Like many couples, Eldon and Nancy Muehling had dreams for their retirement, but they were not dreams of beaches or boats, or excursions to exotic locations. There was one place they wanted to be when their careers no longer dictated their schedules: Home.
“So many people travel when they retire, but this is where we want to be,” Eldon said about their home in northwest Lincoln. The walk-out ranch that overlooks a swale and the Muehlings' verdant gardens is no empty nest where the couple spend quiet days. It is a bustling gathering place for the couple’s three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild, as well as numerous friends who come to play bridge, participate in an annual hearts tournament, or enjoy one of Nancy’s famous tea parties.
When Nancy retired from her job as executive director of Lincoln/Lancaster County Habitat for Humanity in December 2012 she said, “I'm not going to go to Florida or anything like that. I’ll be relishing the time to be in my home and do the things I like to do there. I’ll never live long enough to do all the things I have in mind.”
Indeed “retirement” is only a word that indicates a change of venue for the active couple. Nancy, a lifelong lover of cooking, does some catering and runs a small business with her sister they’ve named Delia’s Daughters. They repurpose objects and turn them into creative and useful craft items they sell at Plum Creek Gifts. Nancy’s spacious workroom is filled with antique teacups that have become pincushions, and her mannequin is draped in one of her newest projects, an apron fashioned from a man’s shirt.
Eldon supplies the raw materials for Nancy’s enterprise. He makes the weekly rounds of garage sales gathering teacups, men’s shirts and whatever other items Nancy is collecting at the moment. He also picks up a few cookbooks along the way. By Nancy’s count, she now has more than 300, most of which Eldon got from garage sales.
Nancy has loved to cook since her childhood. One of her formative memories is her dad making her a stool and rolling pin. “In our family you were a woman when you could reach the counter and learn how to make noodles,” she said.
She also remembers the big day when her dad brought home a Dormeyer electric mixer for her mom. Nancy was fascinated by the mixer, but also by the small cookbook that was included in the box. She made nearly every recipe in the book and still has some of the pages.
When Eldon isn’t at garage sales or in his garden, he is learning to play the organ and still goes to his office at Pure and Secure LLC one day a week. He’s worked for the company since 1977, when he found a career that combined both his science background and sales skills. He became so successful as a salesman and educator for the company that produces premium water distillers that he earned the nickname “Dr. Water.” He has recently revised a book about drinking water purity that he wrote 20 years ago. “Pure Water for Better Living” will be available later this summer.
Nancy also has a published a book. “The Sweetest Things” is a collection of her recipes for decadent desserts. She often donates copies to fundraising auctions and delivers a dessert a month to the winning bidder.
Home is where the garden is
One of the biggest draws that keeps the Muehlings' hearts close to their home is their garden. Flowers fill the parkway and line the walkway to the front door. A rogue pumpkin winds its way among the blooms, the unintended offspring of a jack-o'-lantern carved on the porch last fall. In the backyard more flowers are mixed in with fruit trees and an extensive vegetable garden. This fall, the Muehlings expect to harvest their first crop of grapes.
Both Eldon and Nancy have loved gardening for decades. When Eldon was just a child he’d take the 10 cents he was given for a treat and buy a pack of seeds. Nancy wanted to build a rock garden at age 15, so her dad showed her how to mix concrete.
“With the garden we always have something to look forward to,” Nancy said. “We love the changes of the seasons.”
Their home is built with scenic glimpses of the outdoors from nearly every room. Knowing the time may come when one of them may need a place to convalesce, the Muehlings created a spacious guest bedroom with a large picture window that overlooks their beloved garden.
“A true room with a view,” Nancy said.
Their home was designed with both the past and future in mind. The kitchen is arranged around a replica 1930s stove that looks much like the one each remembers from their childhood homes. A panel on the vintage-looking stove flips up to reveal the thoroughly modern digital controls.
A cabinet that houses many of the games the Muehlings enjoy playing with their children and grandchildren is actually the wardrobe that Eldon used as a child. It’s a piece of furniture that ended up in a chicken coop, but Nancy has brought it back to life.
While their children and even some of their grandchildren are grown, the Muehlings’ nest is far from empty. On a recent weekend they were preparing for a visit from relatives, and making 200 cupcakes with a granddaughter and her friends that would be delivered to the Matt Talbot Kitchen. Nancy had jars of freshly preserved berry pie filling cooling on the counter, and scones and tarts ready for company.
“We feel lucky,” Nancy said. “I think we’re having the time of lives right now. We’re doing the stuff we love right here in our home."