Monday, May 30, 2016

A Floral Profiling

 It is the unofficial beginning of summer and to that end, prep here on the Coast of Illinois has been in full swing. (Think ten cubic tons of mulch and a small loan from the local nursery.) Consequently, I have been so sore from digging I have been unable to lift my arms to type. Or I have been too preoccupied with reading Padma Lakshmi's new autobiography and watching The Night Manager. 
Memorial Day, while always about remembering our Veterans, has long been a semi-secret competition among the people here on the Coast of Illinois. A sweet, well meaning competition, and absolutely a sincere event, but a competition none the less.

So if you see me coming at you with a flat of any of the below mentioned flowers, I suggest you run.
But not into traffic.  

Marigolds, petunias and geraniums. That is the hierarchy, the rank, if you will of which flower goes on which grave. Marigolds are for the distant relatives, the ones that have been gone the longest. Petunias are for the next in line- cousins, step family and 'the baby graves'. Geraniums go to the top ranking relatives – parents, grandparents, the favorite Aunts and Uncles. They also go on the yet to be filled graves that belong to the double headstone relatives. The ones that plan to be buried next to their spouse (or favorite spouse in the case of one Aunt) but who may not be quite dead yet.

I learned this class system early in my childhood. Every May I would accompany my Mom on a tour of The Cemeteries. We would pack the trunk of the car with jugs of water, small garden shovels and flats of fresh flowering plants. East Cemetery was mostly Mom's relatives. The West Cemetery mostly Dad's. It was also the final resting place of those sad yet scary 'baby graves'. I always preferred the West Cemetery. It sat on the top of a large hill – nearly unheard of in the middle of Cornfield Illinois, and felt spacious and airy. The East Cemetery felt older, more enclosed with its large oak trees and winding gravel paths. Plus, from the top of the West Cemetery I could almost make out my grandparents farm and it was fun to see the place where I had many adventures from a different vantage point.

The Decoration Day ritual was an adventure when I was young. It became a chore when I grew older. When we had to drive ninety minutes to reach the cemeteries it was the definition of dread. Yet, as we began to divide up the flowers and dig the holes and soak them with water my attitude changed. Mom would tell the stories: this was the great great uncle from the Civil War, here was The Favorite Aunt's second husband, who ran out the back door when her first came in the front. Over that hill was the sweet great grandma, who's husband was murdered in a robbery. And here is the resting place of grandma's sister. She was never given the title of Aunt. A child who dies at the age of five because it took too long to acquire treatment for rabies earns a special place in history instead. One after another, the headstones would be anointed with history and flora. If Mom took too long to get to a favorite story we would ask. 'Now who did those babies belong too?' 'Which one of these guys died from a ruptured appendix?' Leftover flowers would go on some of the plain stones in 'Potter's Field' where the drunk was buried. Seriously, how can you not remember a guy named 'Commodore'.

The decorating needed to be done well in advance of the holiday so everyone could see that there were still living family around. But not too early – the flowers had to stay fresh. Heaven forbid we use those 'tacky' plastic flowers and don't get me started on the horrifying pictures which sprang into my overactive brain at the mention of 'grave blankets'. After walking gingerly around the stones, diligently placing the correct flower in its place we would stop and survey a large empty space on the eastern slope of the West Cemetery. There - enough empty grave sites for each of their immediate family. Here, it was noted, was where my Grandparents had saved us places.

It has been many years since I went on the grave decorating expedition. I do take the opportunity each year to share with our kids the stories these trips bring to mind. However, I have omitted the information regarding the available graves. Frankly, I prefer to take my chances with the seating arrangement for my eternal rest.

And also... I prefer daisies.

Memorial Day is also one of the most dangerous holidays on the road. PLEASE  WEAR YOUR SEATBELT AND DRIVE RESPONSIBLY - this includes but not limited to NO TEXTING! Don't let your holiday end like this:
Amazingly everyone walked away alive with only a few broken ribs and a dinged up hand and knee. All drivers and passengers involved were wearing their seatbelts. They did, however, screw up the delicious dinner I was cooking. 
This post ran on Coast of Illinois on Memorial Day 2013. I originally wrote it as part of an essay challenge on a long gone writer's group. Come back later this week when, I promise, there will be new, original and hopefully hilarious material.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Not My Uncle's Lake of the Ozarks

It seems that as soon as I find a place I dearly love, the Universe has a way of either shutting it down or making it so darn popular that it loses it's oddball appeal.
~Rossino's (basement Italian where the waiters and tall guests dodged pipes)– closed
~Saleem's (where garlic is king) - closed
~Blueberry Hill and the Delmar Loop-too touristy; less Rocky Horror-y
~Broadway Oyster Bar – too packed and busy; less uni-sex bathroom whose door barely shuts
Although I suppose it is great for those last two businesses that their appeal has transcended the rather specific, cash only, beer in bottles crowd which frequented them when I first discovered them. And those two places that closed? Well, they had been in business for decades. I am sure the owners needed a vacation.
Consequently, I am taking a huge chance by writing this.

We had the pleasure of spending the weekend at Lake of the Ozarks with two of our three dinner club couples. The plan was for shopping one day, sailing the next and  in between a whole lot of delicious food and wine.
For those not familiar with Lake of the Ozarks – it is a gigantic man-made lake in the center of Missouri. Easily accessible from nearly every state boarding. It is a mere three hour drive from the Coast of Illinois. Both my husband and I grew up vacationing here – spending time on power boats with skis strapped to our feet then eating at motor-boat fish joints along the lake. In the evening we were entertained by Baldknobbers and folks hawking Indian Moccasins and salt-water taffy.
(Yes, I know 'Indian' is not the political correct term, but back in the 70's that is what we went with. And if you haven't heard or seen a Baldknobber, well, I am sorry. Click  Although I am sad? to say, the show has moved to Branson, Mo)

Anyway. There is a certain expectation when one vacations at Lake of the Ozarks. And trust me, it is not a high one. (Think tin-shower rustic and deep fried fish.)
So, I can tell you first hand what a treat it was to stay at Shawnee Bluff Winery.
(as per usual, this is NOT a paid post)

The location is near the main drag, just a mile or so from the Ozark Yacht Club and the Bagnell Dam strip and perched on a bluff overlooking the lake. Shawnee Bluff may have the absolute best view of Lake Ozark that I have ever seen.
morning view looking up lake

evening view looking down lake
The Winery has eight units, each with a slight variation of this amazing view. 
Granite stone cottages, always adorable.

Red doors. What's more inviting?
Our rooms, recently renovated, were a nice mixture of modern and rustic. And clean. Very, very clean. 

tiny but unbelievably clean bathroom

AND a choice of in room wines...
The patio furniture supplied to each unit was old, but functional, and exactly what is expected when you vacation in the Ozarks. 
Rob feeding the local animals....
Thanks to widely varying plans, our group met up around 5pm. Just in time to catch the evening music guest. (Shawnee Bluff has live music Friday 5-8, Sat and Sun 1-4 and Saturday evening 5-8.)
pool/patio with bar. yes, that is an enormous wine bottle spritzing into the pool.
We opted to sit on the Winery patio and grab dinner. The menu is small offering several appetizer choices, wood-fire pizzas with a variety of toppings in both traditional and flatbread styles. Burger options and several main course selections round out the menu.
I chose salmon served with rice and broccoli – quite delicious. The wood-fire pizzas are amazing and the burgers looked to be a great choice.

Of course, this is also a winery.
And I must, in the interest of full disclosure mention, that I am not – overall- a fan of local wines. We have found a few Chardonnays made in Missouri and Illinois which are 'okay'. Rob really enjoyed the Flappers and Philosophers Chardonnay made by Shawnee Bluff. It was light and crisp and quite nice with the salmon or to just sip while enjoying the view.
Local red wines, in my opinion – which is not educated or scientific in any manner – tend to taste a little like the soybean fertilizer used in the region. However – Shawnee Bluff's Que Syrah Syrah was fantastic – to the tune of two bottles over two days. It was slightly peppery and had just the right amount of body to enjoy on a brisk spring afternoon. 
The winery offers a nice variety of their house wines and a small but nicely curated menu of nationally produced varieties. They also have good options for beer, if you are so inclined. 
Our second day's activities, which I will go into in a later post, were cut short due to excessive wind and a lack of a sit-down eatery at the Osage Beach Outlet Mall. So we returned to Shawnee Bluff for an afternoon snack. Once again, we were treated to music and some surprising appetizers.
Rob and I ordered the Charcuterie Platter- a nice array of cheeses, salami, crackers and toasted pita with the most amazing little goat-cheese stuffed roasted peppers.
Those peppers, next to the grapes. OMG!
The real star of the afternoon food-fest were the Sweet Potato Fries. 
They took a little longer than anticipated to arrive at our table but they were absolutely worth the wait. The 'fries' were more like huge wedges of fresh sweet potato which had been roasted, my guess is in the wood-fire oven, to a nice brown on the edges and melt in your mouth softness throughout. They were served with a BBQ sauce to dip in.
They did not last long. 
So tasty I almost didn't get a photo!
Rooms at the winery go for around $120 a night and guests receive 10% off their food, wine and gift shop purchases. I should mention that the music is easily heard from the rental unit patios. However, as the music and the winery itself pretty much shuts down by 9pm this never caused an issue with sleep. The Vineyard, which is about 15 minutes away, also hosts concerts from time to time and winery guests can take advantage of a shuttle to and from.

If you ever find yourself in need of an Ozark vacation, I would highly recommend Shawnee Bluff Winery.
Just please don't book ALL the rooms when I decide to go there. 

Links to click on!

And as mentioned previously, this is not a paid post. However, I am willing to negotiate for the second weekend in September...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Thank Heaven for AMC

With alarm clocks that go off at 5AM-ish, it takes a lot to get me and my husband to stay awake past 9pm on work nights. 
Enter 'The Night Manager'. 
Thanks to John LeCarre's novel of international intrigue and those television geniuses at AMC, Wednesday mornings are pretty rough. 
The 6-part series based on LeCarre's book is wonderfully written, exquisitely acted and beautifully filmed. 
Plus it is just the right length. Six parts is just enough for people like us who have commitment issues with anything other than smartly written then cancelled comedies (Cougar Town/Happy Endings), shows about zombies (Walking Dead,ONLY!) or Hockey Playoffs (Let's Go Blues!).
(I feel I must point out here that the NHL playoffs are WAY past 6 episodes.) 
The Night Manager has given us a bright spot leading into mid-work-week entertainment. It is overflowing with luxury, romance and danger! ~said with a uber fancy, unidentifiable European accent.
It has also sparked some fabulously stimulating conversations:

Why would you screw around with the 'new' guy when the wealthy bad guy is not that bad looking, has all the money, and will probably kill you? 
Is our living room bigger or smaller than the interior of that private jet? Really? So it's about couch size?
How can you NOT shout from that balcony looking over a crowded street in Istanbul - 'Why DID they change it?'

I don't want to sound ungrateful. I have a wonderful life. But it is so fun to consider the possibility of jetting off in designer caftans to eat lobster salad which has been commandeered by the boss's number two guy. 
Or actually shopping in that jewelry store that sells those gem studded animal pins. Not that I have much use for gem studded animal pins. 
But I could totally get use to lounging by the pool at my Majorcca compound overlooking the Med.

So in an attempt to counteract my lack of exotic locales and glamour, I have vowed to start carrying around a briefcase with fancy locks and answering my phone with the greeting 'Hello Ducky!' 

Yet that doesn't change the fact that the only international intrigue I have is ' How did this get here???' 
This is a hairnet. Seen lying in wait by a work elevator. It seems they have started a counter-insurgence. I hear through my sources it goes by the code name Spiffy. 

Write you next book about that LeCarre!

Friday, May 6, 2016

For Nurse-Moms Everywhere. Not Nursing Moms - that is something completely different

My kids were screwed from the start.

Their dad is in law enforcement and I am a nurse.

Our dinner conversations sounded like a page from Darwin's Theory of Evolution Playbook:

'Drinking a jar of pickle juice will NOT change the results of a urine drug test.
It WILL make you puke.'
'If the DOG won't eat the ground beef, then you probably shouldn't either.
You will get food poisoning.'
'The palm of your hand DOES NOT go IN FRONT of the nail gun.'

They learned the two pearls of wisdom nurses live by: 
 'If you can YELL then you can breathe.
'All bleeding stops eventually...' 

I had no idea how much an impression our work discussions made until I raced home from a night shift for a parent-teacher conference. I barely made it onto the tiny 4th grade desk for my arranged time. The teacher laughed. It seems our son had informed her that – and I quote - 'Mom will be on time, unless somebody shows up at change of shift trying to die.'

It was somewhere around this moment that I became dubbed the meanest Nurse-Mom in our house.

But, I make no apologies. In this house, we take ALL the antibiotics – even if they taste like rotten raccoon guts. If the fever is less than 102, I am pretty sure you will live; drink some water and take a nap. Unless there is a BONE sticking out of that wound you are STILL going to school.

You get the idea.

I am going to let you in on something I don't think the kids ever knew.

Even though I appeared less than compassionate, I spent a whole lot of nights jumping to exotic conclusions.

Headache – has to be an inoperable brain tumor.

Joint aches – obviously Guillain-Barre

Nausea and vomiting - inoperable brain tumor.

As a Nurse-Mom, it is impossible to not project all your patient's diagnosis on your family.

It is also impossible to not project the love for you children onto your patients. Which is why I could never take care of children when my kids were little.

And now that they are adults, if one of my patients is within ten years of my kids' ages, I see them lying in that bed.

And I thank God that it is not them.

I know most Moms exhibit a lot of the qualities I have described. But Nurse-Moms are educated to see and react in a particular manner which simultaneously identifies a problem, devises a plan and achieves an outcome. In nursing school we spent hours writing out this process for every imaginable diagnosis.

It's called a Care Plan.

We wrote them on 4x6 note cards and stored them in a recipe file.

And be warned, children, it is only going to get worse.

I have an entire file of plans to address every adult ill you may encounter with a special sub-file for grandchildren.

Because we Nurse-Moms are the meanest moms around.

Obviously these two have some sort of thyroid issue.
Today - May 6th is National Nurses Day, the culmination of National Nurses Week. If you know a nurse, give him or her a hug and let them know YOU know how important and difficult their job is.
Sunday is Mother's Day -Moms come in a variety of sizes and shapes. They may not even be related. But if they spent at least one sleepless night worrying about you  take a minute and give a special person in your life a hug and let them know YOU know it wasn't always easy.
And if you are lucky enough to have a Nurse-Mom, please wash your hands and cover your mouth when you cough, but give them an extra big hug all the same.

If you would like to read more about my life as a nurse - please click on the 'It's a Living' tab at the top of this page.
Now take your vitamin and go for a walk. That fresh air will do wonders.