Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Endless Exasperating Journey

"Oh, sh*t" I said in a loud whisper, aware my seven-year-old granddaughter was in the back seat of the car.

"What's the matter?" hub asked as we sped south on the Northway, making our way home from a week in New York State's Adirondack Mountains.

(Sidebar: Why the Adirondacks you might ask? Good question! 
My son Jason entered the Lake Placid Ironman Triathlon 
(2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run) 
and finished an incredible 58 overall (over 2,500 participated))

Opening my pocketbook, I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.

My wallet was gone.

I carry a small bag. My wallet sits on top, keys underneath. Side pockets hold a couple of pens, my lipstick, a comb, a couple of pieces of paper, and sometimes my cell phone.

Unzipping the bag the emptiness immediately hit me. Keys stared at me.

I knew I was in trouble. Then it hit me where my wallet most likely rested - in a Stewart's shop in Keene, New York, where we made a quick stop for drinks and a snack for my granddaughter.

Ninety miles away.

"My wallet. I can't find it. I think I left it in the store," I hissed.

"Call the store. We are turning around," and hub pulled the car onto an exit ramp conveniently located in front of us as this conversation developed.

"What if I am wrong?" But I knew I wasn't.

I surfed the net (love the lingo!) and found the store number. Calling, I heard a recorded message saying something like, "This is Stewart's. If you would like to order pizza, leave a message at the beep." Beep!

I searched for another number and found one on the company website. It turned out to be the warehouse. The woman answering the phone gave me the Keene store number, which I already had, informing me the store only had a pay phone and the message kicked in when employees were too busy to answer. She would not give me a corporate offices number.

When was the last time anyone saw or used a pay phone? The only reason I could think of for the ancient device is to prevent store employees from using the phone for private calls, but the company may have another valid reason.                    

We turned the car around and headed due North. 93 miles, to be exact, back into a steady rain which, driving south, cleared around Lake George.

Why did I look into my bag at that particular moment? hub wanted to know.

Once realizing my dilemma, I forgot all about whatever I was doing or planned to do. I probably wanted a pen, or maybe lipstick. We were planning to stop at Cracker Barrel, about 15 miles ahead, for lunch.

It was almost 1:00 p.m. We left our cabin 10:30 in the morning.

Frustrated repeatedly calling the store and listening to the recording, I left a brief message - wallet lost, believe I left it at your store, here is my phone number.

Meanwhile the problem of lost plastic occupied my time. What if a dishonest, despicable individual walked off with my stuff? There was not much cash - probably about $10. But credit and debit cards, driver's license, medical card...

Using hub's cards for information and phone numbers, I canceled my debit card and put a temporary block on the credit card.

Lunch was postponed.            .

Suddenly my phone pinged. It figured the store returned my call while we traveled through a phone dead zone. But the good news - my wallet was waiting for me at the store!

After driving through a drenching rainstorm we were back at Stewart's and I reclaimed my wallet. It was close to 3:00 p.m.

Hungry and needing a break, we stopped for lunch (Hailey dubbed it linner - late lunch/early dinner) and finally got back on the road.

It was 4:00 p.m. Since leaving the cabin at 10:30 a.m. we traveled over 200 miles and were 15 miles from our starting point.

400 miles to cover before arriving home.

The rain initially stopped, but it was a case of false optimism. It started raining again, a lot. It was going to be a long, long, disheartening, aggravating, frustrating day.

But my wallet was safely tucked back in my bag, all cards and cash accounted for.

I can only blame myself. Placing drinks and snacks on the store counter, grabbing money and snatching change, collecting purchases, I forgot to place the wallet back in my bag.

Thank you Stewart store employees 
for finding my wallet promptly 
and keeping it in the store safe until I returned to retrieve it.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer Fashion Everywhere But On Me

Summer fashions have not been kind to seniors for at least the past half century.

Looking at pictures of people enjoying summer in the nineteenth century, men and women are dressed, including at the beach or pool, river or local watering hole. Bathing suits were not skimpy or tight-fitting. Here is a Lord & Taylor ad for bathing suits circa 1879:
Skirt-type bathing suits lasted until after World War I. One-piece, figure-hugging tank suits became popular in the 1920s. They were not terribly revealing. 
Updated, fashionable attire returned big-time to Europe and America following difficult years of self-denial and rationing during the Depression and World War II. A new age of consumerism, materialism, self-indulgence, and – for women – an emphasis on femininity ignited popular culture.

A variety of fashion fads swept the two continents.

And, from the point of view of this particular writer, they were not all flattering.

Especially swimwear.

It all began four years before I was born.

On July 25, 1946, the bikini was unveiled at a Paris public pool. Worn by a show girl (no respectable model dared don the scanty outfit), the suit created a sensation. The rest, as the saying goes, is history…

It took a few years – more than a decade – to cross the pond and find favor with conservative American females.

Decades have come and gone. The bikini – named after Bikini Atoll, an island in the Pacific Ocean where the U.S. conducted nuclear tests – became a fashion fixture.

Except in my closet.

So here it is mid-summer. I own one one-piece bathing suit.

“How can you survive with one suit?” people ask.
“It is easy,” I answer, “when I rarely wear the thing.”

Bathing suits of any design are the worst invention of modern fashion history. They are uncomfortable, unflattering, do not provide enough boob support, and are difficult to divest when the need to pee strikes.

Another reason not to retire down South. Who wants to wear a bathing suit all the time…?

Maybe I should consider retiring North of my current New Jersey home. The further north, the shorter the summer season. Something to think about…

The introduction of the bikini in the U.S. was kick-started by the song
Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.
The year – 1960,
written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss,
sung by Brian Hyland.
Enjoy this piece of ‘60s nostalgia!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The South Sometimes Rises Around Me

“True grits, more grits, fish, grits, and collards. 
Life is good where grits are swallered.”
– Roy Blount, Jr.

I am not a Southerner. Born in New Jersey and raised in New York, I guess I am a Yankee.

My first trip to the South occurred when about eight or nine years old. My grandparents spent a winter in Miami Beach, and my family flew down to visit. It was my first plane ride.

Many folks contend that driving south on I-95 or the Florida Turnpike, when crossing the Palm Beach County line you are no longer in the real South, but another, expatriate south composed of relocated northerners, seniors mostly, and southerners from the Caribbean, Central and South America, creating an American melting pot quite different from traditional American Southern culture.

My next foray introduced me to the real south. Hub was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, and we spent the first few months of married life in an apartment on the outskirts of this city. Believing we would be there for a while, I applied for teaching jobs. It struck me as unusual that a photo needed to accompany applications. This was my introduction to the world of the discriminating South.

A few months in Charleston left its mark on my brain and stomach. A local butcher shop exhibited cuts of meat previously unheard of and mostly untried, especially a variety of pork products to this day studiously avoided. And I was never a ham fan. I ate (or at least tasted) grits and hushpuppies, black-eyed peas, okra, collard and mustard greens, none a part of my current diet. Fried foods are a Southern staple, and although I love fried chicken, avoid fried foods today. I enjoyed the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, but the dish was never a favorite.

Since the early 1970s I passed through the South many times, usually driving I-95. Stopping to refuel body and vehicle, there was not much interaction between the Southern nation and myself.

So where am I going with this?

A couple of weeks ago we spent five days in Atlanta, Georgia - the peach state. Nowadays most of the peaches used commercially or sold in retail stores are grown in California, but I will not quibble with a state’s claim to fame.

We participated in a Road Scholar Intergenerational program with our grandson. One night we visited Stone Mountain, a park outside the city.

On the side of the mountain is a Southern version of the great Mt. Rushmore figures. Stone Mountain portrays three Civil War-era VIPs:

Stonewall Jackson – West Point graduate and Confederate commander who died in 1863 after being shot by friendly fire.

Robert E. Lee –West Point grad (second in his class) and head of the Confederate Army for three years. He surrendered to the Union General Ulysses S. Grant (another West Point alumna).

Jefferson Davis – Mississippi Senator initially against secession. When the South seceded he resigned from the Senate and became President of the Confederacy. Another West Point grad, he spent some time at the military academy under house arrest for his part in the 1826 Eggnog Riot, a plot by cadets to smuggle whiskey into housing.

Maybe West Point should have held a reunion and let alumni slug it out…

A lot of non-Southerners – especially kids – probably have no idea who these three men are. They might guess George Washington amidst a Revolutionary War scene…

But I digress…

A laser show entertained the crowd. A highlight – at least for the locals – was a slow, spirited rendition of the Confederate anthem Dixie. A silent dramatic portrayal of these three bearded men on horseback dressed in old-fashioned garb and sporting rifles, shooting other men dressed in old-fashioned military clothes aiming weapons and shooting at them, played on the mountainside.

I got an uncanny feeling the Confederacy was not exactly dead. Or as an ubiquitous bumper sticker declares:
North 1 South 0…halftime

And as Mark Twain wrote in Life on the Mississippi,
“In the South the war is what A.D. is elsewhere; they date from it.”

So save your Dixie cups. The South may rise again.

And to make your day, here is the King himself - Elvis Presley – singing Dixie.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blame DNA for Our Desire to Eat and NOT Run

I blamed my parents and grandparents for my food cravings, believing they were imbedded in my brain and stomach when young, contributing undesirably to my health, well-being, waistline, and pocketbook.

A recent essay in The Wall Street Journal lifted a guilt-ridden chip off my shoulder.

Now I owe my relatives an apology.

I am weak, but realize it is not my fault.

DNA is the culprit.

Life was not easy for our ancestors. They could not drive to the nearest supermarket and pick up shopping carts full of ready-made, easy-to-prepare foods. 

They hustled for their nourishment, spending long hours hunting, fishing, and foraging for grains, fruits and veggies.

In cold weather they huddled in shelters attempting to keep warm. Arguments probably occurred over who was going to go out in the cold seeking food.

“We need more wood for the fire. Go get some, and while you’re out kill something for dinner.”
“I was going to paint with the guys. You go out and find some meat and kill’em. I’m staying here.”
“You‘re so lazy. I am sick of you spending so much time with your buddies painting graffiti on my cave walls…”
”OK, OK, I’ll see what I can find. Maybe I can coax a couple of rabbits out.”
“I am tired of rabbit. How about deer for a change?”
“I’m not traipsing through the snow stalking deer in this weather…”

Weather, disease, and man-made disasters led to unpredictable food supplies. Our DNA compensated by directing us to binge when food was available and then rest, storing energy until needed. Those reserves got us through lean food times, allowed us to outrun animal or human enemies, provided padding during long, cold winters, and met whatever other eventualities humans faced threatening their survival.

Our predecessors learned to farm and raise livestock. People enjoyed leisure time. Food consumption became a form of entertainment synonymous with fun, gratification, and good times.

An indulgence of the rich – having more than enough to eat - filtered down to the common man and woman.

Fast forward to the 20th century. Scientists began working miracles with food, producing such wonders as Wonder Bread, Oreo cookies, soda, chips, gummy bears, ice cream, chocolate kisses…

And the most wondrous of all, the invention our civilization will be known and praised for, a creation societies will duplicate throughout our world and possibly other worlds and pass down through the ages –

Fast food and the eateries pushing providing fast food.

The products of food science and fast food are a staple of many people’s diet nowadays, allowing populations of the developed world to transform into overweight, sedentary beings.

Studies detail the destructiveness of the modern regimen, and they have influenced the logical, left side of my brain. Indulging in sugar and fat is harming my body. Our car-centric lifestyles utilize minimal calories. We have to reach deep within our psyche to rouse ourselves and move.

But the goodies are so hard to resist.

And it is not my fault.

Our DNA rocks on, urging us to gorge and rest, while our intellect attempts to move us in a healthier direction.

So where does that leave us?

Fighting instinct, individuals fighting a war our culture is not yet winning.

But now I know who – or rather, what - to blame, and who not to blame.

Sorry, Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa. It’s not your fault! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hanging Out With Old Gold Friends

Make new friends
But keep the old
One is silver,
the other is gold.
 the OLD…

Several years ago hub and I went to a wedding. We did not know the other couples at our table. Looking around, he leaned over and muttered, “Why are we sitting with all these old farts?”

I stared at him and whispered back, “Because they are us.”

“Oh…No, really?” was his response, shaking his head.

How did that happen?

Other people age. We celebrate annual rites of passage, but believe – falsely, of course – that we do not age the same as those around us. We may succumb to aches and pains, but do not look or feel old.

But of course we do. Look old. We look like every other aging boomer.

We are as gray, wrinkled, bald, round and flabby as those around us. Exercising helps, but unless devoting life to attaining a Jack or Jacqueline LaLanne physique or paying piles of cash to erase evidence of our true age, the years mercilessly materialize on the body.

Maybe that is OK. We earned our facial lines and body transformations, proudly announcing to the world we are still around, very much active, alive and kicking.

Inside we are still kids romping through the ‘60s dancing to the music.

We may not be able to dance as wildly or as long or flexibly as we did decades ago, but we are as enthusiastic as ever. There are times the body does not cooperate. Disappointing, but not tragic. We plod on, celebrating what we can accomplish.

Including hanging out with old friends.

and the GOLD…

It is one of the blessings of old friends
that you can afford to be stupid with them.
-       Ralph Waldo Emerson

Getting together with friends scattered around the country is special. The group sharing dinner Friday night is considered old by some. Age is relative, and although not our relatives, our kids believe our friends, as well as Mom and Dad, are fast approaching ‘old’. I think that is because the kids have known us for decades. They grew up and matured while we aged and ripened.

Our friendships do not reach as far back as the 1960s, but come close. We have known each other since our children – in their 30s now – scampered around in diapers.

This particular summer evening four couples gathered at a restaurant at the shore enjoying summer, friendships, a temporary respite from grandkids, and one member’s 66th birthday.

It is remarkable all four couples are original twosomes, married and together since the 1970s. No divorces, deaths or remarriages. That statistic alone makes us somewhat exceptional.

Because of busy calendars and homes geographically dispersed, time between get-togethers can be months or years. But it is a gift that when together we pick up where we left off, catching up on family, jobs, retirement (when? where? what to do?), and other trivia of everyday lives.

Perhaps the greatest gift is we can be ourselves in the silliest and stupidest ways. We reminisce about being young parents. We recall happy occasions shared, eating, drinking, dancing and simply having fun. We rejoice in weddings and births. And we remember the sadder events experienced over the years.

During dinner waiters delivered a birthday cake to a woman at the table next to us. The entire dining room joined in an enthusiastic rendition of “Happy Birthday,” amazed that the woman celebrating her 94th birthday was so lively, young looking (relatively speaking, of course), and totally ‘with it’.

Hub and I are planning on returning to the restaurant on the bay in three decades to celebrate our friend’s 96th birthday.

Special note to my Friday night buddies: Mark your calendars - July 11, 2044. It’s a Monday. Since we will all be retired by then, the weekday won’t matter. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Up Close and Personal With My Nose

“You have hair in your nose, Grandma.”

Thank you now-disinherited seven-year-old granddaughter.

There are parts of the body that, although always with us, we pay little attention. I admit that most of the time I ignore certain body parts. For instance my ears, imbedded on either side of my head, are forever with me. Sometimes I stick a pair of earrings in them. Most of the time my hair covers them. My morning and evening routine does not include devoting time to my ears.

The same with my knees. There they rest, connecting my legs and thighs, doing their job flexing my leg forward and backward, allowing me to walk, bend down, or simply swing my foot back and forth while sitting on my kitchen stool. Some days my knees work better than other days, but they remain quite functional, although not as flexible as decades ago. Knees get dirty, especially when gardening, so occasionally they get a good scrubbing. Otherwise, I pretty much ignore them.

Ditto my nose.

But I guess that has to change.

Sitting on my lap, up close and personal, it was inevitable the kid who speaks before thinking would blurt out a truth wiser folk would leave unsaid.

Not that I have long hairs sticking out of my nose. I cannot braid them or curl them or color them or mousse them. Standing on one side of the sink, staring at the mirror, they are unseen tendrils in the midst of my face. I have to put my head way back to actually see the hairs.

Perhaps I do not see them immediately because my eyes are not as keen as they used to be.

Maybe I do not notice because I do not want to deal with another declining feature of my aging body.

Sometimes things remain unseen because they have become a part of us and, scanning our image in the mirror, do not observe what is right before our eyes.

Unless we take a few minutes and look very closely, and ask some serious questions.

Whose face is staring back at me?

Where did those minute facial lines come from, and how long have they been there?

Look at those teeth. I need to whiten them.

Are my ears getting bigger?

And right in the middle of my face, silently daring me to look closer, is my nose.

Now I have another aspect of aging to worry about.

Do I buy a device like a nose trimmer to zap the critters?

Do I tweeze? (Ouch!)

Do I wax? (Ouch again!)

Do I cut with a scissor?

TV medical guru Dr. Oz advises not pulling the hair. He suggests cutting them with a curve-tipped scissor. 

They will grow back.

Life is getting more complicated.

Wasn’t there a time when children were supposed to be seen and not heard? I shudder to imagine the next revelation spewing forth from any of my grandchildren’s cute but distressingly honest mouths.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Selfie of my nose.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Capital City Encounter

The final hour of driving was almost over, marking our journey's interim end. Exhausted from doing nothing all day except sitting in a car, knocking off the miles, the three of us were impatient yet elated as we neared our weekend destination.

Approaching our country’s capital from the south, eyes scanned the horizon for what we guessed would be the first structure viewed. This was my 10-year-old grandson’s first trip to Washington, D.C. and he was excited, although his tough-guy demeanor found it difficult to admit.

Dusk quickly morphed into near-darkness. Suddenly the Washington Monument emerged directly in front of us. Highlighted by white spotlights, alone in the night sky, the soaring spire captivated. The Capitol building could be seen in the distance, atop a hill – dubbed the Capitol Bump by my son years earlier because he felt the mound did not merit the term ‘hill’.

Driving across the river, the dome of the Jefferson Monument materialized. Government buildings surrounded us, the Classic structures and illuminated columns appearing stately to the eyes of us older folks, and registering a high Wow factor to our ten-year-old passenger.

That enthralling entrance to the magical city on the Potomac set the stage for our weekend. As ruptured and broken as city inhabitants insist on making its core industry of politics, the discord and tension was not apparent to tourists and we three temporary visitors.

I attended the NSNC – National Society of Newspaper Columnists – conference all day Saturday.

Hub and grandson spent the day sightseeing, leaving the hotel at 8:00 a.m. and returning twelve hours later.

The Washington Monument highlighted my grandson’s day. The two guys toured the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and Natural History Museum. They splurged on bakery delicacies for breakfast and food truck specialties for lunch. Dinner featured sushi. Grandpa and grandson hiked over six miles of city pavement. They viewed the White House. A return trip featuring a White House tour is on our future must-see list.

I spent the day listening to a series of provocative speakers at the NSNC conference, especially enthralled by Craig Wilson, retired USA Today columnist. Amusing readers for years with humorous takes on life’s everyday issues, his entertaining and hilarious presentation did not disappoint.

Thrilled to be in the midst of a group of brilliant, talented professionals, absorbing their words of wisdom, their stories of career difficulties and successes, I met writers read and admired, names previously seen only in print. I was excited and honored when awarded third place in my category in the NSNC column contest.

Before heading home to (finally) enjoy summer at our shore home, we (hub, grandson, me) spent hours wandering around the Smithsonian Zoo. Twin panda cubs playing together while Dad napped nearby was the best part of the day. Actually, the best part was that the zoo was free (parking was not). Our tax dollars are used for a few good things...

Finally the three of us fell into the car, revved up the air conditioning – Washington was hot – and headed out of town.

We will return.

As for the NSNC conference, next year in Indianapolis! Writers, you do not have to attend the conference to enter or win the column contest. Simply write… 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Salute to National Graham Cracker Day

National Graham Cracker Day is July 5.

It is with humility and a feeling of obligation that, as a resident of the much-maligned state of New Jersey, I do whatever I can to pump up the state’s reputation.

And I can do that today!

An auspicious event - the invention of the graham cracker – occurred in the state in 1829.

The graham cracker’s origins are credited to a state resident by the name of – you guessed it – Graham.

Sylvester Graham.

He was a bit weird for his time. And ours.

Graham, a Presbyterian minister, created the biscuit as part of Graham’s Diet, a vegetarian, no white flour and no spices regimen. The motivation for Graham’s dietary beliefs had nothing to do with the reasons today’s vegetarians and other nutritional advocates adhere to similar food restrictions.

Graham hoped his diet would cure individuals of what he considered to be a moral weakness and scourge of the time: sexual compulsions and masturbation. Graham believed masturbation led to insanity and blindness.

Originally a bland concoction of unbleached wheat flour, almost two centuries later the graham cracker has morphed into a cookie-like treat sweetened with sugar, honey, and/or cinnamon. Ironically today they are often made with the white bleached flour Graham detested.

Most Americans are probably familiar with the campfire delicacy made famous by the Girl Scouts called S’mores, a sandwich of chocolate and a marshmallow – melted over the campfire – crushed between two graham crackers. The recipe first appeared in a 1927 Girl Scout manual. 
An authentic S'more homemade in my backyard by my granddaughter.
Of course graham crackers are not reserved strictly for S’mores. They can be consumed solo, perhaps enhanced with a glass of milk. Recipes for graham cracker piecrusts and cheesecake crusts abound. Graham crackers are one ingredient found in various kinds of pancakes, muffins, ice cream sandwiches, fudge, and other sweet delights.

But S’mores are, in my respectful opinion, the best use of graham crackers.
Happy eating today - National Graham Cracker Day!

 FYI –National S’mores Day is August 10. So enjoy the treat at least twice a year! 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Where to Pee and Eat: A Modern American Travel Dilemma

How many stops does the average car take on a 1,000-mile road trip?

A lot when driving with a 10-year-old boy and a 60+ year old man.

Neither one can hold their bladder for more than a few short minutes.

Passing a service plaza with bathrooms, the 10-year-old responds when asked, “No, I don’t have to go.” Thirty seconds later, after passing the rest stop exit ramp, a small voice peeps up from the back seat, “I have to pee.”

Suddenly he is kicking the seat and squirming because he has to go NOW.

We rarely made it more than one hour before one of the guys required a detour to empty their bladder.

It did not help that the old guy guzzled coffee half the trip, and the younger one slurped water and lemonade.

And so our trip gradually progressed through summer heat, a pounding rainstorm, road construction, traffic, and a mounting number of stops to pee, feed passengers, fuel the car, and sleep.

Here is a deep philosophical question I began to ponder as we passed an American landscape dotted with trees, billboards, construction equipment, and an assortment of buildings so important to our way of life:

Why is it so difficult to find decent places to eat along major highways?

Fast food joints reign over our great overfed, overweight nation. A vast majority of these one-story structures assemble along highway exits. We (hub and I – the 10-year-old would have been very happy with junk food) refused to nourish our bodies with faux food.

Fast food outlets are good for one thing, however – a pee stop. Clean bathrooms with basic amenities like an unsoiled toilet, soap, water, and a means to dry hands are usually available, unless at the end of a store’s really, really busy day.

In an emergency we stopped at the side of the road because the 10-year-old could not wait any longer.  But that option is not available when traveling through cities and other populated areas.

Restaurants other than fast food venues gather in the greatest invention of American ingenuity of the 20th century – the mall.

Driving on mall access roads attempting to locate a restaurant discovered on our GPS or phone was too often an exercise in futility. We never found some places, and did not want to traipse through a mall to reach others.

The result of these fruitless endeavors was a great waste of time maneuvering off the highway, through mall networks, and back onto the highway, with much grumbling by the driver.

Meal choices were therefore limited.

But we did not starve, and made it home probably more than a couple of pounds heavier (I am too scared to get on the scale) because much food eaten was high in hidden calories.

But it is good to be home.

I can now pee in my own bathroom.

Sometimes the simplest things in life, things we take for granted, are the best.