Every November should be like April



October’s wet rays gave way to cerulean November

Making us all the more grateful for the sun that filters down to our arthritic joints

And almost making a joyful occasion out of gathering the crisp, crackling leaves

That found themselves imprisoned on both sides of our back porch

And caught us unwilling to wait for spring to set them free in the deeper woods

Because it’s November.


These are the days that give us hope,

Make us ignore unemployment rates and national debates.

We can fume in frustration and powerlessness, screaming at the television,

Or, we can grab a rake or the Windex and make our own corner of the world

A little cleaner, neater, brighter,

Relieved to forget about gardening and mowing pasture,

Because it’s November.


Time today for optimism and smiles all around

Because we’re not  yet shivering in our boots.

We know that with days like this,

Spring is a distinct possibility. 

We can even get the calendar and sigh with satisfaction,

Marking, not the days until Christmas,

But the days until we can dig in the dirt

And once again feel the sun’s warmth in our joints.

Because it’s November and we remember April.


The only things we have to fear are death by politics or getting stuck in our underwear



I wasn’t alive then, but I’ve heard President Franklin Roosevelt’s “fear” speech replayed so many times I can still hear the static in the background as he told radio audiences, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Those were profound words, and, not to take anything away from his motivational and historical comments, but lately I find there truly are a lot of things to fear.

Now that I’m past 60, I have this irrational fear of catching my little toe in my underwear some morning, falling on my face, and having no one around to pick up my undignified broken-necked body. I know the solution to this fear is to sit down on something to put on socks or underwear, but it’s darned unhandy and a waste of time.

Then there is the fear of never-ending tomato blight. This is something only a gardener would concern herself with, but believe me, it is legit. How many times have I planted, watched anxiously for the green twigs to start sprouting tomato babies, anticipating the wholesome flavor of red, juicy adults, and then had hopes dashed by tomato blight, the scourge of the land.

Or, how about the fear of death by politics? This particular phobia asserts itself through an addiction to cable network news and commentary, including setting up your DVR to record the shows you might have to miss due to being forced to perform daily living functions such as cooking, eating supper and mowing the grass. Those of us who must have our constant supply of negative fear-mongering and hackle-raising find ourselves without a sense of purpose when deprived of the chance to rage at the television. The death part comes when we become so apoplectic from all the things we have no control over, we keel over from high blood pressure or, worse, stroke.

Naturally all this worry is pure nonsense, because the only real fear we should have is that of leaving this world before making the proper connections with God and/or our fellow man prior to getting hung up in our underwear.

This is one of several columns that will be included in an upcoming book, “The New Other Mail: A Newspaper Column and a Memoir.”

Hand-me-downs: The creative woman’s answer to ‘what’s for dinner’



Advancing age is supposed to bring wisdom.

If I were a wise woman, every night I’d know the answer to “What’s for dinner?”

For the past week, health and weight concerns have made the answer lots of salads-in-a-bag and no bread. That’s about all the longer those routines last at our house. Then the weekend hits.

If it’s rainy or overcast or otherwise depressing and we happen to go to the store, lo and behold, a chocolate cake mix ends up in the basket. We don’t know what little gremlin might have put it there. And, as cake mixes are no good in their original packaging, the cake gets made. Once a cake is made, the new adage becomes, “I am, therefore I eat . . . especially chocolate.”

When Monday comes again, the salad trick doesn’t work anymore, especially when the male of the house pokes at it and says, “I’ve seen this stuff in the yard. You’re gonna make me eat this again?! Give it to Mikey the rabbit. He’ll like it.”

I really can’t complain much about my partner’s eating demands. He’s a mean grill cook and he’d eat a few bowls of Campbell’s  whatever two times a day and be satisfied. Me, I can’t handle the sodium and the boredom (my version of the salad aversion).

Last night, the what’s for dinner question was posed at the pantry door. We had “inherited” some hand-me-down canned goods from his step-mom, including some canned collard greens. After nixing the soup again, I got to work in the kitchen, secretly whipping up what I was sure would be a surprise and delight to my spouse.

I called him to the table after sweating over a hot stove, proud of my efforts. I’d pulled out some authentic homemade tamales out of the freezer (made somewhere in Kansas City, KS by the Real McCoy hispanic cooks) and nuked them soft. I opened a can of pinto beans and boiled the liquid away from them, adding a generous dash of Tony Cachere’s Cajun Seasoning. I fried some bacon and sprinkled that in the beans and the collards for some extra zest.

The piece de resistance was the pico de gallo, bringing a spot of welcome color and freshness to the plate–chopped tomatoes, fresh cilantro, green onions, lime juice, garlic, olive oil and salt. I tried not to worry about the fact that I was mixing cuisines (Mexican, Cajun and Southern) on one plate. I added a dollop of queso con salsa to the beans, just for looks and Voila! I was so proud of my creativity and the fact that I’d just made a meal out of hand-me-downs.

The reception was less than gratified. Failing to admire the artistry of the plate, my spouse took two bites and reached for one of my acid reflux pills.

Guess what we’re having for dinner tonight? I think a bag of popcorn or a frozen pizza will just have to do. No wonder he can’t wait until gardening season. It’s hard to get creative with corn and tomatoes.

Note: This column originally appeared in my newspaper humor column, Letters from Home, and will be published in a collection with the working title “The New Other Mail: A newspaper column and a memoir.”

This is a boomer brain on a smartphone



Just because you’re a senior citizen and retired now doesn’t mean you can’t be adept at using electronic devices and adapting to the intricacies of social media. I’m a good case study, with some glaring exceptions.

I had to learn the electronic communications stuff because it was part of my business, but there are times when I am just another dumb person operating a smartphone. Like this morning’s text message, which I thought was going to my cousin, Linda, who had just sent us a package with some of her homemade jellies.

Here’s a transcript of the exchange:

Me: Just got the book, the cd, the jelly and the card! Thanks. We haven’t had our breakfast yet so will taste the jelly.

Me: The mango pineapple called for a second piece of toast! Yum!

Response: Sorry??? I’m glad you like it but I don’t remember sending you guys anything like that!

Me: (I thought she was playing dumb) Is chemo brain at work here? (She was due for another chemo-therapy treatment today) Or is it guilty forgetfulness for sending jelly to a diabetic?

Response: Mom…

Me: Is mom a new text speak?

Response: No… this is your son. You know … YOUR SON.

Me: OMG! I thought I was texting Linda. Oops. Disregard.

When will I learn that when sending a text message, this stupid phone automatically reverts to the last text recipient?!

The same thing happened to me a decade ago when I was just starting to learn how to send email. I invited an avowed business enemy to swim in our new pool, not realizing that his name was next to a best friend’s in the address book.  Oh well! He did the same thing a month later, mistakenly sending me a message that uncovered his dastardly plans to cut me out of a joint operating plan. We were able to cut him off at the email pass before he could carry out his plans.

My husband swears that we should be relegated to a Jitterbug with large numbers, but you just try to separate him from his iPad! (I’d like to actually, because he keeps hitting those damn survey buttons that result in calls from telemarketers).

I blame some of my ineptness with electronics on being a distracted writer.  When you have this affliction, it results in having your mind focused on the next brilliant word choice or phrase instead of watching where you’re walking or what button you’re clicking. This has caused some really close calls, as in near falls.

And here’s where we work in statistics on seniors falling. Did you know that one out of three older adults (65 or older) falls each year and that falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries? That’s serious stuff and I do heed those stats, as my husband, who’s a bit of a psychic, says I’m going to trip over my feet because I never watch them.

I wonder if there are any statistics on seniors who develop brain disorders from using smartphones?

Veggies with leftover Halloween candy, please



The old admonition to eat your veggies takes on new meaning in retirement.

It’s so easy not to, you know. Who wants to peel and chop? Now that you’re on a fixed income, who can afford to continue shopping on the outside aisles of the supermarket?

All these excuses vaporized the week I had two cooking disasters in a row, brought on by feeling compelled to clean out cabinets and the freezer by using up old stuff. There’s a reason for those expiration dates, kiddo, says me to self in disgust. You can’t expect a box of Jambalaya mix that’s two months beyond expired to taste good (were those weevils that wobble in the bottom of that box?), especially when paired with some shrimp that was frozen in a salt brine in China. The whole batch got thrown in the trash, where it should have gone before gracing the cooktop. Neither did the whiting filets that were just a little freezer-burned add much pizazz to a new fish soup recipe. But then what could one expect when the carrots were too dehydrated from their month-old resting place in the crisper, and the ground spices had been in the cupboard for five years? The dogs really liked the whiting. We resorted to nuking a frozen pot pie for our supper.

It was the pot pies and their sister TV dinners that proved the straws that broke this cook’s reluctant, procrastinating and lazy back. Realizing that our menus had featured two of those low-quality entrees in a row made me realize we were trapped in a fast-food hell that could only be solved by pre-planning and chopping.

Extra motivation for this change in culinary habits came from having a mate with diabetes and digestive challenges who has to greet the day with fresh evidence of his sins the previous day through a blood glucose test. In addition, we’ve both become increasingly concerned about the well-being of a relative we care for through grocery shopping and bill paying. All she seems to put on her grocery list are mushy, white, salty things, plus a new supply of frozen dinners and pot pies. Sometimes she just skips meals.

A survey by Ross Laboratories found that 30 percent of seniors skip at least one meal a day and another 16% don’t consume enough calories to maintain adequate nutrition. We’re addressing our relative’s situation by inviting her over for a meal with us once a week (where she eats heartily) and checking into Meals on Wheels. We also throw in a few healthy choices she hasn’t asked for when doing her shopping. And in case depression and loneliness were the culprits in her poor eating habits, we got her a mature cat who needed a good home. The two have become fast friends and now watch television together and snuggle on the couch for a nap.

As for us old folks taking care of an older folk, we’re trying to improve our eating and cooking habits. I sat down Sunday afternoon with a few favorite cookbooks, after doing a freezer, fridge and pantry inventory. The rest of the week’s meals are planned, from breakfast through snacks. It wasn’t easy. And I have to admire the school lunch ladies and dietitians at nursing homes and hospitals in their challenge of offering tasty and healthy entrees every day. Some of my plans had to be revised upon discovering they were too skimpy on veggies and/or fruit.

But you know what? It’s amazing what a relief it is to be able to answer the odious question of what’s for dinner by producing a written document instead of the pat reply, “I don’t know. What sounds good?” or “What do you want?”

And there was no boss to object or employees to roll their eyes in disapproval when I got up from breakfast and started chopping something for lunch, or when I finished lunch and made this evening’s dessert. Instead of realizing, halfway through the day, that there was nothing pulled out of the freezer for supper, I just looked at my menus for the day and retrieved the package of lean ground beef for tacos. It will now be ready when I am.

Lest you detect a note of self-righteousness here, let  it be known to all that I’m having a big struggle with the plate of leftover Halloween candy that calls out every time I walk by. That is not one of my menu selections, but bad habits can’t be overcome overnight or we’d have nothing to feel guilty about.

P.S. For additional information about helping a senior in your life with nutrition concerns, check out these web pages: