Life can be ugly and unpredictable: Pick a husband who will last — and laugh with you — a lifetime


The first time I introduced Skip to my parents, I knew I wanted to marry him.

It was October 1998 and my future husband was not in peak form.

He — like his mother and most everyone on her Hungarian side of the family — had developed a painful cyst at the base of his spine. A few days earlier, a doctor carved a 4-inch zig-zag incision, scooped out the culprit and sewed Skip back up with what looked like an embroidered lightning bolt emerging from the top of his butt crack.

It wasn’t pretty.

And Skip was in pain. By the time we pulled into my parents’ driveway, he was ashen and sitting side-saddle because leaning against the driver’s seat hurt too much.

My mom, I had warned Skip, had no social boundaries. None. She was nosy, touchy and, at times, a wee bit raunchy. But she could also be witty and disarmingly charming.

When mom saw Skip limping up the back stairs, she greeted him with a smile and an innocuous question: “What’s the matter?”

Skip explained about the cyst.

And before Skip could shake my father’s hand, mom walloped him with round two — the inappropriate question, the one I was certain would come even though I couldn’t predict the circumstances or the timing — “Can I see it?”

Skip, without hesitation, unbuckled his belt, dropped his jeans and let mom peel down the dressing so she could marvel at his wounded anatomy.

“Herm,” mom said to my father, “come here, you have to see this.”

My dad, politely averting his eyes, declined and asked Skip — in manly solidarity — if he wanted a beer.

Skip and I were in our early 30s then. My parents were in their late 60s. None of us could have imagined what the future held. But that moment — and the hours that followed — set the tone for all the years that followed, including the past three since my parents moved in with us.

Many readers of this blog have left messages and sent emails of encouragement to me. They say I am brave to help my parents and that my parents are lucky to have me.

But the truth is, my parents are lucky to have my husband.

If Skip didn’t support me — financially and emotionally — I couldn’t help my parents. He also pitches in daily to get things done. Today, on his day off, he took mom on a field trip to the library and listened patiently as she yammered on with two people she knew — even after those people seemed to lose interest.

How many books and movies — both comic and tragic – have been penned about Romeo and Juliet relationships doomed by quarreling or misfit Meet the Focker families? There’s a reason.

Even if you find a soul mate, a lover, a best friend, you’re destined for trouble if your match doesn’t fit with your family. Yes, couples can muddle through. And, for some, family isn’t as important. But I knew, particularly as an only child, that my husband would need both the right mindset and sense of humor to not only cope with my family, but to be happy with me.

I was already in love with Skip before I took him home to meet my parents. But as that day wore on — without tension, only laughter — I knew I would be his wife.

After mom re-bandaged his incision and Skip hoisted up his jeans, mom, who has no science or medical training, told Skip that his cyst wasn’t hereditary.

It was, she declared, his unborn twin.

Mom, now with dad on her side, told the story of a man they knew in Florida who had the same sort of cyst. When doctors operated, they found hair, tiny teeth and bones. Doctors concluded that the man’s body formed the cyst to expel the remains of a twin he had unknowingly carried with him for decades since birth.

Skip didn’t argue. He didn’t talk about all of his family members with the same issue. Or that, thankfully, his doctors did not report finding any teeth lodged above his butt crack.

Only later, when we were alone, did we laugh, not realizing at the time that his lightning-bolt scar would forever be known in our family as “twin.”

Is it better to be tied to a tree than squashed on the freeway? Caregiver angst


Baby Walter — that’s what everyone called him since his dad was also named Walter and no one much liked the sound of “junior” — spent most of his single-digit years tethered to one heavy object or another.

His older sister Tina was one of my closest friends. We grew up in the 1970s and 1980s at different ends of the same rural road in Ohio, an unlined swath of blacktop connecting old farmhouses to the fields of green soybeans and sweet corn planted in between.

Baby Walter and Tina lived in the last house on the right before our road crossed over Interstate 71, the busy freeway connecting Cleveland to Columbus to Cincinnati.

And Tina’s mom — not overly protective of Tina or her older brother — worried constantly that Baby Walter would run down the slope of their side yard and onto I-71 where he would almost certainly be smashed by a semi-truck hauling automobiles or steel or some other heavy thing manufactured in Cleveland and destined for points south unknown.

Today, a doctor would likely diagnose Baby Walter with ADD and scribble out a prescription for a medication to calm him. But at that time, our patch of Ohio was stuck somewhere between “Hee Haw” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

We rarely questioned our fate and, if we did, we asked God via Jesus to help us, not some stranger in a lab coat. On rare occasions — like those Sundays when our preacher wrapped up his sermon in time to catch Browns kickoff — we knew God kicked in. But mostly, we fended for ourselves and worked with what we had.

That meant it was Tina’s job — and my job, too, when I was at her house — to keep Baby Walter safe by following instructions from Tina’s mom:

Tie Baby Walter to his bed for his nap.

Tie Baby Walter to the barn ladder while you’re in the loft so he doesn’t fall.

Tie Baby Walter to the tree so you all can play outside.

I know it sounds wretched now and certainly there were many what-ifs — like what if the house caught fire and Baby Walter was trapped, unable to leave his bed. But nothing bad ever happened.

Baby Walter would inevitably wrap himself around the tree like a tether ball to a pole, but it was fun — for him and for us — to unwind him until he wrapped himself around again.

He was happy, well-loved and well-fed and seemed to grow accustomed to the ritual, often waiting for someone to tie him, as if he, too, didn’t trust himself not to run into I-71’s siren song.

I’ve been thinking about Baby Walter — who must be 40 by now — all day.

This morning, before sunrise, before anyone else in our house was awake, when the temperature hovered at -16 degrees, my 83-year-old mother crept outside with her walker — wearing only a t-shirt, tennis shoes and a coat — and smoked a cigarette.

She made it back to the couch safely and we only discovered her crime when my father, who has cancer, went out for his first cigarette of the day and found an overturned coffee cup and a half pack of red Pall Malls scattered on the snow.

It frightened me, but it enraged me just as much.

How long does it take a 104-pound woman to freeze to death if she falls in the snow when its 16-below? Or how about our dog or two cats that always hover around the front door?

My mother has a combination of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia (caused by smoking). She also has spinal stenosis and scoliosis that leaves her bent at a 50-degree angle, unable to straighten, unsteady on her feet and challenged to hobble on a walker more than a dozen feet without sitting down.

Her physical frailty has in some ways made her mental frailty easier to deal with. I can almost always catch her before she runs amok. But it’s done nothing to temper her bullheadedness or nicotine craving (yes, I’ve tried and failed to convert her to patches and gum and e-cigarettes).

From the first week mom and dad moved in, there has been a single rule that has dominated our lives: Mom must never go outside — or even open the door — unless someone is at her side.

Her dementia has stolen much of her left brain, always her weakest side. She doesn’t know $5,000 from $5. But even now she knows the door rule and knowingly broke it for a cigarette.

Nursing home was my first thought. I’m nearing the end of my caregiver rope.

Standing by my dad as he negotiates cancer — an oncologist today decided to end his radiation a week early so he can go on chemo because the tumors in his lungs are leaving him short of breath — is exhausting. And it’s sad.

Lassoing my mother’s wants and needs at the same time is nearly impossible.

But here’s the thing: My dad’s final chapter is closing.

And even though my mom isn’t the woman she was — and both OG mom and dementia mom make dad bats — I know he’d rather have her close as he fades away.

So I’ve got myself a Baby Walter dilemma: How do you prevent someone you love from running into traffic and getting killed?

I have a tree, but I’m unwilling to use a tether.

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Would you let a nursing home kitchen assistant negotiate medical care for your mom and dad? Some are.


When my dad and I were waiting for his daily cancer radiation treatment yesterday, a gangly, good-natured kid wheeled a woman into the room and parked next to us.

He was in his early 20s and could have passed for the woman’s grandson the way he doted on her, tucking a hand-crocheted blanket around her shoulders, making sure she had enough water to drink because a medical condition dried out her mouth.

But he was an employee at the nursing home where the woman lived — the highest-rated facility in our county and one of the best in all of Greater Cleveland. Hopeful residents each fork over about $5,000 to get on the facility’s waiting list and often spend years elsewhere before a space opens in independent, assisted-living, nursing or memory care units.

After a nurse wheeled the woman away for radiation, the young man told us he started working in the nursing home’s kitchen in 2009. A few months ago, one of the nursing home’s two transportation jobs opened up and he landed it.

He figured it would be a simple job, driving the residents — about 300 — to places they needed to go. But it has turned out to be much more complicated.

All of residents have lots of medical appointments and besides the transport obstacles — safely getting people on walkers, canes and in wheelchairs into and out of offices through ice and snow — most need help handling their insurance and medical questions and answers with doctors and nurses.

What? My face froze.

So you not only drive them, you act as their representative at doctors’ appointments, I asked, just to make sure I understood.

Yes, he said, shaking his head. It’s a shame, he said, how so many families absolve themselves of all responsibilities once a loved one is ensconced at a nursing facility.

A few minutes later, dad and I were sitting in another room with his oncologist. Dad told her he had started having pain in his esophagus near where his tumor is. She said she would write a prescription for a soothing serum to coat his throat that contained Benadryl as one of its main ingredients.

Wait, I interrupted, dad already takes one Benadryl pill every night before bed to help him sleep. Couldn’t that be a problem?

Yes, she said. Dad should stop taking the nighttime Benadryl because taken together, the serum and the Benadryl, could cause him to fall.

A fall — even though dad’s cancer is at Stage 3 and only being treated palliatively — is more likely to kill dad than his cancer, another oncologist told us after dad asked him how he would likely die (the other most likely way is aspiration).

So this seemingly simply Benadryl mix-up couple have been an early death sentence.

Would the good-natured nursing home transport driver have caught this potential medical mistake if he took dad to this radiation appointment? Doubtful.

I’m a veteran newspaper reporter — trained in both reporting facts and asking tough questions — and I have a difficult time managing medical care for my parents, two people I love.

How would a kitchen assistant turned driver manage this for strangers? And why should anyone expect him to?

No matter how good his intentions are — and they seemed exceedingly good — the nursing home driver has no medical training and far too many residents to know each of their medical needs and vulnerabilities.

Later, on our drive home, I asked dad if he was surprised how that nursing home depended on its drivers. No, he said, but he thought it sad, especially considering how much people pay for their care.

The nursing home driver told us the woman he brought to radiation that day shells out more than $8,000 a month. More skilled nursing care or the memory unit — a separate, locked-down facility for dementia patients — costs residents much more, he said.

What do residents get for that money? Some were on a field trip to nearby Harry London Chocolates that day to see how bon bond and chocolate-covered pretzels are made. Tonight, a group of residents is putting on a stage show open to the public.

And one day a week — the day many residents live for — the lobby is filled with therapy dogs who wag and lick away loneliness and fear.

All of that is fantastic. It’s also a clean, well-run facility where many residents feel a kinship with staff. I know. My aunt was a resident and I’ve been a visitor.

Yet none of this makes up for a kitchen assistant being promoted to a driver whose job also includes negotiating residents’ off-site medical care.

Making room for Mom-in-Law, then Mom and Dad: It’s all about the bathroom. Everything else can be rearranged.


I still miss our first house.

It was a Craftsman-style bungalow on a working-class street that dead-ended into Lake Erie. We could barely glimpse the water from our screened-in porch, but the sound of the waves — a steady roar in winter — rocked us to sleep at night.

We decided to move when my mother-in-law needed help after her husband died. Heart surgery and worsening health issues left her breathless and dependent on a walker.

She couldn’t move into our house because, like so many older homes, the bathrooms were on the second floor and in the basement. Putting in a full bath on the first floor didn’t make financial or practical sense.

So we started looking at houses. Finding one that we could afford and that met our needs wasn’t easy. We ended up buying a center-hall colonial with a full bath at the end of a hallway off the kitchen. The 16 x 20-foot formal living room, which could be closed off with two sets of french doors, would be my mother-in-law’s.

She spent weeks using graph paper and careful measurements to figure out what she could fit into the space. We painted the walls an icy blue color. And, in the end, it was a cozy mini-apartment: A love seat, rocking chair, TV and computer at one end of the room and a single bed, two dressers and an armoire at the other.

She needed an extra long oxygen cord to reach the bathroom — which was about 30 feet away — but the set up worked for her. There was plenty of room to maneuver between the shower, vanity and toilet. And, the glass shower stall was big enough for a small plastic bench so she could sit while washing.

Two weeks after she moved in, while my husband and I were at work, my mother-in-law called my mom for a ride to the hospital. Her heart was in arrhythmia. My mother-in-law never returned to our house. After a month in the hospital, she took herself off life support.

Slowly, her mini-apartment reverted back into a formal living room. Nephews picked up furniture they could use. We re-painted the walls and moved the dressers into the basement for a yard sale we’ve yet to have.

And then, a couple of years later, my parents needed help.

Their needs were a little different and since there were two of them, they would need more space. But this time I knew we had a house we could make work.

Unlike my mother-in-law, who depended on her walker for stamina, my mom used her walker for stability. And even with the walker, my mom was tripping and falling — a lot.

The bath at the end of the hall would work work for showers. But I knew she needed a toilet closer to her bed.

Working with our plumber (a family friend) and my cousin who is a builder, we squeezed a half-bath into the corner of the formal living room.

My cousin built two temporary walls (they stop short of the ceiling by about 4 inches) and formed a room about 4 x 8 feet. He installed a pocket door wide enough for a wheelchair — should we need it — and a vanity sink to one side of the door and a toilet with an elevated seat to the other. The walls are ringed with grab bars.

We also ripped up the carpet in the formal living room and new half-bath and installed plank vinyl flooring. The project, in total, cost about $7,500.

Now that space — which first served as my mother-in-law’s small apartment — is my parents’ bedroom/half-bath/kitchen area. There are two single beds, an armoire and dry sink on one side of the room and a kitchen table, full-sized refrigerator and microwave on the other.

Next, we re-purposed our dining room — which is on the other side of the entry hall — with a couch, TV, desk and my dad’s favorite recliner.

To make the full bath at the end of the hall safer, my husband removed the glass shower door. We were worried mom could trip — even with someone helping her — and cut herself on the glass. I hung a clear shower curtain in its place and put grab bars up for something to hold onto.

Finally, we sacrificed our family room — which is at the back of the house. It’s now a dining room. All the living space for my husband and myself is upstairs in an unused bedroom.

Is this a perfect set up? No. I wish my parents had a self-contained apartment and we had our house back.

But it works.

My husband and I often dream about our next house. I don’t know where it will be, if in Ohio at all.

About a decade ago, we started vacationing in Anna Maria, Fla, one of the few coastal towns free from high rises, large hotels or chain restaurants.

We usually rent a two-bedroom, two-bath cottage with a screened-in porch on a street that dead-ends into the Gulf of Mexico.

At night, the ocean waves rock us to sleep.

And we dream of having a tiny house all of our own.

Wheelchair lunacy: Even a new medical center and docs can’t get it right


My mom and dad’s doctor moved into a stunning new medical building about three years ago. It sits up on a hill, surrounded by woods. It has its own helicopter pad, a full-service emergency room and a chemotherapy wing, along with offices for dozens of physicians.

Yet — the wheelchairs provided in the lobby of the building don’t fit through the entrance doorways to the doctors’ offices.

How stunningly stupid is that? A medical facility — where almost half the parking places are designated for handicapped, oncology and expectant mothers — that doesn’t match its doorway widths to the wheelchairs it uses.

I should point out that all wheelchairs provided are super-sized, about 40 percent wider than standard.

The easiest fix, of course, is to provide some standard wheelchairs, too. But the proper fix is to widen the doorways for those who do depend on the larger chairs.

As it is, overburdened caregivers like myself (or worse — the elderly trying to care for their more fragile elderly loved ones) must lift their own wheelchairs in and out of their cars to visit a building of healthcare workers who should be attuned to the needs of their patients.

I don’t know what patients do who need the wider chairs. Do doctors examine them in the hallways? Sad.

It could be worse, of course. My parents’ longtime podiatrist put his office in an older home that sits on a slope off of a mostly residential street. No wheelchairs are provided. It’s a small building, so I understand why.


But the challenge here is gravity: Getting mom from inside the car, to a wheelchair and then into the office (and the reverse) is  more of a battle. And if I forget the wheelchair brake or it slips, there could be disaster — a runaway wreck into a manicured flower bed between the small parking lot and the street.

I thought my parents’ gastro doctors got it right in their relatively new three-story complex. At the entry, there’s a large button to push which is supposed to open the doors so someone in a wheelchair can easily roll through.

That button hasn’t worked since my first visit with my parents — three years ago.

Misadventures in caregiving: Just when you think everything is under control…



The past few days at Casa de Mom-and-Dad-Move-in have been about nothing but water: Getting it, keeping it and making sure everyone — including our dog — gets enough to stay hydrated.

It started with Lake Erie, the glorious fresh water source that supplies Cleveland.

We’ve had a January cold snap where daytime temperatures sometimes struggle to reach 5 degrees and nighttime temps sink even lower. That means the lake is freezing over, but so is the water in the pipes leading from the lake to the shore-side processing plants.

Ice clogged the intake pipes last year, too, so I was prepared with a couple of cases of Costco water when the first warning to conserve came out. But with four adults, two dogs and two cats that all need to stay hydrated and clean, that can go quickly.

At the same time, one of our dogs had surgery on his right eye to remove a small growth on the lower lid. He came home wearing a green cone of shame — sometimes called an e-collar — to prevent him from tearing at the stitches.

No dog likes these cones. But our goofy 70-pound mutt especially despises the collar and refuses to eat unless we hand feed him piece by piece. He refuses to drink water altogether.

To keep him hydrated, I started soaking dry kibble in water until it swells to about five times its size. Then, piece-by-piece, I feed our stubborn dog the soggy, stinky pieces of spongy, dripping food, using a rag to wipe out the mess that runs down into the cone, getting matted in his fur.

And then, diarrhea struck — a human, not the dog. In a separate post below, I wrote about what I’ve learned about how to handle that with the B.R.A.T. diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast).

But it’s rarely an immediate fix.

So today, the dog is still being hand-fed, the B.R.A.T diet is still on the menu, but the water is flowing through the pipes again and I know tomorrow (or maybe the next day) will be a little better.





Four food staples every caregiver needs on hand: Or, how to stop diarrhea with nothing but BRAT


Diarrhea, the runs or, as my father so eloquently puts it, “the squirts” are a pain in the tukhus for anyone, but especially for caregivers trying to make sure someone else is healthy.

Before my parents moved in, the only things guaranteed to be in our kitchen were good beer and an assortment of spices (I recently discovered a tiny jar of saffron threads in my cupboard that expired in 2000. I remember buying them in 1995 for a risotto dish I made four moves ago when I lived Cincinnati. Sigh.).

Now that I’m a stay-at-home caregiver, my kitchen looks like a mini Whole Foods, a green, red, yellow and purple cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables, brown eggs, jars of beans, etc. But the most important things in my arsenal of wellness are: Bananas, rice (white, not brown), applesauce and bread (white, not wheat) for toast.

For those four items are a miracle. They make up the B.R.A.T diet, a bland, low fiber, not-so-appetizing meal plan that eases diarrhea.

Sometimes it takes only a meal or two of nothing but B.R.A.T. Sometimes it takes a few days. But this works. And it’s one of the first things caregivers should know because diarrhea is not only messy, it’s dangerous.

Elderly folks with diarrhea can quickly become dehydrated. When that happens, it throws off their electrolytes — sodium and minerals in blood and other body fluids that carry an electric charge for muscle function, including the heart. Death can happen quickly.

Start on B.R.A.T. (nothing to eat but bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) at the first sign of diarrhea. Once it eases, slowly add back in foods. For instance, I’ll make chicken and rice soup. If the broth doesn’t trigger any problems, I may serve cubed steaks with gravy over rice the next day with applesauce on the side.

If diarrhea returns, revert back to B.R.A.T. only, plus oodles of water.

A couple of tips for stocking B.R.A.T. 

–Fresh bananas are not easy to keep on hand, at least not without running out or throwing away the over-ripe ones. So I always keep about six jars of pure banana baby food in the pantry as back–up until I can get to the store for fresh.

–Make sure to stock white rice instead of brown. The idea is to give the digestive system a break. Brown rice makes body  work harder.

–Use water, not broth to make rice. It’s very important to stick to the four staples of B.R.A.T.

–Rice is easy to store (I keep about 4 pounds in a jar). But I also keep a couple of bags of microwave-ready, steam-in-its-own bag rice in the freezer for a quick launch on a B.R.A.T episode. Then I make a triple batch of rice on the stovetop to carry me through a few days.

–Same thing with bread. Stick with simple, processed white bread here. No wheat, nothing fancy. Just something that slips effortlessly into a toaster.

–It stinks, but the toast aspect of this diet means no butter, no jelly, no nothing. Dry toast.

–Be careful on applesauce. I didn’t realize all the specialty chunky, cinnamon, whatever applesauce that are out there. Keep it simple. Go with the jar of plain.

–If you’re B.R.A.T dieter is getting bored, make magic ice cream: Cut a couple of your ripest bananas — the ones that are getting black — into 1-inch chunks and put them in a single layer on a cookie sheet (or in a freezer bag so they are flat) and pop in freezer. Once frozen, put chunks into a food processor and blend, pausing a few times to scrape down side of bowl. Keep blending until you have creamy soft serve. You might worry in the beginning that it is’t working. But keep blending. You’ll witness the miracle (don’t add anything — no liquid, nothing). It’s so rich and creamy, I think it would pass for ice cream if you didn’t tell who you were serving it to.

Note on dehydration:

If you’re worried about dehydration in the person you’re caring for, gently pinch the skin on the back of her hand. If the skin snaps back quickly, she’s probably OK. But if the skin stays there, in the little mound you created when you pinched it, it’s time to worry. Immediately boost fluid intake or head to urgent care. Dehydration is nothing to mess around with.

Please, stop sending dreamcatchers: Or, how I tried to tame charities asking for money

Our mailman, Chet, already struggled to deliver the bevy of catalogs my husband and I generated when it was just the two of us.

But after my parents moved in, Chet fled the U.S. Postal Service for a career in nursing. I always imagined his job change was fueled in part by the stacks and stacks of mail my parents received from charity and non-profit groups seeking money.

Giving money to organizations you believe in, groups that have a proven track record and groups that wisely spend your money  is admirable.

But we were pummeled with pleas from scores of charities, from the established SPCA to some group that claimed to help armless children paint with their toes. (These groups asked for money on the phone, too, but that’s a whole other story).

So we cut back on giving. Way back. I used the free website to ferret out the good charities from the bad.

Guidestar lets users look at the recent tax records for almost all charities and non-prodfit groups. Most of the tax forms list the salaries and benefits of the top-paid charity officials, along with how the group spends its money.

It’s an eye-opener. I was disappointed to see that some respected charities we had supported spent more than 35 percent of their donations on salaries and overhead instead using that money for good works.Those charities fell off our giving list.

So did the charities that didn’t provide the tax forms on Guidestar: No transparency means no cash from us.

After about a year, the mailed pleas for money dramatically slowed.

But the most persistent never gave up.

About a year before my parents moved in, I noticed dreamcatchers and small clay pots popping up among the Amish-made furniture and family treasures at their house.

My mom said these items were tokens of appreciation from a Native American charity she supported somewhere out west.

Thick packets of mailed info and dreamcatchers from the group — I forget its name — followed mom and dad to our house.

This group, for whatever reason, didn’t make our giving list. And when the dreamcatchers continued arriving, I asked the group to kindly stop contacting our family and to take us off its donor list.

I thought it worked for awhile, but then I found out my husband was throwing the group’s missives in the trash rather than raise  my ire.

Today is Jan. 6. It’s been nearly three years since we’ve given money to the group. But odds are, by month’s end we’ll be the recipients of another unwanted dreamcatcher.

Leftover Christmas ham bone & January cold=Mom and Dad’s favorite: Senate Bean Soup

It’s cheap, it’s easy to make, it’s full of fiber and it’s a WWII generation hit — Navy Bean soup. This recipe calls for ham hocks, but a ham bone works just as well. On my mom’s advice, I stir in a teaspoon of baking soda. I do not know if this works, but she claims it counteracts some of the beans’ gas-producing powers

I use this recipe from


1 lb. dried navy beans, soaked overnight, drained
1 smoked ham hock
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1. Bring beans, ham hock, and 8 cups water to a boil in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until beans are tender, about 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a 10″ skillet over medium heat. Add onion, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer to pot with beans, reduce heat to low to keep warm. Remove ham hock, let cool slightly, and then remove meat, discarding bone, skin, and excess fat; finely chop meat and add back to soup. Lightly mash some of the beans in the pot to create a thick, creamy texture; season with salt and pepper.

That’s it! Simple, simple, simple. And like chili, this soup improves with age.

Cheap fix to get Mom and Dad (and dog!) safely into/out of house

I frequently buy products that I hope will help my parents (or help me help my parents.) Only about half work, so I plan to show you all the winners and losers so that you don’t waste money like I did.

I’m starting with my latest purchase — a $25 plastic outdoor step.  It’s a hit, so far, helping my dad step onto and off of our front stoop with his cane. But I have some worries — primarily that the step will crack in the extreme temperatures of Northeast Ohio. It’s very lightweight, so I’ll carry it inside when it’s cold (and she I remember). Below is a picture of the box it came in. I ordered it online and if you do, shop around. Prices varied a LOT, particularly when you figured in shipping (which I found for free). The brand is Ideaworks.


Dad says he likes the step because it’s wide and textured. He feels safe stepping onto it. As an aside, so does his aging dog (you’ll see her orange tie out in picture below) who never hesitated to use scamper up or down the boost, either.


Of course, this boost does nothing to help someone who needs a pull-up bar (we have one of those in the garage and I’ll write something about its ugly beauty in the future) or who is in a wheelchair. And the step is lightweight, so it could be dangerous for someone who has a hard time lifting his/her foot. I would worry about accidentally kicking the step or tripping.

I think this would also be great to help someone into and out of an SUV–and again, it’s light, so you could throw the step in the back seat and take it with you.

If anyone has found a better solution (or knows of potential problems with this step), please share.