Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Vermont Holiday Visit

Some women and their daughters-in-law (DsIL) go out to lunch, enjoy manicures and pedicures together, and go shopping. Enjoyable, non-aerobic, laid-back activities.

My DsIL take me to zumba and weight training classes. And expect me to hike and snowshoe uphill.
Me and my snowshoes. Is this considered a selfie?
I thought snowshoeing was supposed to be a pleasant, leisurely walk in the woods. The scenery was beautiful, but this 60-something’s definition of leisurely is apparently quite different from my 30-something son and DIL’s meaning.

What is the message here?

I am thinking…Work out so you can have all the energy needed to watch our kids. Stay in shape so you can babysit and keep up with the kids. Don’t get lazy before the kids grow up.

Maybe I should have had babies earlier so the grands would arrive when I was younger, more vigorous, and before the senior label could be plastered over my photo. It is too late now…

December travels found hub and I wandering from Florida to Boston and then Vermont for the holidays. We arrived in Vermont in time for the worst ice storm since 1998.
A walk around the neighborhood following the ice storm. Note the ice on the trees.
What luck!

And frigid temperatures. Christmas Day the high was 16 with a low of 0. It was not much better the other days we sojourned in the state. We drove home the day after Christmas when the temperature warmed up to 28, but it snowed for the first three slow-driving hours of our trip.

Did I mention the snow-covered Vermont landscape is spectacular?
Snowshoeing Mt. Philo. Hub asked, "Why do you get everyone's butts in the pictures?"
Answer: "Because I am always in the back of the group." Walking slowly leisurely.

Especially from indoors. 

One of our indoor activities was candy-making. The attempt at producing yummy-tasting maple sugar candy was, shall we say, unsuccessful.


The mixture is carefully stirred until reaching 290 degrees F, removed from the heat and cooled to 175 degrees. Hint: if the concoction begins to smoke, filling the house with smoke and requiring doors to be open, inviting in the bitter cold - the candy is burnt. Start over.


 Stir the mixture until it turns a light brown/caramel color, then quickly pour into molds. If not done promptly, the mixture hardens before the molds are completely filled, which is what happened above.
The results of our candy-making efforts.


I love Vermont in winter. From a distance. About 400 miles south in my warm home in a (usually) more moderate climate. 

The visit was a great time to relax, enjoy the outdoors and the indoors, and of course, the family. Until next visit in hopefully slightly warmer weather. 
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening 
- Robert Frost

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Boston Interlude­­­­


I enjoyed a two-day Boston Interlude with a friend (while hub worked) museum-hopping and enjoying leisurely lunches, activities daily routines do not normally allow time for.
­

Should you visit Boston, here are some interesting sites to add to your must-see list - especially in cold weather when walking city streets may not be desirable.

We meandered through the Boston Museum of Fine Art’s Colonial rooms, getting acquainting with Colonial garb, furniture, and portraiture, and the museum’s Impressionist art collection. The museum was not crowded; small groups of middle school students comprised the majority of visitors. When our feet demanded a break we ate lunch in the museum’s atrium cafe, lingering over wine and coffee.

Next we walked across the street to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Gardner, a patron of the arts, supported artists including John Singer Sargent, James Whistler, and Henry James. She spent over three decades assembling a huge collection of artwork displayed in her Italian-style villa. We wandered the three floors, leaving only when guards marched us out the door at the end of the day.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Day two began with what was supposed to be a short visit to the Boston Public Library, an architectural treasure and National Historic Landmark. The ‘palace for the people,’ designed by architect Charles Follen Kim, opened in 1895.

The library has a number of ornately decorated rooms. The Abbey Room displays a mural of 15 panels, “The Quest of the Holy Grail,” a medieval tale. We spent a lot of time attempting to decode the story with the help of our smartphones, the Internet, and an extremely knowledgeable tourist (and professor by profession).
The Abbey Room at the Boston Public Library
The library’s architects commissioned the painter John Singer Sargent to decorate the third floor gallery. Sargent encircled the room with a series of murals depicting the development of religions, the paintings rich with religious imagery and Biblical scenes.

Three hours after entering we exited the library. Sunny skies replaced the cold, dull sky of the previous two days. We walked the couple of blocks to the parking garage to retrieve our vehicle. I will not cite in print the cost of extracting the car - our hubs would yell and scream at us for being so stupid paying so much money.

But the library was free.

Next stop was a Venezuelan restaurant. Parking a couple of blocks away, we made our way through mostly-shoveled sidewalks to the restaurant only to discover the door locked. Peering through the door, a man came over and greeted us. Because of a lack of business the owner closed for the day, but reopened for us. We enjoyed a delicious lunch, wine and coffee, and shared a decadent chocolate dessert. Meanwhile another customer walked in. It was worthwhile for the restaurant – a small hole-in-the-wall place – to open for us.
The Mapparium
The last stop of the day was the Mapparium, a large room surrounded by a glass globe located at the Christian Science Center. Mary Baker Eddy, the religion’s founder, launched the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, which boasted a worldwide readership. Eddy wanted a globe in the Center, reinforcing her religion and her newspaper’s global influence. The map was supposed to be updated as new countries emerged and others disappeared, but the sphere is considered a work of art and has not been changed or updated. The globe displays the world frozen in 1935 time.

A Boston interlude of two days came to an end.

And now back to real life and on to a colder winter wonderland…

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Start of Our New England Winter Holiday

It all began last Monday following a flight home from Florida epitomized by tight seats, no legroom, a full plane, no free food or drink, and a period of air turbulence. Although flying time was slightly over two hours, time spent belted into seats lasted over three hours, counting loading time, waiting to push back from the gate, and waiting on the arrival end to deplane.

But we were home safe.

Our next trip was supposed to begin the following morning, driving to Boston where hub was scheduled to work for the rest of the week, and then moving on to Vermont, spending a few days with our son and his family.

Plans changed after listening to dire weather reports describing a fierce snowstorm scheduled to batter New England sometime Tuesday. Fearful of being stuck in a snowstorm, we decided to leave as soon as possible. Arriving home at 2:00 p.m., unpacking and repacking for winter weather, we were in the car heading north by 3:30.

We stopped for the night outside Hartford, Connecticut.

The following morning we awoke early and turned on the TV, listening to the latest news and Morning Joe banter.

The weather report came on. The forecaster declared, “The winter storm pounding the Northeast will be the worst between Hartford, Connecticut and Boston along the Massachusetts Turnpike.”

Holy sh*t (went through my mind. I would never say those words aloud.)

That was our route – exactly.

I almost-hysterically announced we were leaving immediately. Forget the free motel breakfast of cardboard waffles, cheap English muffins and bagels, and powdered eggs. We were going to beat the storm.

We threw our bags in the car, left the motel by seven, and a couple of hours later approached the outskirts of Boston. Brought to a standstill by rush hour traffic, we took the nearest exit and finally got to enjoy a leisurely breakfast.

We reached our Boston hotel without incident and – most important – before the snow. The city received six inches of new white stuff throughout the afternoon and evening. It was a beautiful sight – from the warmth and safety of cozy interiors, and outdoors as we cautiously walked city streets.


Our New England winter journey was under way.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Welcome Winter Solstice

 
Celebrating the Winter Solstice
The Shortest Day                                                                               
by Susan Cooper
And so the Shortest Day came and the year died

And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world

Came people singing, dancing,

To drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in the winter trees;

They hung their homes with evergreen;

They burned beseeching fires all night long

To keep the year alive.

And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake

They shouted, revelling.

Through all the frosty ages you can hear them

Echoing behind us - listen!

All the long echoes, sing the same delight, 

This Shortest Day,

As promise wakens in the sleeping land:

They carol, feast, give thanks,

And dearly love their friends,

And hope for peace.

And now so do we, here, now,

This year and every year.”
Winter officially arrives today - Saturday, December 21 - although most of the country has already experienced its ferocity. The Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, was celebrated at my granddaughter’s preschool.  
Cold temperatures and long, dark nights characterize this time of year. But with every cloud there is a silver lining. And with the onset of winter it is that every day the amount of time suffused in daylight gets a little bit longer.
I cannot wait until darkness does NOT arrive before 5:00 p.m.
…when I feel tired, as if bedtime is almost here.
…when going out to dinner before darkness descends and the roads ice over means partaking of the early bird special.
…when dragging myself out of bed to attend exercise class in the morning no longer requires turning on the car lights and driving to the gym in darkness.
…when dressing to go outside does not necessitate layers of clothing and cold weather accessories.
…when holiday lights are not needed to brighten the blackness. 
The preschoolers and their parents walked in a procession, forming a circle and singing "This Little Light of Mine Let It Shine". It was a wonderful way to celebrate the shortest day of the year and celebrate the holiday season without specific religious motifs. 
The song "This Little Light of Mine" has been sung by many artists, among them Bruce Springsteen. Enjoy his version here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Grands Kidsit Once Again – Part Two

Three kids and a dog vs. two grandparents. The saga continues…

Three long days of constant activity and you realize why parenting is an occupation for the young. Those of us in their sixties - plus or minus a few years - may be healthy and hearty, but not necessarily nimble and energetic enough to keep up with three kids aged three, six, and nine (and a dog) constantly on the go.

Saturday morning we went to the bagel shop for breakfast. Unlike meals enjoyed at a restaurant most of the time, Grandma did not have the luxury of sitting and relishing her meal. Breakfast was intermittently interrupted with the three-year-old’s repeated requests to go potty. She goes potty every time we go someplace new. It is imperative she try out the facilities, including the toilet, sink, soap dispenser, and towel mechanism. I am sure she will eventually outgrow this habit, but meantime how can you deny the kid a trip to the potty? You never know when she really has to go…

The six-year-old had a birthday party Saturday afternoon. Unfamiliar with the area, we trusted the GPS to direct us safely and timely to the party. We left early, or so we thought. We arrived ten minutes late, driving twenty miles to a place that turned out to be seven miles from the house. Thank you GPS.

We filled the van with gas. Large vans get lousy gas mileage. Gas costs a lot these days.

Here are some pictures illustrating additional activities enjoyed by Grands and the kids over the weekend –
Saturday evening we had front curb seats for the Delray Beach Holiday Parade. There were marching bands - elementary schools, middle and high schools, public and private schools, lots of floats - even the local garbage truck was decked out for the holidays. The  procession lasted one entire hour. The kids loved it - you could tell because they sat quietly, mesmerized by the activity.

 Grandma and the three-year-old went to a character breakfast at the local community center. We had our picture taken with Mickey and Minnie! We also met Spiderman, Cinderella, Dora the Explorer, and Spongebob Squarepants. There was so much to see and do there was no time to eat. Grandma begged for an opportunity to grab some food, but the request was denied. There was just too many fun things to do. 
 Sunday afternoon Grandpa, exhausted, took a nap on the couch. Grandma and the two girls were busy with manicures and pedicures. Poor Grandpa - the kids took the opportunity and gave Grandpa a pedicure. What pretty feet! The nail polish peels off, but no one told Grandpa that until later that night - after he had displayed his toes at the nine-year-old's basketball game. 
The kid is not in jail or a cage, although the thought occurred to me. She is having fun in a Bounce House.

And so the weekend ended Sunday evening with an exciting basketball game (our team lost 27-25 after being down 16-0 at one point) and ice cream sundaes. The kids put to bed, Grandma and Grandpa spent the rest of the night cleaning the house before Mom and Dad arrived home. There was laundry to collect and wash, lunches to pack, dishes to clean and put away, toys and papers and books to store. The dog was fed, we packed our bags, set the alarm for 6:00 a.m., and collapsed into bed.

We were officially off duty.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Grands Kidsit Once Again - Part One

It is that time of the year or the quarter or the month (pick one). Grandma and Grandpa are in charge of three grandkids for the weekend - Friday morning until Sunday evening after bedtime. Mom and Dad return late Sunday night. Grandma and Grandpa head to the airport 6:00 a.m. Monday morning, fleeing on a jet plane home.

Friday morning it was our job to get the kids dressed, fed, and off to school with appropriate gear - homework, lunch, backpacks - and not looking as if they fell directly out of bed and into the car (no school buses for elementary kids in this Republican enclave/state).

I am at a disadvantage with the girls when it comes to taming their long curly tresses. I had long curly hair, but in the 1960s I ironed my mane. I doubt Mom would like that idea. My experience with two boys did nothing to further my hair salon skills. The girls refused to wear pigtails or a ponytail, so after some mousse and painful brushing (Ouch - you're hurting me - it's fine leave me alone...) I let nature take its course.

The nine year old dresses himself, but he has no idea how to comb his longish hair and refuses to let anyone near his mane. He brushes his teeth, but more toothpaste gets on the sink, basin, his body and clothing than in his mouth. Brushing over 20 seconds severely cuts into vital time spent with Legos, video games, the TV, reading, and fighting with his sisters.

Grandpa was in charge of breakfast while I got the girls dressed and ready. Grandpa started the dressing process with the six year old but after rejecting his clothing choices, Grandma was called to the rescue.

The six year old was dressed, but the three year old has a stubborn streak. I got her into a shirt and pants, but she refused socks. Then she wanted to wear one of her princess dresses. It took a while to decide which one. She has several, some purchased, others gifts and hand-me-downs. Then she decides she wants to wear her rain boots. We are in Florida. It has not rained for days, the sun is shining, and how much clothing can the kid put on in 80 degree temperatures?

Finally we head downstairs. The nine year old is already eating breakfast, carefully prepared by Grandpa, who knows his way around a kitchen, but not necessarily around the nutritional do's and don'ts of little ones.

He was feasting on waffles and ice cream.

Do not tell Mom. Or Dad.

The two girls excitedly sat down and began devouring the same breakfast.

I pulled lunchboxes from the refrigerator, stuffed everything in backpacks, and pushed everyone out the door.

The three year old does not go to preschool until later, but she follows in her big brother and sister's footsteps.

It was 7:30 a.m. and Grandpa and Grandma were exhausted.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Color Me Cheap

Here is a news flash most women have not been waiting for and do not care about. The fashion powers that be have announced the 'In' Color for 2014 -

- Radiant Orchid.

Or in simple English for the un-fashionistas among us - purple. To be more precise, a shade of purple.

I know you are all as unexcited as I am.

After all, purple has a long, noble history.

The Caesars - Augustus and Julius - declared purple the royal color. Nero actually passed a law declaring anyone besides the royals wearing purple would be put to death. Pretty drastic measures for showing your individuality.

Purple is the preferred color of older girls, once they graduate from pink.

The Byzantine Emperor signed edicts in purple...Catholic priests sometimes wear purple vestments...the color signifies wealth and position in Japan...

Purple's fall from grace occurred around the turn of this century when Rev. Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority decided one particular purple Teletubbie (a character from a kids' TV show) was gay. Purple was also the color of Gay Pride, and therefore purple was suddenly excommunicated from the color charts, although Crayola boxes remained non-discriminatory.

I am not sure what Falwell thought of one of my grandkids' favorite books, 'Harold and the Purple Crayon'.

In more recent times purple states do not swing red or blue, but decidedly undecided. My blue state has a red governor. Color us confused.

Back to fashion. The Colorado Rockies are the only baseball team donning purple team colors - purple, black, and silver. Minnesota Vikings wear purple, white, and gold. Baltimore Ravens colors are black purple, white, and gold.( For the sports uninformed, the Vikings and Ravens are football teams.)

As for the rest of us, I am the proud owner of a purple blazer. I have owned it for a number of years. Once more ahead of the color curve! Color me trendy!

I do not know how many people will run out to buy the latest purple piece of clothing, a purple pocketbook, or radiant orchid lipstick. I can wait for the clothing and accessories to go on sale next year, after 2015's color is announced. Right now I am off to find the sales on 2013's color of the year - emerald green.

Color me cheap.

On second thought the last place I am going in December is the mall.

I do not like emerald green anyway.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Small City Living

It was cold yesterday, but not too cold to go outside and watch a highpoint of the weekend in our small, quiet, laid-back, off-season shore town - the annual holiday parade welcoming Santa Claus to town.
 
You think Mickey is cold? He is not in Florida anymore...
The Cat in the Hat entertained the kids too.
I was surprised Santa would bother coming to a backwater like ours this time of year – he is really, really busy. The only thing I can think of is that he is friends with our Governor, Chris Christie. I think they are Weight Watchers cronies.

 

Our municipality is officially a city, but most people would not describe the place as a city, especially in the off season. It has few high rises and the only tax-paying businesses are retailers, mostly restaurants. But it does have a beach and boating. The place swells by thousands during the summer, then the population collapses as part-timers disappear following Labor Day.

Back to the parade.

It was a low-key, informal, amateur affair, but entertaining. No precision teams in this parade. Small groups walked or marched together, most groups not in step, not in straight lines, with participants wandering in and out of line as they strode to the sidelines greeting friends. Three fire engines led the parade, but halfway through they suddenly revved their engines, bells rang, and the trucks drove off on an emergency call. 

Nothing was synchronized, but parade participants were having a good time.

The parade closed with Santa Claus arriving in – what else!? – a boat.


Santa Claus brought us an early gift - snow. Not really, but it is quite a coincidence. It began snowing this morning, a few flurries at first, then a steady downfall. After an early morning trip to the gym it was a day to stay inside and cocoon. The exercise allowed hub and I to feel less guilty gorging indulging in substantial meals keeping us warm, busy, happy, and satiated.

The scene outside looks very pretty and peaceful this evening, but it is supposed to get warmer tonight and rain. By tomorrow morning the landscape will probably be a muddy, ugly mess.

Until the next snow.

Or spring. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Family Ties that Bind – or Not

                              Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts.
- Anonymous

Families are curious entities, organic and ever-changing. There are several meanings of family, one defining a family as all individuals connected by a common ancestor. With the help of websites like Ancestry.com, relatives vanished or unknown can be located and connected – if desired.

And that is the dilemma. Some people do not want to have anything to do with their family, past or present.

A popular maxim states we can choose our friends but not our family. DNA unites people. Whether we embrace family is our choice.

This past weekend hub and I connected with recently discovered family.

My mother-in-law was one of three sisters. She had three children, her oldest sister had none, and sister #3 bore two children, as far as the family knew, both given up for adoption. Third sister disappeared from the family in her late teens, sporadically reappearing over the years. Little is known about her life. As a new family member, I did not know she existed until a phone call alerted us to her death in 1977.

Fast-forward thirty years. My sister-in-law receives an unusual phone call. A son of Sister #3 was trying to connect with his birth mother’s family. Might you be a member of this family?

Indeed she was.

And so the family met a third child of Sister #3, a relative no one knew existed.

New cousin wants to find his two siblings and his father’s family. Currently he has no information about his father and has hit a brick wall attempting to trace his brother and sister. He was hoping we could help, but unfortunately the family knew so little about Sister #3’s life that not much new data could be provided.

Meanwhile, as a new member of the family is embraced, another leaves the fold. Brother-in-law and his family relocated without leaving a forwarding address. He does not return phone calls or e-mails. Happy holiday greetings are ignored. Family members speculate about his decision to cut ties, but no one knows the reasons for sure. 

Back to this past weekend.

New cousin, whom we met only once, was passing through our area. We joined him and his wife, whom we had not met, for dinner, spending time getting to know each other.

His wife and I connected recently via Facebook. Modern methods of communication are truly amazing. She found my blog and contacted me, wondering if I was related to her husband’s biological family.

Previously unknown family connections are discovered, new family bonds established and broken links reconnected.

Research into these convoluted family connections continues…

Family is conflict and it’s something that we all relate to.
– Bill Cosby 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dinner at Katz's Deli

Hub and I drove my Mom home to Long Island from my sister's in Pennsylvania yesterday. There was little traffic, so hub decided to get to the Island via Manhattan, usually an exercise in frustration, traffic, honking horns, crazy driving, and a waste of of time and gas. But in another century hub spent a summer as a cab driver in New York City and occasionally wants to relive those days.

We entered Manhattan through the Holland Tunnel. It is a great entry point to the city. The Statue of Liberty and skyscrapers, visible approaching the tunnel, presented a stunning night time display. The Empire State Building's red, white, and blue lights glowed and other buildings were ablaze in white lights. The lower part of the new Freedom Tower was lit and there was a blinking red light atop the spire, but the upper floors are not complete and occupied, so there was a dark space between the lower lights and blinking red light.

Driving across Canal Street in lower Manhattan, our stomachs began yearning for nourishment - as if we had not eaten recently or gorged ourselves over the past couple of days on a Thanksgiving feast on Thursday and lunch out with friends earlier in the day. But city eateries beckoned. We knew the name of a famous deli in the area, plugged it into the GPS, and a few minutes later not only found the restaurant but, in a New-York-miracle, found a parking spot half a block away. And - another marvel! - did not have to feed the meter. The place was crowded, but we waited only a few minutes for a table.

Katz's Delicatessen is one of those iconic places New Yorkers heard of and/or experienced. Most non-New Yorkers are also familiar with the restaurant and have seen it on screen, whether realizing it or not. The deli is the location of one of the most famous/infamous scenes in movie history. When Harry Met Sally is the movie, and Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan the actor/actress. (disclosure: it is probably PG rated.) Enjoy!
As we prepared to pay the bill and leave, the waitress pointed out which cashier accepted cash and which one credit cards. She informed us, in her very heavy New York accent, that tax and tip were not included on the bill. The cashier would add tax, and we could leave a tip at the table. Then she provided the following Tipping Guide:
I guess nobody can do math anymore - or maybe they figure people are too cheap!
A couple of other pictures of Katz's Deli from our repast last night.

Leaving the deli we passed security guards intent on ensuring everyone paid their bill before exiting.

It was a fun, nostalgic detour. But we all agreed better delis abound, including Ben's Deli near my Mom on the island (there are more than one in the New York area), and Harold's (there are two of them, not connected, but that is another story…) in New Jersey.

Perhaps you are hungry now. I know I am. Snack time!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Onset of the Most Dangerous Season of the Year


 The Danger Zone nears. There is no avoiding it.

For my stomach.

And the rest of my body.

Not an astrological, cosmological season. A man-made time of year.

I am talking about the season encompassing pre-Thanksgiving prep days through New Year’s.

Will my body survive? Can I escape gaining weight?

I check off each day on the calendar, one by one, my emotions mixed with fear and trepidation. I watch time advance with caution and an appetite. With yearnings for foods rarely eaten but secretly desired.
Fruitcake is not one of my yearnings!
The signs are everywhere and inescapable, unless one lives in a geographically isolated, TV-less, internet-neglected, U.S. postal service-bypassed pocket in a no-man’s land.

We are bombarded by TV Commercials. Store displays. Holiday decorations. An onslaught of catalogs and fliers via email and snail mail. Newspaper ads tempting us - encouraging us – urging us to get out (or at least onto our computers) and buy, buy, buy. Black Friday looms  - followed by Cyber Monday.

And now there is Brown Thursday. I will absolutely, definitely, under no circumstances enter a store on Thanksgiving. Nobody should. No one needs to buy stuff at Sears or Target or any other retailer on this one particular day of the year. The commercialism and worker exploitation is going too far, but enough - I will get off my soapbox and move on...

Ads encourage us to purchase not just gifts, but food. Lots of it. We find enticing recipes in newspapers, magazines, and online.

For those not inclined to cook, prepared foods are readily available at grocery stores, the farmers market, and online. Restaurants advertise holiday take-out meals for one hungry individual or a multi-person banquet.

So let the feasting begin! 

May those with strong willpower prevail.

Meanwhile the rest of us weak-willed souls move on to the gym hauling a few extra pounds, head bowed in defeat, on January 2.

I wonder if there is some mathematical formula that can calculate the ratio of the inflation of our waistlines to the deflation of our bank accounts.

I do not think I want to know.

Happy holiday season to all, and to all joyful eating! 
NOT my family's holiday table!