Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part One — Drinks/Appetizers/Dips

Favorite recipes curated by me!

Since the COVID pandemic started, I’ve found myself hankering for recipes I used to make that have fallen by the wayside. Locating these favorites took effort, and I decided to put them into a collection where they would be readily available. In doing so, I was spurred on by the idea of sharing not only my favorites, but other recipes that have been given to me through the years by people I loved. 

This became “Comfort Cooking,” which I share with you in the hope that you might find a new (or old) recipe that will add joy — or at least some deliciousness — to this challenging time. I plan to email this collection to my friends and family as a holiday gift and decided to also share it as a series here.

Eventually things will get better. 



P.S. Although I did re-read these recipes, I did not go back and double-check against the originals. If in doubt about ingredients or instructions, feel free to email me and I’ll check.


  • Amaretto Clone/Doris Taylor’s Brandy/Irish Cream/Kahlua Clone 
  • Black Bean and Corn Salsa
  • Chile Bean Dip 
  • Cucumber Piquant
  • Daryle’s Cheese Ball
  • Dill Dip
  • Orange Julius Clone
  • Spinach Dip
  • Whiskey Slushes

Amaretto Clone
6 Cups sugar
4 cups water 
1/2 gal vodka
1 fifth apricot brandy
3 oz almond extract
Bring sugar and water to boil and boil for one minute. Add remaining ingredients. Cool and bottle.

Doris Taylor’s Brandy
1 lb fruit
1 lb sugar
1 fifth vodka
Use a wide mouth jar. Place fruit in jar. Sprinkle sugar over fruit. Dribble vodka over mixture. Cover and let stand three months. DO NOT STIR OR SHAKE!

Kahlua Clone
4 cups sugar
2 cups water
6 tsp freeze-dried coffee
1/2 vanilla bean
1 qt cheap vodka
Heat sugar, coffee, vanilla bean and water until sugar is dissolved. Mix in vodka. Store in the dark for two weeks. (Keep bean in.) Makes 1/2 gallon.

Irish Cream
1 can Eagle Brand milk (sweetened condensed)
2 cups whiskey
2 cups heavy cream or half and half
1 tsp. instant coffee
2 oz Kahlua
Mix ingredients and refrigerate. 
Note on recipe: “Phyllis doubles this.”These drink recipes came from Phyllis Memmer, my mother’s long-time (over fifty years) friend and friend of our family. So many things to do with vodka!

Black Bean and Corn Salsa
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
6 tbsp fresh lime juice (I use bottled because I never have limes.)
6 tbsp vegetable oil (I use olive.)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley (You can use a mix of the two and can also use dried. Fresh is better.)
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup minced green onion (I frequently don’t have green or even red onion and end up using 1/2 cup of whatever kind I have.)
1-1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 chopped tomatoes
Mix beans and corn. Whisk lime juice and oil. Pour over vegetables and add remaining ingredients. Mix, season with salt and pepper, chill, and serve with tortilla chips.My friend Cathy’s recipe, this also appeared in “Cook’s Choice” fundraiser cookbook Darling Daughter and I created to raise funds for her People to People trip.

Chile Bean Dip
2 cans chile bean soup (specifies Campbell’s Chunky or Manhandlers, which tells you how old the recipe is — just buy what sounds close)
4-8 oz taco sauce (to taste)
1 lg onion, chopped
1/2 of a 6-1/2 oz can of chopped black olives
2 cups shredded cheddar
Layer in shallow dish: soup, onion, olives, sauce, then cheese. Bake until cheese melts and is bubbly. Serve immediately with corn chips or tortilla chips. 
From my mom, Helen Byrd Deuring

Cucumber Piquant
In a pint jar with lid: 2 tbsp sugar, dash pepper, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp celery seed, 2 tbsp parsley, 1/4 cup thin sliced onions
Mix, then add:
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tbsp lemon juice
Shake well, then add:
Thin sliced cucumbers, if tender, don’t peel. Place in refrigerator for several hours, turn and shake. There will be plenty of liquid.
From Aunt Eleanor Elsen — This was one of the recipe cards given to me at my bridal shower. Aunt Eleanor and her husband owned and ran Elsen’s Restaurant in Akron for many years.

Daryle’s Cheese Ball 
2 – 8 oz. packages of cream cheese
3 tbsp. finely chopped onion*
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 container of dried parsley (10 oz) or can use fresh
Leave cream cheese to soften a little before you mix it. I put the cream and cheddar cheeses in a large bowl with the onions, then use a butter knife to mix it. When all mixed, form a ball, put on a plate and sprinkle with parsley flakes enough to cover the ball. It takes about 1/2 the container of parsley. Place parsley-covered ball in ziplock and refrigerate overnight. Serve with sturdy crackers. 
*One copy of the recipe says 1/2 cup onion.
Daryle says: “I don’t usually measure the onions. I cut up a small one, so it may be a little more or less. This is a favorite holiday recipe.”

Dill Dip
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayo
1 tsp seasoned salt
1 tbsp dill weed
1 tbsp onion flakes
1 tbsp parsley
Mix all ingredients. Chill for several hours. Serve with raw veg (celery, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli).Another recipe card from my shower, this one from my cousin Karen.

Orange Julius Clone
1 – 6 oz can frozen OJ
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
7-8 ice cubes
5-6 shots vodka (again with the vodka, though here it’s optional)
Combine in blender and blend for 30 seconds. If you use regular OJ, use 1-3/4 cup and omit the water.
This one came from the kitchen of Vivian, a family friend who went to our church.  It’s meant to be similar to a drink served at a chain called Orange Julius. 

Spinach Dip
1 – 10 oz. package chopped frozen spinach
1 cup mayo
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup minced green onion
1 tbsp dry dill weed
1/2 tsp salt
1 round loaf of pumpernickel bread.
Thaw spinach and press out all water. Chop fine in blender or food processor. Stir remaining ingredients and spinach together. Chill several hours. Hollow out bread. Serve dip inside surrounded by bread pieces for dipping. 
From Mom — This remains a popular party dip. And for a change from vodka-based drinks, when life gives you lemons, make …

Whiskey Slushes
1 – 12 oz. can frozen lemonade
1 – 12 oz. can frozen OJ
6 tea bags – 2 cups H2O
1-1/2 – 2 cups whiskey
2 cups sugar
6 cans H2O
Freeze. Pour 7Up over. 
I think I must have had one (or three) of these before I copied my college roommate Beth’s recipe because the directions are vague, as is the memory of drinking them. Of course, it was about forty years ago.   

The Scrappy Type

I’m not very good at handicrafts. And I have the test scores to prove it. (I also have photos, shared below. I have no pride.)

You see, when I was fourteen, we took an aptitude test at school. This test rated a person’s aptitude for a variety of work-related abilities and assigned a score from 1-10 for each.

I recently stumbled across my results. Readers, I scored under five on motor coordination, manual dexterity, and a measly 2 on finger dexterity.

So, I have an excuse.

However, my grandmother was very good at crochet, and she taught my mother who taught me.

Because of them, I can manage basic patterns and might even be able to do more complex work if I wanted to concentrate.

But that’s not why I crochet.

I crochet while The Engineer and I watch movies. It helps me relax.

Complicated patterns would defeat the purpose and almost certainly involve a lot of swearing.

Instead I use two basic patterns — a giant granny square and one where you do a single crochet in the back loop of the previous rows stitches. Or a double crochet. Or a half double. (I can do these stitches as long as no one asks me which stitch it is I’m doing. For that I need a book.)

No bad language. Very relaxing.

In this bumbling manner I’ve managed to make more afghans than we could ever possibly need, one for practically every member of my family and many of my friends, and have long since moved on to making them for people I don’t know.

First, they went to our library’s Warm Up America program. Then, I donated to our local hospice. When it closed, the afghans piled up in the spare room until I found a fabric store accepting such donations.

However, I recently had a brain wave and thought to check with my mom’s long-term care facility to see if they had residents who might like such donations.

They were thrilled! I was thrilled because there were six on one of our living room chairs.

These afghans are scrappy because they’re made primarily from thrift store yarn. I’m not rich, after all.

Thrift store yarn is usually single skeins of single colors and ends of skeins left over from someone else’s project.

Yarn from my most recent score at the thrift shop — a huge tub of beautiful color!

As a result, my afghans are a bit like the crazy quilts of our ancestors made from old dresses, flour sacks, and any bits of fabric they had saved.

This appeals to me because I love randomly mixing colors and textures, though I must admit some turn out better than others.

They’re all cheap and cheerful, as the Brits would say, which is great because I like cheap, and I like cheerful.

There have been a misshappen few I kept, unwilling to foist them on others (though they are lovely and soft).

See below for illustration of just how far off course I have wandered.

To make it even more obvious.

Generally, however, they turn out well. This is my latest endeavor, and another I’m not quite sure about. That rust colored yarn … hmm.

Too bad I didn’t take photos of the ones I just donated. They were more — how do I put this? — normal in their color combinations. Still, that rust-colored yarn is very soft, and I hope it will feel comforting to whoever ends up with the afghan.

Recently, I found a pattern for these super-simple crochet stars. They’ve become a small addiction because I can whip one up in about fifteen minutes. At least, I can now I’ve reviewed how to do a double and treble stitch.

I’ve made quite a pile and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I’m going to give them to everyone! On packages, on cards, to co-workers, strung for the tree and/or our mantle.

The best part is I’m using up all sorts of little scraps (more scrappiness!) of yarn that I didn’t even remember I had.

My third scrappy project is using some of our beeswax (mostly from cappings cut off during the extracting process) to make candles. So far, I’ve made just the one. I wanted to see how it worked out.

Beeswax smells so good when it’s burning.

In summary, I guess you could say I may not be handy, but I’m definitely the scrappy type!

Wasting Away

Warning: This one is slightly political.

This morning I saw a gathering of crows by the side of the highway.

What drew my eyes to the birds is the fact that they were pecking at a bag of trash some motorist had helpfully tossed out the window. The bag was plastic, so the crows were almost certainly injesting plastic microparticles.

A group of crows really is called a “murder,” ironic considering that’s what we, not them, are doing to our world.

Photo by Ellie Burgin on

I’ve been thinking about this type of thing more than usual because I’ve been reading David Attenborough’s new book, A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and A Vision for the Future.

In some ways, it’s an easy read. His writing is succinct and clear. It’s the message that’s hard to take, though it’s certainly not news.

Our way of life, with all its careless wastefulness, is destroying our world.

The generations who came before us had ignorance as an excuse. They were simply trying to make their hard lives a little easier.

We have no such excuses. We know what we are doing, and if anything, our lives are a little too easy, a fact readily discernible simply by looking at the waistlines of most people who live in first-world countries.

So, what do we do about it?

The so-called leader of our country has walked back many of the regulations meant to protect our world and done so with the full support of many U.S. citizens.

And it’s become common to throw out items simply because we fancy something new.

That’s needlessly wasteful.

An example: When we lived in the city, on the nights before trash pick-up, we’d ride bikes around the neighborhood to garbage pick.

Yes, I know it sounds tacky. But you wouldn’t believe what people set out on their tree lawns. Full-sized Little Tikes kitchens and slides, bicycles, chairs, and hundreds of other still-useful objects.

Darling Daughter learned to ride on a bike picked off a tree lawn.

It was brand-new. No, really, it was. Someone had mis-threaded one of the pedals, and instead of fixing it or taking it to a bike shop, they put it out on the lawn.

She rode that bike until it was too small for her. I can’t remember what we did with it then, but it certainly didn’t go on the lawn. It was either donated or given to another kid.

Most of the things people toss are plastic, which I find especially heinous because plastic never goes away.

It’s in our oceans, killing birds and animals.

It’s in our landfills. I’ve read that most of the plastic ever produced still exists, and the fact is only 8% of it is recycled.

And it’s in our bodies. No one yet knows how it affects us, though I’m hazarding a guess it can’t do anything good.

I find myself thinking of the lyrics to Jackson Browne’s “If I Could Be Anywhere.”

Searching for the future among the things we’re throwing away
Swimming through the ocean of junk we produce every day
You have to admit it’s clever
Maybe the pinnacle of human endeavor
When things are made to throw away but never made to disappear

The way we eat and travel affects the earth too, filling our world with carbon and methane, contributing to global warming.

According to NBC News, about 1/4 of climate change is caused by agriculture and industrial farming.

We can do something about this, choosing to buy local when possible from smaller farms (which also cuts down on the fuel used to get our foods to us) and eating more plant-based meals by choosing to not have meat for every breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Yes, it can be more expensive to buy from local farmers. But if you buy items in season and freeze them for later, it can actually cost less than items purchased from a store. And protein from beans and legumes is not nearly as costly as meat.

After reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, The Engineer and I made a commitment to eat meat only once a day. Sometimes it’s sausage with breakfast, but mostly we eat animal protein at dinner.

This is not a huge sacrifice, though it’s not quite what Safran Foer is encouraging. His goal is no animal products before dinner, and we still eat a lot of eggs and cheese.

A quick note on eggs: We’re fortunate to live in a county where there are still people who raise chickens, so we buy our eggs locally. In the summer, we get them with our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share, and in the winter, I keep an eye out for roadside signs, occasionally driving to a small roadside stand nearby. They cost anywhere from $3-$5 per dozen, which is substantially more than the ones at Aldi.

However, buying eggs this way means we know they come from birds that are not factory farmed.

Do this for me: Look at a standard sheet of paper. That’s 94 square inches.

Chickens on factory farms live their whole lives in a space that is 67-76 square inches.

It’s sickening, both literally and figuratively.

You see, when animals are raised in such close quarters, they are prone to illness. Because of this, they are treated with antibiotics as a preventive measure, even when they aren’t sick. These antibiotics end up in our food, contributing to resistance in humans.

Ultimately, we pay a high price for cheap eggs (and meat).

Also, local eggs just taste better. The yolks are creamier, bright orange instead of anemic yellow.

The same can be said for meat. It tastes more like, well, meat.

It also smells like meat. The first time I opened a package of local chicken, I was a bit put off. Until I recognized what was happening, I thought something was wrong. Then a sensory memory surfaced, and I realized what I was smelling was chicken. I’d become accustomed to opening packs of chicken that had no smell (probably because the parts had been chlorinated).

These are choices we have made about food, ones we are fortunate to have the option and means to make. And we have made other decisions regarding the amount of plastic and disposable items we use.

My point in writing this post is not to say, “I do this, and you should too.” It would be unethical to try to impose my beliefs on others, and the choices we have made wouldn’t work for everyone.

Nor do I hold myself blameless in what we are doing to our world. I have many wasteful habits (long hot showers and baths being two of them) and could certainly live more lightly on the earth.

All I ask is for each of us to consider the effects our daily decisions have on the world, and to factor those effects into the choices we make.

If we don’t (and honestly, maybe even if we do), we will destroy the only environment in which we can survive. Earth will continue turning, but we’ll no longer be here to enjoy the ride. The saddest part is we’ll be taking many other species with us, species that did nothing to deserve the mass extinction that lurks ahead.

Photo by Pixabay on

The best analogy I can find is the earth is like a horse carrying a rider, until it finally grows tired of the weight and bucks that rider to the ground. The horse runs on, free from encumbrance. The rider is left behind in the dust.

Autumn Wanderings

Barn near parking lot

It’s been a delightful weekend. Darling Daughter and Best Boyfriend came up Friday evening, and we shared a delicious Indian takeaway, followed by some mead Boyfriend made from our honey.

It was so good The Engineer and I drank finished the bottle. 🙂 Unfortunately for BB, this meant we ended up spending several hours regaling him with details of our past travels. Poor dear!

Saturday, I was a bit lethargic — couldn’t have had anything to do with the mead, I’m sure — and didn’t do much except visit my mom, watch football, (soccer to my fellow Americans), and crochet. 

We made up for it today. The Engineer and I saw off Daughter and BB after a large breakfast of local eggs, Bombay potatoes, bangers, and toast, watched a bit more football, and went for a hike in the Cuyahoga Valley. 

The trail meandered through the woods, and there were quite a few big old trees with massive trunks including this one near the trailhead.

It was fun scuffing through the leaves, stopping to watch squirrels, birds, and chipmunks. 

We took our time, looking closely at interesting natural features like this moss-covered log. The little round things look like acorns, but are actually puffballs. This is a highly scientific term for this particular type of fungi.

No, really, that’s their name. I was making a joke, but I just looked it up, and they’re actually called Puff Ball Mushrooms. I knew them as puffballs from when I was a kid because when you squeeze them, they puff out their spores, and it looks a bit like smoke.

We took a side trail that led to this scenic pond.

Brandywine Falls

This is Brandywine Falls. We’ve cycled to the spot many times, but this is the first time we’ve hiked in. Mostly people drive there, get out of their cars, walk down the staircase you see in the picture, get back in their cars, and drive away.

Still, it’s a beautiful place, no matter how you get there and how much time you are able to spend. We’re lucky to live close enough to take the time to explore the area from a variety of angles.

I took this photo because I don’t know what plant this is and thought someone might recognize it.

Also, I picked up a couple of leaves to identify when we got home. I was pretty sure the yellow one was a Tulip, and I was right. It’s from the Tuliptree. I’d seen leaves like the other one, but wasn’t sure what it was. Turns out it’s sassafras.

I took another picture of the Tuliptree leaf to give you an idea how large it is.

After the leaf identification session, we ate Tomato Leek Bruschetta. 

I’d made Baked Leek and Tomato earlier in the week and had a brainwave that it would be good as a Bruschetta on a loaf of bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

It was.

Girls vs Boys

It’s girls vs boys in all three hives.

The girls (workers) are winning, of course, partly because they far outnumber the boys (drones).

Plus workers have stingers. Drones do not. 

I like to think it’s also partly payback for the drones enjoying a long hot summer of laziness while their sisters slaved.

Drones exist solely to mate with queens. Not all manage this feat which may or may not be a good thing since mating breaks a drone in half, bringing his life to a quick — but I’d like to think exciting — end. 

If the drone doesn’t find his queen, he spends his life begging food and toddling around the hive getting in the way of his sisters.

Those sisters, meanwhile, are in the process of working themselves to death. Not only do they look after their bumbling brothers, they clean the hive, feed and raise the young, make honey, feed and tend the queen, produce and shape wax into comb, guard the hive, and forage for food.

When workers can no longer work, they fly away — often with wings so tattered they barely function — to spare their sisters the labor of dragging out their dead body. 

That’s assuming they aren’t first eaten by a bird, killed by a yellow jacket or poisoned by pesticides.

Even the queen’s life is constant labor — laying up to 2,000 eggs a day leaves little time for rest.  

Still, the drones who didn’t mate get their comeuppance in the fall. 

They are superfluous to the needs of a hive, and as the hive prepares for winter, they’re banished. 

In this case, “banished” means being pulled from the hive and dropped on the ground outside, often with their wings chewed off to make sure they cannot return. Worker bees may even pull drone pupae from their cell and push it out the hive entrance. Occasionally, they fly away carrying a full grown drone.

This is an interesting sight since drones are so much bigger than workers. The first time I saw it, I thought, “Why is that bee flying so strangely?” They look as though they can barely maintain lift. 

The worker bee goes back in the hive to continue her work. 
The drone is expected to die.
And so he does. 

After all, he is incapable of work, therefore unable to feed himself. (Seems there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.)

There is no room for sentimentality in a beehive. If a hive is to survive, it must get through winter by living on honey made during the summer. Dead weight must go, and drones certainly fall into that category in the autumn.

Two of our hives had a lot of drones this year, and there’s a good reason they did. 

As usual, it was the fault of the beekeepers.

Remember that pretty comb the bees made earlier this year? The pieces we attached to the frames with rubber bands because we didn’t want to waste their hard work?

The two hives made those entire frames into drone comb. Since they had plenty of worker bees, we decided to leave it go and see what happened. (We’d also been treating for Varroa, so theoretically they shouldn’t have become a Varroa bomb even though Varroa love drone brood.)

What happened was an overabundance of drones resulting in a mass cleanout of them in the last week. 

I didn’t take a picture, but if you want to see what it looks like or read more about it, you can go here or here. Our hives didn’t have quite as many dead as the first link, but we did have larvae similar to the picture. They look kind of like mummified white bees on the ground.

Anyway, we won’t do that again. 

Still, that’s how you learn. In beekeeping, as in many things, the books and classes only take you so far. 

A Quick Overview of Our Beekeeping Adventures and Misadventures:  This year, we started with a nucleus hive with an overwintered Ohio queen, and a package of Saskatraz bees from California. Both did well and started making swarm cells, so we split them.

The split from the Ohio hive was put into a nuc box, and they successfully made a queen.

The split from the California hive was done by separating the two deep boxes, leaving the queen in one, and making sure the other had eggs. After more than a month, there were no signs of a queen.

We combined the two splits, putting a double-layer screen board between them. Ten days later, we removed the screen. The merging of the hives was successful, though there were some dead bees outside (fewer than 100) the morning after we removed the screen.

Today, when we checked, we could see that hive is now flourishing.

In the meantime, when we last looked at the Ohio hive (Buzzers Roost II), it was boiling over with bees and they’d started making swarm cells again.

OOOOOOOHHHH, NOOOOOOO! They can’t swarm now! A swarm this late in the year will never survive because they won’t have winter stores, and the hive they leave behind might also be weakened.

We closed the hive and thought about it, ultimately deciding to make it so they couldn’t swarm. A hive won’t swarm without a queen, so we destroyed the queen cells and put queen excluders both above and below the box with the queen. 

Was this the right thing to do? Will it succeed? Today we removed the second queen excluder, reasoning that it’s getting cold enough that they certainly won’t swarm now. 

Will they? Will they? All my fingers are crossed in the hope that they will not!

California Girls was also doing well when we last checked it (about ten days ago). I can really smell the honey when I walk behind it. 

Tomorrow, we will start Formic Pro treatment for Varroa once more — two strips in each hive for ten days per strip. By the time they come off, the Goldenrod and aster flow will be done, and we’ll begin a heavy feed on all three hives.

At least that’s the plan. 

To tide you over until next time, here’s some pix of our lovely ladies bringing in pollen.

Raccoons and Skunks and Cats, Oh My!

It’s undoubtedly fortunute one rarely has the opportunity to get close to a skunk. My past encounters have mostly been of the olfactory type, catching that distinct scent while driving past a flattened black and white grease smear on the road.

Then there was the time I opened the sliding door to our deck and stepped out to discover one under our bird feeders. One quick whiff and a view, and I was back inside before I knew what to think. 

So imagine my surprise when I looked up from my seat at the campfire to see what looked like moonlight moving in front of our tent and discovered it was, in fact, not moonlight, but a small skunk. 

I’m not sure which of us was more surprised. Aside from my gasp, our reactions were the same, a watchful stare as we slowly backed away from one another. 

It was quite a luxurious creature, with a wide white stripe from nose to tail, and as I said, it emitted no scent, though it did lift its tail at me when I later surprised it on my trek to the bathroom. 

I wondered if this lack of scent meant the animal hadn’t had recent cause to spray anything, but mainly I was just glad I hadn’t become a target. 

We had other visitors. An equally small raccoon whose inquisitiveness far outweighed its common sense dropped by each night.

Photo by anne sch on

Despite shouts and claps to see it off, the animal wandered around our site as though it lived there or something.

Oh, yeah. It probably does. 🙂 And so, apparently, did a feral cat who stalked through a few times.  (Note: The picture above is not actually the raccoon we saw, but you get the idea.)

We were camping at Mohican State Park (Ohio), and our site was right on the river, as you can see from these photos. 

It’s a beautiful area, with lots to do: hiking, biking, canoeing/rafting/kayaking, and more. We planned on canoeing, but the river was too high for the first two days (see pictures above). It dropped by the day we left, but the weather had cooled, so we decided to save that adventure for another time. 

Instead, we went cycling on the Richland B&O rail-trail. It’s a nice bike path, level and mostly flat as rail-trails tend to be. There’s also abundant shade with trees growing on both sides of the trail for most of the way. The route is about 18 miles long and bisects three small towns at almost exactly six mile intervals, which provides ample opportunity for food and drink stops. We’re not what one would call “serious cyclists,” so this suited us fine. 

We rode about eight miles, then turned back to the middle town and stopped for a snack and a cold drink at a local bar and grill, which had outside tables. 

Unfortunately, after exiting the patio, we soon discovered the tube in my rear tire had gone kaplooey, and there was lime-colored gunk all over it. This, we learned, was called a “slime” tube, and is meant to self-patch most holes. 

Obviously, it hadn’t worked, and The Engineer had to ride the remaining four miles back to our vehicle on his own while I went next door and had ice cream on their patio.

There’s a silver lining to every cloud, if you look hard enough, I’ve found. 


Photo by Lukas on

An equally silver lining was the fact that the next day we got the last tube of the correct size at a bike shop (Ashland Bike Company) in a neighboring town. I use “neighboring” in an extremely loose sense since the shop was a good 35 minutes from our camp. It was also another slime tube, alas.  

Still, I’d been trying to find a spare since I got this bike (about a month ago), but COVID has caused bike parts to be in short supply, and it was a pleasant surprise to find any kind of tube that would fit. 

Better yet, there was a brewpub with outdoor seating (Uniontown Brewing) across the street from the bike shop, and they had a “Two sliders with a side” for $10 lunch special. We got perch and fries — a slider each, with the fries to share — a perfect size lunch and perfectly delicious. 

Then, it was bike repair (thank you, dear Engineer), and back on the trail. 

I love homemade signs, don’t you? They add such character to a place. 

I also love Mail Pouch Tobacco barn paintings because they always make me think of my grandpa who chewed the stuff. It was gross, but I loved Grandpa, and seeing these barns reminds me of him. The guy who used to paint them (without a template), Harley Warrick is long dead, so sightings of his work have become fewer and fewer. 

The one I photographed looks like it’s in the country, but it’s actually right behind the trail parking lot, smack-dab in the middle of the small town of Butler, Ohio.

We didn’t eat all our meals out as I am still trying to expand my camp cooking repertoire. This meant the first night’s dinner was quesadillas made in the pie iron. They were delicious, filled with chorizo, onions, beans, peppers, tomatoes and cheese.

Breakfasts were an egg and home fries scramble or breakfast fajitas (basically egg and home fries scramble in a tortilla). 

We were also going to have a Chicken Tikka Masala type dinner made in the Dutch oven. This ended up as a rather charred Tandoori Chicken with the sauce burnt black on the oven because the fire was too hot. 

And yet, I shall persevere. Sorry, but I erased the picture of my failure after posting on Instagram, so you don’t get to see it here. 

I’ll share other photos. They’re prettier anyway.

Ohio Barn
Log Cabin at Campground
Panorama of Gorge near Mohican State Campground

Lastly, I feel compelled to mention an RV we saw because if you don’t live in the US, you may not believe the size of some of these trailers. This particular one had two side doors and a rear patio! 

It looked something like this. The model is called a “Road Warrior,” and it’s considered a “toy hauler,” because evidently the patio part is where you haul your “toys.” You can order a side patio too, on trailers ranging in size from 41′ 6″ to 44′ 4″. If you’re interested in buying one, go here, but have your checkbook handy. They cost from tens of thousands of dollars up to over a hundred thousand, and don’t forget you’ll need a vehicle capable of hauling the behemoth!

Ah, well, they probably think we’re crazy for camping in a tent. 


Making Memories

My mom turned 90 last week, adding celebrating a landmark birthday during a pandemic to an already lengthy list of life experiences. 

She’s been in lockdown at her nursing home since March, and back in May, we realized making her day special would require an extra dose of creativity. 

Darling Daughter mentioned she’d read about getting people  to send postcards for a special occasion and the “Postcard Project” was born.

Here’s what we did:

  • Listed everyone in Mom’s past and present who we might be able to enlist in sending her a postcard for her birthday. 
  • Reached out to friends and cousins to help locate even more people who would want to participate.
  • Sent postcards, address labels, stamps, and a note (see copy at bottom of this post) explaining what we were doing. In several cases, I sent multiples of all of the above, asking them to share with anyone they thought might like to join the fun. 
  • Mom’s address labels have my address on them because I act as her Power-of-Attorney, so all the cards came to me. Initially, we considered delivering them as they came, but in the end, we chose to be more dramatic, presenting them all on her birthday in a keepsake box my brother bought. 


  • So far, Mom received over 75 cards and postcards, and stragglers are still being delivered. Some people sent birthday cards instead, and others sent both.
  • Several took the time to share memories of times they’d spent with her, while many simply wished her a happy 90th birthday. 
  • Some were a mystery (at least to me), either because they were unsigned, or because I didn’t recognize the names. 
  • She received cards from nieces, nephews, her daughter-in-law, her one remaining sibling, my in-laws in England, her grandchildren and the grandchildren of a nurse at her facility who visited often in the past and now can’t. There were cards from our next-door neighbors when we were growing up, and members of the church we attended then, as well as my brother’s church, which she has occasionally attended.

Conclusion and advice:
This project was a success. Mom was clearly touched both by our efforts and the fact that so many people responded. She also likes having the box in which to keep the cards, and we expect she will read them from time to time in the future.  

One of the reasons I’m sharing this experience is because you may have relatives or friends with similar events approaching, and postcards proved to be a good way to include others when physically getting together is unwise.

If you decide on a similar project, I’d advise an early start. We began in July for an end of August birthday.

I’m embarassed to admit I already had all the postcards we needed in my card drawer, many of them in themed books of cards. If you need to purchase cards, you should probably start even earlier. 

It’s likely many people responded because we made it easy. They got the cards, stamps, and address labels. All they needed to do was write something and send it, although a few took the opportunity to send a card that meant something to them (and hopefully my mom). 

I read all the postcards, although I stopped short of steaming open the cards in envelopes. In doing so, I was reminded of something, which is the second reason I’m sharing this experience.  

The memories people shared were not huge events, but small moments. Making eclairs together. The bathing suit Mom used to wear, and my cousins’ summer visits with her and Dad before us kids came along. Going camping with our church campers’ club. 

What all these have in common is simply this, enjoying each others’ company by spending time together. 

Sometimes I think we get so enamored of our next big plan that we forget to enjoy the present. Or perhaps that’s just me. 

The Postcard Project was a reminder to stop, to take a breath, and to focus on what’s in front of me. 

The Letter

Dear family and friends of Helen,

It’s hard to believe Mom will be 90 next month! She’s as feisty and beloved as ever, and we’d hoped to celebrate this landmark birthday in a big way. 

Unfortunately, COVID-19 had other plans. When I wondered aloud what we could still do to make the day special, my daughter Sarah gave me a suggestion, which became the “Postcard Project.”

For Mom’s birthday, we would like people from all phases of her life to send her a birthday postcard. I hope you’ll join us.

Attached is one postcard (or more), address label(s) and stamp(s). All you need do is share a memory or birthday wishes, attach the stamp and label, and drop the card in a mailbox. 

I’ve tried to choose cards that seemed appropriate, but if you have one you’d rather send, please feel free to do so. 

Thanks for your help . With your assistance, we can make Mom’s day one to remember.

Kym and Sam 

Mom (around 1948)