Thursday, May 5, 2016

My mom had beautiful eyes

Her eyes were blue and green and gray. The color changed based on the weather or her mood or when she wore her favorite sweater. She was hopelessly nearsighted at a time when contacts and LASIK surgery didn’t exist. She would joke about her teenage vanity, saying that her dating years were a blur because she would whip off her glasses whenever a cute young man entered the room. I don't think I've ever seen a picture of her wearing glasses until after she was married. 

As her children grew, she maintained a calm exterior whether confronted with a temper tantrum or as she rushed one of her daredevil children to the emergency room. But although her face remained neutral, if you looked closely, the eyes always gave her away.

I am the youngest of her six children, a “happy surprise” in her mid-forties, arriving as the oldest child was preparing to graduate from high school. She loved being a mom. She encouraged her children to have fun and gave us freedom to engage our imagination. We would play outside until the fire siren blew at 6:00 PM. She would not hesitate to give up her clean dishes when sandbox pails were missing or tadpoles needed a home. On rainy days she would empty the linen closet for a blanket fort. Sometimes they would stretch from one end of the room all the way to the other! I even remember coming home from school one day to find her roller-skating around the dining room table. She just wanted to see if she still “had it”.

As I got older it was obvious that the thrill of parenting yet another teenager was long gone. She had less patience when my friends came to visit or when I needed a ride, and our clashes became more frequent. But now that I’ve raised two teenagers of my own, I look back on those years and see my mother in a new light. When I was a teen, she was in her early sixties. 60! That's older than I am today, and my children are grown and gone from the nest. She suffered from chronic neck and back pain but was still a full time housewife and mom. My father had retired and he was my partner in crime, but she was delegated to the role of warden. So maybe her patience had run thin. It’s a miracle it hadn’t run out.

The mom I remember left us a long time ago. The truth is she was stolen away by dementia and old age. At 97, her physical self remains: immobile and plagued by the effects of years spent worshipping the sun. It gets harder and harder to visit her at her care facility. It's a well-worn place filled with people just waiting for time to pass. She rests in her hospital bed or her wheelchair, usually lost in a fog. Sometimes she seems to know who I am, although often she thinks I am her sister. Other times I can see her searching her memory for a name to put with my face. But the hardest days are when her gaze just trails away blankly.

Today I am so thankful for all the time I had with my mom, and for her selflessness, her humor, and her sage advice. ("Mother's Law!") She taught me how to love my children unconditionally; how to make others feel welcome; the value in sticking to a schedule; and that complaining about something won't make it any better.

I sat with her the other day, like so many days before, and held her hand while she dozed on and off. It was one of the bad days, when I just couldn't get her to engage. At one point l bent down and looked into those blue eyes, now red-rimmed and watery. “Are you in there?” I asked softly, expecting the usual empty stare. But this time she lifted her gaze and looked directly into my eyes, and then slowly nodded her head yes. Yes, she is still in there. I squeezed her hand and whispered that I loved her. She squeezed my hand back and whispered, “I love you, too.” And then she slipped away again.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Who's a Big Schweetie?

One of the things helping me survive this brutally cold Midwest winter is my dog blanket. By that, I mean our 40-lb "lap dog", a mutt named Schatzi. In that golden period when we unwind after running around all day, Senior and I wait to see which one of us will be the lucky one to wear the dog blanket. Schatzi will charm her way in-between us, regardless of how close we may be sitting together on the couch. She'll turn in a circle a couple times and then flop down on one of our laps. You know you are truly the chosen one if she gives a huge doggy-breath sigh and melts into a lap puddle. I often win the prize because a) her arch-enemy, the cat, has lately decided that Senior’s stomach is the perfect place to make kitty bread [cat lovers know what I mean] and b) I usually have snacks.

We got Schatzi as a puppy in the dog days of summer, just before The Girl went off to college. The Boy was feeling lonely at the thought of being an only child when his sister went away, and played the guilt card expertly. We had often talked about getting a dog for our children but with demanding jobs and frequent moves it had never seemed like the right time. One August night while Senior was out of town on a business trip, The Boy talked me into stopping off to see a rescue litter just to pet the puppies. We found a box full of little black pups, six in all, named after the cast of Scooby Doo. The mother was a Labrador-Beagle mix, which kept her on the small side, and the father was a mystery (the vet thinks he was a Boxer). The Boy was in love and secretly so was I. He had picked out a pretty little female with big brown eyes and crazy long ears. I looked at her dainty paws and decided she wouldn’t get too big, and next thing you know (and much to Senior’s dismay) she was on her way home with us.

Her name on the paperwork was Daphne but we thought it sounded too close to Daffy. It took a while to settle on a new name. The Boy and The Girl were inspired by her shiny black coat and her birthdate, 06/06/06, and began calling her “Satan”. I put the kibosh on that pretty quickly, along with their other helpful suggestions “Diablo”, “Lucifer” and “Beelzebub”. We went through a host of standard doggy and people names but nothing seemed to fit. Finally The Boy, who had studied German in his language class at school, came up with “Schatzi”. It’s a term of endearment, something to be treasured - loosely translated to “Sweetie” but sounding a lot more badass.

She quickly acclimated to the family and basically has us wrapped around her paw. Like most spoiled dogs, it only took a few weeks for her to graduate from “absolutely no dogs on the furniture” to “we have to buy a leather couch because the dog hair won’t stick”. She can decimate a squeaky toy in less than 30 seconds. She insists on being walked on the leash twice a day, even if when we're out camping. I find myself talking baby talk to her all the time (WHO’S A BIG SCHWEETIE? YOU ARE!). No trip to the grocery store is complete without picking up a dog treat.

Why am I so ridiculous? It’s true what people say about unconditional love from a dog. Every time I walk in the door she’s waiting, almost vibrating with joy. Sure, owning a dog can be a big pain. Forget the freedom that comes from being empty-nesters because one of us always has to go home and let the dog out. She needs to be walked in the rain and snow. She smells like a wet sock, pees whenever someone comes to visit, and sheds black hair everywhere. And I can’t imagine life without her.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Not Muffins

I confess, I eat breakfast in the car. Most mornings you'll find me wiping peanut butter toast off my seatbelt or hoping the chocolate chips stay in my granola bar instead of melting on the heated seats. When I try to eat better, assuming I have some extra time in the morning, I'll make a smoothie. They're healthier and much neater. But let's be real, usually I spend any extra morning time on Facebook.

Kim, my Amazon warrior princess friend, follows a meal plan from her trainer that includes portable oatmeal for breakfast. She cracks 2 or 3 egg whites into a cup of dry oatmeal, mixes it up and throws it in the microwave. It cooks into a spongy bland cake that she can eat on her commute. Just the thought of this was enough to make me gag, although Kim swears you get used to it and I should try them. I decided not to risk it.

Then one day I came across a recipe from Roni at Green Lite Bites for a portable baked oatmeal that sounded tasty but wasn't full of sugar, and my life was changed. Or at least my breakfast was changed. They're super easy to make - you just dump everything in a bowl, mix it up, and scoop it into a muffin tin - and they're packed with nutrients and fiber to keep me full until lunch. They freeze great, which means I can make a pan, seal it up in the freezer, and then just pop one or two in the microwave before heading out the door. Breakfast is a no-brainer all week.

The first time I made these they came out golden brown with a slight crown, and looked like tasty sugary-lardy muffins. However, they tasted like... well, like someone took a bowl of morning oatmeal and cooked it in a muffin tin. *I* thought it was pretty darn good. My oatmeal-shunning family was not amused. They are now forever known in our house as Not-Muffins. I still bake them frequently but now I include full disclosure: These Are Not Muffins! They are baked oatmeal! Eat at your own risk!

I've spent a few months trying and tweaking various recipes to suit my taste, and these little gems have become my go-to car meal. My version tries to strike a balance between the ones that are glorified dessert and the ones that are completely vegan, gluten-free and organic.

[Side note: I do sometimes use organic ingredients in my Not-Muffins. Then when the container is empty, I put it in a prominent location at the top of our recycle bin, camouflaging the empty wine bottles and Toaster Strudel boxes, so on garbage day my neighbors will think we always eat healthy like that.] 

The base recipe for my Not-Muffins is always the same.  What changes in each version is a "mushy" component to replace the oil (like mashed ripe bananas or unsweetened applesauce), and a small amount of complimentary add-ins to make it interesting (chocolate chips!).  I've linked some of my favorite combinations bleow, or you can use the base recipe with your own amalgamations to make a custom recipe. Baked oatmeal is pretty versatile.  Go ahead and use almond milk instead of skim milk, add a spoonful of peanut butter, substitute chia seeds for the flaxseed or drizzle a little maple syrup in the batter.  It's a new adventure every time.

Banana Chocolate Chip Not Muffins

Pumpkin Pie Not Muffins

Apple Berry Not Muffins

Morning Glory Not Muffins (pictured above)

Zucchini Nut Not Muffins

Seriously, check out Roni's blog.  She has amazing recipes and a great story!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Intruder

Temperatures had barely climbed above zero all week, and since I'd just returned from vacation at a Florida beach, I was struggling to stay out of hibernation mode. I was very grateful that Senior had installed a remote start on my Buick as a Christmas present.  At the end of a long work day I hit the button and let the car warm up as I wrangled myself into gloves, boots and coat. It was late, and most of my co-workers had already left for the day. I was distracted as I picked my way across the icy parking lot, repeating my usual winter mantra of “don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall”, but I did notice that I’d left my wipers on intermittent mode. I said a mild curse under my breath and hoped they hadn’t been iced up, afraid I would find a strip of rubber left behind as they skimmed over the windshield. By the time I got to the car I was cold and cranky. I reached out and yanked open the door handle. What happened next scared me to the point that I nearly wet my pants. 


It’s amazing how quickly our brains can process high stress situations. In rapid fire succession I realized:

 a)     I knew this guy

 b)     This WASN’T MY CAR

 c)     This didn’t even look like my car

 d)     The driver had noticed my approach and even lowered the window to see what I wanted (a fact that totally escaped me as I opened the door)

 e)     I was about to die from embarrassment

I stammered out an apology while, thankfully, he just laughed. I’m pretty sure I made an uncomfortable joke about it being a good thing I didn’t try to sit on his lap, then my brain kicked into escape mode and I slinked off to find my (real) car. It was parked a couple spots further away. I got in and slumped down to try and disappear, peeking in the side mirror until I was sure he had left before getting my act together and driving home.

I really need to get back to the beach.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fatty Fatty 2x4

This morning one of our local news channels interviewed Florine Mark, the president and CEO of Weight Watchers. She pointed out that the state of Michigan had one of the highest rates of obesity in America. This hit a little too close to home. I've always had to work at keeping my weight under control, and since I've spent the last couple months slacking off at the gym and indulging in too much holiday cheer, my pants are getting snug. So I was prompted to do a little research, fully appreciating the irony that rather than actually exercising, I was looking at fitness rates on my laptop while lounging on the sofa under my dog blanket.

The most recent data I could find came from Trust for America's Health, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They've been researching and issuing an annual report on "The State of Obesity" for more than 10 years. On the positive side, the current report shows that childhood obesity rates have stabilized, and the rate at which adult obesity rates are rising is beginning to slow. On the negative side, adult obesity rates did not decrease in any state, and still remain far too high across the nation. 

So...We're still fat, just not getting fatter as quickly as before. Michigan came in at number 11, with 31.5% of adults having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more. Normal BMI ranges from 18.5 -24.9. 

BMI is a simple measure of fatness based on height and weight. Naysayers point out that body mass index calculations don’t distinguish between fat and muscle, nor do they take into account things like a person’s frame size. It's far from an exact science, but it does provide an easy, quick and reasonable estimate for a person like me with an average build and a typical activity level. I've used online BMI calculators to monitor my weight for several years. At 5 feet, 4 inches tall, my "normal" weight range is between 108-145 pounds. That's achieveable for me. Do I stray towards the high end? Yes definitely. And when my weights creeps up over the high end, like it has now, I feel crappy. My joints hurt more, my energy level takes a dive, and my clothes don't fit which lowers my self-esteem. That's my signal to take action.

I'm fortunate enough not to have any physical or emotional issues that impact my health and my weight. I know that the amount I weigh is in direct relation to how often I have a fork in my mouth. I struggle not to judge others when I don't know what's behind their size, although let's be honest, I feel self righteous when my shopping cart contains quinoa and strawberries and yours is full of cheese puffs. And I think it's kind of a sad statement that on those occasions when junk food makes its way into my own cart, I don't feel bad because now I'm just one of the crowd.

So thanks, Florine, for giving me the push I need to put my fork down. If you need a push too, go check out your BMI. And put those cheese puffs back on the shelf.

Saturday, January 3, 2015


Is it just me, or are more people than ever are looking forward to a fresh start in 2015? I haven't heard from as many cynical people who say their only resolution is to never make resolutions. Actually I haven't seen a lot of resolutions of any kind, just a general optimism fueled primarily by a tweet from that guru of enlightenment, @BradPaisley.

I like optimism and fresh starts too, so I'm planning on becoming a better me. One of my objectives is to spend more time with people who matter and less time on the Internet. So while I was reading important entertainment gossip on Daily Mail Online, my favorite Internet mag, I was thrilled to find an article that promised to show me 25 easy resolutions to transform your health!  (Yeah, I realize my "research" wasn't exactly in line with my new resolution, but sometimes you have to sacrifice a little in the name of blogging. I'm working on it.)

These resolutions are brilliant! Here's a summary-be sure to click on the original link above to read the full advice for each topic.  Remember that this appeared on a UK site, so some of the resolutions don't make sense for every Yank here in good old USA:

25 easy resolutions to transform your health

1. Put your toothbrush in the dishwasher
Isn't it just as easy to toss it and use one of the twenty new ones the dentist gives you?

2. Stop using armrests to get out of a chair
I speak from experience: this is not recommended for those of us with the clumsy gene, especially if your chair has wheels. 

3. Eat a pot of yogurt every day
How much is a pot?

4. Blow one nostril at a time
This, above all, makes this list brilliant.

5. Open car windows
This is supposed to reduce your risk of getting the flu when you're riding around with sick people. My advice? Don't ride around with sick people.

6. Turn the heating down by a degree
Ha! I'm menopausal. There's already frost on the inside of our windows.

7. Bin your digital alarm clock
I think this means to toss it out, right? They want you to go back to the old-fashioned type. You know, the one with the blood-curdling fire-alarm bell that scares the bejeezus out of you when goes off and wakes you from a sound sleep.

8. Swap ibuprofen for paracetamol
I had to Google that one.  'Paracetamol' is acetaminophen. They recommend you switch because ibuprofen can damage the stomach lining. They don't mention that paracetamol doesn't fight fever and can damage the liver. I have a sneaky suspicion that they put some form of this on the list every year and just waffle back and forth.

9. Count to seven while breathing in
Mindfulness - I like this one. But I would have made this #7 on the list. Just because.

10. Use the upstairs loo
Honestly, I didn't even read this one because I was too busy wondering where they came up with the expression 'loo'. 

11. Do the email stomach crunch
OK, I'm going to try this one!

12. Eat a portion of leafy veg A day
Veg A?  I hope that's a typo. 

13. Watch an hour less TV each day
And get off the internet.

14. Get regular kicks with a coffee
Amen! You're preaching to the choir here, baby!

15. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier
According to this I'll be in bed by 8:45.  Kudos for making it #15 though.

16. Give up one-mile car journeys
Silly Brits!  We 'Mericans ALWAYS take our car.  Especially here in metro Detroit.

17. Lose 5 per cent of your weight
Aim low! It's doable.

18. But a 'wobble cushion'
I'm guessing this is a typo and they mean Get a wobble cushion. Or maybe it should be Butt a wobble cushion,  because basically it's an exercise ball with a saddle attached. Either way, that clumsy gene takes this one out of my wheelhouse.

19. Use the 5:2 rule for alcohol
Only two booze-free days required every week!  I think I can achieve this one.

20. Sneeze into your elbow
This is a good one! I do this and wish everyone else did too.  I watched a guy's nose explode into his hand at the store the other day.  Then he pawed through an entire rack of greeting cards.  <<shudder>>

21. Stand up on your commute
Won't work here.  See #16.

22. Add up your shopping bills
I've tried this and failed miserably.  

23. Start coughing at your desk
I can't wait to try this one at work. I'm sure it will be hugely popular in our open office environment, along with my armless chair and my wobble cushion.

24. Drink cocoa at bedtime
Sounds delicious.  

But wait a minute… where's #25?  We got gypped!!!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


About six months ago, I said I was taking a break from my Waconda blog posts until our house was complete. Once I decide on a particular theme, I find it really hard to write about anything else. It bothers my sense of order if I throw in other topics willy-nilly, so I just took a hiatus. But I miss my blog and I'm ready to get back to it, willy be damned. So I'm going to end my hiatus by taking inventory of the last half year:


  • The Girl and The Boy are both (mostly) independent, happy in their relationships, gainfully employed and exploring homeownership. 
  • Senior hasn't turned into the Incredible Hulk as a result of the stress in his life, and continues to be my Marvel-ous hero (you see what I did there, right? Aren't you glad I'm back?)
  • My friends are still awesome and girls week at the beach is already booked for February! BTW, have you seen the "Forever 39" ecard? Genius and sadly true.
  • The company I work for is growing so I don't have to worry about keeping my job unless I screw it up myself. My department was moved from the high rent district with the nice view to the annex by the parking lot, and I love it. It's much more relaxed and friendly. (Note to self: Topic for future blog post - The Circle of Trust.)


  • I'm not writing this post about Waconda. Enough said.
  • My current hobby of sitting on the sofa and eating cookies has resulted in a dozen unwanted pounds and twinges in my back. It's time to get back to my healthy habits. Maybe on Friday? There's still a piece of cherry pie on the kitchen counter and after all, I have priorities. 
  • Although there are a lot of great things about being in my 50's, neck wattle is not one of them.
OK, that about sums it up. And as a bonus, by writing this, I can continue to boycott the "It's been a great year" app on Facebook. 


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Waconda: Happy Anniversary!

The first week of June is a landmark for us. So many milestones have occurred lately!

  • It’s the one year anniversary of the date we signed a contract with Crest Homes to build our dream house. Based on current progress, this means it takes about 15 months to build a 1500-sq-ft rectangle. 
  • It marks the date that our construction loan matures. Based on current progress, this means we get to start paying a mortgage on a house in which we can’t live. 
  • It's the deadline to file for a principal residence tax exemption. Based on current progress, this means we get to pay a higher vacation home tax rate on a property on which we can’t vacation. 
So, obviously a celebration is in order. We plan to do something that evokes the proper level of merriment and joy, like getting root canals and then shaving the dog. 

And no celebration is complete without a guest book on site for all the creepers who think it's perfectly acceptable to walk around the house after the construction crew has gone home, even though No Trespassing signs are clearly posted. What really hacks me off is that at least two of the looky-loos have contacted our builder asking for quotes so he can build them a house just like ours. I really hope they ask us for a reference so we can encourage them to copy our over-budget, behind-schedule Castle in the Air.

To say I’m discouraged is an understatement. Our preciously short Michigan summers are slipping away, one lovely day after another, and yet the status quo is two-steps-forward, one-step-back. We are still only in the rough finish stage and very few of the mistakes have been corrected to our satisfaction. I'm to the point where I don’t even want to drive by the site because I can’t take any more bad news or disappointment. 

I am worried about the stress this places on Senior. He's resorted to the Squeaky Wheel strategy of making daily phone calls and emails, scrutinizing punch lists and cost sheets and asking countless questions to offset the whole team's lackadaisical attitudes and frustrating lack of urgency. He tries to balance the universe by also pointing out things done well, but it’s getting harder and harder to focus on the positive. 

We launched our boat a couple weeks ago. There is no place to relax on our shore, but we can float away for a while and imagine the future. It's just one way to make the best of the situation. One other way for me to cope is to take a hiatus from my Waconda blogs until we've finished the project. My attempts at wit and satire keep taking a sharp turn into bitter territory. I'll post a final update when the project is done and we've moved in.  Until then, some memories are better left… unremembered. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Waconda: The windows

When George Fuller originally built the cottage that we are renovating, he named it Waconda after a Native American story. It means "Great Spirit of the Water". I'm pretty sure that Spirit is just messing with us now.

The house is coming along. It took a while for them to finish the roof, allowing the spring rains several opportunities to marinate the interior, but it's done now and the shingles look great. We did an initial walk through with the electrician and mapped out where our outlets and canned lights should go. Rough plumbing is underway, the basement floor will be poured this week, and the windows were installed.

Ah the windows. They're beautiful. They offer stunning views of the lake. And they are totally wrong. You see, the windows are supposed to match. What we wanted was double hung windows with mullions (those little slats that divide the window into squares) in the top half. Even though the windows differ in size, the mullions should be the same proportion from window to window. And the dining room and the master bedroom each would also have a large picture window to allow for unobstructed views of the lake. What we got was a mish-mash of mullions. Some are big, some are little, some are in-between. A few cover the full length of the window and some reach three-quarters of the way down. The bedrooms each have casement windows instead of double-hung, which we learned were required to meet local building codes for egress (apparently the average Michigander is too fat to fit through the bottom half of a double-hung window in an emergency). And in our half bath, the window is off center, so the trim disappears into the corner of the house.

Our builder said the window company made the mistakes, and contacted the representative. They've assured us that we will personally meet with the rep to review each window before ordering the correct replacements.

I'm not sure how long it will take to get the problem fixed, but at least it doesn't hold up any of the other work on the house. Someday we'll laugh about this whole process. For now, I just hope George's Great Spirit has had his fill of practical jokes.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Waconda: Tomorrow, Tomorrow

So blogging about Waconda isn't fun anymore. It's just too depressing. It's been about a month since my last update, and we're only about a week ahead of where we were then. Our builder's mantra has been "tomorrow".  

  "When will the modifications to the trusses be finished?"
  "When will they be delivered?" 
  "No trusses yet. When will they be delivered?"
  "Still no trusses! When will they be delivered?"
  "Where are the trusses!? Seriously, when will they get their act together???"
     "Tom--" Well, you get the idea.

This went on for a couple-three weeks, until finally we had trusses! Which then lay on the ground for another week or so, because it was too cold / wet / windy / dark / swarming with locusts to finish prepping them and put them on the house. Then they told us the crane broke. So they fixed it. And it broke again. 

But just like Broadway promised, sure enough the sun finally came out. The crane showed up, the trusses went up, and progress was made. We stopped by to watch for a little while and it was pretty cool. And then the crew actually worked again yesterday -on a Saturday!- to begin putting the plywood on the roof.

In the meantime, we HAVE been having some fun picking out finishes. We looked at flooring samples, deciding on an engineered hardwood in hickory. We are still getting quotes to keep that under budget. We also spent a great afternoon wandering around a huge warehouse looking at slabs of granite, marble and other stones. Toby had suggested a couple for us to focus on, and we fell in love with a beautiful soapstone that will look fantastic in the kitchen. Now we can start looking for the kitchen backsplash and bathroom tile, while the framing crew finishes up. Their next big steps on the job are to finish the roof and install the windows. I figure they'll be done tomorrow.