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‘Twas The Week Before Christmas

by Valerie & Randy Nusbaum

‘Twas the week before Christmas at the Nusbaum estate.

I hate to admit it but things weren’t looking great.

The stockings were waiting to be hung and filled,

the gingerbread house we still needed to build.

Randy was huddled in pain in the bed.

He’d fallen and suffered a bump on his head.

There’s a trophy he covets. He’s determined to win

that darned lighting contest. He’s entered again.

Our neighbor, Big Bob,  put a sleigh on his roof

with Santa and reindeer as if we needed proof.

Bob had been champion for the last seven years

and Randy was bound that he’d have Bob in tears.

My hubby’d amassed a huge yard display

and he added a new piece almost every day.

He’d lit up our trees, our fence, and our house.

I’d feared for our cars, so crazed was my spouse.

And now my poor Randy was out of commission

while I worried and wondered how I’d keep up tradition.

My cards had been sent. At least that was done.

But no presents were purchased, not even one.

I needed to shop for both gifts and food.

Could I leave Randy alone? Would he come unglued?

I called on the neighbors, first Steve and then Brooke

to keep tabs on Randy while I planned what to cook.

I went to the store; didn’t have too much luck.

I couldn’t find turkey so I settled for duck.

The presents I grabbed were tacky and dumb.

I came out of the store with shoe laces and gum.

Feeling downhearted, I dragged myself home

to find Randy much better. He’d dressed like a gnome.

Wait! He wasn’t a gnome. My guy was an elf

and I started to giggle in spite of myself.

That’s when I noticed the tree had been trimmed.

It glowed like a beacon when the lights were all dimmed.

I next spied some cookies, all pretty and sweet!

Oh, who in the world had brought such a treat?

A truly miraculous thing to behold—

The house was bedecked all in silver and gold.

How in the world did you manage all this?

I cried out to Randy. I felt so much bliss.

My mate said he woke and found the house was complete;

The cookies, the stockings, and a turkey to eat.

There were presents all wrapped waiting under the tree.

I couldn’t imagine who’d done this for me.

The jingle of sleigh bells had us heading outside

where our yard was all lighted. It filled us with pride.

The rooftop was sparkling like stars in the sky.

My hubby was beaming, a tear in his eye.

Randy leaned over and picked up his prize.

He’d won that darned trophy, nearly double his size.

We stood there not daring to think it was true

that Santa had been here; his reindeer, too.

Big Bob wandered over; a frown on his face,

Clearly not happy. He’d won second place.

Not one to gloat, Randy still had to grin

At the reindeer memento Big Bob had stepped in.

As you can see, I had some help with this month’s column. We took some license here and there, but it’s the best we could do. As always, Randy is the world’s best helper. I also should point out that since I work for the Banner, Randy is exempt from the real decorating contest. At least I tell him he’s exempt, and it keeps him off the roof. 

Special holiday greetings go out to Grace Borell, who wrote me such a nice note. Grace, you made my day and your photography is beautiful. Thank you for thinking of me. Thanks, too, to our neighbor and friend, Barb, for the lovely basket decorating our front porch the whole fall season. It’s true that people really do masquerade as elves and visit when we least expect it. I also must send greetings to Jan because, well, you know where I live. And to Ruthie Simmel—it’s always a pleasure and thanks for the treats! Randy and I are wishing each and every one of you (even the ones of you who tell me I remind them of a drill sergeant) a peaceful, happy, healthy, and safe holiday season. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Across the Miles

by Valerie Nusbaum

With Thanksgiving and the holiday season upon us once again, I’m reminiscing about years past and feeling blessed to have such wonderful memories. I’m sure you are, too. These are just some of the highlights of my Thanksgivings with Randy.

For our first Thanksgiving together, I had the bright idea to host the meal at our house. No small feat since we didn’t yet have a dining room table and there were eight of us. We borrowed folding tables and extended them from our small dining room into the living room. Cousin Linda had given us a lovely non-stick roaster for a wedding gift, and we were anxious to try it out. I used my mom’s tried-and-true method for a juicy turkey and started the bird in the oven at 400 degrees at 11:00 p.m. on Wednesday. At midnight, I turned the oven temperature down to 200 degrees and planned to slow roast the turkey overnight. At 1:00 a.m., the bird was falling-off-the-bone done. You can imagine how the rest of the meal went.

We visited my brother and his family in Rutland, Vermont, in 1997.  Because of our work schedules, we drove to New York on Wednesday night. After getting up before dawn on Thursday and driving for hours, we needed a pit stop but couldn’t find anything open—not even a gas station. Finally, we saw some cars at a Friendly’s, so we rushed inside.  The young woman at the takeout window looked us over and informed us that the restaurant would be closing at noon. My watch showed 11:52 a.m. Randy said, “We’d like two Diet Cokes to go. Where is your restroom?” When she opened her mouth to protest, Randy looked her in the eye calmly said, “This is happening.” It did.

For many years, while our parents were with us, Randy and I hosted Thanksgiving dinner. We made it a point to include anyone we knew who didn’t have plans. Some years, there were five or six of us. Some years, there were twelve. We found Mary’s slippers in the fridge, inside a bag with fresh sausage. Bill made a loaf of homemade bread and left the paddle in the loaf. Pat enjoyed making a turkey picture by tracing her hand on paper.  Dale, Randy, and Bill fought over the oysters. Andrew got sick and gave it to the rest of us. The Johnsons came for dessert. There were pilgrim costumes and feathers, hand towels folded into turkeys, acorns made from kisses, and the list goes on.

In 2001, Randy and I were on vacation in Ocean City, Maryland, and we made Thanksgiving dinner reservations at The Bonfire. My mom had plans to dine with her next-door neighbor, so I knew she’d be taken care of; but when I spoke to Mom on Tuesday of that week, she told me that her plans had been canceled. I couldn’t leave Mom all alone (Randy’s parents were with his brother and the kids, so they were okay), so on Wednesday, we drove four hours back to Brunswick to pick up Mom and her luggage, then drove back to Ocean City that night. We changed our dinner reservation from two to three and had a lovely time sitting by the fireplace, watching football and feasting on five kinds of stuffing and various turkey parts. Afterward, we rode the train through the Festival of Lights and had hot chocolate with Santa. 

In 2008, we again visited my brother who had moved to Bozeman, Montana. Dinner was hosted by friends of theirs at their horse ranch, and we were all seated around a huge dining table. It was so gracious of them to include us. My sister-in-law was responsible for the pumpkin pies, which I found amusing since she rarely uses her kitchen. She gave it a go, though. Randy and I took some hostess gifts and treats for the kids. Our host, Chuck, asked us to go around the table and tell what dish our family always ate that wasn’t featured on their table. Silly me. I didn’t realize the correct answer was: “Why nothing.  Everything is here.” I mentioned that our families ate sauerkraut with a turkey dinner, probably going back to the Dutch/German settlers in our area. There was dead silence at the table.  Kind of reminded me of the time Randy had the gall to show my cousin, Craig, a photo of a trout he’d caught on another trip to Montana. That did not go over well, either.

Twice, we ate out at the Epic Buffet at Charles Town Races. We missed having leftovers.

For Thanksgiving 2021, we thought it would be brilliant to be vendors at the Holiday Fair in Ocean City. We got takeout dinners from Cracker Barrel. Not great and not even real turkey. With setup on Wednesday and working Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, it was an exhausting but enjoyable time. Michele Tester even came to visit!

Last year, we traveled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for Thanksgiving and stayed at Hershey Farms. The breakfast buffet was included with our stay, so that made three buffets in two days. I kid you not. What does one do after eating all that food, you ask?  Well, we went to Green Dragon on Black Friday and stocked up on fresh fruits and vegetables. And Long Johns.

We’re doing the Ocean City Holiday Fair again this year and taking dinner with us, so I know the turkey will be real.

Whatever you do, wherever you go, Randy and I hope you have a happy, safe, and delicious Thanksgiving!

It’s Party Time!

by Valerie Nusbaum

Let me start off by wishing each and every one of you a happy fall season, or as my Aunt Faye would have said, “Happy Fall Y’all!”

I might as well wish everyone a happy Halloween, too. October 31 will roll around before we know it, followed by Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and all the other fall holidays. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m just not ready. Maybe the horribly hot summer had something to do with that. I’m definitely ready for cooler temperatures, but all the work that goes into all the holidays has me feeling exhausted just thinking about it. Instead, I’m thinking about past good times and relishing the fact that I don’t have to work any harder than I choose to this year.

Randy and I, and my parents before us, have always enjoyed a good Halloween party. I’m reminded of several parties we either threw or attended, where one thing led to another and things got out of hand.

There was a work party years ago when Randy and I both worked at a local bank. Roxann and Harry Welch and Randy and I got the bright idea to wear a joint costume. Randy suggested that we all go as a hand, with each one of us being a finger, and carrying the thumb along. We made the costume out of carpet padding, and that thing weighed a ton. We had to lie down and wriggle up into the fingers and then we had a terrible time getting upright.  Not to mention that we had to crowd into an elevator and no one had a hand free to push the buttons. We’d cut holes in the finger pads for our faces, and so we could breathe, but we wore plastic masks so that our co-workers wouldn’t recognize us.   Needless to say, we came out of the hand as soon as possible, which was a good thing because we had to run all over Frederick in the dark finding things for a scavenger hunt. Randy and Harry may or may not have done something illegal. That’s all I’m saying.

Once, my family rented a huge building and had a very large party.  At our parties, guests can wear anything they want, and they don’t have to come in costume at all if that’s not their thing. Randy and I spent all day doing elaborate decorations, even creating a maze for guests to walk through. It was pretty great. One person even suggested that we open it to the public and charge admission.  We didn’t do that. We did, however, do a murder mystery that year. Every guest had a part to play. It got a little crazy because, as we all know, people can’t follow directions or stick to a script.

Our friends, the Heffner-Joneses, throw a themed costume party almost every year. One year, the theme was Downton Abbey. It was fun dressing in 1920s attire that night. Another time, the theme was Harry Potter.  Randy went as Farmer Brown and I was a black and white cow because those were the costumes we had on hand. Mind you, Randy had to re-write one of the Potter novels to include those characters, but our hosts were so impressed by Randy’s invented story that he won first prize in whatever contest was being held. 

Last year, we were instructed to come dressed as our favorite country or rock and roll act. Naturally, we went as The Village People. Yes, I know there are only two of us and six Village People. Randy was the construction worker, and I was the cowboy. We carried small versions of the other four. Most of the guests didn’t get it, and Randy’s mustache wouldn’t stay on.

Another year, we hosted a party here and invited my cousins and elderly aunts. My mom was with us then, too. We had to call the paramedics for that one, and the party ended earlier than intended.

It’s always fun when hosting a Halloween party to come up with delicious-tasting but horribly gross or scary food. I’ve created werewolf fingers and bloody dipping sauce, a Jack o’lantern that threw up guacamole, tiny sandwiches shaped like bats and ghosts, and Jack o’lantern pepperoni pizzas.

There have been other Halloween/fall celebrations, such as the time we had a scarecrow-making contest. That one got combative pretty quickly, and the prize was only a box of candy. 

One year, at the Murphy’s house, Mr. Murphy dressed up as Pippi Longstocking and Aunt Gladys was a gorilla. This was notable because both of those folks were older then than I am now. They were good sports, but they did have a few problems playing charades while wearing their costumes.

My brother, our friends, and I used to go to our Grandmother Ella’s house in West Virginia to help her out with trick-or-treat since she had hundreds of kids come by each year. We’d dress up and decorate the yard and scare the kids, and our grandmother would have treats inside for us. She used to make homemade gingerbread with a warm lemon sauce to pour over it.  Delicious!

As I look back on all these good times, I’m especially grateful for good friends and a wonderful family, and also that I’ll probably be at home in my pajamas this year.

What to Write?

by Valerie Nusbaum

I intended for this month’s column to be about a social experiment I had recently conducted. The experiment was a simple premise. For ten days, I posted a positive or inspirational (sometimes humorous) thought/message on my Facebook page.  People responded or hit “like,” and I had thought I might collect the data, do some math, and come up with some statistics and conclusions about how folks reacted to it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot to work with. With one exception, everyone agreed with my posts.

One guy did take issue with Day #1’s comment, “Be happy. It drives other people crazy.” He proceeded to tell me that a smile can warm the heart of someone who is struggling. Yeah, whatever. I went to high school with this guy, and he always had to be right, which prompted my post for Day #2: “Being entitled to an opinion isn’t necessarily an invitation to share it.” 

Anyway, my point is that sometimes the thing I plan to write about doesn’t pan out, and I’m forced to look for inspiration elsewhere.

This morning, I woke up determined to get something in print. But it was still early, and I didn’t want to disturb Randy. He’d fought a stomach bug all night long and needed to ease into the day today. He said he feels fine now, though, and he made us breakfast in bed. His chocolate chip waffles are the bomb!

After two cups of tea (I made hot chocolate with the little marshmallows for Randy.) and two episodes of The Great Food Truck Race, I decided it was time to tackle my column. I really wanted to get all my work done today because tomorrow is my birthday, and I’m entertaining the idea of staying in my pajamas all day and watching murder and mayhem on Lifetime. It bothers Randy when I watch Lifetime because he’s afraid it will give me ideas. I decided to strip the bed and put on clean sheets this morning, rather than do it tomorrow. Another job out of the way. 

Day #3’s post was: “Life happens.  The trick is how you deal with it.”

Dirty laundry in hand, I went downstairs to the kitchen to do some cleanup. Randy was nice enough to cook breakfast. The least I could do is clean up. I finished the dishes, cleaned all the counters, did some dusting, scrubbed the microwave, and noticed that the stovetop needed a good cleaning. That ceramic surface is always smeary. So, I got out the special cleaner and went to work until I could see myself, which reminded me that I needed to put in my prescription eyedrops. Since I was already downstairs, I figured I might as well go start a load of laundry. I saw some stuff that needed to go into the dryer on the fluff cycle, so I took care of that. I had started my day at around 5:30 a.m. and it was now nearly 10:00 a.m. Nothing written yet.

Back upstairs in my office, after having cleaned myself up at some point during the morning, I stared at my desk where a number of art prints were lying in wait for me to sign, number, and inventory. There was also a pile of Etsy orders that needed to be cleared. I put those things aside and sat down to collect my thoughts. This writing stuff isn’t easy. Really. 

I looked back at my Facebook posts and focused on Day #4: “A positive attitude and a sense of humor are powerful weapons.”

Several of my women friends agreed with that one, and Randy lamented that he’d be much more effective if only people got his humor.

My computer is old and has been acting up, plus our internet is slow, so there were the usual frustrations.  I’ve gotten up several times to do chores like put the clean sheets on the bed. Does anyone else have trouble getting the fitted bottom sheet on right the first time? Yes, I know there’s a tag and all that, but unless the sheet has stripes on it, I still have to struggle. I can fold the heck out of a fitted sheet, though. Martha Stewart would applaud me or be horribly jealous. And how many of you vacuum your mattress? Really? You know that there are dust mites in there, don’t you?

At 11:30 a.m., I have 724 words on paper. I’ll let you decide if they make any sense at all. Just remember that Day #5’s post was: “Pass out granola bars. Mean people don’t get enough fiber.”

On Day #6 I posted: “Celebrate every little thing….and use the good china.”  Randy and I try to do just that. 

Unfortunately, a lot of those celebrations are showing up on my hips. There’s a big, decorated birthday cake downstairs right now just calling my name, and Randy has gotten some lovely non-china paper plates and non-linen napkins to go with it. My advice isn’t always followed to the letter.  And, yes, I know I should refer back to Day #2, but as I’ve told you before, Oprah left a big void, and I’m doing my best to fill it. 

Day #7’s post advised that:  “Getting old is a privilege. Not everyone gets to do it.” I’ll keep that in mind tomorrow as I celebrate.

by Valerie Nusbaum

Randy and I are reviving the tradition of Date Night. It could be argued that since we take a lot of day trips and we eat a lot of meals in restaurants, we’ve been dating all along, but why split hairs?

A few weeks ago, on a non-date, we had dinner at Applebee’s. The restaurant had a promo where if a customer spent a certain amount of money on one tab, said customer would receive a voucher for a free movie ticket to see the new Indiana Jones film. Randy and I didn’t give it any thought because we’re not big spenders on meals out, as we aren’t huge eaters and don’t usually order appetizers or desserts. That particular day was hot outside, so we ordered iced teas and then we got refills. Our bill came, and it was more than we anticipated. We were in a hurry to get out of there, so we just paid the bill and left, and only after that, discovered that we’d been charged for both our drinks and our refills. Maybe that’s restaurant policy, but I don’t think so. Anyway, we let it go that time. 

The good news is that we did qualify for the free movie ticket, so we made a plan to go. The last time we went to a movie was years ago, and that involved walking into the theater, going up to the ticket window, and buying a paper ticket. Seriously, kids, that’s how we did it. Nowadays, tickets are purchased online through Fandango, and seats are chosen and reserved. This is a nice feature, actually. I like not having to show up way too early in order to get a good seat.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny was being shown at the Westview Theaters, and our seating was at 12:30 p.m. Yes, I know, I said we were doing a date NIGHT, but what did I say about splitting hairs?  Naturally, we arrived a half hour early.  We didn’t know how traffic would be around Frederick, and we needed time to use the restrooms and get some popcorn. 

Did I mention that if we had paid full ticket price for both our tickets, it would have cost us $33.00? Randy’s ticket was free, so we only paid $17 and change. Whoo-hoo! Back in our misspent youth when Randy and I were truly dating, we’d go see a movie at a theater we referred to as “The Cheap Seats.” Tickets were $1.49 and the movies were mostly new releases.  Combine that with dinner at Taco Bell, dessert at Shoney’s, and a second movie at the late show, and we barely spent $20.00. I was a cheap date. Not so much anymore. I wanted popcorn, and the small bag cost $9.00. Randy nearly passed out when the cashier told him how much.

The theater was out of napkins, so I had to go back into the ladies room and get some toilet tissue for us to wipe all that butter off our hands. We had stopped at the Taco Bell drive-thru and gotten two soft chicken tacos, which we ate on the way to the theater.   We were probably unconsciously trying to recreate our past glory.   Randy and I ate every morsel of that popcorn, too.

At 12:15 p.m., the previews and ads began rolling on the big screen, and other viewers straggled into the theater. Two men and two women had bought seats directly in front of us, and another couple sat right behind us. The rest of the theater was empty.  We weren’t even sitting in the middle of our row. We’d chosen seats on the aisle.

Eventually, some other people came in and sat down, and I’d say there were about 30 people present for the 12:30 matinee. Neither of the two men in front of us could hear well, so the women were shouting at them. Tom and Sam were their names.  Sam’s phone rang about 14 times, but he couldn’t hear it. Finally, Martha got up and went through Sam’s pockets to find the phone and turn it off, all the while explaining what she was doing in her outdoor voice.

There was another couple sitting up in the rafters, and they were having a very heated argument. We could hear the whole thing. Randy and I ate our popcorn and talked about how much we enjoy sitting on the couch in our living room and watching movies on our big television where there are no people. We can pause the film if we need to go to the bathroom or get a snack, and we can turn it off if we don’t like the show without feeling too guilty.

The movie didn’t actually start until 1:00 p.m. I remember looking at my watch, which read 2:00 p.m., and thinking, “How has it only been an hour?” At 3:00 p.m., both of my legs had cramped and my backside had gone to sleep. Randy and I both needed to go to the bathroom, and we were thirsty from all that popcorn.  Tom got up and left before the movie was over. Martha could be heard telling Sadie that she’d only ever had one husband, so I don’t know who Sam was or if Sam knew, either.

It might be a while before we have another Date Night. We need to rest up and save some money.

by Valerie Nusbaum

Randy and I moved to Thurmont almost 30 years ago. We were welcomed warmly around town and generally accepted as part of the community. However, when new people move to any small town there’s always some hesitancy by the locals to grant the newcomers local status.  We answered all the questions about where we came from and who our “people” were, but we knew we’d have many more years ahead of us lodged in the “move-in” category.  We took part in town celebrations and activities, joined a few groups, supported local businesses (and started one of our own), and we still got the occasional suspicious look from someone whose lineage traced back more than 200 years with roots grounded in Thurmont soil.

Back in the day, Randy would go out to run errands around town and he’d come home laughing and overjoyed when someone—anyone—had recognized him. Randy came home one day and proudly proclaimed that he surely must be a local because the kid at the pizza place had given him a nickname and had yelled it at him out on the street. I’m not sure that being referred to as “Pepsi Man” makes one a local, but it made my hubby happy. Over the years, Randy has been called a few other names, but I won’t print those here.

We’ve lived in the same house for the last 29-plus years, and we’ve seen neighbors and old-timers come and go. We’re pretty much the old-timers now, and we consider ourselves locals, but we still get asked how long we’ve lived here. Occasionally, it turns into a competition that we usually lose, with the other party doing a head shake and an eye roll at our newness to the area.

So, imagine my surprise when Randy did some research into my family tree. He’d spent several years researching his own family history through Ancestry.com, complete with DNA testing. I’d held off on that for myself because the idea of drooling into a test tube just didn’t appeal to me, but that’s neither here nor there for the purposes of this column.

Randy showed me documentation that my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Matthaeus Ambrose emigrated from Germany sometime between 1696 when he was born and 1736. Old Matthaeus settled in—wait for it—Thurmont, Maryland! Oh, yes he did. Thurmont was actually Mechanicstown in those days, as we all know, but it’s still right here.  Matthaeus married a local woman named Maria Catherine Spohn, and the couple had a son in 1736. Their son, William Henry Ambrose, grew up to become The Reverend Ambrose. So, my roots to this community not only go way back, but I’m also from good stock. Matthaeus and the family owned a flour mill on Owens Creek, and after his and Maria’s deaths in 1784 and 1780, respectively, some of the Ambroses migrated to Berkeley County, West Virginia.

Several generations later, my great-grandfather, George Wilson Ambrose, was born in West Virginia in 1868, and he moved to Brunswick, Maryland, to find work on the railroad. George and his wife, Eliza Catherine Hoaf, had twelve children, one of which was my dear grandfather, Ralphie.

Ralph and Ethel Virginia Whittington married and had four children, including my mother, Wanda, who lived almost all of her 90 years in Brunswick. Wanda married John Clifford Zombro from Bolivar, West Virginia, and I came along six years later.

Randy, who is from Walkersville (and Mount Pleasant), and I looked all over Frederick County for a place to call home. Things were quite different in Thurmont back in those days, but we liked the area and the people seemed nice. Heck, any small town with two big buffets couldn’t be bad, right? We chose a corner lot in what was to be a new, small development, and we built a modest house, adding  more space when we outgrew what we started with. We’ve seen a lot of businesses and people come and go, and we’ve done our best to adapt. We’re still here and, like it or not, we plan to stay a while longer.

Speaking of Randy, I owe him a big “thank you” for doing this research for me. He worked hard on it and all I did was bake some brownies…and go with him to pick strawberries…and buy him dinner at Los Amigos. I also went out and cleaned the upholstery in his truck from when he got hot fudge all over the seats. Marriage is a give-and-take, no matter where we live.

It’s funny. I grew up in Brunswick and I had a wonderful childhood with my parents and brother, grandparents, and loads of cousins and aunts and uncles. I love my hometown and have the greatest respect for the people in it. The folks in Brunswick always did and still do treat me like a local and one of the old guard. But when I moved to Thurmont, I felt at home and now I know why. I can feel you shaking your head and rolling your eyes, and that’s just fine with me, but don’t tell me I’m not a local anymore.

A Good Week For Television

by Valerie Nusbaum

I find myself spending more and more time indoors in the spring. Randy and I do still take long walks around our neighborhood, but that’s usually just enough time for my sinuses to get blocked up and for my nose to start running like a faucet. Yes, these two things happen simultaneously.

Allergies were a foreign concept to me when I was growing up. As a young adult, I felt sympathy for my mother and my friends who suffered from hay fever and were allergic to grass, pollen, dander, and other things. The only thing I was allergic to back then was the occasional man who was brave enough to ask what sign I was born under.

When I met Randy, the poor guy had allergies so awful that he was forced to carry a roll of toilet tissue around with him. Oddly, right after we got married, Randy’s allergies cleared up, and he hasn’t been bothered by the sniffles since 1995. Conversely, my sinuses woke up, smelled the new man in the house, and my nose hasn’t stopped running since. It’s true. I can’t make this stuff up.

I’m rambling on about allergies so that I can segue into all the television we’ve watched in the last week or so while I avoid the outdoors. It’s been a robust week for TV viewing, with plenty of choices. Here are a few of the shows (we don’t refer to them as “programs” yet because we aren’t quite that old) that we’ve chosen recently.

(1) The Coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla

Yes, I did start watching at around 5:15 a.m. I was awake anyway. Older people don’t sleep very much. Look it up. It’s a fact. Randy joined me about a half hour into the telecast, and we watched most of the four hours of coverage. The carriages were fabulous, and we do love pomp and circumstance and anything royal. I wore my tiara (the one with the red stones, not the one with the blue), and Randy made a pot of tea; we used terrible British accents to provide commentary. My friend, Susie, was watching, too, and she texted me a photo of the scones she’d baked. Our sister-in-law, Karen, who was born in the UK and migrated here when she married Randy’s brother, texted that she was watching and eating biscuits. In all seriousness, this was probably a once-in-a-lifetime event, so we figured, “Why not?” We weren’t around for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and might not be here to see William wear the crown. Unless Randy is correct and Kate is already plotting Charles’s downfall.

(2) The Kentucky Derby

Oddly enough, the derby was run on the same day as the coronation, so that was quite a day of headwear at our house. Naturally, we wore hats during the first of the triple-crown races. My first-choice horse actually won the race, but I still lost because I’d changed my bet to a gray horse who apparently thought the finish line was somewhere out in left field. Randy’s horse may have finished the race, but neither of us could remember what number the horse was wearing. In our defense, we’d gotten up awfully early to watch the coronation.

(3) The Diplomat

This Netflix series starred Keri Russell and Rufus Sewell, and asked us to buy into the notion that a woman who neither bathed nor washed her hair (or even combed it), who was both rude and profane, and who ate with her fingers, could be chosen as a high-level diplomat and be on the short list to replace the Vice President of the United States. Nevertheless, Randy and I watched the entire eight episodes in one week, and we were aghast at being left hanging until the spring of 2024 to find out who was hurt in the explosion. We’ll likely have to re-watch the entire first season because we’ll never remember any of it after an entire year has gone by. Or maybe we’ll just forget we watched it in the first place.

(4) Farmer Wants a Wife

I swore up and down that I would never EVER watch a reality dating show, but the previews for this one were just so funny that I had to eat my words and take a look. Randy had broken something or made a mess in the house (I can’t remember what he needed to be punished for), so I forced the poor man to watch with me. How could I have guessed that he’d become completely invested in the outcome? Wednesday nights have become “Must See TV” at the Nusbaum house, with both Survivor and Farmer on the agenda. Randy is in a lather to find out if Landon, Ryan, Allen, or Hunter actually gets a wife out of this deal. At least that’s what my sweet hubby is telling me. I kind of think he enjoys watching overly bleached and coifed women (whom the farmers insist on calling “girls”) wearing barely any clothing but lots of makeup and fake fingernails prance around the farms and do chores. I can imagine Randy dreaming of his own farm with four or five “girls” to choose from as potential mates. Me? I just want to smack each of the women and gut-punch the men.

Needless to say, it will do us good to get back outside.

Things We Don’t Use Anymore

by Valerie Nusbaum

Not long ago, I was manually searching through some of my dad’s old photographs and slides, looking for a particular scene that I wanted to paint. I was grumbling to myself that my dad rarely took pictures of places or scenery. No, most of Dad’s photos were of us—Mom, John, and me. Then it dawned on me that Dad used 35-mm film and cameras. Rolls of film had either 24 or 36 frames, so Dad was limited to how many pictures he could take. Film cost money. Getting film developed cost more money, and we weren’t rich. We have it so easy now with digital cameras, downloads, and home printers. Yes, photo paper and ink still cost money, but we don’t have to print out every picture we take now, especially those shots of the floor or our fingers, or the horrible pictures Randy insists on taking of me with my mouth full.

Long ago, in another life, I was a photographer. I had a studio and a darkroom, and I specialized in weddings and portraits. Like my dad, I used 35mm film, and I had a plethora of cameras, lenses, attachments, and filters. I took photography classes at college and learned how to develop and print my own film. I invested a fortune in supplies and equipment, and it’s now pretty much obsolete.  My darkroom equipment is gone, and Randy and I are slowly finding homes for the cameras. Yes, there are still people who use what are now considered vintage cameras, but I’ve given up on it. I rarely take digital photos unless it’s business-related or it’s a family event, and when I do take a picture, I just grab my phone. Randy is our family photographer now, and he’s won several awards for his photos.

Does anyone remember video cameras? I’m talking about those big, boxy, heavy jobs that recorded on VHS tapes. My video camera cost around $1,000 years ago, and it’s been sitting in a closet collecting dust. Randy and I took a class in videography, and the things we learned definitely do not lend themselves to taking videos on cellphones. Now everything is point and shoot. It’s easier, but is it really as much fun as learning an actual skill and practicing it? You tell me. Along with the disappearing video cameras are the VCRs and VHS tapes. We still have a VCR because we might someday want to watch those videos we made. I know there’s a way to digitize all those old family memories, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to do that right now. We’ve managed to pare down our VHS and DVD movie collection, too. We don’t need them now that we can find pretty much anything on a streaming service or on-demand. We do pay a lot for those services, though. I can remember when watching television only cost us a little electricity and the price of an antenna on the roof. Of course, there were only four networks in those days and not a lot of choices.

Let’s talk about telephones.   Randy and I lived during the days of rotary dial phones, which morphed into push-button phones and then became cordless phones. We had actual answering machines that used cassette tapes, and we delighted in recording ridiculous outgoing messages for our friends to hear when they called us. Those things are mostly gone now, although we do still have a landline (Yes, I said it), and we have a digital answering machine, too. And we still record and leave silly messages when we remember to do it.

The way we listen to music has changed drastically during our lifetime, too. I’m happy to see that vinyl is still around and making a comeback of sorts, but CDs aren’t nearly as popular as downloading music or streaming it. Gosh, I can remember portable CD players. Raise your hand if you owned a Walkman. Headphones are now earbuds. Oh, does anyone remember cassette tapes and players? And boomboxes?

There are lots of people who don’t wear wristwatches anymore because they can check the time on their ever-present phones. Smartphones have also partially eliminated the need for alarm clocks.

Calculators and adding machines, calendars, and half a dozen other things I can’t think of right now have all been rendered obsolete by the magnificent smartphone. The smartphone has made all our lives simpler and easier, so we’re told. It has certainly eliminated the need for shelving to hold all our electronics. I could make the argument that a whole lot of jobs have been eliminated, too, and a lot of electronics manufacturers have struggled through the last 15 years. On the other hand, I’m as guilty as anyone of relying on my phone for things I used to have separate devices for. I confess that I don’t always have my phone with me, and when I’m home, I rarely turn it on except to check for messages. I don’t have a need or desire to be accessible 100 percent of the time. I still enjoy having an actual in-person conversation with someone, and I like looking at the world around me. For me, some things will never change.

With that being said, Randy and I stumbled upon a video game that we’re hooked on. Who knew?

A Truckload of Produce

by Valerie Nusbaum

It was a lazy weekend morning, and Randy and I were having breakfast (and you all know how I feel about cereal) in bed and watching last weeks’ episode of Blue Bloods. Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) had just revealed his surprise guest at their weekly family dinner, and he told everyone present that, “Now you know why she’s seated beside me.”

Randy piped up with, “So she can cut your meat?” and proceeded to look amazed while simultaneously cracking himself up. He was pleased as punch that he’d made a joke, and I had to laugh, too. I told him that it always makes me laugh harder when he enjoys his own jokes.

He replied, “Sometimes the joke sounds funny in my head, but when it comes out, it lands like a lead balloon. So, when I nail the punch line, like now, I feel good about it.”  He laughed for a good five minutes.

That little story has nothing to do with produce, though, so let me start over.

We decided to hop in the truck on a Tuesday morning and take a drive up to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to the farmers market called Roots.  We hadn’t been there in many years, and neither of us could remember exactly where it was or what it was like. We’ve been to Green Dragon several times recently, and we thought we’d spread the love around.

It was a sunny day, and we enjoyed riding through the farmland and little villages. A favorite pastime when we’re on the road is reading signs and billboards. I saw one billboard advertising a jewelry store that sold fine jewelry. That made me question whether there are any stores selling not-so-fine jewelry or just-adequate jewels.

Another sign advertised “Hot Pizza.” Again, I had to ask if any pizza shops specialized in cold pizza or lukewarm pizza. Granted, my brother used to eat cold pizza for breakfast, but only because he was in too much of a hurry to heat it up. He’d stand in front of the refrigerator, leaning on the open door and devour a chilled leftover slice or two, all without opening his eyes.

Yet another sign at a nursery advertised different varieties of willows, including curly. Randy had only glimpsed at the sign and didn’t know we’d passed a plant farm, so I explained to him that the Willow sisters all had odd first names. You can imagine what some of them were. Needless to say, I got the look from him.

Arriving at Roots, we were nearly blown away by the wind that day, but once we made it inside the main building, we didn’t have to worry about finding our way through. The immense crowd was shoving us right along. Every now and then, I’d break out of the throng to approach a produce stand. I purchased enough fruit to fill several gift baskets, and also got a lot of our favorite vegetables. The prices were very reasonable and the quality was good.

There were so many lunch choices, but we settled on pretzel sticks filled with meat and cheese.  Mine was barbecued pulled pork, and Randy had a cheesy hot dog.  Yes, they were as good as they sound, and also inexpensive.

I went off in search of more veggies, and Randy disappeared. I found him leaning over the glass cases full of fresh baked goods. I swear he was drooling. He wanted one of everything, but we each settled for a cream-filled long John.  His was vanilla-iced and mine was chocolate. They must have weighed two pounds each. We made our way back to our truck to eat our dessert. It took a while, but we both ate the whole thing. I swore that it was so sweet I’d never eat another one, but you know if I had one in front of me right now, that puppy would be gone in a flash. I did wonder, though, exactly how those long Johns are made. I’ve had some experience with pâte à choux dough, and mine is usually pretty good. I’m aware that variations of pâte à choux are used for eclairs and cream puffs, but the dough I had at Roots seemed more moist and heavier, yet it was completely filled with cream.  It wasn’t sliced in half, lengthwise, either. The cream was piped in at both ends. I’ll do some investigating and figure it out one day, but in the meantime, Roots isn’t that far away.

It wasn’t until we got home that I discovered half a shoo-fly pie in our cooler, along with all the produce.  Randy grinned, and other than a thin slice (It was pretty good, but I didn’t need any more of it), he ate the whole thing pretty quickly. No, Randy hadn’t eaten half the pie before we got home. The pies were sold in halves. It was a wet-bottom shoo-fly, so now I’m wondering if there’s also a dry-bottom version.  More research for another day. Or not.

Meanwhile, I’m eating Brussels sprouts and looking forward to cooking that nice head of cabbage with a corned beef brisket and some potatoes and carrots.

And, Torin Daly, thanks for the epistle. I’m limited to 900 words here, so I can’t respond fully, but it was certainly food for thought. Pun intended.

Happy Easter and Happy Spring!

We’re On A Mission

by Valerie Nusbaum

Randy and I are on a mission to change breakfast for the better. In truth, it was my suggestion, and he’s just along for the ride because he’s fine with breakfast the way it is. I, however, believe that both of us could benefit from some changes.  My number one complaint is that there are no healthy breakfast foods other than fruit. Okay, oatmeal and those other gruels are considered healthy, but oatmeal is loaded with carbs. Plus, I have to add cinnamon, brown sugar, vanilla or maple extract, raisins, and apples just to make it taste like something I can swallow. I can’t eat the stuff in the packets, so I have to cook my own oatmeal, and this isn’t doable on the days I have to be up and out in a hurry. And, thanks, but I don’t like the overnight stuff. 

Maybe yogurt is considered a healthy choice, too, but again…yuck. I do eat yogurt and so does Randy. He prefers the regular yogurt in plain vanilla, and I buy the low-fat, low-sugar Greek style. There’s really only one flavor of yogurt I can tolerate well, and I have to run down to Walmart in Frederick to buy it.  If you know me, you know that I’d rather have my teeth cleaned than go to Walmart, so I don’t eat yogurt every day. I also add granola to my yogurt to give it some texture and mask the taste. 

There are a few cold cereals that have healthful benefits, and I eat some of those occasionally with fat-free milk and fruit. None of this stuff tastes good to me, though. I do it for the fiber, but also to avoid eating any of the breakfast foods that actually taste good.  

Anything that’s a vehicle for syrup is delicious, but it’s not good for us. Waffles (which Randy loves to make), pancakes, and French toast are full of carbs and fats. I do use sugar-free syrup, though. Eggs, sausage, and bacon all have a lot of fat and cholesterol, even though they’re proteins. I don’t love eggs but will eat them scrambled if I have to, and Randy does make beautiful and tasty omelets. He prefers his fried eggs with runny yolks, which I find gross, especially when he dips stuff in the yellow glop. Sausage is fine but not something I crave, and neither is bacon, although it is tasty and adds flavor to mostly anything. Toast and English muffins are more bread, and there’s usually butter, and some form of sugar involved with them.  All of that being said, we do enjoy breakfast for dinner on a cold winter evening, and I never turn down Randy’s homemade waffles on a weekend morning. It’s just not food that we can eat on a daily basis.

And forget about going to a restaurant or fast-food chain for a healthy breakfast alternative, unless you want to spend a fortune. Yes, there are egg-white menu items, turkey bacon and sausage options, and whole-grain breads available.  Just don’t try getting a healthy breakfast at the McDonald’s drive-thru because aside from the fruit and maple oatmeal, there’s not much to choose from if you’re trying to be heart-healthy.

I do admit that the hubby and I find the food at IHOP delicious, and we’ve been known to stop there for a late breakfast/early lunch on days when we’ve had to fast for blood tests or medical stuff. We’re entitled to a treat after that, right?  I’ll even go so far as to recommend the “Split Decision,” which includes both pancakes and French toast.  Go ahead and treat yourself but be smart and bring home half of it for another time. By another time, though, I don’t mean as soon as you get home, Randy.

Speaking of IHOP, I’m reminded of the time my mom and a group of her friends were going out to eat at IHOP in Leesburg, Virginia. Maggie was driving, and they were all hungry, but Emma was very disappointed when Maggie pulled into the parking space. 

“I thought we were going to IHOP,” Emma said, “but this is International House of Pancakes.”

I’ve gotten off track here, but my point about breakfast is that I’m hoping someone will come up with a breakfast soup or a salad, or even a vegetable option. That’s all I’m saying. What’s wrong with eating regular food at breakfast time? Like I said, we do have breakfast for lunch and dinner.

One morning at breakfast as we were watching the news, Randy and I saw a story on how Shakira has written a break-up/revenge song about a failed relationship. We noted that Taylor Swift does this sort of thing all the time. So, just for fun, we started writing revenge songs about our own previous relationships.

Randy ended all of his songs with the chorus, “Oh the good times.” I wrote a song about a young fellow I dated in my youth, called “My grandma made that lemon pie.” Seriously, you should try it. We amused ourselves for at least an hour.

Please let me know if you have any viable healthful breakfast suggestions. 

In closing, I’d like to give a shout-out to my old pal, Diana Lewis, who is both thoughtful and talented.  Those greens are still looking good in February! Thank you so much for thinking of us.

by Valerie Nusbaum

It’s a Monday morning in mid-January 2023 as I type these words. Today’s high temperature is supposed to be somewhere around 50 degrees, and I’m wondering when—or if—we’ll see some snow.

I don’t miss that pre-Christmas deep-freeze, but I would like to feel a chill in the air and see some powdery white flakes. We’re in the winter season, after all. We actually need the cold temperatures and snow in order to prepare our planet for spring and summer and the growing seasons. I needed to stop myself just now and fondly remember my grandfather, since I’m sounding just like him. Well, like him, but without all the swear words and spitting. Pappy chewed tobacco.

I’m hoping that Randy doesn’t somehow read this column and get any bright ideas. I’d hate for him to use all my laundry detergent or instant mashed potatoes to try and coat the backyard in a white powdery substance. Can you imagine the suds if it rained? And we’ve probably all seen the commercial where the dad buys a paper shredder in order to make snow for his little daughter. No, Randy. Just no! I want the real thing or nothing at all. Snow is like Pandora jewelry and diamonds. Don’t give me any imitations.

So, in the interest of helping humanity, I decided to do a little research on why we need some snow and how it helps us.

First of all, the temperature of the Earth’s surface needs to be regulated. Snow helps to do that by cooling the ground. Colder temperatures associated with snow and winter are necessary for this cooling process. Melting snow makes water, which seeps into the ground and helps fill our rivers and reservoirs. Yes, rain does the same thing, but snow takes longer and, thus, may be more beneficial. Conversely, the snow acts as insulation for the soil in very cold temperatures, keeping the deeper layers from freezing. The insect population also benefits from snow insulating the ground in very cold weather. The opposite is also true, in that very cold weather can help to control the over-population of the insect communities.

I’m not an authority on global warming (or anything else, really) yet I do know that these balmy days are nice for getting outside and taking down the holiday decorations, but they’re not doing us any real favors in the long run. Don’t get me wrong, an occasional warm day in winter is a gift to be enjoyed, and I do. I also appreciate that it’s a blessing and a pleasure not to be shoveling snow and driving in icy conditions. I’m just saying that a few snow days might do us all some good.

Snow does force us to get some exercise. We just need to do it sensibly and carefully. There’s an opportunity for income, too, if any kids can tear themselves away from video games and phones and are interested in making a buck. My brother and his friends used to clean up, literally. A snow day allows some people to stay in bed and enjoy a lazy day. Yes, I realize that my previous statement doesn’t hold true for everyone. There are dedicated, hard-working people out there who have to show up for work and who provide the rest of us with clean roads and sidewalks and healthcare. I applaud each and every one of you. Thank you for doing your jobs and doing them well.

I’m not talking about a blizzard here, or two months of dealing with snow on the ground. I’d just like to see a few inches of the white stuff once in a while, preferably at a time when most people are indoors safe and warm. I don’t like frigid weather any more than you do, and I hate blustery winds.

Power outages scare me, too. Don’t get your knickers in a knot. I’m not trying to bring on Armageddon. I just want a little snow. It doesn’t even have to be enough to shovel or push. I don’t need to make snow ice cream or snow angels, although Randy does enjoy making anatomically correct snow sculptures and placing them outside Steve’s back door. In fact, the last time we made snow angels, we had to call for help getting up.

Picture, if you will, Punxsutawney Phil’s outrage when he pops his furry head out of the ground to discover a blanket of white, wet cold stuff all around. There’s nothing funnier than an angry groundhog, unless it’s two old people flat on their backs in the snow.

And don’t get me started on how romantic Valentine’s Day could be if you were snowed in with the one you love. Heck, the bickering and yelling probably wouldn’t start until halfway through the chocolate fondue. Maybe the snow could start the day before Valentine’s Day, and we’d all have excuses for not getting out to buy presents or cards or flowers.

If it helps, blame the cold and snow on me. Bring your snow and dump it in our yard. We’re retired and don’t have to be anywhere. We hardly ever bicker or yell and won’t mind being snowed in with each other. Randy’s office is two floors down from mine, and if the power goes out, we have gas—both propane and natural because I made a big pot of chili.

Change Is Coming

by Valerie Nusbaum

As I’m writing this column, I’m sitting in my home office, wearing my pajamas and robe, while I recover from some surgery that I had four days ago. I’m sore but not in any real pain, and I finally got some sleep last night, so I’m not nearly as irritable as I might have been.

I’m struck by how fortunate I am to have a mate who willingly changes my bandages and cleans my wounds, all the while telling me encouraging things and never complaining. He does, however, crack jokes and make inappropriate comments during the process. I have two incisions in my back (upper and lower) and a whole lot of stitches, bruising, and residue from the marking pens the surgeon used on me. Randy swears it’s a treasure map, but I can’t see any of it, even with a mirror. I’m completely at his mercy, which isn’t always a good thing.

It’s a give and take with us.  I’ve been where Randy is now—a caregiver for him while he’s gone through some tough times and difficult procedures. I, however, am a much better patient than he. I do what I’m told, and I only yell a little when the tape comes off. I’m probably not as generous at giving aid as Randy is, so it all balances out. Randy doesn’t enjoy being cared for. He thinks he can do it all by himself and that not doing it makes him less manly and powerful, which is silly because we all know who has the power. Okay, maybe I am a little cranky today. Honestly, nothing tests a relationship more than an illness or tragedy, and Randy and I have weathered some big stuff. I’m guessing he’ll survive me being fussy because my back itches and burns. This ordeal of mine, though, is nowhere near as bad as the stuff he’s been through.  He really is remarkable. Thank you, Randy, for taking such good care of me.

Where is Randy, you ask? He’s in the basement in his home office (not hiding at all) on the clock with his actual job. Now, part of my job in taking care of my man is to point out to him that if he’s going to continue to work from home, he needs a better, brighter, and neater office. That’s how most of our remodel projects begin. I get an idea. This time, Randy gets a shiny, new man-cave or I finally get my game room. I imagine it will be a compromise of sorts, and we’ll have a workstation hidden in there somewhere.

As with all of our projects, this one was a long time in the planning phase. We’re both planners, and we try hard to think things through and trouble-shoot any problems that we foresee. There will, of course, be that one thing we didn’t think of and it will cause us no end of frustration, but the new room will be nice when it’s finished. Right now, there’s just insulation and sealer on one-and-a-half walls.

We’re waiting for the electrician to give us his quote. In the meantime, Randy will frame out the wall space he’s insulated. I have some slate tiles that were given to me years ago by a friend who oversaw putting a new roof on the Episcopal Church in Brunswick. I also have a stack of red bricks that came from the demolition of the old high school in my hometown.  We’re trying to think of ways to incorporate these treasures into our design. I’m afraid that between my back issues and taking care of my art business (the holiday season is my busiest time) and the other things that can’t wait, I haven’t been any real help to Randy with this job. If he’s being honest, that’s the way he likes it. He’ll ask me when he wants my input, and I will very likely give him the answer he doesn’t want to hear.

My reason, I guess, for mentioning our home project is simply to say that change comes in all forms—even something as small as re-doing a room in the basement.  Change happens whether we initiate it or not. Sometimes, we’re ready for it and sometimes we aren’t. I’ve never been one who enjoys change all that much. I’m trying harder these days to go with the flow and roll with the punches. What’s the point in getting upset? 

We’re on the cusp of another brand-new year. All around me, I’m hearing that there are “brighter days ahead,” and people are expressing hopes for health, wealth, and happiness.

Don’t get me wrong. I hope those things come true for all of us. It’s just that I’m a realist, and I’ve given up on pinning my hopes on what might be. I don’t make resolutions anymore, but I’m willing to make changes when and where I can, like finishing a room in the basement. Just don’t expect me to recommend a good diet.

Happy New Year everyone!  And don’t forget to change your underwear. That’s one change we can all agree on.

Cookies Anyone?

by Valerie Nusbaum

It has long been my dream to own and operate a bakery or baking business. Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love doing my paintings and writing this column and other things, but I’ve wanted to try making and selling food items for many years.  Randy shares this love of all things edible with me and, together, we’ve tried making it all. Cakes, pies, breads, candies, you name it. But my hubby focused on cookies. Not just delicious-tasting cookies. Oh, no. Mr. Nusbaum wanted to make delicious and beautifully decorated cookies.

I explained to Randy that decorated cookies are tedious and take a long time to do and that it’s very difficult to make a dozen or more cookies look nearly identical.  I know this because, in my much younger days, I was a cake decorator and had ventured into cookies long before it was trendy. My grandmother, Ella, was a superior baker, and she ran a home business doing cakes and pies in order to bring in extra money. When Ella’s hands became too riddled with arthritis for her to do the piping and decorating, she called on me to help. I learned from her when I was a teenager and became hooked on the process. I somehow managed to rope my mother into making frosting for me, and I began baking cakes on order.

Now, unfortunately, my own hands are arthritic and that meant a lot of the piping would be on Randy’s shoulders if we actually got into the cookie business. Randy felt sure he could handle it, largely because we’d watched the Food Network’s cookie-baking contests for several seasons, and Randy said it appeared that anyone with half a brain could do it. Sure. Don’t say I didn’t warn him. We both agreed that the judges in those competitions are a bit hard on the contestants.  Seriously, I’d probably cry over some of the criticisms. (You’re laughing, and you’re absolutely correct. I wouldn’t cry. I’d punch one of the judges and then Randy would have to bail me out again.)

So, a few years ago at Christmastime, I went out and got Randy some books on cookie decorating. I bought him a set of piping tips. I have a set, but Randy once got my favorite leaf tip caught in the garbage disposal, so I felt it was best that he have his own. I bought him disposable piping bags, a palette knife, some nail heads, cookie sheets (again, he’s not allowed to use mine), and some tools I had no idea what to do with. I suggested that in order to refine his decorating skills, Randy should use prepared cookie dough. Mostly, I didn’t want flour all over my kitchen, along with the powdered sugar from the royal icing mix. And I should point out, too, that I’m not allowed to use Randy’s hammer anymore.

We talked it over and decided that making snowman and snowflake shapes might be a good way to start.  Randy rolled out and baked his Pillsbury sugar cookies and mixed up a batch of royal icing, which he then tinted several colors. I showed him how to fill the piping bags and explained about piping and flooding.  Randy is careful and meticulous and did a good job, especially for his first time out.

Four hours later, we had five cookies finished. I felt that it might be a good time for a teaching moment, so I posed the question of how much we’d have to charge for those five cookies in order to be paid for our time, as well as all the icing we’d had to discard, along with what Randy had eaten. And I mentioned, too, that in a real business, we wouldn’t be using packaged cookie dough. We’d be buying all the ingredients and making our own dough. We mulled it over for a while and decided that maybe undecorated cookies would be a better business venture, along with several candies and some other baked goods that come from family recipes handed down through generations.  A food truck or a trailer, rather than a brick-and-mortar structure, would be my first choice, but I’d also be happy to start out working from our kitchen and selling at events and taking orders.

Right now, the cookie/candy business is still a dream, but with Christmas just around the corner, I’m feeling the urge to bake something and get out the decorating tools. However, I’m NOT feeling the urge to scrape icing off the ceiling again.

The holidays aren’t very exciting for us these days. We don’t have much family close by. My brother and his family are in Montana, our nephew is in Kansas with his family, and our niece and her family live in Spokane, Washington. We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves, though, because what we do have is the family we’ve chosen. That’s all of our good friends and the relatives who live nearby. We’re blessed and thankful for them. We’re also grateful for those of you who take the time to let us know that you enjoy my column and have kept us in your thoughts and prayers this year.

Thanks to Kyle and Shelby Anderson and to Alan Overly and his mother for taking the time to write.   I’m so glad you can find something to smile about in my words.

Also, thanks to Larry and Linda Fogle, Linda Fogle, Carol Robertson, Steve and Brooke Fulmer, Tammie and Bill Fulmer, Dolly Long, Peggy Stitely, Loberta and Harold Staley, and Barb Barbe for being good friends, especially when we needed some.

Happy Holidays to all of you from both of us!

Ten Things You Don’t Know About Randy

by Valerie Nusbaum

Over the years, I’ve told you a lot of things about my lovely husband. Some of them were actually true. In fact, I may have told you some of the following things before, and if I have, I do apologize for repeating myself. Getting older is my only excuse. It’s said that memory is the second thing to go, but I can’t remember the first. I could go on and on about Randy’s many quirks and eccentricities or his charming attributes, as it were, but I’ve whittled them down to just a manageable ten, so here goes:

1.  He watches The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills with me. I admit that the show is my guilty pleasure. It makes me feel so good about my own life and my mental state. Randy knows each housewife by name, and he discusses their meltdowns and cat fights (yes, I said it) with me. He even understood what I meant one day when I said, “That woman reminds me of Sutton.” I think Kyle is his favorite, but mainly because she co-starred in some of the Halloween movies.

2.   Randy is the breakfast chef at our house. He makes everything from hotel-style Belgian waffles to a bowl of cold cereal with bananas. He’s a master of hot tea and his omelets are to die for.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t also cook breakfast. French toast is my specialty. Randy is better at it, though, and he seems to enjoy doing it, as long as I stay out of the kitchen while he’s cooking. and I don’t say a word about the mess.

3.   He’s a fan of New Kids on the Block. I can’t explain it except to say that he has the music in him and he’s got the right stuff.

4.   Randy loves to dance, and he’s very flexible and light on his feet. You’re picturing that now, aren’t you? We took ballroom dance lessons a long time ago. It didn’t go well. Apparently, loving dancing and being able to move doesn’t constitute recognizing the beat and remembering steps. Just ask the usher at Cher’s farewell concert at Verizon Center. I’d told her that Randy would be up and dancing and that it might shock her. She watched him and was slightly horrified but couldn’t look away. However, Randy did make it on the Jumbotron while he was performing “YMCA” with the Village People during the opening act. He’s also done the “Locomotion” with Little Eva. He slow danced with a man named Sarge at a Barry Manilow concert, and, another time, one of The Temptations stopped the show to tell Randy to please sit down.  However, Randy did chicken out of going onstage with The Ronettes because he didn’t want to be their Baby.

5.   It should come as no surprise, then, to find out that Randy was voted “Most Musical” in his high school senior class. He not only sings and dances, but he also writes a lot of songs about our daily life. I can’t print any of the lyrics here, but some of them are pretty catchy tunes. Randy not only played the trumpet, but he also played the tuba in the high school marching band because he was the only one big enough to carry it.

6.   Mr. Nusbaum doesn’t like vegetables. He’ll eat them, but he doesn’t like them. Any kind of sauce, including cheese, helps, and he drowns his salads in dressing.  Otherwise, as he says, it’s “just a bowl of lettuce.”

7.   Randy puts gravy on macaroni and cheese, which, incidentally, is his favorite vegetable. I know that mac and cheese is not a vegetable, but I’ve given up arguing about it.

8.   My hubby has a collection of crazy socks. We’re talking hundreds of pairs here. He has socks for every occasion and holiday, as well as socks for every possible situation or event. If we go out for Mexican food, Randy wears either his taco socks or his piñata socks. He also has cactus socks and hot pepper socks. Of course, there are waffle socks for breakfast and burger socks for picnics. Musical instruments, sports memorabilia, superheroes, planes, trains, cars and trucks, animals, and every other kind of food and activity imaginable, are all part of Randy’s collection. Oh, and he also has a pair of boxer shorts with Steve’s face on them.  They were a birthday gift.

9.   Randy color-coordinates his outfit to whatever he’s planning to order for dinner if we go out to a restaurant. That way, if he spills his food, it won’t be so noticeable.

10. Randy gives everyone a nickname. No one is safe. Most of the names are harmless, and they came about because Randy didn’t know the person’s actual name.  Walky Man, Lilac Lady, etc., just things like that. However, if someone mistreats me or irritates Randy, all bets are off, and the names get more creative. So far, he’s never slipped up and used one of his nicknames in public or to someone’s face, but we both know that day will come. When that happens, I’ll do the same thing I do at Home Depot when Randy argues with the manager or tries to negotiate a better deal. I’ll pretend I don’t know him and walk away.

by Valerie Nusbaum

My mother passed away recently, and as lots of you know from your own experience with loss, this is a very difficult time. I hope you’ll indulge me as I share some thoughts and memories of happy times with Mom.

Autumn was my mom’s favorite time of year. She loved it when the nights got cooler, and the leaves turned vibrant, beautiful colors. She and I took at least one leaf-peeping ride through the mountains every year and each time she’d exclaim that that year was more colorful than the last. Now, I’ll think of Mom every year when the leaves change colors and will miss our outings.

Mom loved all the fall holidays, but she had a special fondness for Halloween, particularly in her later years. Since Randy and I live on a corner in a well-lit housing development with sidewalks, we tend to get trick-or-treaters in droves. Most of the kids aren’t from our neighborhood, and we rarely know any of them, but most years, we try to have candy and treats on hand for at least the first 300 or so.  Mom enjoyed coming here for trick-or-treat, and she always contributed candy to the pot. We started this tradition when she was around 70 years old. We kept it up through last year when she got too tired to sit at her post and had to quit before the candy ran out. Mom’s “post” was sitting in our living room in the middle of our big bay window.  I’d place a chair there for her so that she could see everything and everyone on the street and in our driveway. She was a good sport and dressed up in any costume I had for her. I’d decorate the window to match a given year’s theme, and Mom played along. 

One year, I made her an owl with a feathered mask and wings.  She was a spider woman once, and another time, a witch. Mom sat amid the spider webs and varmints, and she used a flashlight held under her chin to scare the kids. She cracked herself up. She especially loved looking at the little ones’ costumes, and year after year, she fussed about the big kids being too old. Mom could always be counted on to say, “Well, what’s that baby going to do with the candy? He doesn’t even have teeth yet.” Randy, bless him, sat on the steps beneath the bay window to pass out treats so that Mom could be right on top of things without getting cold.

Each Halloween, I tried to make a little party for us, and I always had themed snacks like Jack o’lantern pizza, bat sandwiches, and werewolf fingers dipped in “blood.” Every fall, without fail, I could look forward to a batch of Mom’s pumpkin muffins and a breakfast of pumpkin pancakes. My mother started that whole pumpkin spice thing. I’m going to miss those muffins and pancakes. My own will never taste as good.

One year, I threw a family party for Halloween. My cousins made the trip here from three states away, along with my two aunts from Jefferson County, West Virginia. Things were going along pretty well until Randy brought out his picture search game.  He’d printed a holiday drawing off the internet, but he unintentionally cut the bottom off the picture so no one was able to find several of the items in the search. It was getting pretty noisy, and then Mom couldn’t figure out the word search, and she insisted that the word haunted was nuthead. The next thing I knew, Mom was having a full-blown attach of vertigo, and we had to call the ambulance. You know it’s a good party when the paramedics show up.

There were other Halloween parties, too.  One year, Mom dressed as a fortune teller and read everyone’s palm while looking in her crystal ball. Since the crystal ball was actually a glass paperweight with a rose inside it, everyone’s life was going to be rosy.

Another year, Mom participated in trick-or-treat at her home in Brunswick. There weren’t too many kids, but Mom ran out of candy anyway—probably because my dad (who was still with us at the time) had eaten most of it. Mom made poor Randy go down to her basement and dig through the freezer for candy that she had frozen to avoid eating. One poor kid got a wrapped, frozen Santa in his bag.

For another Halloween treat, Randy and I took Mom to the Sea Witch Festival in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It was a fun time for us, but Mom saw a whole lot of things that shocked her, and she didn’t want to go back there the following year.

My mother so loved going to the Halloween Spirit store in Charles Town. I could hear her all over the store, jumping up and down and laughing. The clerk heard it, too, and asked me if I needed to go check on my child. I explained that what she heard was my then 85-year-old mother. Mom was too little to activate the sensors just by stepping on them, so she had to jump on them in order to make the figures move and make noise. She was child-like in her delight of things, and I’ll miss that most of all. 

Happy Halloween to all of you!

Valerie’s mom, Wanda Zombro, and a mystery man at Halloween 2018.

Trees & Other Things

by Valerie Nusbaum

It’s mid-summer, and since we had a rather wet spring season, things around here have been growing like mad. Randy and I like to have our mature trees pruned every couple of years for safety reasons, and since neither of us likes heights or is much of a climber, we hire a tree service to do the job for us. We use a licensed, reliable local service and have been very pleased with the work we’ve had done over the years.

The other evening, Mike, the owner of the tree service, stopped by to take a look at the work we wanted to be done so that he could give us an estimate.

Randy walked Mike through our yard and talked with him about the various stuff growing here. Mike pointed to the English walnut tree beside our house and commented that it looks very healthy, surprisingly so since those trees don’t always do well in our area. Randy mentioned that the tree had come to us in a tiny flower pot from my dad many years ago. Randy expressed his disappointment that the tree has never borne nuts. We weren’t sure if we need a second tree in order for the two to cross-pollinate, or if the army of squirrels and the bevy of birds living with us have been pilfering and plundering.

Mike laughed and said that it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever see walnuts on that tree since it’s a white ash. Well!

That reminds me of my mother-in-law, Mary, who had a way with all plants, vegetables, and flowers. Hers were always taller, bigger, and stronger than anyone else’s. Her gardens were prolific, so she was constantly digging up things and toting the plants up here for me to plant and, ultimately, kill. Mary handed me several green, leafy, kind of stinky things and pronounced that she was gifting me with mint plants.

I dutifully planted those things in my herb garden and around our deck because I’d read that mint repels mosquitoes and other insects, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t kill the stuff. I will say this about that: the “mint” may have repelled insects, but it sure did attract cats.  It finally dawned on me that the mint was actually catnip the day I found the neighbor’s cat passed out on my garden bench from over-indulging. My mother still laughs about the day Ol’ Jasper got up off the bench and staggered home, high as a kite.

Moving on from plant material, here’s a moral dilemma for you:  You go to a fast food restaurant drive-thru and order food and drinks. After you pay, your order gets passed to you through the pickup window in a bag, so chances are you give it a cursory look-see to make sure it’s all there and then you go on home. Once you get home and start to divvy up your takeout, you discover that the restaurant has given you six chicken nuggets instead of the four you ordered. What do you do?

Do you let it be? You’ve likely been to that same restaurant and gotten home to find that something was missing from your order. It all balances out in the end.

Do you drive back to the restaurant to pay for the extra pieces? It’s several miles from your home, and your food is getting cold.

Do you, the next time you go to the restaurant, tell the person at the drive-thru that you got extras last time and offer to pay the difference?

The way in which you would handle that situation says a lot about you, your morals, and your character. I’m just messing with you. The nuggets weren’t for me, and I had no idea how many were actually in the box until Mom told me later that she’d put three of them away because six were too many. What?  She’s 90 years old, and if she wants a chocolate milkshake and chicken nuggets for lunch, she can have it.

Randy and I ran into a former classmate of his one day while we were in Dollar Tree. Shirley, let me assure you that Randy is mostly clueless when it comes to recognizing people. It wasn’t you.  Now, I’m pretty sure that you and I have met before, maybe in that same store, and maybe more than once.  I remember having a conversation with you in the past. I don’t always recognize faces, particularly these days when we’re wearing masks half the time. And, my nouns tend to escape me, so I’m not great with names either. But, other things do trigger memories. 

As I told poor Shirley after she’d introduced herself to my oblivious hubby, he tends to think every actress with dark hair is Sandra Bullock, who, by the way, is his hall pass.

Whatever Randy’s shortcomings, he is a good guy. I don’t say it often enough, but I’m very lucky to have him. He usually recognizes me when he sees me, and he doesn’t care that I have a whole list of hall passes. He knows I wouldn’t follow through, even if Justin Hartley gave me the go-ahead, which he wouldn’t. I’m not so sure about Sandra Bullock, though. She might be smart enough to know a good thing when she sees one.

Maybe I should tear up Randy’s pass.

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?