Sunday, July 25, 2021

Old Friends

One of my dear friends who moved to Arizona over 15 years ago came to Philly last week to visit her mom. This led to a gathering at my house of four girlfriends who go way back, three spouses, and one  delicious Chinese food meal.

Two of these girlfriends are grandmas and two have engaged kids, so that right there is a lot to talk about, although we’ve never run out of subject matter, e v e r.  

We all congratulated the girlfriends on the engagements and began to talk about potential wedding plans for their kids but, before long, the conversation shifted to when WE were kids and got married. Can old friends ever get together and NOT talk about the old days?  I hope not!

In the midst of all the chatter, one of the girlfriends had a flashback of another friend (not in attendance) who was a bridesmaid in one of our weddings and transformed discarded fabric from the alterations process to wear as a ribbon in her hair – a very ingenious plan, we all agreed then – and now.

She also had a vague recollection of a lavender color for the dress and matching ribbon, and although these memories of hers sounded familiar, my thinking about them was foggy. We also haven’t seen ribbon girl in decades, so there hasn’t been any reminiscing with her or about this for a very long time.

Flashback girlfriend was pretty sure that ribbon girl made her stylish mark at MY wedding – my first wedding – but another of the dinner girlfriends didn’t think that was the case, wondering if ribbon girl and I weren’t friends during that time period.

It was up to me to break the tie, but I couldn’t. Was ribbon girl in my wedding, or someone else’s? Did my bridesmaids wear pink, lavender, or a different color?

I have tons of pictures with all these girls although not many of us at our weddings...but, then again, we didn't have smart phones some 45 years ago to snap a picture quickly, just disposable cameras at the tables.    

So how would we ever figure out the answers to these pressing questions? Then it dawned on me…there was a way we could know for sure.

I turned to David and asked if he’d be OK if I took out my OLD wedding album. As I expected, he said he didn’t care.

The men seemed shocked that I still had it, but the women got it. It is too important in the history of my life and my kids’ lives to dispose of this album just because the marriage didn’t work out. One day, my kids may appreciate seeing their parents so young, at their own wedding, with grandparents, a great grandmother, aunts and uncles, and lots of friends. But if not – and they don’t want it, because everyone says our kids don’t want our things – they can toss it.  

After flipping a couple pages, I had my answers.  

Ribbon girl WAS in my wedding!

And all the bridesmaids – other than my sister, who was my maid of honor – wore a lovely dusty rose/mauve gown.    

Dinner with my girlfriends was one of the highlights of my summer so far, and it reminded me of this  quote: “You can’t make old friends.”

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Maine!

I am so lucky that, many moons ago, David’s kids went to camp in Maine.

On the night before or after visiting day, or both, he’d stop at a lobster pound and devour an enormous lobster that he would tell me about later – the fun, gluttony and luscious nature of it made my mouth water – and that, coupled with his description of the beauty of Maine sealed the deal: one day, he and I would experience it together.   

Some 15 years ago, we began our Maine summer tradition, starting at Bar Harbor, where we thoroughly enjoyed Acadia National Park and the surrounding areas, as well as the charming Ogunquit, with its scenic Marginal Way and Perkins Cove. These locations left us wanting to explore more coastal towns and since Matthew, David’s son, had taken a camp trip to Boothbay Harbor and liked it so much, we decided to go there next.   

It was love at first sight for me, both exciting and immediately comforting, like an old pair of jeans, or a familiar smell that made me relax at once. Since then, the more I go to Boothbay Harbor, the more I want to go, and the more at home I feel.

For the past decade, our Maine jaunts have been divided between Boothbay Harbor and Camden, a picturesque town on the water, but once the innkeeper we knew and loved sold her B&B and two of our favorite eateries closed (including a fantastic lobster pound), we haven’t had the same desire to return.

After we were vaccinated this past winter, we felt encouraged to go somewhere we had sorely missed. We made our reservation for Boothbay Harbor only and I, for one, could not wait.

We were met in Portland after landing last week by a monsoon (thanks Elsa) and chilly temperatures (60s), but we did not care. We drove directly to our number one lobster spot called Boothbay Lobster Wharf, a working lobster dock where you can dine and watch local fishermen unload their catch. It takes some 25 minutes from ordering the whole steamed lobster to diving into it so, as I waited, I looked over the tie-dyed sweatshirts, picked one out and put it on immediately, not only to warm up but to help me remember that moment forever.

Once the lobsters were ready, I was so happy to savor each bite, made even sweeter as I marveled over the grit involved in keeping the lobster industry alive. It has taken massive efforts in every direction to maintain the livelihoods of lobster fishermen due to the challenges of climate variability and change, crippling tariffs, and other factors impacting every aspect of the business, and this was all before COVID created severe upheaval and closures.  

When we arrived at our B&B, everything looked status quo – especially with check-in time corresponding with low-tide and muddy flats as compared with the beautiful site of water during high tide. The proprietor welcomed us back with a nice big smile and then shared with us that the shortage of help has handicapped businesses throughout the town.  

Later that evening, when the rain let up a bit, I took a walk on the Boothbay Foot Bridge, the singular best place in all of Boothbay Harbor. This is a 1,000-foot wooden structure that connects one side of the harbor to the other, built originally in 1901 by Luther Maddocks for $1,500, with many renovations and repairs since. The views to and from this bridge are stunning, day and night, and feeling that harbor breeze as if we are walking on the water itself is just heavenly.   

As I look back at all the years we’ve spent in Maine, what comes to mind is not what we’ve done there, but how we feel there.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Blueberries!

 July is the start of National Blueberry Month, so the publisher/owner of the newspaper I write for in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey asked me to do a feature about a relatively small local blueberry and cranberry farmer who might really appreciate publicity this time of year.   

I was excited for this story given my love for blueberries, which I could eat 365 days a year. Plus, I’ve never written about the farming industry, and whenever I get an assignment that opens my eyes about something new, I’m grateful for that opportunity.

I called the farmer to arrange a time to meet at his farm. He seemed excited that he’d have someone to show around, given that they haven’t had many visitors since COVID. Before that, he said, they had given tours to school children and were open to customers, some of whom did not let the pandemic get in the way of their blueberry cravings.  

We came up with a day for me to visit, and he told me to come around 9ish. He gave me a quick overview of where he was located, but I told him there’s no need to do that; I’ll plug the name of the farm into the GPS.

That morning, I left about 20 minutes early, just so I wouldn’t be late, and this way I could drive around a little, maybe do some blueberry shopping. I blasted my Top Songs for the Car CD and went on my merry way.

I had always enjoyed the ride to Tabernacle because I leave behind the congestion of busy suburban traffic in favor of less traveled roads, open fields, woods and isolation from the rest of the world, all of which I never realized was so close to us before I started working for this newspaper.

Once I arrived at where the GPS instructed me to go and the street name confirmed it, I turned in to what soon felt like a driveway to nowhere. It was hard to picture a school bus filled with children or customers making this trek, even if these blueberries are something special.      

As it happened, this was the wrong road; while the street name was correct, a woman gardening outside told me that to get to the farm, I’d have to re-enter the same street from the other side. She tried to make it seem like no big deal, but for someone like me with no sense of direction and totally inept in the woods, I knew it was easier said than done.

The GPS continued to bring me back to the route I didn’t want, and for the next hour – which included my calling and texting the farmer, getting gas because that extra 45 minutes of driving caused my fuel light to go on and then getting so agitated that I had to get to a bathroom – I still could not figure out how to get to my destination.  

I was feeling somewhat embarrassed that I was going to be so late – if I ever got there – and I wanted to pull over and cry, curse, say Forget It! altogether…but that would be even worse for me personally and professionally if I didn’t show or looked like a wreck when I got there. So, I pulled myself together and continued my journey.   

And guess what?!!?? I finally found the place!

The farmer was super nice about it, and after a tour of the packing plant and a delicious dark chocolate cluster of blueberries he had offered, I was able to put the very harried ride behind me and get to the business at hand.  

While hearing him talk, I was aware that I had never met a man before who expressed such emotion and passion about his life and work. He’s a 6th generation farmer who talked at length about the importance of family support at home and on the farm, the dedication required every day and every night, the stress that accompanies this kind of lifestyle, the economics of owning a farm and much, much more. What he emphasized most of all, however, is his love for the land and not being able to imagine living anywhere else.

“If I didn’t have these Atlantic white cedar and pine trees and scrub oak around me, I don’t know how I’d act…There are folks who live in the city, and they think nothing different…They love the city…New York City would terrify me. I’ve only been in Philadelphia 3 times in my life…Dump me out here in these pines anywhere and I’m happy as a meadow lark.”

As he spoke, I realized he and I are opposites…dump me in a city anywhere (almost) and I’d feel more comfortable than I did driving around for miles and miles in the Pine Barrens.  

I wonder...what would explain this? Is it just because we grew up differently - he as a “Piney” and me, as a city girl? 

I think familiarity goes a long way toward shaping who we are...and who we become. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Father's Day Gifts

For Father’s Day, I wanted to find a special something for David.  

I googled Father’s Day gifts to see if there was anything that popped out at me. He’s one of these guys you’d say has everything he wants and if he doesn’t have it, he doesn’t want it, or he’d have bought it himself. But I like giving presents, and I know he likes opening them, so I started to explore what the internet had to offer.  

Good housekeeping ("60 Best Father’s Day Gifts 2021”) was one of the top 5 search results and the first I checked out when I performed this search at 3 a.m., after one of my bathroom trips that left me wide awake.

In prior years, my searches have been disappointing, because they have been so stereotypical of what people think of for men, yielding such results as those related to beer, cooking on the grill, sports, jokes and patting dad on the back with “Number One Dad” items. None of these  created any kind of spark in me (other than perhaps the grill) that I’d want to buy for someone I want to honor.  

However, this search on goodhousekeeping.com had some potential overall, even though I was initially discouraged when I saw numero uno on the list was “Cooling Pint Glasses” for beer.

There were all the usual culprits mentioned above, including a “Best Farter Ever” mug as the 2nd suggestion which, call me a curmudgeon, doesn’t seem worthy of this kind of list. There were some items, however, that caught my eye in a good way because, unlike others I recall from the past, they seemed to reflect the man of today: a gift card for a master class in a variety of areas including cooking, photography, music and so on, a History-by-Mail six-month subscription and a book called “100 Hikes of a Lifetime,” cool athletic wear, some electronics and lots that fit in the broad category of all things food. 

One thing that seemed way over the top was a scotch-infused toothpick gift set. That truly is for the man who has everything.

I found it interesting that on that whole list, there were only a few items that related to being a dad, including a personalized “Super Dad” book and a customized portrait of the whole family. I was most fascinated by the “Dad Hoodie,” a manly version of a diaper bag that a dad would wear as a vest, with or without a sweatshirt.

I still didn’t find anything on this list that I’d buy for David, or any of other items that I’d want for myself other than the book on hikes.

Given that I was still wide awake at about 3:45 a.m., I decided to scroll through the Mother’s Day suggestions to see how they compare.  

I was surprised and not surprised at the same time that the first item on Mom’s list was called “What a Difference a Day Makes,” which is a burlap print with the most important dates of her life, starting with the date she got married and then the date the kids were born.

So the first recommendation for dad is a frosty glass for an ice-cold beer, and the first for mom is framed artwork displaying important dates, starting with her marriage. Why is this not the first suggestion for dad, or why is the first suggestion for mom not a frosty glass for a cold one?

It was clear that most of dad’s recommendations are for his own pleasure, with mom’s being family oriented.

What did I learn from this hour-long research project? 

That, in some instances, the world has recognized the changing roles of moms and dads. In many cases, dads are doing much more than what used to be expected of men, certainly compared to when I was growing up.  

My guess is that despite these advances, stereotypes may prevail, with men being men and women being women…although we all might interpret this differently.  Hopefully I haven’t offended anyone by making this comment.

What did I end up getting David, you wonder?

An oldie but a goodie: a beautiful glass picture of his daughter and granddaughter, with big smiles on their faces.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Ironing Things Out

My girlfriend was having a baby shower for her daughter-in-law in the midst of COVID, so the party was going to be virtual. My friend had the idea of sending a plain white onesie to each of the invited guests in advance of the party along with some paints and other decorating materials. Willing participants would have the opportunity to create a unique design and show off their artwork as entertainment during the party and then send it as a gift for the new baby.  

She told me everything she was going to include in the bag, one item being a decal that would require being ironed on to the onesie. Then it occurred to me: how many friends of the new mom actually own irons?

When David and I moved in together, we had 2 irons. When my daughter and her husband moved in together, they had 0 irons.

Ironing is a part of my past from way back, when men’s dress shirts were worn to work every day and had to look freshly ironed and hard, as stiff as cardboard.

I can remember coming home for lunch when I was in elementary school to the smell of starch, and I’d be so excited. I’d say to myself “Annie is here!” and I’d follow the sound of the water bubbling in the iron as it turned to steam, and there she’d be, sweating over the hot iron.

Annie was my parents’ housekeeper, and she came to our place on Tuesdays. She always greeted me so warmly like she was genuinely happy to see me, and I think she was, because I liked to sit with her, especially when she was ironing. I’d watch every move she made with her big hands as she turned a wrinkly hankie or dress shirt into a crisp beauty. The transformation was incredible!

Now that I think about it, almost everything she ironed was white: my dad’s hankies, his shirts and even the sheets! I always admired the color contrast between her dark hands and the white surfaces.

Annie was very tall and didn’t say much, but when she did talk, her words were meaningful. She told me to pay attention to how she ironed, so I could learn.

Start with the cuffs and collar, she’d say, then go to the buttons, move to the areas below the collar around the front and back, next do the back area, and end with the front panels on either side of the buttons.  

There were plenty of don'ts, too: Don't leave the iron in one place on the item for too long, or you could burn the material; don't leave the material in one spot, or you could create creases; don't iron over the buttons but instead use the point of the iron to go around the buttons; don't use too much starch - use just the right amount, and so on.  

She would let me practice with my dad’s square hankies, and she critiqued me as I went along, showing me where to place my hands so I didn't get burned, how to fold the hanky if it was monogrammed, how to give a finishing touch to it once it was folded, and many other tricks she had up her sleeve.

Over time, I started to do a pretty respectable job, and then my mom would give me hankies to do on my own. I remember being unhappy when she went from buying all cotton and rather thick ones to some thin fabric mix that didn’t get so crinkly, because they didn’t require the focus or finesse that Annie spent so much time teaching me.

For the most part, my ironing without guidance went well, until I went beyond hankies and took the initiative of gathering all the clean laundry to iron. Included in this collection was one of my sister’s very wrinkly black bodysuits she wore for dance. It had short sleeves, with pink on one sleeve and a blueish-turquoise color on the other. It looked like it’d be a piece of cake to iron, given it didn’t have long sleeves, buttons or a collar. I pictured her being so impressed and pleased that I had ironed it for her.

Of course, if I saw this fabric today, I’d know it wouldn’t need to be and shouldn’t be ironed. It was nylon I think, with a lot of stretch.

Needless to say, the iron stuck to it and burned off the entire iron-shaped area. I remember the horror I felt looking at it in disbelief. It was ruined. I was so scared I’d get into trouble, and I think the joy of ironing was taken away from me right then, forever.  

I don’t recall what happened after my mom and sister saw what I had done, so it couldn’t have been catastrophic; however, whenever I iron today, I always have a flashback of that moment in time.

I do wonder whether ironing is yet another one of the skills that will not be passed down to the next generation.


Sunday, June 6, 2021

Beware of the Killer Table

For years, David and I have been talking about getting a new coffee table in our family room.

The conversation started when we began to babysit for our granddaughter Eliana, now almost 4, when she was just a few months old.

For years, we’ve had a heavy glass circular tabletop with a beveled edge that sits on a metal base, with a custom faux finish. I absolutely love the table, even though this is what David had in the house he shared with his first Mrs.

Just to give you a sense for the configuration of the room, the table is placed in front of the sofa, and diagonal from a chair with an ottoman. 

This room isn’t necessarily where we are most often, but it’s where we’d watch one of Eliana’s princess movies or a show that Ethan might like.

The issue we are concerned about is if one of the kids bangs into the table…OUCH (think cuts, blood and scars, my worst fears)…NO NO NO, Not on our watch.  

Last year during COVID we ordered some kind of upholstered ottoman that could act as a table, but the item was delayed three times until we cancelled it altogether and put the plan on HOLD.  

Now we are back to babysitting the kids and, with this duo on mind, we find ourselves ruminating once again about a replacement table that would be softer in a collision, just in case.

Last Saturday, I told David that by the end of the weekend, I wanted this issue resolved.     

I went to LoveSac, a new store nearby which boasts some pretty cool characteristics for their furniture, including the fact that it’s easy to keep clean. “You had me at washable,” I told the saleswoman.

The next day, I went to a few more traditional places, and while we could have purchased something, I wasn’t thrilled with any of the choices. They were either too big or too small, and one had a waiting period for delivery of a minimum of 4-7 months.

As I’ve mentioned in prior blog posts, it's important for me to cross this off my to-do list – and more importantly, to keep the little kiddies safe. I told David to pick one of these options.

"How about I wrap the tabletop in foam pipe insulation to eliminate the concern about the sharp edge?” he asked. 

Wow…Genius!

David had talked about doing this last year, but then the subject was dropped when COVID changed everything, and I forgot about it. Turns out his delay in executing it was due to the fact that we had stopped babysitting and he knew it wouldn’t take long to do when the time was right. He was also hoping I'd find a nice replacement, which didn't happen.

I’m not going to lie; this table is unsightly!!! It looks like it is in the middle of an unfinished makeover, like we just moved in and have yet to remove the packing materials off the table; however, I can breathe easier now. Plus, Eliana and I worked on a Frozen puzzle that would not have been possible on any of the upholstered surfaces. And when it’s time for Play Doh, this surface will be ideal.

It may just be a temporary fix, I'm not sure...it could last a month or a year or more...as long as the little ones don’t think the foam is fun to play with and start pulling it off.  

We shall see...


Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Lasagna Method

These days I have more time than ever, yet I’m consumed with saving more time than ever, especially when it comes to meals.

It wasn’t always this way; I used to embrace the whole dinner process, albeit lengthy at times. I’d start combing through recipes for creative and tasty dinners, which often led to a supermarket trip, followed by a long prep and often a big mess before and after dinner. 

Then one day I noticed our focus shifting, from satisfying our taste buds to clearing our schedule, as if we really need that extra time.  

In a nutshell, we’ve taken on “the lasagna method.” This is the kind of meal that can stretch and stretch and stretch…it can always feed one more hungry mouth and/or – more to the point for us – last for one more meal.    

This trend started without much fanfare, just by buying as big a piece of salmon as would fit into the pan, so we could have it the next day(s) or night(s) hot or cold, because we discovered we like it chilled on a bed of greens as well.

Then one day David came home from the market with 4 fillets of branzino instead of the usual 2, so we could have the same yummy meal the next night too, he said. The “experiment” went so well that now he always buys 4...While so delicious, even the second night, I can’t go past 2 nights with this fish; it is the kind of meal that goes from delicious to gross fairly quickly.

Now I’m approaching all my meals in this manner. Why make marinade for 3 chicken breasts that will work for 1 or 2 meals when I can make marinade for 6 breasts and multiple meals and have it hot or cold, whole or sliced? There’s even plenty for Shea Doggy to indulge in this way, too.   

This will work well with one of our other staples too: penne with red sauce, sautéed vegetables and shrimp. When I think of all that labor required for one meal, with few leftovers, if any, I am floored...Why on earth did I not think this through, until now?!??! There are also multiple mix-and-match combinations with these ingredients that can fill our tummies for the better part of a week. 

What does this all mean? We are only in the kitchen now a fraction of the time we once were (for preparing, not eating 😊) Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Don’t worry folks. I still love my daily shower.