How to preserve your sanity while keeping up with digital technology

Nothing speaks better to our technology challenges than a word cloud like this.

Do we all need to do a reset on our defaults?

Just when we got a little more comfortable in our living rooms, they rearranged the furniture.

The metaphor here refers to digital technology…you know, the stuff we’ve become addicted to and rely on now to keep us from total isolation. And ignorance. But digital technology is also capable of driving us stark raving mad.

That’s what happened to me last Sunday. If I hadn’t been in church, I would have erupted in some really bad words.

‘You are out of data. You cannot livestream.’

We were about to start the weekly livestream of our church service. Each Sunday I’ve been able to set my iPad on a tripod, mount an external microphone on the top, aim it all at the pastor and hit a start button on the church’s Facebook Live group. It’s a good feeling to see familiar names pop on to watch the live church service. Yeah, they get to stay in their PJs and drink their coffee while hearing the weekly sermon, while we had to get semi-dressed up. But it makes me feel like a good Girl Scout to enable this virtual service.

But last Sunday, the feed did not happen. Or it happened in fits and starts as I saw a message on screen that said I was out of data.

What? I had just increased the plan to unlimited so I wouldn’t run out of data. I fumed through the entire service, missed the point of the sermon and then resorted to holding my iPhone on my knee to film the last of the service.

Just wait until I get home, I said under my breath to (nameless national phone company). Yeah, well, good luck with that, they probably answered. It’s called customer service. But no longer does it involve a customer actually getting to connect with a live agent. Nowadays we have chat services for that. More people working from home in their jammies and drinking their coffee and getting paid for it.

Customer service has changed lately….and not for the better, but at least there’s Chat.

Is this the new face of customer service?

Oh, you can try to get a live agent from customer service on a Sunday, but will be told the wait could be longer, as call volume is higher than normal (isn’t it always?)

“Would you like to hold your place in line and let us call you back at this number,” the dialogue box noted.

“Yes, please.” Fifteen minutes pass. The phone rings. A mechanical robot voice intones, “Your customer service representative will be with you shortly.”

Fifteen minutes pass. No customer service representative. By now I’ve been to the bathroom, started making lunch and cleaned the stove. I hang up in disgust.

Fifteen minutes more. Text message from unnamed phone company appears on my screen.

“May I help you?”

One hour and 27 minutes later, after wearing out my fingers typing messages to a robot (or was this a real person sitting in Timbuktu drinking coffee in their pajamas?) I learn that the extra data I ordered online two weeks ago does not go into effect until November 19. Would you like it to go into effect today?

Would I be typing and mis-typing with my fat fingers on a tiny phone screen just because it’s fun? Now, $189 and a giant headache later, I think we have a plan that will allow me to stream our church services each week without worrying about running out of data.

Except that the church board voted two days later to suspend in-person services until the Covid -19 infection rates in the county go down considerably.

Since that fateful Sunday, I’ve compiled at least three more examples of how this harsh new technology era is about to turn many of us into screaming meanies.

More examples of current tech snafus

• People who want to open a pdf file on a PC laptop running Windows 10 now frequently encounter problems with Microsoft’s new browser, Edge. That new browser will soon replace Internet Explorer. There are work arounds to the new difficulties. They require resetting your defaults in the browser.

• This week one of my book clients tried to send me photos from her new iPhone. The photos came to me in some kind of unrecognizable format. It wasn’t a jpeg. I couldn’t place it in my client’s book. She had to go reset a bunch of defaults, educate herself about this new extension on her photos (done to save storage space) and get them back to me so I could format Chapter 13 of her book. (Is there a bit of superstition at work here?)

• Thinking I knew what I was doing, I recently paid $149 to get a premium plan through Zoom so I could interview guests in zoom and broadcast simultaneously to Facebook Live. Except that it does not work because of something called latency. My internet service provider only gives us 1 megabyte per second on upload speeds and 3 point something on download. That’s all we can get out here in rural Kansas. I order the latest technology from our local ISP. But when the technician arrives, he lets us know that the nearest tower for the most modern equipment is 30 miles away—too far to pick up a signal. We are stuck in Lodi again. Why did the saleswoman not know that? Grrrr!

The T-shirt that gives me hope.

Trying not to be a Covid Crybaby

I’m trying so hard to be positive; to be a good girl and not a Covid crybaby. In fact, I see all the silver linings we’ve all snatched from the pandemic clouds surrounding us. I’ve been grateful for the ability to strengthen and maintain friendships on virtual platforms these many months of adjusting to new realities. When I encounter difficulties, I know I need to follow my husband’s advice and take three deep breaths.

As a Covid Thanksgiving gift to readers, I want to share some humble advice to help others navigate this painful new reality we face with technology. Here are a few things I’ve learned when I’ve stepped outside of the frustration zone and into the lifelong learning zone:

• Keep an open, agile mind and a lifelong learner perspective. The pandemic has made so many businesses and educational institutions move to virtual platforms. And while the learning curve can be frustrating, there are awesome opportunities here to keep our minds agile and adaptable. If you want to learn a new skill or understand how to do something, search for a YouTube video or an online tutorial or even an entire class.

• Try to be patient, even if you want to throw the *&^% computer or phone through a window and bite your husband’s head off. As the unintended object of my frustrations always urges me…take three deep breaths. Maybe even sleep on the problem. Get away from it. Take a walk outside and get your head out of electronics for a bit. You’ll come back to the situation with a new, refreshed attitude and the realization that if the world ended tomorrow, if you succumbed to Covid, this little frustration or learning curve would not matter a bit.

• Ask for help. Alternatively, be content with having things that don’t operate at warp speed or with total efficiency. I often ask my son for help. He knows so much more than I do about digital technology. And while we tried not to be those aggravating older Americans who can’t get their TV to operate correctly, we’ve had to own our disabilities. A year or more ago, we asked my son’s help to set up a way for our old analog surround sound system and DVD player to talk to our Smart TV, he hasn’t had the time. And now he doesn’t travel, thanks to Covid. So we just never watch DVDs and I use my hearing aids to listen to movies. Thank God I learned how to stream Netflix and Prime. And now, thanks to my new data plan with my phone company, I can finally watch Yellowstone on Hulu. For six months anyway.

•Don’t multi-task when you are learning or trying to understand a new technology wrinkle. Don’t take your laptop or phone to the bathroom and expect to complete two jobs at once. Enough said.

• If it’s not broken, try to avoid fixing or buying new. Operate on old platforms and equipment until you have to get new stuff. I have two older desktop computers. One of them is way beyond support and the other is nearing its obsolescence. But thanks to new subscription services, rather than installed software, I can continue using the computer by connecting to online platforms. The minute you buy a new computer or piece of equipment, a new learning curve begins. Avoid it if you can. Upgrade if you must.

•Be grateful for small victories and inches of progress. This week I read half of The Velveteen Rabbit to my grandkids on FaceTime. They appeared to listen and watch as I turned the camera around and aimed it at the colorful pages. Since I can’t be with them right now, that was enough.

And boy howdy, was I ever excited when we told Alexa to print out our shopping list. She complied and managed to find the nearest printer on the network…without any help from us.

•Be aware that the more you learn about technology, the more you may be called upon to use your new knowledge to help others. But isn’t that what we are on earth for? To lift up each other?

• Be aware of your limitations. While you may get tasked with helping your church, your neighbor, your favorite organization with your tech skills, be aware of your limitations and be open to continued learning. There are a lot of things I know enough about to be dangerous. I tried to help out my local Sweet Adelines group with a virtual chorus project. While I learned a lot about editing audio tracks and putting them together on one track in Garage Band, I didn’t have the foundational knowledge of unit vocal sound and how to manipulate audio to produce a satisfying project. That should have been left to a professional with experience.

• Be ready to make choices.

My husband’s favorite saying is “We have one decision to make in life—participate or not participate.” My ancillary to his saying is “Once you make the decision, be prepared to pay the price.”

The price we pay for trying to stay on top of technology? Dry eyes from staring at screens too long. Thinner hair from pulling out strands in frustration. Lost moments and quality time with loved ones while we’re engrossed in our electronics trying to figure out the latest upgrade.

It’s all a matter of balance.

May the (Quantum Physics) Force and God be with us all.

When doggie routines get hacked by the time change

Our Miniature Toy Aussie doesn’t have sheep to herd so she herds me while I clean house.

Remember last week when I submitted those pie-in-the-sky suggestions for a new pandemic routine?

Yeah, well, that list flew out the window today, thanks to the time change.

We humans have a tough enough time adjusting to the ridiculous and artificial manipulation of the hours of the day. But consider how messed up our furry friends get with all this.

It started yesterday, of course. We had not reset the clock on the dresser that we always seek out with early, unfocused eyes. I got up at 6:30 a.m. Sunday…except that it was 5:30. But I only got up because the cat started meowing then. That’s when he always gives us a wakeup call.

‘Poor, poor pitiful Mr. Kitty’

Mr. Cat repeated his routine call again this morning at 5:30 DST. I went to the bathroom, acknowledged a kitty tail curling around my legs, then went right back to bed. Not kosher. He just increased the volume of the “Poor, poor pitiful me” tune. Down the stairs we go, with dog number one standing and staring uncertainly down at us. She seemed to be asking, “Are you sure it’s time for breakfast?”

I got the Gravy Lover’s pop top popped for cat, then hear Number One Fido’s nails on the floor. She’s ready too. Popped the Purina open for her. Meal over. Time to go outside.

When we come back in, I hear toenails belonging to Fido number two click-clacking into the kitchen. Time for her feeding, followed by a pill disguised in chunky peanut butter. Then guess what? Time to let her outside.

Our daily routine calls for dividing a long rawhide chew into three globs of hardened animal fat and questionable proteins; one for each canine. That way I’m assured they won’t overdose on chemicals imported from China’s rawhide industry. When Number Three Fido hears the lid of that snack box open, that’s when I hear her four feet hit the floor and she magically appears at my side…as if arriving by transponder from outer space. She lives for those poisonous treats. Once her treat is gulped down, time to take her outside.

Four animals, four separate feedings now

So, four animals equals four separate feedings equals three separate potty runs (the cat went out the first time) outdoors. Before the time change, we did all that in one group zoom session. And before it got cold outside, I walked with them the entire length of the driveway to pick up the newspaper, usually giving them enough time to potty twice and throw in a number two. Today and yesterday I kept my warm jammies on and made a run for the driveway, hoping the hood on my fleece-lined jacket hid my face enough that the three drivers who went by as I bent over for the paper didn’t recognize the sleepy human inside. The bigger fear was that someone would realize the plaid on my jacket clashed garishly with the plaid on my pajama bottoms. (Oh, the shame!)

The point to this drivel is that all of this was abnormal routine. In fact, it set the stage for the rest of the day to get glaringly out of sync. Instead of eating breakfast at our usual time, after one of us finally answered the tough question of the day (what to fix for breakfast), my husband and I just sat on the couch. He read the paper and I made my to-do list and read a book. Neither of us could wake up.

When we finally got around to eating the meal, I started sorting my weekly supplements and medications into their little cubbyholes and noticed that the time change yesterday had hacked my memory. I hadn’t taken my morning pills on Sunday.

How to get hacked the day before an election

About that time, Wayne got hacked while gathering trash when he received a phone call that the poll workers were waiting at the church to unload their equipment for tomorrow’s election. My husband had agreed to substitute for another church member and open the door for them. The poll workers had evidently forgotten to call anyone with an arrival time. Then one of the workers forgot her phone and forgot to load some equipment, so left a worker with Wayne to go retrieve the lost items.

Back home, I was doing the daily dishwasher loading and kitchen cleanup and noticed a large, spreading stain on the carpet. My screams of “Who did this?” had no effect on any potential guilty party. I decided to tackle Wayne’s undone chore of taking the trash to the curb, reasoning that all three canines probably had not had sufficient time to do their usual morning ritual. I shooed them all down the driveway with me as I pushed the garbage to the road. That did produce the desired result but there was still a stain to clean.

And, it was Monday; laundry and floor cleaning day. While I would prefer to do the task myself, we have an Australian Shepard who has to herd someone, since we have no sheep or cattle. She herds my every domestic chore. Her two sisters used to drive me batty when I swept the floor, as they had to inspect every dirt particle to see if any of it was edible. Now they stay out of Brandy’s way while she herds. And instead of me employing herding calls, I yell, “Brandy, move!” She doesn’t seem to mind a steam mop hissing in her face or a vacuum threatening her leg hairs. She’s just doing her work, herding her mama. Even now, she parks her carcass a few feet from my computer desk, watching the stairs for an invasion.

One of these canines is the party guilty of leaving a stain on the carpet this morning. Their excuse? The time change.

I will be so grateful to crawl under the covers tonight. This time change, while it supposedly gave us an extra hour of sleep, has messed with the bio-rhythms of every critter in this house. We have one clock yet to change…in the bedroom. It will be done tonight. I do not want another reminder of what time it used to be when the cat wakes us up in the morning. I plan to go to bed with something I can throw at him at 5:30 a.m. DST, a twilight zone where my body still believes it lives.

The two early risers; one who likes the mop, the other who heads upstairs to hide under the bed.

Carpe Diem: Ten ways to give new structure to your days


You would think that having all our routines disrupted since March would enable us to seize the day. We have more hours now that we’re not taking trips or socializing with friends over lunch. One would assume we would be able to instill healthier habits and more structure in our lives. Carpe Diem…seize the day, live in the present moment, right?

At least some of us are writing our memoirs or autobiographies, taking photos and nature walks. We’re composing poetry, taking time to sit at the piano or bringing out the dusty guitar. During this pandemic, we should at least try to enjoy life a little more, once we get our chores out of the way.

We used to mark time with wall calendars and analog wrist watches. Maybe the fact that our lives are all on digital demand explains why we lose track of time…or not .

Yet last weekend I looked at the calendar and expressed shock and outrage that we were almost out of October. Where was my time going? It was October 1 just yesterday!

I somehow frittered away the hours and the days of the month. I binge-watched a Netflix series. Instead of cleaning the house, I told myself that required too much effort. Besides, no one came to visit (the only reason for cleaning, right?)

I didn’t wear makeup. Why bother? I don’t see anyone anymore. I only go to the grocery store once every two weeks, and then I’m incognito with a mask over my face. I stay in my pajamas until 11 a.m. some days. And sometimes I skip taking a shower. (Sorry. Too much information?)

Please tell me I am not the only one with newly-discovered lethargy these days. And now that it’s getting darker earlier, the potential for slipping into depression is huge.

Not sure if I would know what day it was without my handy supplements kit. The important thing is remembering to fill it.

Monday wash day, Tuesday ironing…

How do you structure your days and weeks now that we’re all forced to be homebodies? I used to define and structure my weeks with Mondays being laundry and cleaning days, Wednesdays being a travel day when I drove to Kansas City to spend time with my grandkids and then visit the nursing home to see my former stepmother-in-law. The routines at both those places included reading and playing with the grandkids and playing a few hands of gin rummy with Rosie at the nursing home. But the nursing home is still on lockdown and due to multiple concerns about family members with health issues, my son is still on virtual quarantine and outside communications limited to FaceTine and Zoom. Like so many other American workers, his company’s physical space has been closed, possibly for good, as everyone shifts to working from home.

As a writer and retired newspaper publisher, I made the work-at-home shift six years ago. But making much headway with housework or writing has suffered greatly since March. It seems the hurrier I go the behinder I get. Time slips by with little progress.

I need a system and a structure like my own mother, and her mother both had. Their days and months always passed quickly with the help of structured routines and chores. Remember the tea-towels they embroidered with the days of the week and the names of tasks they had to accomplish each day?

Dish drying towels used to help us keep track of our days and our chores. Now the only time we use these things may be during holiday meals, when all those extra dishes won’t fit in the dishwasher. Then someone washes while someone else dries. Usually there is a carpe diem moment and conversation actually occurs.

The spinning wheels principle

Confession: I missed the day my mother or my grandmother’s DNA and work ethic got distributed. Today, intoh the vacuum of time I used to devote to visiting family, comes a combination of Murphy’s Law and the Peter Principle. I tend to rise to my own level of incompetence, wherein anything that can go wrong usually does. The day gets filled up somehow, but sadly lacks any visible results.

A few days ago, when I began to feel overwhelmed with all the tasks and responsibilities, I needed to do, I recalled and began doing something I once tasked my newspaper employees with: I started keeping a time log. I wanted to figure out exactly what was happening to my hours and my days. At the same time, I came up with a list that I think can provide a better structure for my days.

I’m going to share it with you in case you are in the spinning wheels mode too.

Ten ways to structure your pandemic schedule

1. Clean or reorganize something

Even if it’s just a countertop or the wastebasket. Did any of you have a mother or grandmother who spouted little proverbs? Like “Cleanliness is next to Godliness?” Talk about guilt-inducing! But cleaning just one thing will make you feel less guilt.

This morning, when I got out of the shower (no, that did not make it on this list) I took the time to spray a shower cleaner on the walls and shower fixtures. That led to seeing the need for cleaning the bathroom countertop. It took all of five minutes–time enough for my hair to drip dry. Efficient, yes?

2. Bake or cook or make something

This morning, after emptying the dishwasher, I hauled out my cousin’s old bread machine and started baking a loaf of honey whole wheat bread. In a few hours it will fill the house with wonderful smells. Yesterday I cut apart those packaged cookies you buy in the dairy case at the store and baked those. Later, I made sloppy Joes in one pot and chili in a second pot by dividing three packages of ground beef. Now I have leftovers and two extra meals.

3. Learn something

In these Google, Covid, Zoom-filled days, as businesses scramble to reach customers in the virtual sphere, we have no excuse for not learning new things every day. And any new bit of trivia counts as learning.

This past week, after watching a report on the Kansas City Chiefs, I wanted to learn a little more about the players who formed the 1970 Super Bowl team coached by Hank Stram. A Google search uncovered a name from my youth–Jan Stenerud. My eyes opened wide in surprise to learn this gifted Norwegian kicker was not a U. S. citizen when he played for the home team. Even more surprising? He was an active duty member of the Army National Guard while he played football.

In addition to sports trivia, I find myself clicking the “Join” button on free seminars and workshops dealing with the craft of writing. There is no excuse these days for failing to pursue our quest for new knowledge to improve or enrich our lives. It’s all out there with just the click of a mouse or the tip of your finger pressing on a link.

4. Read something

Imagine my smug satisfaction at putting that task on the list! My favorite activity since childhood was to step away from reality and go on mental adventures in the pages of a book. When I ran out of kid lit, I ransacked my mother’s bookshelves. Even read a thick historic novel on Benedict Arnold at age 11 and actually enjoyed it.

However, to the above simple admonition to read, I need to add: Finish what you start and only read one book at a time. (That will never happen. I blame Amazon and my voracious book appetite for that failure).

5. Write something

If you are not a lifelong writer like me, not to worry. A grocery list counts. An email works. A love letter to your honey will do really well. And if you don’t write something every day? Count yourself as one of many helping cursive writing to die a slow, painful death. How’s that for inducing guilt?

6. Do an act of service for someone or something

If we have assumed a late-life role as a caregiver…if we live with someone…if we have elderly relatives…if we do volunteer work for an organization or belong to a church…we have multiple opportunities to do an act of service. I am lucky to have a husband who serves as a wonderful role model of service. He goes about his selfless acts quietly, without need for recognition. But then, he began doing that while growing up on a farm. He continued it with a 32-year career in the military.

7. Pray for someone or something

When I start to feel sorry for myself and my disrupted routines, I look around and know others who really have a reason to be sad or depressed. They may have lost a loved one this year. They may have lost a job or a home. Their mental illness may have worsened. If I know them, or know about them, they make it on my prayer list. Today I returned to an old habit of writing down my prayer petitions. I know how powerful the practice of writing is to make our wishes manifest. And we all know how much our world needs prayers for healing during this pandemic.

8. Find a reason to laugh or cry about something

Sometimes, when we numb out in depression or lethargy, we need reminders that we are still part of the world; that this requires our participation. Nothing does better as a reminder than to find a reason to laugh. Or to just let it all out with a good cry. Both are soul cleansers. My husband reads the joke section of Reader’s Digest. I laugh at my own jokes. Then I cry because I’m such a slow learner.

9. Exercise something

This was a total afterthought…added only because I knew it should be. I hate exercise. So, if you hate exercise too, find things to do that count for exercise without realizing it’s a workout. I like the theory that even short bursts of activity count. Thus, going up and down the stairs in my house will get me a 71-year-old’s “good enough” badge; as will walking to the road to pick up the mail or the daily newspaper. One of these days, when I’m feeling extra ambitious and energetic, I’ll look for the link for the chair yoga class I purchased a month ago and only accessed once. Most days I will probably give myself a pass by exercising my brain (see numbers 3,4 and 5 above for that rationale.)

10. Enjoy someone or something

Not much need to expound on this final, but important, item on the daily list. Visit an elderly relative and listen to her sage advice. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a long while. Look through your high school yearbook. Go through all those greeting cards you’ve collected over the decades and smile at the memories. Pick up the needlework you used to enjoy and finish that creative project. Color in an adult coloring book. Get on Pinterest and dream about the things you could do if you only had the time and the money. But then stop cold when you realize you do have the time now. At least you do if you take the time to put the things and the people you enjoy on your new daily list.

And now that my list is appearing in this blog, I will be able to check off the Write Something category for today. Plus, I will be leaving a permanent record of my organization skills, (or the lack therof), so my family will have a resource to help when I’m gone and they’re feeling overwhelmed. I’ll also leave them the family tea towels.

Enjoy something every single day. No matter if it’s a quick sunset or a phone call with a friend.

Trying on old recipes for nostalgia and posterity

Burnt Sugar Cake earned my Aunt Gene several blue ribbons at local fairs. This was in the 1950s when cooking and gardening skills could give you bragging rights and a covey of green-eyed-jealous enemies. Some of her recipes were family secrets for years. Until they weren’t. Until they appeared in a church cookbook.

The courage to try new-old skillsets

My dearest departed cousin-sister Linda collected cookbooks. When I came into her house as the beneficiary of her husband and a mountain of knick-knacks and what-nots, it became my job to sort through that collection and disperse them to her daughters and step-daughters. I kept a few for myself, especially a spattered old blue thing called Community Favorites II: Compiled by Wakarusa Presbyterian Church, Wakarusa, Kansas.

If you’ve ever served on a church fundraising committee, you will recognize the old staple Church Cookbook.

The best way to come into these church cookbooks is through inheritance. I have my mother’s cookbook from one of the Lutheran churches she attended. Also have one from the Hamilton, Mo Federated Church.

If you are not a veteran church-goer, you might not recognize the value of these tomes, or the wonderful hidden culture they represent. These little spiral-bound books are THE CHURCH. Open their pages and you’ll smell the wonderful aromas of a church supper. You’ll see a bunch of crazy women in aprons rushing around to serve up their very best to their own and the community at large. You’ll hear the gossip and the expressions of concern for a sick or dying member. You’ll feel the expressions of love and creativity in the beauty of the bounty spread out in those pages.

But I did not fully appreciate that plastic spiral-bound treasure that stood on my cookbook stand. Not until I looked all the way through it last week. Sure, I knew it would feature recipes by many of my relatives and new friends that I’ve come to know since joining Wakarusa Presbyterian. I just had no idea that my cousin had written some recipes into some of the blank margins at the ends of sections.

Even more surprising? The emotion that one of those hand-written recipes could invoke. Sure, I appreciated seeing her much-loved donut recipe and her prolific search for the ultimate sugar cookie and cinnamon rolls. But what brought me to tears was seeing the label: Anne’s Corn Chowder.

It wasn’t even my corn chowder. It came from an old issue of Midwest Living Magazine. But that was the dish I served one cold March day when she and her husband (now my hand-me-down husband) came to our house in Cameron, MO for a visit. I served a big pot of sausage-corn chowder seasoned with marjoram and rosemary and carbed-up with diced potatoes and a serving of blueberry muffins that day. Poor Wayne! He didn’t eat any of it because, as I later learned, he is just a meat and potatoes guy who stoutly refuses to veer from the tried-and-true.

It’s not the food, it’s the company

Memories gushed out when I saw that recipe. Memories of all the good times, the laughs, the common interests we shared as cousins and sister-friends. And that’s probably the chief benefit of cookbooks and their individual recipes. It’s not about the delicious food, but the people who cook them and share them.

In addition to seeing Linda’s handwritten recipes, I can open this little blue cookbook and immediately spot Helen Ramshaw’s Strawberry Parfait Pie, or Beverly Nicholson’s Strawberry-Pretzel Dessert (can you tell I’m hungry for homegrown berries?) I know these women, so feel I can trust these recipes to be tried and true, as well as delicious. I’ve seen photos on Facebook of Evelyn Davis’s molasses wheat bread and my mouth waters just reading Linda Combes’ recipe for banana split cake. My late Aunt Neva’s cornbread dressing is in this book, as well as Aunt DeLora’s barbecue sauce (actually her late mother-in-law’s concoction…it contains a pound of candy red hots!).

My real reason for starting this blog today was to share one of those recipes. When I gathered the courage to burn sugar to make my Aunt Gene’s Best Burnt Sugar Cake in the World, I posted a photo of the resulting three-layer miracle. That led to a few Facebook friends asking for the recipe. Never one to let a good chance for a blog post go by, here you go. But read the warning label.

Burning sugar is not for the faint-hearted

In the weeks approaching my Aunt Gene’s 95th birthday anniversary, we always aimed to have a cooking lesson on burning sugar. But her health and constant hospice personnel visits seemed to conspire against us. The Friday before her birthday, I mustered enough courage to attempt the recipe that had earned her so many accolades. By myself.

This burning sugar process is one big chemistry lesson, believe me! Here’s how it goes:

In a 4 quart, un-coated Dutch Oven (enamel coated cast iron seems to work best, but don’t use one of those cancer-causing silicone things) sprinkle one cup of sugar evenly over the bottom. Begin to melt the sugar slowly, over medium heat, stirring constantly. But before you even begin to burn the sugar, put a small pan of one cup water on the stove to boil.

As the sugar melts, stir faster, all the while looking for a distinctive caramel or light-brown color. The lighter the color, the lighter-tasting the sugar. Light brown will give you a caramel taste, while a darker brown will provide an almost molasses flavor, which is what Aunt Gene always aimed for. But don’t go too far into the dark side or you will have bitter syrup. (Does that sound like a moral lesson?) Once you reach the preferred color, put on a pair of oven mitts or gloves, pull the boiling mess off the burner, wait a little while, and pour in the cup of boiling water, taking care to stand back and not be burned by the resulting steam. Aunt Gene says to be ready with the lid to cover it immediately. Somewhere in there, plan to stir it again. Once the syrup is cooled, you will be using it for the cake batter and the icing.

A nitty-gritty dirt band of burnt sugar cake

13-1/2 T. Crisco or Butter (the thought of that much Crisco made me gag so butter it was.)

3 egg yolks (save the whites)

2-1/2 cups sugar

Cream the above until fluffy. (This is when I love my KitchenAid stand mixer) Beat the three egg whites and fold into the mixture. (I tried to call Aunt Gene to see if that should be to stiff peak state but she was taking a nap)

Add 3 cups flour and 2 cups water and cream together until dissolved. (Next time I plan to experiment and add cake flour instead of regular flour. This is one heavy puppy of a cake.)

Mix the following ingredients in a small bowl or Pyrex measuring cup:

9 T. burnt sugar

3/4 cup Flour

1-1/2 tsp. vanilla

3 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

Add to the ingredients already in the mixing bowl. Note: the baking powder will possibly foam in true chemistry experiment mode, depending on what order you add everything, but just shrug your shoulders like I did and keep on keeping on.

(And again, I tried to call Aunt Gene, because her recipe did not have salt. I think salt belongs in every recipe, so there you have it. Use your own judgment here.)

Bake that voluminous, heavy batter in three 9″ cake pans lined with parchment or waxed paper and sprayed with Pam, then floured (Sheesh! More flour?).


1 stick butter

6 T burnt sugar

1 box (1 lb.) powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Aunt Gene always cooked the butter and burnt sugar to a boil, then added the powdered sugar, stirred like crazy, then poured it and spread it on a cooled cake immediately. I did the lazy woman version: put the softened butter and other ingredients in the stand mixer bowl, covered it with a splatter shield and mixed the heck out of it, seemingly forever, stopping periodically to use a spatula to scrape the sides.

Better than winning a bake-off

The ultimate reward of gathering enough of my foolhardy wits to make the above recipe was seeing Aunt Gene’s face light up as we placed that cake on her walker seat. And the frosting on the scene? Hearing her say it tasted just like hers.

Aunt Gene’s burnt sugar birthday cake…the first one she didn’t have to make herself.

Is there a 12-step program for Facebook video suckers?

If you could just affix this mobile microscope to your mobile phone (only after you’ve downloaded the corresponding app) you would be able to tell that instructions and shipping label are in Chinese. Let this be your own warning label BEFORE clicking the BUY button at the end of a Facebook video ad.

The FedX and UPS delivery guys make enough stops at our house that they almost qualify as family. I just wish they delivered a Chinese translator with the packages.

Months before I married my husband, he saw my raised eyebrows and my attempts to hide grins as I watched the packages appear on the front porch swing. He confessed, sheepishly, that he was following the yellow brick road to the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes grand prize. Shortly after his late wife’s death, he had found that the hours passed more quickly when he was marking an X in a box or tearing out a perforated seal to affix to an order, assuring he would win an extra surprise. Like many Publisher’s players, he thought that buying the offered merchandise would improve his chances of hitting the jackpot.

Consequently, when I moved in, the house was full of mysterious white boxes, full of cheap electronics and back scratchers, tiny flashlights and gel pens in assorted colors. This from the man who was embarrassed by his late wife’s “magic closet” in the guest room. It was so full of bargains that she had found on her shopping trips—all planned as future Christmas and birthday gifts—that they filled that closet to the ceiling and came tumbling out on a guest one evening.

So, organizing-freak-of-a-new-wife moves in and tries to banish some of offensive Publisher’s House clutter to the basement. That helped . . . until the day a visitor wanted to tour the basement she remembered playing in as a child. Now that was embarrassing!

But now it’s time for organizing wife to confess to her own horrible addiction. While Hubby wins the Publisher’s Clearinghouse unofficial prize for volume of merchandise orders, I am the queen of Facebook video advertising suckers.

In the last year I have hit the “BUY” button on things that looked so appealing and practical in the videos. And it’s not just Facebook ads. Sometimes the “gotcha” comes from a slick, magazine-ish flyer that arrives in the mail with the PCH junk.

Is there a 12-step group for people like me who think they would actually use that little detachable lens that fits over an iPhone and will allow you to take better, wider-angle selfies?

And when I ordered those supplements that promised to do away with varicose vein pain and the feet that go numb every Monday night while standing for hours on risers with my chorus friends, I did not check with my doctor until after the little capsules arrived. I know she tried not to laugh at me when she said, “You realize that nitrous oxide is basically Viagra, don’t you?” Duh, no, I did not. I cancelled the standing monthly subscription the next day.

I have no excuse for falling victim to these campaigns

I am truly embarrassed by my propensity to be a victim of smooth advertising campaigns. Especially since I spent a career helping put print advertising together for local businesses. Besides falling for those slick ads for hemp gummy bears and Viagra-in-disguise, I am most mortified by my tendency to unwittingly order merchandise from China.

Why is this a problem? Try ordering an article of clothing that looks so cute on the model in the Facebook ad, but when it arrives it will only fit tiny Chinese models. Plus, it takes a month of Sundays to get through our customs, so that when it does arrive, you’ve forgotten you even ordered it.

And then, there is the problem of deciphering instructions. I thought the little detachable enlargement lens that I ordered for a Christmas gift would be a great device for my husband, who is always looking for serial numbers on lawn equipment and tools. The lens was supposed to allow you to do micro-photographs, enlarging things like flower pollen and a gnat’s you-know-what. It did not arrive in time for Christmas. When it did arrive, the lens was accompanied by an instruction booklet printed in Chinese. It also contained two laboratory glass slides. Then I looked at the front of the box and realized I had ordered a mobile microscope . . . for $125. Another OMG moment. Adding insult to injury, you have to download an app to run the dang thing. What a fool I have been!

Guess what will be joining more useless paraphernalia in the basement?

Our kids will kill us when they find this stuff

Our kids are going to jerk us from our graves and kill us again when they find all this stuff. But before that happens, I am swearing off Facebook advertising videos, following the example of my husband in throwing away the Publisher’s Clearinghouse mailings before opening.

Now the only problem we have is what to do with all those cute little, colorful, multiple-page ads that come in thick mail packets once a month. You know, the ones that make you feel obligated to go through each one. Just so you won’t miss out on a practical tool that will defoliate your cooking herbs, then chop them. I just ordered one. Along with a citrus zester. Oh, and a cute little tea set for my granddaughter.

Shopping for undergarments at department stores can be an exhausting, challenging feat as you grow older.

Goodbye to sexy: A short course in shopping for elder-wear

After months of isolation during the initial days of the pandemic in 2020, guess what my radar settled on for that first shopping trip in a mall?

Underwear. Elder underwear

I was so exhausted upon returning from the big bra expedition, I had to take a nap. It’s hard work to bend over and rake through the bottom rungs of department store racks to find just the right bra for an aging body.

Years ago–long before turning 65–comfort became the key feature I sought in shopping for everything from automobiles to gynecologists. The car had to be a zero-entry product with an adjustable driver’s seat. If the door frame had a threshold that might trip me in getting in or out, the car was nixed. Heated seats became a must-have.

The gynecologist? She had to be recommended by friends who assured that they never felt even a pinch during a pap smear.

Goodbye underwires that pinch and things that push up

New bras now must meet similar requirements. Underwires are out. Padding is okay, but at my age, the three hook, back fasteners had to make way for a broad back five.  (I’m way past the age of worrying about a male having difficulty undoing three fasteners, let alone five.)

I spent the first several months of the pandemic trolling Facebook ads for bras that could smooth out fatback bulges and hold up saggy flesh. I soon got burned by a cute little t-shirt with sewn-in bra that promised to make me look like an 18-year-old. When it arrived from China a few months after languishing in customs, it caused one of the biggest laughs I’d had during the pandemic. And trying to get into it almost resulted in a trip to a chiropractor (I haven’t had time to shop for one of those yet). Chinese women are a lot smaller than Americans…just sayin’.

That Chinese t-shirt experience and the pandemic motivated me to

  1. lose some weight
  2. order some athletic bras and
  3. try some of those things that fasten in the front and guarantee to improve your posture on account of having a crisscross thingy in the back.

The C model soon showed its impracticality with arthritic fingers trying to fasten the front, in the dark, while shoving uncooperative flesh out of harm’s way. The B model failed due to its requirement of being put on head-first, then failing to support even minimum bouncing while merely walking across a room.

I sure hated to part with these red sandals. By now they’re probably in a new home on younger, sexier feet.

Saying good-bye to sexy shoes

About the same time that I had to make the shift to new undergarments for elders, shoes became a sore subject…literally. I blame this on my Sweet Adeline’s chorus and rehearsals that required standing for hours on risers. Admittedly, some of the agony that resulted in leg twitches, pain, and insomnia on nights after a rehearsal had more to do with my poor circulation and with pulling out of water aerobics classes during the pandemic.

The foot pain caused me to head to a real-life shoe store. The kind with men who kneel at your feet, measure them with that cold sliding ruler, then disappear into the back room to return with a tower of boxes holding your next Cinderella slipper. Except the slippers have now morphed into clodhoppers.

“This is what the dealers at the casinos around here wear, and they’re on their feet all day,” explained the young whippersnapper (did Red Skelton invent that word?) The thick soles on these models promised cushy standing support, but they looked like they’d been whupped with an ugly stick. Oh well.

I’ve been wearing the white and black versions of those things for the past two years now. They are a step up in elderly couture from the first old lady shoes I bought at an SAS store years ago. I think the saleslady became quite offended when I asked with dripping sarcasm if she could find an uglier pair in my size.

Now whenever I attempt to wear anything sexy on my feet for more than three hours, my legs cramp and keep me up all night and my poor feet turn red in protest. I have since purged my closet of all sexy shoes. I told them goodbye and good luck and sent them on their way to a thrift store and future younger feet.

Covering liver spots and lizard skin

I am now seeking lessons in elder makeup. The trials in that arena I can again blame on my chorus. For ten years I’ve worn little to nothing extra on my face except for liver spots and lipstick. But an upcoming competition on stage, under stage lighting, called for stage makeup. Enter false eyelashes. Enter things like pore putty and a daily moisturizer. And when it came time to apply the eyelashes for the first time, I had to call in a younger reinforcement with steadier hands.

Someone needs to do the world of baby boomers a favor and put out a primer on elder fashion and makeup. Maybe that’s what this drivel is. All I know is, I cringe at my younger self for making fun of women years ago who seemed to live in big, flowery mumus. How embarrassing, I thought back then. Why would they go out in public dressed like that?

Today, the judgmental woman that was me is eating her words and hoping I don’t embarrass the younger generation when and if I go out in public wearing my favorite new uniform—yoga pants. They don’t camouflage my saggy old bulges of skin like mumus did for older women decades ago. But they are great for supporting atrophied leg muscles and mildly compressing varicose veins. One of these days I might even wear them while practicing yoga. Just don’t hold your breath for that.

News flash and P.S. – Walmart sells mumus. Maybe I’ll have to give one a try…and wear it over my yoga pants.

Pandemic gardening: Squirreling away the green tomatoes

I harvested more green tomatoes than red in my pandemic garden this year.

This has been a bad year for garden vegetables. Like we humanoids, they have been operating under pandemic parameters for the past two growing seasons.

That was my trite observation as I wrapped two buckets of green tomatoes in newsprint this morning and carefully tucked them in a box to take to the basement. They will ripen down there in the dark and taste pretty sweet in the middle of a Kansas blizzard.

Another tired and trite reflection: Anyone who tries to grow their own fruits, vegetables, or flowers when they have other primary passions and compelling work is either…


B–Has extra money to throw away

C–Loves being tortured and challenged with only minimal rewards

D–All of the above

Of course, the answer, at least for this pretend gardener, is D.

Please help me! I’ve fallen in the garden and can’t get up!

I wish someone had been taking a video of me early this fall as I tripped over a wad of rubber garden hose and then a landscape timber while trying to rescue a potted Mandeville plant that was looking sickly. As my foot caught–first on the hose–then on the timber, I felt my body tilt at 45 degrees and travel for a full 20 feet. I never let go of that potted flower until finally hitting the ground and sprawling on my right side… on the wrist already plagued by carpal tunnel from my real daily occupation of putting my own or client’s stories on a computer screen.

It was one of those scenarios we may have played out as a child. You look around to see if anyone witnessed it so you can send out a tearful SOS. Seeing no one, you realize there’s grass soaked with dew and chiggers underneath you. You see a flash of the television commercial where a feeble, white-haired elder cries weakly, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

 Determined to not be that commercial, and to avoid wearing a call button around your neck for the rest of your life, you just pick yourself up. Still, there’s a nagging sense that this might require an X-ray, or at least an ice pack.

As the soreness sets in, I wonder why in the world I’ve continued to garden this year?

Was it only for the aesthetics…the sheer enjoyment…the fleeting appreciation of the beauty of the flowers and the way they enhance curb appeal?

Did I grow vegetables just so I could boast of the flavor of a pot of homegrown green beans cooked with new potatoes and flavored with bacon and onion?

Is this just a genetic compulsion that began when my mother sent her slave children (me, mostly) to the garden at age 13 to weed so that she could feed us homegrown green beans and sliced tomatoes?

The year 2021 has not been kind to this gardener. I’m thinking it might be time to give it up and let the weeds have everything and the containers go bare next season. I don’t have time to put gardening on my “passionate about this” list and be more professional and intentional about it.

Yes, I know. I should practice perseverance. But the pandemic and all my other to-dos have made me realize that it just might be time to begin using discretion…it being the better part of valor and all.

Plagued with pandemic pests

In case you ever wanted to see a closeup of a Japanese beetle. You’re welcome.

The gardening obstacles we faced this year have not made this hobby fun:

•The pandemic has fueled a return to digging in the dirt for a lot of folks the last two seasons. That led to a renewed interest in canning all the bounty, which led to a shortage of canning supplies.

• Prices for bedding plants were a lot higher this year, fueled no doubt by continued pandemic labor shortages and trucking issues. The cart loaded with tomato plants and flowers that we shoved through the checkout at Home Depot caused us a bit of sticker shock.

• Plagues and pests showed up at our garden this year–big time. They included

–Japanese beetles. I never knew about these nasty things, so had to learn to set out tree traps with pheromones for the romantically inclined bugs.

A bunch of squirming, trapped Japanese beetles…the pandemic version of Beetlemania.

–Rose rust and mildew—the roses never bloomed this year

–Something strange in the garden soil I bought

–Tomato cutworms

–Squash bugs

–Lima beans that just kept blooming but never put on pods

–Grasshoppers that ate all the foliage on my hibiscus flowers

–The intense heat

–Constant watering…if you didn’t, everything wilted.

–Beets and lettuce that never, ever get planted in time and then blast in the searing Kansas sun.

–No true spring–just winter followed by summer.

At least the grapes were good this year.

I admit there were a few successes…

The moonflowers bloomed, even though they were planted late and I never expected them to.

The irises and lilies and peonies were lovely, as usual.

The store-bought petunias looked great…when I remembered to water them every day.

Despite my complaints, there must be something that compels gardeners to dig in the dirt every year. Next spring, I’m sure I’ll be off to a greenhouse for bedding plants, forgetting I took a nasty fall and battled so many pests, along with the challenges of pandemic gardening.

And if this aging body should not allow me to garden, I’ll take a spring trip to a greenhouse, just to smell the dirt.

The moonflowers and hibiscus flourished…when they weren’t being attacked by beetles and grasshoppers.

Living life at large at 71…


My first eyebrow wax

From shaggy to tame in one swift pull on a piece of duct tape…instant facelift! (Except this is probably a picture of a guy instead of a 71-year-old female. You get the idea)

“How about an eyebrow wax today?”

“Say wha…?”

With my head immersed in the salon sink, those words offered casually by my stylist were a total shock after a relaxing scalp massage during my bi-monthly color and cut.

She must have been taken aback by the look of pure panic above my paper mask.

“Have you never had an eyebrow wax?”

“Never, ever, ever,” said the woman who avoided anything that might involve the slightest hint of pain, discomfort or surprise. Just ask the optometrist who tries to dilate my eyes, or the ENT who attempts to stick a tube up my nostrils. Forget about a COVID swab to the nether reaches of my brain. It didn’t happen. I stayed home during most of 2020 and wore my mask religiously, so as to avoid that nose-to-brain thingy.

“It will make you look younger. Really. It will take years off your face. I promise.”

Well, in that case, I was willing to give it a try. After all, at 71, why not live dangerously. I’ve had to give up my dreams of hang gliding off the cliffs of Oregon and jumping horses like I imagined while watching National Velvet as a girl. If getting rid of shaggy eyebrows is the only daring deed I have left in me, let’s do this thing.

Eyes shut, I feel something warm touch my brow as my potentially-soon-to-be-ex-stylist paints the wax on those intruding hairs that I’d never noticed (thanks to being nearsighted and all). I start babbling about being sure that I’d had my eyes gouged out in a former life and explain that’s why I end up nearly slouching out of the optometrist’s chair every time he even comes near me with eyedrops.

Soon I notice myself in the same semi-prone position, this time halfway out of the salon chair. Sudden… startling… hot… white… heat.

“Holy crap! You didn’t warn me!”

“If I had, you’d have been all tense, and it would have really hurt.”

“Okay. You did say it would feel like a band-aid being pulled off. I guess it wasn’t all that bad.”

I settle in for the rest of the ride, ready for whatever she has left to give me on the other side.

There was no such thing as a bikini was when I lived in Brazil in the 1970s.

Thank God I am way past the age of bikini waxes.

Last time I dared put on a bikini was 1973, on the beaches of Brazil, and I don’t think they even did waxes in that country back then. Although they later gifted the world the infamous thong (and I don’t mean the ones we were wearing on our feet back then).

And a final daring dental appliance fitting

For an encore daring deed, I went to the dentist today and had a new piece of hardware installed in my mouth.

The genesis of the five-point dental bridge: eighth grade at Grandview Junior High School. I had an abscessed molar. I could see the pus pocket on the exterior of my gum. I’ll bet my breath by that time could have knocked out anyone I happened to have a conversation with. Must have finally managed to talk to my mother because I landed in a dentist’s chair for the first time ever. He extracted the painful piece of flesh-covered enamel and I was certainly glad to see it buried in bloody gauze in a metal wastebasket.

Eventually that gaping hole got filled by a crown. That, only after getting married and being able to afford advanced dentistry. But pregnancy, a busy career and junk food does things to tooth enamel. The crown came off while eating taffy and a cavity caused the tooth next to it to become abscessed. Extraction number two. Hole widens. In comes spider partial number one to the rescue…a cute little plastic thing that clips into my mouth and fools me into thinking I don’t really have a hole there. After eight years, it wears down and out. Spider partial number two gets manufactured by the lab. At age 70, spider partial just isn’t chewing up my Longhorn Flo’s filets like it should. When my ship comes in in the form of the sale of some real estate, it’s time to put the final hardware in my skull.

Only an archaeologist will know. If I don’t open wide, you’ll never be able to see my new 5-point bridge.

As the dental anesthesia wears off this afternoon, imagine my relief in knowing that when archaeologists dig up my body (assuming I don’t opt for cremation) they will marvel at the dentistry of the 21st century.

I’m just so glad that I decided to live life on the edge after coming out of the pandemic of 2020.

I got my first eyebrow wax. I now have this wonderful new five-point bridge (five teeth in all). I can now easily chew a nice steak. It’s just too bad that I can no longer digest beef.

Would you give up sex if it meant you could travel again?

Oh the places we’ll go…or the places we used to go…or the places we’d love to go. The pandemic has shattered many travel plans.

Yesterday’s double-take headline

Thirty-eight percent of Americans would give up sex for a year, just to travel again. And 80 percent of us feel that travel is part of a well-rounded life.

Wait a minute! Did I hear that right? Yesterday’s newscast headline made me stop in my tracks and investigate the soundbite in detail. Who would give up sex to travel? What program is that?

Turns out it is not a program or a new virtual reality show. Just a silly survey a travel company conducted.

Most of us (except my husband) have been missing traveling the past year. Traveling to see grandkids, traveling to have lunch with girlfriends or to water aerobics classes. Traveling to our getaway vacations.

My husband doesn’t miss traveling because he spent 32 years traveling as a military pilot to places all over the world. He likes home. He’d rather be at home. Well, he’s had ample time to be at home this year and he has a really good excuse not to indulge my need to travel, because we’ve been stuck at home in a pandemic.

And even though I’ve traveled all over Central and South America, many years ago, and even though I’m pretty content to stay home and stay busy, I miss traveling…a lot.

Vaccinations could open things up soon

I get my first Covid vaccination next Tuesday. Within a month, when I get that second shot, I’ll feel free for the first time in a year. As long as I have a mask with me, I won’t hesitate to get in my car and just go. But I know that it won’t be the same as it was before the pandemic.

In fact, a few weeks ago I had to travel to Kansas City to sign closing documents on the sale of my house there. We had an hour to kill that day and tried to find someplace to grab a sandwich. The part of the city where I had the closing used to be thriving. It was deserted. Still. Talk about depressing! We’re talking ghost-town, science fiction, end-of-the-world depressing! I had thought there would not be so many businesses still shuttered now.

Signs at local bars and restaurants may soon turn from Closed to Open.

So, even when we get our vaccines, even when people start traveling again, things are not going to be as easy as they were before the pandemic. Apparently we’re going to have to hold on a bit longer. We may have to even adjust our travel habits a bit once we can get back on the road. I guess travel agencies and airlines and cruise lines are recognizing that, because my cousin Susie has already received notice that trips she had planned for this year are being rescheduled for 2022.

Talk about agony!

What to do while we’re waiting to travel again

So, what do we do while we’re waiting to pursue our passions for travel and the need we have to go places? Well, I’m no expert, but I’m trying to be patient and do as many things virtually as possible. Here are some ideas that popped into my aging brain while pondering yesterday’s headline:

Have you noticed how many little red thingamabobs there are on Google Maps in your area? Follow those thingamabobs on a local journey of discovery.
  • The first thing I plan to do is update my passport. That’s been on my to-do list ever since I got remarried and changed my name. But I keep putting it off. I want to go back to Brazil one of these days. I’d really love to go to Europe… And that brings me to the next suggestion.
  • Start a bucket list of places you’d like to go. You probably already have one, or you have things already checked off a bucket travel list. But this is a fun activity. It’s fun to dream and imagine the places you’ll go.
  • Since everything is online these days, start taking virtual trips on YouTube, or read a travel book or magazine to help grow your bucket list. Attend a virtual concert.
  • Start making a list of places you’d like to go in the state where you live. There are so many places I have yet to explore in Topeka and in Kansas. Western Kansas, with its unique limestone formations, is now at the top of my Visit Kansas bucket list.
  • To help make up your places to visit list, subscribe to email lists or blogs about travel. Connect with your local tourism department and download the state travel brochure.
  • Haul out your old travel photos and put them in an album, virtual or physical, and relive the places you’ve already been and the trips you’ve already taken.
  • Dig out your last travel journal. If you didn’t journal about your last trip, or document it in a photo book or album, start a new travel journal and write about the places you’d like to go. Also, why not just journal about your feelings and frustrations about not traveling?
  • Try to recapture the memories of the most amazing trip you ever took. What did it do for your five senses? What did it sound like? Feel like? Taste and smell like? Write about that as if you’re sitting down and having a face-to-face visit with your grandchildren.

If you follow any of my suggestions, I’ll bet that before you know it, you’ll actually be taking a trip. And for sure, you won’t be taking traveling for granted. In fact, there are many things in addition to travel we won’t be taking for granted anymore.

The face of travel is changing dramatically; mostly due to the need for face masks.

We will get through this difficult time. Spring is almost here. In the meantime, while we wait, keep your mind active and your heart light by taking or planning trips in your imagination.

If you need help getting a journaling practice started, whether for traveling, gardening or just documenting your life, check out this Personal Chapters video blog, or ask to be part of our Facebook Group Memoir Mentors where you’ll get weekly vlogs and suggestions for capturing your memories and starting your memoir.

Savor the family stories: Handling grief and funerals during a pandemic


We said goodbye to my cousin Larry this week. Covid-19 did not do him in, but it sure did a number on his funeral plans.

Those of us who knew and loved him watched the family drama unfold. I vowed to record the story for posterity, and to maybe help others who have to bury a loved one during a pandemic. After all, we have had a sea change with regard to how we are now forced to handle the business of death and dying. So many families can no longer gather at a beside to say a final good-bye. Funeral homes have been closed. Church buildings are empty. Funeral crowds are often limited to immediate families, then tagged by the media or health department reports as super-spreaders of illness.

Where do we go with our grief in these Covid days?

Initially we worried that pandemic restrictions would leave us incapable of closure through traditional grieving rituals. Those restrictions did put a few wrinkles in the funeral but we worked around and through them. We are Kansans, after all.

Granddaughter Leslie reads online condolences to her grandmother.

We watched my 95-year-old Aunt push the boundaries of Covid restrictions

Larry’s daughters gathered around his surviving mother and included her wishes in every aspect of the planning. At 95, my Aunt Gene is still a force to be reckoned with. Admittedly, burying two of her children has stripped her of some of her starch. But we watched in awe as her sharp mind maneuvered around Covid restrictions. If challenged or reminded she should not be planning that or doing this, she just smiled politely and pretended she couldn’t hear.

Aunt Gene knew she was not supposed to have people come to the house after the funeral or for any kind of meal. That didn’t keep her from inviting everyone she talked to, from cousins to the funeral directors.

She wasn’t the only one. When the hospice workers who come to the house several times a week insisted there be no visitors and absolutely no food brought in, everyone meekly acquiesced. But behind the scenes, the local church ladies put on masks and gloves and gathered in one of their homes to make bologna salad sandwiches from Aunt Gene’s own recipe. They called my husband to come and pick them up and secretly deliver them to her house, so that any “stray illegals” who popped in before or after the funeral would be fed.

My aunt has not been out of the house for nearly two years since going on hospice care. This week, her granddaughters arranged for a transport van with a lift and a wheelchair to get their grandmother to the graveside service. Then, just a few days before the service, Aunt Gene said she really wanted to see her son’s body so she could have closure. Maybe she needed to make sure he was really, really dead, as that song in the Wizard of Oz goes. But we all suspect it was more a matter of pushing through those doggone Covid parameters to exert some control over a difficult situation.

The funeral home directors quickly arranged for an 11 a.m. viewing at the mortuary, followed by the 2 p.m. graveside service. That required two separate appointments with the wheelchair transport van. It also required a virtual retinue of family members to help Grandma Gene get dressed in something more attractive than flannel pajamas, shove men’s slippers over hospital socks, over edema-swollen feet, and wheel her across temporary ramps and into the van. She got a bit annoyed when someone shoved a plastic face shield over her newly-permed hair. And she flat out refused to wear a second mask underneath the shield, saying she couldn’t breathe.

The Grandma retinue toted around a large bag full of hand sanitizer, water bottles, tissues and other necessities. But she was irritated to discover no one brought her glasses. And she was really disgusted to find that she had to wait at the funeral home until the van returned for the next appointment. To help her pass the time, we asked a staff member to print out the condolences and stories of Larry that had been submitted via the online guest registry.

Online condolences can be captured, printed and preserved

Those memories of my cousin contained veins of gold. They showed us all a side of Larry that we hadn’t previously seen. They took the place of the tradition our little rural church has of allowing everyone to tell their stories orally during a funeral service. Covid has closed the building to all gatherings. But the stories got told anyway, thankfully, and due to new online networks maintained by the funeral home.

At the graveside service, we were all warned to social distance. We wore masks. And scores of us showed up to what was advertised as a private family service. The older generation in our rural area…folks who watched Larry grow up, play high school football and join the Navy…they were at the cemetery, masked and safely distanced. Some of them could barely walk over the uneven cemetery ground. Someone came with a walker. When one of my relatives tired of standing, she sat down on the closest tombstone, checking first to see if the person buried there had been someone she knew. We seemed to be united in participating in an outdoor social event that was permissible during a pandemic. Luckily it was one of those rare, warm winter days.

We need familiar rituals…we need to hear the stories

No matter the generation, we all hungrily soaked up the pomp of the military service–from the flag draped casket, to the loud rifle reports and playing of Taps, and through the flag folding and presentation by members of the Air Guard to Aunt Gene. Our spirits gained comfort from the familiarity of the ritual. Even though we had all heard the 23rd Psalm repeated by pastors at every funeral service in memory, we needed to hear it again and be soothed. But what we all really needed to hear? Stories of Larry, as told by his tearful daughter. We laughed and cried with her to hear the memories he made for his three daughters.  She managed to capture some of his witty sayings. The most memorable: “stop acting like farts in a skillet” (settle down). My favorite was her story of gathering at Larry’s sister’s house for family dinners, crowding into the dining room like sardines in a can, then finding it impossible to leave the table except by crawling under it.

The only thing missing was a display of photos and a slideshow … and music

Our celebration of Cousin Larry’s life contained almost all of the elements of any pre-pandemic funeral. But it did lack the display of photos depicting the highlights of his life. It lacked the slideshow playing in a perpetual loop on a screen or television monitor in front of the church. It lacked music playing in the background and it lacked congregational singing of old, familiar hymns. We had to be content with a taped version of Taps and a country gospel CD player version of “I Come To The Garden Alone.” Those attempts at honoring funeral traditions were a welcome balm to most of us. But we wanted to do more. So we have.

The celebration of Larry’s life and the traditions and legacy of family continues now through a Facebook family group set up a few weeks ago when I stumbled across the rough beginnings of a family history book. My cousin Linda (Larry’s sister) started on a family history dedicated to our grandparents way back in the 1980s. It contained photos of Grandma Junia and Grandpa Noble, photos of cousins, photos of aunts and uncles and treasured recipes from each of them.

The cousins are now collaborating on the preservation of the stories. Cousin Mike posted a rare but grainy 16 mm scene of the family gathered around a dinner table, then another one of Grandma walking (most of us remember her always seated in a wheelchair), and yet another of some ICBM missiles being delivered to silos in Kansas. Through the comments and discussions prompted by those videos I learned that my Uncle Max helped excavate the missile silos in the area, running his bulldozer expertly in circles and down into the ground, until a crane was brought in to lift the dozer into the ever deepening hole and then out again when it was complete. Thanks to Cousin Kevin, one of many pilots in the family (a tradition that began with his dad), I also learned the difference between Atlas and Minuteman missiles. Who knew? Who cared, except us, now that we are older and want all the details. We want our history to be deeper than our reactions to a pandemic.

This 1950s 16 mm movie, filmed by my late Uncle Rex and shared by Cousin Mike on our new Facebook group, caused some of us to shed tears of gratitude and recollection. A slice of daily family life has been preserved.

Meanwhile, back at a somewhat ‘illegal’ funeral celebration . . .

In addition to telling family history stories in a new Facebook group, we told more tales after Larry’s funeral, while gathered “illegally” at Aunt Gene’s. We ate dishes that mysterious and unnamed hands prepared, taking off our masks just long enough to inhale the comforting flavors of cheesy potatoes, baked beans, lasagna, chocolate chip cookies, bologna salad sandwiches, and gallons of hot coffee. We excused our indulgence by labeling ourselves as immediate family. We tried to stay six feet apart, but we’ve all been around each other and in and out of the house pretty habitually for several months now. Some of us have even had Covid and stayed away for several weeks. But we always come back to the nucleus, to the traditional gathering spot and one of the only homes that now archives our memories. We always gather at Aunt Gene’s.

We told and preserved a few new stories in her house this week as we coped with loss and worked around pandemic restrictions. We became stronger, more resilient, more loving and better people, maybe even because we could not do exactly what we are used to doing in the grieving department.

Here’s the image that remains in my head and heart from this week: My aunt leans forward from her wheelchair, peers over the top of the open casket at her handsome, gone-too-soon son dressed in blue jeans and a soft flannel shirt. and says softly, “Bye, son. I’ll see you in heaven. I’ll see you soon.”

The rest of us now have the job of making sure we collect all of Grandma Gene’s stories and memories … before “soon” rolls around and catches us unprepared.

The death of a community newspaper hits home . . . and hard

The Facebook post this week carried the news and a photo of a publisher friend who had just put the last issue of her newspaper to bed.

A Facebook post on the last day of 2020 hit me hard.

Still in pandemic holiday mode, my husband and I were sitting on the loveseat together, getting ready to escape into another mind-numbing Netflix series. A scant 15 minutes prior to casting the show to our family room television, I had shared news of the demise of a weekly newspaper in the town I called home while attending high school. One of my classmate’s comments in the group almost made me bawl. “It has run its course,” she concluded, but she did mark the sadness of the death of a community newspaper.

Sea changes and the demise of refrigerator journalism

Her comment and my husband’s reaction to my distress, shocked me into an awareness of the profound global implications of this one little bit of news. It reflects and even summarizes on a micro-level, the sea changes we’ve all endured in 2020 and in the years before that.

I had caught the beginnings of the trend even before I sold my own weekly newspaper. That’s when I learned that refrigerator journalism…the trend of newspaper subscribers in the U.S. to cut out articles featuring their kids and secure them to the fridge with a magnet…was dying. Back then, I scrambled to start a Facebook page for my newspaper so we could at least attempt to communicate with the younger generation.

Younger folks would rather read their phones than a newspaper.

Dirtying hands with soy ink

Kids back in the early 2000s did not want to get their hands dirty with soy ink. They already had their noses buried in their phones instead, and that’s where they turned for news. They didn’t seem to care that doing so caused a disconnect with their community, their hometowns, and any generation older than they.

Those changes in how we communicate and share news with each other accelerated at warp speed last year. The shuttering of one more print newspaper caused me to sputter in frustration, “Who do they (the unnamed community members and advertisers who had failed to support the newspaper enough to afford a living for the owners) think will run photos and stories of their kids on the football field or walking across the stage to get their diplomas? Or, how about births and deaths… or an editorial that explains a local bond issue… or photos of people running for local office?”

My husband looked at me with a wicked grin. “You know the answer to that.”

“I do not!”

He repeated his statement, adding more irony and increasing his cajoling. His attitude reminded me of teachers who would put you on the spot and even embarrass you in front of the whole class to elicit an answer that was obvious to everyone but you.

Where will we get news that’s terse, accurate, fair?

When I continued to insist that I did not know where people today, in the community of the defunct newspaper or elsewhere, would turn for balanced, terse, accurate, fair and unbiased local news, he glanced at my hands.

“You’re holding it. You’re using it.”

Phones? Facebook?

“For the love of God, how will we ever educate ourselves on Facebook? How will we ever get the truth? The real story? Or the story behind the story?”

My husband’s reply to my exasperation was a quiet, “It doesn’t matter. They don’t care. They don’t feel like they need the truth. They think it doesn’t affect them. Besides, most of us want to live in a bubble and make our own reality. Isn’t that what we’ve had to do this year?”

I thought about that for a few quiet moments, then tried to look at the other side of the story myself, the way I’d been trained to do in journalism school. Then I admitted that I would have become certifiably insane from March through December of 2020 if not for Facebook and the Internet. That is where I now go for family photos and news, then share with a husband whose military clearance level prohibits him from even having a social media account.

What would we have done during 2020 if we could not turn to our mobile devices to keep us connected to each other and the world?

Thank God for Facebook, Amazon and Zoom during a pandemic…

Thanks to social media and the Internet, I’ve watched multiple video workshops, joined virtual groups, attended Christmas parties via Zoom, purchased most of my Christmas presents online and shared slices of my own life.  Like most of you, I’ve been able to keep in touch with high school classmates, longtime and new friends, and promote my own business efforts thanks to these virtual platforms.

Newspapers and cups of coffee or tea were made to go together.

…but also for a Baby Boomer’s comforting routines

But 2020 has shown me that, while adopting and adapting to these new forms of communication and commerce, I remain stuck in Baby Boomer ways. I like walking out to pick up my daily newspaper. I treasure the routine of snapping it open, folding it wrong side out to a feature story, while drinking a cup of tea or even eating my lunch. Try that with a smartphone and see how smeary the thing gets.

I turn to those ink-soaked newspaper pages to learn all the details of a local story…details usually absent from the brief sound bites on local television stations. I still look to print media that I can touch…and books I can reverently turn the pages in…to connect my head to my heart to my memory and to my tactile senses.

Who will be our community cheerleaders?

I still mourn the death of any newspaper. Every town needs a cheerleader, a watchdog, a champion and a community builder. That’s what local newspapers represent. And if the print versions are all going to die, I pray to God that the online versions live. I pray that the pandemic doesn’t sign the death warrants for too many more of them. Because we will miss them when they’re gone. We just don’t know it yet.

How will we clip articles for future reference?

If the local print newspaper were to die, I would no longer be able to clip articles about local authors to contact for programs of our Kansas Authors Club. And I would probably have missed a column by “The History Guy” this past week if it was only online. It told the delightful story of a wealthy, faithful newspaper subscriber years ago. The man loved reading the Topeka Capital Journal so much he paid in advance to have it delivered to his grave at a local cemetery. He even paid to have lights strung across his tombstone so he would have light 24/7 to read the newspaper.

Those newspaper deliveries continued until the day they were seen as less of a quaint practice and more as a crime of littering.

Are print newspaper readers just tree killers now?

And that, my friends, may be the real cause of the death of print newspapers…too many of us now see them as representing the death of too many trees.

Ode to a late-life marriage


There’s the Social Security donut hole…the Medicare gap…

But have you heard about the late-life marriage strap?

It’s an institution that really yokes us together

Like workhorses in all of its good and bad weather.

Yes, we seem to go awfully well with each other.

We’re partners and friends, like a good sister and brother.

It’s only been two years now, but both of us have found

We’re on such solid footing and have much common ground

That we already manage to take each other for granted.

We’re actually blessed because our lives are slanted

Straight into the winds that could buffet and haunt.

We’ve truly found late-life marriage something to flaunt.

I was 69 and he just four months younger

Yet we had to satisfy our mutual hunger.

For companionship we rushed without falter

When we took that clandestine trip to the altar.

Friends told us, after we’d each lost our spouses,

That we were too young to just take a bye

And sit out the rest of our lives being too shy.

Go ahead, take a risk, combine your two houses.

Though set in our ways, each carrying baggage,

We get along fine, just like carrots and cabbage.

He fixes breakfast and lets me follow my passion

For writing and reading and social media fashion.

In turn I don’t complain when he heads out to help

A neighbor or friend who calls with a yelp

And a project that consumes his time and expertise

While honey-dos at home stop short of my “please!”

I’ve learned that my hubby strives to be of service,

Even though he’s retired, without work he gets nervous.

We’re learning to make allowances, each for the other,

Me for his hoarding and him for my late husband’s stepmother.

Even through the new challenge of social isolation

Who better to share the platform of our pandemic station?

We’ve truly found a kinship and a love so mature

That it promises to treat old age with a sure cure.

Thank God being old did not prevent us from exchanging vows and rings two years ago!