Friday Fries

French fries are a miracle of culinary ingenuity. Where else can you find something so perfect, so incredibly delicious, so amazing in a few quick bites?

Which French fries do you prefer? Are you a McDonald’s fry fanatic? Do you put anything except salt on your McD fries? Of course not! McDonald’s fries are the only ones in the world that scream, “Don’t dip me in that!!”

If McD fries are hot and fresh, they’re terrific. If they’re beyond their life cycle and luke warm, they’re nasty. Ever gotten a bag of McD fries that were the crunchy burnt end pieces instead of real fries? You can break your teeth on those. Dogs love them, by the way.

Do you always look for the stray fries in the bottom of the bag? They’re actually the best ones in the whole bag. In their attempt to escape to freedom they fell into the bag anyway, but the effort shows they really are the best ones. The other fries just climbed into the box like most good fries do, followers instead of leaders.

My most wonderful memories of hot, scrumptious, mouth-watering McDonald’s fries was when I ate them with the old fashioned, huge, delectable cinnamon rolls McD used to have. Those cinnamon rolls were not twisted cardboard with crunchy white stuff on top. They were huge, soft, bulging with cinnamon and butter, made with real yeast dough, and smothered in icing.

I went to McD’s just for those cinnamon rolls as often as I could. I also ordered extra icing. Sometimes the icing dripped out of the container. I didn’t care. I could tell by the weight they had fully granted my request for more. I dipped the hot, thin, salty fries in the icing, and ate them. Then, I devoured the cinnamon roll and immediately started thinking about the next time I would get away to have another one.

Where do you get your favorite French fries? You might not have “Culver’s” in your area, but they have amazing fries. They’re thicker than McD’s and rippled. They require ketchup, not because they don’t taste good enough by themselves, but ketchup increases the delightfulness.

At a few restaurants, I have had breaded fries. Are you kidding me!? Breaded fries!? Maybe they don’t call them breaded, but they’re dipped in something before they’re deep fried. I call that breading. Anyway, they’re incredible.

What about “steak fries?” These are fries that look like small deep fried slabs of wood. Delicious.

Have you had cheesy fries? How about chili fries? I love cheese, and chili, and French fries, but not together.

French fries have different names around the world. “Chips” is a name that comes to mind. When I was young I had fries in a bag with vinegar on them. We were in Canada on a fishing trip.

I would love to hear about fries where you live. I wonder where “burger and fries” came from. Who decided burgers needed French fries? What about “fish and chips?” Whoever decided burgers needed fries and fish needed chips, I’m glad they made the call.

Thursday Therapy Thoughts

Mindfulness has been defined as “awareness, without judgement, of the world as it is, of others as they are, of yourself as you are.”

Awareness is described as “being fully present” in each moment. If we are fully present, we choose to listen and hear, and see.

If we struggle with constantly comparing ourself to others, mindfulness is a challenge. To be aware without judgement means comparison is gone. No more “I am better than…”, “I am less than…”.

Mindfulness. Awareness without judgement.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 20: The Bat Suit

Christmas in Maple Valley has come and gone. Intense anticipation in the weeks before Christmas keeps everyone in good moods and actions with lots of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year” greetings in the streets and shops. Hundreds of visitors came to town on The Old General just to take in the sights and sounds of Christmas in Maple Valley.

Just as they planned, Shorty and Hannah’s Ya’ll Sit Cafe was constantly crowded with happy shoppers looking for that perfect cup of hot chocolate which they were proud to provide. Christmas carolers walked the streets of town every night singing to visitor and resident hearts’ content. Carrying an accurate tune in Maple Valley, especially at Christmas time is not important. Tempo and tune mean nothing. Joy is everything, so, the range of talent and lack of it is broad and obvious.

The wonderful Christmas season was not without difficulty, however. If something is going to go wrong, it happens in Maple Valley. Everyone looked forward to the Maple Valley Church choir performance of “Hey Now, Hit That Gong,” the musical written entirely by Martha Hilmandy. After months of rehearsals, the time for the special concert finally came. The Maple Valley School cafetorium was rented because Maple Valley Church will only seat seventy-three people. It proved to be a wise decision because ninety-six people attended.

Rumors swept through town that what happened at the concert was planned. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Martha scolded emphatically. As if on some kind of cosmic cue, when the choir reached the point in the theme song, “…angels sing along, joining a mighty throng, swells the happy song, hey now, hit that gong” a table at the back of the room loaded with plates of cookies collapsed with a huge crash. No one would purposely destroy a whole table of cookies just to make a point. It was a Christmas surprise no one will ever forget.

As expected, Dray and Morella Grimhok won the Christmas decorating competition. Alvin Thrashborn was disappointed, but promises to win the contest next year.

An important milestone for The Old General is the test required by the Railroad Safety Administration. As part of the certification for the Maple Valley Railroad, The Old General must run two complete circuits on the main line, pulling six freight cars. The Old General only pulls three passenger cars at a time. Once the process is complete, the MVRR is approved to run for another year.

Running the main line is exciting for the crew of The Old General. The Maple Valley Railroad line is a fifteen mile segment with a few curves. The train operates between Whistleton and Maple Valley, moving forward to Maple Valley, reverse to Whistleton. Running The Old General on a main line for close to seventy miles is much more challenging, and fun.

Folks know how important it is for the Maple Valley Railroad to complete its annual mainline run, so there is a great celebration when The Old General returns to town.

A great crowd, led by Mayor Alvin Thrashborn, cheers as The Old General rolls back into Maple Valley.

The end of the Christmas season brought a challenge a few people suspected might happen. Indeed, it has. Last Tuesday, a man walked into the Ya’ll Sit Cafe and ordered a cup of coffee. As he waited patiently for a cup to be poured he asked if the manager was available.

“The manager?” Shorty asked.

“Yes, I’m looking for Shorty Cloverton,” the man answered.

“You found him, friend. What’s your name?” Shorty asked, holding out his hand.

“My name doesn’t matter, but this does,” the man said as he pulled an envelope from his pocket and placed it Shorty’s outstretched hand. “You’ve been served,” he said.

Shorty stood with confusion on his face as the man put on his coat and left the cafe. He looked at the envelope and read the return address, “Skellson and Skellson, Attorneys at Law, 1215 Wilingman Street, Moison, Iowa.” It was addressed to him.

Shorty sat down at the table and opened the envelope. Shorty Cloverton, Hannah Cloverton, Alvin Thrashborn, Quintin O’Dillmotte, Able Kafflen, Henry Brimmerton, Stew Hanmin, Harden Sievers, Pete Terkinberry, Anabel Wizzleby, and Wanita Havertons, all members of the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team, are named in a law suit brought by the family of Madeline Overweist. Mrs. Overweist was the victim of a bat landing on her face outside the Ya’ll Sit Cafe. She did not survive the shock. The suit accuses the team of knowing the bat problem existed prior to her visit to Maple Valley and did not protect her from the possibility of a bat attack.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner continues. Months have passed since she was last seen, and not a single piece of solid evidence has led to any knowledge of her whereabouts. But, there is DSL, the letters found scratched into the timbers of Three Tower Bridge. A group hanging Christmas lights on the towers found the letters and reported it to Sheriff Pete. He took photos of the letters, but little more has happened since. That is, until Christmas Eve.

Late on Christmas Eve, plates of cookies were found on the front porch of Pete Terkinberry, Alvin Thashborn, and the Cloverton’s homes. Each plate of cookies appeared to be homemade, and each had a small piece of paper taped to the wrapping with the letters “D-S-L” printed on it. Each spoke with the others, and no one saw anything. The plates of cookies just seemed to appear. No explanation.

Life in Maple Valley really is great. Some times are greater than others, but Maple Valley folks always seem to find their way through. Hopefully, this will be no different.

The Most Delicious Peppermint Mocha

I really didn’t think it was possible. Honestly. Finding a peppermint mocha, which I absolutely love, that is better than the ones I have so thoroughly enjoyed from Starbucks, was inconceivable. I don’t have any idea how many peppermint mochas I’ve happily sipped since I first tried one. Many Christmases have inspired me to buy them, always extra hot. Extra hot, by the way, at Starbucks is not as extra hot as it used to be. For a time, I ordered mochas at 190 degrees. Really. One time, when I reached the drive-thru window, the barista said, “Here’s your insanely hot mocha.” I loved it. Now, extra hot means the barista pushes a different button on the frother machine that automatically steams the milk just a few seconds longer. Not long enough.

In a recent post I wrote about our experiences in Holly, Michigan. Walking the streets of Holly is like a delightful trip into history. The shops along South Saginaw Street and Battle Alley offer a variety of items with a wide range of prices. My favorite are the antique shops, and there are several. During one of our visits to Holly, I found the best peppermint mocha I have ever tasted.

Coffee is an experience. Peppermint mochas are an elevated experience enhanced by a cozy atmosphere and heightened by the Christmas season. The Battle Alley Coffee Company, situated on the corner of South Saginaw Street and Battle Alley provides both. The shop is an amazing combination of color and comfort. The real test of any coffee shop goes beyond the taste of the brew. The biggest question is, do I want to stay while I enjoy my drink?

The shop invites you to stay for a while and provides several comfortable places to sit and enjoy.

The Battle Alley Coffee Company roasts their own coffee beans. Since the equipment they have in the shop will only roast two pounds at a time, and the demand for their coffee is so high, they do most of their roasting off-site.

Obviously, when you visit the coffee shop it will be decorated differently than when these photos were taken during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Whenever you choose to visit the Battle Alley Coffee Shop, you will enjoy an amazing cup of whatever kind of coffee drink you choose, and will want to stay.

During our visit when I made the grand discovery, I didn’t find the words “peppermint mocha” on the menu above the bar. I asked about a mint drink listed in the coffee section. The barista asked if I wanted the drink to be espresso or coffee-based. When I said I preferred espresso, she asked, “Would you like the mocha to taste like a Peppermint Pattie or an Andes Mint?”

“I’ll take the Peppermint Pattie,” I said.

While she began working on the large peppermint mocha, we wandered around the shop, taking in everything it had to offer. When our drinks were finished, my wife and I sat at a table near the front of the shop. I took the first sip of my peppermint mocha and I couldn’t believe the taste. It was amazing! It was very hot and delicious. I enjoyed every sip, from the first to the last.

When we were finished with our coffee and muffin, I went back to the counter to speak with the owner. I said, “I didn’t think it was possible.”

“Oh, did you spill it?” she asked.

I laughed and said, “No. I didn’t think it was possible to find a peppermint mocha that was better than Starbucks, but that definitely was.”

She thanked me and said, “The secret is, we use four full shots of espresso.”

I told her again how much I enjoyed the peppermint mocha and promised to come back. That will be soon.

The Harvest Coffeehouse in Frankenmuth, Michigan

For the last few months, I have enjoyed the delightful task of driving my wife to Frankenmuth, Michigan so she can meet with the student teacher she supervises. I always said the best job would be driving places and not having to do anything when I get there. I have arrived.

It’s only right that a blog called, “A Coffee State of Mind” would include plenty of posts about coffee.

The ambience of the place where coffee is purchased is almost as important as the taste of the coffee. When I visit a coffeehouse, I usually purchase some kind of mocha. I’m hooked, big time. Today I decided to go into the Harvest Coffeehouse in Frankenmuth. The coffeehouse sits in a prime location, right in the middle of town where folks are walking, enjoying all this famous town has to offer.

No one has to ask for a menu, it’s clearly displayed behind the counter. Most real coffee drinkers know what they want, so looking at the great menu is just part of the experience. In fact, real coffee folks would never let on that they don’t know what to order. And they would certainly never ask, “What is a latte?”

The real test of a coffeehouse is whether you want to stay after you get your coffee. If you feel like rushing out, then you might have good coffee, but you haven’t found a good coffeehouse. I can promise you, at Harvest Coffeehouse, you’ll enjoy both.

I ordered a “Peppermint Paddy.” I always order mochas extra hot, and this one was perfect! It was a delicious balance of espresso, chocolate, and peppermint.

The folks at Harvest Coffeehouse have their own line of coffees and teas. They offer several items for sale, all displayed attractively and within easy reach.

There are many reasons to visit Frankenmuth, Michigan. The Harvest Coffeehouse is a terrific place to stop for a fantastic hot or cold beverage and stay for a while. Of everything I enjoyed about Harvest Coffeehouse, beside my Peppermint Paddy, this was my favorite. Nothing I have ever read explains coffee quite as well as this.

Perfect.

The Detroit Model Railroad Club

For many years we had a tradition that took us to Holly, Michigan the day after Thanksgiving. We met with other family members from the Detroit area to visit all the shops along Main Street and Battle Alley. I was always especially excited to visit the Detroit Model Railroad Club in the old Holly Theater. The club owns an incredible O-gauge layout of unbelievable size.

The Detroit Model Railroad Club, or DMRRC, as it is commonly referred to, was organized in 1935. After dismantling and moving layouts several times, the club finally landed in the old theater in 1974. Club members have been working on the layout ever since. As everyone in model railroading knows, a layout is never finished. The DMRRC layout is a great example.

I remember when we first visited the club over thirty years ago, the dispatcher, who ultimately controls where and when the trains are allowed to move, sat in the middle of the layout on a raised platform. The layout control area is now in the balcony, overseeing the entire layout.

The railroad is called The Detroit Union Railroad and includes many towns and villages through which the trains move. The mountainous terrain provides an amazing variation of views as the trains wind along the more the 6,000 feet of track. All of the track has been hand-laid by club members. Each tie is glued in place, each rail is spiked to the ties by hand. Below the layout, in the basement there are miles of wire carrying power to the track and fully operational signals above.

The individual trains are operated remotely by “engineers” carrying radio transmitters. Decoders in the locomotives allow the engineers to control the trains as they move along the rails. The dispatcher speaks to the engineers by radio and the engineers follow orders from the control center to move their trains. Visitors are able to walk along the side of the layout and watch as several trains of varying lengths roll along.

The Detroit Model Railroad Club is an amazing source of inspiration for those of us who have model railroads of our own. Club members patiently working on this beautiful layout for nearly fifty years have provided enjoyment to thousands of people, young and old.

When visitors first enter the club, they are greeted warmly by a member who offers information about the layout and its operations. The first view of the layout is a fascinating view of the city of Dorrance. Trains regularly roll through the city, so it is a great place to get a close-up view of the locomotives and rolling stock.

Many years have passed since our first visit to the Detroit Model Railroad Club. It will continue to be a favorite spot for this old model railroader.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 18: Thanksgiving Day

It’s Thanksgiving Day in Maple Valley. How can there be a scandal hanging over town when it’s time to stir a sense of thankfulness for all the good things that people enjoy and take for granted? If only for a day, the folks who are still very worried about Sylvia Meisner are stepping back to spend time with families and enjoy traditional meals and skirmishes.

Mayor Alvin Thrashborn gave his annual Thanksgiving speech almost no one attends. He stood on the steps of the town hall, which is also the public library, and read from his notes he prepared last year. He mentioned his thankfulness for volunteers, business owners, neighbors and friends of Maple Valley. The mayor also mentioned Sylvia Meisner and thanked everyone who is still searching for her. Six people shook the mayor’s hand and thanked him for his inspiring recitation.

Quintin O’Dillmotte’s three brothers and their families are visiting from out of town. Sage O’Dillmotte runs the Colson County Landfill in Kwinhaven. He is very proud of the landfill’s notoriety as the largest of its kind across five states. Carlton O’Dillmotte is the curator of the village museum in Shilhauer. Harvest O’Dillmotte is the youngest brother in the family and has overcome a great deal of ridicule. Gordon O’Dilmotte, the boys’ father, farmed eighty-seven acres throughout his life and named his youngest son Harvest in thankfulness for his family’s greatest year on the farm.

Salvene O’Dillmotte, Quintin’s wife, prepared a beautiful meal of turkey liver soup, jello salad, homemade sausage, turnip greens, squash, and fresh fruit with whipped cream for dessert. The families do their best not to use the word “harvest” when they express thankfulness for the season.

Ver and Vee Burthrap make fig-prune-walnut crunch cookies every year to share with their neighbors. And every year when they discover no one is home, they walk over to Sheriff Pete Terkinberry’s house and give all of the cookies to him. Sheriff Pete expresses his appreciation to the sisters for their generosity and the next day he buries the cookies in the flower garden.

Shorty and Hannah Cloverton open the Y’all Sit Cafe on Thanksgiving Day from 7 until noon. In gratitude for the many years of business they have enjoyed in Maple Valley, they reduce prices on breakfasts by twenty percent. There are several people who eat free at the cafe on Thanksgiving morning. Shorty and Hannah never charge them because they know how they struggle at home.

Most families in Maple Valley stick to the familiar turkey dinner with all their favorite side dishes. Arguments always arise over whether the stuffing should be baked in the turkey or separately. The older of Maple Valley residents insist the stuffing must be loosely stuffed into the turkey. Others demand the stuffing be truly stuffed until it bulges from every possible turkey spot. The fight over whether turkey giblets should be included in the stuffing almost caused Gladys Kuerhing to stomp out of the house dragging Henry behind her. Luckily, Grandma Kuerhing won and the stuffing was delicious.

The Kafflen clan almost came to blows when Uncle Klem said Eliverna’s pie crust tasted like tennis ball fuzz. Able put his fork down and stared at his uncle, then said, “You sit in my house, at my table, under my roof, eating my food, and you say something like that about my Eliverna’s pie?! Apologize now!”

“Well, I can’t apologize for saying what’s true,” Klem said.

Standing up now, Abel loudly said, “I said, apologize, Klem, or you can get out of my house, now!”

Then Uncle Klem stood up and was about to speak when red-faced Aunt Wiletta, staring at her husband, spoke first. “Klem!! You apologize this instant and sit your butt in the chair!”

Klem Kafflen looked like a saggy balloon. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled as he deflated into his chair. The remainder of the Kafflen dinner was quiet.

Holiday meal time with extended family at the Shermer home is always interesting, and tense. The Reverend Shermer of Maple Valley Church eats while holding his breath. Although he’s not one to argue, it would be better if he was. His dear grandmother believes she is a blood and spiritual descendant of King David. She refers to herself as a princess and it’s always in third person.

The reverend can always tell when it’s about to start because Grandma asks some crazy question out of the blue.

“Grandma, will you pass the potatoes, please?” the reverend asks.
“Did you ever think about Melchizedek!?” Grandma shrieks.

“Mel who?” he says, knowing exactly what she’s doing as he scrambles for something to throw her off track.

“You’ve got gravy on your chin, Grandma.”

“When Princess Shermer comes into the kingdom, you will all be priests in the court of Kind David, and…” Grandma says as she gets that all-too-familiar dazed look on her face.

“Grandma! Stop!!” the reverend yells, embarrassing himself and his family. For now, the conversation has ended.

It’s been a good Thanksgiving Day in Maple Valley. Nothing has happened that wasn’t, at least in some way, expected. The meals were good. Most of the conversation was normal. Everyone thought of the things they are thankful for.

Giving Thanks – Day 17: Cereal

I’m thankful for cereal. Where would we be without cereal? Where would parents be without cereal. Cereal answers so many life questions, it’s almost a miracle. In the cereal aisle I’m like a kid in a toy store five days before Christmas.

What do you eat when you don’t know what to eat? Cereal. What do you eat after church on Sunday night? (Wait, what?) Cereal. What do you eat in secret between lunch and dinner so mom won’t yell, “Don’t eat that you’ll spoil your dinner!” Cereal.

What do you eat when you don’t know what to eat because everything sounds good when you’re going to sit on the couch and watch a movie? Cereal. What do you grab when you’re late and you haven’t eaten yet? Cereal. What do toddlers eat while sitting in their high chairs so mom or dad, or aunt, or grandma, or sitter, can get just five minutes to stop chasing the little one around the house? Cereal. What do you find when you’re looking for your keys under the couch or chair cushions? Cereal.

What gives you a little sugar kick when you don’t want a huge chocolate chip cookie (Wait, what?) but need something sweet? Cereal. What fits in your pocket so you can discretely reach in and pull out a delicious morsel while you’re supposed to be paying attention to something? Cereal.

What do you need on a long trip for a crunchy munch while you’re driving? Cereal. What tastes great when you’re bored? Cereal. What is the magic item that has absolutely no calories because you’re only eating a few at a time? Exactly! Cereal.

Whoever came up with these little gems was a genius. Kids today don’t know how special snack packs are. In the old days, the boxes were scored so you could open the side, then open the bag inside, pour some milk in and eat the cereal right out of the box! Incredible!

Cereal has changed so much! Years ago, the cereal choices were slim pickin’. Cheerios, Cornflakes, Rice Krispies, Shredded Wheat, Puffed Wheat, and Puffed Rice was about it, at least at our house. Quaker used to have shredded wheat that was a round biscuit rather than the more familiar crumbly pillows that are the size of a bundle of steel wool. A great variation to plain Shredded Wheat was pouring hot water on the biscuit, let it soak for a moment, then squeeze out the water, add milk and a good bunch of sugar, and it was delightful! (Delightful is a word I never used when I was a kid. I don’t use it much now, either, except when I’m writing reviews of restaurants we might never go to again.)

Cereal can be colon central without being obvious about it. Kids will never know that their insides are being messed with when they need help. Bran Flakes. Raisin Bran is a little sneakier. If you’re serious, Bran Buds. Now there are all kinds of bran choices. All with the same results.

The only thing I ever heard my dear grandfather say that might raise an eyebrow among the very, very old-timers was a joke. He told me, “A man went into a grocery store and asked the clerk, ‘Do you have Grape Nuts?’ The clerk answered, ‘No, it’s rheumatism.'”

Hot cereal is not as easy to carry around, but it’s still great. The generational favorite is Oatmeal. Not that I think it’s worthy of the trophy. Oatmeal has found its way into all kinds of recipes. Granola, which is cereal, sort of. Apple crisp. Cookies, including chocolate chip!

My favorite is Cream of Wheat, although corn meal mush is right up there. No one remembers Ralston, which was like eating a mouthful of hot grain. I thought Malto-Meal was nasty. The hot cereal wonder-treat is Cocoa Wheats. “Cocoa Wheats, Cocoa Wheats can’t be beat. It’s the cream hot cereal with a cocoa treat. Tastes like chocolate, smells like it too. Helps make you strong for the things you want to do.” Can you hear the music? Sure you can.

When it comes to cereal, there’s a lot to be thankful for, and I am. My sugary crunch favorite today is Golden Crisp. I think I’ll grab a handful. Yum!

Giving Thanks – Day 16: Coffee

I’m thankful for coffee. I love coffee. I always have. I really love hot chocolate, but if I had to choose between one or the other or never have it again, I would choose coffee. I think I was four the first time I had coffee. I’ve been hooked ever since.

I associate different flavors of coffee with places we’ve been. By flavors, I don’t mean Irish coffee, or Vanilla, or Hazelnut. I just mean the different flavors of coffee. One town we lived in had a restaurant called “The Junction.” It was a small cafe and their coffee was like a meal. It was delicious. We sat with friends for hours and just drank the coffee. I discovered they used Bunn coffee machines, so we got one. Not the same. It was good, but it wasn’t The Junction’s coffee.

During visits to Louisianna, in restaurants they ask, “Do you want light or dark coffee?” And they don’t mean with or without cream. They mean light or dark black coffee. They also add chicory which is kind of a bitter taste. It was wonderful. The spoon could almost stand up on its own in the dark coffee.

When we were in Australia, in a restaurant we ordered coffee with cream. The waiter looked at us like we were from another planet. They brought black coffee with a small cup of heavy whipping cream. In Australia one is supposed to order a flat white, a long or short black, or a short macchiato, among others. It was a learning experience for sure, and the coffee was fantastic.

Coffee is serious. Coffee is not something to be messed with. I don’t take trips, no matter how short or long without coffee. Almost every time I go to town, it’s time for coffee.

I think the very best cup of coffee I ever tasted was Kona coffee in Hawaii. It wasn’t just being in Hawaii that made the coffee taste so good. Kona coffee is magical. I can’t begin to describe it adequately. We’ve had Kona since then and it’s good, but not like that first experience.

For consistent taste in coffee, one only has to visit any McDonald’s in the country. Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, all McDonald’s coffee tastes exactly the same. Many years ago, they changed their coffee blend and it’s better. Before, it had kind of a burnt taste. Or maybe the people making it didn’t know what they were doing. No one ever says, “Hey, let’s go get a glass of milk,” or, “Do you want to stop for a tea?” It’s always coffee. Big decisions are made over coffee, not milk or tea, at least not in the US.

I remember metal coffee cans that were opened with a small key that was welded to the bottom of the can. You broke off the key, stuck a little tab through a slot in the key and twisted the key around the top of the can, releasing the most incredible aroma from inside. Perked coffee has always been my favorite, but I have to admit, the new automatic coffee machines are pretty great, especially if I need a coffee quick.

I think our first drip coffee maker was a Bunn we purchased forty years ago. I hoped it would taste like the coffee we had at The Junction. Not quiet, but really good. We’ve had several Mr. Coffee makers, a few percolators, and three or four Keurig’s.

I have to admit the ambience of the place has a lot to do with how good the coffee tastes. You can have a lousy cup of coffee in a great place and it makes the coffee better. You can have a great cup in a cold, drafty, bland place and the coffee loses some of its appeal.

If bad stuff is happening, coffee is a great companion to ease whatever it is. If great stuff is happening, coffee makes it even better. If I’m tired, coffee. If I’m bugged, coffee. If I’m anxious, coffee. (I know what you’re thinking – hey, can’t caffeine make nerves worse? Yeah, I know, whatever.) If I’m happy, coffee. Sad, coffee. By myself, coffee. With family, coffee.

I usually drink coffee black. But sometimes I treat myself to cream and sugar at restaurants.

I’ll let you in on some great places to drink coffee. Zehner’s in Frankenmuth, Michigan. There’s a place on Mackinac Island, Michigan, that was called J.L. Beanery. I think it changed hands and the name was changed. It’s still a great place to drink coffee, right on the water. Culver’s Restaurant usually has great coffee. Tim Horton’s has good coffee. We had breakfast at Omega Ham & Corn Beef Deli in Grand Blanc, Michigan, this morning. Their coffee is fantastic!

Of course, we all know Starbucks captured the market when “Friends” became such a hit on TV. That show started the coffeeshop craze that is still with us.

One more thing. I do drink decaf a lot, but not always. I have some Nescafe Tasters Choice decaf that I sometimes sprinkle on ice cream! It’s amazing!

Coffee. I love it. I’m thankful for a great cup of coffee.

Scandal At Maple Valley – Episode 17: Death in Maple Valley

I really hate to say this, but life has moved on in Maple Valley. Sylvia Meisner has been missing for five months. All the arguing has stopped, thankfully. The summer tourist season everyone looked forward to has ended. The Founders Day Celebration now seems forgotten. The Old General is being prepared to take visitors to Maple Valley Christmas Town.

Even though folks are no longer consumed by news about Sylvia, or the lack of it, the investigation has continued. Sheriff Pete Terkinberry has not slowed his efforts to either find Sylvia, or uncover what happened to her. He still pays very close attention to his neighbors, which is everyone in Maple Valley. Have any changed their behaviors? Yes, some have. Are any relationships strained? Yes, some are. Are any hiding? Yes, there are some who have been nearly invisible since Sylvia disappeared. Is it coincidence? Sheriff Pete doesn’t know, but he’s determined to find out.

Maple Valley folks have acquired a characteristic that is annoying. I don’t know if other people have traits like this, but it is unmistakable in this small town. Maybe it’s a result of being part of a well-known tourist stop. In order to be successful, everything in Maple Valley has to be boxed up and pretty. No loose ends. All the windows are clean, the eaves are painted, the sidewalks swept.

As I think about it, this might explain why so many people who come here want to stay. They all say the same things, “I would just love to live here.” “Don’t you just love it here?” “This place is magical!” “You are so lucky to live here!” What they see is not real. Painted boards rot. Roofs leak. Grass dies. Maple Valley isn’t just a showplace. The people who live here live every day. They struggle, are disappointed, and get angry with each other.

There’s another Maple Valley reality tourists don’t usually discover, unless they have the unhappy experience of a surprise visit. Maple Valley has bats. Say what you want about how much good they do, bats and people don’t mix, at least not on purpose. Just last week, a sixty-four-year-old woman from Conklin, Iowa, Madeline Overweist, stepped out of Y’all Sit Cafe, in a hurry to get to the last train leaving Maple Valley. Five steps outside the cafe, a bat landed squarely on her face. Mrs. Overweist will be sorely missed.

Last spring, Mayor Alvin Thrashborn commissioned a special task force to deal with the bat problem. He called it the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team. The group members are Shorty Cloverton, owner of the Y’all Sit Cafe, Quintin O’Dillmotte, owner of O’Dillmotte Funeral Home, Able Kafflen, leader of the Young Hopefuls Club, Henry Brimmerton, owner of Brimmerton’s Auto Sales, Stew Hanmin, town council chair, Hardin Sievers, village attorney, Mayor Thrashborn, and Sheriff Terkinberry. Anabel Wizzleby, Wanita Havertons, Velma Kreitzhammer, and Veronia Burthrap were all invited to join the task force, but all declined, presumably because of the force’s task.

The task force had their first meeting last March. Bats have been a problem in Maple Valley for as long as anyone can remember. This is the first time a task force has been organized to deal with it. So far, not much dealing has happened. The group meets together on the first Tuesday of each month at the cafe. The first order of business was to choose a chairperson and by common consent, Quintin O’Dillmotte was selected as the group leader. Henry Brimmerton is vice-chair, Stew Hanmin is secretary, Shorty Cloverton is the treasurer. The second order of business was to discuss why a treasurer was needed since the group would not have any funds to treasure. It was moved and seconded the title of treasurer would remain with Shorty, but it would be in name only. The vote was unanimous, the motion carried.

The monthly BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team meeting includes the reading of minutes from the previous meeting. The secretary, Stew Hanmin, takes very detailed notes, so the reading of minutes with discussion, motion to accept as read or amended, second, and the vote usually takes half the meeting. There is discussion of where the group will meet the following month, which is always the cafe, new business to discuss, nothing, comments from the public, nothing. Just about then, Quintin declares the meeting adjourned, and everyone goes home. This is the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team in Maple Valley.

That brings us back to the original point. Folks in Maple Valley like things to be tidy. Neat and clean. That seems to be the explanation for the unbelievable suggestion made to Mayor Thrashborn. The person who asked to meet with the mayor will remain nameless, at least at this point. He or she gave a piece of paper to the mayor.

On the paper was typed a short note. “Mayor Thrashborn, in the interest of the health of our community, and in order that Maple Valley may forward in a positive way, we (several names included) recommend the following:

“As of this date, Sylvia Meisner is declared deceased.”

The mayor was speechless, which doesn’t happen, ever. His face turned red. He stood up from his chair, walked around the front of his desk to where (nameless) was standing. Silently, the mayor ripped the paper into tiny bits and threw it into the air. He looked squarely into the person’s eyes and said, “Merry Christmas, now get out of my office!!”