Saturday, January 19, 2019
Watching the demise of Sears and Roebuck brought back memories of my childhood. At 6 years old, the Sears and Roebuck Catalog was my window to the world. I could sit for hours just going through the catalog. As a child, Sears was just a catalog and a small office downtown where Mama would go to pick up the items she had ordered.
As I grew up, my tastes changed, Google came along, and well . . . Sears was just a relic. I was never impressed by the retail Sears stores. It just wasn't the same as the imagination of an 8 year thumbing through 671 pages of "everything" in the world - at least my world.
But Sears and its catalog was a big part of American life for a long time. News Graphic wrote that the Sears catalog, "serves as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living." From the 1890's until 1993, the catalog offered everyone in America a "Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone and the "Cheapest Supply House on Earth", claiming that "Our trade reaches around the World."
And they were not kidding, 1898 Sears offered "Female Pills for Weak Women".
The 1902 catalog featured the "Giant Power Heidelberg Electric Belt" for men. Touted as "The most wonderful relief and cure of all chronic and nervous diseases."
The Fall catalog of 1909 offered - "The Sears Motor Buggy [boasting] speeds of up to 25 miles per hour and operation so simple even a child could do it."
And, chicks in 1942. Who knew?
And then there were the "fashions" of 1973.
But, tonics, cars, chicks, and fashions aside, my best memories of Sears was in the late fall when the Wish Book arrived - that magical book with every game, toy, and doll that ever existed in the world - well at least in my world. My brother and I would fight over the Wish Book, each of us circling our dream gifts with a blue pen. The corners of dozens of pages were turned down as place markers for treasures that we wanted to add to Santa's list.
One writer reminisced - "There were chapters on wrenches and telescopes, on air hockey and grandfather clocks; there were “Star Wars” action figures I never saw in actual stores, and screenshots of video games that I would never see again, and images of disturbingly cooperative families playing board games."
To this day, there is one item, actually an entire page, that I wished and dreamed of and pleaded for. I can remember it like it was yesterday - the Little Hostess Buffet. But, it was never to be. Neither Santa Claus nor my parents shared my enthusiasm. They could not relate to my "I'll just die if I don't get it" feelings. If I just had this incredible piece and all its accouterments, I would be set for life. Oh, the parties I could plan, the friends I could entertain, the tables I could set. But it was not to be. It never arrived.
Perhaps the price of $13.47 ($103.72 in today's world) had something to do with it.
To this day, I love to entertain, especially with china and crystal and silver. Looking back on that 1964 catalog, I'm not sure not getting my Little Hostess Buffet made me destined to imagine tablescapes, collect linen napkins, amass sets of China and sterling or, perhaps, my wish for such a "toy" was a prophecy of a life long enjoyment of entertaining.
Is yesterday's Sears Catalog today's Amazon? If so, maybe it is nostalgia, but having the catalog (often hidden beneath my bed to keep it from my brother) was much more rewarding than scrolling through screens and web pages. After all, it is hard to circle what I want on line with a blue Bic pen.
Monday, January 14, 2019
Ever wondered the origin of the term "Pick your poison"? Well, here you go:
"The origin is simply that since the mid-19th century "poison" has been slang for alcoholic drink (in Australia a pub was known as a "poison-shop"). This may refer to the Latin root "toxicum" (meaning "poison") of the word "intoxicate", or it may just be a reference [to] the bad effects of excessive drinking. Thus the phrases "what's your poison?" "Pick your poison" and "choose your poison" arose naturally. There is no reference to any historic incident, and no connection with Aristotle or Henry VIII, neither of whom was either poisoned, or poisoned anybody!"*
My poison of choice is gin. Unlike Vodka that is traditionally made from potatoes, but can be produced from virtually any fermentable ingredient that are filled with starch or sugar (mainly wheat, rye or corn), Rum distilled from fermented sugarcane byproducts, such as molasses, Bourbon - which is made from distilled corn, wheat and either wheat or rye, Scotch from malted barley, Irish Whiskey from both malted and unmalted barley - Gin is made from botanicals, such as juniper, coriander, citrus peel, cinnamon, almond or liquorice along with florals (Angelica archangelica, chamomile and elderflower, Rhodiola Rosea, rose petals).
The uninitiated will comment that gin tastes like "gasoline", "mouthwash", or "pine needles". Wait, have patience grasshopper. Unlike tasteless vodka, a gin is complex, floral, spicy, citrusy.
My first gin was Beefeater. In college I was introduced to Boodles, not that I could afford it, but I enjoyed the bottle or 2 I received as gifts. Later on Bombay introduced their Blue Sapphire, which has nice citrus and juniper notes. What I enjoy most these days is Tanqueray's Rangpur.
This unique gin is infused with Rangpur limes. Actually, a "Rangpur Lime" is not really a lime, rather a hybrid between the mandarin orange and the citron. It looks like an orange but has a strong citrus lime flavor. All this gives the gin a great lime flavor (along with floral notes) even before one adds the tonic and slice of lime.
During our most recent annual "Girls trip to New York", we found ourselves spending most of a miserable cold rainy afternoon in an Irish pub. When you put 3 southern women at the bar in a New York Irish pub, things get very interesting. But, I digress.
An hour or so into the afternoon, I noticed this blue barrel shaped bottle among the other bottles of gin. I inquired of Mike, our friendly bartender, what it was. He brought the bottle over - Gunpowder Irish Gin. Never heard of it. Irish gin? (But then what else would one expect in a true Irish pub?) Always willing to venture out, I ordered a Gunpowder G&T. The anise and berry notes along with a light lemon background are mixed with aromatic florals. Wow!
I am not encouraging alcohol consumption by any means. Consuming alcoholic beverages should be more than just intoxication. It should be serious, responsible, and enjoyable. You can enjoy a good small batch Bourbon, savor a good peaty Scotch, sip an Irish Whiskey, or whatever one does with Vodka. Or you can appreciate the complex subtleties of a fine gin - just saying.
As a side note, a G&T was the Queen Mum's adult beverage of choice - the underlying basis of her 'Big Red Bus' quote - and she lived to be a 101.
* Quoted from The Phrase Finder.
Saturday, January 12, 2019
Operation Gonna Get My Waste Back is moving along. That is until someone shows up with a homemade coconut cake - then the jury is out.
My love for a good coconut cake brings back memories of my Grandmama and her kitchen - that magical place. I know most of us have fond memories of our grandmothers and the delight that came from their kitchens - especially that one thing everyone at the family union waited for with bated breath. In my case, that was her coconut cake.
Unfortunately that cake went to the grave with her. I have never been able to recreate that perfect culinary creation. Oh, I have a recipe (on a 3 x 5 slightly stained note card) in her hand writing, no less. Try as I might this luscious splendid gâteau, eludes me.
Even using the exact ingredients - down to her traditional Red Band Flour, I cannot recreate that light fluffy cake. But, I think with 10 - 12 more attempts, I can probably produce the lighter than air yellow cake as I remembered. The icing, however, continues to challenge me. Even using a traditional double boiler and hand mixer, I have yet to get it right.
Not that I am bragging, but I pride myself on my cooking - baking included. I conquered the Lemon Doberge cake, if I must say, on my first attempt. Even though at first glance, the recipe of 5 layers of a rich white cake, each layer separated with sweet, yet tart, lemon custard, all covered with a very fluffy butter cream icing having just enough zest to give it a wisp of heavenly lemon flavor, was initially daunting.
But not Grandmama's coconut cake. Perhaps it is not to be. My baking days have been put on hold for a while - a long while. After all, who can seriously bake without constantly tasting each step to ensure perfection. Well, not me.
Grandmama's kitchen produced more than the most memorable coconut cake. Her fried chicken was to die for. Her macaroni and cheese, not to be confused with the "Blue Box" kind, was a thick deep, serious dish of lots of cheese, butter, macaroni noodles, and eggs, baked to perfection. She prepared fresh vegetables from her garden like no other. She was able to perfectly cook, bake, smother, or fry any of the wild game and fish my Granddaddy was always bringing home. My childhood in her kitchen gave me a love for fresh game - cooked right!
And, her crowning glory (just 2nd to the coconut cake) were her biscuits. Those small light fluffy pieces of delight, rich with Crisco and Red Band Flour, were loved by all of us. So much so, that the covered aluminum pan sitting on the dinner table at every meal, holding her biscuits, was the one item all 5 of her grandchildren fought for after she died. In our minds, this container alone was a secret ingredient. (No doubt, my loss in the scramble for the magical container is the one thing that keeps me short of perfect replication of her biscuits.)
Meanwhile, back to my bike. Operation GGMWB continues. And this does not include a coconut nor a Doberge cake, biscuits or gravy smothered doves. Oh, to what depths vanity will drive us! One desire (more like delusion) is that the success of my most recent project will be the ability to enjoy these delights once again. They say moderation is the secret to success. But seriously, does "moderation" mean the tease of a very small piece or just not going back for seconds?
Come to think of it, anything that is suggested to be consumed in moderation, must be worth more. After all, life is short, why moderate. One of my favorite quotes from the late Queen Mum was, "Wouldn’t it be terrible if you’d spent all your life doing everything you were supposed to do, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t eat things, took lots of exercise, and suddenly, one day, you were run over by a big red bus and, as the wheels were crunching into you, you’d say, 'Oh my God, I could have got so drunk last night.' That’s the way you should live your life, as if tomorrow you’ll be run over by a big red bus."
Given she had a full life, was adored by everyone, and lived to be 101, perhaps she had it right. The secret of getting the most from your life may not be moderation per se, but moderating what you moderate.
Thursday, January 10, 2019
I have always had a war going on with my weight. Many years ago, when I finally faced reality that 18 Petite was not an oxymoron. And, just because the magical word "Petite" was part of my dress size, the concept of "smaller" did not apply. I am 5' 2'' and found myself weighing 190 lbs. It was not pretty. It took me 6 to 7 years to lose the weight. I was obsessed with my weight. I weighed myself every morning. If I was at the top of my 4 lb acceptable range, I carefully watched what I ate.
Unfortunately, in the past 2 years I have found that, not only have I passed out of my optimal range, I am 16 pounds above it. However, I insist on not buying larger clothes. My tight, uncomfortable size 6 clothes remind me daily that I have a problem, a big problem - and it is not getting better. Even though my clothes have stretched a bit, I have to face reality.
After trying to blame it on medication, age, and every other reason I could come up with, I need to face the facts. Once again, I am over weight and it is not getting better. Sure, I have tried every "quick fix" diet I could find. I tried eating small meals through out the day, then eating only the 3 main meals - no snacking. No fats then no carbs. Fasting. But nothing helped.
So, like 90% of folks around the world, I have made a New Year's resolution. I would guess that 75% of that 90% have the same goal - to loose weight. According to the facts (tabulated by those experts "who know") only 15% of those with such lofty goals, will succeed. But, I have been here before, and it is not pretty. It does not feel good. The optics are even worse.
Now that I am determined to fight the battle of the bulge once again, I need a plan. Naturally a sensible diet is the initial move. I have given up my beloved Lime Diet Coke after reading that diet soft drinks do not aid in weight loss, in fact can lead to weight gain - seriously? And, we all know "metabolism" can be a non Catholic's form of guilt. When it is slow, it undermines everything in one's life - oh, the inhumanity!
But, I need exercise. Unlike any job I have had in the past - in my current position I do not move. Given my schedule, a gym is out of the question. Even if it were, there is not one close enough to be feasible. In Charleston, I was walking the pups 3 times a day - that forced me out on the sidewalk in constant motion, despite the heat, the cold, the rain, and dark of night. Thanks to a back yard and a doggy door, that forced exercise is gone.
I love bike riding and have a great bike. Richmond has this fabulous bike trail that runs from downtown to Williamsburg. And it is close by. But the 2 miles between us and the trail is a narrow country road with quickly moving vehicles. I do not have a death wish. Loading my bike up on my car every time I want to ride does not help - at all. A good friend who lives close to the trail offered to keep the bike. I could easily drive over to her house, only a few miles away, get my bike, and take advantage of the bike trail. I did that once.
Then one day I came across a "Bike Trainer" - a contraption that allows one to use their bicycle on a stand to exercise to one's heart's content. Hallelujah! A cheap person's Peloton - you know that expensive bike contraption that is all the rage. (But, watching the ads on TV, it is not loss on me that everyone riding it already has a tight, slim, swimsuit body. They offer no example of an even slightly over weight rider struggling to keep up.) Besides, at the cost of $2,000 each, this is not in the budget. However, a Bike Trainer is.
So, thanks to Amazon and UPS, my marvelous trainer arrived yesterday. I had brought my bike back home and last night set up the new gizmo in my bedroom. By that time I was too tired to ride it. Yesterday the first thing I saw was my bike - it was a new day. After 2 cups of coffee I climbed onto my trainer. Realizing I am out of shape, the last thing I needed was to over do it. I know from experience that would transform my trainer into a glorified clothes rack - and even more guilt.
Being realistic, I set my first day's goal for 10 minutes. Instead of a sweaty trainer yelling at me to "push it", "work it", "feel the burn", I had my morning news show on. It felt good to get back on my bike. I adjusted the resistance so I did not feel like I was fighting a hill for the entire "ride". I found myself watching time, minute by minute. Suddenly 10 minutes seemed like an eternity. But I peddled on. Eventually I was on a roll (no pun intended). Pushing myself, I knew I could go longer than 10 minutes. And, I did - an impressive 12 minutes. Baby steps - tomorrow, I will shoot for 14.
Sunday, January 6, 2019
Harvel? Havel? Hevel? Dirk? Denf?
I have become somewhat addicted to the word game where you are given 6 letters and then have to fill in a loose crossword grid with words made from those letters. I do not consider myself a brilliant linguist. However I find the game more than challenging when the completed puzzle reveals “words” I am not familiar with.
Always wanting to further my education, I noted some of these unrecognizable groupings of letters and sought the wisdom of the Oxford Dictionary. I was even more perplexed with what I found.
An example is “Havel”. My first find was that हवाल or पुल्लिंग are both transliterated versions of "Haval". Transliterated? Further searching found "Havel" is 'a cryptographic hash function'. Then I stumbled across yet another definition. It comes from the phrase “haval al hazman” translated into 'it's a waste of time'. Now that I can understand - a total waste of my time. Of course in the next snippet, it read: '. . . in more recent use, “haval al hazman” has morphed into a slang phrase meaning pretty much the opposite.' Naturally.
"Hevel" means 'breath that's already been spent' —so you could call it a 'waste of breath'.
A search for "Harvel" reveals: 'Sorry, no definitions found.' Figures!
Hayne? A popular name of an old line family from the south. But a common noun, verb, adjective, adverb, gerund? Not so much.
OK, so in the same puzzle of 10 words, one is cryptographic, one has two (totally opposing) definitions, a third is a waste of time, another a proper noun, and one word that does not exist.
In another puzzle was “Dirk” -'a short dagger of a kind formerly carried by Scottish Highlanders'. Sure I knew that - an obscure Celtic weapon. Did Braveheart carry a dirk? If so, I missed the reference.
Then there was "Pirt". Buried in the bowels of Google I found 'Pirt, also known as a trip, consists of a group of friends journeying about the countryside smoking large amounts of marijuana.' I don’t remember Mrs. McCloud including "Pirt" on any of my weekly spelling lists in 2nd grade.
"Pakea"? A white New Zealander, as opposed to a Maori.
Or "Garg"? Seriously, 'A Garg is a very ugly man'. And I could only find that in the Urban Dictionary.
"Quarzy", a dream word for any scrabble player. Aha! Cannot be found in any dictionary or even on Google.
Better than that, there was the occasion where I was given 6 letters, including a "q" but, alas, no "u". The only example of a word with a "q" but no "u", I know of is QWERTY, as in the type of keyboard. But there was no "W", "E", "R', "T", "Y" in the 6 letters of the "Q, P, A, M, K, F," I was given? Come up with a 4 letter word from that set. The puzzle writers did -"Pamk". Not to be found in a dictionary. Or "Kap" - an abnormal tufted growth of small branches on a tree or shrub caused by fungi or insects or other physiological disturbance. "Kamp", of course . . . 'Dutch for in the heat of battle'. I knew that, doesn't everyone?
So I have developed a strategy for this game. I simply throw random letters into the blocks and hope they stick. That is much easier than actually trying to come up with a "real" word. The answers to these puzzles are more of a confabulation (the replacement of a gap in a person's memory by a falsification that he or she believes to be true). But that would take 13 letters.
Saturday, January 5, 2019
"You Can't Buy Love", or so they say. As most of you know I have 2 pups. There is Marshall, my rescue who, after DNA testing, I learned is a full bred full size Yorkie (and, no, that is not an oxymoron). And, Ellie, my Norwich, who after DNA testing, I learned was only 35% Norwich and 65% Cairn Terrier (ie Toto).
And, like children, their personalities are as different as night and day. Marshall is lovable and affectionate. He always wants to be in someones lap or snuggled up next to them. He has yet to meet a ball or toy he is not willing to retrieve, every time he can con someone into throwing it - time, after time, after time.
Ellie, on the other hand, is loyal with quite the personality. She will not eat until someone roughly rubs her head (go figure!). Then she grunts, like a small pig, the entire time she is dining. In the summer, she channels her inner Miniature Portuguese Water dog (that did not reveal itself in the DNA test) and frolics in her small pink swimming pool. Luckily her wiry rough coat sheds water quickly.
Unlike Marshall, who demands attention, Ellie can be aloof. While he is never far away, if not in your lap, Ellie will be asleep on the far sofa. With her dark colored shaggy bangs hide her coal black eyes, don't assume she is asleep. She is surveying everything in the room. There are those times when she graces my presence and joins me on the sofa - albeit at the other end.
All that said, they are both terriers with that spunky, energetic, curious, and affectionate personality - just each in their own way. It took Ellie a while to accept Marshall, who I adopted when Ellie was 3 years old. Hoping anyone who visited was there to take him home with them, she finally accepted he wasn't going any where. It is a love/ hate sibling affair. She will fight over one of his toys, simply to irritate him. But, more often, they are conspiring on some mission.
Stay with me here. I drink a cup or 2 of iced coffee every morning. After weeks of tweaking, I finally got the taste right by adding a few drops of cream and the right amount of Stevia. Then one morning I decided to whip the cream and add a dollop to the top of my of coffee. On a whim, I put a small amount on the tip of a finger and offered it to Ellie. Even though it was just a tiny bit, she was beside herself. One would have thought I had given her a fresh piece of raw steak.
This was a game changer. Now after her breakfast, instead of running outside to survey the 'North 40' or settling in on the far sofa, she will come upstairs top find me. I will open the shower curtain to find her sitting there, patiently waiting for me. She follows me to the kitchen like a little black shadow. While I make my coffee, she sits politely at my feet, eagerly anticipating what she knows will come - that tiny dab of cream.
Suddenly I find her sitting next to me on the sofa, watching my every move, making sure she doesn't miss a chance for more whipped cream. She even demeans herself and sits in my lap. If I get up, she is right at my heals, the ever devoted companion.
So, yes, you can buy love, with just a little whipped cream.
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
Toward the end of her life, my Mama was very optimistic, irritatingly rosy at times. She always told me that life was good. Every morning it was not unusual to get a phone call from her. After we exchanged the general pleasantries, she would always say, "Did you know 'so 'n so' died?" If I was not familiar with this most recently departed, I would judge my reply carefully. If I had some time, I would ask Mama who this person was. Ten minutes later I would find myself tired, looking at my watch, and questioning my insanity to inquire.
Mama died in 2012. And with her, went those of daily updates of the dead and dying. After that, even though I was out and about in the community and kept up with friends, I often was the last person to learn of someones (or their loved one's) demise. So I then found myself looking at the local paper's Obituary column daily. Even worse, I was able to sign up to receive an email every morning of the obituary column. One knows they are old, long in the tooth, whatever, when that message is the first one you check when opening your email every morning.
And, yes, I think of my Mama every time I look down the list of names. It is a generational thing. While the ages of those listed in the daily column were once mostly of older folks. You know, in their 70's or 80's. They are getting younger everyday. It doesn't take new math for one to realize that the difference between their ages and mine is quickly diminishing. Now, I have passed that milestone and have become a member of the generation who wants time to stop. It goes by so quickly.
Seeing the new Mary Poppins movie with my granddaughters a week ago brought these feelings to the surface. Looking at Loulou's face staring at the screen in rapt wonder, made me question - what happened to the time? Surely it couldn't have been that long ago when it was me, at age 5, sitting in the theater with my parents, watching the original Mary Poppins - my first movie. It seems like merely a short time ago, not the 54 years that have truly passed.
Nothing can slow time down. There is no miracle elixir (or phone app) to make it stop. Short of being in Wilder's "Our Town", we cannot go back in time - relive those moments. In that story, the stage narrator warns Emily when she wants to return for one day, “Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough.” This is a quote that has stayed with me since college.
It is the mundane that gives us comfort. Sure Christmas mornings as a child, one's wedding day, graduation, etc would generally be the ones we want to relive. But chances are we have fairly clear memories of those particular days. Most likely there are old photos, faded flowers, or some other tangible items that tie us to those particular moments. But, it is the "every" days that would give a better look back. True, one day in a life of hundreds of thousands seems minute. But each day is part of one's fabric of their life. I'm not sure what day I would chose. But then, if I knew a day, it would have been memorable - which defeats the purpose.
My doctor once gave me wise advice when I was stressed. "Live in the moment," he said. It took me a while to grasp that concept. So I try to 'live in the moment' when I can. Worrying about something will do me no good. After all, if I could do something about what I am fretting over, I should have already done it. Otherwise I have to realize it is out of my hands. So remember to 'Stop and smell the roses', advice we have all heard. The trick is finding and recognizing the roses among all life's melee. After all, no one promised us a rose garden.