Jade Earrings and Other Bequests

My husband’s maternal grandmother put tags and notes on many of her possessions, stating who she wanted to get what after her death. Most of her notes bequeathed her property to her daughters or to her four grandchildren, but there were a few things that had my name on them. She lived for several years after my husband and I were married, and we had visited them in Southern California at their lovely home near the beach.

Among the items with my name on them were her Catholic paraphernalia—prayer books and the like. I don’t know why she even owned these. She wasn’t Catholic, and as far as I know, she never attended a Catholic school. But as the only Catholic affiliated with the family at the time of her death, I suppose she thought I would appreciate them. So I took them and put them aside. They were all pre-Vatican II, and of little relevance to a modern Catholic.

Jade earrings from my husband’s grandmother

She also bequeathed me a pair of jade earrings. Once when I visited her home, I think I admired a little jade Buddha figure. From my stray comment, perhaps she deduced that I like jade.

Two pairs of my older jade earrings

I do like jade. In fact, by the time his grandmother died, my husband had given me at least three pairs of jade earrings, and I wore all of them often during my working days.

After his grandmother’s death, I had four pairs.

The earrings she left me are beautiful. I think she acquired them during her travels in Asia. They’re a brighter green than most jade made into jewelry, almost a kelly green. I knew jade could range widely in color, from the traditional dark green to white and black and even lavender and red. Still, this green surprised me when I first saw the earrings—more suitable for St. Patrick’s Day than most jade. (And, indeed, I’ve worn them on many a St. Patrick’s Day.)

The earrings when I received them were clip-ons, because his grandmother did not have pierced ears. I did have pierced ears, and they hurt, so I didn’t wear them. A couple of years later, my husband had them converted into pierced earrings, so I could wear them.

Since then, I have worn them often, when the brighter green suits my clothing more than darker jade would.

Butterfly pins from my husband’s grandmother

In addition to the jade earrings, my husband’s grandmother also left me two butterfly pins of the same color. They are some sort of lacquer on gold, I think; I don’t believe they are jade.

I wish I knew the story behind how she came to acquire these pins. I mean, who wears butterfly pins? Even in the 1950s, who wore butterfly pins? And even if for some reason you wore one pin, why would you ever wear two?

The earrings and pins together

I have only had a couple of occasions when I thought it appropriate to wear these pins. Once I put them on a white dress. And the other time was to a Girl Scout fundraiser, where the invitation said to wear “camping chic.” I wore hiking pants and boots, a sweater set, and my jade earrings and butterflies. No one made any comment, whether out of polite circumspection or disinterest, I couldn’t say.

Someday, I’ll leave all this jewelry to my daughter, who was named after my husband’s grandmother. Then she can wonder when it is appropriate to wear butterfly pins. At least the earrings have already been converted for her to wear with pierced ears.

Do you have items you’ve inherited that you wonder about?

Recipe: Steak Soup

Shortly after I married my husband, his mother wrote out her recipe for steak soup for me. My husband had made this soup for me already, and I knew he loved it. I liked the steak soup also, but I was very ill one evening after eating it, and I lost my taste for it.

It wasn’t the soup that made me ill, I knew, but memories of that evening kept me from eating steak soup for years. I wouldn’t order it at restaurants and only rarely bought it at the cafeteria at work, no matter how hearty and delectable it smelled. My memories of it coming back up were too vile.

I’ve slowly overcome my distaste for steak soup. Over the years we—usually my husband—made it often enough that the handwritten recipe card is spattered and stained. I made steak soup for my husband a couple of months ago using my mother-in-law’s recipe.

Well, sort of using her recipe. As I’ve written before, I often regard recipes as mere suggestions. It’s more about getting the proportions right than exactitude.

So here is my mother-in-law’s recipe:

Melt a stick of oleo, stir in 1 cup flour to make a smooth paste. Stir in 8 cups cold water slowly. Saute 1 lb hamburger, drain off grease, add to above. Parboil (10 minutes) 1 cup each sliced onions, carrots, celery, and add. Add 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, 1 can tomatoes, 1 Tbsp Accent, 1 tsp pepper, 6 beef bouillon cubes. Bring to boil, simmer about 30 minutes.

And here is what I did:

Browned 1 lb hamburger with a diced onion, then drained it and dumped it in a crock pot. Added a package of frozen corn, another package of frozen green beans, a can of diced tomatoes, and 5 smallish red potatoes (diced). I didn’t have any Accent, so I used 2 Tbsp Montreal Steak Seasoning. And added 6 beef bouillon cubes. Covered it with 8 cups water. And cooked it in the crock pot on High for 5-6 hours.

With bread and a salad, dinner was ready.

My husband was curiously silent as we ate. Finally I asked, “Don’t you like the soup?”

“Where’d you get the recipe?”

“From your mother.”

“It doesn’t taste like Mom’s.”

The flavor was a little different than his mother’s soup. I could detect the Montreal Steak Seasoning. But the soup tasted wonderful—full-flavored and savory, with a hint of sweet—and I told him so. He still eyed it suspiciously.

Last helping of steak soup, just before husband dished it up

Rather than make him eat leftovers the next day, I froze a container of the soup, which I pulled out the other night for a quick supper.

“This isn’t so bad,” he said as he dished himself up a second bowl.

What family recipes have you altered? Did you do so intentionally or not?

After Much Hype, Eclipsed by Clouds

Late last winter, another couple asked my husband and me if we wanted to “go to the eclipse” with them on August 21. We had nothing scheduled that far in advance. Although I’d heard about the coming solar eclipse that would pass through our part of the nation, it didn’t seem like a big deal.

“Sure,” we told our friends.

There was some vague mention of a road trip to St. Joseph, which is less than an hour north of our house in the Kansas City Northland. Then we thought nothing more about it.

I felt a growing sense of doom, however, when I read in the spring that hotel rooms in St. Joseph had been booked for months. I voiced some concerns about the need to plan our day, but we didn’t pursue anything. Then as August 21 approached, media hype over the solar eclipse grew.

As a good introvert and researcher, I investigated the eclipse more closely. I found maps showing the exact path of the totality. Our house was in it. I found a site listing the precise length of totality at every point along the path. Our house would have a full minute of total eclipse.

“We could just stay here,” I suggested. “Watch from our front porch.” (After the demise of our ash tree, our yard is pretty open.)

News reports grew more frenzied. There would be a thousand-fold increase in population in many small towns along the center path of the eclipse. Menard’s in St. Joseph was renting out its parking lot for $75/space for the day. Arrow Rock, Missouri, was worried about having enough porta-potties.

“Do we really want to leave home?” I asked.

Our group decided to abandon St. Joseph. We would go to Smithville, Missouri, where there would be over two minutes of totality, though not the full two minutes and thirty-eight seconds St. Joseph would have. My husband stores his boat in a garage near Smithville Lake, patrols the reservoir regularly for the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and knows many of the backroads around the lake. He suggested several viewing locations with easy access to restrooms. As a fallback, we could sit in the gated storage area where his boat is housed.

Then we learned Smithville Lake had several eclipse-oriented events planned. Three of four people I talked to one day in my neighborhood planned to see the eclipse in Smithville. I worried the hype would cause the hordes to find our off-the-beaten-path locations.

And weather reports were mixed. At first, there was a 20% chance of rain. Then AccuWeather increased its forecast to 51% chance of a thunderstorm on August 21.

“We could always stay at our house,” I said again. “Is the extra minute of totality worth dealing with crowds?” I hate crowds.

“Theresa’s not going to back out, is she?” our eclipse-party friends asked my husband.

“Nah, she’ll go,” my husband said.

When he told me of this exchange, I said, “Of course, I’ll go. But I’m just saying . . .” I would participate in the hype, but I didn’t have to like it.

We prepared to spend the whole day away from home—water, food, sunscreen, insect repellant, an awning, camp chairs—all the necessities for survival. We didn’t want to compete with the multitudes the media said would descend on the path of totality. We would be self-sufficient, prepared to stay off the grid if need be.

Our friends said they would arrive at our house at 6:30 a.m. They live in the south part of the metropolitan area, which was outside the zone of totality. On a normal traffic day, the drive from their house to ours was about 30 minutes. They worried 6:30 might not be early enough.

I mentioned again that we could always watch from our front porch if the traffic was too bad. But I knew none of the others would agree.

On Eclipse Day, our friends rang our doorbell at 6:10 a.m. I was just headed to the kitchen to pack our cooler. “Apple Maps showed heavy traffic. So we left early,” they said. “But we had no problem.”

At 6:19, the four of us left our house, caravanning northward in two cars because we had too much stuff for one vehicle. We reached Smithville in record time and inspected our potential sun-gazing locations. None was crowded. The best place seemed to be near Sailboat Cove—right on the lake, facing west for the best view, with well-maintained restrooms nearby.

Parking lot still had lots of space

We paid the parking fee and pulled into the mostly empty lot. A few people were there before us, but we still had a pick of picnic tables. We set up camp—spreading out enough food for a week and placing our lawn chairs to face the water. We got the awning frame out of the car . . . and discovered we’d left the cover at our house.

My husband drove home and returned by about 8:15. Again, no traffic. We raised the canopy and were ready for the show.

Our viewing location under canopy

With more than three hours until the partial eclipse began and four and a half hours until totality.

We ate. We read. We chatted. I did the sudoku and crossword puzzles from the newspaper. The sun streamed down, not revealing any sign of impending darkness.

Parking lot now overflowing, but lots of room for people

More people arrived at Sailboat Cove and the parking lot filled. Additional cars parked on the grass. But plenty of open space remained for viewers.

In mid-morning clouds churned in and blocked the sun. We held the awning in place through strong wind gusts. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled off in the distance. Then it rained. And poured.

The partial eclipse begins (shot through a filter)

About the time the partial eclipse began, the rain stopped and the clouds thinned. We put on our special eclipse glasses and stared upward. I got a few good pictures with my cell phone camera, its lens covered by another pair of the special lenses.

Dense clouds obscure the sun more than the moon does

Around 12:30 p.m. dense clouds rolled in again. The partial eclipse disappeared from sight. The sky grew dark—but how much was due to the eclipse and how much to the looming thunderstorm?

As 1:08—the time of totality at Smithville—approached, disappointment spread like a plague through the watchers.

I decided I wouldn’t be able to see the total eclipse, but the sunset in front of me would still be worth filming. I started my camera’s video mode, something I’d rarely used before.  I shot a two-minute video of a lovely midday sunset through a rainstorm.

Then oohs and aahs erupted behind me (you can hear them at the end of the video). The total eclipse flashed briefly through the clouds, and some people—including my husband—saw a glimpse. But because I wasn’t looking skyward, I only saw the sunset.

And so it goes.

After the brief climax of the astronomical show ended, we sat under our tent and ate some more. Then a true Midwestern deluge unleashed its power and threatened to overwhelm the weight-bearing capacity of our canopy. We shook off the water, and when the storm slackened to moderate rain, we packed up and headed home.

Along with all the other sun-gazers.

We drove south on the highway in bumper to bumper traffic before bailing onto county roads as soon as we could. But in trying to avoid the crowds, we encountered two flooded intersections requiring detours—one of which sent us right back onto the crowded highway, and the other sent us north instead of south. What that morning had been an easy 30-minute drive from our house took an hour and a half on the return.

The hype had hit us after all. We’d beaten it in the morning, but it bit us in the afternoon.

Later I learned that the farther south one was in the zone of totality, the better—albeit shorter—the astronomical show was. In St. Joseph, north of us and our original destination, bad weather turned the eclipse into a bust. In Smithville, we had some nice views, though the critical two minutes were disappointing.

Near our home south of Smithville, I was told, the clouds parted and allowed viewers to see the total eclipse for the full minute.

Oh, well.

Though the total eclipse did not provide all the spectacle I’d hoped for, I had a pleasant day with friends in a beautiful setting on Lake Smithville. I got wet, but not uncomfortable because the temperatures remained moderate. I enjoyed the day and will have to accept it for what it was.

The part of the eclipse I saw will have to last me for a lifetime because I doubt I’ll travel to see the next U.S. total eclipse in 2024.

What did you see of the Great American Eclipse this week? Was it worth the hype?

Random Photos: Going Home Again . . . A Vacation Remembered

My husband and I didn’t take too many summer vacations at my parents’ home when our kids were growing up. We saved our visits for every third Christmas. In addition, my parents visited us once or twice a year in Kansas City, and we sent our kids out to Washington State without us as soon as the airlines would let them fly by themselves.

But I recently pulled out a random envelope of snapshots my father had taken of one summer vacation we did take in Washington State at my parents’ house.

Kids swimming, one with water wings, and the other with attitude

I can’t recall exactly which summer it was. The pictures were taken at the large house my parents had in the Meadow Springs development of Richland, Washington. They owned this home between the summer of 1986 and about 1991. I know this wasn’t our first visit there—we’d visited them at this house over Christmas 1986. My daughter looks to be about three or four in the pictures, with my son about six or seven, so I’m guessing it was the summer of 1988 or 1989, but it could have been 1990.

Nanny Winnie supervising my daughter

The house had a swimming pool, which our kids loved. My daughter couldn’t swim yet, so had to wear water wings. My son could swim, and most likely lorded his wing-less state over his little sister. My mother’s mother, Nanny Winnie, visited that week also, and she loved to swim. She was always happy to supervise afternoons at the pool.

Mitzi doesn’t know whether to bark at my son or the pool skimmer

My parents had a Schnauzer named Mitzi. Mitzi wanted to be a part of the pool parties, particularly when the pool skimmer was operating. The dog could swim, but she couldn’t get herself out of the pool. Later, my younger brother taught Mitzi to paddle to the stairs so she could climb out, but at the time of our visit, she had not yet learned this escape route. One time during our visit that week, I had to dive in after her and pull her to safety. She didn’t seem too grateful, and scrabbled and scratched to get out of my helpful arms.

Husband and son canoeing on the Wenatchee River

On the weekend we were there, when my father wasn’t working, my husband, son, father and I went canoeing on the Wenatchee River. We drove through the lovely mountain town of Leavenworth, Washington, rented canoes from an outfitter, and put in on the river somewhere near Lake Wenatchee. Then we floated downstream through the alpine Wenatchee National Forest for a couple of hours. We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar, then took out where the outfitter had designated and awaited our pick up.

Lunch on the gravel bar

We had two canoes—my husband and son paddled one, and my father and I had the other. This was the first canoe trip I’d been on where I wasn’t in the same boat as my husband. I was used to relying on his skills to get us through any whitewater, but we decided our son needed a strong paddler more than I did. Our son was young enough that his paddling was more for show than power. (As was mine, though I at least had an intellectual understanding of what I should be doing.)

Me with wet shoes, and son

My father was definitely not as competent at paddling as my husband. Still, he and I didn’t have much difficulty until we reached the take-out point. There, even with both Dad and me paddling as hard as we could, we almost didn’t reach shore. I finally had to step out of the boat to pull us out of the current just as we passed the gravel river access road where we were supposed to meet our ride. Dad may have gotten wet also—there is photographic evidence of my wet shoes, but he was taking the pictures, so there’s nothing to verify his actions.

I was happy to find these pictures and to remember that summer vacation back in my birthplace—Washington State, and Richland in particular. In recent years, I’ve only been to Richland for my parents’ funerals in 2014 and 2015. There’s no one left to bury in Richland, and I sometimes wonder if I will ever go home again.

What do you remember of visits to your hometown?

Amelia Earhart Day: Memories of Atchison, Kansas

July 24 is Amelia Earhart Day. The news recently has been full of speculation about her disappearance, because of a History Channel show suggesting that a photo might have shown her and her navigator Frank Noonan with the Japanese in the Marshall Islands after her disappearance on July 2, 1937. However, Japanese archivists found the photo in a book published in 1935, long before Earhart and Noonan left on their ill-fated flight. It seems her last days are still a mystery.

Amelia Earhart is a big deal in her hometown of Atchison, Kansas, about an hour’s drive from Kansas City. The town sponsors an Amelia Earhart Festival in July each year. For the past two years, my husband’s Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla has provided security on the Missouri River for the air show that is part of the festival. This year, tragedy struck the day after the air show, when one of the stunt pilots who had performed was killed (along with his passenger) in a post-festival flight.

My father was always fascinated by Amelia Earhart’s story. I think he thought of her as a neighbor because he had been born in Pratt, Kansas—a mere 300 miles from Atchison. He remembered her disappearance from his childhood. In addition, he was always interested in flying and took flying lessons when he was in his fifties.

Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum

On one visit to Kansas City, he and my mother decided to drive to Atchison to see the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in her former home. My daughter was three or four at the time. She skipped preschool that day to go with her grandparents to Atchison.

My parents had planned to have lunch at a tea room in Atchison after seeing the museum. But my daughter had her own plans. She’d been bored in the museum, even though she enjoyed being with her grandparents. When they got back in the car and drove toward the tea room, she started pointing at something and began talking excitedly about “meat libbers.”

Now, my parents had no idea what meat libbers were. But after several attempts to communicate, they finally realized their granddaughter was pointing at the nearby Pizza Hut.

My daughter made it clear that nothing would do but that they eat at Pizza Hut.

Of course, grandchildren generally win these arguments, so my parents took her to Pizza Hut. They sat and received their menus. Finally, my parents realized that my daughter wanted a Meat Lovers pizza. That was our standard order at Pizza Hut and both our children’s favorite restaurant meal.

My parents were disappointed to miss the tea room, but they recognized that their priority as grandparents had to be to keep their grandkids happy. They accomplished that goal on that day so many years ago.

Did your family have any favorite restaurant meals?

Discovering Jane Austen

Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817, two hundred years ago tomorrow. I first encountered her novels in the spring of 1970, when I was in the ninth grade and cooped up at home with the mumps. I didn’t have a bad case of the mumps, and I felt pretty healthy. But I couldn’t return to school until the swelling in my cheeks and jaw went down.

“I’m bored,” I whined to my mother.

“Find a book to read.” That was her stock answer any time one of her children said they were bored. Either that, or she told us to clean our rooms.

“I’ve read everything.” I whined some more, as only a fourteen-year-old girl can whine to her mother.

Mother went to the bookshelf in the living room, which contained mostly adult books. Other than the encyclopedia (which was educational) or the twenty or so volumes of Readers Digest Condensed Books (which were pretty well sanitized by the editors who condensed them), I was only allowed to pick a book from the living room bookshelf if I had parental approval.

She skimmed the shelves and pulled down a book. “Here,” she said. “Read this.”

It was Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

I took it back to my bedroom and curled up under the covers and opened the book. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Well, that sounded promising. Even fourteen-year-old me got the humor in that line.

I read the whole book over the next few days. And loved it.

After I was fully recuperated and able to go to the public library again, I searched for other books by Jane Austen. I didn’t read her novels back to back, but I did read them all over the next couple of years.

I really liked Northanger Abbey (a lot like Victoria Holt and other Gothic novels I had read), but I didn’t think any of Austen’s other novels were as good as Pride and Prejudice. Sense and Sensibility was supposed to be her best—and Mother said she liked that one best—but I preferred Pride and Prejudice. Marianne Dashwood was too silly. Emma, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park were fine, but still not as good as Pride and Prejudice.

By the time we studied Pride and Prejudice in my Honors English class during my senior year of high school, I had read everything I could find by Jane Austen—all the novels she had published in her lifetime. My classmates complained about having to read Pride and Prejudice. “Oh, no,” I said. “It’s wonderful!” Not many of them believed me.

Fast forward to when I learned there was a partial manuscript by Jane Austen that someone had completed and was publishing—something new by Austen! I was a working mother, with very little time to read. But I rushed out to find a copy of Sanditon. And I did the same thing when I found a volume that included both Lady Susan and The Watsons, which I’d never read before either.

And, of course, I have watched every televised and movie version of Austen’s novels. I saw the 1940s version of Pride and Prejudice when I was in college. I was very disappointed—the costumes were all wrong, Mr. Darcy was not particularly compelling (sorry, Mr. Olivier), and they skipped huge chunks of the book. The 1980 BBC version shown on Masterpiece Theatre was much better.

In fact, that 1980s version got my husband interested enough in Jane Austen that he read Pride and Prejudice, and later took on some of Austen’s other books as well. (At least Sense and Sensibility—I’m not sure if he read them all or not.)

And then there was the very swoonable 1995 version with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.

Sigh. . . .

I learned to like Emma, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park better from the Masterpiece and movie versions, though I still like Pride and Prejudice best.

At this point, I’ve read all her novels at least three times. I’ll probably read them all again at least once more before I die.

I look forward to seeing new film versions in my lifetime also. All in search of the perfect Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. And the perfect Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson, wonderful actress though she is, was too old for the role) and Edward Ferrars. And Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow was pretty good, but not quite officious enough for me) and George Knightley.

I have so many more contacts with Austen’s work to look forward to in life. And my interest all started because I was bored one day in 1970.

What have you done out of boredom that turned out to be a good thing?

Fortieth Anniversary of a Speeding Ticket

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that this year my husband and I celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. We started dating in March 1977 and were married that November. We were apart for most of the summer of 1977, each working in different locations after our first year of law school. But he came to visit my hometown of Richland, Washington, where I had an internship with a local law firm, for a long weekend around the Fourth of July.

As he got off the plane in the desert, he said, “You poor kid—you grew up here?” And his opinion of Richland never improved.

When I had visited his hometown the month before, we’d toured some of western Missouri. So I returned the favor in July, and took him around my favorite haunts in Washington State. We waterskied on the Columbia River with my younger siblings. We took a day trip to Mount Rainier, where we hiked in snowfields—we shivered in our shorts, which we’d worn because of the heat in southeastern Washington around Richland; I’d forgotten how cold and gray the Cascades could be even in midsummer.

See the brown land between Richland (upper left) and Walla Walla (lower right). The Whitman Mission is near  Walla Walla.

And one day we drove to the Whitman Mission—the day trip of my childhood. My husband-to-be drove my parents’ Capri through rolling hills covered in brown wheat to the mission near the town of Walla Walla. On the way home, back through the wheat fields, he climbed a hill and sped down it. Not that fast, but above the speed limit.

Flashing lights and a siren behind him. A cop. A speeding ticket. A silent ride back to Richland.

My law-abiding fiancé was mortified. There he was, driving his future father-in-law’s car, and he got a ticket.

But my father was very good about it. He didn’t give my fiancé a hard time at all. Hubby-to-be paid the fine, and that was that.

At the Whitman Mission. If we’d been in a covered wagon, we would not have exceeded the speed limit.

Through the years, my father brought it up every so often, chuckling when he did so. But he didn’t mention it any more frequently than my husband did. All in all, they had a good relationship, despite this rocky beginning.

The only beef my father really had with my husband was that Dad wanted my husband to call him “Tom” instead of “Mr. Claudson.” My husband never relented.

That day trip in July 1977 was the last time I went to the Whitman Mission, though the site and Narcissa Whitman played an important role in my novel Lead Me Home. In later years, our family passed through Walla Walla on our way to ski at the Bluewood Resort in the Blue Mountains, but we never stopped at the mission. And my memories of that last visit are lost to me—all I remember of that day is the speeding ticket.

What memories do you have of traffic stops and tickets? Or of similar embarrassing events during your courtship?