the day before we were to attend the play, I told myself to forget it.  However, Saturday evening the oldest granddaughter assured me she wasn't afraid to risk the roads on Sunday.  As a matter of fact, she was out running around in her car during the storm Saturday evening.  So it was back on.

Sunday I called the other granddaughter to give her an "out" if she didn't want to brave the cold.  She said she wasn't feeling the best and would rather not go.  Oldest granddaughter and I tried to think of somebody else that might want to join us because I sure did hate to waste a ticket (did I mention they weren't cheap?).  Unfortunately one person had plans, and the other had bronchitis.  There was one local lady I thought would enjoy it, but she had mentioned on Facebook that her husband gave her orders to stay home due to weather issues.  Oh well, at least a granddaughter and I would get to go.

Amber had no idea what she was in for.  She had never been to any kind of play in her life, and she had never watched "A Christmas Carol", nor had she read the story.

Looking back, I wish I had used the third ticket for three-year-old Cora, the child we babysit.  I didn't consider her because I thought she'd get bored: no three-year-old would understand the plot of that story.  Ghosts?  People talking with a British accent?  So much dialogue?  But there were young children throughout the audience as young as she is, and we never heard a peep out of them.  There was just so much going on... singing, dancing.  The cast members came out into the audience many, many times.  Yes, I should have taken Cora, even though it took place at her nap-time.  Maybe next year.

The play was BETTER than I remembered, partly because in 2010 they added a set that revolves on the stage.  I won't try to describe it, but wow!  It really added something.

Our only little problem getting to the play was that the tickets stated the play is held in Spencer Theater.  We couldn't see any sort of sign with Spencer theater listed, although the GPS told us we had reached our destination.  Amber drove around the block.  I should say "blocks" because some streets are one-way.  We were sitting at an empty intersection discussing what we needed to do when a police car pulled up at the opposite corner.  I guess he recognized damsels in destress, because he pulled up beside us and rolled his window down.  Amber told him we were looking for Spencer Theater.  He said, "Just get behind me.  I'll take you there."

Folks, there is no sign anywhere that says "Spencer Theater".
picture shamelessly stolen from the Internet

I loved the production, and Amber said she liked it too.  In fact, she said any time I need transportation, she would be my taxi.  I told her "Stomp" is coming up, and the granddaughter who agreed to go with me usually has to work on Sundays; now I have an alternate ride.  I also told her I'd give her a break and make Cliff take me to see Arlo Guthrie in May, because I really don't think Arlo would be her cup of tea at all.  Of course, he's not Cliff's cup of tea either, but he married me for better or worse, so sometimes I play my "for-better-or-worse" card.  

I am so thankful I got to go yesterday.  If I could manage it, I'd go every year, just for the big dose of Christmas spirit I get from it.  

God bless us, every one!

Sunday, December 18, 2016


There you have it.  Not only are we in the deep freeze, but we got enough snow to make the ground white, on top of the ice Mother Nature so kindly deposited Friday night and Saturday morning.  I'm very cautious of sidewalks and decks with this layer of ice, and for the most part walk only on grassy areas whenever possible.  I'm just hunkered down hoping to survive through it with no broken bones.  

Good things happen:  For instance, a friend was shopping at Orscheln in Higginsville and grabbed their annual tractor calendar, only to discover that Cliff and his Allis Chalmers are featured for the month of November.  One of our Tractor Tales friends in Indiana already picked his up after he heard about Cliff being on it.  

Another nice surprise:  In August I shared the contents of a letter I wrote a friend of ours on his birthday, a friend we hardly ever see these days even though he lives not far away.  Last weekend, out of the blue, we received an answer to my letter written last summer.  He wrote it on a notepad of some sort, which gave the whole message a quite unique appearance:
Our first reading of this letter took awhile, with both of us trying to decipher Tom's left-handed writing as well as his tiny, tiny lettering.  It was worth the effort and made our day.  So if you think of someone you haven't been in touch with, perhaps somebody to whom you need to say "thank you", don't put it off.  Good things might happen.  

This morning Cliff and I watched out the north window as a coyote hunted for moles, every once in awhile pouncing as if to catch one.  He was right among the four horses acting like he belonged with them.  Things like that are always fun to see.  As luck would have it I was reading "Call of the Wild" by Jack London this morning; a coyote hunting mice or moles fit right in with that theme.

A granddaughter and I are going to see "A Christmas Carol" this afternoon.  Wish us luck in these temperatures!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Poems won't make you famous

I don't write a lot of poems these days.  Back when my goal was to write a poem every day, I must have covered every subject I know, because I don't seem to come up with a desire to write anything original these days, at least not anything that rhymes.  And in my opinion, if it doesn't rhyme, it isn't poetry; I don't care WHAT my English teacher told me about "free verse".  

There was a time in my life when people knew I wrote poems regularly, and I'd get requests:  "Could you write a poem for my friend's birthday?"  "I wonder if you would write a poem for my son's graduation?"  "So-and-so is moving away from this area.  Please write something for her."

I'd instruct these folks to write a lot of things about the person they had in mind, anything and everything they could think of, incidents that happened, things that described the individual's personality, favorite activities, beliefs... whatever gave me ideas from which to fashion a poem or song; "I won't use everything you give me," I'd tell them, "but if I have lots of stories to choose from, I can probably come up with a poem."  

If the person wasn't stingy with their notes and ideas, I could usually make something of it.  Once in a while when I asked someone to do this, they'd be totally stumped, as though they expected me to make a poem out of nothing, or write wonderful things about a person I knew nothing about.  No way.

Over a year ago I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for a poem.  Like all of my best creations, the poem practically wrote itself and is one of my favorites.  I read it for our tractor club friends at the Christmas party in 2015.  They loved it, and some of them have been trying to get the thing printed in any publication at all, urging me to send it in so I could become well-known (ha ha).  I appreciate their thoughts, but after all these years the idea of pushing for fame, no matter how small, bores me.  

People have been telling me for years, "You should get that song (or poem) published."  

If only they knew how many cassette tapes were returned to me from Nashville in the 80's, unopened and stamped with the words "unsolicited material".  I even had a local publisher for a while and had some of my songs recorded by local folks trying to make a name for themselves.  As for the poems, there's no demand for them, although I've had some people tell me that my kind of poems would make good greeting card verses.  Someone suggested I contact Hallmark.  I didn't do that, because then I'd be attempting to write something generic that would work for people I don't know anything about.  I'm not that creative or inventive.

Anyway, at this year's tractor club holiday dinner a lady handed me a form she had clipped from a farm magazine hoping I would submit my poem "Old Men and Their Tractors" to them.  They're calling it a contest, but as far as I can tell the prize is that they might print it in the magazine.  That's fine, there's no money in poems anyhow.  

I searched online and found out the magazine has a website and that I could copy and paste the poem into an email, so I decided to do it.  If nothing else, my tractor club friends would be happy to see it in print.  

Saturday, December 10, 2016

In search of perfection

I'm not usually considered a perfectionist.  I've never "done my very best" at anything I've attempted.  I just sort of flow like a stream, rolling around the rocks and bumps and sometimes rushing over the banks and out of the regular channel.  On many of the report cards I received throughout my school years after fifth grade, teachers penned these words:  "Donna is capable of much better work" or "Donna isn't putting forth her full effort".

I don't recall either of my parents being upset over my grades, either.  I have continued living my sub-par life right up to this very day, pretty happy about things in general and letting others put whatever "grade" on my life they think is accurate.  

Some of my longtime readers might recall how I decided my baking powder biscuits, which people had always loved, weren't as good as the buttermilk biscuits made by ladies from the south.  I was like one possessed, each time I made biscuits making some slight addition or change, until finally they were perfect.  Biscuit Nirvana!

Now, moving on:  We had a lovely Thanksgiving day with the grandson, our daughter's family, and some of the grandson's wife's relatives.  There was food aplenty, so much that some of the desserts were hardly touched.  We chatted and laughed throughout the huge meal.  Then I went over to examine the desserts and spied the loveliest pumpkin pie I have ever seen.  There was something special about how that crust looked, and out of all those desserts in front of me, I chose pumpkin pie made by Heather's grandma... even though there was one I had made earlier on my own kitchen table.  

The crust on Sandy's pumpkin pie was the lightest, airiest I have ever experienced.  Wow!  I can't make pies often because Cliff and I put on weight like prize hogs, given the chance.  But I wanted, just once, to make a pie crust like that one.  It's sort of like my biscuit story:  I thought I really made a great pie crust all these years, but now I realized I could do better.  

Sandy doesn't share recipes, though.  For several days after the big dinner, I joked with Cliff, Heather, and Arick:  "Thanksgiving," I told them, "was one of the worst days of my life.  That's the day I found out my piecrust sucks."

It doesn't, of course, except in comparison to Sandy's version.  I use the standard recipe found in Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, making sure not to handle it more than necessary and following all the rules.  But if I was able to discover biscuit Nirvana, is it possible I could find pie crust Nirvana before I shuffle off this mortal coil?  

I've been craving a Buck Buchanan sweet potato pie and decided to make one today, just for us.  As I was preparing to make the crust, I thought about Sandy's pie crust recipe.

I stopped what I was doing and came to the computer, where I typed in "light flaky pie crust".  The first recipe on the page used the same amount of flour I planned to use, but instead of 1/3 cup of Crisco it called for 1/2 cup of butter.  And after it was mixed up, it was to be wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator for four hours (or overnight).  

I remember my mom making pie crust and putting it in the refrigerator until later, but I hate any recipe that makes me wait four hours or longer to finish it.  This morning, though, I decided to try it and see if there was a difference.  We'll find out soon.  If you notice me and Cliff putting on weight in the near future, it may be because I'm doing a scientific study on pie crust.  

Wish us luck.    

This is just an image from the Internet, but it looks right.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Free books

When I got my first reader, a Nook, getting ebooks from the library was much more difficult than it is now.  I had to download the book onto my computer, then hook the Nook (ha!) to my computer, and transfer the book to my device.  Thank goodness times have changed.

I think I finally gave the Nook to someone, because eventually Amazon owned me.  So I switched to a Kindle for reading and added a Kindle app to the iPad.  Because I have the app, I don't have to own a Kindle, but sometimes when I get deep into my winter reading I spend a lot of time at it; on the basic Kindle you can go for days without charging the device.  Cliff has a basic Kindle too, since he usually gets involved in reading through the winter, although this year he hasn't had the inclination to do so.

We traveled to Versailles the other day listening to a Harlan Coben audiobook I purchased from Audible, another Amazon money-maker.  The iPad doesn't have enough volume for Cliff to hear, so I have a small, inexpensive speaker that I plug into it.  The time passed like magic, which is wonderful for Cliff because he hates long drives.  A bluetooth speaker would be nice, so I wouldn't have to sit with wired-up devices in my lap as we travel.  However, I can deal with it.  

I have several Audible books, thanks to the fact that I signed up one time for a free month's trial and forgot to cancel for quite a while.  Yes, I DO need to pay more attention to my credit card bill.  Anyway, I own quite a few Audible books as a result of that mistake.  We only got halfway through the Coben book on the trip to and from Versailles, so we either need to take another road trip or listen to the rest of the book at home, together or separately.  I'll have a discussion about this with my loving husband later.  It is a good book.  We were enjoying it.    

Meanwhile, I have been listening to Mr. Mercedes as I spend my daily hour on the exercise bike and just finished it yesterday.  Stephen King is so glum and dreary, even when there's sort of a happy ending.  Listening to the last half of our Harlan Coben book would get me smiling again.  He kills off people, but there's a lot of funny stuff in between the deaths.  Stephen King never shows a sense of humor.  

Here's something I wonder about:  Why would anyone pay money for ebooks?  I still find myself buying them if I find a bargain ($1.99, $2.99) when there's absolutely no need for it.  Look at all these Harlan Coben books in the audiobook section of my library!  These are just the ones that can be checked out immediately; there are others you can place a hold on.  They're free, and I can check them out from the comfort of home.  I can return a book when I'm finished with it.  Otherwise, it will return itself at the end of a specified time.  

Read my lips:  If you are spending money for books, you are doing so unnecessarily.  Click HERE for instructions to download library books to a Kindle.  If you are using the overdrive app on either the Kindle or an iPad, click HERE for instructions.  It isn't difficult or confusing these days.  The same app works for ebooks and audiobooks.  

You can send me a portion of all that money you save.


Monday, December 05, 2016

The time I was a secret poet (under the heading of "how crazy am I?")

We're going to travel back in time to when I was single, working at my first job.

I was as much a loner then as now, with no husband to buffer the gap between me and the whole wide world, as Cliff does these days.  My first apartment was at 2638 East 11 in Kansas City (not the best neighborhood, but much safer than it is now).  I caught the city bus a couple blocks down in front of Genova's Chestnut Inn, got off in front of Emery, Bird, Thayer downtown, and waited for the bus that would take me on to North Kansas City.  I worked for National Bellas Hess, a mail order catalogue for rednecks and very poor people who were glad to get low-grade products if they cost a lot less than Montgomery Ward's stuff.

I never had a single guest in my first apartment, although I lived there for at least a couple years.  People tend not to believe me when I say I don't have friends, but it's always been true.  By this time, it had become a deliberate thing.  If you don't try to make friends, you won't get pushed away and rejected, and nobody gets hurt.  I was on good terms with people at work; we joked around like co-workers do.  Two older ladies, Josephine and Edna, sort of took me under their wing and sometimes gave me advice.  I didn't date, although a couple of really nice fellows worked up the nerve to ask me; but I turned them down.  I worked eight hours, caught the bus, and went home.  I read a lot.  The magnificent Kansas City Library was a gold mine of books that I visited often.

I have often thought that if I were a man, I sound like the type who would buy a gun and shoot a bunch of strangers for no reason ("he was a loner, nobody really knew him).  But women usually only kill their children, their husbands, or themselves.  I had no husband or children, and I had no urge to off myself.  I was happy in the quiet apartment with my books, my stereo, and my little 17-inch TV.  I later moved to an apartment near my job, but my routine was the same except that I didn't have to ride the bus.  I should add that I spent most weekends at my parents' home in Blue Springs, and was in contact with lots of people there.

The annual Christmas rush was busy, with plenty of overtime for those of us working for mail order companies.  But about a week before Christmas and for a while afterward, business was as slow as molasses in January.  New-hires were laid off never to be seen again, since they could find a job anywhere that paid more than the minimum wage at National Bellas Hess.  Even so, there was little work for those of us that remained until the spring catalogue was released.  We slowed our pace.  Those who smoked made more trips to the rest room.  Hard to believe now, but once upon a time people could smoke in a public rest room.  I didn't smoke, but no law said I couldn't just go the the rest room, into a stall, and rest my feet.  Isn't that why they call it a rest room?

One day as I sat there pondering the vagaries of life, I noticed words someone had scrawled on the wall of the stall with a number 2 pencil.  It was just a word or two, perhaps dirty words, I don't know.  I studied them, noticing how clearly that number 2 pencil had made the words.  I got an idea.

From that time on until business picked up again and even after, I took a pencil with me when I went to the rest room.  It isn't hard to make up a four-line, simple rhyme, so every once in awhile I'd write a silly poem on the wall as I sat there.  I have no idea what they said, although I do remember the first two lines of one of the longer poems I penned there:  "What our boss needs is a robot... who would never smile or frown..."

By the time I had written three or four poems on various walls of stalls, I heard people asking one another, in whispers, "Who is writing that stuff in the rest room?" 

Of course, this inspired me to keep up the good work.  There was nothing off-color about what I wrote, I was just passing time, making rhymes (see?  It still happens!)

I don't know how long I did it or when I stopped.  Maybe not until I moved on with my life and got another job.  I can see now it was just another way for a lonely introvert to get some attention.  Nobody ever guessed it was me doing the poems.  

As the song "Frankie and Johnny" says at the end, "This story ain't got no moral, this story ain't got no end."

It's just a picture into the life of a budding, brooding introvert. 

Sunday, December 04, 2016

I cried because I had no shoes, until...

You know the quote, I'm sure, although you will seldom find me crying at the lack of shoes because I avoid them like the plague.  However, those words came to mind Friday after visiting Cliff's aunt at Versailles.  

Gertrude is one of Cliff's two last remaining aunts.  Her sister, Lois, has Alzheimer's, but Aunt Gertrude is sharp as a tack.  Her grandchildren have even introduced her to Facebook.  I can't keep from smiling when I see a comment or a "like" from her on something I've posted.  Not bad for a ninety-year-old woman.

Friday morning I looked across the living room at Cliff and saw by the worry lines on his face that he was pondering something, I assumed maybe his latest tractor project.  So I asked him what he was so seriously mulling over.

"I'm thinking about going to see Aunt Gertrude today," he said.  "The trouble is, she and I are both so deaf it seems like we say nothing but "huh?" to one another, and I end up visiting with Darrell instead of her.  It sort of seems like a wasted trip if I'm going for her sake."

"But she will know you cared enough to go see her," I responded.  

So we decided to go to Versailles.

Aunt Gertrude has been plagued by asthma in her later years.  Her old house had mold in it and was sending her to the hospital several times a year.  So she moved in with her oldest son, Darrell, whose house is brand new and mold-free.  I always enjoy listening to conversations between him and Cliff  because he is a story-teller; everybody knows how I love stories, and Darrell has hundreds of them.  He's led an interesting life.

As it happens, we had a nice visit with the two of them in spite of the hearing problems.  We were getting ready to leave when Aunt Gertrude asked Cliff if we could take her to the Dollar Store.  You see, Darrell has a form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis and is in constant pain, so he can't do a lot of shopping or be on his feet too much.  Aunt Gert uses a walker around the house and isn't all that steady on her feet, and the walker takes up too much room in the crowded aisles of the Dollar General, so Darrell told Cliff one of us would have to stay with her every step to make sure she didn't fall.  "I can hold onto the shopping cart," said Aunt Gert, "and that's just like having my walker."

Aunt Gert is, like Darrell, in a lot of constant pain.  She has taken a couple of falls and has a shoulder that hurts all the time.  She can't even pat my hair any more!  Every time we ever visited her she would mention how pretty my curly hair is.  Then she would pat it and remark on its softness.  But now she can't raise her arm that high.   

After Darrell's careful instructions to us, Aunt Gert put on a dust mask, as she does any time she goes outside.  Cliff offered her his arm, helped her into the car, and away we went.

It was very rewarding to see how much fun a housebound person can have when she finally gets the chance to shop.  She was like a kid in a candy shop; now that I think of it, there was a lot of candy in her shopping cart.  Christmas is coming, you know.  I kept telling her to take her time, that we were in no hurry.  Cliff stood by, handing her the items she couldn't reach on the shelves.  The whole experience was a genuine pleasure.  I don't know when I've enjoyed being in Dollar General so much.  

After being reminded of their physical problems, Darrell's and Aunt Gertrude's, I have re-assessed my own petty aches and pains and am counting my blessings.  I can still go outside any time I wish.  I can breathe with no problem, taking huge volumes of air into my lungs.  Sitting or lying down, I am pain-free.  Oh yes, if I walk on a hard surface for over an hour, I pay for it the rest of the day.  Menard's left me limping on their opening day when we stayed too long.  But after spending time with those two, I realize I don't have it bad at all.

It was a good day.  I am reminded of a quote I saw and then shared on Facebook Friday morning before we left, because it came to life for me:  

"Not everyone will make it through this day.  Live with urgency.  Do something beautiful.  Be the answer to a prayer."  John Pavlovitz.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Just tell me your story and I'll remember you forever

When we moved to Wellington in 1975, several acquaintances informed us that we wouldn't like the area because "those old Germans are clannish" or "these old Germans don't like outsiders."

In the first place, I'm an introvert.  So I have never been the kind of neighbor who greets new folks in the area with cookies or pies.  Cliff is more outgoing, but I'm afraid I've rubbed off on him over the years until he just doesn't think about ways to get better acquainted with people.  

I have attended all the local churches over the years at least once, so I've met a lot of these wonderful people.  There is a strong German presence in this community.  St. Luke's Evangelical Free Church is often referred to as "the old German Church".  Their services were in German, I believe, until World War I convinced them to switch to English so they wouldn't be conducting services in the language of the enemy (I may have this detail wrong, so don't quote me.  If any readers know the exact details, I'd be glad to know).  If they were "hard to get to know", the fault lay with me, because I found most of the population of this community to be kind-hearted and willing to help others.  

One of the most memorable of these is Dorothy Kolkmeyer, who passed away last week.  Here's how I got to know her:  Years ago St. Luke's had a series of small home group meetings to prepare the people for Lent, and a neighbor invited me to attend these with her.  The meetings were held in various homes.  One evening we met at Dorothy and Omer's house.  There was a prepared lesson we talked about, followed by discussions from the group of eight or ten people about what we had learned.  

Except for Diane, the neighbor who invited me, I really knew very little about any of these people.  But in the course of that evening, Dorothy shared some of her life stories with us that made her unforgettable.  

I ran most of these past her son to make sure I had the facts correct.

Story number one:  When Dorothy was a little girl living on Bone Hill Road,  she acquired some chicks with her dad's help.  When the hens began laying eggs, she sold them and saved the money that was left after buying feed.  When she had enough money, she bought herself a red bicycle, which she rode to her weekly (I think) confirmation classes down the hill at Levasy.  It's a simple little story, but she was a such a good story-teller, it made me sit up and pay attention.  That work ethic followed her throughout her life, illustrated by a humorous exchange between her and her husband about the Sunday afternoon naps he enjoyed.  She simply could not understand why a healthy adult would take a nap in broad daylight.  Omer just smiled, and I knew right then I was looking at an example of true love between two people.  

Story number two:  Something in the week's lesson asked people to relate their salvation experiences.  I recall one lady saying, "I took my confirmation very seriously."

Then Dorothy told her story.  When her son was a teenager he and other local young people went to Youth For Christ regularly.  During that time, he approached his parents and asked them, "Have you ever asked Jesus into your heart?"

Of course they had both been through confirmation.  Dorothy's eyes welled up with tears as she related this.  She and Omer then accepted Jesus, although I have a feeling they were in good standing with Jesus already.  But watching her relate this with such feeling touched me deeply.

Story number three:  This one is not as clear in my mind but I believe I have it right.  She and Omer owned the local propane company.  They purchased it 1955 (I wouldn't recall the year, it was in the obituary), but they did so with the help of an uncle who loaned them enough to make the initial purchase.  She said without that help, they would never have been able to make such a big investment.  I mention this because many people would not have shared that detail.  We tend to forget the people who helped us make it through life, don't we?  I could almost hear her saying "thank you" to that relative as she related this. 

Other than what you read here, I had few dealings with Dorothy.  And yet, she made a big impression on me, and she managed to do all of that in about half-an-hour of story-telling.

Some time later, Dorothy called me on the phone.  A granddaughter had died from a congenital condition.  She had searched diligently for some poem that might be fitting for the girl's funeral, but none of the ones she found were really appropriate.  Knowing I wrote poems sometimes, she asked if I could write one for her grandchild.  I have no copy of the poem these days, so I can't share it with my readers; but when I called Dorothy and read the first draft to her, she tearfully thanked me and said it was what she had in mind.  I had Cliff take me by the funeral home, because now I felt connected to this child.  The poem was right there beside the casket, framed.

You see, there are people you can connect with even though you don't socialize or hang out with them.  I loved this lady simply because she chose to share a few stories that gave me a peek into her heart.  And what a heart it was!