Message in a Drip Beef Sandwich

diamond jack'sI knew I needed to cook that big hunk of meat in my fridge before more time had passed.  I had a crockpot recipe for drip beef sandwiches at the ready, but it suddenly looked too complicated.  Or I hadn’t had enough coffee yet.  Or it was simply because I am a lazy cook.

I also knew my sister’s birthday was coming up, but I hadn’t realized today was June 11th yet as I quickly googled “easy quick drip beef crockpot recipe.”

Very first result out of twelve million, four hundred thousand possibilities was  Diamond Jack’s Drip Roast Beef Sandwich recipe.  My eyes filled with bittersweet tears.  And I realized what day it was.

Diamond Jack’s was a restaurant that was in Tulsa, OK for 47 years and just closed a couple of years ago.

This restaurant, which began in the 1960s, was a special place that my sister absolutely loved to take me to for their Drip Roast Beef Sandwiches, which were awesome.

I remember how proud she was to take her little sister out to lunch and to introduce me to people who we ran into.  She was so glad that I was living back in town and she loved treating me to lunch now that I was officially an adult with a job and all.  It didn’t happen often, but when these lunches took place, they were certainly special.

I haven’t even thought about that restaurant or those specific sandwiches in more than ten years.

But today, the day my sister would have turned 50 years old,  the day my sister would have hosted one hell of a fun party …  my sister reminded me that she was here with me …through a Drip Beef Sandwich recipe.  I know it to be true.  And so does my heart.

Ingredients for Diamond Jack’s Crock-Pot Drip Beef:

  • 4-5 lbs boneless beef rump roast
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 (1 1/4 ounce) envelope dry onion soup mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon beef bouillon, granules
  • 2 dashes worcestershire sauce
  • garlic salt
  • pepper

Preparation of Diamond Jack’s Crock-Pot Drip Beef:

  1. Cut the visible fat from the rump roast. Place the roast in a large crock pot.
  2. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a 2-cup measure and bring to boil a microwave.
  3. Pour over the roast in the crock pot. Add garlic salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Cook on low for 8 hours.
  5. Cool before slicing.
  6. Chill au jus to remove the fat.
  7. Combine the sliced meat and au jus and reheat before serving.
  8. May also be cooked in oven: combine as above in Dutch oven. Cook 4-5 hours at 275-300 degrees.

Ode to My Grandfathers

gdadBoth of my late grandfathers had May birthdays, and I am particularly fond of May birthdays, as some might know.

With one of these birthdays upon us today. I decided  to honor them both.

They were both kind, patient and good men, and parts of them make me who I am today.

And for that I am truly grateful.

 A Southern Gent

An inventive sort, this Southern gent.

Able to fix anything thrown his way.

An understated man, only said what he meant.

Quietly observing  the day.

Happy to let the spotlight shine,

On his wife, for a fuss he thought quite the bore.

Calming the waters throughout their life,

A loving man, with patience galore.

And a Northern Gent Wally

The grandfather I never knew,

Walked softly, kind and tall.

To his girls,  forever true,

His heartfelt words touched them all.

His love letters made his true love blush,

Funny, sentimental and smart,

He lives on in us,

His wit, all a part.


What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word Grandfather?

Goldilocks mission for Little Red Riding Hood successful thus far: The dreaded nursing home decision.

little redI haven’t written any posts for more than a week. I’ve been a bit numb from the drain of the last weeks with Mom, or Little Red Riding Hood, as I like to call her on my blog. And I know you readers enjoy my more light-hearted posts. So I’ve been torn about writing about Little Red Riding Hood for the last month or so. But it’s part of my Life on Wry, so I’m sharing a post I wrote today for my other blog, Laughing at Alzheimer’s (because laughing doesn’t’ make my mascara run).  So here we go.

Nursing Home selected. Check. (I’m tired … are you?)

The much anticipated intervention meeting with my Stepdad was successful. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy convincing a man that it’s best for his wife of 30-plus years to be in a nursing home because of the level of care she needs. But the hospice folks helped me get through this difficult conversation. It had to happen. I was losing too much sleep worried about them both.

We ended the meeting with him open to the idea and to hearing about my top choices after researching and touring area nursing homes that were a potential fit.

The next day when I came to help with Mom, I again explained to my Stepdad that I wasn’t trying to be pushy, but that I felt – for various reasons that I explained and probably over-explained – that it was the right thing to do for both of their safety and well being, as hard as it was to formulate those words.  He knew I didn’t take this lightly and that I had been researching options for when the next shoe might drop (after our infection in December sent Mom into a tailspin of decline). He knew my heart was in the right place.

In true Goldilocks style, I have been researching and touring various nursing homes of various sizes with differing amenities and programs. Small, medium, big homes, ones with lots of programming and little programming, ones close to my house and close to my parents’ house, in the lower, medium and higher price ranges.

I participated in these tours almost robotically, as if for a work project for which I was designing a features and benefits grid in order to write a brochure about their differences. I only cried on the way home from the tours a couple of times. It was a completely surreal experience. I wanted to have my sister with me, but it wasn’t an option. She’s been gone for 13 years. This was a solo mission. And she was with me in spirit, I really think she was.

After I went through all of my notes and all of the brochures with my Stepdad he agreed. He said it sounded like I had a favorite and he liked my rationale. I gulped and told him how much pressure that was to be the one to pick and he calmed my nerves and reminded me how much effort I had put forth. Was he really on board? He would go see it with me later in the week (last week) and bring his checkbook for a deposit if it felt right.

Was I hearing him right? Was he really on board? Don’t get me wrong, this took much time and many “come to Jesus” conversations, as I like to call them, over the last couple of years, and more angst than I can even explain. But he knew I seemed more serious this last few months since Mom’s decline. And he knew, in his heart, it was time. But was I actually hearing him agree with me on this subject for which I dreaded the very thought of? Indeed.

I explained to him how one of the nursing homes just felt right to me and I could picture Mom there. How natural it even felt with the Executive Director who gave me the tour. She reminded me of someone dear from my hometown. So many things made it seem like the right place. I drove away dabbing tears and pulling myself together, knowing that it was the place my Mom should be.

I took my Stepdad a couple days later. It was clear to me that he had taken some time to think about this whole issue, and felt even more resolve that the stimulation and care she could receive was what would be best at this point in her decline. I was still in shock that this was really happening and that I had steered our ship to this point.

Tomorrow the ‘assessment team’ from the nursing home will assess her at my parents’ house. To determine her needs, and that the facility is a good fit. Now that we’ve come this far, I only hope it will all go smoothly. I know it’s going to be a rough ride, but surely it can’t be more rough than the last couple of years, right? I’m probably wrong about that aspect, but I still know in my heart it’s what is best.

I’ve already picked out a comforter and curtains for her little room. They have flowers and the colors of pink roses in them like she likes, or liked anyway. And I have a list ready of what all that I will furnish her room with, from photos and knick knacks to her wall calendar and hand lotion. My stomach is wrought with unease, and I wake each morning consumed with guilt and wishing my sister were here to tell me I’m doing the right thing.

We’ll see what tomorrow holds. I’m going to think positively. Besides, that’s what I tell everyone else to do all of the time.

But being a grown-up really does suck sometimes. And it makes me tired.

Wish me luck.

On mortality.

chinese proverb

A high school friend of mine died yesterday.  He was 43. Cancer won the battle with his body.

We didn’t stay in touch really other than Facebook and barely at that. And we talked at our last reunion.

But I can see his face.  And I can’t quit thinking about him, his family, and our own mortality.

He was one of the class hunks in high school, with a heart of gold. He will be missed by many.

I see death as a reminder to live, and to do so with honesty, intention and abandon that is even reckless, at least a few times.

How do you see it?

Photo from

Photo from
This is framed on my kitchen wall.

For real. Gratitude Experiment: Day 40


Whew. I am wiped.  What a weekend.  Wonderful time with my dad, stepmom and niece in town. One of the best weekends I can remember in a while.  I am so grateful that they all battled the craziness of the airports to come for the weekend.  Truly thankful.

But I do feel almost guilty for how heavy my last post was.  There’s that subconscious Catholic guilt again. But I just had to get all that out there, and it helped.  Thanks for muddling through all this self-discovery with me.  It’s way cheaper than therapy.  So I owe you.

September 22 is always a weird day, not only because my sister died on that day, but also because it is my Mother’s birthday.  For real. Yes, I know.  That is messed up with a capital M. In a big way.  Don’t even get me started on that.

At any rate, my out-of- town company family left this afternoon and then a few hours later, my mom and stepdad came for dinner to celebrate my mother’s birthday (a day late but trust me, she’s not counting — sorry that was awful).  I could tell she thought the whole cake and presents thing was fun, but she really had no clue why we were all singing to her. She was very puzzled (Alzheimer’s has a tendency to do that). And when it was time to leave, she went to the laundry room.  In total, she said about five or six words tonight. But she faked it pretty well.  Glad she can still pull it off.

For years, my sister and I always co-hosted dinner for my mom on her birthday.  We would flip a coin as to who would host and then sort of whine and complain all the while because it was always a little bit of an awkward night for reasons hard to explain.  But none of those nights hold a candle to the out of body experiences I have like tonight with my mom.  It’s like I’m watching a movie of someone else’s life in partially slow motion, and with German subtitles that I don’t understand.

But anyway, back to the gratitude which has really affected everything in my life, for real.  I am grateful for my family that visited and the wonderful time we had.  And that dinner with my mom went so well,  and that she seemed genuinely happy.  Thanks for reading.


The long way home. Gratitude Experiment: Day 35

This post is from yesterday…  forgot to hit publish.

Once in a while I purposely take the long way home.  Usually it happens when a great song is playing and the car windows are rolled down or the top is down.  Overcast or misty days are the perfect settings for this.

There is a great winding road near my neighborhood that cuts through part of our state park.  It feels like it’s miles from nowhere yet it’s not at all.  It branches off from a much more direct route to its end, so there are usually few cars on it. And right when I reach my neighborhood entrance, it’s like my car sometimes knows when I need to recharge for a just a moment or two.  And when I need to keep going straight and follow this road, making an extra loop before returning home.

I’ve decided this little road is sort of like my own little spiritual retreat.  Like a drive through recharging station.  This is where I crank up whatever song that most likely inspired me to blow off my original turn.  Usually Janis Joplin is whaling about Bobby McGee, Rod Stewart about his sexiness or the Beatles about places they remember.  Any old song that makes me a little sentimental.

And as I make the wide bend of the road (the best part when I go a little too fast) and refocus, I almost always notice a flock of birds in formation.  I’m always in awe of how these birds can perform such a complex and scientific maneuver. Did you know that birds can fly 70% further with the same amount of energy when in formations like this?

I must admit that I have very little affection for birds.  I had a really bad Blue-Jay experience once when my dog found a baby bird, so I am pretty much terrified of most birds.   I’m not sure what kind of birds these are, but I would assume geese or ducks.  And they never cease to fascinate me when flying in formation.

I love that there always seems to be that one little guy at the end of the formation who can’t quite seem to figure it out, probably losing out on much of the drag reduction benefit of the whole exercise.  I always wonder if his cohorts are giving him a hard time for being a slacker and that just stresses him out even more.

And then at that moment I remember a reference in one of my favorite poems.  A poem that I have given to many dear friends in their times of sorrow.  It’s called “Do Not Stand” and the author is unknown from what I can tell.  It’s written from the perspective of someone who has passed on speaking to someone they’ve left behind in this world.  They urge the reader not to stand at their grave and weep, for they are not there. They are a thousand winds that blow, the diamond glints on the snow, the sunlight on ripened grain, the gentle autumn’s rain. And the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight.

I can feel my heart leap up as I watch the formation pass over me and I think of my sister. Maybe somehow I connect with that little guy at the end of the formation. Like it’s my sister reminding me that everything’s okay, even for the little guy trying so hard to keep up.  I think a therapist could have a heyday with the psychological theories that might explain this series of thoughts.  Probably many theories would be spot-on, or maybe I subconsciously want to be reincarnated as Janis Joplin’s uncoordinated pet bird?  I’m not sure, but I suspect there’s more to it than that. I’ll be sure to save up for that  session.

Then as I turn my car around at the traffic circle and head back home the opposite direction, through this same stretch of winding road, I breathe a sigh and I am renewed.

Today I am grateful for my long way home.


I’m Seeing Purple. Gratitude Experiment: Day 32

I walked in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s this morning. What a terrific feeling of hope and camaraderie to walk away with. Last year the Denver walk broke its record with 8,000 walkers.  I guarantee you it was an even bigger crowd today.

I walked with a good friend who walked in memory of her mother who she lost to Alzheimer’s three years ago.  And I walked in memory of my Aunt, who we lost to Alzheimer’s a year ago this month and in honor of her sister, my Mom, who I’m losing to Alzheimer’s a little more each day.  I drew a picture of them on a huge sign they had for people to paint memories of their loved ones.

In a sea of purple, I saw photos on the back of so many walkers’ shirts. Photos of loved ones lost to this hateful disease. The thought that so many like me are fighting this fight is both comforting and terrifying.

This disease isn’t going away anytime soon, as the numbers continue to climb.  Yet it seems like the world is in denial about this disease and how very real it is.  Perhaps it doesn’t seem as real because you don’t visit anyone in the hospital when they have this disease?  And because you never hear anyone with it describing their suffering?  Because they can’t speak for themselves.

But it is very real.  And someone new is diagnosed every 68 seconds.  And by 2050 it will be someone new every 33 seconds.

Ironically, federal funding for Alzheimer’s research pales in comparison to that for other chronic diseases. According to University of Mississippi Medical Center, the $450 million allocated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is equivalent to less than 15% of the research funding for HIV/AIDS, less than 11% of funding for cardiovascular disease research, and less than 8% of funding for cancer research.  And for every $28,000 spent on Alzheimer’s patient care, only $100 is spent on research.  In fact, the government funds more nutrition research than it does Alzheimer’s research.

I recently had the privilege of listening to a scientist discuss research initiatives and progress made. Scientists believe we are getting close and even at a tipping point.  We just need a commitment from the federal government to fund research.

And we’re getting there. In January of  2011, the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) was signed into law by President Obama. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, The National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA) will create a coordinated national plan to overcome the Alzheimer’s crisis and will ensure the coordination and evaluation of all national efforts in Alzheimer’s research, clinical care, institutional, and home- and community-based programs and their outcomes.

But it’s going to take much more. The public has to make it known what our federal priorities with regard to the impending Alzheimer’s epidemic should be, especially given shrinking budgets at every turn.  More people need to speak up and take action, contact their Congress representative or become advocates through the Alzheimer’s Association.  To put faces on the need. The website of the Alzheimer’s Association has advocacy pages dedicated to helping you do just that.  I know this is  a blatant plug for my cause, but I know with every molecule in my body that you DO NOT want to watch this happen to anyone you love.

If you’re still reading this and you’re not exhausted, I commend you.  And I appreciate you taking the time.  I’m truly grateful that you are reading this, that I went on that walk today, and that we can end this.  Let’s do it.

Why Alzheimer’s Is a Drag. Gratitude Experiment: Day 31

Even though it goes against the grain of my 100-day Gratitude Experiment, I feel the need today to write about why my Mom having Alzheimer’s is a drag.

I’m convinced that some gratitude will come to me by the time I finish writing this.  And I’m hoping these thoughts will help my readers cherish every moment they have with their loved ones.  And take nothing for granted.

My Mom having Alzheimer’s is a big fat drag because:

1. I wish I would have spent more quality time with her before she got sick.

2. I wish I had asked her if her favorite color was still yellow when she could still tell me.

3. I wish I would have paid better attention to the signs in the beginning.

4. I desperately wish for rare moments of clarity to happen when I am near.

5. I worry about her dignity.

6. Most healthcare workers have no clue how to treat a person with Alzheimer’s.  And it makes me want to help change happen.

7. She is afraid to take a bath.

8. I wish I could remember the name of that flowery lotion my grandmother used to give her every Christmas.  And I wish I had someone to ask that would know.

9. I worry about my Stepdad being sad and tired.

10. I worry about my Stepdad getting hurt and me not knowing.

11. I wonder how much of what I say she understands.

12. I wonder if I offend her by babying her.

13. I  wish I had taken better notes about my family history.

14. I wish I really knew when all this started – so hard to tell.

15. I worry about when the next shoe is going to drop.

16. I think about how she would not want to be this way.

17. I worry that she is frightened and she can’t express it.

18.  I’m scared to death it’s going to happen to me.

On the other hand, I am still able to be grateful because:  (whew, glad some gratitude came through)

1. I love it when I have what seems like a tiny a breakthrough with her.

2. I am happy when she smiles her old smile.

3.I love to be silly and make her laugh (when I use Three Stooges type humor it cracks her up).

4. I can tell she enjoys changing the bed sheets with me.  Especially if I’m silly while we’re doing it.

5. She’s still my Mom in there.

6.  I love that she said  really sweet things to me that day a year ago when I did her hair for her, when she was better able to comprehend and talk.

7. My stepdad is solid as a rock, and I love him for it.

8. I’m lucky that she lives close now so I don’t worry even more.

9. I can have these tiny moments of joy with her to always remember.

Thanks for reading.

A Bittersweet Solstice Approaches. Gratitude Experiment: Day 23

Bittersweet defined is a combination of both bitter and sweet – a feeling that is both happy and sad at the same time. This familiar emotion finds its way back to me each year, just as the first signs of Autumn find their way back to us all.

It’s my favorite time of year and always has been, flooding me with memories of autumns past.  The smells of damp leaves and firewood, the crisp air that fills my lungs, the glorious colors that open my eyes to nature each year, and the sound of fallen leaves underfoot.  My very favorite season.

The approaching September equinox called out to me today, as it does each year when the summer’s curtain draws to a close.  Letting me know that fall is approaching and the time for winter is near. It’s sad to see the summer end, but also sweet to see the cycle complete.

There are two equinoxes every year – one in September and one in March.  When the length of day and night is almost exactly equal all over the world, with seasons opposite on either side of the equator.

Derived from Latin, the word equinox means “equal night.” I explained this to my kids as I drove each one to school this morning, and as I do each year when the sun on the horizon nearly blinds me as if to awaken me from a summer’s sleep.

The autumn equinox happens each year, the moment the sun crosses the equator, always on September 22nd, 23rd or 24th. On any other day throughout the year, our planet tilts away or toward the sun.  But not on each equinox, when the sun shines more directly upon us than any other days of the year, as if to remind us of our smallness in the universe.

Thirteen years ago on September 22nd, just before the autumnal equinox, my sister crossed over and left this world, just as the sun crosses over the equator.  The sun was blinding her way that day, or maybe calling her toward it. It was also my mother’s birthday.

I’m really not sure what God and the universe had in mind that day, but I’m determined not to let it zap the gratitude out of me as I gear up for this month’s memories, filled each year with emotions, both happy and sad.

When I see the sun each morning so boldly reminding us of its presence near the horizon, I know it is a bittersweet reminder for me to plant the seeds of both appreciation and caution for all that is. Today I am grateful for the sun and all that she reminds me to be thankful for.

Hoarding, buried alive — or in my lamps

There they were again, or maybe there she was.  Staring me down as I pulled into my garage this morning.

These two lamps were given to me by my late sister probably 20 years ago, just seven years or so before she died in a car accident at 36.  She gave them to me when her budget allowed her to upgrade her lamp status and when my budget was in need of free lamps.

I probably thought they were way attractive at the time, but they’re really not.  Or at least not now after years of use and an inexpensive foundation to begin with.  My sister would almost suredly agree.  They’ve served us well as bedside lamps for many years.  I have wanted to change them out more times than I can count.  In the last few years in particular they’ve seemed a tad sketchy electrically speaking.  The one by my side of the bed even had a habit of turning on in the middle of the night sometimes.  Was it electrical?  Hmmmm.

I have just enough belief in what’s out there in the spiritual world to be swayed  by a psychic I once saw in an effort to communicate with my sister.  She told me that my sister tries to communicate with me through lights and at night, in my dreams.   I know you’re thinking – well sure, that’s a classic easy reach that anyone desperate to believe might make a connection with.  I even thought so.  Or did I?

As a true skeptic who even tries to set psychic types up to fail,  I also yearn to believe that maybe — just maybe — they really can help me talk to her.  There are just so many things I would ask her.  There are so many memories from my childhood when I lived with my mom and my sister (the Three Musketeers)  where  I can’t quite recall all of the details.  Who would have imagined my sister would be gone and my mother would end up with Alzheimer’s so advanced that she hardly even speaks?  Who would have thought I should have been taking notes for goodness sakes?   They say it is this kind of love — and love lost — that flames our endless desire to communicate with those who have passed on before us.  Especially those that weren’t supposed to.

Back to the lamps.  So, I religiously watch the Hoarding, Buried Alive television show, which to my family’s amusement is what causes me to go on mad purging binges – clothes, furniture, you name it.  My unneeded hoard finds its way to my donate bins and designated areas at least twice a month.  Afterall, it’s just stuff.  And if I’m not using it, someone could.  Plus, from what I witnessed in the homes of  my late grandparents on both sides,  I’m afraid I  just might have a tad bit of a hoarding gene in me somewhere.

So, finally I decided it was time to donate these lamps and get real “grownup” bedside lamps.  My husband appeased me and accompanied me to many stores in search of the perfect bedside lamps, which we found.  I still don’t feel like a grownup, but that’s beside the point.

But what to do with the lamps? I  regularly give most of my donation worthy items to my housekeepers – furniture and all.  They strike gold at my house at least monthly.  Or I like to think they do. I just wish I could understand what they were saying to each other whenever they bag up my donate bin that I keep next to the vacuum.  For all I know it could be “Look at this crap this lady thinks we want…”  But I like to think it’s not, especially since they take it enthusiastically. At any rate, I didn’t want to give them these lamps in case they really did have electrical problems.  That would keep me up worrying for sure.  And I knew that Goodwill probably has to test everything before they sell it.  Or that’s what I tell myself.

So, on three different occasions I have loaded these lamps in the back of my car to take them to the Goodwill donation center along with my other purge-fest prizes. It’s always right at the moment when the guys helping me unload my Hoarding Buried Alive load of treasures point to the lamps and say “these too?” when I freeze.  I tell them not to take the lamps, just everything else.  Then I carefully drive the lamps back to my house and set them at the front of my garage again until I can figure out what to do with them.

I also have a purse my sister gave me that I will never carry again because it’s such a bad luxury brand knock-off.  But I vividly remember how proud she was to buy it for me and how excited I was to have it (same spot in my budget timeline as the lamps).  I remember how much she smiled as I modeled it.  I will never donate it, even after a hoarding series marathon.  I also have a cheesy belt that she gave me that I will never wear, but that reminds me of us going through each other’s closets and making fun of clothes in need of purging. Both items hang inside my closet where I can see them and just know they are there.

Maybe these lamps are my sister’s way of staying in my busy life when I try so hard to keep her memory alive but life gets in the way. And for that I’m grateful.  I think I’ll find a place for them afterall.