Friday, February 28, 2020

Contemplating Confinement

Seventeen years ago a mega-blizzard blasted the Eastern United States. Folks remained home for days. The storm raged over President’s Day weekend, from February 14th to the 19th, 2003. Everything closed. Roads and airports, businesses, schools, all shut down. Life came to a standstill. Pennsylvania, my home state at the time, declared a state of emergency and insisted demanded urged citizens to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel. Hub and I settled in our warm and cozy condo, enjoying domestic pastimes like watching TV, reading, cooking and eating, putting together a 1,000 piece puzzle, and watching the snow fall.

That blizzard experience came to mind as a result of today’s 24/7 news. It is difficult to avoid the coronavirus hype. Regions around the world are quarantined – a huge region of China, towns in northern Italy, folks on a cruise ship, then again when returning to the U.S. 

Being confined in an inside cabin on a cruise ship sends me into paroxysms of anxiety. There are no cruise plans in my future. But I think about the possibility...would I be forced to pay the exorbitant wifi fees charged by ships (usually $15-$25/day)? I can survive a week or so without constant wifi access, but I would not want to be cut off from the outside world for two plus weeks. Folks might get mad when I don’t wish them Happy Birthday on Facebook or like their posts...old friends might think this senior citizen left this world...bills would pile up and nasty notes demanding payment clog my email inbox and snail mailbox.

So, should I be proactive and prepare to be quarantined at home?

Should I fill my freezer with ice cream and other high-calorie frozen delights to ease my unease?

During a snowstorm folks make a bread and milk run. Should I stock up on firewood, Starbucks Frappuccinos, wine and cheese, and chocolate in preparation for fireside feasting?

I have a pile of books eager to be opened, but maybe I should stop by the library and take out a couple more. 

Should I buy candles and canned foods in case our electricity is knocked out? Another reason to stock up on books, an alternative to endless binge TV-watching.

And I better check my toilet paper supply (diarrhea can be a symptom of coronavirus, in case you missed that warning).

What about exercise? After being confined in a house without a Peloton, will I balloon a few pounds? I fear it is inevitable.

No one knows what will happen tomorrow, next week and beyond. Rather than obsess about the virus, I will fixate on whether the black pants I want to wear tomorrow night are clean, and if I can find them...That is really what I should do if confined at home.

Clean my closet. And maybe the rest of my house.

Friday, February 21, 2020

A Bit of Sweet Nostalgia

The current state of the world throws one into paroxysms of despair. I would like to ignore the goings-on, stick my head in the sand and not come up until someone taps me on the shoulder and says, “The craziness is all over. It’s OK now. Let’s go to Starbucks and catch up.” 

My week began with a long, long, long drive from Vermont to my home. Finally arrived, I nursed a sore back and aching muscles while mundane activities such as food shopping and laundry occupied my time.

Because of the stress of mundane activities, my system revolted and I succumbed to a bug that required me to do nothing but sleep for two days. It was a chore shuffling from bed to the couch. I needed comfort. My murky, sleep-induced mind drifted back to a time when a candy bar cured a host of childhood troubles...to a time I didn’t worry about the state of the nation...to a time I didn’t care about calories or sugar or salt content or what difficult-to-pronounce chemicals comprised my favorite foods...a time when a small wrapped candy was one of my preferred go-to munchies.

I fancied a Tootsie Roll. The candy is still made today, it is still small and individually
wrapped, and probably still contains the same unhealthy ingredients. And I am sure mouth-watering, sticking to the roof of the mouth yummy.

Unfortunately, there are no Tootsie Rolls in my house, a house devoid of candy, my home a sweet wasteland. Only memories...

The Tootsie Roll story begins with an Austrian immigrant, Leo Hirshfeld, who arrived in the United States in 1884. Hirshfeld’s father was in the candy business, and the son followed his father’s trade. Hirshfeld invented the Tootsie Roll in 1896 and named the candy Tootsie, his daughter Clara’s nickname. The candies were sold out of Hirshfeld’s candy store in Brooklyn for a penny apiece. One piece contains 140 calories – but who can eat just one?

A nice narrative, but not quite true. I found the first version, but digging deeper discovered what apparently is the real tale

Tootsie Rolls were invented by Hirshfeld, but not until 1908. At the time he worked for the Stern and Saalberg Candy Company. Hirshfeld invented other food items, including a gelatin dessert mix that became a standard ingredient in many early 20th century recipes (does Shredded Wheat Biscuit Jellied Apple Sandwich sound appealing?). Hirshfeld received patents for candy-making techniques and machines. He became a wealthy man.

Sadly Hirschfeld’s story does not end on a happy note. He left the company by 1920, probably dismissed by new company owners. He committed suicide in 1922.

The Stern and Saalberg Candy Company became The Sweets Company of America, and eventually Tootsie Roll Industries.

The company has been wrestling with one big question for decades: How many licks does it take to reach the center of a Tootsie Roll pop? The answer remains elusive. While pondering the question view this 1970 commercial about this issue, and maybe go out and buy a Tootsie Roll or two, or a Tootsie Roll Pop, and enjoy!


Sunday, February 16, 2020

Channeling Eleanor Roosevelt

The Hudson Valley of New York State is a sliver of real estate alongside the Hudson River. The Algonquin Indians lived in the region when the Dutch settled the territory in the 1600s. By the end of the 17th century the English controlled the area, and during the 18th and 19th centuries the elite of New York City made the Hudson Valley their summer playground, building cottages (mansions by my criteria) overlooking the river. Many of these homes are open for tours, including estates established by the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Roosevelts. 

Today the waterway and roadways meander north from the concrete metropolis of New York City through affluent suburbs, picturesque small towns and countryside. Hub and I drove country roads on a bitter cold February day, our destination Val-Kill, a National Historic site and the home of Eleanor Roosevelt (ER), wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the U.S. from 1933 until his death in 1945. 

FDR’s family spent a lot of time at Hyde Park, their Hudson Valley estate. But the residence belonged to his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt. FDR built a cottage as a retreat and workplace for Eleanor, titled Val-Kill after a creek next to the property (kill is a Dutch word for a body of water, usually a creek or river).
Val-Kill
ER was an unconventional housewife, political wife, First Lady, journalist, ambassador and activist.

Val-Kill is stark during a winter shorn of greenery, no flowers blooming, no leaves on trees, no signs of wildlife. Snow would cover the grayness, creating a picture-postcard scene – Eleanor loved her snow-covered surroundings – but seasonal cold without winter white is just dreary (IMHO). But looking around I could see why the place became a welcome sanctuary. Far from the obligations and pressures of Albany and later the White House, ER immersed herself in her work – writing a daily column and more than 30 books, involvement in civil rights and causes championing the underdog. Prominent folks found their way to Val-Kill from around the world – Winston Churchill, Madame Chang Kai Shek, Shirley Temple, the King and Queen of England, John F. Kennedy, and many more. 

The weather did not deter hub and I from touring the house. But we are winter wimps, especially when temperatures hover below freezing, and did not hike surrounding trails. 

Hub and I found the parking lot packed - with three cars. Our tour began with an introductory film. We were the only ones in the screening room. The guide said others may join us later, but that didn’t happen. We enjoyed a private tour of the first and second floors of the house. If more than eight people are on the tour, the upstairs is not included. Narrow stairs and hallway preclude large numbers wandering the second floor.

ER’s home, viewed today as it appeared when she lived there, is a modest dwelling filled
with books, family pictures, and comfy-looking upholstered chairs. Chatting with her secretary, writing, meeting visitors, planning projects, presiding over a meal with numerous guests – local folks, dignitaries, old friends, family members - ER’s warmth, energy, and stamina (she evidently slept only four hours a day) pervade the house decades after she last roamed the rooms. A woman who championed causes such as civil rights, she worked to improve conditions she found unconscionable. ER’s legacy and life inspire us today.

When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die. - ER

Some of my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quotes:

A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water.

The only advantage of not being too good a housekeeper is that your guests are so pleased to feel how very much better they are.

Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.

And my favorite:
Once I had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: "No good in a bed, but fine up against a wall.”

Friday, February 7, 2020

Driving Again, Almost

8:00 am and time to hit the road. Hub and I faced a long ride north to the state of verdant Vermont, and Bernie Sanders. Two granddaughters awaited our arrival - not so eagerly. Their Mom was leaving on a jet plane (apologies to composer John Denver and singers Peter, Paul, and Mary) and were not thrilled to be left in the capable hands of Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, all of whom place a distant second, third and fourth to Mom. But everyone needs a vacation, and Mom is no exception.

I am prepared for winter!
Hub and I pack the car with suitcases and backpacks, and toss jackets and cold weather wear in the car - hats, gloves, scarfs, boots, our warmest sweaters. I make a quick round of the house to ensure lights are off, faucets are not dripping, no toilet is running.

Hub and I get in the car, secure seat belts and lean back, ready, if not eager, for the trip. Hub, who earned the first drive stint, starts the car. We slowly head down the block. Then we hear a not-normal sound – ker-plunk, ker-plunk, ker-plunk. No doubt about it, there is a problem. Hub stops the car, I exit and begin scouting around the car. Doesn’t take long to spot the problem.

A flat tire.

How could this be? We drove home from a Super Bowl party the evening before with no difficulty. We must have run over a nail or something that drove a wedge into the tire and deflated it overnight.

We weren’t going anywhere immediately.

We contacted AAA. 

A half hour later a quick-responding mechanic removed the damaged tire, replaced it with a donut spare, and we were on our way. Again.

Sort of. We could not drive far on a faux tire. I called the car dealer – we thought the tires might be covered under our recently-purchased car’s warranty - and scheduled an appointment to exchange the donut for a real tire.

By noon we were on the road. Again. After paying for a tire NOT covered by the car’s warranty.

I am glad to report we completed the trip without further incident, a calm, uneventful  journey through the pinelands of southern New Jersey, the industrial dreck of northern New Jersey, the congested suburbs of New York City, the brown mountains along the New York Thruway, and the fallow fields of Vermont.
A fave Vermont
outdoor activity
(some hearty souls participate.
Others, like me,
are spectators and watch
from a warm indoor location!)

Not many seniors travel north during the winter, preferring to escape to warm sunny skies. But family beckons, and so hub and I sit in a cozy family room, staring at a blazing fire as snow falls outside. In my opinion cold wintry weather is not fun, but snow offers some solace in its splendor, especially when initially falling, covering a gray landscape with pristine white, creating a temporary perfect, beautiful scene.