Currently viewing the tag: "happily ever after"

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

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Club

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our book discussion went something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Means War

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Handwritten Note

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Clean Slate

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuck & Cinnamon

by Valerie Nusbaum

“What the heck is ‘Nuck’?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

Now back to my story.

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

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

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

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

Emails to Gail

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is It Just Us?

By Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alone Together

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Outings

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

OR

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

Dream Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Invention Would Make My Life Easier?

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

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

Now for that Educational Tidbit 

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

Happy Valentine’s Day to ALL my sweethearts!

Better Days Ahead

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Hallmark Christmas

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“More or less,” is what I told him.

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

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

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

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

by Valerie Nusbaum

You Know You’re a Local…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Getaway

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Posse Rides Again

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ode to February

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Randy and I hope your holidays are wonderful!

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

 

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t It Romantic?

by Valerie Nusbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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