The Suitcase Lady


August 23, 2016, 9:00 pm

When I was a child, I lived within easy walking distance of two drug stores. Both had soda fountains with swivel stools, malted milk mixers, phosphate dispensers and pyramids of sundae glasses.

Getting  to sit down at the fountain for a malt or sundae was a huge event. I grew up in an age when treats did not happen every day. My parents could not have imagined an age when many children get daily doses of candy, cones or sodas.

As a teenager, I had some spending money, and my friends and I would frequently stop at the drug store on our walk home from high school. My order never varied: a Green River and a small bag of chips.

I am a staunch advocate of historic preservation, so it was a true delight to encounter three historic drugstores with soda fountains that have survived into this century. The first, Little Drug Company, 1922, is in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. We serendipitously discovered it when I missed a turn onto Highway One. Instead I was on a road to the historic downtown. It was lunchtime, so we decided to park and find a restaurant. The Little Drug Company came through with grilled cheese, malts and a ton of nostalgia.

A month later, again at lunchtime, we spotted a sign on a Tennessee interstate noting a local attraction, “Historic 1928 Drugstore and Soda Fountain, 5 miles”. We exited, drove to Cross Plains  and repeated the classic lunch at Thomas Drugs.  I, however, substituted unsweetened iced tea for a malt, thus marking myself as a Yankee for eschewing the sweet tea.

Our favorite old fashioned drug store is in Albuquerque, and we visit it every time we are in town. Model Pharmacy dates to 1947. It is housed in a tiny building but is filled with treasures. In addition to the pharmacy, lunch counter and several tables, Model specializes in European perfumes, soaps and hair accessories, unique greeting cards and boxed notecards. And I know of no other source of a Lime Rickey.

All three of these establishments are working pharmacies serving local clientele as well as history buffs. How delightful that they still sell spoonfuls of sugar to make the medicine go down.

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August 16, 2016, 10:21 pm

This story is a sequel to my blog of May 7, 2013 entitled Duckie. It is a tale of serendipity.

I recently discovered that a fleet of majestic, tall sailing ships was making its way up our shoreline with stops at several ports. Then I learned that the world’s largest rubber duckie would make an appearance with the ships.

My husband and I were in total agreement that this event was too good to miss. We drove the 40 miles to Green Bay and the Fox River to view the floating menagerie…….it did not disappoint.

A week later I was browsing in a Goodwill Store and spotted a little magenta rubber duck. I parted with 99 cents and gave duckie to my husband as a souvenir of the happy afternoon we had spent on the river visiting little duck’s gigantic brother.

The next morning we were about to take showers and I jokingly said, “I hope duckie will be happy at our house even though we don’t have a bathtub for him.” I picked duckie up and set him on the ledge in the shower…..and our duckie immediately answered my question.

Duckie started to flash on and off in brilliant, gorgeous l.e.d. colors of purple, blue, magenta, orange and yellow. We doubled up laughing.

We are not entirely sure what activates duckie’s light show, although we suspect it is water, not motion. At any rate, he will certainly make shower time lots of fun.

Click here to watch our duckie glow!



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August 9, 2016, 11:32 pm

Tagetes patula is brightening up our porch. That is the scientific name for marigolds which are named for Tages, an Etruscan deity who is said to have sprung from the earth as it was being plowed. Our English word marigold comes from Mary’s gold, probably a reference to the Virgin Mary. Peasants would leave flower heads at her statue instead of coins.

Marigolds are natives of the New World from Argentina north to New Mexico. Cempoalxochitl is the Aztec word for this “herb of the sun”. The first recorded use of marigolds is found in an Aztec herbal from 1552. The book describes marigolds as a treatment for hiccups, being struck by lightning or “for one who wishes to cross a river or water safely.”

Today, Mexicans make lavish use of marigolds on Dia de los Muertos, their Day of the Dead festival on November 1. Millions of the orange and yellow flowers are used to adorn home altars, gravesites and entire cemeteries.

Portugese explorers introduced marigolds to India in the early 16th century. Now they are widely grown there and an integral part of wedding ceremonies and other holidays. For the Hindu Festival of Dussehra, homes, buildings and even vehicles are ablaze with marigold decorations.

Marigolds are also brought as offerings to Hindu gods. A lovely, antique wood carving of the Hindu god, Ganesh sits on a shelf of my bookcase. One day, my niece, who is from India, was visiting and noticed a tiny piece of dried marigold tucked behind Lord Ganesh’s hand.

Wherever they go, marigolds make themselves at home. They are not prima donnas like the geraniums that I tried to nurse through so many summers. Marigolds only ask for sun and a few drinks. In return, they will pump out continuous flowers until pumpkin time.

The other morning, we were just about to start breakfast on the porch when my husband said, “It smells like we must have had a skunk visitor around the yard last night.”

I thought about that for a second and then opened my hand and said, “I think this is your skunk.” I had just deadheaded the marigolds and had a fragrant fistful.


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August 2, 2016, 9:23 pm

We had just found a parking spot on a busy street in the heart of a small lake town near our house. The temperature was edging up to 100 degrees and people were outside trying to catch a lake breeze. And then I spotted it.

As I got out of the car, I couldn’t believe my eyes………a 16 inch long, hot dog width snake was wriggling along the gutter just in front of us. I panicked.

I was not one iota afraid of the snake. I was panicking because I feared for the snake’s life. Surely a car would pull into that parking space and run it over? Or people would see me staring at the curb in wonderment and come over and bludgeon it. Visions of tourists running and screaming flashed into my mind.

Since I own the handy little book, Snakes of Wisconsin, I knew this fine reptile was absolutely harmless. Of our 20 native snakes, only two are venomous and they both live on the other side of the state. This handsome creature was a garter snake.

I also knew that viewing the snake was a rare moment. Our home is surrounded by prairie grasses, woods, fields and sand, all perfect snake habitat. I would love to share our space with the occasional snake just as I am always delighted to discover toads and frogs in the yard. Sadly, in the last two years, we have only seen one snake and it was the size of a worm. Seeing a snake is such a rare sight here that my husband called me outside when he spotted that little guy.

My first thought was to pick up the snake and quickly get it out of sight. But I did not have a cat carrier in the car, and the sight of a woman picking up a large snake surely would be noticed.

I did the only thing I could think of. I started talking to the snake. “Get out of here as quickly as you can boy,” I said. It undulated up the curb and on to the terrace grass. “Now head for that row of hydrangea bushes on the other side of the sidewalk.”

The snake went toward the bushes. No one but us had seen him. I sincerely hope he stayed hidden under those protective plants. The world needs all its beautiful creatures, and that includes the snakes.


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July 26, 2016, 9:12 pm

For many of us, summer is the most glorious season of all, a time to enjoy the outdoors to the fullest. As summer approaches its zenith, it occurred to me that a “State of the Summer” report would be in order. Being mindful of the present moment is always a good plan.

  • The lake level is up. Beach walks are impossible without waders. This is also the summer of giant waves……..Hokusai would have plenty of  models.
  • Butterfly numbers are markedly down, despite the abundance of butterfly friendly plants in our meadow and prairie.
  • After early summer rains, “Lake Dennis” appeared in the bean field across from our house and drowned all the seedlings. The dried up lake bed remains, surrounded by acres of the luckier green beans. We have had several “rain events” when the lake refills. A flock of geese always finds the replenished lake and happily paddles around.
  • We found three frogs in our entry hall downstairs the other night. Unfortunately, the cats found them first and we could rescue only two.
  • Mom groundhog had three babies, and the family is scavenging under our bird feeders daily. At night, the raccoon families come to dine. All family members both young and old are shaped like furry beach balls.
  • The purple martins returned two weeks behind schedule this spring, but now the yard is filled with swooping, chattering parents delivering lunch to their babies who eagerly poke their heads out of their apartments.
  • The hornet has chosen to construct its nest beside our front door. We are coexisting, but our spiders aren’t happy.
  • Our cup plants have reached record heights and are starting to bloom. For the past two years all the buds were devoured by tiny larvae. A big thank you goes to P.J., our state’s bug expert in Madison, who guided us to an organic pesticide.
  • Gato’s lily has been blooming profusely for two weeks. When our wonderful cat Gato got old, he would sit under his lily every night as we ate dinner on the porch. Before he settled down, he always gently licked the plant’s leaves. Just want Gato to know we are taking good care of his plant.
  • A meandering black bear passed through the bean field a few weeks ago. He ended up on a garage roof in town, was tranquillized and returned to the woods up north. Sometimes stories have happy endings.









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