Currently viewing the tag: "happily ever after"

Hitting A Milestone

by Valerie Nusbaum

Randy celebrated a big birthday last week. I won’t tell you how many candles were on his cake, but suffice it to say, he really is the “old” man who lives on the corner now. I’m allowed to say that he’s old because I’m older, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m often told that we both look younger than we are.  Sure, that mostly comes from people who like us, but it’s nice to hear anyway.

Since said birthday was a milestone, I wanted to do something special for Randy. A party was out of the question because my hubby claims that he hates being the center of attention.

I don’t buy that excuse, but given the other things that are going on with us, I did agree that a party might be the straw that would break the camel’s (or my) back.

But, what to do? I reached out to friends and family and reminded them that Randy’s big day was just weeks away. A lot of people promised to send a card, make phone calls and send texts, and some of them followed through.  Randy really enjoyed fetching our mail during his birthday week because there were lots of brightly colored envelopes bearing his name.

We started out on the eating train on the Saturday before the big day.  Randy and I grabbed lunch at Moe’s in Frederick. We enjoy Mexican food, or what substitutes for it at a fast-food restaurant. We also ventured across the street to Crumbl Cookies. It smelled delicious, the line was 30-people deep, but who in their right mind would pay $4.59 for one chocolate chip cookie?  Apparently, Randy would—twice.

I asked Randy what food he wanted for his birthday dinner. He requested pasta. He also demanded cake. Chocolate cake with white buttercream icing. Did I mention that Randy took off from work for the entire week? He planned to do a lot of eating, I guess.

Mom and I talked it over and decided to take Randy to lunch on Monday of his special week. We went to Los Amigos. Yes, Mexican food again, but I can’t complain.  There were margaritas, too. My mother had a doctor’s appointment after lunch. She was a little wobbly but none the worse for wear, and her ENT doctor seemed to find the whole thing amusing.

Our friend, Gail, suggested that Randy and I meet her and her husband, John, for lunch on Tuesday at Modern Asia restaurant in Frederick. I was thinking that we could do different international-themed meals all week long.  Unfortunately, when Randy and I arrived at Modern Asia, we discovered that the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays. I called Gail who was on her way, and she suggested Casa Rico instead. I know. Mexican, again. That’s okay, though, because Randy and I picked up Chinese takeout for dinner that night. After lunch on Tuesday, we had to go to Sam’s Club to pick up the birthday cake. I wasn’t feeling all that great (too many refried beans, maybe?), so poor Randy picked up his own cake. That thing weighed 20 pounds. Yes, he cut it as soon as we got home, and it was totally gone by the following Sunday.

Wednesday was Randy’s actual birthday, and the phone calls started early. There was a family breakfast and singing. Mom and I had made some truly awful birthday cake cookie balls from a boxed kit, but Randy ate those, too. Randy heard from family and friends far and wide, including his dentist and our bank. Randy’s boss called, too, ostensibly to extend good wishes, but he also asked Randy to work more hours and take on more projects. There were lots of gifts and gift cards—a real abundance of riches. I personally think it’s shameful how much attention was paid to one man.

Mom spent a lot of time working on her gifts. One of them was a big plastic egg filled with candy and slips of paper. On each piece of paper, Mom had written one thing she likes about Randy or one trait of his that she admires. Her intention had been to write one thing for every year Randy has been around, but Mom ran out of steam after 20 things, so she lumped the rest into one thing by saying that he’s the best son-in-law in the world.  Never mind that she called him lackadaisical. Look it up. It’s not a compliment.

At the breakfast, which started at 8:00 a.m. (we’re old, remember?), the conversation went something like this:

“I forgot my teeth.”

“Huh? What did you say?”

“Would you pass me my pills?”

We ended up eating an American salad from Chick-fil-A for the birthday lunch, and I have no idea what was for dinner that night. I was in a food coma by that time.

On Thursday night, we had dinner with the Joneses, and Randy finally had his pasta. We dined at Fratelli’s in Middletown. There were more gifts (age-appropriate), balloons, and we celebrated Wayne’s birthday as well as Randy’s with even more cake—limoncello cake, to be exact.

There was still more celebrating on Friday. I can’t tell you what Steve Fulmer gave Randy for his gift, but I can say that we’re both enjoying them.

I hope Randy had a great birthday this year. He certainly deserves it. My birthday is in August, and after the way I wore myself out trying to make things nice for my hubby, I can hardly wait to see what he does for me.

Happenings

by Valerie Nusbaum

We’ve had crazy weather, good food, and too many medical appointments. We’ve run errands; sent birthday cards; watched TV shows and movies; and talked with family and friends via email, text, and telephone. Mom and I made a floral arrangement for the coffee table. Randy and Steve solved a lot of the neighborhood problems during their man-meetings at the back door, and we’ve paid way more for gas and groceries than we should have.

None of these things, however, warrant an entire newspaper column. Randy hasn’t done anything that has caused me to shake my head or roll my eyes, at least nothing that I can write about publicly. That said,  I have a few quick things I can share with you.

As you know, my mother is staying with us while she recuperates. At her own home, Mom doesn’t have as many TV channels or streaming services as Randy and I do, and she had even fewer channels at the “home” during her stay in rehab. She’s been enjoying a variety of new programs and shows while she’s here. Last week, after hearing her complain (again) that she’s seen everything on the Hallmark and Lifetime channels, I asked if she’d like me to queue up an HBO series for her. That seemed like a good idea, so I put on episode #1 of The Undoing, knowing that Mom likes Hugh Grant. She doesn’t know Hugh Grant personally, mind you, but she thinks he’s dapper and amusing. Not so much so in this series. After viewing the entire first episode, Mom disgustedly pronounced to Randy that, “That girl was naked! I saw ALL of her.”  I told Mom that she didn’t have to watch any more of the series and that I’d find something else for her. 

“Well, I have to see how it ends now, don’t I?” Mom said. She proceeded to binge watch the rest of the series in two days and is now halfway through Big Little Lies.  This one, she said “is not as good as the other one.” Well, Hugh Grant can’t star in everything.

Our friends Loberta Staley and Susie Gaither both celebrated birthdays, as did Dolly Long. Dolly is my friend Peggy Stitely’s mother, and she had 90 candles on her cake this year. If Peggy and I take after our mothers, we have some good years ahead of us.

Years ago, I gave Randy a restaurant-style waffle maker. He’s perfected his waffles and treats us to them at least once a month. We had some this morning. I did a corned beef brisket in the oven, along with cabbage, potatoes, and carrots in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. My family misses celebrating the holiday at The Shamrock, though. It’s not quite the same thing when we dress up like leprechauns at home.  Honestly, my mother has been with us for three full weeks, and I’ve cooked everything in my repertoire: meatloaf, chicken, ham, mac & cheese, burgers, chow mein, seafood, fruit and vegetable salads, soups, pasta, and everything else I can think of. We’ve also had quite a bit of takeout recently, and either Randy or I have made a grocery run nearly every day. How can three people eat so much and why, oh why, don’t my pants fit anymore?  If I may, I’d like to recommend the Cobb salad from Chick-fil-A, the pizza steak sub and fries from Rocky’s, and pretty much anything from Los Amigos.

It’s also income tax season, and Randy and I have been working on getting ours filed. We did Mom’s taxes, too. I always get a good feeling when that chore gets checked off the to-do list. I get an even better feeling if there’s a refund involved.

There were two visits to the cardiologist during this month.  Randy questioned the practice of a cardiologist putting a patient on a treadmill and raising the heart rate and blood pressure, thereby stressing the heart, just to see if anything bad happens. He has a point.

We also had a freak March snowstorm. Plans were canceled and a tree fell and caused some damage.  Never fear, though, because the weatherman predicted 70-degree weather in a few days. The older folks are probably saying, “That’s why so many people get sick.”

A few weeks ago, I received an envelope from The Catoctin Banner addressed as “Fan Mail for Val Nusbaum.” Inside the envelope was another envelope, beautifully printed, and a card from Grace Borell. What a lovely surprise! Thank you, Grace, for your kind and gracious words about my column and writing style, and for taking the time to write such a thoughtful note. And, thank you, Deb Abraham, for forwarding it to me. If I haven’t said it enough, a handwritten note has the power to uplift spirits and to brighten even the darkest day.

We did some cleaning, although my spring cleaning hasn’t begun yet.  Usually, by April, I’ve done windows, blinds, and curtains in at least half of our rooms. Now I’m finding myself thinking that they don’t really look all that dirty.

I did do a couple of new paintings, and I released prints of them. They’re selling pretty well.  Most importantly, I managed to write nearly 900 words about nothing of any importance. 

Happy Easter and happy spring to all of you!

by Valerie Nusbaum

I’m back. My apologies for missing last month. We had a family emergency, and I wasn’t finding any humor in that situation. I’ll fill you in on that in a bit, but I want to start out by wishing my mother a very happy birthday. Miss Wanda turned 90 years old on January 19. I won’t dismiss Mom’s accomplishment by saying she’s “90 years young.”  That’s just silly. Mom would tell you that she feels every day of her 90 years, and it was an effort for her to get to this point. True, she’s perky and feisty when it suits her, but she’s seen a lot of heartache and hardship in her life. Aging is not for the faint of heart, even though it’s also true that until recently, Miss Wanda was walking nearly an hour a day on her treadmill, driving a car, cooking meals for the neighborhood, and generally taking care of herself.

On December 12, 2021, Mom had a bad fall. She broke her wrist and hip, endured surgery to repair the hip, spent a long time in the hospital, and an even longer time in a rehab center. As of this writing, I’m not sure whether Mom will come home with us for more recovery and rehab or if she’ll transition to another facility for her care. Either way, we’re grateful and blessed that she’s still with us, but also sad that her life as she knew it has had to change. I can’t say it strongly enough to all of you: Keep the people you love close (as close as possible in these COVID times) and plan for the future. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, but it’s a safe bet that it won’t all be good. There.  Didn’t I just brighten your day?

It’s not my intention to preach this month, but I’ve been doing a whole lot of thinking while I’m lying awake worrying, and some things have come to mind. One of those things is portion control.

Don’t get excited. I’m not calling anyone overweight. It’s just that we’re in the early part of a brand new year, and it’s natural for us to think about losing a few pounds and getting in shape. I know that some people have gained weight during the pandemic, and there is always overeating during the holiday season, so it’s only human that we’d be feeling bloated as we start thinking about wearing shorts and bathing suits in a few months. I don’t have to worry about that so much because I no longer wear either of those things.  And, I hate capri pants. Yes, I said it, but I digress.

My thought on losing weight is simply to cut back on portions. We all know that restaurants give us too much food for one meal. Make two meals out of it, and since leftovers are yucky, you may end up not eating the second half of your burrito. Eat what you enjoy. Just don’t eat as much of it. Life is way too hard for us to deprive ourselves of a donut…or half of it, anyway.

It also occurred to me late one night that in this age of appropriate behavior, a lot of women are missing out on compliments being bestowed by nice men. I don’t mean the kind of sleazy stuff that some guys think is acceptable. I’m talking about sincere compliments, such as “You look nice,” or “You’re beautiful.” In today’s world, we aren’t supposed to focus on a woman’s appearance, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m simply saying that a well-placed compliment can brighten a woman’s day, particularly if it comes from a man she’s interested in.  Unfortunately, these poor men don’t know whether they’ll get hugged or slapped with a lawsuit for saying something. I’m lucky that I’m not out there trying to date or looking for someone special. My special someone just told me that I was pretty while I was wearing a ratty blue bathrobe.  Granted, he knows who feeds him, but it’s still nice to hear.

And, lastly, I’d like to touch on the fact that all of my medical professionals are twelve years old.  Not really, but you know where I’m going with this. As we continue to grow older, so do our health care providers. We’re retiring and so are they. So, we’re forced to find new caregivers, and they’re all fresh out of school. Again, that’s not a bad thing.  The young people are strong and sharp of mind, and they’ve learned new technologies and procedures. I do, however, occasionally have the urge to ask my ophthalmologist to send in his father.

My mom’s ordeal of late has had me thinking of all these things because the food at the rehab center was not a diet she was used to eating, and I was kept busy taking food to her so that she’d eat and get stronger.  One of her nurses was a man looking for a good woman, and he told us he was clueless about how to date. And, all the therapists and nursing staff were young. We adjust and adapt.

So, once again, I’m saying “Happy Birthday, Mom.” There will be cake. You’ve earned it.

I’m sending special thanks to our dear friends Loberta and Harold Staley, Barb Barbe, and Susie and Paul Gaither. You helped so much.

by Valerie Nusbaum

It’s that time of year again. Some would say it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Andy Williams certainly felt that way, but then he sold over a million copies of his recording and was dancing all the way to the bank.

The holiday season is filled with traditions, and we all seem a bit obsessed with making meaningful memories, don’t we? We wear ourselves out with decorating, shopping, baking, wrapping, entertaining, and all the other things associated with making the holidays perfect for ourselves and our families.

Randy and I have had a long-standing tradition of doing at least one thing out of the ordinary every year at this time. Sometimes, it’s a simple thing and sometimes it’s a bit more involved, but we always make the effort to have a special outing of some sort. It helps us to de-stress and gives us an opportunity to have some fun while we’re making those memories. Plus, it usually doesn’t require either of us to cook, clean, shop, or do any of that regular stuff.

My hubby loves the story of A Christmas Carol. He says he can identify with Ebenezer Scrooge, but I know he’s an old softie. I’ve seen him with a tear in his eye more than once while we’ve watched a performance of this play. We’ve seen it at The Maryland Theatre and at The Weinberg. I think one version was a musical. Whenever we could do it, we invited Randy’s parents and my mom along, too. Randy and I both fell asleep during one show; but in our defense, we were tired from all the holiday preparations and the theater was dark and warm. Grab a nap whenever you can, I always say, especially now.

Randy fell asleep during a performance of The Nutcracker at The Weinberg Center, too. I didn’t mind that he slept while the show was going on. He’s not a big fan of ballet. However, when he didn’t wake up at intermission, and started snoring loudly, sliding off his aisle seat as people were walking past to use the restroom, I did get a little embarrassed.

We went to the Cowboy Christmas dinner and show twice, once on our own and once with our parents. It was well worth it to take the older folks because seeing three 80-year-olds throwing sock balls at a bandit was very entertaining. When the star of the show accidentally fell off his horse onstage, my mother-in-law couldn’t stop laughing. We even took a family photo to commemorate the occasion.

My mom and I took a bus trip one year to the Reading outlets and Cabela’s, and we also visited Koziar’s Christmas Village. I have no idea where that was, but it was a fun side trip. There were a bazillion lights and shopping and hot chocolate. I enjoyed it enough that I took Randy back there, and he liked it, too.

Many years ago, Randy and I invited our parents, including my dad, to join us for dinner at The Cozy in Thurmont. There was to be caroling and the lighting of the decorations and trees, and I think Santa may have been there, too. The parents grumbled about us making them stand outside in the rain, and our server told us such a hard-luck story that her tip was enormous, but it was still a nice evening. The Cozy was always a fun holiday outing, and we had breakfast with Santa there more times than I can count.

Another annual tradition for us has been a visit to Eyler’s Valley Chapel for a candlelight service, as well as services at other local churches. There have been parties and get-togethers too numerous to mention. Once, Randy insisted that we host a party for twenty friends and do a Yankee swap. It didn’t go well. No one understood what to do, and my friend Cheryl was upset when I took her cookies.

Randy and I enjoy taking one or two shopping days every year, and we especially like going somewhere we’ve never been before. We’ve tried every outlet center in four states. One of our repeat places is the Utz factory in Hanover, Pennsylvania. There’s something to be said for a factory tour and/or an outlet store where we get free stuff and samples.

We love going to tree farms to buy a Christmas tree and fresh greens. I especially like the farms that sell hot chocolate and have restrooms. A carriage ride is always a good idea, too, unless the horse has been eating something disagreeable. We’ve done the holiday house tour; driven through light displays at Crumland Farms; and a few years back, we took my mom and spent Christmas at The Dunes Manor in Ocean City. It was a tough year for us and it was good to get away, see the ocean, and have a delicious dinner that none of us had to cook.

This year, Randy and I are doing something we’ve never done before. We’re setting up as vendors at the Holiday Shoppers Fair in Ocean City, Maryland, during Thanksgiving weekend. We’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in Ocean City once before, but this year we’ll be working and have no idea what to expect, especially with COVID still out there. At the very least, it will probably give me something to write about next year.

Whatever your traditions, we wish you all a wonderful holiday season.

Rule of Thumb

by Valerie Nusbaum

Last week, our friend, Diana, stopped by. Randy and I spent some time catching up with her, laughing about old times. Diana mentioned that she enjoys reading my column every month, and she said that she especially enjoys reading about Randy’s antics. I regretfully replied that Randy hasn’t been doing anything “column-worthy” lately, and I’ve been at a loss for material.  Then, yesterday happened.

It was Monday, and Randy was off from work. We had planned to do my mom’s grocery shopping, pick up her prescriptions, and do odd jobs at her house. Mom wanted us to have lunch together as an early celebration for Randy’s and my 27th wedding anniversary. It sounded like a good, albeit busy, day. 

Randy realized that he needed to run down to the hospital to have his blood drawn in preparation for a doctor’s appointment next week, so he hurried out and took care of that first thing in the morning. The lab, of course, was backed up, and Hubby ended up having to wait quite a while. He said that he caused a ruckus at the lab. The techs there assign every patient a number.  Randy’s number was L28. You know how it works: The tech comes out and calls out a number, and the appropriate patient goes back to be poked and prodded. Randy heard a whole list of numbers being called:  L16, M33, P72, etc. He thought it would be funny to yell out “Bingo.”  That was met with frowns from the staff, and several of the waiting patients were outraged because they hadn’t been offered playing cards.  Luckily, L28 was called and Randy got away safely.

After the lab experience, we headed to Brunswick and the grocery store, which, in and of itself, is always an adventure. Groceries in hand, we arrived at Mom’s on time and proceeded to have a nice celebratory lunch, complete with cake and presents. Randy and I did our chores and errands and headed back to Thurmont.

I was tired, but I still had things to do, so I headed to the treadmill to walk off that big lunch, and I started doing some work in my office.  Randy advised that he’d be out in his woodshop if I needed him. I walked, worked, and decided to take an early bath. I was in the bathroom undressing when I heard footsteps on the stairs and Hubby’s voice outside the door.

“Don’t be mad. I need to go to the doctor,” Randy said.

My first thought was that he was having chest pains or other scary symptoms. I grabbed for my clothes and went out in the hall, asking what was wrong. By that time, Randy was in his own bathroom, and I could hear water running.

“I cut my hand,” he said. This is not an unusual occurrence, but Randy doesn’t usually require a doctor’s visit, so I was a little scared to see what was going on in the bathroom. I peeked around the corner and saw Randy’s hand wrapped in paper towels and blood everywhere.

“It’s my thumb,” he sort of moaned. “Deep. Might need stitches.  Can’t stop the bleeding.”

I grabbed my shoes and purse and said, “Let’s go.” He was in some pain, and the blood was still seeping through the towels. I got out some gauze pads and taped his thumb as best I could, and we rushed out the door. Being stubborn and manly, Randy wanted to drive himself to the emergency room, so I didn’t argue too much. I figured that driving might distract him, and I’d be in the truck in case it got dicey. I suggested we try an urgent care facility instead of the ER, as it might be quicker. So, I started looking for the one closest to the hospital, just in case. At that point, I really had no idea how bad it was, but what I could see was nasty.

It was evening rush hour around Frederick, so we took the first exit and sneaked in the back way to the urgent care facility. I offered to go inside with him, but Randy thought I should stay in the truck in the parking lot so that I could call the appropriate people and garner him some sympathy. I knew that he really didn’t want me with him because I can be demanding and pushy. So, I stayed out of it and let him go in alone. I say alone, but he texted me the entire time he was inside, updating his progress every ten minutes. “Still waiting.” “Waiting for nurse.” “Waiting. Bleeding has stopped. I can just leave.” Ummm…no. That was not an option after we’d made the trip down there.

Finally, after an hour and a half, Randy came back. He’d gotten a tetanus booster, and his thumb was cleaned, glued, and bandaged. He could have gotten stitches, but the consensus was that it would be easier for him if he opted not to. He felt better about things until I asked what he wanted for dinner, suggesting that he choose something he could eat with nine fingers.

This morning, Randy and his bandaged thumb went off to work.  I think he was anxious to get away from me after I told him that his rapper name is now 9-Digits. I even wrote a song about it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

There’s Nothing On

by Valerie Nusbaum

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating for this column: Randy and I watch a lot of television. We have premium cable, which offers us hundreds of channels, including all the HBO variations. We also have at least five streaming services, including Netflix, IMDb, Peacock, HBOMax, and the Roku channel.  There may be more channels and services, but if there are, we haven’t figured out how to access them or we don’t even know they’re here.

It’s our preferred mode of watching television and movies to sit at home on the couch in our clean, quiet, uncrowded living room. I stopped enjoying going to movie theaters years ago, mostly because the tall person always sat in front of me, while the talkative person with the cellophane-wrapped candies sat directly behind me. Not to mention that there were usually five empty seats in my row but some complete stranger always came and sat right beside me. My feet stuck to the floor in the theater, and my fanny could never find a seat without a hump.

Randy and I are also both guilty of buying a movie ticket (which isn’t cheap these days) and promptly falling asleep in the uncomfortable seats as soon as the lights dimmed.  I dozed off during City Slickers and also during some movie about a mouse. I had taken my then six-year-old nephew to see the mouse movie, and I swear I only slept for a few minutes, but when I woke up, the rotten kid had covered me in popcorn. That movie theater butter won’t come out of your clothes either. Randy also fell asleep once during a live production of The Nutcracker ballet. He had an aisle seat, and he started sliding out of the chair into the aisle. Thank goodness he let out a loud snore and woke himself. But I digress….

Lately, even though we have literally thousands of movie and television show choices, we haven’t been able to find anything worth watching. Our list of stuff that we’ve tried and turned off continues to grow. It used to be that buying a movie ticket kept us in the theater until the final credits, even after finding out early on that the film was a real stinker. Technically, we could apply the same principle to our television/streaming viewing, but life is short and I’m not punishing myself for two hours with another situation like Godzilla vs. Kong or Wonder Woman 1984. Yep, I turned off both of those puppies after about five minutes of trying to watch.

Conversely, the hubby and I totally dismissed Downton Abbey years ago when the show was new to PBS, but we decided to give it a try earlier this year, and we were delighted that we did. We binged the entire six (I think) seasons, as well as the follow-up movie—and we still quote Cousin Violet and Cousin Isabelle. Dame Maggie Smith portrayed Cousin Violet, or Granny, in Downton. When I discovered that she and Dame Judi Dench were playing sisters in a film called Ladies in Lavender, I knew we should check it out. (Please don’t tell my mother this, but Randy and I have been watching a LOT of British imports. Granted, sometimes it’s hard for me to understand what’s being said, but it does give Randy an opportunity to drag out his considerable skill for mimicking all the accents.) Anyway, I can highly recommend Downton Abbey, but I would suggest you skip that sad tale about the spinster sisters who save a Polish violinist who washed up on shore. Generally, anything starring Helen Mirren is worth a look. We enjoyed The Queen and also the series called The Crown, which didn’t star Ms. Mirren but was another vehicle about The Royal Family who are always fun to watch.

We’ve watched a lot of series and movies about detectives chasing murderers. Poor Randy gets so frustrated almost every time with how silly the protagonists are.  Everybody knows not to go into the killer’s lair without backup, right?  And why do women who run always fall down? We also really dislike the way teenagers are usually portrayed as having parents who are inept and don’t care, while these kids run around and run amok wreaking all kinds of havoc.

Randy chose a movie called The Book of Henry, which was described as “boy genius uses his smarts and skills to help a girl in danger.” We figured that hijinks would occur, but (spoiler alert) Henry was an eleven-year-old extremely intelligent boy who had a brain tumor and died. So many of the movies and shows we’ve seen recently have either started off with a funeral scene or later killed off a main character halfway through. Talk about a letdown. Hey, Hollywood, how about some new plots?

If you’d like a curated list of shows and movies that are actually worth watching, email me, and I’ll send you my suggestions. There aren’t too many movies, but I have seen a couple of series I’d recommend.

I’d offer to send you a list of stuff that’s not worth watching, but that would be a much longer list. Just last night, Randy flipped through all the selections and pronounced, “There’s nothing on.”

Twenty Tips for a Successful Vacation

by Valerie Nusbaum

Summertime is here and that means a lot of you will be taking vacations. This summer, the beaches, mountains, roads, and airways will likely be very busy since we were all relegated to taking stay-cations last year.

No matter what your travel plans may be, here are some tips, ideas, and suggestions that might help make your vacation more memorable:

(1)  Take someone with you who can carry things. Husbands are especially handy for this task. My Randy proudly tells people that he has three tasks to perform whenever we leave our house: to carry things, to hold things down when the wind blows, and to kill the bugs.

(2) Avoid family at all costs. Yes, I know that a lot of you take annual multi-generational family trips, but I also know that you’re the same people who get back home and vow never to do it again.

(3) Take good snacks. Children and old people love them.

(4) Pack absolutely everything you own and go out and buy new stuff, too.  Pack the new stuff as well.

(5) If all your stuff won’t fit in your vehicle along with everyone else’s stuff, empty someone else’s suitcase and put your stuff in there, too. If your snacks are good enough, your grandparents might never notice that they have no clean underwear and your kids won’t care.

(6) Do not stay in the same hotel room with other family members. Heck, don’t even stay in the same hotel.

(7) If you must go visit family, don’t call it a vacation. You’re only fooling yourself.

(8) For road trips, make sure you have lots of water, Diet Coke, and empty cups in the car. Sometimes, there is absolutely no place to make a pit stop, especially when you’re lost. And even if there is a place to stop, you’ll drive right past it as you’re screaming at each other about who missed the exit.

(9) Be flexible. Plans don’t always work out. Your first-choice vacation destination may not be doable. It also helps to be flexible if you are planning to share a hotel with your family because you might be the one stuck sleeping on the sofa bed.

(10) If you’re traveling with an older person, check their stuff. Before you leave home, be sure to go over the checklist to make sure they’ve packed hearing aids and batteries, glasses, teeth, a cup for the teeth, hair that is not being currently worn, and a shoebox full of medicines and ointments. These items are more important than clean underwear.

(11) Have very low expectations.  Anything good that happens will seem like manna from heaven.

(12) Don’t let your husband choose the hotel. Randy is wonderful about scouting locations, and he’s great at negotiating a discount, but I get the final say on where we tuck in at night. His one exception to that rule was an Embassy Suites in San Antonio, and he hit it out of the ballpark with that one. On the other hand, there was the inn in Kill Devil Hills where we spent our honeymoon and found someone else’s leftover food in our refrigerator. The place actually blew down during a hurricane a few years later. Oh, and Daniels Resort in The Poconos, and the Beachmark in Ocean City, and someplace at Deep Creek Lake with a hole in the wall….

(13) Be prepared for bad weather. If you’re spending a LOT of money on the trip, be prepared for a natural disaster.

(14) If you’ll be flying, assume that you will get the seat next to the person who will take off his shoes for the whole flight. And the person who ate a pound of garlic will be on your other side. If only one or neither of these things happen, enjoy your flight. This may well be the high point of your trip.

(15) Ask the concierge or hourly attendant (depending upon where you’re staying) where the locals eat dinner. The prices and food will be better and you will upset all the local diners by going there. They hate tourists.

(16) Split the driving with your travel companion(s). Randy and I enjoy giving each other a break from driving and a thrill on the road.  With him driving, I never know if I’ll live to see our destination, and with me driving, he says he’s never sure he’ll live long enough.

(17) Don’t depend on GPS. Pack some maps and/or a road atlas and learn how to read them. It doesn’t help if you point out that your exit was a half mile back.

(18) Get your priorities straight. Don’t pass a Dunkin Donuts without stopping for some munchkins. 

(19) Take along some good road trip music if you’re driving but make sure it’s not irreplaceable. See Number 20.

(20) Always assume that things will get lost or broken.

Please don’t think for a second that all of our vacations have gone badly. They haven’t. We’ve had some great trips and made some wonderful memories. As you can imagine, hilarity ensues when the Nusbaums venture out, most of it unintentional.

I also happen to like my family very much. Most of them, anyway.

 I’m actually looking forward to having some new adventures with my hubby this year, and I’m wishing all of you safe and happy travels this summer.

by Valerie Nusbaum

Why is it that when we go on vacation, even a short trip, we forget all the rules for healthy eating, throw caution to the wind, and eat as though we’re kids with overactive metabolisms? At least, that’s the way Randy and I behave when we’re away from home.  Maybe you don’t do that. Maybe you have more willpower and common sense.

We just celebrated Mother’s Day, and as part of my mom’s gift, Randy and I took her to Ocean City, Maryland, for a couple of days. Mom is now 89½ (or nearly), and she informed us that this would likely be her last trip to the seashore.  Mom said the exact same thing last time we took her, and we paid as much attention now as we did then.

Since I sell a lot of watercolor prints of Ocean City and all its landmarks, I thought this was a grand opportunity to scout some locations and take photos for future paintings. We had a working vacation of sorts.

We struck out on a Tuesday morning, picked up Miss Wanda (my mom), and went to Burger King for breakfast. Mom likes the little hash rounds and the croissant sandwich, and we had a coupon for two of those. Randy and I split a sandwich and an order of potatoes, and Mom ate a whole order all by herself. I was feeling sort of virtuous because the only other thing I’d had all morning was half of a granola bar, which I shared with Randy while we were getting ready to leave.

By the time we got to the beach, I was starving (which is my natural state most of the time), so I ate a couple of peanut butter crackers and had three barbecued corn chips when Mom cracked open her bag of snacks. Let it be said that I did NOT pack any snacks.  Only water bottles for me. Mom had an entire bag full of goodies, and I discovered that Randy had not only packed a few snacks for himself, but he’d also put together a few things for me. That’s where the crackers came from, and at that moment, I was too hungry to be upset with him.

With Covid restrictions still in place at that time, we’d planned to either order room service or pick up some takeout food and have our meals sitting on the balconies of our hotel suites. Randy and I got a separate suite for Mom so that she could watch what she wanted on television, and she wouldn’t have to share a bathroom with us. She had her own kitchen and living area, too, so she had lots of surfaces to clutter. Miss Wanda packs a LOT of stuff.

Anyway, it was nearly 4:00 p.m. and a perfect time for an early bird special, so Randy and I dragged our tired selves back down to the car and went in search of dinner.  We ended up with fried chicken, biscuits, red beans and rice, and then a pound of steamed jumbo shrimp from the café downstairs.  I made a grocery run to the local Walmart, too, and picked up some yogurt, salads, iced tea, and ice cream. We had ice cream for dessert after eating all that dinner, but I justified it by saying that I hadn’t really eaten lunch and only half a breakfast.

The next morning, Mom and I had yogurt for breakfast, while Randy had milk and corn flakes.  I’d also bought some mini-muffins and we ate half of those.

Mom stayed in her room while Randy and I went out for a few hours to take some photos and walk on the boardwalk. While he took some shots of the pier, I walked up to Fisher’s and bought two boxes of popcorn—one for Mom and one for Randy. I only sneaked one piece for myself. Randy offered me some more of his and, of course, I ate it. We cheated royally and had a slice of fresh, hot pizza because no one can resist that, right? Then we went back to the hotel for our healthy salad lunches. 

Mom ate at least half of her popcorn. There were a lot of Diet Cokes throughout our stay because those have no calories. At that point, what difference did it make?

My cousin and her husband had given Randy and me a gift card for Outback; but, since we’d been in quarantine, we hadn’t used it. So, it was steaks and coconut shrimp, loaded baked potatoes, and healthy steamed veggies for dinner. More ice cream. Did I mention that Randy had brought a package of Hostess cupcakes for me? He knows I love them, and the darned things had been calling to me all day. I ate one while he had more popcorn. Yes, I was feeling sick at that point.

A big breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausage, and hash browns started off our trip home, followed by a double cheeseburger for lunch.  We dropped Mom off at home, and I refuse to tell you what other things we consumed that evening.  I blamed the over-eating on the salt air and the fact that we’d been housebound for so long. We went wild.

I had oatmeal for breakfast this morning. And the last of those mini-muffins. What?

T h e O t h e r S h o e

by Valerie Nusbaum

It was my intention to write this column about our experiences with getting a COVID vaccine, but since that was, collectively, pretty much a non-event, I can sum it up with a few words. Easy peasy and no big deal. Seriously, my mom got her first and second doses in January and February, and her arm didn’t even get sore. Mom had very minimal side effects, and she’s 89 years old, as she keeps reminding us.

I got my first dose a week and a half ago and came away with an arm that was red, swollen, hot, and sore for about two days, but I had absolutely no more symptoms other than my usual litany of sniffles and aches and pains.

Randy, trouper that he is, got his first shot last week and had only a little soreness in his arm. The second doses may bring a different scenario for Randy and me, but so be it. We got our appointments easily, and none of us had any wait time at the vaccination sites. Shoot, I did my vaccine at my doctor’s office, and I was the only person there. I was even able to do my required 15-minute wait in my vehicle in the parking lot. Every single one of the healthcare workers who helped us did so pleasantly and efficiently. I continue to be impressed with the way the medical personnel is handling this viral situation.

So, the vaccinations have gone well. Our Easter was lovely and possibly the best one in quite a few years. Randy had a birthday, and it was a good one. He won $1.00 on a scratch-off ticket, and he caught a trout his first time out fishing with his new license. My business has been going well with a lot of five-star reviews coming in, and sales surpassing even last year. I did a quick and easy new acrylic painting last week and had orders for it just a few hours after the paint was dry. Mom has been having some good days and feeling more like her old self. Did I mention that she’s 89? Just ask her. She’ll tell you all about it. Randy and I have been getting good reports from our doctors, too, and I was finally able to get new glasses. Things have been on a smooth roll for us. Why, then, do I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop?

Admittedly, I’m superstitious. I get suspicious when things are seemingly too nice, and I expect the tides to turn. I’m almost afraid to allow myself to enjoy the good times because I know with certainty that the bad times are just around the corner again. Am I the only person who feels this way? I doubt it.

It freaks me out a little bit to think that we might be getting near the end of this pandemic nightmare and that we might just be able to start living our lives in a more normal fashion again. What will go wrong next, I wonder?

We got up on Easter Sunday morning, and our neighbor texted Randy asking if we had hidden eggs on his front lawn. It wasn’t us, and then we discovered that some bunny had hidden eggs for us, too, and also some other neighbors on our street. What a nice surprise! Ancient though we are, Randy and I got a kick out of gathering up our eggs, and we were tickled to find little surprises tucked inside. Many thanks to whoever was thoughtful and generous enough to do that for a bunch of cranky, old people. Randy and I also were surprised with a lovely Easter/spring centerpiece left on our front porch, but I know which bunny did that. Thank you, Barb!

Even our kitchen remodel project went well, and that was a major undertaking. Oh, I’m not saying that Randy didn’t curse a little, and I made a few messes, but we wound up with a whole lot more storage, new custom cabinetry, and some beautiful bench seating, not to mention one-of-a-kind hand-painted wood tiles and built-in shelves. I’m really starting to sweat over so much that’s gone right. The wrong is going to be phenomenal when it comes.

Last Christmas, Randy gave me a leather-bound journal, and I decided to use it to record daily entries of just three things that made me happy each day. Maybe, just maybe, that’s part of the reason things seem to be going better. Maybe, I’ve forced myself to focus more on the positives rather than the negatives. It’s true that some days, it’s easier than others to come up with three good things that happened.

One day, the best thing that happened was that I went to bed early. Looking back, I do see that I still got frustrated, felt unwell, and had worries. I got hurt and scared and terrible things did happen. Somehow, though, lately I’ve been able to really see how much good there is in our daily life.

I’m not Pollyanna, but I will continue to enjoy and celebrate every good thing that happens because I know bad things are coming. I just won’t spend as much time worrying about them, or maybe I will. I’m human, after all.

Book Club

by Valerie Nusbaum

I’m an avid reader. I’ve always loved books, and my appetite for the written word could only be described as voracious. My mother taught me basic reading well before I started first grade, and I adored getting lost in the stories of far-away lands and thrilling adventures. I’m that eccentric person who loves libraries, and I can happily spend hours in a bookstore making my selections. 

Do today’s kids even read books, I wonder? I remember that my seventh-grade English teacher called a parent/teacher conference with my folks because I did my book report on Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. While that book may have been a bit racy for a seventh-grader (remember this was back in the 1970s), I was fortunate to have parents who didn’t censor me and who encouraged me to broaden my horizons. We did have a talk about what was acceptable for public consumption, though.

It would seem, then, that I’d be someone who’d enjoy being part of a book club. That thinking is a bit flawed because I don’t tend to like the types of books that most clubs assign. My preference is a good mystery, one that I can’t put down until the last page when the killer is revealed. I love matching wits with the fictional detectives, and I’m excited to find out if I’m correct about the solution. Book club selections seem to me to be kind of high-brow, and a tad hoity-toity for the most part. It appears that some selections are chosen not so much for enjoyment as for impressing others with the members’ understanding of all the subtle nuances and representations, the hidden meanings, symbolism, and imagery. I read for fun and to escape from my problems.

I’ll read a biography if I’m interested in the subject or the subject’s career or contribution. A good trash wallow/beach read isn’t out of the question either. Just don’t give me a romance novel and expect me to get past page one’s ripped bodice or heaving bosom.

Given my decidedly low-brow taste in literature, I’ve stayed away from the organized book clubs, and consequently, have never had anyone with whom to discuss my book choices. I was thinking these thoughts one day when I looked across the room and saw Randy reading a book of his own. An idea hit me. We could form our own book club. I presented my proposition to him: We’d each read an agreed-upon mystery novel, and then we’d discuss said novel over his favorite meal. We decided that I would choose all of our books.  Randy enjoys mysteries, but I don’t want to read books about submarines, airplanes, or wars.

Our first book club selection was James Patterson’s Murder House. The book had been sitting on my “to be read” shelf for a couple of years, and I was happy to get it out and dust it off. It is well over 400 pages long, but Patterson writes short chapters and the spacing is wide, so he’s usually a quick read. Even so, it took me five or six days to finish the book since the bulk of my reading is done in the bathroom. I mentally noted some questions about the plot, and then I passed the book on to Randy for his turn at reading the material. 

Poor Randy was knee-deep in a kitchen remodel project, so he didn’t get around to reading the book right away. Nearly three weeks had passed when he handed Murder House back to me and said he was ready to meet and talk about the book, and that he’d like a pizza steak sub and fries to go with it. At that point, I couldn’t remember my questions or even the names of the main characters because I’d read a couple of other books after the Patterson novel.

Our book discussion went something like this:

Valerie: “I can’t remember the name of the half-brother of the main character, but I can’t figure out why the killer (can’t remember his name either) didn’t just go ahead and kill him instead of letting him hang around all those years.”

Randy: “His name started with an ‘A,’ and the killer’s name was Justin, I think.”

Valerie: “Okay, right, but if Aiden (that’s his name!) knew all along that Justin was the killer, and Justin knew he knew, then why didn’t Justin just kill him and get rid of the body?”

Randy: “Maybe Justin wanted Aiden around for a fall guy. But what about the severed finger? Why was it so well-preserved when the bodies were decomposed? That’s a LOT of fries.”

Valerie: “Pass the ketchup, please. I imagine Justin saved the finger as a trophy and kept it in formaldehyde or something.”

It went on like this for a while longer, and I think I can speak for Randy as well as myself when I say that we really don’t retain a lot of what we read. We knew going into this experiment that we tend to see things very differently and reading the same book only confirmed that.  Will our book club meet again?  Maybe. The subs were really good.

Speaking of mysteries, Randy received a lovely vintage Valentine from someone called Mildred Zerbe.   My guess is that poor Mildred hasn’t been with us for many years.  It was a lovely gesture and a fun thing for us, and we both appreciate your thoughtfulness.

This Means War

by Valerie Nusbaum

I heard a shriek followed by maniacal laughter, and I knew what it meant. The squirrel was back.

Poor Randy has been fighting a losing battle with a very clever squirrel over a bird feeder filled with seed. The bird feeder was a birthday gift from my brother, and I confess that it sat in the box in the basement for nearly two years before I remembered to get it out and fill it. Well, Randy filled it, to be exact, and he hung it on the oak tree outside the kitchen window so that I could watch the birds while I do the dishes and cook his meals. My man is nothing if not thoughtful.

The only problem is that the birds never showed up. The bird feeder is made of clear acrylic in the shape of a tiny house, with a small slot and ledge for feeding. The birds either couldn’t find it or couldn’t figure out how to use it. The squirrel, however, had no problem finding it and emptying it multiple times.

“I’ll fix his wagon,” said Randy. He headed outside with some chicken wire, which he proceeded to drape around the plastic birdhouse. Still no birds. But we looked out the window, and the squirrel had invited a friend. One of them was reaching into the feeder while hanging onto the wire with one little paw, and he was tossing the birdseed to the other squirrel on the ground. Teamwork.

For a while, Randy refused to put any more birdseed in the feeder. Then he had another bright idea. I heard hammering and sawing and, of course, cursing, and then that weird laughter.

“This will drive him crazy,” Randy hissed. “I’d like to see him get to the birdseed now.”

My brilliant hubby had attached a wooden board to the top of a smooth four-foot pipe and then he’d attached the bird feeder to the board. Mind you, we still had no birds visiting the tiny birdhouse. The squirrel and his friend, however, spent several days sitting on the ground staring up at the pole and contraption. We know now that they were analyzing the situation and forming a plan of attack.

I got home from visiting my mom and walked into the kitchen, and as I put some things on the counter, I happened to glance out the window over the sink. There, big as life, was the squirrel. He was sitting proudly on top of the board at the top of the pole. He seemed to be looking in the window at me, and if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that he was raising a finger on one tiny paw. I shouldn’t have, but I called to Randy and had him look outside. “@#&*!!!##,” he muttered. “Chicken wire. Need. More. Wire.”

Now, I’m going to stop right here and defend Randy’s (and my) position. We aren’t being intentionally mean to the squirrels. I don’t want PETA or some animal rights activist giving me grief. The squirrels have their own food. We have two huge pin oak trees in our backyard, with enough acorns to feed a small army of little rodents. Heck, sometimes we even gather up piles of the nuts and set them out for the squirrels to find. We do their gathering for them, and they reward us by burying the darned things in my flower beds and washtubs so that I have to spend hours pulling out tiny oak trees every spring.

So….chicken wire was draped over and around the little birdhouse with an opening in the front for the non-existent birds to grab some food. And then, this morning, I heard it again.

“Look out your bathroom window,” Randy yelled up the stairs. I did look out, and there he was again, reaching down through the wire and helping himself to a handful of birdseed. He looked up, smiled, and saluted as Randy opened the kitchen window and cursed at him. I watched Stanley (that’s what I call the squirrel) wrap his arms around the pole and slide down it, fireman-style. I’m not making this up. I still don’t know how he got up there, but the squirrel scampered off to plot another raid on the bird feeder. Randy stalked down to the basement to figure out his next move. It’s been a long pandemic, folks. We all get our entertainment where we can, right?

Speaking of entertainment, I have to give special shout-outs to Michele Tester and Barb Barbe. Michele sent me a lovely email telling me several stories about the benefits of reaching out and writing notes. There was an especially touching story about Michele’s dad. Barb sent us such a nice card and even included a stamp for us to pay it forward. We will do that. Thank you both for your thoughtfulness and for taking the time to write. Even Randy has gotten in on the act and is sending tiny Valentine cards to neighbors and passing them out to the workers at the drive-thru windows. He’s getting some weird looks, but he’s used to that.

I’ll keep you posted on who wins the Battle of the Bird Feeder, but I think we all know how that’s going to go.

The least the darned squirrel could do is write a thank you note.

A Handwritten Note

by Valerie Nusbaum

Raise your right hand if you still write notes or letters by hand. Raise your left hand if you send those messages through the mail.  I’m talking about the “real” mail, run by the U.S. Postal Service. The kind of mail where you lick an envelope to seal it and attach a stamp.  Stamps are those tiny square things with the pretty pictures on the non-sticky side. Oh, sorry, friends, all three of you can put your hands down now.

I estimate that’s about how many people actually still write letters these days. If you only communicate through email (which I understand is mostly for dinosaurs like me) or texts and IMs or DMs or whatever else is out there, this column probably won’t interest you. Keep reading, though, because there’s homework, and I know some of you love a challenge.

Now, please raise your right hand again if you know what the term “cursive writing” means.  Raise your left hand if you can do it. I excused myself from raising my hands. I do know and use cursive writing, but I couldn’t type with both hands in the air. Barb and Wanda, you can lower your hands now. Randy prints all his notes, but I can understand why he does it since his written signature is something that resembles a capital “R” and then a straight line.

For those of you who may not know, the term cursive (also sometimes referred to as “script”) is the type of penmanship where letters, or characters, are joined together in a style that flows. It was originally intended to make writing on paper easier and faster.  I’m assuming everyone knows what paper is. Printing, which is what most people do now, is also sometimes called “block lettering.”

I learned to write in the cursive style in second grade, but it’s my understanding that most schools don’t teach the art of penmanship any longer. Why bother when everyone types on a keypad? I understand the logic of that, but it still makes me sad to see another form of art dying out. My mother has lovely penmanship and so does my cousin, Pat. Mine isn’t really flowery and pretty like theirs, but it’s a style all my own. That’s the beauty of handwriting: it’s unique to each individual. In the olden days, kids, the FBI had a whole unit designated for the study and analysis of handwriting.

I also still send cards and an occasional note through the mail, or snail mail, as it’s called in some circles.

Yes, there’s something to be said for instant gratification, which is what comes from emailing or texting, but there’s also something to be said for the anticipation of going to the mailbox and hoping there’s something in there besides bills, advertisements, and donation requests. Anticipation is in short supply these days because most people want what they want right NOW. Because I enjoy receiving cards and letters, I make sure to send them as well. It doesn’t take a whole lot of time and it isn’t too expensive. And maybe, just maybe, I can brighten someone’s day a little.

Okay, you’ve all been very patient, so I won’t make you wait any longer for your assignment.  It’s simple. Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, as well as a myriad of other occasions. For such a short month, February is jam-packed with opportunities for sending mail. There’s Groundhog Day, Chinese New Year, President’s Day, the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, and the Oscars, to name a few. I’d like to ask each of you to send a card (store-bought is fine, but handmade is even better) or a written or printed note (type it if you must) to someone who might appreciate the gesture. We all know someone who would enjoy getting a surprise, right? Don’t grumble that you don’t have time. We’re still in pandemic quarantine mode, and it was just last month that you same people were complaining that there was nothing to do for the holidays.  I see you didn’t spend that extra time sending Christmas cards, or maybe we just haven’t received them yet. Use paper and envelopes you have on hand. Use some of those cards we all get in the mail with donation requests. Just do it. Send someone a note through the mail. You’ll make yourself feel good, and I guarantee that, in most cases, you’ll make someone else smile, too. Granted, there will be one or two people who will receive their mail and say, “Who the heck is Steve and why is he writing to me?” But by far, most people will be pleased.

And, yes folks, I do remember that the USPS has a huge backlog of mail and packages that have yet to be delivered for Christmas.  If you’re worried that your mail won’t get to your recipient before Thanksgiving, then hand-deliver it. Better yet, stick it in someone’s door for them to find later on. I wouldn’t advise not signing your card or note and don’t use the “Guess Who” gag. These are tough times we’re in, and we’re all wary of anything out of the ordinary. 

Lastly, please let me know how your assignment turns out. I’d love to hear about it. Drop me a line and tell me.

A Clean Slate

by Valerie Nusbaum

Happy New Year! I’m hoping that 2021 will be a great year for all of us. I know a lot of you were miserable in 2020. Many people we know suffered job losses, business closings, and illness.  Randy and I were fortunate that, so far, we haven’t been visited by COVID-19, but we know many people who weren’t so lucky. My hubby and I didn’t mind staying at home, although there were times when I know we got on each other’s nerves.

I trust that every one of you had as good a holiday season as possible given the circumstances.  With that being said, it’s time now to take a deep breath—which is difficult when wearing a mask—and figure out what the heck we can do to make this new year better than the last one.

We probably all ate way too much over the holidays. I’ve heard horror stories from friends about how they’ve gained a lot of weight due to quarantine-eating and depression. Maybe that’s where we start: an exercise plan and diet regime. I’ve never been a big fan of dieting, and I haven’t really needed to do it. If I notice that I’ve put on a pound or two, I give up desserts for a while or do a little extra on the treadmill. Or buy larger pants.

Since I know that losing weight is the number one New Year’s resolution, I had planned to tell you about the night Randy met Richard Simmons; however, that isn’t going to happen. In mentally writing that story, I realized that there’s no way I can tell it without incriminating myself and my friend, Roxann. It’s a shame, too, because it’s a great story. But since it involves a romantic dinner for two at The Quail Ridge Inn, a fit of hysteria, a spinning toilet, and a drive back to Frederick where something illegal occurred, I can’t go any further. I will tell you that I have a lovely photo of Randy being hugged by Richard Simmons, both of them grinning maniacally. And I can still hear Richard yelling, “the thingie, the thingie…” There was even a brief uninvited peek inside Richard’s limo, which only happened because one of us made a friend of the security guard.  Don’t judge me. This happened in 1991 or 1992, and “Sweating to the Oldies” with Richard Simmons was a huge hit. 

So, if I can’t write about diet and exercise, I think I’ll talk about snow since we’re heading into the timeframe where blizzards are possible. The hubby has a snow blower. It’s not the kind of snow blower one would normally use for a smaller property such as ours. Granted, we do have a lot of sidewalks, both surrounding our yard and leading from the front door to the back door to the basement door and crossing the patio, which needs to be plowed, too. Randy also likes to make a path leading back to his workshop, because if he doesn’t do that, I can see his footprints and I know he’s in there hiding from me. 

Anyway, the snow blower is an industrial-sized monster of a machine. Calling it a snow “blower” is such an understatement. I’d say it’s more of a snow “hurler.” If a person is ever unlucky enough to be walking down the public sidewalk in front of our house, he or she would be buried and frozen solid in a matter of seconds. Randy can accomplish this feat while standing at least 100 yards away from said person.  This snarling metal behemoth will also hurl rocks, dirt, and porch furniture, and it makes a growling sound much like an angry hippopotamus, or maybe I mean a rhino. It’s scary, that’s all I’m saying.

The snow blower used to belong to Randy’s dad, who bought it to plow out a driveway that was 150-yards long, and to manage my in-laws’ five-acre property. It was never intended for use in our cozy neighborhood. Consider yourselves warned. If the blizzard that Randy is praying for arrives, you’d do well to avoid us until the walks are cleared. It is kind of funny to watch, though, because the machine tends to get away from Randy. Once, he got his scarf caught in it. Winters are long, cold, and hard. I take my jollies where I can get them. 

Did I mention that I’m not allowed to use the snow blower?  Nope. That’s a job for a big, manly man. I really don’t have a problem with that because I much prefer staying inside where it’s warm and being in charge of the hot chocolate and cookies. Yet, I’m pretty sure Hubby keeps me away from his monster machine because of the incident with our riding lawn mower. Actually, there were several incidents, but maybe I’ll tell you about those in the spring.

Here’s wishing all of you good health, prosperity, and much happiness in the year to come.  And laughs—lots of laughs. Find them where you can, and if you can’t find them, call me. I’ll tell you the Richard Simmons story over the phone.

Nuck & Cinnamon

by Valerie Nusbaum

“What the heck is ‘Nuck’?” I asked.

Randy had added some things to our grocery list, and I was unfamiliar with Nuck. I imagined it to be some kind of energy or sports drink.

“Huh?” he asked.  “What are you talking about?”

I told him that he’d written the word “Nuck” on the list, and I had no idea where to look for it in the grocery store. 

He looked over my shoulder and informed me, “That says ‘Milk’.”  Honestly, I shouldn’t have made a big deal about it because Randy does most of the grocery shopping these days. Randy sticks to the list and is a man on a mission at the store. I plan our meals for the week, make a list of ingredients I’ll need, and look through the sale flyers and coupons. Randy takes it from there. He’s so good at it, in fact, that my mother trusts him to do her shopping. Mom will call and say that she’s out of cereal, and “Randy knows what I like.” Mom likes Reese’s Puffs cereal (chocolate and peanut butter flavored balls of air, if you ask me), and she also likes the Special K Red Berries cereal. See, I know what she likes, too. Whatever. 

Anyway, we got the Nuck/Milk thing straightened out. And with a fresh carton of milk in the refrigerator, I was able to have cereal for breakfast the next morning. Randy offered to make breakfast for both of us. Now, you might think that cereal is the only thing my hubby can cook, but he’s got a few other breakfast classics up his sleeve. A few years ago, I gave him a hotel-style waffle maker. You know how men like gadgets, so Randy has become the Waffle King around here. He also makes better scrambled eggs than I do. The upside of this is that I get delicious waffles once in a while. The downside is that I’m not allowed in the kitchen for several hours afterward while he cleans up, and I still find waffle batter in places it shouldn’t ever be. 

Now back to my story.

Randy headed to the kitchen to get us some cereal and asked what kind I wanted. I told him I’d like some Raisin Bran with some Cinnamon on top. I love Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. It’s a treat for me. A bit later, Randy came back upstairs (Did I mention that we were having breakfast in bed?) with our cereal bowls. Yes, folks, he does spoil me, but I do the same for him. I’m just not telling you those stories right now. This particular event took place on a weekend morning, and sometimes we like to watch baking or home improvement shows while we eat breakfast. When my hubby brought up our cereal bowls, I looked at my Raisin Bran and noted that Randy had forgotten to put the Cinnamon Toast Crunch on top, but I didn’t mention it. After all, he was nice enough to give me breakfast, right?  Then I noticed the strange brown powder in my bowl, and that’s when I remembered how literal Randy’s mind is. I said, Cinnamon (meaning my favorite cereal), and he heard and thought cinnamon (the spice). Yep, he’d sprinkled cinnamon all over my cereal. I ate it anyway and didn’t comment until much later when we were out walking. He didn’t find my hysterical laughter all that funny. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d refused to make breakfast anymore. If I’m not mistaken, cinnamon is supposed to be good for us, but it did make my Raisin Bran taste sort of spicy.

Last night, my mom called me and told me that she’d been taking a bath and had happened to glance at herself in the bathroom mirror.  She said she’d discovered a big red spot on her chest and found it very concerning. Poor Mom panicked and thought she might be coming down with shingles. I had visions of a long recovery, with me doing the nursing and Randy doing the shopping. Mom said that she grabbed a washcloth and very gently wiped at the spot on her chest. It’s a good thing she did because the spot turned out to be a freeze-dried strawberry from her breakfast cereal. The only difference between Mom and Randy in this instance is that Randy would have eaten the strawberry.

Randy and I also want to wish every one of you a happy, healthy, and safe fall season. We probably won’t be participating in trick or treat this year because of the health and safety issues, but if we were, we’d be the house handing out little boxes of cereal.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, or so we’ve been told. Be sure to eat yours!

Emails to Gail

by Valerie Nusbaum

Not many major things are happening in my life these days, due mostly to the COVID times in which we’re still living. Randy and I haven’t taken a vacation or gone on any day trips, haven’t eaten in a restaurant or done much shopping, and haven’t visited family or friends. So, there’s not a lot to write about in any detail. That said, I thought I’d share with you some of the little things that have warranted attention lately.

I exchange frequent emails with my friend Gail, and I decided to look back over the more recent ones to see what Randy and I have been up to. Gail is the friend I go to for a laugh or a smile, and she says I provide the same outlet for her. We exchange frequent emails about the mundane and bizarre things that happen during our daily lives. In an effort to protect Gail’s privacy and that of her family, I’m only presenting my side of the conversations.

Randy now belongs to a very special group. He calls it the Men’s Morning Meanderers. It’s a group of men of a certain age who separately walk all over Thurmont early in the mornings. The men don’t know each other, don’t speak (other than to say “good morning” or nod as they pass one another), and aren’t a formally recognized organization. In other words, they all practice proper social distancing. Randy enjoys his group outings.

I’ve recently had three very strange dreams, though not during the same night. In the first dream, I was baking sweet potato pies with an old friend, and we were planning to give the pies away as Christmas gifts. In the second dream, I was an entertainment television anchor, and Brad Pitt stopped by to have some birthday cake. Apparently, it was Brad’s birthday, and I’d baked a cake for him. Am I starting to see a baking theme here? Do I watch too many shows on the Food Network? In the third dream, Tom Selleck was my father. It was the Magnum P.I. version of Tom, not the Frank Reagan version, and there were no baked goods involved.

We went to Mom’s for lunch one day, and she made marinara sauce with meat. She told me to take care of cooking the spaghetti since she’d done everything else and needed to sit down. As the pasta boiled, I asked Mom if she had a spaghetti fork. She replied that she did indeed have one. I asked her where she kept it because I couldn’t find it in the utensil drawer. She replied that it was in the bathtub. Yes, I asked her why she’d put it there, and no, you don’t want to know. We bought a new spaghetti fork, and it will stay in the utensil drawer.

I’ve been working with a guy whose name is Jim Nasium. I can’t make this stuff up.

It’s like a darned Snow White fantasy around here: chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, voles, groundhogs, deer, birds, birds, birds. Not to mention the neighbors’ cats who try to kill all the other stuff, and the occasional dog on the run. Two doors down are some chickens, and we sometimes see a fox or wild turkey—a live one, not the bottled kind.

Today is the 29th anniversary of our first date, and I was given a card and a nice gift early this morning. That’s why I keep him.  Randy is a very thoughtful guy. I remembered our anniversary, too, and Randy also got a card and gift.

Here’s my prediction on the mask thing: Since we’re required to wear them during outside group activities without social distancing, and it’s recommended that we wear them even with social distancing, I’m predicting a whole raft of new respiratory symptoms in the coming months from us trying to breathe through the masks in this heat and humidity. Plus, there will be more dehydration and elevated blood pressure events because wearing the mask makes us hotter. No one has mentioned this possibility yet, but when it comes, you can call me The Oracle.

Sometimes, it all gets to be too much for me. I had to call the hospital and schedule a medical test. The associate I spoke with was nice enough. Still, the registration took at least fifteen minutes, and her computer was on the fritz, which didn’t help either of our moods. Then, more questions, most of which didn’t pertain to my visit, and finally, “Are you ambilary?” I asked her to repeat the question, saying I didn’t hear. She said it again. I still didn’t know what she’d said or what it meant, so I said I was sorry, but I didn’t understand. She was frustrated, and she snapped, “It means, ‘Can you walk on your own.’” I had been nice, but I didn’t appreciate being snapped at, so I said, “No, ambulatory means ‘being able to walk on one’s own.’” I don’t know what the *&%# ambilary means. I thought I’d gone too far, but she cracked up.

Tell Jack that low water pressure is better than high blood pressure.

We finally have a gate on the garden! It’s only been three years.  Randy put on a gate. Jack took one off. Do you think they’re communicating on the sly? I hope they don’t discuss their haircuts. I have some texturizing scissors but haven’t resorted to pinking shears yet. Randy wanted another haircut today, so I obliged. When he finally does go to the barbershop, he’s going to get laughed out of there.

My left ear is considerably higher than my right ear, so nothing sits level on my face. It’s particularly annoying with my glasses. That’s why I tilt my head.

What? I told you, dear readers, nothing much has been happening here. Stay well.

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?” 

OR

“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