Remembering Vada

The lady pictured above is my neighbor – Vada – my grandmother’s lifelong friend and the kindest person I have ever known.

We will gather today to honor Vada and lay her to rest next to her husband and only child.

She was a grandmotherly lady known for her cooking and kindness. She was famous for her homemade noodles and kept a deep freeze stocked with delicious pies, always ready for the next church dinner or a death in the community.

Vada was one of the last of my grandparents’ generation – a simple country lady who kept a garden, preserved food, quilted, hung out her clothes on the line, and whose home didn’t change in decades.

She was of a generation that had survived so many wars, depressions and recessions that they knew better than to waste anything and were always prepared for trouble. A threat like COVID-19 wouldn’t be a concern to Vada at all because she was always stocked and ready.

Vada was a church lady who loved the Lord. She also loved her pets and was known for feeding strays. She couldn’t stand to see anyone or anything go hungry.

Christmas meant tins of her homemade candies filled to the brim with things like buckeyes, fudge and caramel corn. She loved my homemade sugar cookies so I always made sure she had a supply for Christmas.

She didn’t want her picture taken the day I made the above image. That was several years ago but I remember her saying with a smile and laugh “Oh, Brandi! I didn’t know you would be taking pictures! You don’t want my picture, do you?”

I assured her I did want her picture and snapped a few while she worked her magic in the kitchen.

This moment in time with the blurry hand and the sweet smile is how I want to remember our Vada. This is why we make pictures – so that even when our memories fade, they will never really go away.

Happiness Is…

Happiness is the first subtle signs of spring. The initial hint that spring is near came last week with a chorus of March Peepers serenading us at night. Yesterday it was the bloom of Crocus and Daffodils. Some trees have buds on them and the air is a bit warmer despite the absence of sun most days.

After months of rain and cold, these harbingers of spring give us hope that better days await.

Fortunately, sometimes hope is all we need to get ourselves through.

Preparedness

I grew up in the country.

We were a single car family for a lot of my childhood so my mother went to town just once a week to do all her shopping. Back then, gas stations were closed on Sundays and there wasn’t a Dollar General in every hamlet across the country so, if you ran out of something, you likely did without until the next grocery trip.

I still live in the country but work in a town with a pharmacy, grocery, hardware and a couple of dollar stores. However, I attempt to limit my stops at the store, making a point to never need anything.

There are always plenty of supplies in my home – from toilet paper and rice to frozen vegetables and cat litter, I try to always have a supply of essentials on hand. This is especially true in the winter because you never know when you might be snowed in for a few days.

That’s probably why it’s so shocking to me to realize that other people don’t do this. Those who keep only a five day supply of food on hand are not my people. Those who could eat out of their pantry and freezer for a few months are.

And no, I’m not a hoarder – I tend to only keep what I can use – and bargain shop to get it. After all, if you don’t need something today, you can afford to wait for a sale later.

So I’ve been watching with interest as friends fearfully stock up on supplies like it’s a fresh concept. Last night I made one of my two monthly trips to Walmart. The goal was to pick up regular list items and to gather a few extra supplies I would need in a time of sickness or quarantine – Morningstar sausage patties, vegan chocolate chips, tissues, Clorox wipes, and cat food were on the list.

After all, if the zombie apocalypse is going to happen, we can’t have Scout going hungry!

You can see where people’s priorities are. As I suspected, the selection of toilet paper was picked over and the shelves nearly cleared of soap, Clorox wipes, bleach and other cleaning supplies.

The store seemed busier than it should be on a Tuesday night and it made me wonder if people are just out doing their normal thing or if they’re stocking up for the COVID-19 which will inevitably hit all our neighborhoods soon.

In case you’re looking for some friendly advice, I suggest always keeping the house stocked as though you might not be able to leave for a few days – not because of this virus but because things happen. Your car breaks down, you get a nasty stomach bug, there’s a snowstorm- any number of things could keep you at home at any time.

That means it’s always a good idea to have soap for hand washing and food for the whole family including the four legged kids.

And one last thing, fellow adventurers. Stay safe but don’t live in terror. Practice good hygiene and protect your personal space in public. If you’re sick, don’t go places where you might spread germs like work, public events or school. And if you know someone with a weakened immune system, offer to run their errands so they don’t have to be exposed to the germs of the masses.

But please, don’t stop living for fear of illness. Go live your life and do your thing within reason. This too shall pass.

Bird Feeder Fun

Scout’s birthday gift has provided him with hours of entertainment. I need to wash my windows but I’ve been able to grab a few snapshots of some of his birdies, as we call them. Here are a few from yesterday at dinner time.

Money Revelations

There’s this post going around Facebook that asks a very simple question.

What does it take to blow $10,000 a year? Just $27.40 of unnecessary spending in a day.

You probably are saying you don’t blow $27.40 a day and that may be true. However, most people don’t realize how much small purchases add up. Whether it’s buying more food than you can use before it spoils, picking up clearance clothes just because they’re cheap, or eating out when you could eat food from home, most people are wasting at least some money every week.

Those small purchases do add up.

If you shop for entertainment or comfort, your weekly waste would probably shock you.

I did a No Spend Challenge in January and have continued the challenge off and on beyond the original 31 day commitment. This is partly because I’m trying to save for adventure season (which will be here soon!) and partly because it’s become so natural to question spending temptations.

This challenge was designed to reset my spending and consumption habits after the gluttony of the holidays. It’s also great for quieting my mind, fostering a sense of gratitude and for coping with some bad habits.

One thing I have learned is that the more time I spend in a store, the more money I spend.

Case in point – I have saved a ton of money by reducing my Walmart trips to just twice a month. I despise Walmart but have to live in the world I wake up in and that world is a place saturated by Walmart.

It’s the cheapest place around to get Scout’s cat food and supplies so I go twice a month for these things and for a few other items that I can only buy there. But each trip always results in impulse buys and it doesn’t matter if the trips are two weeks apart or two days apart.

In this store I develop a kind of amnesia where I can never remember if I have enough shampoo and where I’m certain the dish soap is nearly gone. And then I notice socks on clearance and that cute Pioneer Woman scoop that’s perfect for my laundry detergent and things fall apart rather quickly. The next thing you know, I have gathered $30 worth of cheap socks, shampoo and pecans that I don’t need.

And I’ve always been ok with this because I believe in having a stocked pantry and in keeping myself in a place that I never have to buy anything. However, you can only use so much stuff.

Guys, $30 will fill the tank of my Nerdmobile and a tank of gas will take this fuel efficient car far from home.

So I’m training myself to ask more questions. Is that lunch out or clearance junk worth skipping an adventure?

Not only that, I want to retire without worry someday. Is it worth working longer just to have that stuff in my cart?

Nope. No. No way. It’s not.

Friends, money is a tool to be used to reach your goals. It’s not just for spending. It’s for making life better, for happiness and it’s for security.

Is there something you habitually spend money on that you are willing to cut for an important savings goal? I would love to hear about it.

February Reading

The last couple of months have been an extremely productive reading time for me. Adventure season will be underway soon and reading time will be more scarce but for now I’m focusing on a few simple rules – always carry a book, turn off the tv, and choose reading over mindless activities.

It’s worked well so far although many were quite easy this month as my brain has been on overload. Here’s the February pile.

You don’t want to read a review of them all but I will point out a few even though I loved every single one.

Dear Photograph by Taylor Jones

This is a delightful book based around a simple concept. Hold up a photo from the past in the place where it was originally taken. Then write a sentence about what that photo means to you. It’s an easy read but thought provoking at times. It’s also fun to pull off the shelf when you just need something a little different.

Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine

This title was written for a young audience so it was an easy read but one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long time. It tells the story of how the director of a Holocaust museum in Japan tracked down the fate of a little girl who was sent to Auschwitz. The museum had received the girl’s suitcase which had her name printed on the side. That’s all the director had to work with – the girl’s name – to unravel the story of what happened to her and her family.

This is difficult subject matter but the story is told respectfully and I am grateful that I stumbled into this book.

Survivor’s Club by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

CBS This Morning featured a moving segment about the Holocaust last month. It talked about how this horrific event is being forgotten by younger generations and about the increase in people who believe that it didn’t happen at all.

They interviewed MichaeL Bornstein whose photograph was taken in 1945 when he was carried out of Auschwitz in his grandmother’s arms. He was just four that day and had known only loss and misery in his short life. The fact he survived the camp is nothing short of a miracle as the Nazis killed most children on the day they arrived.

The reason he told his story is that he saw his likeness – the picture he uses on the book cover – on a website that denies the Holocaust. He knew then that it was time to educate people and to combat the deniers.

This is a family memoir and incredibly personal but it is exceptionally told. It is heartbreaking and uplifting. Read it.

The Melody Lingers On by Mary Higgins Clark

This author recently died after a prolific decades long career which resulted in dozens of books I’ve never read. When a suspense addicted friend learned of this oversight I was strongly encouraged to put my nose in one of her books immediately, if not sooner. This book is fast paced with a great story line and a twist. I enjoyed it and would certainly read more of her work.

A Fools’s Errand by Lonnie Bunch III

Lonnie Bunch is the Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I read this memoir after seeing some interviews with him when the museum opened. He is a fascinating man and an engaging conversationalist (at least in interviews) and I would love to have a museum tour with him. The book tells a fascinating story but it was written by an academic and can be dry at times. Hang in there though.

There are some beautiful stories within these chapters – humorous, sad and enraging at times. He began this museum with nothing. No staff, no money, not even a desk to call his own or a phone extension to reach him. He persevered, engaging celebrities, politicians and common people to find the money, artifacts and willpower to keep going.

The museum isn’t meant to attract just African Americans. It tells the story of America and the important place of African Americans within that story. One of my favorite stories was of the shoe shine man who refused payment because he wanted Lonnie to put the $8 toward the museum. When Lonnie insisted on paying, the elderly African American man said “Don’t be rude. I am not sure what is in a museum, but it may be the only place where my grandchildren will learn what life did to me, and what I did with my life.”

I’m officially dying to go explore.

* * *

I started reading David McCullough’s “The Pioneers” but set it aside for a while. I will be captivated by this book someday but my head wasn’t in the game and needed something a little easier!

What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Cinnamon Spice Granola

Since realizing how easy it is to make homemade granola, there is always some kind of tasty granola on hand in my house. Most of my concoctions use just a handful of ingredients that the typical home cook has on hand and they always come together quickly.

This weekend I found a recipe that I didn’t care for because it used a lot of oil and a ton of brown sugar but it did contain just the right combination of spices. So I stole the spice idea and improvised the rest. When I make it again, I’m going to reduce the brown sugar more. The original recipe called for five tablespoons and I opted for three but that’s still more than I want to consume.

Nonetheless, friends, it’s delicious. Want the recipe? Look no further!

Cinnamon Spice Granola

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cloves

3 Tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 agave nectar ( or honey if that’s what you have)

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup walnut pieces

Golden raisins (optional)

Mix together the first four ingredients. Then add the maple syrup and agave and mix well. Add the walnuts and oats, stirring well to coat.

Spread out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes and remove from oven to stir. Bake another ten minutes and remove from oven. I added some golden raisins at the end and gave it another good stir.

And yes, it is as easy as it sounds.

It takes about five minutes to prepare and twenty to bake. I leave mine on the pan for a while to let it cool and become crispy.

In addition to having delicious granola to eat, your house will smell divine.