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.


 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

My Time

 Ten years ago, when David had just turned 50, he would talk about retiring by 58 or 60 “at the latest.”

What a slacker, I had thought; even though I knew he worked hard, why quit when he’s still so young? Who does that?  

Every now and then I’d ask, “What are you going to do with all your time?” He’d respond by saying, “Whatever I want to do that day…I don’t want to be on a schedule anymore.”  I found this simplistic view incredulous! How could he be OK at home with no specific plans, with potentially decades left to live?

My only frames of reference at the time were my dad, who died a sitting City Councilman when he was 90, and my mom, who worked as his chief of staff until she called it quits at 80. They reveled in their work and would’ve been bored to death at home with no battles to fight.

Because I had always measured my days based on how much I could squeeze into them, as well as the joy I experienced crossing items off my to-do list, I just couldn’t comprehend David’s plan for himself. Perhaps, I wondered, there was an underlying reason, such as riding off into the sunset with his lovely lady 😊.

As life would have it, I found myself out of work at 56; David was 57 when he retired - even earlier than in his wildest dreams - and each of us reacted to our newfound freedom very differently.  

For me, this change came unexpectedly and was unwanted and caused emotional upheaval for at least one year, primarily because I felt the pressure to reinvent myself. Even though I was suddenly given the gift of time that I had previously craved, I also saw it as a big black hole that would swallow me up if I didn’t figure out how to make each day satisfying. Over time, I settled into a groove that worked well for me.    

In contrast, David’s retirement took him from “Work” to “Play” mode on Day One. It was eye-opening and impressive, I have to say, to see him transition to “the cutting edge of relaxation” so effortlessly, given how difficult it had been for me.   

When COVID hit, I watched him further embrace a home-based routine. I wasn’t surprised given how much of a homebody he is, but I appreciated his calm demeanor, especially given that I was somewhat nervous that, once again, I’d struggle to find my footing...but I didn't! 

As I reflect on why that was the case, I'm pretty sure that a few things came into play: Having faith that one day, we’d get back to some kind of normal; Living with a man who was happy at home, didn’t complain and even made me laugh at least once a day; and Most of all, learning to take life one day at a time.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

2 Dead Grandmas

In late April, I took my 3rd driving trip to the West Coast of Florida with my daughter’s mother-in-law, Andrea, to see our children, Allison and Dave, and their 11-month-old bundle of sweetness, Zoey.   

In contrast to our first outing, Andrea and I didn’t need to talk about much before we left, such as who would bring what foods/snacks, how we’d stay safe from COVID, who remembered how to pump gas from our teen years, or anything at all. Back then, we were probably nervous to be in the car with each other for such a long stint…Would we be compatible? Would we still be talking when we reached our destination? But by the second time around, I knew we’d have a blast. In all the time we’ve spent together, we’ve never run out of things to gab about.   

The ride back to NJ, however, had a bit of a twist with an extra anxiety-producing component, as we were transporting precious cargo…frozen breast milk, packed in dry ice.

This milk was to cover Zoey for the family’s 9-day visit with us/Dave’s mom that they were planning to make over Mother’s Day weekend, once they realized Hey, we are fully vaccinated, let’s go visit our families, many of whom hadn’t met Zoey yet. While they first thought she could switch to formula while in NJ, it became clear that taking the frozen milk home with us was the better option.

Even though in theory this frozen milk didn’t alter our actual strategy for the ride home – 10 hours the first day, stay overnight in North Carolina, and drive about 8 or 9 hours the second day – our unfamiliarity with dry ice and concern about it getting to its destination fully frozen for Zoey dictated our journey.

The goal was to keep about 280 ounces of already-frozen breast milk frozen for about 34 hours (a drive of 20 hours plus an overnight stop). If the milk defrosted, it would have a shelf life of 24 hours, so essentially it would all have to be trashed. That’s a lot of Allison’s milk and time devoted to pumping that would have been for naught…and how would Zoey fare? It would surely have soured her/their visit, given that Zoey has only had her mother’s milk in a bottle and loves the routine of laying in her Boppy pillow with her bottle at key points during the day, especially as she’s going down for a nap or for the night.

The plan to travel with the milk had been formed after a group effort on researching the transport of frozen breast milk. There were components of the plan that had to be figured out, such as: 1 – the amount of breast milk needed for 9 days and the associated quantity of dry ice required; 2 – the type of cooler(s) needed; 3 - how to pack the dry ice while protecting the plastic bags of frozen milk; and so on. On the home front, David was charged with cleaning out our packed freezer to accommodate the goods.

About 7 a.m. on the morning of our drive back to NJ, Dave met us at Publix, a Florida supermarket. He bought the dry ice there, packed and taped up the containers – about 2 cubic feet each – and placed them in the back seat, which took up most of the bench. He then said his goodbyes to each of us. As we got into our car to go, he mentioned something about the boxes exploding.

Andrea and I looked at each other and said, “W H A T ???” This hadn’t been discussed beforehand.

We called David (Dave was headed to work) who did further research and learned that as the dry ice melts, it gives off carbon dioxide; therefore, he said we need to keep the windows cracked so we don’t die from the fumes. While it may sound simple just to keep the window open a bit, when you're on the highway driving some 70+ mph, this means that talking turns into screaming so that we can hear one another. He also said to “burp” the Styrofoam coolers periodically so they don’t...explode!

Thus, the title name of this story…2 Dead Grandmas.

Our first stop was in Dunn, North Carolina, about 6 pm. We emptied our car with all our bags, the 2 hefty containers of frozen breast milk and organized our stuff on a luggage cart. While we have gotten quite good at loading and unloading, it remains a production in and of itself.

We opened our hotel window as much as we could for ventilation so we wouldn’t pass out or die from carbon dioxide poisoning, as we had been warned. By the time we got settled, had dinner, climbed into bed and began to discuss our morning plan, we noticed a couple of ants crawling across my comforter. These plus the ones we saw earlier totally skeeved us out.

After calling the hotel front desk to ask if they had another room available for us (which they did not), we once again packed all our belongings on to the luggage cart that we had just unpacked, and hit the road. These 2 grandmas weren’t dead, but we sure were dead tired.

At this point, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

It was about 10:15 p.m. when we got back into the car, and my adrenaline was pumped. I envisioned driving all the way home; we would get there by around 5 a.m. and that would shave off a huge chunk of time that the dry ice would need to stay in top form.  

An hour later, we reconsidered. David had called a few times with pleas to stop at a hotel and get a good night’s sleep before the 2nd leg of the trip. The reality of how exhausting it would be to finish the drive that night hit me by midnight.  

I was so hyper about the milk that I didn’t think I’d get any sleep, but I passed out within minutes of our unloading all our stuff once again in the second hotel. I told Andrea not to look down or around so as not to see anything unpleasant; just look straight ahead and dive into bed. 

After 8 more hours of driving, we arrived in Cherry Hill. I prayed aloud while Andrea poked around the dry ice to see the status of the milk…

F R O Z E N  S O L I D.

What a glorious sight…and an even bigger relief!   

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Tina

I am a huge fan of Tina Turner.

She has an amazing voice, with a presence on stage that could move mountains.

She is a singer, songwriter, dancer and actress. Now retired, her career spanned some 6 decades, with well-known early hits including “Proud Mary,” “Better Be Good To Me,” and “Addicted To Love." Later she blew up the charts with “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Private Dancer,” and “The Best.” She has won Grammys for Best Song and Best Female Rock Vocal Performer, Lifetime Achievement awards, an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in the motion picture “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” and another 50 or more nominations/awards/accolades for all kinds of work. 

Born Anna May Bullock, she was renamed Tina Turner by Ike, who “discovered” her by giving her a platform to sing right alongside him in his band…and then he took away her voice.

When the recent HBO documentary aired about her, during which she thanked her followers as she bid adieu from the public spotlight after 60 years, I was left heartbroken.

For the 15 years she was married to Ike – and during which they performed and raised children together – he tortured her. She endured emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse. Her childhood was also very disturbing. Her parents were abusive, and they abandoned her when she was 11. Finally, at age 37, she mustered strength through the study of Buddhism and was able to leave Ike.

It’s hard for me to picture this woman who is bigger than life being a victim and not going after him with all that power she brought to her performances.

One of the most difficult aspects of the abuse, she stated in the documentary, was having to relive it in interviews about their separation, despite repeated requests not to be asked about it.

Yet, questions continued. One that a reporter actually asked was, “When you were married to Ike, what was the worst moment?”

On what planet is that an acceptable question?

It seems so very cruel to ask Tina to go back to that dark place to share her dreadful memories, but I wonder...What is the impact of keeping all this pain and horror private? What does it do to the abused woman? All women? Her child? All children? The abuser? All abusers? To humanity?    

Without talking about it, the abused woman’s daughter could see such acts as permissible, even by a man who supposedly loves her; her son could see this as acceptable behavior for a man, even when he loves a woman; a child could think this is normal behavior for parents, and on and on.

I would hope that the abused victim would be able to open up to someone, learn of her options, get some assistance, and free herself from this harmful reality. She will continue to suffer immeasurably either way—keeping it private or sharing the details—but I have to believe that keeping those emotions simmering within is not the way to go. As for the abuser, he must be held accountable, whatever that entails.

However, since I have not been in her position, I have no idea if I would have been able to talk about such horrendous experiences - during or after.   

I have been using gender-specific pronouns but, in reality, anyone can be an abuser or be the abused.

While I am still cringing at the reporter’s question to Tina, I do think that, as a society, it’s better for us to be aware of the danger that can and may lurk behind closed doors so that the abused in particular knows it doesn’t have to be that way. 


 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Let There Be Songs To Fill The Air

Last week, I wrote about listening to music in the car, but where I hear the most music is in our home, thanks to David, who keeps me entertained all day long.

Whether he is hanging out in his main room downstairs or in a bedroom upstairs, I am always able to get an earful of whatever he has on.

He likes to play a variety of music these days, with jazz topping the list, whereas when I first met him, he was all about the Grateful Dead. This is a band I had judged in my teen/young adult years to have some kind of an underground, cult following, because I had never heard them on the radio, nor were they part of my concert-going scene or of interest to anyone I knew.   

Before I married him, I couldn’t believe that after years of poking fun of Dead Heads, I was going to end up with one. I wasn’t sure how this characteristic would play out in our relationship, given how much of his free time and energy was channeled to the Dead, but the rest of him seemed kind of normal and workable, so I figured…what the heck, I’ll give it a shot 😊

It’s been a fun ride living with a Dead aficionado for lots of reasons, the most intriguing of all is how passionate he and his friends have remained about the Dead for so many years. It’s one thing to be an MLB or March Madness enthusiast with lots of games and players to assess, but it has been over 25 years since Garcia died and the “real” Grateful Dead ended, yet the community and level of interaction among the fans is as strong as ever.

My kids always got a kick out of David’s Dead Head status, which was good for blended family harmony too, so I embraced it. He’d make it a game to ask them to throw out a date, any date, and then he’d name the specific venue the Dead played that night along with the set list (unless they didn’t play). As you would expect, Lauren and Matthew were more advanced with their knowledge and they’d kick off the game by reciting a set list, and then David would announce the corresponding concert location.

It’s all impressive, for sure, but N U T S, too.

He dates his love affair with The Dead to have started in the mid-1970s, when he and his childhood (and adult) friends Roger and Andy spent years in high school and college trekking around the east coast to see Garcia and the Dead wherever they played. Between 1977-1995, they saw about 150 Dead concerts and another 30-40 Garcia and related music concerts.

While they remain deep in the Dead world, these guys – and other friends David has made along the way with the Dead as the ignitor – spend more time talking about non-Dead related things, but they always go back there. What may start as a post on a Dead forum between David and someone he’s never met – he has tons of friends in this category - may quickly become a lively phone conversation with David energetically talking about shows, recordings, new releases, equipment to enhance the music, Garcia’s life and so on.

Over time, he and many of these guys developed an enthusiasm for jazz, which I initially found to be surprising – as well as relieving, I must say – until David explained that the improvisational nature of jazz is similar to the Dead’s improvisation between the written beginning and end of songs.

I welcomed the jazz for the change that it was but found some of it displeasing, as it came across as loud, disorganized, unsettling and not the kind of music I wanted in the background as I was relaxing. But then he introduced other pieces with a greater saxophone, trumpet, trombone and piano presence, and I was hooked. 

One day, I heard the most amazing tune that I recognized as a version of “My Favorite Things” from "The Sound of Music.” It was played by the crazily talented John Coltrane. Let me tell you this song is 14 minutes of heaven.

I was so engaged with it that David made me a CD of just this one song...sound familiar from my post last week about “Ants Marching” by Dave Matthews? I played “My Favorite Things” whenever I was in the car in my typically obsessive way – over and over and over again. I just couldn’t get enough!

This jazz crush of David’s is boding really well for me, because there is an endless amount out there, and so much of it is absolutely fantastic.

He may not have gotten here without the Dead first, so Thank You, Jerry Garcia!