On Dishcloths and Dishrags

Funny, Reusable, Washable Paper Towel Substitutes, from the Exist Green shop in Omaha. These were gifted to me last Christmas, and made all of us laugh.

The other day, I splashed a lot of coffee on a favorite white cotton dishtowel. As I vigorously sprayed hot, hot water on it, in the sink, very close to the stain, I was reminded of how I learned to do this from Ed ( Co-owner and Master Baker) and Kara (Pastry Chef and Operations Manager) at Cupcake Island.

It seems that I was bothered by the chocolate stains on our pure white terry towels and was throwing them in the laundry bag, until Ed caught me and said if I kept on doing this, we would have way too much laundry. So Kara said, ”Haven’t you ever learned this?” as she showed me the technique for quick stain removal. I was fascinated!

Cupcake Island, Opening Day, 9/5,2006, Shirley and Grandkids Sam and Clara. This is where I learned many new things.

At home, this desire to change out the towels frequently came from our daughter-in-law’s sister, Sarah, who likes to clean, and always has a clean dishtowel. Now I do that also, at least once a day.

However, in the past, I’m not sure what I did in 45 years of marriage and household management. I remember installing a bar inside the cupboard door under the sink for the dishcloth to dry. I’ve never been a fan of the lumped up dishcloth (or dishrag as my family called it) in the bottom of the sink, or hanging behind and around the faucet.

Old dishrag, bunched up. Don’t do this.
Another old dishrag hanging around. Don’t like to see this.

On this dishcloth/dishrag designation, my brother-in-law, Tom, says, ”When it’s new, it’s a dishcloth; after it’s been used, it’s a dishrag.” Ha!

Summer, 2021 splurge. Brand new all cotton absorbent kitchen cloths, my favorite.

When the used ones became musty (inevitably), I washed them. To prevent the mustiness, Grandma Philomena gave me the tip of putting a few drops of bleach in the pan of dishwater. That works really well until you don’t do the dishes that way any more, with most being cleaned in the dishwasher now. But you still need a wet, soapy cloth to clean countertops, cooktops, refrigerator front, and appliance handles.

Recently, my sis-in-law, Jane, told me that her husband, Pat Neary, would put the wet cloth in the microwave for a minute or so, to dry and disinfect it. I have not done that myself, but it seems to be a good idea!

Another idea from my daughter-in-law’s ”fond of cleaning” family: have 2 kinds of towels out everyday, one for drying your hands, and one for the dishes. The one for dishes is the flour sack, muslin type, that is thin, soft and very absorbent. Good idea! I had never thought of that.

Photo found online. I used to have many of these.

Embroidered dish towels were very popular in the 1950’s and 60’s, and a good gift from Aunts and Grandmas. They had line drawings and often cute sayings, or days of the week, with colorful embroidery outlines. I’m sure I even made some of these in 4-H or Girl Scouts, as a way to learn stitchery.

Another thing about dishcloths-you can use them almost anytime you’d use a paper towel. But, do you really want to? I ask myself that often, because many times a day, our granite counter is very spotty with food prep and water splashes. Since I don’t have a sink of soapy water due to dishes being placed in dishwasher, I have to make a little soap and water each time I wipe the counter, or use a spray cleaner with paper towels. Now, with our waste free philosophy, (learned from our daughter, Leigh), I usually feel too wasteful to do that. We buy very few paper towels these days. So, I get a clean dishcloth, do the cleanup, and put that one in the laundry room, because, as you know, I don’t like seeing a wet cloth in the sink.

Like I said, I don’t know how I did it all of those years raising a family. For sure, I was not as obsessed with how things looked in the kitchen! Now, I have that luxury, and I kind of enjoy it.

As the TV ad said, “Life is messy; clean it up!” , with your dishrag or dishcloth, whatever you call it!


The Day I Met the Meter Man

It was the summer of 1969; senior year of high school was ahead of me. I had a full time job taking care of two children at their house, while their mother worked at J.C.Penney’s. She picked me up and took me home, before and after work. The days were long, but basically I enjoyed them.

Sometimes, I washed my hair there and put in rollers (hair curlers). It was all part of good grooming in those days, and something I did on this day.

Maybe the curlers were this attractive style, or maybe the fetching-in-pink kind below.

As my two little charges and I were having lunch, I was startled to hear a male voice yell out, ”Meter Man!”. Whoever he was walked in the back door and went right to the basement.

Not my meter man, a stand-in.

I immediately followed this scary-charming voice, and was surprised to see that it was a classmate who I knew, of course, but had not really talked to that much.

He broke all city rules that day by taking a break, and sitting at the kitchen table to chat with me for a while. Remember, I was in hair rollers, so I was quite embarrassed. Still, we laughed and talked easily for awhile, then went on with our jobs and our day.

I liked him! I’ve liked him for over 52 years now, married for 49 of those years. Yes, the meter man was Dan. We often laugh about how the words from that day were all it took to set up a lifetime together, even with hair rollers involved.

We’re still talking around a kitchen table, and I hope you are too, with the meaningful people in your lives!


On Deck Furniture

Our first deck, and its furniture, pencil drawing by Shirley, 1989.

Newer is not always better than old, and sometimes old is even better than new! That is my opinion. Today, as we transition to colder weather and put outdoor furniture in the garage, I’m thinking specifically of our heavy wrought iron set. Always accept help, by the way, when it comes to moving items down steps and around the lawn. I think I pulled a muscle when I didn’t wait for the offered assistance, only about 5 minutes out. That independent streak was at work.

Our deck in 1989, without furniture. Built in seats are a good design feature! This was a very warm Easter Sunday in Omaha.

When we bought a lakehouse in 2010, a set of white, curlicue iron outdoor furniture came with it. At first, I didn’t know if I would like it because it was so old fashioned. However, in the intervening years, I have come to appreciate it so much, and now think it is irreplaceable!

My brother, Ed, has already claimed the table if we do ever switch it out for something new. He likes how it never seems to be dirty, whereas a glass topped table always looks smudgy, and has to be wiped clean before using.

Sunrise seen through and around my favorite deck chair, October, 2021.

This is why I think our white iron furniture is so valuable:

Its 6 chairs are of ample size for all ages and body types. They will not break, even with rambuctious college kids using them.

Its weight and sturdiness holds up to Okoboji winds, keeping them in place on the deck. Our neighbors’ lightweight chairs often end up on the grass, flipped over.

No pillows are required, so there is no having to move cushions in and out of the rain. Although, somehow, a few green and white cushions showed up, and we don’t know from who—were they Mom and Dad’s? Karen and Jim, or Bry and Amy are the most logical suspects, but they won’t admit to bringing them, ha ha!

The mysterious green cushions. I believe a folded beach towel works as well, especially under your feet when you place them on another chair.

It has variety. Some of the chairs rock, and some do not. A two-seated glider is also part of the set.

We can refresh it by spray painting it every 3 years or so, making it look like new. The sustainability!

It’s whiteness looks great with the blue sky and water. Even on a cloudy day, it brings a cheerful spark to the view.

Not everyone agrees with my assessment of positive attributes. I’ve heard grumblings of it being uncomfortably hard from family and even a neighbor, who sometimes brings his own chair (quite portable!) over for a chat.

Paul and Dan, Summer afternoon, 2021.

I think Paul is all sweaty from a hot day’s bike ride, so that is why he kindly chose to sit in his own chair. But, really, a little sweat would not harm our chairs!

Before we even had a deck, we had a patio. It was paved with bricks in the backyard of our first house, at 536 S. 55th St.

Hard at work, late 1970’s.

Our furniture on this new deck was a salvaged picnic table from Grand Island’s night of 7 tornadoes on June 3, 1980. Our friends retrieved it from their parents’ house (actually found a few blocks from there) when they went to help clean up. It worked well for us!

Brandon with his cardboard creation, 1981.

Before we had this patio, we had a lawn, and as most Americans did, we sat on lightweight aluminum folding chairs, with webbed seating and backing strips. When those wore out, I unscrewed the ravelling webs, and replaced with canvas from Northwest Fabrics, a favorite hang out place for me! They were edged with white bias tape, sewn on my used Singer Touch and Sew (purchased in Iowa City, while Dan was studying there,1974).

Bryan, 1979.
Brandon, 1979, and a view of the back of this kid sized chair.

Before we had these canvas chairs, I think we had a couple of those one piece, molded metal chairs, which could also be re-painted when they began to rust. I do like the look of those chairs, on a lawn especially.

Brandon, alongside an old metal lawn chair, while we were on vacation in Minnesota.

Here are a few other deck furniture sets from our younger years:

This hard plastic resin set was very longlasting. It moved to Long Island, NY with us and came back to Omaha for a happy life of many years
on this deck at 1505 N. 135th St. My garden produce sits on top.
This 3 piece set of ”outdoor cafe” style furniture was so much my favorite, that I used it outside of Cupcake Island, in 2006. It just fit within the city’s allowable space on the front sidewalk.
A super find at the Father’s Day Weekend Antiques sale in Walnut Iowa, early 2000. Twenty one years later, it was passed on to a new owner this summer, when it was quickly snatched from the end of our driveway, set out with a big ”Take it, it’s yours!” sign.
My siblings and I gifted a set of redwood furniture to our parents for their July 2 anniversary, 1981. Seen here using it on the 4th of July, are Grandpa Charles Schelle and Dan, in Mom and Dad’s backyard. It was later moved up to their deck. Note the garden!
A little deck and chair for Brandon, early 1977, Shalimar Apts. Isn’t this the cutest?
Sometimes, I think I like the shadows as much as the chairs. Summer, 2021.
A miniature, just for fun!

A favorite Haiku:

“We are what we choose,

The people that we let stay,

The things that we keep.”

From Stephen Le @lemobilefeast, who received this from one of his hosts as he traveled the country, cooking dinner each night in a different home.

Happy outdoors to you, wherever you are!


On Socks in Autumn

Warm wool socks

This past weekend, we had guests (family members) who love to go barefoot, and spent the whole weekend doing so. We’re kind of known for that. My dad once walked barefoot in the snow to retrieve the newspaper at the end of the driveway. And, this summer, our 19 year old granddaughter walked barefoot on the craggy stone steps going to our splintery wooden dock. I advised her not to do that, remembering another granddaughter’s “killer” spike of wood that entered her bare sole. Later, I saw her in the grass, barefoot, enjoying the de-stressing aspect of being in touch with nature, literally.

My friend, Liz, loves to drive barefoot, and I think an aunt of mine does too. Such freedom!

Here’s something I wrote on October 19, 2010, about a time when I was not ready for the switch to wearing socks:

Even in my older age (50’s), it’s barefoot time in summer. Those bare feet are in flip flops, dressy sandals, everyday walking sandals, or in nothing at all.

It’s a fabulous feeling that must come to an end every Fall in the Midwest.

Yesterday was that day for me, with a sunny high of 60. I ran my errands in sandals and knew that I looked ridiculous, wearing a lightweight jacket and heavier pants. And I had very cold feet!

Favorite, long wearing sandals.

Enjoy your transitions!


On Picking up Sticks

Today, a dramatic storm blew through northwest Iowa. Although predicted for the general area, it came up quickly and ferociously, with winter like winds.

I loved watching it and listening to it, shutting off the TV so there were no distractions.

Later, when I went outside, I was startled to see a huge section of our ash tree on the driveway.

Sticks large and small were thrown about.

I started to pick them up, which made me recall this short essay I wrote on 9-21-2010, after another storm, in Omaha:

Whenever I see sticks on the lawn, I have to go out and pick them up. The exercise of bending over often, walking around the yard, and holding more than my hands can comfortably hold until I get to the yard waste bin, is really quite fun!

However, I always wish that the grandkids or neighborhood kids were with me, so they could enjoy this fun also (ha ha).

Just like the game.

Enjoy your games!


On Strawberry Rhubarb Pie in Summer

The Gingham Inn’s Pie, Spirit Lake, Iowa

A few nights ago, in Omaha, we were treated to a dinner, our 2nd dinner out in the last year. It was so stimulating to be there! I’m still thinking about the conversation, atmosphere, and food, all casually elegant.

I passed on dessert until strawberry rhubarb was mentioned. I had to try it. This was the chef’s original version, not pie shaped, but somehow little bundles of strawberries and rhubarb and pastry scattered on the plate. The actual menu description was “STRAWBERRY RHUBARB TURNOVER, vanilla ice cream, almonds, mint”. Every bite was devoured and appreciated.

Mom always liked rhubarb. She tried to get her children to like it too.

“Here, try it raw”, she’d say, “dipped in sugar.” Not for me.

Then, she’d make a rhubarb sauce, like applesauce. Still, not for me.

“Maybe in a jam?” she’d offer us. No way.

“OK, then, how about strawberry rhubarb jam?” This I liked!

She may have even made a strawberry rhubarb pie, but I don’t especially remember that.

Last night, we picked up homemade pan fried chicken and sides (good gravy!) for the first time at The Gingham Inn, a take-out only place.

In Spirit Lake, IA

They had strawberry rhubarb pie on the menu. One piece came home with us. It was very good and fresh tasting!

On another summer’s day, on August 4, 2011, I wrote this about a visit to a small town Iowa cafe, and its strawberry rhubarb pie:

Driving to Lake Okoboji, I suggest that we stop in Odebolt, a town north of Denison, IA. I wanted to see the gorgeous bank building that I saw years ago. Back then, it was all boarded up, and piled with junk, as I saw through a window. Maybe now it had become a trendy, comfortable coffee shop.

Iowa Road Map

We get there and I see that it looks like a functioning bank. Dan very nicely parks the car so I can see it up close. As I open my car door, he rolls his eyes a little, wanting to keep going, I think. I explain that I have to see the inside!

Photo from Odebolt website.

It is gorgeously detailed, with gold-bronze metalwork, built in 1915 by a Chicago architectural firm. After closing in the 1930’s because of the Depression, and for several decades after, it was restored and recently put back into use.

During renovation, and an original image.

The next thing I want to find out is where we can have lunch in town. The teller says there’s a cafe on Main St. It’s one block away, so that’s where we go.

The farmers are leaving their boots outside, for a very good reason.

We go inside and I see the special on the board is strawberry rhubarb pie. I picture a fresh, 2 inch thick filling with a tender flaky crust. The waitress says there is one slice left.

“I’ll take it!” I say.

“Do you want that warmed up?”

“Yes, absolutely.” And the picture in my mind gets even more enticing.

“How about Cool Whip?”

“No, thank you”, I say, thinking how wonderful real whipped cream or ice cream would be.

Then, I ask, “Is it homemade?”

“Yes,” she says, and I can hardly wait!

Now she’s carrying it to me, and I am deflated. This little, thin piece with a thick, biscuit-like crust, and what looks like canned something or other filling is on my plate. Oh well, I’ll eat it.

But, when I took that first bite, I knew I would not eat another bite of the worst pie I’ve ever had.

Even my feelings of guilt over taking the last piece in the cafe could not make me finish it.

Dan has a saying about this: “A bad piece of pie is better than no piece of pie.” I disagree.

Life is too short.


On Matchbox Cars

USPS First Class Stamps

When I saw this Hot Wheels Postage Stamp design, I was delighted by its playfulness! It also reminded me of my mother who collected new USPS stamp offerings for her letters to family. She especially liked cancelled stamps (a hobby she picked up from her brother, Bill, she once told me). Each letter sent out had a note to “save stamp”.

All of my saved letters have the stamp cut out or torn off. My brother, Tony, inherited her stamps, along with a knack for writing letters, which also included the “save stamp” request.

Kind of messy looking letter collection, without their colorful stamps!

So, these miniature car stamps made me think of Mom (gone from earthly life since 2014), and also of a short essay I wrote on 7-18-2011:

As I look down on Omaha’s streets from our upper floor , east facing condo on 31st Ave, I am reminded of Matchbox cars, because that’s what the vehicles look like down below. Many colored cars, trucks, emergency vehicles, business vans, police cars, and buses drive by on their merry way.

Dodge and Turner Blvd and Douglas (2021 photo, 7AM)

As a fan of miniatures (furniture, cars, models), I have always liked Matchbox cars at the toy store. I would pick them up occasionally for our young kids.

Once, I remember a garage sale that had a carrying case with many “matchbox” and “hot wheel” cars.

1968 Case

The price was $40.00. I wanted it badly, for the kids, but also for myself. I did not get it—too expensive and frivolous, I thought.

But now, I think I’ll still look for a used, played with collection just like that at today’s yard sales.

That was then, in 2011.

Now, in 2021, I’m continuing to downsize and minimize. I don’t need toys. However, I do like history, and art. Here are a few interesting photos on this mini car topic, found online.

It would have been fun to purchase or receive these little boxes, in a Christmas stocking, or Easter basket.
Artist Ross Palmer Beecher’s “Square License Plate Quilt”, 61” by 61”, 2014, with cutouts for little cars.
Detail of “Square License Plate Quilt”.
Ross Palmer Beecher, “Hot Wheels Car Quilt Study”, 2013-2014, with silver backs of license plates.

I hope you enjoyed these thoughts and photos!


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.