Monday, January 30, 2017

Joining the Migration South, Temporarily

People around the world journeyed from one seasonal residence to another for centuries. They followed food sources, like the Indians tracking the buffalo. People trekked to climates amenable to planting crops, moving back and forth across the same lands twice a year. Romans spent summers along the lakes and mountains of northern Italy, far from the filth and diseases pervading the city during the hottest months of the year.

Today a mass movement floods American highways and air routes every winter. Retirees from the Northeastern states across the midwest to the Pacific coastal enclaves of Alaska, Washington and Oregon pack their bags and travel south. Seniors from our neighbor to the north, Canada, also head south in winter. Travelers settle throughout the southwest, Mexico and the Caribbean, South American countries, and Florida.

Hub and I are following the tide, driving south to savor warm weather for a few weeks. Visiting family and friends in Florida for a few days, we will then venture further south. I would call our trip a vacation but since neither of us work I guess it is not technically a vacation. I am not sure what to call it.

Our first stop, besides one night in a motel is Asheville NC, location of the largest privately owned home in the U.S., Biltmore, a Gilded Age residence built by a member of one of the wealthiest families in America during pre-income tax days, the Vanderbilts.

Asheville lies in the mountains of western North Carolina. The city has undergone a Renaissance of sorts over the past twenty years, morphing from a sleepy, rather poor country town to a city known for its food, beer, art, hipsters, funky ambiance, year-round recreational activities, and tourists.
On the road to Asheville

An Airbnb apartment is home for our four-day stay. We have a kitchen, a room with a TV larger than ours at home, upholstered chairs and a couch (actually a futon) for relaxing, a bedroom and bathroom. Definitely better than a hotel room for hanging out. Our days of being on the go from early morning to well past dark are long gone. We are leisurely travelers. Directly across the street the Greenlife grocery stocks organic merchandise.  Recently purchased by Whole Foods, the store retained its original name. We scoped out the place and purchased a few groceries. More expensive than a conventional supermarket, but a lot less than eating every meal out.

Downtown Asheville retains its late 19th century Victorian and early 20th century Art Deco architecture. Since the city was economically depressed for decades following the Depression, buildings were not torn down to make way for larger structures. We spent an afternoon on a Comedy Tour, riding a reconditioned school bus around town hearing about the city's history and the colorful characters who lived in or passed through Asheville, such as Thomas Wolf. Asheville is the real town depicted in the author's book Look Homeward, Angel. Another celebrity gracing the environs was Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott. She spent time on and off for years in a local sanitarium, and was unlucky enough to be staying at the place when a fire broke out. Locked in her room and strapped down awaiting electroshock therapy, she died in the blaze. The year 1948, and Zelda was 47.

If never in Asheville, put the city on your bucket list. It has made top must-see lists in various magazines. Lonely Planet named Asheville the Best in the U.S. Destination in 2017Check here for additional endorsements.
NPR calls Asheville the"Napa Valley of Beer," and the city
Boasts over 40 breweries and pubs. 
North Carolina made headlines over the passage of transgender bathroom laws.
Asheville is a liberal enclave in the midst of a conservative rural area.

Artists took over old warehouses and transformed an area along the river
Into the River Arts District with studios, galleries, stores, and cafes.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Day in the City

Hub and I ventured into Philadelphia last weekend to rendezvous with family and celebrate Mom’s 92nd birthday (Wow!).

Dining options proliferate everywhere nowadays. However finding unusual, fun places can be challenging. My niece, a Philadelphia resident, discovers interesting city eateries when family gathers. This day’s selected spot: Victor Café in south Philly.

But before enjoying dinner and the family, hub and I had to get to the city.

Center city parking can be problematic and expensive, so we opted for car/train transportation. First we drove to a suburban train station, parked (free on weekends!), and then took a 25-minute train ride into the city. Round-trip senior fare for the two of us: $12.00.

Cheap, no traffic jams, no parking fees.

Once in the city we exchanged our suburban transport for a SEPTA train for a two-stop ride.

Cost: free!

Life as a senior sometimes has advantages.

Victor Café is an Italian restaurant with a history reaching back almost 100 years. An Italian immigrant with a love for classical music opened a record shop in 1918, actually a gramophone shop, and sold RCA Victor recordings. Eventually the owner, John DiStefano, added a café to keep patrons in his shop longer, and the store became a gathering place for music devotees. 

The café’s uniqueness is the entertainment. Every 20 minutes a bell rings. Everyone stops chatting, puts eating utensils aside, and turns their attention to a restaurant employee. The performers do double duty as wait staff and opera singers.

Our meal ended with the entire wait staff, a.k.a. chorus, approaching our table with a piece of cake for the birthday girl and singing a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday. It was the most beautiful operatic Happy Birthday any of us ever heard!

 On to the theater…by the way, the food was very good…for the play Laughter on the 23rd Floor, a Neil Simon comedy. The entire performance takes place in one office in a New York City skyscraper, the time 1953. The slapstick comedy initially opened on Broadway in 1993. Playwright Neil Simon evokes his experience working with the comedian Sid Caesar and a group of young writers who eventually made their mark on Hollywood, including Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart and Mel Brooks (different names used in the play).  The comedy also  reveals the political and social sentiments of the time. The actors rant about Joseph McCarthy, ethnic eccentricities, relationships, stereotypes, and attitudes toward women.

The play kept me smiling most of the time, but at the same time I got a sad feeling realizing too many of the issues highlighted in the show remain societal problems today, over 60 years later. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Best of Boomers On Current and Past Events

              …talk of poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in.
How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care.
How long it’s been since yesterday, what about tomorrow
and what about our dreams and all the memories we share?
-       from 'Poems, Prayers and Promises' by John Denver (1971)

 These women show their support for the Womens March
Uvita, Cost Rica (population 2,500).

Antarctica marchers
This past week we witnessed an historic couple of days, the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States and the Women’s March movement. The March movement was generated in response to the election of Donald Trump. People turn out in force not only in Washington, D.C., but also in cities and towns throughout the United States and around the world.

Following the Inaugural festivities, many of us want nothing more than to get back to our lives, and sometimes that involves not only remembering the past. In that vein, Carol Cassara of Heart Mind Soul takes a nostalgic look at one old song with new eyes, yielding some interesting thoughts.

In another post Carol connects memories with a song by one of her favorite Baby Boomers, and in the odd way that oldies seem to make improbable connections, she remembers John Denver.

According to the polls millions tuned in to the Inaugural festivities. I was not interested, preferring humble tasks such as laundry and cleaning, but hub wanted to hear DJT’s speech. So I listened. Unfortunately the speech gave me not a modicum of hope DJT will change his string of negativity. It was a dark speech. We obviously live in different countries.

Laura Lee Carter of Adventures of the New Old Farts provides her opinion of the new President in what I really think about the inauguration of a fool...

Tom Sightings reports in that he had one reaction to the presidential inauguration: Get out of town! Take a drive over to Changing the Conversation to see where he went, and what he's doing.

Rita Robison, consumer journalist, catches us up on some of the last actions of the Obama Administration. Federal officials were busy settling and filing lawsuits. Uber agreed to pay $20 million for exaggerating employment claims for its drivers’ likely income. Western Union will pay $586 million to settle charges its agents knowingly wired consumers’ money to scam artists. In addition, lawsuits werefiled against Navient, the nation’s largest servicer of student loans, for failing borrowers at every stage of repayment, and TCF National Bank for tricking consumers into costly overdraft services.
Robison wonders how long it will take Republicans to begin working on dismantling the consumer protection functions of the federal government. Eric Schneiderman, New York attorney general, also is concerned the Republican Congress and President might pass a law that would shut down consumer protection in the states, too.
In honor of Inauguration Day I looked ahead four years to the next Inauguration Day. With some levity and a bit of humor –needed in these divisive times – read about the first installment of my series Countdown to the (2020) Presidential Election
In the spirit of let’s all try to get along despite our different opinions, I wish everyone a happy, healthy and harmonious week.

…Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.
-       From ‘Of History and Hope’ by Miller Williams
-       Poem read at the inauguration of Bill Clinton 1997
FYI – No poet read at DJT’s inauguration. Robert Frost was the first Inaugural Poet at JFK's Inauguration in 1961. No Republican have had poets read at their Inaugurations. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Countdown to the Presidential Election

Installment #1 

As of January 20, 2016, there are 1,383 days to the next
Presidential election on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

The inauguration of the 45th President of the United States on Friday, January 20, 2016, means it is time to begin thinking and arguing, discoursing, researching, prognosticating and writing about the next Presidential election.

Fake news, faux news, real news, facts, factoids, fabrications and lies – bring it all on! After all, DJT pledges to create jobs, and lots of jobs exist in the Presidential news industry.

The only thing we know for sure about four years from now is that no one can predict anything. We can only guess what the economy will be like, what the makeup of Congress will be, about the global economic and political situation, what wars will end, which current ones drag on, and whether new ones start.

DJT will be 74 years old in 2020. Ronald Reagan was 73 when sworn in for his second term, the oldest second-term President. DJT may want to prolong the country’s agony and run a second time. Then the question becomes: Who will be the Democratic candidate? (Assuming the Democratic Party survives until 2020.)

The Democratic Party’s 2016 candidates are already of Social Security and Medicare age, although those programs may not exist in four years. Bernie Sanders is 75 and Hillary Clinton 69. I doubt either one will vie for the party’s 2020 nomination. What other candidates appear over the next four years is anyone’s guess. A few possibilities currently 60 years of age or younger include Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and the recently elected Governor of North Carolina Roy Cooper.

Then there are celebrities, who the American public seems to love in a Presidential role, fictional or real. Some actors with experience as President because they played a real and/or fictional President in a TV show and/or movie and therefore may be an excellent real President: George Clooney (what woman wouldn’t vote for him?), Chris Rock, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tea Leoni (she’s doing such a wonderful job as Secretary of State on the TV show Madam Secretary she deserves a promotion). 
Actors Rob Lowe and James Marsden played JFK.
If DJT does not run in four years the Republican Party possibilities are endless. Many of the 2016 candidates vying for the job will still be young enough to try again, including Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Chris Christie. Ben Carson is 65, John Kasich 64 and Rick Perry 66, but if DJT could run at age 70, so can these men. Jeb Bush is 66, but there are young, ambitious Bushes waiting their opportunity to shine in the political limelight.
Martin Sheen as the fictional President Bartlett from the TV show "West Wing"
Vice President Mike Pence – if he doesn’t ascend to the job due to DJT’s resignation or impeachment - might decide to seek a job promotion. Paul Ryan could throw his hat in the ring. New Republican faces include two South Carolinians, Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott. Celebrity contenders include Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson, Lou Ferigno (The Incredible Hulk, and apparently still a hunk), NBA star Dennis Rodman, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, although he is 69. Unfortunately Schwarzenegger is not currently eligible because he was born in Austria. But you never know, maybe the law will change in the next four years.
Ronald Reagan was an actor,
then the real Governor of California and President.
Here is an interesting match-up: Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Democrat Maria Shriver. For those not into People magazine or celebrity gossip or simply do not remember the news headlines, Arnold and Maria were married for years. Arnold is an actor and was Governor of California (the real governor, not a fictionalized character) and Maria the state’s First Lady. They divorced when it became public Arnold had a love child with the family’s maid.

That would be an interesting election…

And if they don’t run against each other for real, the idea would make a great movie. Or miniseries. 
Bill Murray as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Cook of the Year

Or at least Cook of One Moment, One Day, maybe Cook of the Month…

I enjoy cooking. I improvise, to an extent, and have favorite dishes I prepare often. I try new recipes, although if there are too many ingredients my eyes glaze over and I move on, and if there are too many steps or prep time is longer than a TV show I watch while cooking, I move on. I do not bake, except for brownies when the grandkids visit. No baked goods - bakery creations, mine or pre-packaged - anywhere in my house. Too tempting.

I admit I was not a diligent, conscientious, consistent cook when raising my boys. Not that I did not like to cook, but other activities got in the way. My older son took culinary arts in high school and when people inquired, “Why?” his response was, “Otherwise I would starve.”

The situation was not that bad at my house, but you get the idea…

I never realized some people find cooking difficult, or do not like to cook, or are poor cooks, until an incident years ago. I worked on a project making meals for a homeless shelter. One month, rather than prepare the meal in the Temple kitchen, volunteers made pasta casseroles (simple 6-ingredient recipe provided) at home. As people dropped off their creation I was surprised – shocked – amazed – at the wide variety of concoctions. Overcooked noodles, undercooked noodles, pasta swimming in liquid, terrible tasting dishes…

Fast forward to a time when my kids are grown and I am retired. There is time to cook, try new ingredients and recipes and experiment. I can also volunteer to prepare a dish for events.

I made a Panzanella salad (a Tuscan dish made with bread and tomatoes) for 30 people, using a recipe provided by a professional chef. The chef was supposed to make the dish, but had to bow out. So I stepped in.

I never received such accolades for my cooking as showered me over the salad. I don’t know why; I did not think it was anything special. But it did make me feel good!

In the spirit of sharing, the recipe is provided below. If looking for a yummy side dish give it a try.

Panzanella Salad
Cherry tomatoes (tricolor tomatoes make it look a little more festive)
Fresh Basil
Small mozzarella balls
Kalamata olives (drained)
Olive bread or semolina bread (I made a lot of calls and no store or bakery stocked olive bread. I used a semolina baguette).
Olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Balsamic glaze (I never used this before. Purchased a small bottle at a supermarket. I will definitely use it on other dishes.)

Cut cherry tomatoes in half, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stack and roll the basil leaves and cut into strips. Mix tomatoes and basil together. Add mozzarella balls, coat well with oil and toss mixture. Add (whole) drained olives.
Cut bread into cubes (crouton size) and sauté in olive oil. Add to salad, then add a little more oil and toss well.
Place salad in serving dish and, immediately before serving, drizzle liberally with balsamic glaze.
Eat and enjoy! 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

2017 Color of the Year

I see green.

Soon everyone will be seeing green, not only outdoors as spring approaches, but indoors as well.

The color green – more specifically the color christened ‘greenery’, Pantone color number 15-0343 – is the 2017 Color of the Year.

Every year the Pantone Company selects a color that, in the company’s words, is-

a color snapshot of what we see taking place in our global culture that serves as an expression of a mood and an attitude.

Never hear of Pantone? Headquartered in my home state of New Jersey, the company acts as the world’s – or at least the country’s - coordinator of color, matching colors from various manufacturers to ensure exact matches.

Choosing a color of the year is a serious undertaking. Pantone sponsors a conference and gathers professionals from various companies and countries. The meetings are held in a different European city each year.

It is with humility and genuine commitment that I offer my services to help choose the 2018 Color of the Year. I believe, because of my extensive experience reading, writing, communicating with individuals around the world, tapping into the mood of the people, as well as experience choosing colors for artwork, homes, and clothing, my input would be meaningful. And I love to travel. Give me a heads up and I will begin taking notes for the conference. But moving on…

Personally, I find greenery boring. If the company bothered asking me, I would probably have recommended a shade of red, reflecting my recent emotions of anger and frustration. Or perhaps a blue hue, since following the frenetic 2016 election I definitely feel the blues.

But green it is. And maybe boring, uninteresting, unexciting is what the company sought in this year’s choice. The color greenery, a yellow-green worthy of neutrality, oozes calm and, anticipating spring green, new beginnings.

Stores will soon advertise spring merchandise. Greenery will be everywhere. I must admit it is better than some choices of previous years, such as 2006’s sand dollar (boring beige).

I have a feeling my relationship with the 2017 Color of the Year will mostly involve observing greenery outside. Although spring is not quite around the corner, I cannot wait. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Let it Snow!

The first fall of snow is not only an event,
 it is a magical event. 
You go to bed in one kind of a world 
and wake up in another quite different, 
and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?
- J. B. Priestley
The first weekend of 2017 ushered in bitter cold and the first snow of the season. It may be the only snow this winter – our now pristine-white corner of the Jersey shore does not receive copious amounts of snow. 

When the snowfall ended, more than 10 inches of feathery white stuff covered my world. Hub and I hibernated most of the day, reading, doing laundry, watching TV, carefully avoiding political broadcasts - instead watching old movies, including the iconic The Maltese Falcon.

By mid-afternoon the pull of falling snow became irresistible. And although the refrigerator was well stocked, we decided to venture out for lunch. A call to an Italian restaurant about four blocks away reassured us our dining destination was open.

It took more than a few minutes to suit up – long underwear, pants, thermal Vermont sweatshirt, ski jacket, gloves, boots…I was exhausted before setting foot outside.

The local temperature registered 22 degrees. indicated the wind chill made it feel like 9 degrees.

Tentatively setting foot outside, walking slowly to (hopefully) avoid falling on ice beneath the snow, we found ourselves alone on a deserted, silent street. Approaching the main road, an occasional car passed. The sidewalks were devoid of pedestrians. Most businesses closed by noon.

On the way home I took my gloves off to take pictures, but after a couple of shots my hands got so cold I had to put the gloves back on. No more pictures.

Returning home I peeled off the layers, donned my stay-at-home outfit of sweatpants and sweatshirt and returned to my comfy couch. As long as I avoid the constant news rants about DJT, I am a happy hibernator. I may remain in hibernation until Inauguration Day. 2021.

Falling Snow
Amy Lowell
The snow whispers around me 
And my wooden clogs 
Leave holes behind me in the snow. 
But no one will pass this way 
Seeking my footsteps, 
And when the temple bell rings again 
They will be covered and gone.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Quiet Drive and An American Flag

Driving along the coastal road through almost-deserted resort towns on the last day of 2016, quiet streets and few cars marked the landscape, so different from the traffic-clogged roads of summer. Gray-green ocean waters glistened under the cloudless sky. Low, shallow waves rippled, overlapping, collapsing onto the sand and finally disappearing back into the sea.  

A gentle last day of a chaotic year.

Many shore businesses close during the off-season, shutting their doors in September or October and reopening the following spring. A few businesses remain open all year, catering to construction workers building new homes, road crews, repairmen, weekend visitors, and the few souls making seaside resort towns their year-round home.

Pizza shops advertised with lighted open signs and every town’s Wawa (convenience store) boasted cars in the lot. One town’s main street defied off-season abandonment, decorating and open for business during the holidays.

In front of a seafood market obviously closed, windows shuttered with a large sign on the door thanking patrons for their business and looking forward to seeing everyone next spring, a flagpole in the parking lot caught my eye. An American flag fluttered in the slight wind.

A quick drive-by piqued my curiosity. At first I thought the light gave the flag an off-color, but as the car approached and passed I asked hub to turn around for a closer look.

Hub parked in front of the flagpole. I leaned out the window. Now I was sure my eyes did not deceive. A black and white flag with a blue bar replacing one white stripe flew from the flagpole. I snapped a picture and we drove on.

What would we do without Google? I googled on my iPhone “black and white flag blue line,” and a slew of responses immediately appeared on the small screen. I had never seen the flag before but discovered it is not a new configuration, flying from various places around the country since 1988.

The flag honors law enforcement, memorializing the fallen and honoring those currently serving. My guess is a member of the family that owns the seafood market where the flag flies is a police officer.

Controversy, a typical American reaction to…everything, surrounds the flag. Some people consider it a desecration of the traditional American flag. But Amazon, among other retailers, sells flags, T-shirts and other items featuring the blue line flag.

Hub and I continued our tour of shore communities, relishing the quietude. The march forward is unrelenting, and come summer the world will once again intrude on these peaceful islands.

It would be lovely if this year stable, calm times, like a long winter at the shore, lasts much longer than the ugly domestic and world events upsetting our lives too frequently nowadays.

My hope for 2017 is a year of more smiles than sadness.