Currently viewing the tag: "happily ever after"

by Valerie Nusbaum

During these difficult times, it’s more important than ever that we take care of ourselves—our health, our bodies, our minds. Many doctors and scientists recommend that humans walk at least 10,000 steps every day, which is roughly the equivalent of five miles. Lots of people use pedometers and/or FitBits to track steps and mileage, as well as to monitor and track things like heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature.  We shouldn’t need to be told that sitting a lot and leading sedentary lives is detrimental to our health and well-being, but most of us do need to be reminded of this from time to time.

With COVID-19 still out there, we must do all that we can to stay well. Being at home more often, doing more cooking and baking, and overall malaise and depression may have triggered overeating and weight gain in a lot of us. I know that I’ve been less careful about what foods I’ve been putting into my body. Ice cream is now my best friend, and it’s usually served with hot fudge, whipped cream, and a Little Debbie Swiss cake roll.  Don’t judge me. Life is hard.

I still religiously walk two to three miles per day on my treadmill. Every day, without fail, I put on my sneakers and go at it, and I walk at a brisk pace and on a steep incline. One might even refer to it as “wogging.” This takes care of around 4,000-6,000 of my daily step requirements. My compulsive walking isn’t to lose weight. It’s to maintain my current weight and health, and it keeps me relatively sane. I feel lucky that I (so far) haven’t gained the COVID fifteen or twenty.

 The other half of my walk load isn’t so easy to accomplish. In order to log another 4,000-5,000 steps each day, I’ve come up with some little tips to help, and I’m sharing them here with you. I know you’re not really interested in my exercise regime. You would much rather read a recipe for chocolate cheesecake or have me write about Randy’s antics, but as I keep telling you all, Oprah has left the building, and I feel a responsibility to pick up the slack.  If I don’t look out for you, who will?

Tip #1 – Stand up. Standing is supposed to help clear your mind and make it easier to think.

Tip #2 – Move. If you put something in your microwave to heat, instead of standing in front of it and waiting for it to finish, walk around your kitchen or your house. It’s easy to log at least 100 steps during a one-minute microwave cycle. I do this every time I make a cup of tea. If I’m heating a piece of cobbler, well, it just seems silly to exercise.

Tip #3 – Pace while you’re on the phone. My mother always tells me that I sound out of breath when we talk on the telephone.  It’s because I’m moving.

Tip #4 – Take a walk outside. I do the treadmill because I don’t enjoy heat, cold, wind, humidity, rain, or bugs. However, when the weather conditions are perfect, I head out the front door and take neighborhood inventory.  A change of scenery is always good, and I can grab Randy and force him to get some exercise as well. Truthfully, though, Randy has been really good about walking on his own every day. I think it gives him a chance to get away from me for a little while.

Tip #5 – If I need to move five things from one room to another, I make five trips if I have the time. Some days, time is limited, and it’s not possible to do this, but I do it when I can.

Tip #6 – Do exercise in increments. If I don’t have time for a full 45 minutes on the treadmill, I break it up. This has another benefit for me because I’m not a lady who perspires daintily. I sweat like a pig and am completely soaked when I do get off the treadmill after doing all my miles at one time. I’m then obligated to bathe and wash my hair, which requires applying all the lotions and drying and styling my hair. I don’t have time for this some days, so I opt for shorter, less sweaty walks and quicker clean ups.

Tip #7 – Take the stairs. If you have stairs in your home and are able to go up and down them easily, do this as often as you can.  Sometimes, I stand on the floor and go up and down the bottom two stairs for ten or twenty reps.

In general, just add steps wherever you can. I count mine sometimes because I’m anal and have mild OCD, and it helps me to feel that I’m making progress or accomplishing something. If, like me, you walk on a treadmill, I’d recommend watching something mindless on television as you walk. Lifetime movies are great, but my personal favorite is The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  Randy won’t admit it, but he enjoys watching that with me. I think it makes him realize just how lucky he is to have me. I know that’s what he’s thinking about when he’s out walking.

Is It Just Us?

By Valerie Nusbaum

It was mid-morning on Saturday. We were hard at work. I was alternately doing laundry, changing the sheets on the bed, trotting half-miles on the treadmill, and working on my column for The Banner.

Randy was in the kitchen, beginning the installation of our new range hood. You might remember that last summer, our oven caught fire during The Great Pancake Caper of ‘19. We replaced our white stove with a black stainless, fingerprint-resistant model. We also replaced our dishwasher at that time since we were able to find one matching the stove. The refrigerator and range hood proved to be more of a challenge.

We wanted a range hood attached to a wall-mounted microwave, but there was an issue with size and height, so we settled for just the range hood.  The problem was that none of the local stores had a hood in the slate black color. Randy finally found one at Lowe’s online, and he ordered it seven months after we bought the stove. Weeks later, he received two messages telling him that the range hood was at the store in Frederick, ready to be picked up. We couldn’t get free shipping to our home, but it wasn’t a big deal to go pick it up.

Randy made the trip to the store. It took a while, but he came home with a large box. Upon closer inspection, and with some cursing involved, Randy informed me that we had a beautiful new cooktop instead of a range hood. 

He took the cooktop back to the store a day or so later. The clerks didn’t care and weren’t able to help him reorder the hood that we wanted, so he came home and tried again online. Two more weeks went by; Randy got another message and an email, and we headed back to Lowe’s. I waited in the truck because I feared the worst and didn’t want to be a witness. Randy texted me from inside the store that he was in line, and there were three people in front of him. Eventually, he came out without a package. The associate at the customer service desk said that our package hadn’t been brought up front yet, and there was no one available to look for it. Mind you, we had received two messages telling us to come in and get our package. Randy was told that he was welcome to wait an hour or so, but he said he’d be back later.

We did some errands and went back to Lowe’s. A different customer service associate told Randy that our package was still in the back of the store, but she did send someone to go look for it. Meanwhile, Randy dealt with a woman who had pushed her way in front of him to have a conversation with the clerk. While he was being shoved aside, he noticed his name on a big box behind the counter.  After pointing that out to the associate, he retrieved our package and checked to make sure we had the correct item this time. The box sat in our kitchen for another two weeks because we had other projects in the works.

Finally, it was time. I was upstairs in my office, and I could hear Randy downstairs in the kitchen. I heard him go down to the basement and come back up.  This happened several times, and then the cussing started. He was trying to figure out which breaker the old range hood was wired to.  Each time he went to the basement and switched off a breaker, he had to come back upstairs to see if the hood light was still on in the kitchen. I yelled down and asked if he needed help. It’s always best to stay out of his way when he’s doing a project unless he asks me to help. However, after I heard him go down and up the stairs another 10 times, I stopped what I was doing—which was playing a game of Free Cell on the computer as I mentally drafted a totally different column from this one—and  went down to the kitchen.  Randy started to protest my being there, but I gave him my “don’t even think about it” face. After sending me back upstairs to turn off the computer, and after flipping a whole bunch more switches, we finally had success.

I went back to work. After about 15 minutes, Randy advised me that the old range hood was down. In less than an hour, he had the new hood installed and wired.  The actual installation was less of a problem than anything that came before it.

My question to you is this: Is it just us, or do you also have trouble with things that should be simple?  Does it seem that no one cares or wants to help? Is everything a struggle for you? Some days, I really want to give up. That’s why when something actually does go well or is easy, I’m practically giddy with delight. I’m not sure life is supposed to be so hard, but it certainly does make one appreciate the good things, doesn’t it?

The new range hood sticks out a little farther than the old one, and I’ve hit my head on it a few times, so now I’m downright tickled when I remember to duck.

Alone Together

by Valerie Nusbaum

In January, we began hearing and reading things about a mysterious new virus that had reared its ugly head in China.  Randy and I didn’t think too much about it then, but by February and early March, the doctors, scientists, and politicians in the United States were warning us that things weren’t looking good.  Italy had already fallen prey to the coronavirus that was now being labeled COVID-19, and the United States was being invaded by way of Washington state.

Somewhere around the middle of March, we were told that self-quarantining was the best way to keep from being infected by what was now a very deadly foe. Because lots of people can’t follow directions or refuse to take things seriously, the President and Governors of various states began enacting mandatory stay-at-home restrictions. Businesses were being forced to close, and we were told that we could only venture out for essentials like groceries and medicines. Some businesses and agencies were deemed necessary and were allowed to stay open, but were urged to have employees work from home whenever possible.

At this point, Randy and I discussed the situation and realized that not a whole lot was going to change for us. We already both worked from home, and we didn’t go out a lot. We felt that things were going to be okay for us because we had a full freezer and pantry and were stocked up on most essentials.

Day 1 — Randy worked all day in his basement office. I worked in my office and studio upstairs. We thawed and cooked chicken for dinner, watched some television, and went to sleep, hoping that the state of the country would improve rapidly.

Day 5 — I went to Brunswick to take food, groceries, water, and supplies to my mother. I assumed that this was an allowable excursion since I’m the only caregiver my mom has. When the quarantine began, I asked Mom if she wanted to come and stay with us for the duration. “Heck no,” was her answer.

Day 8 — We began hearing that toilet paper was in short supply. Randy counted our stash and declared that we had 24 mega rolls and we’d be fine. We congratulated ourselves for buying in bulk and on sale.

Day 13 — People were starting to wear masks out in public. My friend, Gail, offered to make masks for us, and I took her up on her offer. In turn, I offered to pick up some milk for Gail’s husband, John, on our next trip to the grocery store. Gail and I arranged a “meet and greet” in the parking lot at Roy Rogers in Brunswick to exchange the milk for the masks.  She stayed in her car, and Randy put the milk in Gail’s trunk and retrieved a bag containing our masks. We exchanged a few words from a safe distance. To anyone watching, this may have looked like a drug deal among senior citizens, but in these tough times, no one questioned it.

Day 15 — We celebrated Randy’s birthday and Easter.  There were two cakes, a ham, and macaroni and cheese. None of us cared too much about eating healthfully because no one knew what was in store. We still had 20 rolls of toilet paper left.

Day 20 — Randy had to go to the post office. He came home laughing because he’d worn his mask, some rubber gloves, a hat and dark glasses. No one questioned his attire when only a short while ago the police might have been called. Things had gotten worse out there. People were scared, and the nasty virus had started claiming victims right here in Frederick County.

Day 21 — We were once again able to buy eggs and milk. Meat was available, at least here in Thurmont, but toilet paper and canned baked beans were scarce.  Randy wondered if those two item shortages might be connected.  Oddly, COVID-19 presented as a respiratory viral infection, and not a GI bug.

Day 26 — Randy baked a loaf of pumpkin bread. I made biscuits, homemade pizza, apple muffins, and several pasta dishes. Mom was cooking and baking, too, as fast as I could get the groceries and supplies to her. Every week, she talked with Randy and rattled off a long list of items that she needed for her pies and casseroles. Our stomachs were too full, and we were getting low on toilet paper.

Day 32 — We were forced to do a virtual doctor visit, but it was just to get some test results. I guess a virtual visit is better than nothing, but I really fail to see how some issues can be treated that way. We were all thankful to be virus- and symptom-free as far as we knew, but who could be sure, as we hadn’t been tested.

Day 40 — I’ve been cutting my own hair, and it doesn’t look too bad, if I do say so myself. Randy’s hair had gotten out of control, so I took my shears to it. It’s good that he enjoys wearing a hat. We were able to buy some off-brand toilet paper, but still no Charmin.

We’re somewhere around Day 50 of this mess now. Some restrictions have been lifted, but we’re hearing dire predictions of things to come.  There are more symptoms than we previously knew and maybe some long-term effects of COVID-19.  The economy is in sad shape. My heart aches for all the people who’ve lost jobs and income. I’m hoping and praying that the coming weeks bring us some hope and good news.  Most of all, my wish is that all of us stay safe and healthy. Also, if any of you have an extra roll or two of Charmin…

Two Outings

by Valerie Nusbaum

When the letter arrived in the mail, my first thought was, “Oh, no.” My second thought was, “There’s probably a column in this.”

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) wrote to me and told me that I would need to round up five documents, proving that I am who I say I am, that I am a United States citizen and a resident of Maryland. Randy received one of those letters, too; in addition, he got a notice that he needed to renew his driver’s license as well.

My letter from the MDOT urged me to go online and schedule an appointment to make my visit there faster and more efficient.  What the heck? It was worth a try.  I told Randy that I’d schedule an appointment for him as well, and we could go in together. It took a while for me to figure out how to navigate the website, but I soon got it done. Strangely, I did this on a Sunday morning, and Randy and I were able to get appointments for the very next afternoon. We scurried around finding a birth certificate and passport, marriage license (because my name is different now), Social Security cards, old bills, and so on. We each had a folder full of papers.

The next day, I hurried to Frederick to meet up with Randy.  I’d been to my mom’s and to an appointment in Brunswick, and Randy was at home working.  We met and he drove us to the MVA office in Frederick. Our appointments started at 3:15 p.m., but we arrived at 2:45 p.m.  The line was very long. Randy then discovered that the line for people with appointments was in another spot, and there was only one person in front of us. After a quick check-in, we took our seats and settled in to wait for hours.  My number was called within two minutes, and as I was heading to my station, I heard Randy’s number being called. I gave the very pleasant clerk my documents, and we chatted about the weather, husbands working from home, and she told me that green is definitely my color. I was finished in five minutes. Randy’s visit took a little longer because he needed to renew his license, have his photo taken, and read the vision test. After another couple of minutes, he paid for his license and we walked out of there and climbed into the truck. The clock read 2:59 p.m. I kid you not. It was as though we were in an alternate reality.

I apologize, dear readers, that there wasn’t really anything column-worthy in that ordeal. It wasn’t even an ordeal. My only reason for writing about it at all is to let you know that it is possible to go to the MVA and come out smiling. I whole-heartedly urge every one of you to make an appointment any time you need to go there.

Our second recent outing was to Way Off Broadway dinner theatre, also in Frederick. We don’t venture far from home these days. Mom had given us two tickets to the theatre for a show of our choice. The tickets were a gift for our wedding anniversary, and we’d been looking forward to using them. We decided to skip going to the Christmas show last year, and we scheduled our “date” for the first show of 2020, which happened to be Little Women (the musical).

I had, of course, read Louisa May Alcott’s book when I was a young girl, and I’d seen at least one version of the book on film.  The film version I remember starred June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, and Peter Lawford, among others. Randy hadn’t read the book or seen the movie, so I felt obliged to fill him in on some of the key parts so that he wouldn’t be shocked. Frankly, I had a hard time imagining how a musical could be made from such sad material, but I was curious to see it. I told Randy about the four March sisters and their Marmee living in relative poverty during the Civil War. He was hooked when I mentioned the War. I explained that Jo was a girl and Laurie was a boy. And I told him that Beth died halfway through the story. Randy said that he felt sure that the musical would have been rewritten, and that Beth likely recovered because, after all, who could stand on stage and sing a song about something that sad?

Randy was wrong. Beth died.  Not only that, but the young actress who portrayed Beth in the show was also our server for the night. The poor thing passed away right after she brought us dessert.  I cried a little, and I think I heard Randy sniffle. It was scarlet fever, you know. Randy swore it was scurvy because he said he didn’t see a single piece of citrus in the March house. It was war-time and they were poor.

As if losing Beth wasn’t hard enough, Laurie had to go and fall in love with Amy after Jo rebuffed his advances. Randy was angry that poor Jo was left with only one option, the awkward Professor Bhaer.

Randy’s complaints aside, it was a nice evening out. So what if the theatre was so cold that we all had to wear our coats through dinner and the performance? Adversity builds character. Ask Marmee.

by Valerie Nusbaum

I begin each month wondering what in the world to write about in a new column. I need to write something that you might find interesting, but nothing too dark or controversial. My columns are meant to be light and entertaining if at all possible, with just a dash of something educational and a pinch of food for thought. There are many months when I’m completely at a loss for subject matter. Randy is a lot of fun and he makes me laugh constantly, but not everything is meant to be shared, and not all of his antics warrant nine hundred words.

I mentioned my quandary to my lovely hubby and, in typical man-fashion, he went into problem-solving mode. Randy bought me a book called 300 Writing Prompts.  It’s a journal-style book with a thought-provoking question at the top of every otherwise blank page.  Hmm…

It is my intention this month to open the book to a random page and do my best to answer whatever question is shown on that page, so here goes:

“As a kid, what job did you dream you would have as an adult?  What job do you have now?” 


“What is something you would like to see invented that would make your life easier?”

Dream Job

Well, as a kid I thought I wanted to be a secretary. Go figure. That’s the job my mom had held, and I wanted to be like her. I thought filing things would be interesting, and it sounded like great fun to take dictation and type correspondence. Little did I know. I studied typing and shorthand in high school and became very proficient; and, at seventeen years old, I went to work for the Department of Energy in Germantown. I could write 140 words per minute in shorthand, and I could type fast and accurately. I hated it with a passion, and since this was the mid-70’s, I also had to put up with being a very young woman in a workplace where men had the “important” jobs.  We “girls” were treated like servants and, as you can imagine, that didn’t settle well with me.

I held several other office jobs after that one. With each new job and every year of maturity, I learned to stand up for myself and I toughened up quite a bit. I learned how to get my point across without yelling or crying, and, eventually, I got the promotions I deserved.

However, after 20-plus years of working for others and making my bosses look good, I’d had enough.  Yes, I’d thought I wanted to do clerical/administrative work, but I didn’t enjoy it, and I’d given it more than enough time to grow on me. I was making decent money and had some authority and autonomy, but my love has always been art. 

It’s true that I did own and operate a photography business for five years. I photographed weddings, babies, and horses and did an album cover or two, along with some prize-winning commercial photos, but I was doing all this while holding down a full-time office job at a bank, attending banking school at University of Maryland, and taking college courses at night. I had no social life, so I gave up the photography and went back to being miserable.

My creative side had been stifled for way too long, and that’s how I wound up here. I quit working at the bank, but not before I’d met Randy and gotten married. Yes, we were an office romance. There. I said it. Think what you will. Anyway, after a few more jobs I didn’t enjoy, I started working for myself. Granted, I’m very fortunate to be able to do that, and it’s due in large part to the generosity and encouragement of my husband. I earn enough to support my habits, and I like my boss.

So, what did YOU want to be when you grew up? Did you change your mind a half dozen times? Did you eventually wind up doing the work that you thought you would? Do you enjoy it or is it a means to an end? Have I given you something to think about?

What Invention Would Make My Life Easier?

That would have to be a machine that freezes time, so I could take as long as I wanted to complete a task and still have the whole day ahead of me. Either that or a contraption I could stick my head into and my hair and makeup would be done automatically and immediately.

I suppose the purpose of the book that Randy gave me is to get me thinking about my life—the choices I’ve made and the aspirations and dreams I still have.  The book was a very thoughtful gift from a very thoughtful man.  I’m sure I’ll use it again.

Now for that Educational Tidbit 

Did you ever wonder why February only has 28 days (or 29 in a leap year such as this one)?  Blame it on the Roman king Numa Pompilius, who added both January and February to the existing ten-month calendar.  There’s a whole complicated explanation about him being superstitious and not wanting any months with an even number of days, but I’m out of space so look it up if you’re curious.

Happy Valentine’s Day to ALL my sweethearts!

Better Days Ahead

by Valerie Nusbaum

Happy 2020!  To clarify, I’m talking about the new year and not my failing vision.  It’s too early to judge, but I’m hoping this year will be a great one for each and every one of you, and for me and my family, too.

Now, go stand on one foot.  Seriously.  This is an experiment.  Did you do it?  If you follow directions easily and didn’t stop to think about it, chances are that you stood on your non-dominant foot.  This means that if you’re left-handed, you stood on your right foot. This phenomenon is the brain’s way of helping you maintain your balance.  Randy and I tried it.  I am left-handed and I did, in fact, stand on my right foot.  He’s right-hand dominant, and he stood on his left foot without giving it a thought.  Then he did a little dance and fell over.  I’m kidding.  Don’t accuse me of picking on him.  He enjoys his role.

Randy’s theory is that one’s brain doesn’t hear, “Stand on one foot.”  It hears, “Lift one foot,” and therefore the dominant foot is raised so that a step forward will be on the right side (or left if that’s the way one leans).

This little exercise has no bearing on this month’s column, but it did give you something to ponder, and I got the chance to picture you standing up and looking like a flamingo. Well done!

Next, I would like to touch on the subject of shopping.  I’m guessing that we’ve all done our share of shopping recently with the holidays so close behind us.

Does it ever seem to you that going shopping has become both a mental and physical challenge?  Randy and I took a day off to go to Frederick to try to finish our Christmas shopping, and it seemed to take me an extra half hour to gather up all the things I needed:  sale papers, coupons, gift cards, membership cards, not to mention the shopping list.  I had a whole handful of paper to drag along with us, and found that I had to go through my stash at every stop because we needed the coordinating coupons and cards in order to receive our shopping discounts.  Remember when stores just had sales?

Having to drag along all this “stuff” necessitates my needing a large purse or tote bag, which I’m continually fishing around inside.  The stealthy store clerks don’t think I notice them watching me, in case I’m trying to pilfer a tube of lipstick or pair of socks and stash them in my huge bag.  And how many times has another shopper accidentally rammed a shopping cart into your shins?

I know, I know. I could have done all my shopping online. The problem with that for me is that there are some things I actually need to see and touch. If you’re able to buy shoes or slacks without trying them on, then you are one of the lucky ones! There are times when the whole shopping thing is too much for me. I’ve never been a woman who enjoys the experience of shopping. I’m not a looker or browser. I loathe trying things on, but I have to do it sometimes. My personal preference is to go to a store and be in and out in ten minutes. It’s all but impossible to do that these days. Maybe that’s why I love Dollar Tree so much. That store has what it has. It doesn’t pretend to be anything but what it is, and I don’t need coupons or sale papers. I already know what the price of an item will ring up.  If only I could buy my underwear there, I’d be in heaven.

Enough about shopping. Let’s discuss something we all enjoy.  Eating. It’s a new year, and I’m betting that some of you have resolved to eat more healthfully and also to get more exercise. It’s the same here at the Nusbaum house.  Too many cakes and pies have wreaked havoc on my waistline, and too little time for exercise has made me sluggish and crankier than usual. Things need to change around here. I’ll have to subsist on the memory of that melt-in-your-mouth delicious flourless chocolate cake and all those other treats and goodies that popped up in our house during the months of November and December.

My mom will celebrate her 88th birthday on January 19, and I’m sure we’ll use that as an excuse for celebratory food and desserts, but I do plan to curb my enthusiasm for a tasty buffet. I’m resolving here and now to do better so that I feel better.

Did you make any resolutions?  Polls show that the number one resolution people make is to get more exercise and eat healthier.  Most people give it up by February, so we’ve got a few more weeks of this torture and deprivation ahead of us. I’m heading to the treadmill now. That oatmeal I had for breakfast is fueling me. It didn’t taste a thing like dessert, but with any luck, in a few months, I’ll be able to fit into the tiny little underwear for sale at Dollar Tree.  Dream big, I always say.
Happy New Year everyone; and a very happy birthday, Mom!

My Hallmark Christmas

by Valerie Nusbaum

Valerie arrived in the quaint little mountain village of Thurmont just three weeks before Christmas.  Never one who enjoyed celebrating the holidays, she couldn’t help noticing that the whole town seemed to be decorated. Festive greens adorned with red bows hung everywhere. There were thousands of twinkling lights and all manner of bright, shiny ornaments hung in trees and around doorways.

“I’ll be glad to get this job done and get out of here,” she thought.  You see, Valerie worked for a Fortune 500 company, and she’d been sent to Thurmont to oversee the buyout of the business that was the town’s main source of jobs and income: the Mountain Top Candy Company. The local business was shutting down and all operations transferred to a big, fancy factory in New York City.

After checking into the rustic inn, which was beautifully decorated, of course, and smelled of cinnamon and spices, Valerie set out to meet with the manager of the candy company. His name was Randy; he loved Christmas, and there were immediate sparks between the two of them.

Now, if this were really a Hallmark Christmas movie, Valerie and Randy would fall in love, eat cookies, have a falling-out over the business closing, and get back together just in time for Christmas and to save the company and the town. Snow would be falling, and Valerie would begin to love the Christmas season and would decide to give up her fancy job and move to Thurmont to help Randy run the candy factory. There would probably be a dog and some sort of magical stocking, locket, or ornament, and maybe Santa would turn out to be Randy’s uncle.

I’m going to go on record here and tell you that I am not a fan of those Hallmark movies. In fact, I pretty much loathe and detest them. I know this will upset some of you, but I’m okay with that because I need to be honest.  Seriously, those movies all have the same plot, there’s nothing realistic about them, and I just don’t see how anyone can watch more than one of them without getting a cavity. I understand that the movies are a way to escape the harsh reality of life. They’re just not my cup of tea. I do love some holiday movies such as A Christmas Story and Elf. I’m not heartless, you know. It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas are both classics that I’ve seen more than a few times.

However, if my life were a Hallmark Christmas movie, even though I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas (because of some deep, dark secret like falling down a well on Christmas Eve when I was a child), I’d somehow get coerced into organizing the town’s Favorite Things giveaway.

Speaking of favorite things, Randy and I were driving home from Frederick one day when he said, “I have a question about your friend, Gail.” Then he proceeded to remind me that Gail had mentioned that her family does a “favorite things” gifting at Christmas. 

“How does the song tie into that?” Randy asked. He was serious.

“Do you mean that you think Gail gives her family raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens?” I asked him.

He said he knew it wasn’t that literal but still didn’t understand, so I had to launch into the whole explanation about Oprah and her favorite things and how she used to give all those things to her audiences. Randy was visibly upset over this because he is not Oprah’s biggest fan, and he still couldn’t figure out how this translated to Gail giving gifts to her own family.

“So, the giver picks out things that she likes and then she gives those things to her family and friends? Is that how it works?” he asked.

“More or less,” is what I told him.

Randy shook his head and said it still didn’t make sense because that meant that the giver was not taking into consideration the likes and dislikes of the receivers. I tried to explain that the giver tried to choose things that she thought others would like or could use to make life easier. I also pointed out how gifting this way makes life so much easier for the giver, because since everyone on the gift list gets the same gift, it means only going to one store and not stressing over so many different presents. Randy still wasn’t getting it, but I really believe it’s because I said the “O” word and now Favorite Things is forever tainted for him.

In any case, in the Hallmark movie version, Oprah would come to Thurmont for the giveaway and I’d get a car, he’d get a car, and you’d get a car. The snow would fall gently, the lights would twinkle, and music would play in the background, as the whole town would come together in a warm embrace while Oprah beamed upon us.

Randy mentioned more recently that he might like to try doing Favorite Things this year, Oprah notwithstanding. Oh, goody. I can look forward to a subscription to Field & Stream and a beef stick.  Or a bag of Utz holiday pretzels. I hate pretzels, but I can always eat those while I’m watching an awful schmaltzy movie.

No matter what you enjoy watching this holiday season, we’re wishing you all the merriest and happiest holidays!

by Valerie Nusbaum

You Know You’re a Local…

Randy and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary on October 15. I’m telling you this because our anniversary also marks the number of years we’ve lived in Thurmont. I moved here two weeks before our wedding, and Randy finished bringing in all of his stuff last week. We love it here. 

Thurmont and its residents were very welcoming to us right from the start, but as with any relatively small town or city, it takes a while to become known as a “local” or a fixture. A local is defined as an inhabitant of a particular area or neighborhood, a recognizable fixture. In recent years, Randy and I have been seeing signs that we’ve achieved “local” status. Below are some examples.

You know you’re a local when you not only know the names of all the guys who work at Direct To You gas station, but you also know all their nicknames and the names of their kids.

You know you’re a local when the sign no longer makes you giggle since you now know a junglecock is a bird.

You pull up to the Wendy’s drive-thru and Nina’s or Bev’s voice comes over the speaker saying, “Hi Valerie! Do you want your usual?”  That’s how you know you’re a local.

Randy used to walk into Brown’s Jewelers and it reminded us of when Norm walked into Cheers. If you’re a young person, you won’t understand that reference. It’s from the days when we watched those big screens in our living rooms and there were only 30-or-so channels. Anyway, Mr. Brown’s voice would come out of the back of the store yelling, “Randy!” Barb greeted Randy warmly, and everyone waved from behind the jewelry counters.  We’ll miss the store, and the friendship of the Browns and the lovely ladies who worked there.

I ran into my old friend Harlene Fogle the other day, and she mentioned reading about my life here in The Catoctin Banner. If that doesn’t qualify me as a local, I don’t know what does.

We’re both known regulars at Wendy’s, but Randy is also a McDonald’s frequent flyer. He may not know everyone there by name, but he comes home from buying a Diet Coke and describes all the people he has engaged with. Recognizing other locals might mean that you’re a local, too.  Sometimes locals can get away with a head nod or finger point.

You know you’re a local when you know which specials are served on what nights at Mountain Gate.  I love meatloaf, and I can get that on Friday night. Speaking of Mountain Gate, the locals know that Saturday and Sunday are the days when all the tourists go to the restaurant, so we locals try to avoid going then. However, the turkey special on Sunday can be ordered as takeout.

You’re definitely a local if you understand that on Catoctin Colorfest weekend, there are two choices: participate or get out of town.

You know you’re a local if it takes more time to chat with people you know than it does to buy your groceries when you go to the grocery store.

True locals get excited about winning a ribbon in the Community Show, and we give serious thought to what we should enter next year.  Locals attend as many community events as possible.

In the summers, we locals plan our week around what food we’ll eat on which nights at the carnivals.  Locals know the best places to park, too.

Locals fondly remember The Cozy, especially during the holiday season. Remember that display of lights? Heck, I can remember all the way back to when crab legs were on the menu.

Chances are if you’re a local, you know where Camp David is.  Did I ever tell you about the time that Randy and I were having an impromptu picnic at the nearby public picnic area? We were grilling hamburgers and minding our own business when a helicopter went flying overhead with several uniformed soldiers hanging out and aiming weapons at us. I guess we were deemed to be harmless, and I’m sure we’re not the only locals this has happened to. We can also identify the Secret Service vehicles around town, even though they’re usually marked otherwise. It’s a local thing.

It’s a great feeling to live in a place where we can be a part of the community.

We participate in trick or treat every year, handing out candy and treats to more than 300 costumed invaders, even though we only know a handful of the kids. Randy usually has to run in the door and turn off the porch light because we’ve run out of candy…again. He’s a good sport about it when the kids pick on him, too. It’s all part of being a fixture.  Why, some of the kids even have a nickname for Randy!

In any event, we’ve been here for 25 pretty good years, and we’re looking forward to many more.  Try as you might, we’re not easy to get rid of.

And I’d like to wish a very happy anniversary to my dear husband—aka Cranky Old Dude on the Corner, as the kids call him.

by Valerie Nusbaum

We see ourselves a certain way.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), that’s not necessarily the way others see us. Keep in mind that the public self we present isn’t always our whole self, or even our real self. We know what’s going on in our minds, but luckily, those who interact with us don’t. We can change from day to day or moment to moment, and we adapt differently to every situation.

For instance, the Valerie you read about and perceive from this column is only one part of the whole Valerie. In other words, I write about the things I’m comfortable having people read. The events you read about are always based in truth, but sometimes things are omitted or added for the sake of the story. Sometimes, my memory is faulty, and I have to wing it. I never, ever write about (and usually don’t discuss) my big problems, and I make it a point not to discuss touchy subjects like religion and politics. I write about my own life because telling stories about other people might cause hurt feelings. Sometimes, I say or write outrageous things about Randy, but I assume that people know I’m kidding. They don’t always. So…this is me, for sure, but not all of me.

With that being said, I recently set out to discover if other people see me the way I see myself.

As some of you know, in addition to writing, I also have a small art business where I sell my prints and jewelry online as well as at shows, exhibits, and shops. The big focus on sales these days is on “branding.” What is my brand?  Well, I tried to figure that out. The most recent study I read stated that in order to correctly label my products, I first needed to find out how others perceive me (i.e., I am my brand and my brand is me).

Armed with this information, I contacted my closest circle and asked each person to get back to me with three words they’d use to describe me. I asked for total honesty, but reminded everyone that I’m old and my ego is fragile.  Out of 15 people, only 1 didn’t respond. She has been demoted to Friend Tier #2.

Creative was the number one word people used to describe me, with variations of artistic and talented. Second was fun or funny, and tied for third place were friendly and generous. I’m also seen as loyal, honest, caring and thoughtful. One person used the word beautiful, one mentioned integrity and compassion, another said smart, and one person called me bossy. That was my mother. I can’t demote her. Both Randy and my mom gave me long lists of words because each of them said that three words weren’t enough.

This exercise was an eye-opener because I see myself as a strong person and no one mentioned that word. It’s because I don’t share my problems and worries with everyone. You won’t find me on Facebook posting about the bad things that happen in my life. I keep it to myself and am very selective about sharing.  People tend to think that I don’t have any problems and that my life is all unicorns and rainbows because they don’t see that side of me. I’m a very private person, but no one mentioned that either.

My friend Gail had a party a while back. I was there and met some of Gail’s other friends. At lunch afterward, Gail asked if I was interested in hearing how other people perceive me. Sure. Why not? Turns out that one of Gail’s friends had asked her who that very proper lady in the lavender sweater was. Gail said she had no idea because, “the only woman wearing a lavender sweater that day was Valerie, and she’s about the funniest person I know.” We both had a good laugh over this, but being seen as proper isn’t a bad thing. Another friend once told me that I remind her of Thelma Lou on the old Andy Griffith Show. I did not ask why. I was afraid of the answer. I cautioned her not to tell Randy that he reminded her of Barney Fife. She, very seriously, asked if he gets that a lot.

Anyway, I have always seen myself as organized, decisive, clever, private, intuitive, perceptive, and sympathetic, but those are only the good words I’d use to describe myself. I’m not going to tell you the bad ones because you don’t need to know about those. 

Did I figure out my brand?  Well, I guess my art is creative and it’s friendly and generous, too, because I’m often told that my prints remind the buyers of happy times in their lives. They evoke good memories, and while the pieces aren’t necessarily funny, they do make people smile. I didn’t figure this out on my own. Randy had to explain it to me, which might be why only one person said I’m smart.

My point in all of this is that we all might want to remember that there are many, many facets to every single person we know, and we likely don’t see all of them. It’s all a matter of perception. Just FYI: Randy is strong, nurturing, and thoughtful, and that’s only the beginning of all of his good qualities. My thoughtful, loving, and entertaining mother is bossy, too. I get it honestly

The Getaway

by Valerie Nusbaum

Randy and I haven’t been able to do much traveling over the last several years, and we both miss our excursions and adventures, particularly the road trips to places unknown. Since we can’t take those long vacations any more, we made a bargain with each other to find new places to visit that are closer to home and can be reached in a few hours. Day trips can be fun and spontaneous, with no reservations required and no deposits to be lost if the trip has to be cancelled.

Not too long ago, we were spending a lazy morning having breakfast and reading the newspaper. I mean the actual newspaper, not the internet news.  We’re dinosaurs, remember?  Anyway, I saw an ad for Seven Springs Resort somewhere in Pennsylvania, and I was curious about it. This was a Saturday morning and still early, so we looked at each other and said, “Why not?” The ad I’d seen advertised a food truck festival and a grand and glorious fireworks display at dusk. Over 30 food trucks were promised and 3,000 brilliant explosions lasting forty minutes. How could we go wrong?

We got ready, grabbed our go-bags and some water bottles and headed out the door. We gassed up the truck, got some cash (again, we’re dinosaurs), and decided to swing through the McDonald’s drive-thru for some sustenance and Diet Cokes. I ordered the oatmeal and Randy got an Egg McMuffin, along with our drinks. We pulled up to the pay window and the nice lady said that our order had been paid for by the person in front of us. Wow! What a nice thing to have happen, and we’re very grateful to our unknown benefactor. Randy looked like a deer caught in the headlights, because he’d had a previous experience with the “pay-it-forward” thing and it hadn’t gone well. I nudged him and told him to ask the cost of the order behind us. It wasn’t much at all and we were happy to pay for it. An even better thing was that we recognized the folks in the car behind us. We don’t know them, per se, but we’ve seen them around town, and we were glad to do something for them.

The Nusbaums headed out of Thurmont feeling good about things and excited to be out and about.  I always enjoy being on the road with Randy because we have some of our best conversations during those times. We sight-see and we aren’t on the clock, so if we want to pull over and explore something, we can do that. I did remind him that the food truck festival started at 3:00 p.m., but we had plenty of time and the trip would only take three hours at most.

Seven Springs Resort is in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, not far from Somerset. That’s an area we’d wanted to visit anyway, so we took note of things that we’d want to look at in more detail on a possible future trip there.  Breakfast had been early, and we’d skipped lunch in order to be hungry enough to visit several of the food trucks. Don’t judge us. It was an adventure.

Along the way, we did notice a restaurant in Somerset called Eat & Park. The place was packed, and I’m sure we’ll stop there if we go back up that way again; but, it did beg the question: Shouldn’t the order of the name be reversed? I’d definitely park first.

We finally found the resort nestled way, way back in the mountain. We parked and went looking around. We found it to be a very rustic place, with lots of activities. Of course, the ski slopes weren’t in use, but the lifts were, and there were toboggan rides.  The weather was actually a bit chilly and drizzly, but it felt good to us after the heat wave we’d been experiencing.

We purchased our tickets for the festival, and were waiting at the gate with a lot of other hungry people at 3:00 p.m. It became a blur after that. The best empanadas ever—I’m still dreaming about them. Then, a chili-rice bowl and lasagna-stuffed eggrolls. The list goes on and on. We ate a s’mores crepe and then some pizza. Randy and I shared everything so that we could taste more dishes. I didn’t care for the smoked mac and cheese, and I’m still not sure what the Venezuelan platter was all about. I do know that the three meats were delicious, but I honestly don’t know if I ate plantains or French fries.

 Luckily, I had some Tums in my go-bag. Incidentally, old people carry go-bags when we take day trips. Extra underwear and a toothbrush are always a good idea.

The hours flew by, and since we had planned to see the fireworks, we decided to see if we could get a room for the night. Yes! We were pretty tired, so we sat on our balcony in our make-shift pajamas and watched the gorgeous display.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it, but I did point out that it only lasted twenty minutes—not the forty minutes we’d been promised. 

We went inside our room and stretched out on the bed. It was 10:00 p.m. We’d had a full day, stuffed ourselves, and we were tired. Then the second act of the fireworks started. We didn’t care.  We just opened the curtains and watched through the window.

by Valerie Nusbaum

The Nusbaums aren’t gamblers.  However, we do enjoy winning something every now and then, and as the saying goes: “You have to play to win.” That’s why whenever the jackpot reaches $500,000,000, we each buy a lottery ticket.  Neither Randy nor I have ever won anything in the Lotto, but there’s always next time. In fact, I don’t believe either of us has even had one number that matched the drawing, but hope springs eternal.

Once in a great while one of us will buy a scratch-off lottery ticket. We stick with the cheap $1.00 or $2.00 tickets. Those denominations have lower payouts; but, because we tend not to win anything—ever—our losses are smaller. I’d feel horrible if I invested $10.00 in a scratch-off and didn’t at least win back my investment.

Case in point: It was Randy’s birthday, and I wanted to stick a little something inside his birthday card, so I bought one $2.00 scratch-off ticket from the machine at the grocery store. I put the ticket inside the card, and he was tickled when he opened it. Never one to delay gratification, Randy (who refrains from eating leafy greens whenever he can because he knows that any of us could die at any time, and he doesn’t want his last meal to be a salad) grabbed a quarter and began scratching.  Scratching the ticket, I mean. The other scratching is a story for another time. When the smoke cleared, Randy held up his ticket and showed me that he’d won back my two dollars. He was happy. I was happy. I thought it was all over.

We were out running errands a few days later, and Randy decided to cash in his winning ticket. He trotted into the convenience store and came back out with two $1.00 tickets. He handed one to me and I tried to give it back, saying that he should scratch both since he bought them with his winnings and, besides, I’m never lucky. He wouldn’t hear of it, and he quickly scratched off his ticket and said a bad word. He hadn’t won anything.  I resignedly scratched off my own ticket and saw that I’d actually won $10.00. I was elated that we’d won something, but I still felt that Randy should keep the winnings.  He took the ticket back inside the store. I figured he’d come back out with the $10.00, but instead he came back with $8.00 and two more tickets. There is something to be said for quitting while one is ahead, but I’d forgotten to say that.  Neither ticket paid off, so we lost my initial two dollars and came out eight dollars ahead.

That was when Randy looked at me and said that we should give Bromstadt a call. For those of you who don’t know, David Bromstadt is a home designer. He has a show on the HGTV network called, My Lottery Dream Home. Each week, Mr. Bromstadt works with a person or family who has won a large lottery purse to find them the home of their dreams. The prize winnings range from half a million dollars to ten or fifteen million, but most weeks, David is working with a million dollar jackpot. Most of the winners give David a modest budget to work with, usually in the $200,000 to $400,000 range. A million dollars doesn’t buy what it used to. Randy and I are fascinated to see what qualifies as a “dream home” in those price ranges.  Granted, most of the lottery winners are regular people like us, so they’re not looking for garages for their collection of sports cars or for in-home bowling alleys, but my jaw still drops when they settle for sharing a bathroom with a spouse.

Randy was joking, of course, that our $8.00 would buy us a dream house. He just thinks it would be a great social experiment to have David Bromstadt come to Thurmont, wearing his red shoes and fur coats. I think David is pretty cute, but it would be funny to give him a list of our demands for a home if money were no object. We’d want to live in this area because we like it here. The house would need to be a rancher since we’re getting old and stairs will be an issue one day. Maybe we’d ask for a separate wing for my mother or a guest house, along with a workshop for Randy and a studio for me. The kitchen would have to have tons of storage, and I’m talking serious closet space all over. Privacy is important, but I’d want to be within five minutes of a grocery store and a McDonald’s—I love my Diet Cokes. And, unlike the couples on the TV show, we’d need separate bathrooms for everyone. That’s non-negotiable.  Also, Randy thinks we should buy the adjoining property so that Steve and Brooke can still live beside us.  I know what you’re thinking. If we want that to happen, we’re going to need to buy more tickets.

In the meantime, we’re pretty happy where we are, and we already have most of our list covered or can make do with what we have. I really should go out and buy a ticket, though, because my left palm has been itching up a storm.

The Posse Rides Again

by Valerie Nusbaum

My husband and my mother will always be my best friends, but I’m blessed and happy to have a group of close women friends as well.  Randy refers to my friends as “The Posse.”

The posse is made up of eight women, and it’s a very diverse group. Four of the women are older than I am, one is exactly my age, and three are younger. There’s an age span of nearly twenty years. Three of the women are grandmothers, two have sons in college, and two have stepsons.  One of these ladies is the mother of quintuplets. Seriously.

One thing we all have in common is that each of us has a husband. We girls could spend hours trading stories about our spouses, but we don’t because that wouldn’t be right. Randy, if you’re reading this, don’t worry. I didn’t tell any of my friends about how you licked maple syrup off your shirt the other morning.

I became friends with three of these ladies through my arts and crafts adventures. Of the eight, three own and operate very successful businesses, three have full-time jobs, three are retired from the education field, two are partnered with their husbands in business, two have crafts businesses, and all of them volunteer and do charity work. If you were to add up the numbers I’ve just given you, you’d come up with more than eight, but these ladies are ambitious, hard-working and inspired to make the world a better place, so they do more than one thing. 

One friend makes purses, one makes soap, one makes absolutely everything, and one throws mega-parties. All of them are great cooks and bakers, which is probably why we talk about food so much and go out to eat a LOT. One of my friends and I attempted to visit restaurants that feature foods from all over the world, but after about twenty different places and cuisines, we settled on Mexican and Chinese.  In an aside, I’d like to advise you to never, ever eat something called “oily chili.”

One friend lives in Pennsylvania, and one in Virginia. One lives in the metro area and one in West Virginia. We make the time for each other, even if it means traveling.

Two of my friends have known me all my life, one began first grade with me, one married my cousin, and one dated my brother. One of my friends is my actual cousin, and two members of this group are sisters. These women are as different from each other as day and night; yet, I know that when I need a friend, at least one of them will be there to provide a shoulder or a laugh.

An added bonus is that our husbands get along well, and we’re able to double-date or have couples’ outings. Randy does occasionally feel as though he’s cheating on Wayne with Frank, but it all works out. I worry sometimes when I see Randy and Lou with their heads together, and I fear what might happen if the whole group of husbands got together to build something.

Of late, one of our topics of conversation is the fact that we’re all getting older and forgetting things. We blame it, alternately, on having too much to think about and on menopause.

Menopause is a great blame-all, isn’t it? No man alive will argue with us if we tell him we have “female” problems.

I was having lunch with my mother earlier this week at one of her favorite restaurants. The place is decorated with a lot of artwork and handmade items, and I happened to spy a framed piece of embroidery on the wall that hit home.

One of my friends and I had recently discussed the fear of really losing our memories. The little sampler was embroidered with the words “We’ll be friends until we’re old and senile. And then we’ll be NEW friends!”

I took a photo of the sampler and texted it to each member of the posse. Their responses were typical of each of them.

Joanie responded immediately with a smiley face and “I love that!”

Teresa was next with a laugh and “You got that right!”

Gail warned that “That could be sooner than we expect.” Then she texted about a movie she’d seen and a previous discussion that I don’t remember.

Linda agreed that “This is us!” and she loved it.

Susie agreed “So true” and added a separate thought about a note I had written her and we discussed her upcoming trip to Italy.

Cathy asked, “Where are you?” and then we discussed the restaurant.

Tricia (my cousin) responded that she loved the sample and me.

I didn’t hear back from Anita right away, but I knew that she was at work and could possibly be in a meeting or traveling. Two days later, I got this response:

“So old and senile that I forgot to respond. Hope you have a great day my old and new friend!”

I told Anita not to worry about not responding right away to the funny photo I had texted her about being old and senile. I’d turned off my phone and forgotten where I put it.

by Valerie Nusbaum

With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, those of us who celebrate the holiday need to be thinking about which shade of green we’ll be wearing on March 17. I usually go with a nice Kelly green, but I might change it up this year.

I had always thought that puce was a shade of green, but I found out that I was wrong. After a little research, I learned that puce is the French word for “flea.” The color puce is actually a drab brownish-reddish shade that is supposed to resemble the stain a flea would make when crushed on linen, or the color of flea droppings. Doesn’t that sound lovely? I won’t be wearing puce on St. Patty’s Day or any other time. Chartreuse, olive, lime, forest, and seafoam greens are all acceptable choices, though. So are sap, moss, and avocado. Did you know that there’s a Hooker’s green?  A lovely ensemble with a Hooker’s blouse and some puce pants might be one way to go, or not. There’s also a shade called clover green, which is a good segue to my next thought.

What is the difference between a shamrock and a clover? I’m glad you asked because this gives me the opportunity to learn something. 

As far as I can tell, a shamrock is a species of clover. There is some confusion as to which species is actually the one that serves as a symbol of Ireland. Shamrocks and most clovers have three leaves on each stem. According to legend, Saint Patrick used the three leaves to illustrate the Christian Holy Trinity.  I think I’m correct in saying that the common clover weed found in most of our lawns is not a shamrock.  However, one can occasionally find a common clover, which has four or more leaves and is considered a symbol of good luck for the finder. However,  this is a totally different thing and it doesn’t pertain to St. Patrick’s Day.

Luck, on the other hand, is associated with the Irish. Why is that? Well, it seems that during the times of the gold and silver rushes of the late 1900s, some of the most famous and prolific miners had come to the United States from Ireland. The term “luck of the Irish” was coined by other miners, and it is said that the term was used in a derogatory way that implied that the only way the Irish miners could strike it rich was through luck because they weren’t smart enough to do it any other way. How rude!  I suppose that’s how the image of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow came about.

Of course, the pot of gold is said to belong to a leprechaun, and in order to possess the gold, one must catch the leprechaun (a tiny old man dressed in a green or red suit). Leprechauns are known tricksters, but supposedly if one is caught, he will grant his captor three wishes if the captor agrees to let him go. Leprechauns are said to enjoy drinking alcohol in large quantities, so homeowners in Ireland tended to keep their cellars locked down. It’s also interesting to point out that some historians believe the term leprechaun originated from “leath brogan,” an Irish term meaning shoemaker, which could account for those snazzy buckles we see on the shoes of most leprechauns.

Speaking of shamrocks, which I did earlier, it’s been a tradition of mine for many years to have lunch at The Shamrock restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m usually a person who’s bothered by crowds and noise, but not on March 17. I also don’t drink beer—green or otherwise—so it might seem strange that I enjoy this holiday so much, but I do. I love corned beef and cabbage, and a good Reuben sandwich (minus the Russian or Thousand Island dressing) is something I’d never turn down. People dress up in their green and wear goofy hats and accessories at the restaurant; the Celtic music is playing and the atmosphere is one of fun and good humor. It started out with me taking my mom out to lunch, then our cousin Pat joined us, and then we decided to include Randy and Pat’s husband Keith. It’s become a tradition to have lunch at The Shamrock and come back to our house for dessert. I even enjoy coming up with green treats and Irish-themed sweets.

I think I’ve told you before that my mom makes shamrock-shaped green pancakes for the holiday.  She started that tradition when my brother and I were children and she continues it to this day, unless I make the pancakes before she gets a chance to do it.

Randy’s family, being of German descent, didn’t usually join in the festivities, but I’ve managed to convince Randy that he’s a little bit Irish, if only for one day. Plus, he never turns down a good meal, a celebration, or a chance to wear a silly hat.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those of you who will be celebrating with us, and happy spring to all!

Ode to February

by Valerie Nusbaum

February is the shortest month of the year, but it’s a special month because every four years a February 29th comes along.  Our second calendar month is home to Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, and President’s Day.  February is also the most likely month to play host to a blizzard.

For me, though, February is a major work time. It’s generally the time when I start spring cleaning. I clean out closets and drawers. I donate items we don’t use or need, and I throw away things that aren’t worth donating. Almost nothing makes me feel as good as organizing and straightening cabinets, closets, and drawers. 

I also spend a lot of time in my studio in February. It’s great to be able to look out the window at the bleak landscape while I paint something colorful and bright. I also do a lot of thinking as I stare out the window, and sometimes I’m reminded of things my family would rather I forget……

One day Randy mentioned that he was craving Mexican food. I may not always let on that I’m listening while he ruminates, but I do hear him; so I thought I’d surprise him with some homemade enchiladas, rice and beans for dinner the next day. I chopped and cooked, grated cheese, and set out chips and salsa for my hungry hubby when he came home after a hard day at the office.  He seemed to enjoy the meal and thanked me profusely. Then he leaned back in his chair and said, “I’m going to sit here and think about what I might be craving for tomorrow night.”

I looked over and said, “Let me help you out with that. Tomorrow night, you’ll be craving leftovers.”

Then there was the time my mother was visiting. It wasn’t a planned visit. Mom had spent the night in the hospital, and I insisted that she come home with us for a few days to rest and recover. She didn’t have any toiletries or makeup with her, so I offered her the use of anything I had on hand. She said she could make do with her own lipstick and asked if she could borrow an eyebrow pencil. I was busy doing laundry or some such, so I told her where to look and to help herself.

When I went back upstairs, Mom was in the bathroom and she called me in. She asked me how her eyebrows looked, and I tried not to laugh. Honestly, I did.

“They look fine except for one little thing,” I said. “You do know that they’re blue, don’t you?” Mom had grabbed a blue eyeliner pencil instead of the one she wanted, and she evidently couldn’t see well in the bathroom light.

I’ve gotten off track here. We were discussing all the things there are to do in February. Don’t forget Mardi Gras. Yes, we’re a long way from New Orleans, but a lot of people I know join in the celebration.  Some of them even lift their shirts and beg for beads. Granted, that’s not a great thing to do in the grocery store, but I’ve seen it happen.

Speaking of grocery stores, February is the month when we can all get our Kinkling Day fix.  My mother-in-law used to do “donut day” in February, where she made and fried lots and lots of donuts and then covered them and herself in powdered sugar.  Randy told me that he loved walking through her kitchen door and sitting down to a platter of warm donuts.

Don’t forget about the Super Bowl, which (I think) is played on the first Sunday in February. Lots of people enjoy watching the game, and even more enjoy the snacks, drinks, and food included in a proper Super Bowl viewing—big pots of chili, chips and dips, hot dogs, hoagies, and beer, beer, beer. Randy and I are Baltimore Ravens fans, and while our team made it to the playoffs this year, they lost the wild card game.  We’ll still watch the Super Bowl and I’ll make the food, but it won’t be the same for us without a horse in the race. We’ll rate the commercials like everyone else. In an aside, I’d like to point out to the Ravens owners that absolutely no one looks good in purple. I’m just saying.

If Randy gets a Super Bowl party, I get an Oscars party. Since Randy is in charge of the food for this one, I might be served a pizza, but I love pizza, so that’s okay. I don’t usually watch the awards show, but I do enjoy seeing some of the red carpet antics. Celebrities crack me up with all their preening and the fact that most of them can’t string together enough intelligent words to form a sentence. Randy always says that he can’t understand how a star can have writers and minions at his disposal, and still can’t give an acceptance speech that makes sense. He also tells me every single year that it’s very apparent that Hollywood believes it invented the bosom.

My point here is that there’s a lot to do in a very short time in February. Whatever YOU do, I hope you’re warm, safe and well-fed.

by Valerie Nusbaum

It was quiet inside the toy factory. Oh, Santa insisted on calling the wood and glass facility a workshop, but everyone knew it was a factory with assembly lines, conveyor belts, and noisy machines that belched and snorted and spit out toys. The elves still did some of the work by hand, but times had changed and heavy demand for product had meant that new ways of manufacturing needed to be implemented. Fewer and fewer elves were applying for jobs that didn’t pay cold, hard cash, so the machines were building more and more of the toys.

It was early December. Snow was blanketing everything at the North Pole, and the white flakes were still falling hard and blowing around outside. At least it was warm inside the factory and there was plenty of food and drink. Poor Mrs. Claus and her elf kitchen staff could barely keep up with the baking. Hungry factory-worker elves ate a LOT of cookies and drank a lot of cocoa, at least the boys did. Thank goodness the elves had had the good sense to unionize and strike until Santa implemented a dental plan. All that sugar was ruining their teeth.

Most of the boys were outside in the snow “testing” out a new remote-controlled flying contraption that promised to make life easier, while providing hours of mindless entertainment for children. The drone-like device had a hidden camera so that parents could monitor their children from their phones, but, more importantly, the new toy flew over a designated target and sprayed a stinky-smelling vapor that lasted for a very long time. The elf designer was tentatively calling the new toy the “Stink Bomber,” but he realized that the name needed some tweaking. Apparently, the toy needed tweaking as well because the odor was way too strong and offensive, and it was leaving some of the elves gagging and running for cover.

The girls sat inside where it was warm, dry, and sweetly scented, and cautiously nibbled and sipped. A steady diet of cookies, candy canes, and hot cocoa didn’t do wonders for tiny elf hips and thighs.

“I’d give almost anything for a salad,” said Bernice. “I mean, it’s lovely of Mrs. Claus to bake special sugar-free cookies for me, but I need something healthier.” Bernice was diabetic and all those carbs weren’t good for her. “Besides, these things taste like cardboard.”

The other girls rolled their eyes and ignored Bernice’s griping. It seemed that Bernice was always unhappy about something. She’d even changed her elf name. You see, whenever a new elf came to work at the factory, Mrs. Claus had the task of assigning a new name, one which appropriately reflected the Christmas season. Some of the other girls were now called Merry, Holly, Ivy, Joy, and Carol, which were all very lovely, Christmas-y names. Bernice was given an elf name, too, but she promptly changed it back to her old name, exclaiming that no one wanted to be called “Ho.” And truthfully, Mrs. Claus did kind of miss the mark with that one.

Jolly, the elf shop foreman (and also Holly’s twin brother), glanced out the window and yelled, “Oh no!” The boys were lying on top of the snow, prone and unconscious.  Clearly, the spray from the drones had been toxic and had caused the boys to pass out. Jolly screamed for the medics and quickly and efficiently had all the boy elves transported to the medical facility.

Luckily, Jingles had stayed inside during the break. Jingles was the elf who had designed the drone. “I told you it wasn’t ready to be tested yet.  Now, what do we do?” cried Jingles.

The machines were ready to begin production on thirty million drones that very day. “We’ll never have all these orders ready by Christmas Eve without our full staff. Plus, I have to redesign the drone.”

Bernice piped up and said, “We girls can help, you know. We can do more than paint pretty doll faces and sew plush animals.”

At that point, Santa strode into the room and announced that all of the sick elves would make full recoveries, but they’d need plenty of rest and fluids for the next week or so. “We’ll all have to work double shifts to get the toys ready by Christmas Eve.”

Jingles set about refining his drone design but it was no use. He didn’t know how to fix it. He sat down hard and put his little head in his hands.

Santa had never seen his elf staff so discouraged, so he asked if anyone had any ideas of how to make sure that good little boys and girls around the world had a wonderful Christmas.

Since Bernice was always ready with a suggestion, she said, “Children don’t need a lot of fancy toys, Santa. What they want most is to connect with their parents.  Everyone is so busy these days.”

“That’s it!” yelled Jingles. “We’ll reconfigure the drone so that the kids can watch their parents and they can listen and talk to each other through microphones and recorders!”

The elves rejoiced and worked all day and night right up to December 24, Christmas Eve. They loaded Santa’s sleigh with the new drones, and Santa left one at every house.  The kids didn’t know what to do with them, and the parents hated them. Jingles was sent back to the kitchen staff. Bernice changed her name to Noel and got a job at the North Pole Panera. Santa got rid of the machines and started paying his elves in cash, and the elves went back to making simple toys by hand.  Mrs. Claus started a side business selling her cookies on Amazon.

Randy and I hope your holidays are wonderful!

by Valerie Nusbaum

This column is for the November issue, so it should be about Thanksgiving and/or being grateful for what we have. In truth, I’m writing this in early October and Thanksgiving is just a blip on my radar at this point.

I’m in the middle of getting things ready for Randy’s and my 24th wedding anniversary (October 15), and I’m hoping the weather will cooperate enough for us to get away for overnight or at least for a day trip. I’ve bought a couple of things for Randy and I got him a nice card, but remembering where I’ve put them is something else entirely, and I fear that the hunt will involve me cleaning up my studio.

Writing this column, I know Catoctin Colorfest is coming up and the town is busting loose, so I need to be aware that I can’t come and go as usual for the next few days.

I’m planning a Halloween get-together for my cousins and extended family, and we’re also preparing for trick or treat. Trick or treat would be a no-brainer for most people, but we have between 300-400 little goblins that descend upon us each year and that takes a lot of candy, not to mention that we try to do some yard decorating and that Randy wears a costume while he passes out treats and takes abuse from the little darlings.

It’s been a crazy week, and I haven’t had much time to get things done at home. Mom, Randy, and I have all had doctor’s appointments this week. I also made a pilgrimage to a new dentist because I will most likely need a root canal. The exterminator was here on Tuesday and the air conditioner repairman came on Wednesday. In between all of this, there was work, the yard guy was here, and I took Mom to Walmart. If the mailman is Randy’s nemesis, Walmart is mine.

Maybe that’s why I was thrown for a loop when I ordered a Southwest salad at the McDonald’s in Brunswick and was given a spoon for eating it. Seriously? The store was out of knives and forks. The kid at the cash register couldn’t think to tell me that when I ordered my salad? Needless to say, this didn’t end well and I can’t go back to that McDonald’s.

Sensing that I was gearing up for a meltdown, Randy thought he’d distract me with an episode of the Halloween Baking Championship on the Food Network. I love those shows. One of this season’s contestants is a young man with a lovely Carribbean accent. As we watched this guy bake, Randy looked over at me and said, “Well, that makes no sense at all.”

I asked what he meant, and he said that he’d been sure this particular contestant was from Jamaica. I still didn’t understand what he was getting at, so he explained. “The guy just said, ‘We don’t do dat in Ireland.’”

The guy actually said, “We don’t do that on our island.” And this is how we watch television at our house. One of us interprets for the other, and we take turns doing it.

Now, I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m not even contemplating Thanksgiving. I have given it some thought. In fact, I posed a question to my Facebook friends and asked them to tell me their preferred way to cook a turkey. More than one person responded that they prefer their turkey to be cooked by someone else. A few offered up smoking as a method of choice, but most people told me that they’ll do a turkey the traditional way by roasting it in the oven with something stuffed in the cavity. A lot of us do a covered roaster method to make broth for use in gravy and dressing.

I also asked people to name their favorite Thanksgiving side dish. A surprising number of people said sweet potatoes. I like sweet potatoes done many different ways, but my favorite way is mashed up in a casserole with a crunchy, sweet pecan topping. Randy prefers them on someone else’s plate, but he’ll eat them if I go to the trouble of making them. The sweet potato casserole I like best takes two days to make from scratch, or I can buy a very similar one for $3.49 at Aldi.  It fits perfectly in my fancy white casserole dish, and no one knows the difference.

We had a debate over the difference between dressing and stuffing. Dressing wins out at our house. I don’t stuff my turkey.  Randy and I like dressing with lots of celery and onions. If you’re in a pinch and can’t make your own, Mountain Gate has a delicious stuffing/dressing.

Also, I can’t stress enough that a fresh turkey tastes best.  For us, part of the tradition of Thanksgiving is standing in line on the Wednesday before the holiday at Hillside Turkey Farms to pick up our fresh bird. I have nothing against a frozen turkey. I’ve cooked my share of them, but once a year I like to go for broke.

No matter what your food preferences are or how frantic or unsettling your lives have been recently, I hope you’ll join me in taking a few minutes to realize that we all have things for which we are grateful. For me, it’s family, friends, and all of you who read my words each month.

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S.  Thank you, Barb, for the delicious banana crème pie!


by Valerie Nusbaum

This morning, I sat down at the computer to start drafting my column. It was very early and my mind was fresh—as fresh as it ever is, I mean. Thoughts were swirling through my brain about spring being just around the corner, with robins heralding its coming and gardeners preparing for their planting season. I was thinking about St. Patrick’s Day and all the celebrations: the wearing of green, corned beef, cabbage, and green beer. I was planning to write an appropriately seasonal column.

I then turned on the computer, waited for it to boot up, and logged on. My main system is several years old, and it seems—like me—to get slower and slower with age. I finally got my page formatted and then my computer locked me out. There was a big red alert, telling me that I had a virus and that I needed to call the included phone number to find out how to fix it. Sure. I’ll do that. And I’ll buy some swamp land in Florida while I’m at it.  These messages have been coming to me a lot lately, and both Randy and I have done all we can to clean up the computer, but we’ve decided that it’s beyond our capabilities.  We’re calling in the geeks. Professional ones.

In the meantime, though, there was a column to be written, so I logged out and shut down and re-booted.  I decided to check my e-mail before I started writing again. The computer told me that I needed to switch users, but it waited to do that until I had written a lengthy response to my cousin, Pat. I lost the whole message and was too frustrated to start over, so I sent her a quick note and told her I’d call her later. I’ve learned to save anything and everything that I write, which takes even more time. Isn’t technology supposed to make our lives easier? Aren’t we supposed to be able to take care of things with just the touch of a button? All of a sudden, I lost my internet connection, so I said a bad word and went back to work on my column. At that point, I would have cheerfully thrown the whole kit and caboodle out the second floor window of my office, but I know the cost of a new computer, and I imagine I’ll have the same problems with another set-up.  Am I the only one who finds dealing with computers not as much fun as Bill Gates tells us it should be?

I’d do a lot more of my work on my tablet or my phone if I could. Both of those devices work pretty well most of the time; however, I have poor eyesight and arthritis in my hands. It’s not easy for me to type on anything but a full-size keyboard. I make an awful lot of mistakes when I try to text, but I’m usually unaware of it since I can’t read that small screen. Poor Randy is my go-to-guy whenever I have a technological issue. I know I must drive him crazy. He’s a good sport and he does what he can. Some days I wish we had a fifth-grader living with us. Kids and young people seem to catch on quickly to all the new techno-gadgets. These days, I not only feel old, I feel stupid, too.

How about all the self-checkouts that have popped up in grocery and other stores? I get hung up with those, too. The other day, the darned thing told me to move my items from the bagging area. Then it told me to put them back. Then it told me to call an attendant.  I think it was just messing with me. You know there’s a room with a monitor and a microphone, and some guy is sitting in there toying with us. Those self-checkouts are supposed to help us get out of the stores more quickly. Well, that’s only because there’s just one open checkout lane in the whole store with a human attendant, and there are fourteen people waiting in that line. Fourteen techno-dummies like me.

I won’t even write about the automated telephone systems. If I talk about that, I’ll only raise my blood pressure and upset myself.  So many hours of my life have been spent on hold, while I press numbers to navigate those systems—hours that I’ll never get back.

Even our vehicles have computers now. I get into Randy’s truck and think I’m in the cockpit of an airplane. There are so many lights and buttons.

If you ask Randy for his thoughts on technology, he’ll tell you that he’s convinced that we’re being watched at every turn, and even in our own homes. You know your voice-controlled devices are always listening to you, don’t you? Randy also believes that technology is working toward eliminating more and more jobs for us humans. He tried explaining that to one of the self-checkout attendants at the grocery store, but she told him to move his items from the bagging area. Or maybe that was the machine talking.

Isn’t It Romantic?

by Valerie Nusbaum

“Randy, when you have a few minutes I have a couple of questions for you,” I called to my dear husband.

He walked slowly into my studio where I was doing some cleaning up, and he sheepishly asked, “What is it you think I did?”

“Nothing. Did you do something? Oh, never mind. I need to know what you’d consider the perfect romantic evening.”

He made that face—the one that’s a cross between fear and smelling something awful—and replied, “I don’t know. You can’t just hit a guy with a question like that and expect the right answer.”

I assured him that there are no “right” answers to the question. I simply wanted his opinion, and I urged him to say the first thing that came to his mind.

He thought about it for a minute and told me that his perfect romantic evening would start with dinner at home, preferably nothing garlicky and no raw onions, and also nothing that causes gas. He asked why I wanted to know. I replied that I was doing some research.

“For a column? Or are you planning to romance me?” he asked, and he did that thing where he wiggles his eyebrows, which is silly because that always makes his head hurt.

I pointed out that dinner at home would be fine as long as I didn’t have to do the cooking. It’s not that I mind cooking a nice meal for Randy. I do it all the time, but we women sometimes like to enjoy a meal that someone else has prepared. Right, ladies?

In my research, I really was just trying to get a handle on how we look at romance and what we find romantic. Do men view romance differently from women? Do men even know what romance is, or do they care, for that matter?

For me, something as simple as Randy leaving me a note beside my teacup in the morning is romantic. He fills my tank with gas without being asked. If he sees that I’m cold, he gets a blanket for me. It doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture, although, just once, one of those would be really nice, too. I explained all that and Randy asked what I meant by “grand gesture.” I said, “A weekend in a luxury suite in a posh hotel or a trip to Paris, big pieces of jewelry or dozens of roses—things like that.”

He replied, “I did that whole luxury suite thing, remember? And it didn’t go well.” He’s correct. It wasn’t great, but mainly because we’d heard about the hotel/resort from Randy’s former boss and the place turned out to be not all that luxurious. Plus, I knew about the trip from the start. It wasn’t a surprise and grand gestures are supposed to take one by surprise.

“You don’t like surprises. You don’t handle them well at all.” He’s right about that, too.  It’s just that we women get tired of having to tell our men what we want. Why can’t they figure it out on their own? I know Randy isn’t a mind-reader, but he lives with me and sees me every day, so shouldn’t he know what I like and don’t like? Granted, if I tell him what I want and am very specific about it, I usually get exactly the present I’m looking for, but it’s not a surprise. Oh, I pretend that it is. We women all do that, don’t we?  Wouldn’t it be nice just once not to have to go through all those machinations to get “the gift”? In truth, Randy has surprised me with really great things over the years, and he’s come up with good ideas on his own. I’m one of the lucky ones because I have a man who makes the effort. He just isn’t always sure what he’s looking for or why he’s doing it.

I, on the other hand, am like a dog with a bone. I hear Randy say he wants or needs something, or would like to do something, and I look for it until I find it. I like a challenge.  He has to be careful around me, because sometimes he makes a joke and ends up with a pair of black satin shorty pajamas. Oh, yeah, I found those babies and he wore them.

Sometimes, I get it right without meaning to. For Christmas, I wore myself out shopping and wrapping and trying to find things that would make Randy’s face light up. It turned out that the gift he liked best was the little slot machine bank I’d bought on impulse as a joke. I got the beautiful necklace that I’d described and asked for.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that Randy is right. It makes sense for us to plan trips together and to discuss buying tickets to concerts and plays, because we don’t always know how the other is feeling. OK, I know how he’s feeling and what he’s thinking, but he can’t read my mind. We’ve already established that. It’s usually a good idea for us to choose a restaurant together, too. Please don’t tell him that I said he was right. That would really put a damper on the romance.

A Fresh Start

by Valerie & Randy Nusbaum

Dear Readers:

I’m often asked why Randy never gets a chance to rebut the things I write about him in this column. You know that old saying, “Be careful what you wish for?” Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. The opinions in this particular column are Randy’s and his alone. And, no, I didn’t twist his arm or threaten him to make him say nice things about me. Read on.

Okay, I know all of you turned to this page, expecting to see Valerie’s column, and rightly so. Valerie’s columns are something I look forward to every month as well. But this month, in an effort to help out during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I volunteered to write a column for Valerie. Well, actually she doesn’t know I’m writing it, so please don’t tell her. (Valerie’s Note: He offered. I was tired. I might have said yes.)

As most of you know, many of Valerie’s writings involve our adventures and a few of my mishaps or delusions of grandeur. I started out to write something in my defense. Upon further reflection, I’ve decided that Valerie is a saint for putting up with me. There is no defense. Almost all of what she describes is the truth; although, she occasionally tones some of it down to lessen the shock and horror of my most recent folly. I know of no one else who would be so gracious.  Perhaps, the column should be called “In Her Defense.” As in, “Your honor, you only need to read a few of my columns to understand why I did it.” (Valerie’s Note:  Nothing in this paragraph was coerced. Some of it is true.)

The holiday season is typically a time of reflection for many of us. Christmastime brings around the joy of the season. It’s a time to reconnect with loved ones and friends. New Year’s allows us to pause and remember the passing year—good and bad—whilst making plans and resolutions, as we look forward to the coming year. (Valerie’s Note: I have to caution Randy all the time not to try and use a British accent with these customers. They would not be amused.)

Personally, I like to spend this season catching up on movies. No, not new movies. Real movies that define our generation. I’m specifically talking about three movies that everyone has seen, and if you haven’t already seen them, you really should.  I’m sure you are all familiar with the list, but just in case, here they are in no particular order.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972), with Robert Redford. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, I’m not really sure how you’ve survived this long. If you don’t watch this film at least once a year, I have no idea how you hone your basic survival skills. And what in the world do you talk about at parties?

The Replacements (2000), with Keanu Reeves. A must-see for comic relief and important life lessons.  Given all of the recent drama with the NFL, this movie is all the football you’ll ever need. It’s not just for the holiday season, and can and should be watched any time.

Point Break (1991), with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze. No, not the recent remake. Why Hollywood ever thought remaking a classic was a good idea, I’ll never know…but don’t watch it. The original is a religious experience and should not be tampered with. This movie has it all, and really should be watched more than once a year to keep you on an even keel. (Valerie’s Note: Keanu Reeves used to be my “hall pass,” but given Randy’s weird fascination with his movies, I’m sure you can understand why I now find Keanu kind of icky.)

Now, if you were to ask Valerie (and please don’t), she would question why there is a need to watch the same movie over and over again.

I’ve tried to explain that I learn something different with every viewing. Consider the value of the important life lessons we can learn from each viewing.

Valerie’s not buying it, but don’t be fooled. Every time I throw out a timely movie quote (“Hey Johnny—get me two”), she knows exactly which film it comes from. (Valerie’s Note: I smile and nod a lot, and I stand a good chance of guessing correctly if I name one of his top three.)

Enjoy this time of reflection and reconnection. And, I promise, next month, Valerie will be back again with actual witty entertainment!  (Valerie’s Note: Randy’s pretty witty all by himself.)

“My dad had a saying about volunteering. He told me that there are three kinds of fools in the world: Fools, Darn (insert curse word) Fools, and Volunteers. I guess we all know where I landed. Dad had a good many sayings, all of which I’ll remember forever, and most of which I can’t print.”

“In my job, I work with a British customer. The Brits use terms like ‘whilst’ and ‘crikey’ and ‘brilliant’ often, and I am fascinated with their use of words.”



Thanks for reading,


Your Holiday Questions

by Valerie Nusbaum

The holidays are difficult enough without wondering why we’re doing the things we’re doing, right?  We all follow certain traditions and customs, but do we really know why? I got curious and started doing research, and I asked some other people to tell me what puzzles them about their holiday rituals. We pretty much all know why we exchange gifts and why we place candles in our windows, but we do lots of other things without thinking too much about it.  This is what I learned.


Why Does Santa Wear a Red Suit? 

According to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, it is widely thought that the Coca-Cola Company influenced the color of Santa’s suit. It is also thought by some that Clement Moore’s 1822 poem “The Night Before Christmas” inspired the jolly elf’s garb.  In truth, the original St. Nicholas (the Bishop of Myra in the 4th century) is said to have worn robes of red and white. Either way, black would be much more slimming and wouldn’t show the soot from all those chimneys.  I’m just saying.


What is Wassail?

Kathy Cage wrote that, “Wassail is a beverage made of fruit juices, ale, wine, spirits, and spices. The punch is traditionally served hot, with baked apples, nutmeats, or toast pieces floating on top.”  Sonya Moss concurred. Sonya said that she’d tried making it once and didn’t really like it, even though she’d used a generous amount of bourbon. My mother-in-law used to make her own alcohol-free version of wassail, and it was delicious.  I don’t remember anything floating on top, though.


Does Santa Pay the Elves?

The best answer I could find to this question is that Santa pays his elves with candy and cookies, and doesn’t even provide a dental plan. In this age of everyone sounding off about everything, I’m surprised that Santa hasn’t been severely chastised on social media and in the news. On the other hand, Santa doesn’t make any money either.


Why are Hanukkah Colors Blue and White?

Mental Floss tells us that the colors are taken from the Israeli flag. Blue also represents the stripes on the tallitot (traditional prayer shawls worn in the synagogue and at ceremonies). Blue conveys the sky, faith, and truth. White represents purity, light, and peace.  And silver? Bling, of course.


What’s the Difference Between Figgy Pudding and Plum Pudding?

There’s no difference at all, according to NPR.  They’re the same pudding.  Apparently “plum” is a pre-Victorian generic term, referring to any dried fruit, particularly raisins. In the old days, there were neither figs nor plums in the pudding. I’m told it’s delicious, but it seems like an awful lot of effort. Real ones, made from scratch, take five weeks to make.


Does Anyone Actually Eat Fruitcake?

My mother loves it. Randy’s mom baked and shipped several of them every year. So, I guess the answer is “yes.”


Why Do Some People Use a Star and Others Use an Angel as a Christmas Tree Topper?

Wickipedia writes that some people use a star as a representation of the Star of Bethlehem, while others use an angel to represent Gabriel sent to herald the birth of Jesus. And there is no truth to Randy’s story that Santa got irked at an angel and shoved a tree up there. No one knows why Bill Blakeslee uses a wine bottle.


Why Do We Eat Turkey for Thanksgiving?

Wild turkey may have been served at the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. Turkey began to be widely used for the meal in the 1800s. The birds were large enough to serve a crowd. And, when I said “wild turkey,” I meant the kind we eat.  The other kind is something else entirely and can be served on any holiday.


Do People Really Roast Chestnuts On an Open Fire?

Lynne Gartrell wrote, “In all the old Christmas carols, movies, and literature, everyone roasts chestnuts on an open fire. I have never done that, or even tasted a roasted chestnut. Do people still do this? Are they good?”

Nancy King has a cousin with a chestnut tree, and her husband gathers chestnuts and roasts them.  He says they’re delicious. My in-laws used to have chestnut trees, too. They gathered the nuts, took them down to the shore and sold them at markets. Our sister-in-law, Karen Nusbaum, is originally from England, and she assured Lynne that chestnuts are good and are still roasted in the UK. Connie House added that chestnuts were roasted to keep poor people’s hands warm, as they couldn’t afford gloves or muffs. Putting warm chestnuts in their pockets, along with their hands, kept their hands from freezing. Chestnuts are also used in some Asian dishes.  Water chestnuts are delicious and crunchy and have nothing at all to do with this.


Why Do We Kiss Under the Mistletoe?

Chris Houck wants to know, “Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?”

Dating all the way back to the 1st century Druids, mistletoe has had romantic overtones because the plant is able to flower in the dead of winter. According to history, one Norse legend has it that Odin’s son, Baldur, was shot dead by Loki with an arrow fashioned from a mistletoe branch. When Baldur was miraculously resurrected, his mother, Frigg, named mistletoe a symbol of love and proceeded to kiss everyone who passed under it.


Why Do We Hang Stockings?

Legend has it that three sisters hung their stockings to dry over the fireplace. Knowing that the family was very poor, St. Nicholas tossed three bags of gold coins down their chimney, and the money landed in the stockings. Children everywhere now hang stockings on Christmas Eve, hoping that they’ll be so lucky.


Why Do We Decorate Christmas Trees?

This custom started in Germany.  Supposedly, Martin Luther was out one night and noticed the stars twinkling through some tree branches. He was so enamored of the sight that he cut down a small tree and decorated it with candles to enjoy in his home. The tradition of decorating Christmas trees spread to England and then all over the world.


What is a Yule Log?

Lighting a yule log in a home is thought to burn away bad luck and keep away the darkness. Any kind of wood will do. It has nothing to do with Yul Brynner.


What is Mince Pie?

Original mince pies contained rabbit, pigeon, partridge, hare, and pheasant, as well as dried fruit and spices. Modern mincemeat sometimes includes sausage, and usually liquor. The pies were baked in an oblong or square shape to resemble Jesus’s cradle. Eating the pie is supposed to bring good luck.


No matter what traditions you keep, Randy and I hope your holidays are wonderful! Happy celebrating to you all!

Pumpkin, Anyone?

by Valerie Nusbaum

I always know when autumn is just around the corner because I start seeing television and online ads for products featuring the delicious flavor of pumpkin spice. There are coffees and teas and pancakes galore. The pancakes are good, but I don’t drink coffee and I don’t like flavored teas. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and many other chains have jumped on the pumpkin wagon. So has IHOP.

I’ve tried pumpkin yogurt, pumpkin-flavored cereal, and pumpkin seed granola. I didn’t love any of those products, and I didn’t care for the pumpkin-flavored instant oatmeal either. There are a plethora of breakfast choices out there if you happen to be a pumpkin lover. I just bought a box of pumpkin spice Cheerios, and I’ll let you know how those taste. Like cardboard, I’m guessing.

Then, there are all the cakes, cookies, pies, muffins, and breads.  My mom always bakes a batch of yummy pumpkin muffins for me when fall rolls around. I hope she’s reading this because I haven’t seen any muffins yet this year, and I’ve lost a few pounds. My mother-in-law loved pumpkin pie, but she wouldn’t eat any pie that wasn’t Mrs. Smith’s. She liked what she liked, and we always served her a Mrs. Smith’s pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, unless some other brand was on sale and then we hid the box. Pumpkin bread with raisins and nuts is one of my brother’s favorite fall treats. And how could I forget pumpkin whoopie pies? Dunkin’ Donuts has a whole assortment of pumpkin donuts and treats, and they’re delicious.

Just this morning, I received an email from Harry & David. For only $89.99, I can buy a gorgeous and delicious two-layer pumpkin-shaped devil’s food cake. It’s frosted with orange icing and has a jaunty green stem sticking out the top. Or for $5.99, I can bake two chocolate bundt cakes, slap them together, and throw a few drops of red and yellow food coloring into some vanilla frosting. I can stick a couple of silk floral leaves in the hole and call it dessert.

My mother loves pumpkin butter on her toast. We’ve tasted pumpkin ice cream, and I even made pumpkin soup one year for Thanksgiving dinner. I won’t do that again. It was a whole lot of effort for very little taste, or else I did something wrong.

My friend, Teresa, buys a large pumpkin for Halloween, and after she and her kids make a jack-o-lantern, Teresa roasts the seeds.  She’s very talented.

Well, here’s the thing: I heard a news report on TV recently stating that a lot of products advertising “pumpkin spice” flavoring actually contain no pumpkin at all.  They contain cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and a few other things, but there’s not a lick of pumpkin in there.  Now, that’s not true of everything.  There are always exceptions, I’m sure. I did some research at the grocery store, and I admit that I had a hard time finding the word “pumpkin” listed in the ingredients in some of the products.

Luckily, pumpkins aren’t just for eating. Like Teresa, you can carve them up for Halloween, or keep them whole and decorate with them all through the fall. Pumpkins may be painted and decorated. They can be used as containers for flower arrangements or they can hold beef stew or soup, as is the tradition at Patsy Davies’s house.

Pumpkins can also be chunked, as in “shot out of a cannon.” We can go to pumpkin patches and pick our own beauties. We can also grow our own, as Randy has done in the past. One of the funniest things he ever did was enter a teeny, tiny pretty little home-grown pumpkin in the Thurmont Community Show. I swear that thing wasn’t more than five inches in diameter, and I razzed him something awful for having the nerve to enter it in the Show. I ate my words when the darned thing won “Best Pumpkin.”

Pumpkins come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, and they really do look pretty on our porches and tables. Whatever your pumpkin preference is, I hope you find something you enjoy and celebrate this beautiful season.

We always associate the month of November with Thanksgiving, but let’s not forget Veterans Day. Randy and I sincerely thank all of you Veterans and your families for your service and sacrifice. We couldn’t do what we do, if you hadn’t done what you did and continue to do.

We’re also sending our best wishes to you all for a very happy Thanksgiving.  This year has been a difficult one for our country, with all the hurricanes, floods, fires, disasters, shootings, and tragedies, not to mention the political climate.  It’s hard to remember to be grateful for the good things in our lives when there’s so much to worry over.

As we sit down to dinner on November 23, I’ll be thankful for my wonderful husband and mother and the rest of my extended family; for my friends, without whom I couldn’t get through the bad days; for a roof over our heads and food on the table; and for the ability to get out of bed in the mornings. I will remind myself that I am grateful for many other things as well, and then I will dig into something delicious that tastes like pumpkin.


Tis the Season

by Valerie Nusbaum

It’s September as I’m writing this column. The kids have gone back to school, and summer is pretty much over. I can hardly wrap my mind around those facts. Thanksgiving is only two months away, Christmas is closer than I care to imagine, and Halloween is almost upon us.

September and October used to be very busy months for Randy and me because early autumn is the time when all the fall festivals and outdoor arts and crafts shows are held. Back in the day, we used to participate in at least four or five festivals and shows annually.  It was a fun way for us to spend time together, as we sat in our tent and sold our handmade wood items, watercolor prints, potpourri, jewelry, candles and floral arrangements. Over the years, we’ve handcrafted everything from holiday ornaments to wall hangings and yard decorations. Christmas trees, crab mallets, greeting cards—you name it, we’ve made it.

Last year, we more or less retired from the arts and crafts business. The work involved in setting up and tearing down for a two-day show is very hard on our old joints. Not to mention that two or three days of dealing with people wears a body out.

I don’t know how those of you who work in retail manage it.  Shoppers and lookers can be very rude, sometimes without meaning to. Plus, the weather doesn’t always cooperate, and it’s no fun in the rain.

In November, Randy and I said goodbye to Catoctin Colorfest, after many years of setting up our tent in the Community Park. Yes, we’ll miss all the shows and our friends, but we will still be able to attend and do some shopping, and we’ll finally be able to get something to eat! Who knows? We might miss it so much that we’ll find ourselves wanting to get back into it. Maybe when Randy actually retires, and we have some time on our hands.

If you’re a person who enjoys getting out in the beautiful fall weather and looking at all the interesting items for sale, I’m giving you a helpful list to make your craft show experience a happy one. Read on.


Eleven Things You Should Never Say to an Artist or a Craftsperson


“I/My husband/My kid could make that.” FYI: We don’t care.


“I saw one of those at Walmart, and it was cheaper there.” Good for you. Chances are the item you saw at Walmart wasn’t handmade. That’s probably why it cost less.

“Did you make/paint/draw that?” Most juried craft shows or art fairs require that the items for sale be handmade and that the person who actually did the making be the one selling. So, yes, I made it. Duh.

“Will you give me a discount or take less for it?” Craft shows are not flea markets. Most of us vendors never get paid for the amount of time we spend making our art. We can’t afford to give discounts or offer sales. The really good shows prohibit price haggling or sales.

“Can you give me directions for making that?” Sure, but why would I do that? I have a whole table full of things I’m trying to sell.

“That’s very nice, but I don’t know where I’d put it.” On Saturday morning, I might respond with a “thank you,” but by Sunday afternoon, I might have a few suggestions for where you could put it.

“Would you make one for me?”  See #5.

“You remind me of my grandmother.” Unless your grandmother was Georgia O’Keeffe or Frida Kahlo, I might be a little offended by that statement.

“I really need to start selling my own work.” Please do, so I can come by your booth and make you feel bad.

“I don’t have the time to craft/paint/sew.” Then what, pray tell, do you do with all that free time? Sleep?

“Yes, but this isn’t, like, a real job.” No, it isn’t. I work much longer hours for lots less money and even less appreciation.

So, as you can see, I really did need a little break from the business. I’m still selling online and doing an occasional exhibit or small indoor show, and I’ll probably always paint or make some crafts for the sheer pleasure it gives me. I just found selling it in-person is too exhausting. Randy has had so many other things going on in his life in recent years that he, too, needs some time to regroup.

We’ll carry with us many pleasant memories of our vending days. One, in particular, still makes me smile. It was during Catoctin Colorfest, and it had been a long day. A young father came into our tent with his small son. The little boy was looking at some of my prints and seeming to enjoy himself. The father came over and whispered that his son loved to draw and paint, and asked if the boy could ask me a question.

“Sure,” I said.

The boy was about five years old, and he very seriously asked, “How do you stay inside the lines so good?”

I answered him honestly when I said, “I don’t always, and that’s OK.”

Happy Fall, y’all!

-Plumb Crazy-

by Valerie Nusbaum

“I know you have a lot on your plate right now, but you really need to fix your toilet.  It never shuts off quite right,” I wrote in an email to Randy last week.  He was at work and I had just attempted to get his toilet to stop running yet again.  This problem had been going on for months and as I pointed out in my email, “I’m sure it’s not helping with our outrageous water bills.”

Maybe I wrote the magic words, but when we got up last Saturday morning he announced that he was going to fix the toilet first thing and then he’d replace the faucet on his sink.  We’d bought a new faucet a couple of weeks ago and he hadn’t had time to work on it.

“Sounds good,” I said, “but if the faucet is too much of a job, we can call a plumber.”  Those are fighting words in our house and I knew it.

“Why would I call a plumber and pay him hundreds of dollars for a job that will take me twenty minutes?” asked my hubby.  I’ve been down this road before, more than once, and I knew what was coming.  To my credit, I kept quiet and went along.

At nine o’clock that morning, Randy made a trip to ACE Hardware to buy a toilet kit.  I was cleaning out a closet in my studio and couldn’t hear what was happening in his bathroom but the job seemed to go well and in a little while, he announced that he was finished.

“I’m glad that’s fixed,” I said.

“Oh, I just said I was finished.  Whether or not it’s fixed remains to be seen,” was Randy’s reply.

Somewhere around 10:00 a.m., he crawled under his sink and started cussing.  I swear, I didn’t know there were that many variations of one word.  Apparently the valves weren’t going to come off in any way that would be reusable, so Randy needed another trip for parts. This time, he decided to spread the wealth and he visited Hobbs Hardware.

Randy asked if he could turn off the water to the house before he left because he needed to take a valve with him in order to match it.  I’d been planning to do some cleaning and scrubbing but without water, I had to find something else to do so I wrapped some birthday gifts for my upcoming lunch with my cousin and Mom.

I heard Randy come home before I saw him.  He stomped into my office and announced that he was a dope and was sure he’d bought the wrong piece.  I wanted to point out that he’d said he was taking a piece with him to the store, but I let that one go.  He looked under the sink, unloaded some more swear words and went out the door again.

When he got back home, he informed me that Mr. Hobbs had laughed at him.  I told him that I felt sure Mr. Hobbs laughs at a lot of the men in town.

At noon, Randy asked me if I wanted him to stop for lunch.  I couldn’t cook anything without water and had no leftovers in the fridge to warm up, plus he hadn’t given me time to wash the breakfast dishes and the sink was full, so I told him that we’d have to get some takeout salads for lunch but I could wait a while.  I figured I’d give him time to finish the job.  There was so much grunting and groaning coming from the bathroom, it almost sounded like the night before a colonoscopy.  At one point, I saw him take his phone into the bathroom, so I know that YouTube was involved.

I walked on the treadmill and did some work on the computer, both of which are in my office.  The office is right next to Randy’s bathroom, so he was doing all his cursing and muttering under his breath.   I avoided turning on the television while I walked as I know that Lifetime annoys him when he’s already annoyed, and I didn’t dare put on a home improvement show at that point.  Randy kept saying, “Really????”  I’m pretty sure he was talking to the pipes.

I could see him referring to the directions that came with the faucet.  His bathroom isn’t very big, so each time he threw the papers they were still within easy reach.  And, of course, the directions were incorrect.  They always are, aren’t they?

At 1:00 p.m. he turned the water back on.  Evidently, water isn’t supposed to spray all over the inside of the cabinet, so the water was promptly turned off again.  There was more straining and grunting, some words I hadn’t heard before, and at 1:30 I was called in to help check the seating of the stopper.  Success!  Everything seemed to be working properly and there were no more leaks.  The new faucet is very stylish, too.  Just to be on the safe side though, Randy suggested that we not put the towels and toiletries back inside the cabinet for a while.

As we finally ate our salads, Randy pointed out that he’d saved us quite a few dollars.  He’s right about that.  This morning, I noticed that the towels are still in the guest room.

Memory Lapse

by Valerie Nusbaum

I woke up this morning with the day’s agenda already in my head.  My plan was to get in at least two miles on the treadmill, do some ironing, clean out the cabinets in my office, then clean myself up and meet Randy at his parents’ house at 2:30 p.m. It might not sound like much of an agenda, but these things were in addition to all of my other regular chores. Please keep that in mind.  Also, I’m a lot slower than I used to be.

It was 6:15 a.m., and I went downstairs to pour a bowl of cereal and make a cup of tea. I had already checked the weather for today and the coming week, checked my email, done a bit of fiddling with my Etsy shop, and taken a look at a new painting I’d posted on Facebook.

I was struggling to remember the name of the beautiful little city Randy and I had visited in Michigan last summer. The name just wouldn’t come to me, even though I could see details of our trip clearly in my mind.  This happens to me a lot. My friend, Joanie, calls it “losing her nouns.” Evidently it happens to a lot of us.

While my tea was heating, I noticed an offensive odor in the kitchen. I remembered that I had put some asparagus in the trash the night before. I changed the trash bag, wiped the trash can and lid with a bleach wipe, and sprayed some air freshener in the kitchen. I checked on the tomato plants growing on my windowsill and reminded myself to water them later. Darn it! I still couldn’t remember the name of the Michigan city, but I finally did remember that the Christmas shop there was called Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland.

After breakfast, I cleaned up the kitchen, called my mom, and gave up on the crossword puzzle I’d been working on while eating. Someone told me that doing crossword puzzles helps to strengthen our brains. I can’t remember who said that. Mom asked me if I had any taco chips, and if I would bring them with me to lunch tomorrow. Lest I forget, I got out the bag and set it on the counter.

It was 7:45 a.m. I still didn’t remember the name of the city, but I kept trying as I tended to some laundry, made the bed, and put on my exercise clothes and shoes. After a little work on my column, I did a mile on the treadmill. Sometimes, exercise helps me to clear my head but I still couldn’t remember the name of the city. It felt like cheating as I sat down at the computer and looked it up. Frankenmuth!  The city in Michigan is called FRANKENMUTH, people! If you happen to see me at the grocery store, please remind me of that. It will eventually stick in my mind. A while back, I went through the same thing with actress Rosario Dawson.  I couldn’t remember her name to save my life. Now I don’t remember why I wanted to know it.

As I’m writing this, I’m listening to Live with Kelly & Ryan on television, and I swear I just heard Kelly Ripa say that she can’t remember anything. Ryan Seacrest also said that his parents are friends with a couple whose names are Jack and Suzanne. Randy used to work for a couple named Jack and Suzanne. Oddly enough, they were originally from Michigan. I wonder if they came from Frankenmuth?

I ironed five items and wondered why the seams never line up on shirts and pants.

Then, I remembered that I needed to wrap some gifts to take to Mom’s luncheon tomorrow, and buy some crescent rolls for my cheese puffs. I knew there was something else I’d promised to take along, but I didn’t remember what. Meanwhile, Ryan was telling a story about him not recognizing some members of a band. I thought to myself, “Wait until you’re a little older, Seacrest.  It gets worse.”

Seriously, how often do you walk into a room and not remember what you went there for? I’m very easily distracted, too, so even if I do remember why I’m there, chances are I’ll see three other things I need to do and forget my glass of water.  I’ll do the three things and walk out of the room feeling good that I’ve knocked some chores off my list, and then I’ll wonder why I’m thirsty.

Whenever I leave the house, I do a mental checklist. I find that if I say something out loud, I tend to remember doing or seeing it, so I go through the house and say, “Curling iron unplugged, stove turned off, thermostat set, toilet not running, and door locked.”

Then I go back in the house and get my sunglasses, which I’ve forgotten. My neighbors all think I talk to myself and they tend to stay away.

Well, my friends, it’s back to the treadmill for me now. Then, I’ll clean out the cabinets, wrap the gifts, finish my chores, and head out. I hope Randy remembers to meet me. He forgets things sometimes, too.

Human Nature

by Valerie Nusbaum

As a writer and an artist, I’m fascinated by humans. I tend to sit quietly and observe how people move and interact with each other.  I notice their bone structures and coloring, and I spend a lot of time pondering their actions. Why do people do and say the things they do? What are their motivations? The psychology of it is quite interesting to me, and I’m constantly amazed by our differences and similarities.

I love conducting impromptu surveys and asking many individuals the same question. It’s both amusing and informative to learn about how we’re different and, yet, so alike. I’ve included some of my recent findings.

I posed the question “What is your favorite breakfast cereal?” and thirty-five people weighed in.  As you can imagine, their answers were all over the place, but the common thread was that most people try to make a healthy choice.  Oatmeal was the big winner, but only homemade oatmeal, not the stuff in the packets; although, one or two people did admit to eating the packaged stuff. Cheerios and bran were popular, as most of my social circle is people of a certain age and fiber is our friend. I learned that one person has a gluten allergy. A few very honest people copped to eating the sugary kids’ cereals—face it, folks, those are the only ones that really taste good. I like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and I’m not afraid to say it. Interestingly, no one asked me why I wanted to know.

A magazine article that I read suggested that women should be drinking 91 ounces of water each day. I asked a group of people to tell me how much water each of them consumes on a daily basis.  Responses from fifty people varied greatly, with some folks drinking as little as 24 ounces, and one person chugging a whopping 144 ounces each day. One person postulated that drinking any liquid counts because everything contains water, which led to a discussion about whether wine consumption should be included.  The person who brought up the other beverage issue is the same person who eats dinosaur eggs oatmeal. Another person sent us all an article about the perils of drinking too much water. Again, no one wanted to know why I asked the question in the first place. In fairness, a lot of people know that I collect data for stories and articles. Some people just think I’m odd.

I asked the question, “In the movie of your life, which actor would play you?” and the responses I got were everything from Herve Villechaize and Don Knotts to Judy Densch and Sandra Bullock (me).  Melissa McCarthy was the big winner, with her name appearing three times. I asked Randy this question and he replied, “That guy who played Earl’s brother on that show.” I knew exactly who he meant.

A lot of people weighed in on the question of whether they install their toilet tissue roll over or under.  The vast majority of responders use the “over” method. Only three out of the seventy who answered the question pull their paper from under.  Those rebels! Two people cited the toilet tissue patent, where it is clearly stated that the tissue roll is to be placed in the “over” position.  One person stores her tissue in a wicker basket, and another has an up and down holder. Several people have absolutely no idea and a few don’t care as long as the roll isn’t empty. No one wondered why I was asking.

“Would you rather read the book or watch the movie?” prompted a lot of discussion. Most people prefer to read. Only three would rather watch the movie. Some said that reading the book first and then watching the movie aggravates them. On the other hand, watching the movie first and then reading the book doesn’t bother anyone. I generally can’t see the movie if I’ve already read the book. I spend too much time looking for the differences. Randy referenced The Girl on the Train, and said that he’d have preferred more information on the train in both the book and the movie. I didn’t point out that we haven’t seen the film.

What did I learn from my polling? Nothing really, except that bit about the toilet tissue patent.  I’ve always known that people like to take part in things. We’re curious about each other, and we try to help when we can. We like to share information, and, frankly, we like talking about ourselves and expressing our thoughts. If we see a big group of people clustered around something, we want to know what’s going on. We’re curious and we like to belong. We have markedly different opinions, likes and dislikes, but we share a lot of thoughts and feelings, too. Heck, maybe we’re all a little odd. Or maybe I’m not as bad as you think. Most importantly, no one cares why I ask the questions.