Ornesta to the Rescue!


“Hey, Ornesta!  How’s life in da U.P.?”

“Not so bad.  The thermometer hasn’t blown out the bottom end yet, the bears haven’t moved into town to feast on the inhabitants, and I haven’t had to deal with any sneezified menus lately.  How about yourself?”

“Um, well … Ornesta, may I come live at your house for a while?”

“Sure, Sweetie!  We can put you up in the ice shanty out back.  Bud won’t need it until the Gitch* freezes over, and that won’t happen for a few weeks yet.  You’ll have your own private commode too, even if it does have a little moon carved out of the door.  What’s the problem?  Hubby being mean to you?”

“No, no.  The hubby’s always good to me.  I can’t complain — even if he can’t figure out how to use the phones around the house without disconnecting himself.”

“How about the teenager?  Is she running wild all over town?”

“No, not that either.  The closest Beebee ever comes to running wild is to saunter down Main Street in Little Chute with her guitar strapped to her back.”

“Little Chute!  What does she go there for?  It’s full of Hollanders!”

“She’s got a friend that lives there — not Hollander, either.  But — what’s wrong with Hollanders?  We’re all either Hollanders or Krauts down here.  If you stick a bratwurst in each of our fists, you can’t tell us apart. We all talk like Yoopers*.”

“Heeeyyyy!  Well, at least if you come to stay with us no one will know you aren’t the genuine article.  You know, I visited Little Chute once.  Went there for the Kermit Festival — but I didn’t see the little green guy anywhere, or Miss Piggy either — just a lotta folks clomping around in wooden shoes, with tulips stuck in their baseball caps.”

Kermis, not Kermit!  It just means an outdoor festival in Dutch.”

“Yah, whatever. Now, what’s the matter, anyway?”

“(Sigh!) Money doesn’t grow on the bushes out back, BFF’s aren’t always forever, my creative juices seem to have gotten rancid, I should have taken up Dave Barry on his offer after all, and I might as well apply the Christmas cookies directly to my hips, since they’re going to end up there anyway. “

“Yah, those are problems, all right.  But, how is living in the ice shanty going to fix ’em, do you s’pose?”

“Well, I think I just need a change of scenery — new vistas produce new writing fodder, you know?”

“That might take care of the rancid juices, but I don’t know if it will help the cookie-hips problem much. But tell you what: you pack your duffel bag and c’mon up, and I’ll have Merle Haggard singin’ Everybody Gets the Blues and If We Make It Through December on the tape deck in the shanty to cheer you up when you get here.”

“Throw in  Mule Skinner Blues, and I’m on my way!”

*The Gitch — Gitche Gumee; Lake Superior
*Yoopers — people who live in Michigan’s upper peninsula

(For more Ornesta-related adventures see Simply Ornesta! in the sidebar, under Archives.)

Keeping Fit in Pitt (Part 2)


I was wrong in yesterday’s post about Pittsburghians not knowing that it is good manners to say “hi” to strangers when passing.  It is not Pittsburghians who are ignorant on this point; it is just the ones on the part of the Montour Run Trail behind Susan’s house.

Today I took the trail where it continues on the other side of the highway, and almost all the folks walking and biking it said hello to me before I had a chance.  I will not have to try to elevate their culture after all.  They were a different group: not so focused on building their muscles and seeing how much wheezing they could handle before cardiac arrest set in.  They were the mom-and-dad type with little kids, or the I-am-just-out-for-a-stroll-to-enjoy-the-weather-and-I-don’t-care-if-I-elevate-my-heartbeat-to-its-maximum-potential-or-not type.

I simply cannot get used to all these houses built into the sides of the mountains.  We’ve got some of the same in Door County and the east side of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, but most of our state is mildly hilly or fairly flat.  I also cannot get used to how some houses’ front doors open almost directly onto the highway — or else have a goodly flight of stairs up to the door.  I would be a lean muscle machine if I lived here permanently.  If the up-and-down-hill walking did not do it for me, running from the copperheads in the summertime would.

I am developing a theory: even driving the hairpin turns and up-and-down slopes burns calories.  It would be possible to be quite athletically fit in Pittsburgh even without consciously exercising — if it weren’t for Chick-fil-A to ruin it all at the end of the day.

Susan has always been mystified by part of the local culture.  Although their home is only fifteen minutes from the heart of Pittsburgh, many people from their area — even very youngish people — have never been to the City.  Even more of them have not ever been to the other side of it.  They just live and die in their own small corner of the suburbs (suburghs?).

If Susan had wanted to know the answer, all she would have had to do is ask.  One of the natives explained it to me.  They all get lost if they travel outside of a certain small radius.  You see, because everything is in the mountains, there are no such things as square city blocks.  All the roads wind this way and that, without any organization, rhyme, or reason.  Finding your way around — especially around the city to the other side of it — is nigh-on to impossible.  So they all just stay in their township and the couple of townships nearby.  It is completely a safety issue.  There now.  That makes sense to me!

You might ask, “But what about one of those little GPS gizmos?  Wouldn’t that take care of the problem?”  We tried the GPS gadget to get us to Pittsburgh from Wisconsin.  It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  It tried to tell us Susan’s address did not exist.  After awhile, it decided the existence was a distinct possibility, but the directions given were not sensible.  If we had listened, we would have ended up on the wrong side of the city, lost forever, never to find Susan or Wisconsin again.

So, I understand.  I would behave myself and stay in my suburgh too.

Keeping Fit in Pitt (Part 1)


Keeping Fit in Pitt


As I explained yesterday, we have been visiting in the rural outskirts of Pittsburgh. 

I have been doing quite a bit of walking, partly out of desire to see some scenery, partly to find temporary solitude.  There is a hiking path about one-half mile from Susan’s house.  Getting there is semi-dangerous, as there is only a narrow shoulder along a sharply curving highway to walk on, and traffic is clipping.  I take consolation in not seeing many wildlife corpses on the road, which probably means that if I keep my eyes open, I will not end up as roadkill either.  I instruct the family before leaving that if I am not back in two hours, it is time to mount up a posse and come looking for me.

The hiking trail is an old railroad line, with a long tunnel cut through a hillside for added interest.  Woods adorn both sides, and Susan’s house is up on a bluff overlooking a creek which cuts between the trail and the residential area.

It seems that Pittsburghians do not behave quite like Wisconsinites.  The folks out on the trail are mostly intense types.  They jog, they stride energetically with arms flailing wildly, they are pulled along by unruly pitbulls, but they do not acknowledge each other’s existence as they meet.  My mother taught me as a small child that when we pass someone on the street, we smile pleasantly and say “hi.”  Pittsburghians appear to be very serious about whatever they do, including conscientiously obeying their mothers’ instructions never to speak to strangers.  I perversely insist on accosting them with a “hi,”  although I quickly discovered this is not kosher. The typical response is a surprised stare, as if they have discovered an intriguing new species of insect and are not quite certain whether to squash it or let it entertain them.  I keep trying, in hopes of improving their standard of civilized behavior, and I sometimes even get a response, but it is difficult to change a culture in a mere week’s time.

The trail is not heavily traveled in November, so I feel a little nervous about encountering lone men when no one else is in sight, especially in the dimly lit tunnel.  I am alert to my surroundings at all times, and listen carefully to assess the danger factor.  If the guy is breathing heavily as he approaches, that is probably good.  Loud snorting, wheezing, asthmatic gasping, and pre-cardiac arrest noises are even better.  All of these mean I can run faster than them, and that predator tactics are the last thing on their mind.

One of Susan’s friends informed me that in the summertime, the men are not the main alarm factor on the trail.  When it is warm, the copperheads enjoy sunning themselves smack dab in the middle of the road.  When they get too warm, they cool off in the tunnel — and no doubt lie in wait for silly Wisconsin women who never once imagined that a ten-foot-wide gravelled road would be a snake resort. 

I passed a pleasant elderly couple along the trail one afternoon.  (They said “hi” back and smiled — probably natives of Wisconsin, not Pittsburgh.)  I suppose they were in their seventies.  She was round and he was very lean — like Jack Sprat and wife.

As I approached  the tunnel on my return leg of the hike, I encountered Mrs. Sprat peering intently around the edge of it.  Jack was on the other end, poking around in some weeds.  Shortly after I entered, what I thought was a teenager tore past me in the fastest sprint I’d ever seen outside of the Olympics.  But it wasn’t a teenager.  As he got nearer, I realized it was Jack.  Seventy … spry as a youngster … faster than a speeding bullet … no red cape  or other super hero props though.

“How’d I do?”  Jack asked, lightly puffing.

“Thirty-one seconds,”  Mrs. Sprat replied.

But the light puffing didn’t subside or even continue evenly.  “EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH!” Jack commenced gasping in high-pitched apparent distress.  I wished I had remembered to bring the cell phone.  Obviously Jack was going to need an ambulance, and no telling how long it would take one to get there and whether the driver would know that he could disregard the hiking trail rule, “no motorized vehicles allowed.”

I turned to gaze in horror.  Mrs Sprat giggled.  Jack didn’t giggle.  He just kept on with the “EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH!”  At that point I figured that either she was rather looking forward to an early widowhood, or else Jack and the Mrs. just hang out at the tunnel on a regular basis, waiting to show off their stuff for whatever unsuspecting Wisconsinite comes along, hoping to scare the daylights out of their victim.

I headed on down the trail, and I noticed when I got to the end that the Sprats, with no “EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUHs” in earshot, were not far behind. 

Keeping Fit in Pitt (Part 2)


Merry Christmas and a Happy Newsletter


Dear friends,

We  wish you a very merry Christmas!  I hope everything is going well with you and all your family.

We’re all ducky and ecstatically happy with each other at our house, as usual.

Having Paul home, now that he’s retired, has taken a bit of getting used to, but I am thoroughly spoiled.  I love having him around the house.  He keeps pretty busy with household projects, and he likes to go downtown and share Jesus with people on the street at least once a week when the weather isn’t frightful. 

He is done with one year of Bible school, and has one year to go yet.  After that he plans on being a televangelist.  He really likes class a lot.  Our pastor is a fine teacher, so Paul gets into it.  He is a bit of a godzilla to live with in the week leading up to exams, though.  He frets that he will not do well on the tests – but he always does.

Paul is a good sport about me picking on him in the silly blog posts I write. If one gets too outrageous, I always let him read it before I put it up for the world to see, just to make sure it isn’t something he objects to.  He has never refused to give his stamp of approval.  I think he likes the persona I have created for him.  Perhaps he enjoys having a fuss made over himself.

Beebee is a sophomore in high school now.  She is learning to play guitar from one of my friends, and she sings on the worship team at our church.  We will home school her until she is forty or marries and has ten children, whichever comes first.

We are thinking of going to Pittsburgh the day after Christmas to spend a week with Susan and her husband Chris – if the forecast is clear.  It’s a long drive for such stay-at-homes as us – about twelve hours – and we’d rather not hit a blizzard in Indiana.  (Encountering the highway patrol there isn’t such a super experience, either.)  So, if it even hints of snow, I’ll plant my feet firmly in the home snow banks and refuse to budge. 

Susan’s little boy Ezekiel is almost five and Rachel is two.  The parsonage that they live in is very large, so we have enough room to spread out and have space to ourselves if we all get too much for each other.  After several days together, we always get to be too much for each other!

They have a woods and a creek behind the house instead of a backyard.  It’s nice for a walk at this time of year, since the poisonous snakes and disease-carrying ticks are all asleep right now.  There is a beaver dam on the creek, and they have seen a beaver.  Chris said it is just a woodchuck, but they probably don’t know a beaver from a woodchuck in Arkansas, where he comes from.  Beebee saw it and said it had a big old flat tail – beaver, not woodchuck.  Other than the woods, they don’t have a lot to do there.  Perhaps I will bring popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue along and entertain myself making a fruit bowl out of them with Ezekiel, so that I feel like a proper grandma.  I don’t have the grandma stereotype down yet, somehow.

(Oops! This just in: Weather.com says forget about Pittsburgh.)

A few days ago, Ezekiel told Susan that he wanted to “fire” the house.  I would have freaked out, but she manages to stay calm under such astonishing announcements.  She asked him why he wanted to burn the house down.  He said he wanted to get rid of the clocks.  When she probed further, he said they don’t say it’s lunch time often enough.  I hope she finds a constructive avenue to steer his inquisitive mind into, so that he invents useful things to keep himself occupied as he gets older.  A chemistry set would probably never be a good idea.

 I hope you have a lovely Christmas, and that the new year is full of good things for you!

Weird Search Terms #2


It’s time to comment again on weird search terms that people have used to get to my blog.  This is fun!  I’ll have to do it regularly.

1.)  “The advantages of lobotomy” — Apparently we have a lot of Dr. Frankensteins out there.  This one comes up rather frequently.  Instead of desiring to give someone a piece of their mind, perhaps some people ought to learn that song that the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz sings — If I Only Had a Brain!  Personally, I think I would prefer to keep all the brain I’ve got.  I just wish it functioned a little better than it does, at times.

2.)  “Where to buy sauerkraut in Wisconsin” — I have news for non-Wisconsinites: we buy our sauerkraut in the same place everyone else does — in the grocery store.  We find it in the canned vegetable aisle.  Or, we buy nice sterile bags of it in the meat department, next to the pork.  Boring, but true.  Hardly any of us fix it up in the back yard in a rain barrel.  We don’t go to a kraut factory, like foreigners do for their cheese curds.  By the way, once you’ve opened sauerkraut, you can keep it in your refrigerator for at least six months without noticing any sign of decay.  That’s because it is already as decayed as it is ever going to get.  Even molds don’t want any part of it.  I know.  I’ve done it.

3.)  “What should I buy at rummage sales?” — Is this a trick question or what?  You need help in figuring out what to buy at rummage sales?  You buy what you want and leave the rest.  If you have money just burning a hole in your pocket, and you don’t know how to spend it, ask the old lady next to you what she’s going ga-ga over, and then snatch it out of her hands and run for it.  The thrill of the chase will give you both a buzz.  Buy extremely ugly things and give them to your kids and grandkids for Christmas.  Some people make life too hard!


We Did the Door


We just got back from a couple of days in Door County.  I could post the pictures and tell you what a wonderful place it is to visit, and I would sound like a travel magazine.  But anybody who ever reads this blog knows that’s not what you’re going to get. 

We did the things we like to do, which means we avoided all the tourist trinket shops entirely, and visited the photogenic places — Cana Island, Peninsula State Park, Cave Point, a few pretty buildings, and the ferry port on the edge of the world.  Beebee had a good time with her dad’s camera.  She probably had a good time with her parents, too, but the camera won the popularity contest.

I restrained myself from bringing little bits of Door County home with me. Last time, my mind got stuck in the groove of crab claws and other lake debris being cool.  I brought home a margarine bucket full of such things.  It resides on a shelf in my closet, and I take it out and look at it every couple of years with my nose plug in place, because all those little marine life thingies smell horrible.  I think someday I will show my crab claws to the grandchildren to see whether they are scared or delighted.  I would imagine at least one of them will be delighted.  I will tell him Grandma got these while sailing the seas in a pirate ship, and he will think I am even cooler!

I noticed they don’t have any homeless people hanging around under the docks and park benches in Door County.  It’s probably because they would freeze to death in the middle of July.  I’ve never been to Door County when it wasn’t freezing.  I recommend bringing your winter coat when you come in May.  We didn’t, and we should have.

I didn’t see too many taverns, either — not that I missed them, or needed one, or anything like that.  I suppose the locals there get the same satisfaction out of a bowl of lingonberries as folks in my neck of the woods do out of a bottle of beer.  (Lingonberries are like a cross between cranberries and currants.  You eat them in a sauce.)

Eating is a problem in Door County, unless you bring your own food or have a wallet the size of Warren Buffet’s.  The lingonberries cost, folks!  And when it is off-season (it still is, in late May) there are not a lot of places open for business.  The owners stay in Florida until June, hoping to store up warmth, somewhat like a solar battery.  They want to bring back at least the remembrance of what it was like not to shiver constantly.  But Al Johnson’s is always open.  I would eat every meal there  —  if I had Warren Buffet’s wallet at my disposal.

We stayed at the same resort that we were at the last time.  Back then, it was elegant to my plebeian eyes, but it was decidedly tired this time.  The entire building was extremely musty-smelling and my nostrils were assaulted with nastier-yet odors upon entering our room.  I did not look under the bed for dead mice resting in an ashtray full of cigarette butts, but I think I would have found that if I had looked.

The lady at the front desk informed us that if we wanted to go swimming and had not brought our suits, they had a supply of left-behinds from previous guests.  We could pick through them and wear them if we liked.  Uh, no thanks. I wonder if they offer free recycled underwear that was left behind, too.  How about toothbrushes?

Which brings me to my husband, who forgot his toothbrush.  He thought he was going to share mine.  There are times when I am not in a sharing mood.  Forgotten toothbrushes are one of those moments.  Beebee thought it should be no big deal if he just didn’t brush until we got home from the trip.  (I see that I am going to have to monitor the child’s toothpaste consumption, to make sure it is being … consumpted.)  Thankfully, my husband did not think skipping the tooth maintenance was a good idea.  We sent him down to the desk, and they sold him a toothbrush.  It was still neatly wrapped in plastic, so I don’t think it came out of the box of recycled underwear and bathing suits.

It’s a good thing that the resort thought to keep a stock of (new) toothbrushes, as we were staying at the absolute end of nowhere, at least five miles from inhabited places, and by this time every store in town would have been closed anyway, because it was after 3:00 p.m., the official time all the businesses shut down and everybody forgets to breathe until morning (except Al Johnson’s, which serves lingonberries far into the night — until 8:00 p.m., in fact).

So that’s the angle on Door County that no one else will tell you.  There’s more, but we’ll save it for another day.

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