Granny Dot’s obituary: corrected

My birthday always brings my Granny Dot to mind (her 94th birthday was the Thursday prior) and I remembered an important omission in her obituary that bears correcting. My additions in bold.

Dorothy Birkelbach

Dorothy Lois Birkelbach was born in Littlefield, Texas, to Walter and Thelma Timian on November 5, 1926, where, according to her, “on the corner where the First Baptist Church is now.” She departed this life to be with her Heavenly Father on Saturday, March 14, 2020.

Dorothy attended Littlefield High School and Draughon’s Business College in Lubbock, Texas. She became a military bride on June 9, 1943, when she married 2nd Lieutenant Werner W. Birkelbach. She manned the home front while Werner went to war.

After Werner’s discharge from the Army in 1945, the couple returned to Littlefield where they started a family and founded Birkelbach Machine & Pump in 1955.

Dorothy was a devoted wife and mother. In addition to raising their three children, she and Werner welcomed nieces and nephews into their home at various times to help out their extended families. She loved to cook, and everyone was always welcomed at her table. She was a talented seamstress and enjoyed needlework and ceramics.

Dorothy was active in the Littlefield First United Methodist Church as long as she was able, singing in the choir and teaching adult Sunday School.

Werner was an avid sail plane pilot, and Dorothy loved to accompany him to soaring competitions where she made many friends in the soaring community. She once pulled an empty sail plane trailer from the Mexican border to Canada while Werner and his friends sailed along the ridges of the Rocky Mountains, stopping when they landed at various airports along the way for fun and fellowship.

Dorothy loved to fish with her family and friends on Lake Buchannan, Texas. She and Werner hosted many “Grandkid Camps” there. Her favorite food was fried catfish.

She was “Granny Dot.”

Dorothy is survived by her daughter, Terri Peel and husband, Bruce of Austin, Texas; her son, Randy Birkelbach and wife, Ede of Collinsville, Oklahoma; seven grandchildren, Casey Peel and husband, Dr. Daniel Nidzgorski of Seattle, Washington, Kelly Peel of Spicewood, Texas, Jonathan Peel and wife, Lindsey of Cedar Park, Texas, Staci Hamilton and husband, David of Lehigh Acres, Florida, Shelli Myers and husband Brian of Montgomery, Texas, Phil Birkelbach and wife Shannon of Waller, Texas, and Steven Birkelbach and wife Brandi of Pilots Point, Texas; eleven great-grandchildren, Kooper, Isabelle, Miller, and Weslie Peel; Dustin Gibbs, Clint and Hunter Hamilton; Jared and Charlie Myers; and Chase and Kaden Birkelbach; her sister, Betty Wilkinson of Littlefield and numerous nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents, Walter and Thelma; husband, Werner; and son, Kenny.

Granny Dot would have been 94 today

My Granny Dot, who died in March, would have been 94 today. I was born two days after her birthday and every year when I called her to wish her a happy birthday she would wish me one as well.

IMG_20150412_130126254Today I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies in her memory. The irony is that while I’m certain she made chocolate chip cookies at some point, I remember all the other types of cookies she baked over the years. Marfa Light cookies, Cowboy cookies, Oatmeal and Raisin cookies, and more. But the joy was in the baking and in the sharing the result with people she loved, and I think she would have been delighted in a chocolate chip cookie today.

Happy Birthday, Granny. I love & miss you!

Granny Dot died today

My maternal grandmother Dorothy Birkelbach — Dot to her friends and Granny Dot to her grandchildren — died today. She was an amazing woman who will be missed. I am grateful that I was able to speak with her this morning before she passed to tell her that I love her — I’m confident she never doubted that.

My grandmother was quite the influence on my life. Reading, travel, laughter, adopted families, crafting, baking — I see so much of her life reflected in my own.

She was always an avid reader and I have many books that she gave me over the years. She and my grandfather liked to travel, unlike the rest of my family, and I attribute my joy of seeing other countries and cities to them.

Always quick with a smile and a laugh, she loved fiercely. When I was about three my grandmother met a woman named Wally Watson, her husband Darrel and daughter Renee, at a soaring event. My grandmother “adopted” Wally as her own, which is how I came to know Renee — we’ve been siblings ever since. My Granny was always “Granny” to Renee. If my Granny decided you were family that was it: you were family, loved through and through. My Granny also had her shit list. It took a lot to get on it; it took a lot to get off of it too!

My Granny did ceramics when I was growing up. She always made the trophies for the soaring competitions held in Littlefield: beautiful soaring seagull. She made some for her grandkids too and it stands on our mantle next to a picture of my grandfather in his sailplane. Needless to say she was always interested in my pottery. She was also a crocheter, making me numerous sets of house shoes over the years. Something my husband Daniel continues to this day.

Granny loved to bake. Chocolate sheet cake, cinnamon roles, cookies, you name it. In college, and even years after, I would receive a box of homemade cookies from her every Christmas. Dozens of different cookies. Chocolate chip, oatmeal, cowboy cookies, Marfa Light cookies.

But her chocolate sheet cake is my favorite and the most memorable. Granny always made it when I would bring friends to my grandparents’ lake house. I never saw her make it, it always just seemed to appear when we walked in the door. Years later I would get the following recipe from her:

Granny Dot’s Chocolate Cake

Bake a boxed chocolate cake mix (Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, etc)

5 minutes before the cake is done, start the icing:
Melt and bring to boil 1 stick margarine, 4 T cocoa, and 6 T milk. Take from stove and add 1 box (16 oz; 3.5 C) powdered sugar, 1 t vanilla, and 1 cup chopped pecans. Mix well and spread over hot cake.

Imagine my surprise to discover it started with box of cake mix! But that was my Granny, not a pretentious bone in her body. I made a chocolate cake last night in her honor.

But the most cherished memory of my grandmother was back in 2009. My youngest brother was getting married and my brother and parents said that my (now ex-) husband Benjamin was not welcome at the wedding. They didn’t want us to be a “distraction”. I told my family that I would not be attending the wedding if my husband were not welcome. I had not yet come out to my grandparents, but it was clear I needed to do so before the wedding.

I called Granny Dot and told her that I was gay and why I wasn’t going to be at the wedding. I forget the details of how that conversation went, because I was a nervous wreck, but I remember it going well. I received this letter from her a few days after the wedding:

Dearest Casey,

It was so good to hear from you. The news you told me was no surprise to me – I had suspected the situation for a long time. I know you didn’t wake up one day and decide to be gay – it is an inborn thing and is natural to you but the average person views it as unnatural, because it doesn’t follow the norm. They need to stop and evaluate all the couples who co-habitate. In my opinion there is not much difference.

Of course I had looked forward to your children to love, but my love for you has never changed and never will. You are a part of me and Papa and we have always been proud of you. Just be happy and people will learn to accept the situation. I wish you every happiness.

I love you –

I love you too Granny.

Hello, 40

Today I turn 40. Far from being bothered by it, I’m riding high on life. I’m dating the most amazing man, surrounded by incredibly good friends and chosen family, living in a beautiful city, feeling really good about who I am in body & spirit, and looking forward to the years and decades ahead.

IMG_20181007_113941That isn’t to say that my life is perfect. My knees and back periodically act up, generally because of something I did at the gym. My metabolism has slowed down a bit so I can no longer eat with abandon. I expect this year will finally be the year I need to get reading glasses (I can’t complain after 40 years without glasses or contacts). The stress over the last two years about the shit-show that is our country hasn’t helped either. But on the whole my problems are of the champagne variety.

Thank you to everyone who has joined me through the last 40 years, be it for a few days, years, or decades. You have all influenced who I have become in ways I can never adequately convey. My life hasn’t alway been easy, despite my privilege, but I wouldn’t change anything about my journey and who I have become.

Thankful for Chosen Family

Today, and always, I am thankful for my chosen family. They have celebrated with me during my victories and supported me during my lowest moments. They will always and forever be the people I hold closest to my heart.

For those of you not familiar with the term, chosen family are those friends who are so close that they are like family — often closer than your biological one.

I discovered the first of my chosen family 20 years ago when I left home for TAMS and really began to discover who I am. I rediscovered others at A&M who have adopted me whole heartedly into their lives and with whom I chat every week. My chosen family made coming out of the closet possible, were my rock in that storm of my life, and they love me exactly as I am, imperfections and all. We dance at country & western gay bars, run half-marathons, play D&D & board games, and can chat about any and everything endlessly for hours. Not to mention traveling the world together and the ability to talk about literally anything.

My chosen family celebrated with me at my “wedding” in Texas, mourned when Prop 8 passed in CA, celebrated like crazy people when gay marriage passed in WA, and then celebrated again even more when it became the law of the land. My chosen family mourned with me and supported me through my divorce and helped me pick up the pieces. My ex-husband continues to be a part of my chosen family. As is my wonderful partner Daniel.

Members of my chosen family have travelled thousands of miles to visit me in every city I’ve ever lived in after college. They text or call me on every birthday. They have shown much more than passing interest in what is going on in my life, including excitedly asking about every boyfriend I have ever dated.

I am so incredibly fortunate to have the love and support of a small group of amazing people who I am proud to call my family. To my chosen family: thank you and I love you.

Counting to 4 … seconds

One one-thousand,
two one-thousand,
three one-thousand,
four one-thousand1

My Granny Pearl taught me how to count seconds. I’m not sure how the lesson came about, although it was probably counting seconds playing hide-and-seek. Telling a kid to count to 10 is likely to have them running through the numbers rather quickly. Telling them to count to 10 seconds, and teaching them how, slows them down a bit.

I’m not certain how accurate my second-counting technique is, but that cherished reminder of my Granny happens every few days at the gym when I’m measuring time while doing planks — and brings a smile to my face.

How do you count to 4 seconds?

And in case the song didn’t spring to mind when reading the title, I give you Feist sings 1, 2, 3, 4:

1 Alternatively, “one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, four-Mississippi”.

Retirement is wasted on the old

Youth is wasted on the young.
Retirement is wasted on the old.


Retirement. It’s the goal to which we all aspire. To gain enough financial security such that we no longer have to work for the rest of our lives.

When I started working at IBM at the height of the dot-com boom I had visions of retiring by the age of 30. Six months later the bubble burst and I was fortunate to have a stable job. What was I going to do when I hit 30 and was able to retire? I don’t know, but I knew that “retirement” was the goal.

For many people in the US, the magic age for retirement is 65 when Social Security kicks in to supplement your income. For others it may be a decade earlier.

But stop and think about it: why are we waiting to live until we’re old? Why do we think that when we reach retirement that we will be content not working? As someone in their 30s who has taken six months off work test-driving retirement, I’m here to tell you that we’re doing it all wrong.

Living in the now

I love to travel and have always assumed that I would do much more of it when I retired. And perhaps I will, but after doing quite a bit of traveling over the past 6 months I realize just how taxing it can be. Fast-forward to 30 years from now and how much more taxing will it be when I’m 68? Will I still want to be gone from home for weeks at a time? Will I still be able to hike up mountains? Will skiing in the winter still sound like fun? Will the mountains still have snow 30 years from now?

I want to take every opportunity to travel and live in the now while my body still works. While my knees don’t hurt. While I can still see and hear. While I can still remember things.

Every year I use up every single hour of my vacation and sick time. Some years I come skidding into the last few months with virtually nothing left and throw myself on the mercy of my manager to work from home for a few days around the holidays.1

It’s not enough.

A few weeks of vacation a year is not enough living, it’s still pinning hopes on retirement, biding time until that fateful day. I have to learn to live outside of vacation time, get more of it, or both.

Doing nothing is boring

One of the realizations that I had during my sabbatical was that I love to work. Perhaps not the 9-to-5 job in front of a computer for someone else, but I love programming. Creating something useful. Working with a team. Who’s to say that I won’t want to continue doing something like this after I reach retirement age?

What if retirement wasn’t “not working for the rest of our lives” but “working differently or working less” instead? My good friend John Martin retired over a year ago and has been doing some contract work for his prior employer. Not because he must, but because he enjoys it.2

Why can’t we have a better balance between work and living and stretch out both for longer?


My uncle died last month from pancreatic cancer. He was 69. He went from diagnosis to dead in 5 weeks. His father, my grandfather, died from pancreatic cancer at 83. My grandmother tells me that my grandfather’s father also died from pancreatic cancer. As you can guess, it can be hereditary.

From the American Cancer Society:

Almost all patients [who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer] are older than 45. About two-thirds are at least 65 years old. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 71.

I may not make it to retirement to begin living; I have to live now.

1 Thankfully, every manager I’ve had has been most forgiving with vacation hours. Also, I love working around Christmas and New Years because no one else is around which gives me tons of uninterrupted Maker time.

2 He recently came out of retirement for some great reasons.

Parental reflections

I spent the last two weeks enjoying some quality one-on-one time with my parents. We joked, we laughed, we reminisced about old times. We got caught up on happenings and ongoings. We crafted, baked, cooked, ate, played board games, unpacked boxes, fixed computer problems, and just enjoyed each other’s company. It was amazing.

The last time I hung out with just my parents for two weeks was the beginning of August 1980, just before my first brother was born. Needless to say, that was a while ago. Since then we’ve all changed and grown into very different people: from how we live to how we eat, from what we believe to how we vote. In some ways we couldn’t be more different, but it’s remarkable how we’re still so much alike.

I was also reminded of where I learned some traits and habits after having them reflected back to me from my parents. Many of these are great things that I value, like seeing how my Mom exemplifies the definition of hospitality and her excitement about a new creative project. Or see my Dad’s insane attention to detail, his tenacity with a problem, and how much he loves my Mom and takes pleasure in her happiness. I also saw some things reflected back to me that I’m not so enamored with. Little things that bothered me growing up and yet I see myself doing as an adult. Now that I realize I’m doing them, hopefully I can change them.

Perhaps spending time with your parents as an adult bears multiple fruit: those of quality time, shared memories, and realizing why we are who we are. The latter empowers us to selectively carry the best of our parents forward into our own lives without requiring that we take it wholesale.

Sonic cherry cokes

Those of you who know me (or have seen photos on Facebook) are aware of my appreciation1 of cherry cokes from Sonic Drive-In. But have you ever wondered what’s so special about them?

Let me start by correcting a common misconception: cherry cokes from Sonic are not simply the Cherry Coke soda from Coca-Cola. No, long before Coca-Cola came out with cherry- or vanilla-flavored drinks you could drive up to a Sonic and have those flavors added to whatever soda you wanted. Vanilla Dr Pepper – easy peasy. Cherry limeade (ie: Sprite with cherry and limes) – delicious. So a cherry coke is cherry syrup added to Coca-Cola.

The next thing to know about Sonic drinks is that their ice is awesome. The ice isn’t cubes or crescents but rather small crunchable spheres. They’re so popular in the south that you can buy bags of it directly from a Sonic Drive-In. I, personally, think that Coke is best served over ice and even better served over Sonic ice.

I really do enjoy the flavor of the beverage, but nostalgia is the real reason why I enjoy cherry cokes from Sonic so much. There wasn’t a whole lot in the little town I grew up in, but there was, and still is, a Sonic. And sometimes after picking us up from school, Mom would take us to Sonic for a treat2 and I’d get a cherry coke. Sometimes during the summer when I was working for my Dad in the print shop collating, stapling, and labeling newsletters he’d take some money out of the till and send me to Sonic to get everyone a drink in the afternoon.

With the exception of Seattle, every town I’ve lived in has had a Sonic nearby. So what use to be a “hey, lets bop down the street and get a drink” has become a “lets get in the car and drive 45 minutes to Tacoma”. Taking a selfie with my drink at Sonic and posting it to Facebook has become a shtick — one that brings me joy for absolutely no sensible or logical reason. And despite there being almost nothing for Daniel to eat or drink there, he still humors me and stops whenever we pass one on the road. That act of love also also brings me great joy.

While I know it’s just another form of artificially-flavored high-fructose corn syrup served over frozen water in a styrofoam cup3, Sonic cherry cokes have a special place in my heart.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but thankfully not everything has to.

1 Some might go so far as to call it an unhealthy obsession.

2 Bonus that Happy Hour with half-price drinks is from 2-4. Those marketing guys at Sonic are brilliant.

3 I cringe every time I think about it like this.

Celebrating with family

Yesterday was an amazing day for the gays. After the news broke, Facebook was all aflutter with posts and my phone was buzzing with texts from friends. It lasted all day. And yet at the end of the day it was very noticeable who I hadn’t heard from: anyone to whom I am biologically related.

That’s right, not a peep from any of my family-by-blood. Not even a ‘like’ on Facebook. This isn’t all that surprising, particularly from my parents, but it is noteworthy and reiterates to me, again, how much my family-by-choice is more a family to me than the one I was born into.