January 15, 2016

Border Crossings…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


I’m a cowboy,
On a steel horse I ride.
I’m wanted, dead or alive.
Wanted, dead or alive.

—Bon Jovi, lyrics

I didn’t quite know what was going on when I got back home from my little excursion to the hospital, back over a month ago. But I knew there were some changes coming. New stuff, new ventures into scary new places. And I’m a person of routines, stuck in my ways. I liked it the way it was, is my motto. So I wasn’t all that eager to walk forward, to see what all that new stuff might be. But I gotta say, this far out. It’s been rolling right along, life has. And I’ve pretty much been rolling right along with it. And I was right, about those changes coming. Some real strange things have been going on. Real strange things, indeed.

Where to start? Where to start? Right here, I guess. I’m cooking for myself. I mean, actually frying stuff up in a frying pan on the stove. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of my history will grasp how astonishing is this fact. I got lectured pretty hard, by the grave doctor and his nutritionists. Low sodium only. You’ll really, really have to watch what you eat. And you can’t go out to eat, much. Most restaurant food is gonna set off those fluids in you again. Which means you’re best off fixing your own food at home. Cooking. For yourself. It did no good, and I was too shell-shocked anyway, to make much of any protest. But I don’t cook. I never have. You might as well tell me to learn to speak Latin, or some such senseless thing.

It all was what it was, I figured. And I figured, too, that most of my cooking would be done in my crock pot. That’s the most basic way to cook any food. And I had watched Ellen, way back, when she whipped up a crock pot meal. It was all pretty simple to do on my own, later on. And that’s about the only way I’ve ever cooked, ever since I’ve lived alone, these past nine years. And that’s the first thing I did after I got home, this time. I cooked up a batch of beans and spices and a hunk of organic buffalo meat in the crock pot. It all came out OK, and I ate the mess. But I got to thinking, along about that time. There has to be something more to life than a crock pot, when it comes to fixing food. There has to be a better way. There just has to be.

And there was a better way, all right. I would have to learn to cook, at least the basics. I had the pots and pans, I knew, to fry up what could be fried. My kitchen is quite well-stocked, in fact. Many years ago, my father discovered some special cookware imported all the way from Denmark. It was made of titanium, brand named Pyrolux. I’m not sure why Dad got all excited about this particular brand. But he did, and he became a dealer in short order. There must have been some perceived health benefit or other going on. And as he always did in all his business ventures, my father went all out. He wrote about this new magical cookware in The Budget and possibly in Family Life. And he stocked up on dozens and dozens of pots and pans of every imaginable size and shape. I mean, there were large pans and large pots, all with glass lids. And there were medium and small pans and medium and small pots, all with glass lids as well. And I know the man sold and shipped out hundreds of these pots and pans to customers all across this land and Canada.

All that, to say this. There was a space there of about a decade, maybe from the mid-1990s on, when I picked up a new piece of titanium cookware every time I went home to visit. Dad offered his wares to me quite magnanimously, I must say. And I never shrank from accepting such a gift. Oh, yes, I’d love one, I told him when he offered. And I’d venture into his vast storeroom of inventory and help myself to whatever item caught my fancy on that particular day. And over time, I ended up with just about all there was to get, when it comes to cookware from the Pyrolux Company in Denmark. I had small pots and large pots, I had small pans and large pans and flat square pans and round pans. Even after Ellen and I were married and stopped by home to visit, I always asked Dad. Got any cookware around I can have? By this time, the pot and pan business had long been extinct. But he still had a good bit of inventory kicking around. And much to Ellen’s embarrassment, Dad always told me to help myself, which I did, happily and without any guilt whatsoever. “Stop asking him for free stuff,” Ellen hissed at me every time. Oh, he wants to get rid of it, I said amiably, as I grabbed another two-hundred dollar pot from a large pile that sat there gathering dust.

And so there was not a problem finding the tools to cook with. My kitchen is a gold mine of all one might need. I can hold my head high, there. (I’m thinking titanium has fallen out of favor and might now be considered poisonous. Maybe that’s why Dad had so many of the pots and pans available.) The problem was, what can I cook? I mean, I could not have been less skilled than I was.

I asked around a bit. Did some checking, on low sodium foods. And I found a couple of things I figured would be pretty simple. Eggs. And potatoes. And yes, I know. Potatoes are loaded with carbs. But that didn’t concern me much. I wanted something that passed my new low sodium test. And raw potatoes and raw eggs have no sodium, naturally. Or it’s so miniscule it might as well be nonexistent. I could eat anything I fried up, as long as I kept the salt off. Or at least kept it to a minimum. And so I ventured out to the grocery store one day. And there I found what I was looking for. Some red potatoes. And a dozen large free-range eggs. I bravely trudged home with my victuals. Now, to see if I could fry up this stuff.

And I gotta say, it all turned out. Sure, there was a learning curve, especially in frying the eggs. I busted the yolk every time, the first dozen tries or so. Eventually I figured it out. Just don’t flip them. Crack’em open into the pan, cover with the lid, and let the eggs cook. Over easy is how I like them anyway. The taters were easy. I sliced and diced and chopped them up, cut up part of an onion, greased up the pan with olive oil, and cooked the whole mess up. And lately I’ve took to adding some bits of hamburger or thin steak slices, chopped up. That all makes some tasty goulash. And it all makes for a delicious mess when you top it with a couple of farm-fresh, organic, over-easy eggs. I’ve been dining real fine. One of these days, I’ll be confident enough to cook for company, even. And for me, that’s saying something.


And no, not every night do I fry up eggs and potatoes. Maybe every other night. I beg whatever I can from friends wherever I can, and I have a good supply of frozen, low-sodium foods in my freezer. Soups and such. And I dine out at least twice a week. I’m pushing that line on salt, seeing how far I can take it. Still careful, of course. But not paranoid. And so far, it’s all been going good. Including my cooking. Which is a very strange thing. But it’s not the strangest thing.

And moving right on down the list, then, to the next odd thing. And that is the extraordinary fact that I have grown a beard. Yep, whiskers. And a mustache, even. Such a thing is probably just about the last thing I would ever have imagined you would hear me tell, a few months back. But now it’s now. Things aren’t the same as they were yesterday. I’ve been very leery of beards for decades. Never dreamed of having one, with one exception. The wheat harvest, back in 1986. I grew a beard out there in the wild lands of Montana and Alberta, because somehow that seemed fitting. Mostly, though, I was a lost soul back then. And that beard lasted only a few months. Once I got back to civilization in Daviess, off it came. And that’s been my only experience, ever, with a beard, at least that I can remember. Until now.

I’ve never liked beards, because in the world where I grew up, beards were mandatory for men. At least after you got married. In Aylmer, you had to grow whatever beard you could when you joined church. I mean, their youth have beards. Or did, years ago. I can’t speak for today. I’d guess that’s still the rule up there. And that’s fine, if it is. I’m just saying, I’ve never liked beards, and never seriously considered growing one in the normal course of things. You get burned out, when something is mandatory like that. You shy away from the hard and fast rules. And it gets to be a pretty powerful motivator, not to fall in line, when you got that kind of baggage on your back.

I’ve seen it many times, over the years, and I always recoiled from it. Some guy will break away from the Amish, married or single. And next thing you know, he’s showing up, not with a beard, but with a huge old bushy walrus mustache. Because the Amish can’t have mustaches. And for some guys, it’s just too much to shake off, when freedom suddenly comes. I mean, I understand it. But I’ve always recoiled from it. You see an old friend, or just some guy you know came from the Amish. Beardless, he strolls about. But between his nose and mouth, there grows a great bushy mass of hair so huge that you know it has to interfere with his food when he’s eating. I’ve never been able to grasp why anyone would want to do such a thing. But it’s OK. I’m over my revulsion now. I’ve come to realize it’s none of my business, the personal choices others make. And I’ve remained pretty much free of beard and mustache over the course of my entire lifetime. And happily so. Until now.

There’s one thing that happens when you stay in the hospital for ten days. You don’t shave. Mostly, because you’re laid up, and you can’t. At least, that’s how it was for me. My first Monday there, I had Steve stop by my house and pick up a few things. Including my battery shaver. He dutifully lugged it in. And there it sat, in a bag, until the day I left. You don’t shave, because you don’t feel like it. And half the time I was there, I couldn’t get out of bed whenever I felt like it, anyway. And so, by day ten, I looked at myself in the mirror with some interest. I sure had a scruffy face. I wasn’t sure how I was gonna get all that hair off with my shaver, or a razor. And it hit me, about the last day I was there. It’s grown, now, for ten days. Trim it up, and it won’t look half bad. And by the time my nephew, Andrew, arrived to escort me out of that place, I had it figured out. I would go and buy a trimmer. Because I would need one in the future, to trim my new beard.

And so far in, I actually kind of like it. It took some getting used to, I gotta say. I shudder to confess, though. I have a mustache. Gahhh. One never knows, when one is judging others. Some day, you’ll walk that same path yourself. Anyway, at my age, I got a lot of gray hair. So my beard is partially gray, too. I keep it trimmed way down, and neat. It’s a salt and pepper look. It all gives me a little more gravitas than I naturally have, I would claim. And it definitely makes me look at least slightly distinguished. Especially during conversations when I reach up and slowly stroke or scratch my beard with a wise and knowing look. With a beard like that, I think, you can fool a lot of people a lot of the time.

All that said, I’m not making any prognostications about walking about majestically bearded for the rest of my life. As fast as the notion struck me, it could well leave. To me, it’s nothing religious or moral or amoral, growing a beard. It’s just that I knew I’d be facing a new world, when I got home from the hospital. And for that new world, I’m sporting a new look. And that’s all there is to that.

OK, then. So I’m cooking for myself in my own kitchen, with my very own cutting-edge cookware. Bearded. Had you told me such a thing would be, six months ago, I would have expelled you from my presence. I would have told you to come back when your head’s feeling right again. And I would have done all this with a totally clean conscience. But things get stranger still.

I’m not even quite sure how it happened, just last week. I was strolling about in a department store one day, not really looking for anything in particular. Maybe some shirts off the clearance rack. I always buy my winter shirts around this time of year, when the spring clothes are getting stocked, and the old inventory gets way reduced.

I walked about, lollygagging. Looking at this and that. And then I walked right into a small section with several nice racks and shelves. On those racks and shelves were hats. Dozens and dozens of hats of every type. Spiffy little fedoras. Bowlers. English caps. I checked out a few with some interest. I hadn’t known hats were “in” again. They must be, for a store to stock a selection like this. And then I saw them, off to one end. Not really cowboy hats. Maybe you’d call them Aussie hats. Something like Crocodile Dundee wore, way back. Or Harrison Ford. A medium wide brim, turned down in front and back. And I couldn’t help myself. I took one that looked to be about my size and tried it on. It fit perfectly. But nah, I thought. I don’t do hats. I don’t wear hats. I just don’t.

And once again, my aversion to hats is something that can be traced straight back to my ex-Amish roots. From where I come from, in the Midwest, you don’t wear a hat if you came from the Amish. At least, that’s how it was, years ago. And since that time, wearing a hat of any kind has been just about the last thing I could ever imagine doing.

We always, always had to wear a hat outside, growing up. That’s the underlying issue. And when it gets drilled in you like that, you get burned out. And you shy away from it if you ever break free. I can remember many times, playing outside at home, gloriously grimy and hatless. And Dad would come strolling around, on his way to somewhere, maybe town. And if it was your turn to go with him, it was a big deal. And always, always, he said. “Go get your hat, so we can go.” And we did. Did we ever. A trip to town was way too big to miss, just because you didn’t have your hat on.

One of the most accurate scenes in the movie “Witness” involved a hat. The Amish mother and son sat there in the train station in Philly, waiting. The little boy asked to go to the restroom (where he would witness the murder that set things off). His pretty young mother smiled and told him he could go. The boy turned and was two steps gone, when she spoke his name, and he halted in his tracks. “Samuel,” she said. “Dye Hoot” (Samuel. Your hat). The boy turned back with an “ah, shucks” grin, and put on his hat. That’s exactly how it would have happened in real life. I’ve always marveled at the scriptwriters, that they got such a small detail so right on.

So it was from such a foundation of experiences that I stood there at that hat rack that day. Fingering that Aussie hat. Trying it on, and trying it on again. It fit perfectly. It’s hard to find a real hat that fits perfectly, I thought to myself. And it was a Stetson, a real honorable brand. And best of all, it was 50% off. Well, that’s what the signs claimed, anyway.

In my old world, it would have ended right there. With me toying with that hat, then setting it back on the shelf, and walking out of there. But the old world I knew for decades is gone, now. In this new world, I cook for myself. And I thought, what the heck? The new me don’t drink, and I’ve got a new beard. So why not a manly hat, for a whole new look? Those are the thoughts that flashed through me as I stood there, turning that hat in my hands by its brim.

Well, you can guess the rest. I took that hat right up to the nearest cashier. Shelled out my $23.00, which was half the listed price. And I walked out of that store with that hat. In my truck, I shaped the brim just right.

I wore my new hat out and about the rest of that day. And I gotta say. People look at you a little different, when you come around. Eye you up a little different, give you a little wider berth. And everyone is, oh, so respectful and polite. I’m not saying that’s the way it should be. But that’s the way it is.

Ira's hat

That evening, I strolled into Vinola’s, proudly wearing my new hat. I’d like to say I clanked in, but I haven’t worn spurs since my ranching days in Valentine, Nebraska. A few regulars lounged at the far end of the bar. I greeted them and took a seat. Pour me something exotic in a tall glass, I told the barmaid. Whatever you mix up with be fine. Just leave out the alcohol. That’s how it’s been, in my new world. I still stop at my favorite bar, to eat and chat. Not as often as I used to, just now and then. And I am very much welcomed. My friends at Vinola’s had heard about my stint in the hospital, and they all rushed around and hugged and welcomed me, my first time back. I can’t drink, I told them. At least, not for now. And they were totally fine with that. I harvested a lot of welcome hugs from a host of very lovely ladies. “Welcome back,” they told me. “And, oh, I like your beard.” I smiled and felt right at home, like I always do there.

And that night, my friends commented about my hat. Yeah, I said. I just wanted something different. Plus, it’s winter. You gotta have protection on your head. And I sat there, watching football with my buddies and swapping lies. And I ordered some food. A cheeseburger. They make everything from scratch, there at Vinola’s. And I tell them. I can’t drink. I can’t eat salt. They serve up the food, as salt-free as they can make it. And all of it is just beyond delicious.

After eating, I soon made noises to leave. My exotic, juicy drink was gone. My hamburger wolfed down. Time to head on home, I told my friends. And one of them asked me. “I want to buy you one for the road. Will you drink a cup of hot tea?”

Well. What do you say to that, sitting at any bar? You take what’s offered from a sincere heart, I figured. Sure, I said. I don’t know much about hot tea, but I’d love some. I called over the barmaid, and we had a little conference about what it is to make hot tea. Then, by magic, a cup of hot water appeared. And a selection of tea bags. I picked one and plopped it in. And waited while the hot water turned all murky. And then I sat there, hunched over the bar at Vinola’s in my “bad” new hat, sipping a hot cup of Earl Grey.

I shuddered to think of what Max Brand or Louis L’Amour would have written about such a scene. A couple of young toughs would walk up and insult me. That’s the formula. There would be words. Ha, ha, look at that wuss. He’s not man enough to drink real whiskey. He’s drinking hot tea. Shouldn’t you be sticking out your pinky finger when you lift that cup? Ha, ha, ha. I would stare them down, and they’d go for their guns. And I’d have to draw, lightning-quick, and shoot them both. All to prove I’m a man, and that a man can drink hot tea anywhere he’s darn well got a mind to.

I finished my drink, and slapped my friends on the back. So long, guys. And thanks for the tea. And walked out of the place. It sure is a strange thing, I thought later. My old routines got all busted. And here I am, cooking my own food at home. I got a new beard. I’m wearing a tough new hat to the bar, and drinking hot tea. And it’s been less than two months since I got back home from the hospital. I sure wonder what other borders are out there to cross. Or if I’ll have the nerve to cross them when I reach them.

I think I’ll have the nerve. Heck, the way it’s going, one of these days I’ll be rumbling down distant roads on my custom Harley.



  1. The hat looks good the beard looks good and they both go great with your killer stare. I would not have recognized you in public. Most of your fan club are happy you are still with us. Everyone needs to re-invent occasionally. It all really works for you. Take some cooking lessons,it can’t hurt, and it might be fun.

    Comment by Carol Ellmore — January 15, 2016 @ 7:23 pm

  2. Don’t worry about Titanium poisoning your food. They still say it’s safe to use.

    Comment by ken martin — January 15, 2016 @ 8:04 pm

  3. Congratulations on accepting your new life and dealing with it successfully. The hat and the beard look great, too. Be at peace! You are doing great and it sounds like you have a great support group.

    Comment by Rosanna F. — January 15, 2016 @ 8:49 pm

  4. My favorite part of this series of changes is the whole beard thing. Steve never could understand why a Beachy man is required to grow a beard when he marries, but forbidden to grow a mustache, since both roots sport the same Creator. Then, he just kind of grins and says something about that being just one more rule that’s tradition and doesn’t have any Biblical merit whatsoever. His biggest beef, understandably, is the burden of proof with women’s appearance vs. men’s. Reading this blog reminds me again why I am grateful that my children are not bound by the legalism that I was and the freedom that is found in understanding God’s grace and mercy as gifts without merit. Hoping your recovery continues to go well.

    Comment by Maria Rockhill — January 15, 2016 @ 9:04 pm

  5. Very happy you are adjusting well to the new you, you are doing all the right things. Please post a picture when you get that Harley!!

    Comment by Jayme — January 15, 2016 @ 9:48 pm

  6. I hope you visit your Dad in Florida in your new look.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — January 15, 2016 @ 10:35 pm

  7. As an Ex-er myself, I understand the abhorrence of hats. After about 20 years I finally got myself a cowboy hat that I occasionally wear. But I made sure it isn’t black and that it can not be recognized as anything related to Amish. I may be crazy but I will never never again wear a black hat (except in a movie setting). I was slower to get rid of my beard (I left at 37) but when it finally went, it is gone! And I love it! Good job, Ira! And Blessings!

    Comment by Lester Graber — January 16, 2016 @ 6:42 am

  8. I really enjoyed your blog. I think it is great that you have a new look, a good look as a matter of fact, and a new life. Cooking is not hard to learn. I married when I was still in high school @ 17 years young. My mother never allowed us in her kitchen to try to cook, so I had to learn after I married. It didn’t take but a few months until I had it down pat or so I thought. But eventually I got to be fairly good at cooking. I love to cook now and make pies and cakes. But I don’t because I live alone also. I just get by with few things. I go to the Senior Citizens Center and eat lunch, skip supper.

    Thanks again for allowing me to read your blogs. God bless you Ira.

    Comment by Linda Morris — January 16, 2016 @ 8:16 am

  9. I love it! Second chance and a new you! They go together. You cannot help but be changed. My suggestion is to pick up a couple of cooking magazines.

    Comment by Linda Ault — January 16, 2016 @ 10:14 am

  10. Great new look. With the help of the internet and cooking shows, you should be adding to your “things I can cook” list in no time. Glad that you are watching the salt intake. Fortunately there are many wonderful spices to explore. Thanks for adding your L’Amour version of the tea scene. It was great! Real men drink whatever they want….. tea included.

    Blessings as you begin this new adventure.

    Comment by Terri — January 16, 2016 @ 10:21 am

  11. Gravitas. I love it, and the hat looks good, too. Don’t worry about the titanium. I have a titanium rod in my leg, because of a fracture. They wouldn’t put titanium rods in people if it weren’t safe. (Well, maybe they would, if the surgical supply house had a big sale on titanium rods. :-) )

    Comment by forsythia — January 16, 2016 @ 12:04 pm

  12. Between your cooking, beard, mustache, hat, and your bar scene….had me laughing.

    I’m glad you’re doing better and that your sarcastic humor didn’t leave, despite everything.

    Comment by Kenneth — January 16, 2016 @ 12:14 pm

  13. Love it! And can’t wait to see the new borders that you will cross! It’s all good!

    Comment by Reuben — January 16, 2016 @ 1:04 pm

  14. I think that the re-inventing, mentioned earlier, that we do as we make adjustments in our lives, is a way to finally have the courage to be who we really are. Enjoy this time of growing up into who God has called you to be! His mercies endure forever.

    Comment by Kathy Dean — January 16, 2016 @ 1:07 pm

  15. Wow! sooooo handsome :)

    Comment by Phyllisitty — January 16, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

  16. What a picture! Ira the wise, stroking his beard. Now it could go either way: a Gandalf staff, or open carry.

    Comment by LeRoy — January 16, 2016 @ 6:54 pm

  17. A clean shaven Menn. bishop named David Thomas once stated the following:

    “If a man wants to strain his coffee and snot through the same sieve, it’s O.K. with me.” LOL

    Comment by Samuel Kauffman — January 18, 2016 @ 6:05 pm

  18. When one sports a full beard–together with a hat, it gives one a distinguished look. You certainly make the grade!!

    Comment by Ben — January 18, 2016 @ 9:18 pm

  19. Glad to hear everything is running smoothly and that you’re not getting fussed at by the doctors or nutritionists. Way to go! Change isn’t easy but it is possible.

    With the mention of a new beard I was thinking Duck Dynasty style. I had to get out my magnifying glass. New hair styles are always fun even if they are on your chin. All joking aside, it looks nice as does your new hat.

    In my many years of cooking I have found the following spices and vegetables to by quite flavorful: cilantro, sweet potatoes, acorn squash, raw onion, green peppers, raw beets, garlic, garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon, cloves, and cumin. I expect your taste-buds will get used to lower amounts of salt and start tasting the true flavors of vegetables and fruits. It’s amazing how good raw foods taste when you’re not eating much salt or sugar.

    Now, how about in the summer? Does one have to consume more salt?

    Good on you, Ira! Looks like things are well with you. God bless.

    Comment by Francine — January 19, 2016 @ 2:20 am

  20. Ira:

    Check out “Reversing heart disease and preventing diabetes by Kent Rieske. You can get it on Amazon.

    The diet is all high fat and very low carbs. We are talking about animal fat and saturated fats not trans fats that go into all junk foods. The truly high fat diet and low carbs will heal heart disease and either prevent diabetes or put it under control so that no meds are necessary. I use this diet and it works! You can lose a pound a day by following it and eat to your heart’s content. Get the book and read it and you may “cross another border”.

    Ron Stonis

    Comment by Ronald Stonis — January 19, 2016 @ 9:01 am

  21. Visited a Beachy Amish church a couple years ago. Most of the younger men were beardless, some sported crew cuts and most could not be told apart from ‘the English.’ Well now; that DID NOT work for their ladies – dresses to their ankles, etc. I asked one of their ministers, “What’s up with that?” Almost offended my new friend right from the gitgo.

    BTW, I like the new you, also.

    Comment by Jonas Borntreger — January 19, 2016 @ 9:50 am

  22. Great post!

    The older I get, I seem to be more open to new ideas. How is that? I always believed that people became more stuck in their ways as they aged. I take it as a gift, the ability to step out and explore new territory.

    The beard and hat suit you.

    Stay well.

    Comment by Rosemary — January 20, 2016 @ 6:19 pm

  23. Always liked the fb picture of you in your hat. Glad you got a nicer one. Now all you need are a good pair of Harness boots-you know, “ring” boots and a little stick. The stick to beat back the droves of women that will be groping you with this new look. HA. :D

    Comment by Lisa DeYoung — January 24, 2016 @ 9:43 pm

  24. http://www.findinghealthwellness.com click on “The Fat Summit” and listen to a plethora of health experts talking about some great stuff. Lots of cardiology talk and what doctors aren’t telling you. It’s free and it’s only happening this week. I listen to summits frequently and they are awesome. Your sister might get some benefit from them as well.

    Comment by Francine — January 26, 2016 @ 2:29 am

  25. Always love reading what you write, Ira.

    FWIW, I hear that olive oil is extremely healthy EXCEPT when you fry with it. Then it turns into a bunch of free radicals that spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E for your health. Better to use lard or coconut oil if you are frying.

    Comment by Jay — January 26, 2016 @ 8:52 pm

  26. Very entertaining!

    Comment by Sho — November 20, 2018 @ 1:52 am

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