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)

Is a Car in a Parking Lot Worth More than One in a Bush?: Proof You’re Never Too Old to Do Something Stupid

I’ve been driving over forty years and have driven mainly manual transmission cars for at least the last thirty.

And I still managed to forget to set the parking brake.


  • I wasn’t in the car (could also be viewed as a downside because if I’d been in the vehicle, I would have hit the brake).
  • It was parked on a very slight incline – obvious downside being there was an incline at all.
  • We have insurance … which includes rental car coverage while my car is being repaired.
  • Nothing mechanical was affected (except a slight disaligning of the steering).
  • The damage to the body could have been much, much worse.
  • It’s always good to be reminded I’m not as smart as I think I am (though I could probably think of less expensive ways to be reminded).

Addendum: When I was writing this post, WordPress wouldn’t let me preview it, so I waited a day to do so before publishing. Sometime during that 24 hour period, they switched from “classic editor” (aka what we’re used to) to “block editor” to “improve user experience.” I’m rapidly coming to believe the phrase “improved user experience” is a catchphrase that really means a bunch of techies trying to show the rest of us how stupid we are. In this case, it’s a bit like when Microsoft “improved” Word to make it try to read our minds and format our writing how the program thinks we want it, the problem being that’s not necessarily how we wanted it.

My “improved user experience” added about thirty minutes to the time it’s taken to write and post this.

At least I got a bonus opportunity to reflect on my own fallibility … in case the car in the bushes wasn’t enough to remind me. <laughing>

Camping Without Air Conditioning and Appliances

This post has its roots in a review of a campground.

You see, I’m the cautious type and like to know something about where we are considering putting down (tent) stakes for a few nights, so I looked at reviews online before making reservations for our most recent expedition.

Most were positive, extolling the privacy of the sites, the beautiful setting, and the plentiful recreational opportunities in the area.

However, the most recent review, posted that very day, was negative to the extreme, which I found a bit worrying … until I read it.

One of the reviewer’s main complaints were the fact there were no full hookups for RVs. I’ve just checked on the reservation form, and yes, it does give “full hookup” as an option, but when you look at the specific site (which comes up when you pick a date and spot), the spots for “Sewer hookup” and “Water hookup” are blank, which I would take to mean these services are not on offer.

Even worse (in the reviewer’s opinion), the electric power was such that campers are unable to use any appliances while running the air conditioning.

There were also no dumpsters or trash bins near the campsites, something I would take as a positive rather than negative due to smells and yellow jackets.

And apparently there were (gasp!) bugs in the shower, both dead and alive.

I’ll admit sharing the shower with six-legged creatures is not my favorite part of camping, but it’s something I’ve come to accept as part of the back-to-nature experience.

The last complaint concerned the water — apparently smelly and disgusting.

When I was young, my family camped quite a bit, and I’ve experienced enough bad water to take this seriously enough to haul some from home in case the reviewer wasn’t exaggerating.

Readers, I am not above enjoying modern comforts, nor do I begrudge others doing the same. It was hot enough the first few days of our trip that I’d have gladly availed myself of A/C if we had it. Also, I can understand someone wanting to use a crockpot or other convenience to make cooking chores easier.

But, if that’s the type of camping you require, perhaps it would be wise to ascertain that it’s available before setting out.

Please don’t think I’m criticizing anyone for their choices. It’s okay if you want air conditioning and to use your appliances. Just don’t criticize campgrounds for not providing the power you need when they’ve clearly stated they don’t.

Or maybe just check into a hotel. That’s the choice I make (and The Engineer wisely follows) when I’m not up for insects in my shower and having to walk a quarter mile to use the toilet.

I think there are two things people call “camping.” One involves a tent or small camper; the other uses massive trailer that requires a truck to tow the behemoth and/or another vehicle being towed.

When I talk about “camping,” I mean the former, but here in the US, when most people discuss camping, they generally mean the latter, something I call RVing.

Both activities involve traveling and setting up “camp,” but diverge widely from there, so much so that I find myself asking, “At what point does it become less like camping, and more like taking your home with you?”

That’s what some people — mostly retirees — do. They sell their home, buy a gargantuan trailer, and travel the country.

To this, I say, “More power to you!” If you’ve reached the age of retirement, you certainly deserve a few comforts.

The people I’ve known who made this choice don’t call it “camping” either; they call it RVing.

Okay. I’m climbing down from my soapbox now because I want you to know we had a great time.

Yes, there were a few bugs in the shower — a couple of small Daddy Long Legs and a cricket.

No, the water didn’t stink.

Yes, we had electricity, but we didn’t use it.

And, yes, the garbage bins were in a central place, away from most the sites.

You know what? It was a beautiful campground, with large private spaces and clean restrooms.

This is our new (to us) tent. It’s an 8-person Cabela’s Alaskan Guide and was a bit of an extravagance since we’d only replaced our old 4-person version with a new one a few years ago. I saw it on CraigsList, and the temptation of being able to stand inside our tent was just too great.

Plus, it was a deal and almost new.

We’re big fans of dome-style tents because we’ve had several, and they’ve held up in storms that took down most other nearby tents.

I was also eager to use our new (to us) Kelly Kettle  which I’d recently bought on eBay. Naturally, we’d experimented with it in the backyard, but now, we’d be using it for the purpose for which it had been purchased. After years of pumping our little single burner camp stove for what seemed like hours, we would finally have hot water for tea in five minutes.


Kelly Kettles (and their competitors, Ghillie Kettles) are sometimes called “Volcano Kettles” because the devices “consist of a water jacket surrounding a fire chamber which creates an upward chimney draft ensuring efficient and rapid boiling even in windy or wet weather.”  (Description care of Wikipedia. Click through if you want more info.)

They’re more common in England, and I’m explaining them here because they are brilliant — a simple design that works. And you can fuel them with almost anything, although we cheated a little and brought sticks and leaves from home.

I also took a hint from a YouTube video and lit the sticks with cotton balls rubbed with Vaseline.

Yes, The Engineer and I actually spent an evening watching Kelly Kettle videos on YouTube.

I know. We’re weird.

The other important thing is to point the bottom hole into the wind. In fact, it seems like the windier it was, the better the flame.

IMG_3878I was so excited, I brought one of my teapots so we could have proper tea each morning.

As an added bonus, I soon realized the kettle is also great for heating water for dishes.

One of my best buys ever. Seriously.

And while I’m sounding like a camping nut and bit of a spendthrift, let me tell you about my recently acquired Lodge Camp Dutch Oven.

It’s the smallest one, just big enough for the two of us, and I’ve been experimenting with cooking a variety of dishes on the fire. (Go here for details on previous meals, though I managed to erase the pictures on that post. :-%)IMG_3877

On Tuesday, we had burgers and local corn. We were going to have green beans with garlic and onions (all from our CSA share), but left the pot on the fire for too long. The beans were charred twigs with small other small black bits that had been onion and garlic. I’m not exaggerating, and I’m sorry for not taking a picture so you could see.

Wednesday, I licked my wounds and returned to an old favorite we’ve made for years called “Sausages and Other Stuff.” The recipe is sausage (usually bratwurst, but could be Italian or any other kind), and the “other stuff” usually includes potatoes, onions, carrots, a bit of butter, and whatever other vegetables we have on hand. In this case, it was zucchini and garlic. We used to make these by wrapping it all up in multiple layers of heavy-duty foil, but this time we used the Dutch oven. It was delicious.

On Thursday, I attempted pizza. IMG_3859
I redeemed myself because it was perfect! I made the dough at home using author Barbara Kingsolver’s excellent “Friday Night Pizza” dough recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, topped with canned sauce, fresh basil, onions, green peppers, olives, pepperoni, and Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

Maybe I only remember to take pictures of my triumphs?

As I mentioned, it was hot and humid the first few days (upper 80s and felt like 100% humidity), so naturally that was when we decided to cycle. We never found the actual rail-trail we were looking for, riding instead on a connector trail but never connecting. Instead, we did a few miles and had a nice picnic instead.

Since we were using the bikes to get to and from the shower and took another short ride on our way home, we did manage to get in about 20 miles total.

The day we chose to kayak was cloudier and a little windy. IMG_3843IMG_3844
The park was a marsh with abundant plant life, which meant some shallow paddling in places, but it was beautiful and peaceful, with Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, some diving water birds, and many dragon flies. IMG_3851
The evening was lovely, cooler and breezy, a perfect night to sit outside, which is what we did, eating our pizza and chatting.

Some new “campers” had pulled in next door while we were gone, leaving their air conditioning running while they went somewhere because there were no people and no vehicle in sight. On their return, they apparently disappeared into the camper.

We never did see them, though they eventually turned off the A/C.


Yesterday, we packed up, returned to the marsh for our second little bike ride, stopped at another nature preserve for a picnic lunch, and met some more dragonflies. IMG_3865IMG_3864
On the way home, we stopped so I could get locally made ice cream.

It was delicious, a fitting way to end to a wonderful trip.