On Jigsaw Puzzles

My favorite puzzle that I borrowed, and put together twice last year! The 2nd time was much easier.

Studies have shown that when we work on a jigsaw puzzle, we use both sides of the brain. Even if that isn’t true, puzzles are useful for the enjoyment and relaxation they can bring.

My siblings and I started young and did lots of them while we were growing up, beginning with a Zorro puzzle that Mom kept together in a shoe box long after the original box became dilapidated.

Ours was similar to this early 1960’s version.

The ET puzzle was a Christmas gift to our family. The year we received it, we became snowbound in Carroll, IA, and had to stick around for a few days. Snow play, monopoly marathons, and puzzles filled some of the time so we didn’t drive Mom and Dad crazy, with so many people in the house.

Ed and Linda, working on the new puzzle in Carroll, Christmas 1982.

My 18 year old granddaughter loves puzzles and completes them very fast. We trade them back and forth. I like to savor my work on it, so we are different in that way.

Here is one borrowed from Clara, called “Tag Sale”, which I enjoyed very much in March, 2020.

It’s quite disappointing if there’s a missing piece or two. I like how my daughter-in-law, Amy, writes on the bottom of the box, something like “missing 2 pieces”. At least then you know.

Sometimes, the missing piece is in Dan’s pocket, where he has kept it stashed until the end, so that he can triumphantly insert the last piece and finish the puzzle.

And sometimes, it’s in the kitchen junk drawer, where I remember seeing its waywardness and wondering where it belongs.

Mom would buy puzzles from garage sales, enjoying the gamble that maybe they were complete.

If a piece is irretrievably lost, I create a replacement by putting white cardboard under the missing space and outline the piece. Then I cut it out (in double, if needed, glued together, to match the thickness of the other pieces) and paint a matching color or design on the cardboard. When it’s all put together, you can hardly tell that it’s not an original.

For my birthday last year, I received an intricately designed constellations puzzle. It was frustratingly difficult at times, but I stuck with it. About 3/4 of the way through, I KNEW some pieces were not there. I searched the floor 3 times, shook Dan down pretty hard, ha ha, and thought how I would let the company know of this imperfection. I would tell them that we have no dogs or children who could have carried them off.

Fully finished, yet incomplete!

Customer service was excellent, and very efficient in getting those pieces to me, with a handwritten note in a letterpress card, after I sent them the picture. Plus, they promised to send me a whole new puzzle, my choice!

The new puzzle sent to me, completed in January, 2021, a new favorite! This was so much fun!

Some people say they can’t sit still long enough to do a puzzle. I tell them that I stand when I do mine because it’s easier to see all of the pieces, and to reach for some of them, especially if there are 1000 pieces.

Lighting is sometimes an issue with puzzles. Even with good interior lights, there is often an annoying glare. So, it is best to put them together next to a window, in daylight, I think.

A couple of years ago, we were in Galena, IL. It was December, and the narrow, curving street was adorned with real evergreen garland. There was a charming puzzle shop where I found a winter themed puzzle. This was the first puzzle I ever did without doing the border first, but focusing on interior subjects.

Working on it, February 2019, Galena puzzle.

All of this talk of puzzles reminds me of a movie I watched recently on a TV movie channel. It was called “Puzzle”, a 2018 drama. It was a surprisingly good story, about a suburban housewife who is always doing for others. Even at her own birthday party, she is the one planning, decorating, serving, and cleaning up.

One of her gifts is a jigsaw puzzle, which she puts together very fast. This leads to her going into NYC, (for the first time ever!) to a puzzle shop, which opens up her life in many ways.

I really liked this movie.

I’m going to take a break from puzzles for awhile, and reintroduce my body to the cold, and winter walk explorations, which I used to do often. When I’m in the mood for a puzzle again, I’ll do this one, borrowed from Clara, (who purchased it @spruceomaha).

A heavenly puzzle!

I hope you are finding time for puzzle play in your life!


On Holiday Lights

This is our 5th day of cold and clouds and not melting snow. The days and nights of December need lights, and I’ve never realized it more than during this cold spell! Staying inside a lot, I catch myself looking out, and glimpsing, (or staring at) the simple clear, and lush lights of Turner Park, or a neighbor’s lit up Christmas tree in a condo window, always a delight!

Some of the park lights that I look out at.
Corner condo dwellers’ Christmas trees, Dec. 2020

I tend toward moderation and simplicity. Less is more, to me.

Here’s something I wrote on December 22, 2015:

Today, I read an essay in OUR IOWA magazine about a Californian recalling her growing up days in small town Iowa (Red Oak). She wrote about how, at Christmas-time, she could see the town square from her grandma’s 2nd floor apartment, and how they sat there at 5 PM to see the very first Christmas light come on, and then all of them, the reds, yellows, blues and greens.

An image flashed through my mind of Breda, Iowa’s (population 500) downtown holiday lights strung across the street, row after row. It was very simple, yet so effective against the night sky. I loved it then, and I LOVE thinking about it now!

Contrast that with the fancy, flashy light displays—which are very special really for their once a year occurence—in retail areas and home neighborhoods, or such as The Holly Jolly Lights in Des Moines, (a drive through fundraiser for Make A Wish). All very nice, but maybe trying just a little too hard.

This week, 2020, I searched online for a historical photo of those lights in Breda, and Carroll, IA, and in Omaha, with no success. So, I did a quick little watercolor sketch to express what I’m missing.

Still searching for Christmas lights like these.
Here it is! The magnificent simplicity of Breda, Iowa’s holiday lights on Main St.
Photo by my cousin, Virginia Kennebeck, Dec. 2020.

Enjoy the brilliance, whatever kind, and wherever you are!

Merry Christmas,


On Pigeons

Picasso painting, seen in 2004 at the Guggenheim Museum, inside the Venetian, Las Vegas.

What do you think of when you see a pigeon?

Is it the beautiful deep blue/gray coloring?

Is it the way they gracefully fly, and then perch lightly on a railing?

Is it the way they tend to pair up and/or congregate?

I think of the cities I’ve visited with great plazas and fountains. The pigeons are all around them, and often, people are feeding them.

Feed them?? Not me! Living in a city, we are now living with pigeons on our balcony, especially when we’ve been away for a couple of months.

You can imagine.

This is the first summer that we’ve had this particular problem, due to no activity on the balcony. With park concerts cancelled, and the coronavirus, we chose to isolate away from the city.

The pigeons nested under our grill, sometime in June, when we were gone. We discovered it, and all the surrounding evidence, on July 3, when we came back for a couple of days. The outdoor furniture was all a mess of droppings and feathers.

Wearing a mask, I used a throw away spoon to scrape up most of it into a trash bag. Then Dan used a putty knife which worked well, although he did comment that perhaps we should hire someone to do this dirty job. Then, a cleaning solution was gently poured over it (due to water runoff toward the sidewalk below, I had to be careful).

Then, rags were laid down on top to soak for awhile, and ultimately used to wipe up. Next, a disinfectant cleaner on tables and chairs, and concrete floor.

Looking somewhat better.

Finally, we could sit out and use the balcony again!

Then, we went back to NW Iowa’s Lake Okoboji, on July 6th.

This time, we put all balcony chairs inside, just in case the pigeons came back.

Balcony chairs, inside.

Well, we returned on October 8th, and yes, the pigeons love our balcony. I’m so glad the chairs were spared.

So, once again, clean up is going on, as well as chasing the birds away every time they land or get near. I was yelling and clapping my hands furiously, which sounded terrible and stung my hands.

Then, I remembered Dad’s trick of pounding 2 blocks of hard wood together to startle the starlings out of our front yard trees in Carroll, IA.

I went to our toy closet to get the Playskool wooden blocks (given to our oldest son, Bryan, in 1973, by his uncle, Michael Neary). I took 2 to use, and it worked great!

I still like our balcony a lot, even with the unwelcome pigeons. Who knows? I may even start painting them.


On Crosswords

A newspaper crossword puzzle on the dining room table, ready to be solved.

A few years ago, Leigh and I were on a trip together. She was working on a crossword puzzle, in ink, as I do. I thought it was just so interesting because she also crossed off each clue as she answered it. That’s what I like to do.

Her dad uses only a mechanical pencil. I’m not sure how her 3 older brothers do crosswords. I would guess by pencil.

I admire people who do crossword puzzles. Once, when I walked into a neighbor’s house on South 55th St., I thought its most decorative and homey feature was the newspaper’s unfinished crossword puzzle on the clean dining room table. A bright yellow-orange pencil was placed on top of it, ready for use.

Sometimes, I copy that style by setting the crossword puzzle on the table, along with a pencil. It can be an inviting look!

Generally, I don’t do word puzzles. Occasionally, I like to finish one started by Dan, or collaborate on a particularly hard one (like in Sunday’s newspapers), with a group while traveling. It is kind of fun to pass it around.

The Omaha World Herald has 2 daily crossword puzzles: one in the Living section, and one in the Sports pages. In our household, there were several fans of these puzzles.

When our children were growing up, during their young teen years especially, I barely got a chance to read the Living/Sports sections because they disappeared so quickly.

Dan enjoyed all of the puzzles in the paper so he also would take it prematurely (before me).

Brandon, preparing Wednesday’s delivery.

When Brandon, (then later on Leigh) became a paper carrier, it was a thrill to have an extra paper once in awhile.

We’ve recently stopped receiving the print edition, opting for a digital subscription. I reasoned that I could go to our neighborhood grocery, Wohlner’s, while on an early morning walk and pick one up. I do like to spread out a newspaper on the table and read it.

However, reading the online version is fun too, especially when we are away from home. And, it occurred to me, that I could print out the puzzles each day for Dan (and for me to finish).

Some printed out puzzles, ready to work on!

It’s been said that solving puzzles increases and maintains your brain power. I don’t know about that. What I do know, is that it’s made Dan a consistent Scrabble winner, (much to my annoyance, ha ha). I just think it’s very important to do what you enjoy every day!

Yes, Dan’s the winner, once again.

Enjoy your puzzles!


On a Drawing

Getting started, August 2018

I found one sheet of this fabulous drawing paper (Rives?, Arches?) in my supplies from my days at the University of Nebraska Omaha, studying art. The Berol prismacolor pencils and drawing board were there also.

Bare beginnings

This drawing, “Clara in the Boat” was started in August 2018, while I was staying solo at the lakehouse. The composition of putting Clara in the lower part of the page was inspired by a portrait I saw at Joslyn Art Museum, where the figure was placed like this.

A little more color laid down.
October 17, 2019

I like this stage of color in the water. The circles are an attempt to show the sun sparkles. My plan is to draw a simple outline of the boat, in black, and add detail to Clara.

October 20, 2019

Water too dark, I think! I left this drawing at the lake, to sit until the next summer, hoping I could lighten it up. Maybe if I did that, the dark spots would show the depth of the water.

May 19, 2020

Finished! That darkness in the water bothered me all winter (in my mind, because it was away from Omaha). I just didn’t like it, and I didn’t know how I was going to fix it.

After erasing a small section with a good art/pencil eraser, I used a tissue to rub off some color. It worked perfectly, taking off the pastel chalk that I had used on top of the colored pencil.

Then, I outlined the boat some more, and added color to the towel, which was an especially fun process!


On a Boy Who Sits

A lone figure in Turner Park, April 21, 2020

Yesterday afternoon, if you were to look into my heart and soul as I sat on our balcony overlooking the now closed city park, you would have seen a mellow, sympathetic, confused COVID 19 world inhabitant.

I understand why the mayor closed our parks. Too many people were gathering, sometimes in the hundreds, even at night, which caused mischief and serious crimes, (besides violating the current order to keep groups to 10).

Here is what I observed:

The Frontline Security officer asked people to leave the greenspace, which they did.

He asked 2 kids on scooters to leave the concrete stage area, which they, and their father, did.

He asked a young couple sitting together on the edge of the stage to leave, which they did, moving to a bench along the sidewalk, which I thought was open. No, it was not, apparently, because the officer asked them to leave the bench, which they did.

This is not good, I thought. It’s 70 degrees and sunny. This park which was just mowed and maintained needs to be used!

Next, the guard moved toward a young man in plaid shorts and dark socks, who was sitting in the middle of the stage, casually, yet thoughtfully, soaking up the 5 PM sun.

I felt for him. He didn’t want to move. He’s isolated. All should be OK.

He threw his arms up, a couple of times, in gestures that said, “Really?”

The security guard threw his arms up in the air also, as if to say, “it’s my job to remove all people from the park.”

The kid won for now. He stayed put. What was he contemplating? Is it a world problem, or a personal problem? Or, maybe he was just choosing to sit in the sunshine and enjoy it.

Then, the boy (defiantly, I think) got down and walked right through the green space (which is most definitely off limits) to the west side of the park, along the sidewalk. He walked toward a bench where the guard had just sent 2 people away who were sitting on that bench.

Our young man walking in the park, viewed through my balcony railing.

Benches and playgrounds are not open for use because the city can not possibly disinfect them.

I think it’s ridiculous. It’s all gotten so crazy. The kid (of high school, or maybe college age) sat on a bench, looking east.

A good spot to look out over the scene.

I watched him for 20 minutes or so, as walkers moved around him (the sidewalk is open). He didn’t move, as if deep in thought, or observation.

I went inside for a minute and when I got back, he was gone. Which way did he go? Oh, there he was, walking on the sidewalk. Then, he got in his little white car, and drove away.

I really hope the parks (and cities) open up soon!


On Having a Silver Tooth

Shirley, 5th grade, St. Lawrence School, Carroll, IA.

”Embrace your imperfections” is a quote that I’ve had on my bulletin board for years. I like to think of it as a way to be/stay humble, or, as a way to be more human, acknowledging our flaws, be they physical, mental, or emotional.

Today, I’m thinking about teeth and dental work. We go to a team of fabulous dentists and staff, who I’ve been told, treat famous people (must get more detail on that!). Dan and I are both patients there. When they asked him if he’d like to get his teeth bleached, he told them, “No, I don’t plan on smiling that much.”, which made me laugh out loud!

On March 5th, I went in for the replacement of my front tooth. I’ve had that porcelain crown for 20 years or so, and the gum had receded enough to make them worry about food getting trapped under it. Besides, the materials in use now are far superior, more natural looking, than what was used back then.

I dreaded this work. 2 hours in the chair, and a temporary to wear for 4 weeks, while the new tooth was being manufactured. They told me that doing one front tooth is the most difficult procedure for dentists. I think it’s because of the matching that must be done.

Well, it wasn’t that bad! I thought I’d be wanting to go home and cry. Instead, I felt so good, I went to Williams Sonoma and bought a LeCruset dutch oven! It was such a mood lifter, thinking about the breads and meals we could use that for.

They sent me home with instructions on how to floss it (only pull the floss through, not down, or the tooth would pop right off), and how to re”glue” it in place if I had to, with vaseline or toothpaste as a bonding agent.

The next appointment was set for April 2nd. I patiently counted the days. Then, Dan heard on the news that dental offices were closing for 2 weeks, along with everything else, because of the corona virus and social distancing guidelines. “You might not get your 2nd appt.” he told me. “Oh, they for sure will do this appointment for me!” I said confidently, thinking of it as almost emergency work.

I was wrong! The office called me twice to re-schedule, going for April 7, then April 14, and then, to tell me they’re closing until June! They won’t even schedule an appointment at this time. I am assured that people can live with a temporary for weeks (now months) at a time.

All is good, not to worry. I can live with this minor setback.

Here is something I wrote on October 21, 2014, about the reason for my front tooth repair:

In the 3rd grade, while fighting with my cousin over a comic book, I slipped on his home’s beautifully polished , super slick hardwood floor, and chipped my front tooth diagonally in half.

We lived in rural Iowa, and had a wonderful dentist in Wall Lake who treated me with a form making (chocolate pie, he told me) substance that I bit into, and it tasted terrible. A few weeks later, I had a new front tooth, and it was silver!

It didn’t bother me to have that silver tooth that I remember. As a matter of fact, my best playmate at the time, Nancy, had to get one also, after chipping her tooth on the school playground. Everyone said that whatever Shirley did, Nancy had to do also. I’m a year older than Nancy.

Soon after, our family moved to Carroll, Iowa, where I was the new kid in the Catholic grade school. The boys teased me a little.

The one incident I remember the most happened in 4th grade. I was seated up front. One of the boys, who I will call Dan (wink, wink) was sitting in the back. He would whisper, “Oh Shirley”. I would turn around and he would pretend to be combing his hair, along with some of his buddies who he had enticed to do the same thing, while looking at “the mirror in my mouth”, as he called it.

Dan, all innocence here, early elementary school.

Such juveniles! And to think I married this leader of the pack, ha ha.

When I was in 7th or 8th grade, I must have been embarrassed by it, because all of my class pictures have a closed mouth smile.

Some time in high school, it was replaced with a nice white tooth, that held up until I foolishly bit into a Slo-Poke sucker that pulled it right off at the swimming pool. It was the day before an out of town cheerleading camp.

An emergency temporary cap was put on by our dentist, and I was able to carry on and go to the camp, at Simpson College, Indianola, IA, where I had a very good time!

Me, at cheerleading tryouts before the Student Council, Kuemper High School cafeteria, 1969.

May you all enjoy excellent dental health,


On Moving Day

Cloud City. March 5, 2020, photo by Shirley.

Today, as I look out over the windy city of Omaha, NE, I’m reminded of how I felt in the early days of living in Midtown Crossing, loving the views. We’ve now been here for 9 years.

Here is something I wrote on February 25, 2011, about those beginnings:

Actually, this moving day should be posted as 2 days (24th and 25th) or even many more days. It’s been months in the making. But, yesterday was a red letter day.

I found myself at 2 PM with a car loaded with Leigh’s closet, my art things, some clothes and hangers, and various cupcake business things. Should I wait until the actual moving day (Feb. 25) to bring these things? I still had to stop at Cupcake Island and pick up mail and payroll, AND an ice storm was due at any minute.

I decided to go to the condo/new home after Cupcake, saying to myself I would be home by 3 for a short nap (having gotten up at 4 AM, so excited, can’t sleep). After the nap, I would prepare the house for a 6:30 showing, then do Cupcake books, before everything (desktop computer, printer, modem) got disconnected and boxed up for the move, short as it is to Midtown.

We were also entertaining the FAB 5!, (friends and fellow United Way volunteers), at 6:30 at Crave restaurant.

Anyhow, I found myself pulling into our underground parking garage alone for the first time. It took about 5 elevator trips to empty the car, not a big deal.

I was enjoying every step through the condo/new home as I puttered about organizing what I had brought, imagining Dan’s surprise to find family pics set out, and his shirts hanging in the closet.

But what I really liked was the view toward the park and the city!!! The huge flag cheered me as the clouds got darker and something like snow came down—I wasn’t sure—was it ice?—I seemed so high up, on this 8th floor. That snow looked different from there, I think.

Moving from a home of 13 years that you’ve made your own is a huge transition. And so is enjoying, savoring the first few steps of moving into a completely new space, with completely new views.

Here are a few of those new views:

This you can see from anywhere, really, It was just fun to see such a wide expanse of sky.
Maintenance workers, changing a lightbulb, maybe?
Rooftop xeriscape year round plantings.
The sunrise, Oh yes!
Window washers.
Bare beginnings. I kind of like this uncluttered look!
March 1, 2011. A hot air balloon landed in Turner Park. It was the “Heat the Streets, Walk for Warmth” event. Photo from Midtown Crossing’s Facebook page.
The Flag, in 2020.

Thanks for reading and looking!


On Dressing for Winter

Shirley and her brothers, Marty and Ed, 1950’s Iowa farm.

As you can see, our parents took really good care of us modern mid-century kids! They made sure we were warm by tormenting us with these turn of the century winter outfits. We do look happy!

A few years later, we moved to town so that Dad could take a job with Farner and Bocken. He became a beloved beer salesman, serving the area’s needs, and giving his family a comfortable life. Here is a card that he sent out that first year in his job, 1961:

Now the family includes Karen! This card was found recently in 2019, in one of Dad’s customer’s drawers, in Denison. It’s signed Leny & Hamm’s.

Now that we lived in Carroll, the winter wear styling was pushed up a notch. No babushka scarf for Karen! She gets a really cute furry hat. It even looks like she was allowed to go without mittens and boots!

Karen, on South Main St., around 1965.

However, it took a few years for Mom and Dad to get that cool. For their oldest child, in 1961, I was forced to wear flannel or wool pants under my uniform, and heavy boots, for the 7 block walk to St. Lawrence School, when we lived at 1114 N. Main St.

“But, Mom!”, I still remember protesting. “I’ll be OK. The other girls wear tights and little shoes”. Whining did no good. I just had to bear it.

Years later, in Omaha, imagine my surprise as I saw the high schoolers wear pajama pants under their uniforms, willingly. They probably begged their mothers to let them do that, Ha!

When our oldest son was 6 and in first grade, I was responsible for his worst fashion day in winter. Mom and I found the most perfect tan trench coat, lined in fur (when I say fur, it always means imitation of course). She worked at Penney’s and received the employee discount, which made this on sale coat such a bargain! I could just see Bryan in it.

The problem was, he refused to wear it. There were tears. The ONE day he did wear it was when his dad was driving the car pool and authoritatively insisted, “Get in the car now, with that coat on and buttoned up!”. Sorry Bryan.

I found no pictures of this coat which was immediately donated away after causing so much unhappiness. It looked something like this:

What were we thinking?

Unfortunately, Bryan had one more (at least) episode of Mom choosing winter wear for him. This was when he was a senior in high school. It was a dark turquoise puffy (very puffy) ski style jacket and another Penney’s bargain, I’m sure. He rarely wore it, and purposely left it at home when he went to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

Bryan, senior in high school, wearing the coat!

The feisty winds on campus proved to be too cold between classes, (now that walking was the only way to get around), so that first weekend home, he found the puffy coat to bring back. Fashion was not as important as warmth.

Here’s a great coat for a little girl, and our daughter’s request at Christmas:

Leigh, 1989, with her beautiful white fur coat.

I was asked to sew a fur coat for our oldest granddaughter, Clara, by her very fashionable mother, Amy. Here’s how it turned out:

What a fun coat, sure to have kept Clara warm! 2005.

One of the coldest days I’ve ever been out in occurred on the eastern most part of Long Island, NY. We were on a road trip with friends, and wanted to get to Montauk to see the historic landmark lighthouse.

First, we stopped at the Parrish Art Museum (YAY!) near Southhampton to see the Fairfield Porter works. Then, it was off to a deli for pastrami sandwiches to eat at the lighthouse.

As we drove on and on, it seemed, the pastrami sandwiches were getting more and more enticing, until we just couldn’t wait any longer. We pulled off the road and enjoyed our lunch. Now, on to the lighthouse, which turned out to be right around the next bend! We laughed and laughed.

Shirley, Dan, and Liz, February, 1998. Photo by Tony Hooi, who was so cold he actually missed the tall part of the lighthouse, (behind this brick building), Ha! And, it was closed for the winter, so no chance to go inside and warm up.

The wind was intense. We were frozen just being in it for a few minutes; we could not have had a picnic here!

Our weather in Omaha turned very cold this last weekend, with minus degree windchills. Before that, it was mid -fifties and sunny. Last week, I breezily walked to a neighborhood coffee shop (Myrtle and Cypress) for a meet up with a friend who founded and runs a nonprofit (Whispering Roots-an aquaponics, STEM program for school kids, and other communities, raising fish and food). He was updating me on their work as we sipped our drinks served in vintage looking, soft green china cups (a juniper berry organic whole milk latte for me, and a cashew/date nondairy one for him).

I chose this coffeeshop for its location, and its innovating small business vibe. They made over a house, so you sit on couches and chairs. Also, I like their Instagram posts. The one that influenced me had the juniper latte photo, and a link to an article, entitled “The Norwegian Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter”, which was inspirational, I thought. In Norway, there are very few depressed people, affected with seasonal disorders. Apparently, it’s all about attitude.

Right now, they’re in the season, a few months long, when Norway’s sun doesn’t get above the horizon. So, they enjoy long views of sunrises and sunsets.

Norwegian residents have a saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Ha ha! To survive the harsh winters in the midwest, where I live, and around the world, you need good clothing choices.

Even our pets have very caring owners. On Sunday, I quickly photographed (from my balcony) one of my favorite dogs of Midtown Crossing at Turner Park on a walk with its owner.

Alice and her dog, Ellie, who’s always dressed appropriately.

Our winter is just beginning, so take very good care of yourself, and loved ones!


On Cleaning Up After Christmas Dinner

”Dish by Dish”, 28”W by 29”H, studio art quilt by Shirley, 2001.
Cotton, dye, inkjet print, hand and machine stitched.

Traditionally, the most important time for family gatherings in the Neary household is on Christmas Eve, not on Christmas Day. This was begun by Dan’s father, Ray, while Dan was growing up.

In our house, family arrives anytime after noon, and we have a casual lunch buffet, with Dan doing most of the preparation. The menu is this: cheese spread with crackers, meatballs, little smokies in “Tony’s sauce” (secret recipe, ha), deviled eggs, a veggie tray, and shrimp from Absolutely Fresh Seafood. A platter of homemade cookies and fudge is set out also.

Then, we play games, rest a little, and maybe open one gift.

Around 5 or so, we go to a children’s Mass, and come back for a formal dinner. Many grand entrees have been prepared over the years, such as beef tenderloin, lobster, or Duck a l’orange, followed by gift unwrapping. This was somewhat exhausting!

Usually, we had places to go the next day, some that were hours away and out of state (to Iowa), for other family celebrations.

In the past few years, we’ve significantly reduced the elegance and work, by choosing to do only the very wonderful buffet, in mid afternoon. We still light candles, and use nice dishes and linens. Clean up is easier, for sure, and we still celebrate the joy.

Handmade card, from Nancy and Dave.

Here is something I wrote a few years ago, on Dec. 27, 2015, when we served both meals:

As the dishes, pots and pans, cups and glasses and utensils pile up on the counter, I think for one second that this is crazy! More pans on the stovetop, a full dishwasher going through its cleaning cycle, and dessert is yet to be—are there enough clean forks?

The food is creative and delicious, the company divine, in fun and conversation! And help also!

So, when I go to bed at 11:00 on Christmas Eve with cleanup halfway done, I am not looking forward to the rest of the dish duties.

My quick sketch of some of the varying degrees of cleanup.

However, on Christmas morning, I get up so early, and can quietly clean a few items (while others sleep), looking out over the park, and at the Woodmen Tower with its green and red lights.

What I’m remembering is that time when Dan’s sister, Linda, taught me about messy kitchens and cleaning them up. In the mid 1970’s, she came to Omaha to visit, and cooked a Mexican dinner in our tiny Benson apartment kitchen, using every wedding gift and piece of equipment we owned. I was somewhat appalled at the state of our kitchen!

Then, we ate, and enjoyed, and after that, we methodically cleaned up dish by dish, washing, drying, and putting everything away.

From an old calendar.

And then, our kitchen was ready for many more cooking and cleaning up episodes. I hope everyone is enjoying time around a family table often!