COVID-19 Picnic

We are a family of somewhat happy refugees, waiting for developing news of the corona virus. John rescued grandson Nathaniel from Charlotte after his university closed. Our poor student was suffering from an awful head cold, diagnosed by a walk-in health facility. It definitely was not the dreaded virus. He didn’t do the mirror ritual until 12 hours after he arrived.

Nathaniel moves the mirror up to show he is with us.

Son John $pencer and Rose left our house to avoid Nathaniel’s illness. They checked in with us from time to time with calls and texts, which I really appreciated. While they were hiking, Rose texted, “It’s a beautiful day here. I hope you are all enjoying it as much as I am.”

The next day they hiked to the ridge line and got a good signal. Rose wrote, “I hope you all stay well. We are in our element here and enjoying our freedom and break from the news.” She sent me a photo of their campsite.

As that photo was coming in, David, Nathaniel, and I were chatting with Lise in Denmark. She was supposed to go to Sweden to appear in a promotional video for a new type of stomach balloon for weight loss. The border was closed because of the virus, but they were able to do the video in Denmark. She was having stomach cramps because of the procedure. She explained that this would be the worst day, and she would feel much better the next day. As we chatted, she made up a new verse of the Misery song. Years ago she made up a song with the boys because she had a miserable cold. After that, she would add a verse when any of them felt bad. Today’s verse was something about “If I pop, you’ll need a mop”.

Lise said in Denmark people are required to stay 6 feet apart. From her flat, she looks down on the street outside a bakery. They have put tape on the sidewalk, marking intervals of 6 feet for those waiting to go inside one at a time.

The boys and I had a picnic lunch on the front porch. Normally we eat on the screened porch at the back, but it was windy and cold there. The fellows sat in the sun as I hid in the shadows.

Porch picnic

Nathaniel went inside and came back with his vintage leather jacket. He wanted it to warm up in the sun and said, “I feel like Pastor Hofler in this jacket. All I need is a cigar to compete the picture.”

David might have leaned forward to get out of the picture. Note toes high-lighted with white.

The sky was very busy, making me think that people were flying because they couldn’t shop. Every time I looked at the sky, I saw another plane streaking over. As old contrails disappeared, new ones took their place. I showed the boys what I saw – a cloud in the center of a tic-tac-toe grid.

Sky tic-tac-toe

Have any of you had pleasant things happen related to the viral pandemic?

Chef Goes Back to School

Grandson Nathaniel’s week with us went by in a flash. We always enjoy being with him, and the pleasure was doubled, since grandson David lives with us.

People envy us having a student chef in the house. Now when he comes to visit, he brings his knives with him. That is a distinctive mark of a chef in my book. I try to listen to hear what Nathaniel might be in the mood to cook, and this time he talked about making a chicken sandwich. He didn’t give it a distinctive name, but it needs one. He grilled chicken fillets outside, whipped up a special bell pepper sauce, cooked crisp bacon, piled everything on a hearty wholegrain bread, and added lettuce. What a meal!

Nathaniel does not wear his heart on his sleeve, but he does wear a thermometer and a pen on his sleeve when he is in uniform. He would have liked that convenience the day I cooked a meatloaf wrapped in pastry. I can only imagine how fancy he would have made it, but mine was humdrum. He consoled me by saying that he loves home cooking because it is comfort food. When I said I would see if the meat was done, he checked it with a thermometer. He actually went to his room to get the thermometer, since he didn’t wear his uniform to cook here.

On David’s day off, we went to two thrift shops and enjoyed looking at things for several hours. Did we buy anything? No! I’m a miser, and David feels his student loans hanging over his head. Nathaniel’s refrain is, “I’m a broke college student.”

We did a bit better at a thrift store in Hendersonville. I bought $2 earrings, and John paid the same amount for a tie. We found a set of four wooden chairs for the kitchen table, feeling we got a bargain. Guests, note that you will be more comfortable to sit and chat after a meal now.

I often write about having fun and laughing, so I tried to catch a bit of the laughter after dinner one night. I kept quiet so the other five could be heard. There is nothing particularly special about our carrying on, but it was us at our silly best. I’m sorry I couldn’t remember how to include a WAV file.

We remembered the mirror ritual before leaving for church. The rest of the day was taken up with eating at a favorite restaurant and driving Nate back to Charlotte. He was a bit concerned about a heavy load of classes and working. I suspect he was eager for Monday morning to come so he could get it over with. There is only one first day of term, after all.

David acts as witness to Nathaniel’s lowering of the mirror as he left

Thanksgiving Begins

The first event of the Thanksgiving season was daughter Lise’s arrival. We picked up grandson Nathaniel from college and waited longer than expected to get Lise from the airport. Her flight from Denmark was delayed, making her miss the connection in New York. We were relieved that she was only four hours late getting to Charlotte. We were home by midnight and fell into bed.

The next morning we hurried to pack for the trip to my brother’s home in Winston Salem. Nathaniel deflated the air mattress by lying on it.

Nathaniel is thin, but he looks almost flat in this picture.

Son John $pencer and Rose participated in the mirror ceremony, when Nathaniel moved the hall mirror to a higher hook. He will move it down again when he leaves.

Dog Sadie is looking the wrong way.

Meal prep was underway when we arrived at Beth and Bob’s house. I took a photo showing a few people, not realizing how many would soon be there. We think there were 23 people to eat this feast on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

John, David, Don, Bob, Kate, and Nathaniel

I’ve never seen a group that could mix and mingle as easily as this group did. At one point Lise and niece Julie had a few minutes together on the sofa.

Lise and Julie

Grandsons David and Nathaniel were joking around near the back door with Grandpa. Nathaniel and cousin Kate modeled their leather jackets, both bought at thrift shops.

The photo I enjoyed taking the most was one of Lise and Zeke. When I was introduced to Zeke, I knew immediately who he was. Forty-four years ago his sister Mary visited us on Long Island. She was on a missionary trip, raising funds for her work with Wycliff Bible Translators. Mary’s first cousin was Bob’s first wife, who was the one who engineered her visit to us. All these years I remembered her talking about her family. She was the oldest, followed by two boys. When the fourth child was on the way, she set her heart on having a sister. She said she was so angry that another baby boy arrived that she said she was going to call him the ugliest thing she could think of. That name was Zeke. When I retold the story to Zeke, he laughed and said that was just like Mary. He claimed his mother said she was not going to have any more children and nicknamed him Zeke because it began with the last letter of the alphabet. With a twinkle in his eye, he asked if any of us knew his real name. We didn’t. It is William.

Lise and Zeke

I showed Zeke a photo I took of Lise and Mary when she visited in 1977. Of course he recognized his sister, and he was happy to pose with the grown-up version of Lise.

Lise and Zeke won the honor of being the ones who traveled furthest to our gathering. Lise lives in Denmark, and Zeke lives on a sail boat in Seattle, Washington.


What is the last thing you did before going on a road trip? I found myself dusting! Dusting the bathtub!

The day before we left, we were in the car six hours, taking grandson Nathaniel back to Charlotte. These are the before photos – the mirror ritual before Nathaniel left, and before we drove him back to campus.

I was in zombie mode while packing that night, so I got up earlier than necessary to check that I had everything. With the extra time, I got the dust out of the big tub. After hiking, both son John $pencer and Rose like soaking in hot water. I told Rose she was welcome to use my tub, one of those garden tub monstrosities. Daughter Lise is the only one who likes it so far, and that’s why it was last cleaned six months ago. The dusting was overdue.

Our first stop on the trip was in Nashville to have lunch with John’s cousin Harold and wife Susan. We were celebrating the first weekday of Harold’s retirement. Susan retired two years ago and has had her taste of first freedom. Harold does not feel free yet. He had come from his office where he was working on papers. He was an orthodontist and has many things to file and will take all the records to his home. We had a delightful time chatting with them.

Baking for the Baker

John drove to Charlotte to pick up grandson Nathaniel, and it was fairly late when they got home. We had a cheese snack when grandson David finished work and chatted for a while before heading to bed. I thought about the mirror ritual, but maybe Nate wouldn’t hang the hall mirror on the upper hook for just a weekend.

The next morning I asked myself, “What am I doing??? I’m rolling out biscuits for a young man who is majoring in baking and pastry? Am I out of my gourd?”

The answer to my question was no. I was doing what I always do. In chatting with neighbor Marla recently, truth came out of my mouth unbidden. I surprised myself when I said, “Cooking for people is the way I show that I love them.”

For the foodies, we had bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, and Southern biscuits made with White Lily Flour.

After breakfast, Nathaniel called out, “I didn’t do the mirror!”

David came to the hall, and I had the camera. Nate took the mirror and carefully moved it to the hook where the former owners had a clock. He moved slowly so that I could get a photo.

Egging him on, I told him to smile at himself. That’s why all his teeth are on display. David can see his head in there, but the mirror is useless for the rest of us. Nathaniel will do the ritual in reverse when it is time for him to go. It’s a silly thing, but we enjoy it.

Christmas with Logan

Neighbor Logan’s family had more visitors than we did over Christmas. There had been no time to give him the little gifts we had for him until the day after Christmas. His mom was busy cleaning up after company, and his dad was doing a project in the garage. Logan chose to have cookies first and then open presents.

A few weeks ago Logan was in the musical Elf. When we saw an elf hat in the store, we had to buy it. He popped it on his head and wore it while he finished opening his gifts.

Nathaniel handed him another small package, one daughter Kate had sent down from New Jersey. Logan had a big smile on his face when he saw it was the card game, Uno. David and Nathaniel played one game with him that lasted over an hour.

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David, Logan, and Nathaniel play Uno.

This was Nathaniel’s last full day with us, and he made us a proper chicken pie. By proper, I mean it was made from scratch. He roasted chicken breasts in the oven, used the drippings as a base for the sauce, shredded fresh carrots, cut up celery and onion, and cooked peas and corn to go in it. He had planned to make his own puff pastry for the top, but we were running out of time. He made pie crust instead. It was delicious. The vegetables had just the right amount of body to them, and I liked the very fresh taste of the onions. He spoiled us to the end of the visit.

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Chicken pie, and yes, that’s a train on the table

I insisted on one last informal portrait of the fellows, to have their smiling faces all together.

122618 Last meal together this year for the fellows.JPG

We were not going to forget the mirror ritual this time. Nathaniel started high and ended in a goofy stance to check his appearance. Until next time….

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

Our drive from Maryland to North Carolina was pleasantly uneventful until we were 20 miles from home. Traffic came to a halt in the gorge, and we sat there for one and a half hours. There was a long stretch with no exits, leaving us no alternative. The attraction of the moment was the rising of the moon. When we finally moved, we passed an 18-wheeler on a tow truck headed in the wrong direction. It was a strange sight. The four-lane interstate was squeezed by mountains on both sides with a concrete Jersey barrier down the middle. Perhaps the road was closed again later to allow that rig to escape.

062618 Moon rising in the gorge over stopped traffic on I-40.JPG
Darkness on the left is the empty interstate going the other way.

Needless to say, we dragged ourselves into the house, carrying as much as possible. Nathaniel clapped his hats on my head for an easy ride in.

062618 Carrying hats in the house.JPG

After the car was unpacked, Nathaniel performed his mirror ritual. His summer has officially begun.  [Every time he comes to stay, he moves the mirror to the hanger where the former owners hung a clock.  He is the only one who can use it easily, although David can see himself on tiptoe.]

062618 Nathaniel's mirror ritual.JPG

A couple of days later, a cloud invited itself to dinner on our porch. It shied away at the last moment.

062818 Cloud inviting itself to dinner.jpg

Let the Fun Begin!

Niece Julie and I had finished half our breakfast when John and grandson Nathaniel arrived from New York. It took them about 16 hours to drive here from Long Island. Julie and I eat slowly, so they soon caught up, and we had fruit together. To celebrate Nathaniel’s recent 18th birthday, Julie gave him a couple of baking gadgets. One I’d never seen before – a pastry marker.

021718 N open pastry guide.JPG

After the meal, Nathaniel announced it was time for the mirror ritual. He pointed out where it should go so that he could see his face instead of his belt. After moving it up, he was satisfied. He will reverse the ritual when he leaves.

John had taken only two short naps on the drive down, so while he slept, we went to Waynesville to an art shop. Julie waited in the background as the artist signed the place mats she bought for her house-mate, Patty. The artist was a lot of fun, telling us that she is an up-and-coming artist. If we bought her work as an investment, we might make a lot of money. She also pointed out that burying a mayonnaise jar full of money in the backyard might be just as remunerative.

021718 Artist signs placemats Julie bought.JPG

We couldn’t resist the photo board outside the shop, both of us women taking a turn with Nathaniel.

We laughed ourselves silly over a roast pork dinner. Nathaniel, who pretends to hate puns, declared he would not bake the promised Black Forest Cake if Grandpa made 20 puns that day. In a matter of minutes John racked up 13 points. He argued that each of Nathaniel’s puns should take a point off. By 9 pm the count was 18. John made one final pun that sent grandson reeling off to bed. They were talking about vintage cars. John said, in light of Nathaniel’s planned career, he should have a chef-fer for his car.

End of Summer

Although temperatures were still seasonally hot, a fun summer ended for me when John headed north with our grandsons. We laughed every single day at things that were amusing or just silly. We were old enough to be silly, and they were mature enough to join in. Of course, there were tons of puns bandied about, with David reveling in them and Nathaniel claiming to despise them. Both were good at it. We delighted in visits with relatives in Summerville SC and Winston Salem. Relatives from Thomasville were here for a conference, so we were with them for a few hours. Touristy things included seeing a bit of Charleston, touring an Asheville mansion, and going to a mountain folk museum. Another high point of the visit was son John’s taking the young men on a hike to Chimney Rocks. While David worked, Nathaniel helped John build a waterfall in the garden – a treat for the eyes and ears! Quite often Nathaniel grilled the meat for dinner. Everyone enjoyed the food, and John was pleased that he didn’t have to build the fires and do the cooking.

The time slipped away for us to see neighbors Shawn, Bob, and young Logan. They came over to say goodbye, and sadly we didn’t hear them at the door. They left a very special calling card – vine ripened tomatoes and green peppers from their garden. Unlike us, they have a very USEFUL garden.

081216 Tomatoes and peppers

081216 Still life from neighbor's garden







081216 Packing shoes


The last full day was a time for packing and putting things away. Nathaniel’s belongings were compact, but David was taking everything he’d need for college from summer clothes to winter coats.



081216 Packing for college.jpg

At the very last minute, Nathaniel remembered the mirror ritual. One of the first things he does when he comes is moving the mirror from its normal hook to a high one left by the previous owners for a clock. The height is perfect for him, and him alone. I don’t know why he was wearing a winter hat topped with a conductor’s hat, but we do silly things here. He was probably taking them out to the car the easiest way possible. He and David assumed poses for the formal ritual. Nathaniel carefully moved the mirror and leaned down to check his reflection.

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Formal pose for mirror ritual

081316 2 N checks his appearance one last time.jpg
Last comfortable view for Nathaniel

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Mirror set at normal height

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Crouching for one last check

I hadn’t the heart to take a photo of the van before they left. I know it was unorthodox. They removed the middle seats. David sat in the front passenger seat, and Nathaniel folded himself into the very back where he was surrounded by luggage before and behind him. The last I heard from them was a text from David responding to my reporting of Olympic wins of the American swim teams. For me, this was a most satisfying summer, one filled with good memories and hopes of more to come.