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A Great Place to Retire

Grand Lake, Colorado: Another Great Place to Retire

A photo of Nancy NemecWe've made the transition from Nebraska to Colorado, and I went to a ladies’ meeting today. I can’t decide what I enjoyed more, the drive to the meeting or the meeting.

We met at the church here in town at 8:30. About 12 ladies loaded into 3 cars for the drive. A June morning with sun and little wind, snow capped peaks in the distance, cattle and horses grazing in the lowlands and water rushing down the streams from the snowmelt. The 3 lakes were calm and reflecting, inviting us to kayak or sail.

  Lupines in bloom 

But the most wonderful surprise this morning was the flowers. The lupines are in bloom! They blanket the fields and hillsides in a beautiful purple with their companion yellow flowers. Here on the Western slope of the rockies they are everywhere.

  Golden Banner in bloom 

Careful watching reveals a few clumps of lighter purple spikes, and I even saw one that was pure white. Its almost a treasure hunt.

But back to the drive. We went along Shadow Mountain Lake, where the cabins and summer houses are showing more signs of habitation. The flags are up, and the flowers are planted on the porches and patios. The Pelicans are floating in groups in the shallow water areas. We came around the curve to see Granby Reservoir slowing refilling after being “pumped down” into Eastern Slope reservoirs in anticipation of the record snowmelt. Abe Lincoln still reclines on the far side of the lake. The peaks look like he is in repose over there. Then we went thru Coffey’s Gap. The natives told me the story that says that the Coffey parents left on a two month drive to take their cattle to Denver to sell. The children were left home alone, but weren’t worried until the two months were up. When they went to look for them, there was no trace. It was presumed that rustlers killed the parents and took the cattle.

We went through the valley and up ‘Red Dirt Hill.’ Now, if you’ve been to Oklahoma, this would not be considered red dirt, but I guess for Colorado… Then we saw Devil’s Thumb. It really is a tall cylinder on the horizon sticking up alone looking like a thumb. We turned off and went by some river pools with Pelicans and human fishermen.

We drove through some meadows and onto Devil’s Thumb Ranch. This is a resort with lodge and cabins, a spa, a wedding venue, fly fishing, horseback riding, hiking and two fine restaurants. They are award winning for their ecological practices, and are one of the best ‘green’ resort destinations.

But behind Devil’s Thumb is a nice housing development, and that’s where the meeting was. Up and down a one-lane dirt road with handmade signs with arrows at each fork in the road.  A beautiful stone and log home in a setting with woodland, mountain and meadow views. No other houses in sight. There were about 30 ladies at the meeting seated around card tables in the great room with a fruit, meat, cheese and pastry spread on the kitchen island. The two patio doors were open with a light breeze and the HUMMINGBIRDS! They were so noisy throughout the entire meeting, we could only hear if we paid close attention. There was also a pink headed brown bird at a feeder that I have to get the bird book out and look up. Another neat feature was the ceiling in the dining room. It was coffered, but the coffer was outlined with peeled logs. Then up in the ‘hole’ was a branch of an aspen tree.

On the way home, a bluebird flew beside us. He was beautiful. And the magpies were sitting on the fencerows taking everything in.

Graduation Parties

A photo of Nancy

This is a great place to retire. It’s also a great place to graduate from High School!

This town has some MAJOR traditions attached to the life-changing event called graduation.

Parties, cards, checks and food seem to be the main ingredients. Prior to all of this there seems to be much pre-party preparation.

Senior Pictures: Usually taken before school starts in the fall. Many changes of outfits and many poses. Sometimes even some poses including BFF – their best friends forever.

Invitations: Photo invitations designed and printed. These are kind of like a glorified photo Christmas card. You wouldn’t want your invitation to be like anyone else’s, and you have to choose your font, your poses – one big and some small ones, and select the gummed return address label with the graduate’s name.

Video: A video including photos from the graduate’s life up to this point. These remind me of the ones shown at funerals – only much shorter! How involved the production depends on the time and the software available.

Venue: It’s kind of like a wedding reception. Will it be at their home? Their yard? Or will they go together with other graduates that have been close friends since grade school and rent a hall?

Decorations: Now, the school colors don’t seem to be the thing to do. The one we went to last year was three girls and one boy who had been friends and their parents were friends forever, too. They chose four colors of tablecloths, napkins and flowers – like turquoise, hot pink, neon green and yellow. Wow! I don’t think the moms had on color-coordinated dresses, but they may have.

Display: A table is set up with all the graduate’s honors and awards and a bulletin board with favorite photos. Also scrapbooks of varying intricacies. This way you can relive their sports/drama/speech/scholastic/cheerleader/dance/band/chorus careers and learn about the scholarships they have been awarded.

Timing: There are two weekends of graduation – the public and the Catholic schools are on consecutive weekends. That way you can go to more parties, and the out of town families are here for the event.

Menu: Now you may expect that “Mom” would make all the food. Not usually the case. Dad or Uncle will BBQ some beef or make some rib steak sandwiches on the grill. This is beef country, and the main entrée is always beef. One of the parties last year had potato and macaroni salad from the caterer here in town, and one party had these dishes in what was obviously all of the aunties’ and cousins’ biggest Tupperware containers. Grandma may make “horns” (These are the butterhorn or crescent yeast rolls) or they may settle for regular buns from the grocery store. A fruit tray, a veggie tray and sheet cake round out the menu. There are coolers full of beer and soda. And there is always too much food. My neighbors are always looking me up to share leftovers with me when they are involved with such an event.

Guest List: Now this was the topic of conversation at coffee this morning. One friend said, “If you have driven onto their place, you get an invitation.” Another said, “Every child I taught in 2nd grade invites me.” Tales were told of the grocer getting invitations because the “family shopped there.” Or the eye doctor who sold them their glasses, and they never saw them any other time. The hospital administrator receives tons of invitation. Were they born in “his” hospital? And on and on. Because we are new in town, we only were invited to 2 parties last year – co-workers of husband. This year we've only got one invite so far – our neighbor. So, we aren’t on the radar as soft touch for a check. But, seriously, some people get invited to many, many parties and just go from party to party all weekend for 2 weekends. They don’t want to offend anyone by making choices of which to attend.

Gifts: I knew I should take a card, but I wasn’t sure whether to take a gift or a check. My friend said, “Stick a check in the card and go.” So I made out a check for $20, bought a card for $2.59, combed my hair and put on my lipstick and went. But this could get a little pricey when I know more people ...

I’m glad people mark life’s milestones. Family and friends gather to celebrate and launch their new “adult.” But I can’t help but wonder where it’s going from here. They had a party when they were baptized, for first communion, for grade school or junior high graduation, and for confirmation. Then this big blow-out for graduation. Will they have to top it for a wedding reception?? What about College Graduation? Events for children just get bigger and more complicated.

But like I said, This is a GREAT place to graduate from high school, and I hope I get invited to some more parties; that way I won’t need to cook!

On the Tip of My Tongue: The Appropriate Response

A photo of Nancy NemecThis is such a great place to retire! My friends here have the answers to so many problems and are so willing to share. I just spent some time in Kansas with my two older sisters, and we had a great time talking and remembering and catching up on our families. We found that we had one little problem in common, and I was happy to tell them the solution I had recently learned.

It seems that as we get older we have trouble remembering or saying things that are “on the tip of my tongue.” When I worked in senior housing and nursing homes, I remember saying that a resident had “some trouble with word-finding.” But when it is you – it is very frustrating. My husband and I are lucky. We have been married so long that we can usually fill in the word for the other one; sort of like two halves make a whole. But there are times when we are not together, or when we both draw a blank.

The ultimate solution to this problem, however, is the wonderful phrase, “When do you need to know?” (WDYNTK?) This is the definitive answer because you always think of the answer later.

For example: “What was Mary’s first husband’s name? You know, the one that ran off with that cousin of Bob’s who taught school.”
“When do you need to know?”


“What is your cell phone number?”


“What was your secretary’s last name when you worked at First National Bank 27 years ago?”


“Who did you have lunch with yesterday at Bud’s?”

OR (most embarrassing)

“Who called a few minutes ago?”
WDYNTK? (They wanted you to call right back!)

If you sat near the coffee group I meet with, you would hear this phrase nearly every time. Like I said, this is a great place to retire!

Here’s a “Welcome Spring” recipe:

Grandma’s Asparagus Thing

Slice about 5 potatoes in the bottom of a casserole dish.
Slice 2 onions thinly on top of potatoes.
Cut asparagus spears in 1” pieces (2 cups) and place on top of onion.
Dot with butter or oleo and salt and pepper.
Bake, tightly covered at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until potatoes are done.
Lay 4 slices of regular or low fat American cheese on top, and return to oven until cheese melts and “goes in.” Serve.

This is great for a carry in dinner. You lay the cheese on when you leave home, and viola! When you get there, it is ready to serve. All of the amounts and times are approximate. Leave the onions out, put more potatoes in, add the asparagus later in the baking period so it is not so done. You can cook this dish at 325 if you have to be out of the house for a while, or hurry it up at 400 if you watch closely. Enjoy!

Our First Social Security Check

A photo of Nancy NemecWe had a milestone occur in our lives this week. Husband got his first Social Security Check. We didn’t know quite how to mark this day.

He had called a few months ago and talked with a man at the Social Security Administration. The man asked questions and took down information about prior earnings and when he would turn the magic number – 62. Husband was told an estimated amount of the check, and when the check would start arriving.

Well, the day arrived this week. He watched the mail for a notification letter that said the check was here. But it never came! He checked at the bank, and it had been deposited. He has joined the ranks of the truly retired.

It can be a strange feeling to be receiving a check instead of paying in to Social Security. Not that we miss the daily grind of working – we enjoy the freedom of retirement, and doing what we want to do. Husband told his children to just feel better about the deductions from their paychecks. They now know exactly where it is going.  

French Breakfast Puffs

These are a special breakfast treat that always says “Spring” when served with a nice fruit cup and a steaming cup of coffee or glass of milk. They are not in the lowfat/healthy column, but a wonderful homemade breakfast on a Sunday morning. You can choose your level of decadence by dipping only the top in butter and cinnamon sugar, or rolling the entire puff in it. Either way, they don’t work real well with the paper muffin cups.

1/3 Cup shortening
½ Cup Sugar
1 egg
1 ½ cup flour
1 ½ tsp. Baking Powder
½ tsp. salt
½ cup milk
1/3 cup melted butter
½ cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp. cinnamon

Cream shortening and sugar. Beat in egg. Mix dry ingredients and add alternately with milk. Fill muffin tins 2/3 cup full and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

Dip in butter and roll in cinnamon sugar.

The Christmas That Almost Wasn't

A photo of Nancy NemecChristmas of 2009 will be a “Christmas to Remember,” and maybe not for the right reasons.

I was so excited that for the first time in more than 20 years I could have Christmas at my house for my family, and actually have time to enjoy getting ready and decorating and cooking! My mind was spinning with ideas for meals and lists for activities. I was getting up in the night and writing things down so I didn’t forget.

Many phone calls were made to see what special foods my children were wishing for: Salted Nut Roll Cookies, Ogallala Enchiladas, Fried Chicken with “pudding gravy,” Peanut Clusters, Caramel Corn Puffs, and Original TV Snack Mix.

I was looking for foods that could be made ahead and frozen: Grace Church Mashed Potatoes, Dawn’s Breakfast Casserole, Frozen Cabbage Slaw, Madeline’s Frozen Fruit Salad. And dishes that could be made the day before and refrigerated: 7 Layer Salad, Hash Brown Casserole, Chili. Talk about Comfort Foods – this was the ultimate list!

House surrounded by snow drifts

But – then came the weather reports! Snow, Snow and more Snow. First, Son #2 and wife and Grand-dog arrived safely from St. Louis with just some nasty roads at the end of the trip. Son #1, wife and 3 grandsons arrived between the snows for Christmas Eve noon instead of Christmas Eve supper. They had a wild time getting here from 30 miles away and were anxious to return home immediately after 5 p.m. church. Daughter was scheduled to arrive from Kansas on Christmas Day, and she was watching weather sites and calling often. Things were not looking great, but we planned to wait to “do the presents” until she arrived. We so wanted to all be together.

Christmas tree in snow

The Christmas Eve Chili and Chili Dogs were a real hit, and we got to church on time. Sons #1 and #2 had volunteered to fill in for two handbell ringers in the handbell choir that I direct, so we went to run through the two numbers at 4 p.m. Grandpa and the grandsons were planning to usher and hand out bulletins and candleholders. But when we got to church (in the 4-wheel drive), Pastor said the Special Music person was unable to be there and the organist was yet to arrive. He talked the grandsons into singing a duet of “Away in a Manger” with a few run throughs, and the organist arrived in the nick of time. The service was beautiful, the handbells sounded great with a Fanfare on Joy to the World and a lovely song featuring Silent Night, and the grandsons did a great job on their duet. Sons #1 and #2 filled in for some choir members who couldn’t make it. (Grandpa thought maybe people would think that our family had arrived on tour from our theater in Branson to take over the service.) I am always touched by the light that flows from the Christ candle to all the worshippers in the pews on Christmas Eve. It is truly a special moment.

Daughter was still planning to come on December 26th, but it just wasn’t safe. We talked on the phone, emailed, and took lots of pictures so she could be with us in spirit. (We went to Kansas to see her the next week.)

Many friends and neighbors had similar experiences. It seemed that NOBODY had EVERYBODY there that planned to celebrate Christmas. Yes, Christmas 2009 was definitely “The Christmas that Wasn’t.” But the Light of Christ will still shine through 2010.

Dawn’s Egg Casserole

7 eggs
1 cup milk
4 cup shredded cheese
1 pound browned sausage or ham cubes
8 frozen hash brown patties
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

Grease 9-by-13 pan. Line bottom of pan with hash brown patties. Sprinkle with cheese and top with meat of choice. Beat eggs and milk with salt and ground mustard. Pour over. Cover and bake at 350°F. Original recipe says to bake one hour, then uncover and bake 15 minutes more. This is tooooooo long. Bake until center is cooked (knife comes out clean). If you bake eggs too hot or too long, they get rubbery. I just baked 60 minutes at 325°.

Small Town Dinner Date

It’s Saturday morning about 9 a.m. The temperature is setting records at 20 something below, and I can hardly see out the kitchen window because of the drifted snow from our 36” that has fallen since Christmas Eve. But I’m smiling a big smile!

Last night Husband took me on a date! Dinner and a movie! And I can’t think of a better evening out, even though “Cabin Fever” may have something to do with it. The weather has had a frozen hold on Northeast Nebraska all week. The mail didn’t even get to town for three days. I’ve been making yummy soup and homemade bread and rolls (see recipe below), and the power has been on, and the TV working for football games. What more could we want?

Downtown with snow

Dinner and a Movie! Would there be a move tonight? Husband called Marlene. We know her from Car Club, and she directs the choir at “the other” Lutheran church, teaches school, and volunteers at the Community Theater/Movie House. She said, “Yes, there will be a movie, and because we expect a small crowd tonight, we have permission to add a showing on Monday to make up for it.”

I suppose I should back up and explain about our Community Theater/Movie House. This progressive town of 3,500 built a five-million dollar community center about 1½ years ago. It is a great state-of-the-art Conference Center that is well planned and very flexible for use for dances, receptions, graduations, business meetings and even car shows. At the time it was dedicated, the town planned to raze the “old opera house/community building” that sits on Main Street. The Community Theater Group (3 shows a year) proposed keeping the building and using it as their home, so they would not have to share stage time and space with things booked at the new Conference Center. So they mustered support and money and volunteers and were able to keep the building.

At some point in the process the idea of showing movies each weekend came to be. Too many volunteers to count came together to make the building safe and clean, and install the lighting and projection equipment needed. A theater that had closed donated 250 theater seats, “if somebody would pick them up.” The slope is not quite right on the seats, but they are comfy and you have that reclining seat effect. Using all volunteer help, movies that are about 1 month since release and rated G or PG are shown four times each weekend. The prices are $3 for kids and $5 for adults. The Kids Pack of popcorn, candy bar, and pop is $3. What a bargain! This great community wanted a place for kids and families to go and have fun, and they pulled together and made it work.

Now, about our $15 date: First we went to McDonald’s and had sandwiches from the dollar menu and senior cokes. Then we went to the theater to join the expected small crowd. Oh my goodness! There were already 250 people inside, and more standing in line. Marlene came by, and went in to show the volunteers where to find the folding chairs downstairs. Everybody pitched in and carried chairs, and 351 paying guests saw the movie, “Blind Side.” We got to sit in the balcony on a folding chair because, as our friend Jo, said, as she took our money, “We know you won’t neck” – now how did she know that?

As we came out of the theater to –21 degrees and blowing snow, I just looked at Husband and said, “Isn’t this a great place to retire?”

Rich Bread Machine Roll Dough

¼ cup soft butter or oleo
4 cups bread flour
¼ cup dry instant vanilla pudding
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon yeast

Mixed together: 1 slightly beaten egg, 1 cup warm (70-80 degrees) milk and ¼ cup warm water.

Place in bread machine in order your machine instructs and set on dough cycle. Remove from machine, shape into 12 balls and put in 9-by-13-inch greased pan. Let rise until double. Bake 20 to 25 minutes at 350, or until nicely browned. These are so good and rich, you don’t even need butter on them. They make a great cinnamon roll, too.

Nancy and Husband are learning to retire in a small town in Northeast Nebraska. They have lived in 6 large and small communities in 3 states, and worked in middle management in Senior Retirement and Nursing Homes, Banking, and large Feed Corporations. They raised 3 terrific children and have 3 wonderful grandsons.