Currently viewing the tag: "happily ever after"

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.


by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Easter and happy spring to all of you!

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rule of Thumb

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

There’s Nothing On

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty Tips for a Successful Vacation

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Club

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our book discussion went something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Means War

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Handwritten Note

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Clean Slate

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuck & Cinnamon

by Valerie Nusbaum

“What the heck is ‘Nuck’?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

Now back to my story.

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

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

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

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

Emails to Gail

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is It Just Us?

By Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alone Together

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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