Monthly Archives: November 2012

Ohhh….K, Trouble Is Brewin’

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It started with a weekly trip to the grocery store. Gound coffee was on the list. A walk down the coffee aisle left me puzzled. Where was my Breakfast Blend? I scanned the shelves and realized that the ground coffee selection had been squeezed out to make room for an extensive array of K-Cups.

Really? Seriously? Is my kitchen now the only one in America without a Keurig?

Several years ago, I had a similar feeling when I went to a Best Buy store to purchase a CD as a gift. I walked in and found a large empty space that had for years been filled with bins of  music CDs. Sure, I had gone digital, but it had not really occurred to me that CDs would become extinct. This change I could deal with. It made sense for so many reasons. We have become accustomed to technological advances in the music industry. Remember back when a homemade party mix tape was the greatest idea ever?

But getting rid of something as basic as ground coffee?

I suddenly identified with my Grandma Thelma, who was 90 years of age  when the local department store discontinued her long trusted style of girdle. She was “madder than a wet hen.” Like millions of female internal organs everywhere, her old standby was the latest victim to be cruelly squeezed out by Spanx. The tags on her girdles were frayed and faded from laundering. We examined one with a magnifying glass under bright light to determine the style number. Hey, I figured any gal in her 90’s who still cared enough to have smooth lines under her Alfred Dunner separates, shouldn’t have to learn any new tricks. She deserved the girdle of her dreams. After calling an old fashioned lingerie store in Chicago, we secured a supply to carry her firmly through the rest of her years.

Unlike Thelma, will I be forced to convert? Will my daily challenge of filling the coffee maker without spilling water into the silverware drawer that I never fully close, be a thing of the past? Is that the aroma of java socialism I smell? Did I miss the mandate that our coffee be brewed only in pre-determined strengths and portions?

My Midwestern sensibility compelled me to crunch the numbers on the K-Cups. With two coffee drinkers in my household, each drinking two cups every morning, I just can’t justify the expense. It seems wasteful. I might as well splurge on a daily stop at Starbucks. I have now offended  several members of my extended family. So, I will clarify – no judgement here – especially regarding the Starbucks Devotees (we don’t need to point fingers or  name names).  I should also add, the real reason I haven’t made the leap to a Keurig is: I don’t have the counter space in my tiny step-saver kitchen to devote to one.

In addition to the expense, I understand people are concerned about the waste resulting from the extra packaging of the K-Cups. Maybe the reason we had to stop using plastic grocery bags, was to make room in our landfills for discarded K-Cups. I don’t miss the plastic grocery bags, but at least they could  be recycled in multiple ways: waste basket liners, doggie poo bags, etc. The same can not be said about K-Cups.

I don’t know about you, but I’m just not ready to trade the simple and comforting morning ritual of making an eye-opening  pot of coffee, for the convenience of a K-Cup. I am also not willing to try taking empty K-Cups along on my next dog walk.

Meet my at Starbucks?

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Girl Talk

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The earthly world lost a special soul this week. She was loved as a sister, as a Mother by five children and as a Grandma to thirteen grandchildren.  She was Aunt Jan to me, and I was also blessed to have her as my Godmother.

I loved her as well, and I also thought she was just such a neat person. When I was growing up,  it seemed most of the Moms that I knew were reading paperback novels.  Aunt Jan was reading non-fiction. Today with the convenience of Google, we forget that a few decades ago, finding answers and learning about any topic required actual reading; committing to reading an entire book. Imagine! Aunt Jan was a modern woman; always reading something interesting. Many of these selections she shared with my Mom. They could be books on psychology or books that would probably have been found in the “self-improvement” section. Not that either of them needed improving, I think they just enjoyed the enlightenment. After all, this was the era of Phil Donahue!

One reason I thought Aunt Jan was cool, was because I was an animal lover, and she was really the only adult, I knew (other than my parents who were selective animal lovers) who seemed to like animals. Her family had both cats and a dog. Several times when she stopped to see my Mom, she couldn’t stay long, because she had the dog out in the car. These days,  people take their dogs everywhere with them, but back then – not so much. How especially endearing that this always perfectly-dressed-from-head-to-toe  woman loved  snort-y, smush-faced boxers!

She would never believe it, but she was a fashion role model for me. During the early 80’s “Color Me Beautiful” craze, Aunt Jan had her colors “done.” I’m not sure if she was a Spring or a Summer, but she found she looked best in pastels. Not old lady pastels, but elegant ice-y pastels and light neutrals, often worn monochromatically.  She was a beautiful example that you should skip the trends and wear what looks best on you. To this day, when I am shopping and I see something in those colors, I think:  that is an Aunt Jan color. 

The thing I will remember most fondly about my Aunt Jan is the friendship she and my Mom shared. It developed after they married brothers; brothers who who were  the two oldest boys in a family of five children. In old home movie footage, filmed when my Mom and my Aunt Jan were girls in their early twenties, they are  leaning against a dining room wall, laughing together. The laughing continued whenever they were together for almost six decades. They can be seen standing together in candid photos, and standing next to each other in posed group shots.

They shared a special connection in a large family. They each had five children, and they shared the same silly sense of humor. I could always tell when my Mom was talking to Aunt Jan on the telephone.  I loved to hear my Mom hang up the phone and say, “Aunt Jan will be stopping by  in a little bit.” It meant a fun visit was in store. Perhaps they wanted time alone for adult girl talk. Too bad. By the time I was a teenager, I wasn’t missing a minute of it. I loved to listen in on their interesting conversations. They were funny together, and Aunt Jan had the most distinctive, quiet, adorable little giggle.

In the last couple of years,  I shared in their final visits together. My Mom was in the fog of dementia and Aunt Jan was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. I was there, but finally, I didn’t horn in on their girl talk. During our first visit, Aunt Jan was completely focused on my Mom and seemed to hang on her every word. My Mom was suddenly alive, animated and full of conversation. She was able to recall all sorts of memories, and told the stories of their lives to Aunt Jan. Several times, in response to my Mom’s “Remember when we….” Aunt Jan would say a quiet “yes” followed by a faint whisper of that same adorable giggle. Throughout the entire visit, their hands remained clasped together.

After visiting Aunt Jan, my Mom would say, “Gosh, it was just so good to see her. I have really missed her. She and I have had so much fun together over the years.”

It was an unexpected and incredible gift for me to watch these two sisters-in-law and girlfriends connect in a way that can’t be logically explained. I know Aunt Jan didn’t actually recognize my Mom, and my Mom didn’t  fully recognize what was going on with Aunt Jan. But the changes that had taken place in their minds didn’t matter. They had decades of history together, and I believe there was recognition in their  hearts and connection in their souls. I am so thankful I was able to witness it. The memory of that girl talk is a treasure.

While it is comforting to know Aunt Jan is no longer suffering, it certainly doesn’t make it any easier to lose her. She will be missed. In a few days, I know her life will be beautifully celebrated by the loving family she created. How fitting that this will happen during Thanksgiving Week, when we count our blessings.  She was a blessing to many.

She is in now in God’s care. She is reunited in Heaven with her parents and  Jim, her husband of 50 years. She is free of Alzheimer’s.  Those are joyous thoughts.

I also have faith that her giggle is fully restored, and that makes me smile.

Thanksgiving Mourning

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Where did it go?

The ONE holiday that was about two things, and two things only:  family feasting and giving thanks, seems to be disappearing. I would mourn the loss.

Thanksgiving doesn’t require midnight noisemakers, chocolate hearts, egg hunts, fireworks or gift exchanging. No diversions other than football in the yard or on the flat screen.

Thanksgiving Day doesn’t even require much of a schedule. It goes without saying  “We’ll eat at 1:00” really means at least 2:00. Who cares?  The family cooks are taste testing, and even the folks just hanging out in the kitchen sneak enough Q.A. nibbles to tide them over until Grace has been said.

No schedule means relaxation. It is our day to put everything on “pause.” Interrupting that relaxed vibe with the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping has to be the worst idea of 2012. Do we really need yet another day on which to be a greedy, grabbing, glutton in a retail store?  The idea of more, more, more material possessions, seems to me to be in direct conflict with the simple meaning of Thanksgiving. Can’t we commit for just one day with nothing on the agenda but giving thanks and spending time feasting with our favorite people?

Honestly, walking into a Wal-Mart any day of the year is sort of depressing to me. Finding myself in a stinky Wal-Mart (come on, they all have that icky, weird smell) on Thanksgiving Day might just get me picked up and locked up on a Code 5150.

When it comes to tradition, I am sentimental. Aren’t family traditions a part of the reason we enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner so much? Throughout the year, some of us count calories or Weight Watcher points. Almost everyone seems to be eating healthier: reducing their fat, sugar and salt intake; and focusing on eating more fiber, fruits and veggies. However, most of that goes out the window on Thanksgiving Day, as we use recipes from our Mothers and Grandmothers to prepare dinner. Most of these recipes are high in fat and heavy on sugar. They are delicious! It is an acceptable 1-day hall pass for dieters.

I’m not sure why these dishes taste so good. Is it because they are so indulgent after our varying degrees of gastronomic self-denial; or is it because they are being enjoyed in the company of our favorite people? Amid the celebration, these recipes provide a sense of continuity, even before we are aware of it. We can count on them, year after year. They connect us to our extended family when distance separates us. When loved ones have passed away and are missed more deeply during the Holidays, there is a certain comfort & joy to be found in trying to replicate their signature dish, dessert or cookie.

As families grow and change, traditions evolve. Each new member brings his or her own sense of tradition. Some of these traditions may be blended in, or the celebration location may change. An early morning Turkey Trot might be run, lactose-free or gluten-free items may be added to the menu, and the turkey might be deep fried instead of roasted. One year, the hilarious sister and I unwittingly turned Mother’s Classic Mashed Potatoes into Lavender-infused mashed potatoes, when she pumped the dish soap dispenser at the exact moment I was pouring a pot of boiling potatoes into a colander. Some recipes are best left unaltered.

Still, the focus of Thanksgiving remains feasting with family, and just being together. Oh, sure, the gathering may evolve throughout the day into two separate parties: a hen party inside, and the roosters and their cigars outside. That still counts as togetherness.

I think some traditions should remain unchanged,  so I offer the following suggestions:

  • For vanity’s sake, avoid the stores and their fluorescent lights.  You’ll look much better at home in the warm glow of the fire.
  • Instead of parking at the mall, and spending cash – Park your fanny and your full belly in a comfy chair and spend time  just hangin’ with your loved ones.
  • Skip the hunt for the bargains – hunting in the cupboard for Gladware and Ziploc Bags to transport leftovers is challenge enough.
  • Forego the battle stampede for the limited number of  “Door busters.” You won’t miss it.  Stay in and don your battle gear for an evening of Euchre, Poker, and Pictionary or better yet:  Mexican Train Dominoes.  Trust me, even your sweetest and most mild-mannered loved ones turn will into cutthroat competitors in this game. It will be way more exciting than scoring that TV on sale. That TV and many more will be on sale again in a week, anyway.

Wal-Mart and Best Buy hold no appeal for me, but Target is less than a mile from my house. Before a day of errands or shopping I enjoy making a list, and then throughout the day, I get a ridiculous amount of pleasure from crossing items off that list. So, this Thursday, I guarantee, I’ll definitely be making a list, but this one will only be to count my blessings.

The real truth is, after eating pie; my pants would be too tight to shop comfortably, anyway.

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving and a day full of blessings, however and wherever you are celebrating!

See you at the mall on Friday.