Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Back to the sixties!

Two recent weekends reminded me of the good old days. Back to the Sixties! I attended college from 1968-1972, which still ranks among the most controversial campus years -- with Vietnam demonstrations, black student protests and radical organizations staging sit-ins in administration buildings. It's interesting to speculate on how that has shaped my world view and political opinions.

Anne, Ginny, Roseanne.  Where's Barbara?
This past weekend I had a mini reunion with 3 of my college roommates. One legacy of a late 60's college education is a continued and acute interest in social and political issues. We covered most of them, along with a little reminiscing and catching up on the present -- kids, grandkids, husbands, careers and retirement. On Sunday, Gary remarked: I can't believe you are still talking!" "Not just talking," I said, "fixing the problems of the world!" 

If only it were so easy. I suppose now we have a more measured view of what can be accomplished and perhaps even a more cynical one. How have our life choices supported our early views and how much have they instead reflected the pressures of conforming and being successful? Racial discrimination and a permanent underclass seem as bad as ever. How have we helped solve that problem?  But I do love how we easily slipped back into our college roles. We sat around on deck chairs sipping mimosas, but could have easily been sprawled out on each other's narrow twin beds in Mary Donlon Hall, as we did 40 years ago.

A few weeks before, I attended the Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference in Philly, sponsored by an organization called Living Beyond Breast Cancer. They do a great job presenting topics of interest to patients with mbc and their caregivers. One new aspect of the conference this year was Hear My Voice Advocacy training held on Friday before the sessions started. The program presented factual information on mbc's biology, treatment and research as well as the needs of the mbc community as presented in the 2014 Landscape Report of the MBC Alliance. There were many young women attending and they were inspired to action. Some cited Metastatic Breast Cancer Network's President Shirley Mertz who spoke and compared the mbc statistics to those of the early days of the AIDS movement. Shirley cited the figure that 108 people die every day from breast cancer and asked why no one was making the media stand up and take notice.

108 die today and everyday from metastatic breast cancer
So the young advocates decided to stage a "Die-In" in the lobby of the Philadelphia Loew's Hotel. 108 women would lie down on the floor, while a eulogy was read to emphasize the lack of progress in this part of the breast cancer campaign. Yes, there are more treatments and early detection, but the fact remains that 40,000 women and men still die every year from mbc--breast cancer that has spread or metastasized to other parts of the body--and this number has not changed in the last two decades. No one knows what causes breast cancer or what causes it to spread.

I was just claiming my car from the parking garage, planning to detour to the shore before coming home, when I got the text from Shirley. Whoa! Back to the 60's! If there was a protest march on an issue I firmly believe in, I was all in. The die-in was moved to the third floor hallways where the conference was being held, but it was moving and emotional.

I was pumped."Back to the sixties!" I yelled and then realized that I was surrounded by some who had not even been born then. One young woman next to me said she had protested when she was in college, too. They were raising the drinking age from 18 to 21! "Oh," was all I could muster.  We may not have accomplished much, but at least my generation aimed higher.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Hoosier Holiday

Just back from a relaxing, enjoyable week in the Heartland, visiting son Eric at IU. Great meals, fun entertainment, sightseeing and re-exploring the college life with afternoon naps included! We did everything from a student Soul Revue to the museums and sights of Indianapolis and Bloomington and an afternoon in Nashville (alas, Indiana, not Tennessee!). We visited a few local parks and lakes and walked the beautiful IU campus, just coming into full springtime bloom, with redbud trees and ornamental cherry and plum.

Mario Andretti
A highlight definitely for Gary and Eric: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway tour.  I poked fun at the exciting brochure description: see the Media Room, the luxury boxes, Gasoline Alley and.....the garages! Ride in a bus around the world famous track.  Really? I could hardly contain myself, having never even seen the race on TV and being unfamiliar with its history or traditions. And there are quite a few traditions. The winner kneels and kisses the bricks at the finish line, a narrow strip of Indiana brick, the last remnants of a now asphalt covered track that started out as a cinder track and evolved into a completely brick covered one. (That had to be a bumpy ride.) The winner also drinks milk on the victory platform-- a wise marketing move by the Dairy Council from the early days when a farmboy winner was caught on film drinking buttermilk. Mother knows best and she had impressed on her son the restorative value of a long drink of milk after an exhausting day at the race course. Today they keep on hand the milk preference of each of the 33 entrants, be it almond, buttermilk, skim or whole. The only requirement is it must be white--no strawberry flavored or chocolate allowed.

There's a speed demon hidden in all of us!

Our tour guide urged us to return some day to experience the 3 hour race, to feel the rumble of the sleek cars, the roar of the jet engines and bring your own picnic cooler lunch and drinks. All I could conjure up was an image of me slathered in suntan lotion, ear plugs in place, sitting uncomfortably on backless bleachers next to drunken fans. But, I will be tuning in Sunday May 24 to see what that media room looks like live and confirm that bricks are indeed kissed.

Another interesting site was Benjamin Harrison's house--a beautiful 3 story home that belonged to the 23rd president, the only one elected from Indiana. I dare you to name something he did during his 1 term from 1889-1893, sandwiched between the two Grover Cleveland terms. Are you stumped? His wife, Caroline Scott Harrison, actually seemed more accomplished--a water color  artist, first DAR president, only First Lady to create her own china pattern and personally resposible for rescuing other presidents' china from the basement of the White House to a place of honor. She was the Jackie Kennedy of the 19th Century.

Beautiful house and we managed to avoid the school groups!
Benjamin, grandson of President William Henry Harrison (who served exactly one month before dying from pneumonia), lost his 2nd election bid. His beautiful Caroline was dying of tuberculosis and the president restricted his campaigning. He returned to a law practice in Indianapolis and developed a close friendship with his deceased wife's devoted niece, who had been her White House social secretary. You guessed it-- after a few years, their friendship turned to love despite the 25 year age difference and the fact that it seems a bit creepy to marry your wife's niece.

Our two portly docents provided one on one attention to us--an hour and a half tour. They were lovely and well informed, and I felt guilty as they wheezed and groaned ascending to the 3rd floor ballroom. We saw it all!

I have to say my favorite part of the trip was seeing Eric teaching two classes and meeting his friends and professors at the departmental dinner. It's hard to believe that the little boy who was too shy to ring doorbells at Halloween now commands his student audience, mike in hand, regaling them with questions, stories and funny comments.

Gary and I slipped into comparing today's college students to our own experiences with perhaps a few too many sentences that began "Now back in my day..."  In today's lecture hall there wasn't a notebook in sight. Laptops and phones dominated the landscape and, of course, the ever present water bottle. I don't know how our generation managed to evade severe dehydration...back in the day.

OK there are 2 things!
Eric's teaching techniques were incredible.  He was able to get and hold their attention and stimulate some spirited discussion even though the lecture hall held over 170 students (not all present this late in the semester). I particularly liked how he exhorted them to hold up their phones over their heads and then put them away in their pockets, followed by a dramatic closing of the laptops. It works! I think we all know the addictive pull of our technological toys and I liked the discussion on this effect on communication, relationships and wellness.

It's so much fun to be a parent and see your child thriving in his own environment. Two years at IU have flown by quickly. I made reservations for graduation next May. Who else wants to come? The Heartland is calling!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cookie Contest

You may point to the chirping of birds in your backyard, the emergence of a brownish-green lawn or the budding of forsythia as sure signs of spring, but for me it's the arrival of my Girl Scout cookie order.  I'm a traditionalist and stick to the two best cookies: Thin Mints and Samoas.

Fun fact: Not all Girl Scout cookies are the same. There are two authorized bakers: ABC Bakers in Richmond, Virginia and Little Brownie Bakers in Louisville, Kentucky. The Mississippi River may be the dividing line: Little Brownie Bakers distributed in the east and ABC Bakers in the west. At least that's my conclusion based on a story from heartland TV station KFVS in the greater St. Louis area. Such a dilemma there, where traveling across the river can get you a totally different cookie. Here in Bergen County NJ, east of the Mississippi, we get Little Brownie Bakers.

Not only are there differences in appearance, taste and ingredients, but also the names of the cookies. Samoas can be called Caramel deLites; Tagalongs know as Peanut Butter Patties. Is it Trefoils or Shortbread, Do-si-dos or Peanut Butter Sandwiches? It all depends on where you live. As for the 3 new varieties offered this year, I'm not sure my neighborhood sales girl had them. I certainly got no sales pitch for Rah Rah Raisin (oatmeal raisin) or the gluten free Toffee-tastic (toffee bits in a butter cookie) or Trios (chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal). She also didn't mention that my beloved Thin Mints are now vegan - smart little salesgirl, knowing my preference over the years. I may have hesitated if I'd known. Vegan cookie is right up there with favorite oxymorons like Military Intelligence and Jumbo Shrimp--impossible, contradictory combinations. If I'd known, I may have just resorted to the Stop and Shop imitations, which are actually quite good.

When I got my order, I immediately examined the "nutrition" information on the box and confirmed that whey had been removed. Yippee - my first vegan cookie! The taste test was next. The thin mints box suggests a serving size of 4 cookies (160 calories), but everyone knows the actual thin mint serving size is one sleeve. Yes, folks, that's 16 cookies at a whopping 640 calories! Yum.

The thin mints passed my test, but I decided I will hold a cookie tasting contest this Saturday to get wider input. Contenders will be the Little Brownie Bakers vs Stop and Shop. If someone could express ship me some ABC cookies, I'd greatly appreciate it!  The strictest guidelines will be followed including blindfolds, milk to cleanse the palate and a detailed questionnaire. 
Stay tuned for results. Wishing you a very Happy Easter or Passover!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Florida Respite

Happy Spring! View from my kitchen window.
Just realized when I was confronted with this lovely scene on the first day of Spring on Friday that I had never written about my winter weariness relief trip to Florida 2 weeks ago. Seems like ages ago now, but here goes.

I've been to Florida many times over the years, especially to the Tampa area, since Gary's parents had retired and lived just south of there for 20+ years.  But, this trip on March 7-10 was particularly sweet. Gary had a course to attend over the weekend and I was happy to absorb the Florida sunshine and amuse myself.

On the first day I checked out the Tampa Museum (a Norman Rockwell exhibit), had lunch on the museum patio overlooking the Hillsborough River and the Harry B. Plant Museum and enjoyed listening to some rock music drifting up from the park's music festival.

I knew I had to get myself to the beach and I tried out a delightful state park called Honeymoon Island, just north of Clearwater. Ah, the restorative waters of the gulf! I waded along the shoreline, splashing up the water, looking for shells and admiring the few hardy souls who had plunged in for a full swim (mostly kids). Although temps on all 4 days were in the 70's and 80's, they were still springtime 80's with a cool breeze coming off the water and even whipping around the hotel pool.

Cool breezes did not stop my favorite couple from their morning exercises in the pool. He walked back and forth, while she chose an up and down route. They'd exchange a few words as they passed each other. I realized when I saw them on dry land that she walked with a cane and needed the security of the pool's edge to be always within easy grasp.  He had a limp, but they were at the pool every morning and afternoon.  Not that the conveniently located Embassy Suites-
Airport was an ideal resort. To the left of those palm trees came the steady hum of Rt. 275 traffic, although plane noise was minimal.

Speaking of 275 and old age, we inadvertently drove onto 275 heading west instead of east not once but twice! When you realize your mistake, there's not much you can do, as you cross over the wide Tampa Bay to St Pete's, except look at the waves on the bay and worry about the slow eastbound traffic that we would soon have to face. There was a lot of construction and detoured entrances, so the first time we just laughed and altered our route to head north to Clearwater. The second time we were running late to get to the airport, so it was a bit more hectic.

Me: This reminds me of the time about 25 years ago when we were waiting for each other on opposite ends of the monorail at Tampa Airport. We also were running late and I dropped the rental car, while you took the luggage and the kids.
Gary: I don't remember that.
Me: You don't remember me using the white airport phones to frantically page you?
Gary: No.
Me: They almost gave our seats away. I was furious.
Gary: I seem to have blotted that out from the old memory banks.
Me: You don't remember running through the airport with the kids?
Gary: Negative.

I wonder how many other things we don't remember the same way or at all? Should I feel good that Gary erased a memory where I was being a tad shrewish or is this the ultimate rebuke-wife talking-blah, blah, blah. Of course he doesn't remember it.

Well, don't worry. I'm sure to bring it up again. Wouldn't it be sweet, if it was when we were both strolling a pool for a little aquacize many, many years from now?
At Clearwater Beach

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

She Loves Me

Our family ventured into the world of community theatre on Saturday night, supporting my talented brother Peter. Yes, he was only in the ensemble, but the review by OnStage critic Kathleen Mosel was effusive and even included this tip of the hat:
The ensemble, made up from Rachel Strazza, Ann Alford, Barbara Stolarik, Peter Haynes, Frank Gaffney and Stephen DiRocco, is one of the better collection of actors I’ve seen this season. Their “Twelve Days Till Christmas” is by itself, award worthy.

Not bad for a newby whose last role was as Joseph in the kindergarten nativity play in Schenectady, NY!

The ensemble adds depth and interest to a play, my brother explained to me, when he first started rehearsals. It's not as easy as it looks to do a walk-on stage right, exit stage left, fake conversation, sing, dance and provide crowd noise. Was it just me or could everyone pick out Peter's voice in the spirited 12 Days Till Christmas song and his exhortation to "Dance, Dance, Dance" in the madcap cafe scene

Oh, and as for the rest of the actors and the musical itself? She Loves Me is a 1964 musical, set in a Hungarian perfume shop. Boy meets girl and they hate each other, savoring instead their true love pen pals. You'd recognize the plot which was later adapted to the movies, The Shop around the Corner with James Stewart and You've Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Part of the cast
I was surprised at the professional  level of talent and the elaborate staging. Community theatre is very popular in Connecticut and there is obviously a pool of talent. The lead, Betsy Simpson, had a gorgeous soprano voice and good acting skills. The rest of the cast was equally talented and included the affable male lead (who reminded me of  David Schwimmer), the philanderer, the dutiful clerk, the rejected lover who ultimately finds love at the library, the ambitious young delivery boy who perilously rides his bike on the narrow stage, and the crotchety store owner. Multiple scene changes slowed the pace a bit, but it's a fun play.

Our excursion to Connecticut in two cars started off with a few bad omens. Good thing we aren't superstitious theatre people! Besides getting lost and needing 3 phone calls to actually find the restaurant, we had to skip dessert to arrive on time at the Wilton Playshop. (The profiteroles looked so yummy, too)

On the ride home, one of our party, who shall remain anonymous, said, "Check that off the bucket list." I reminded him that auditions for the next play are coming soon and a certain ensemble player may be contemplating a role with a line or two. And who knows what will happen in June when the OnStage awards are given, including one for Best Ensemble. I wonder if there's a red carpet?
His own head shot!
After the show
My brother the actor gives the thumbs up!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Walking with George

I've been sedentary for so long that I decided this past week to begin taking a daily walk---and not just to the mailbox! My timing may have been a bit off, since we had zero temperatures most days. It made for an interesting perspective on the world, as I trudged along in a burka-like getup, my eyes peering out from a double wrap of scarves.

One advantage of living in a neatly defined housing development is that you can easily set your  goals. This week I went as far as George Place.  George and I had a nice chat. Next week's goal  is Barbara Ave; followed by Florence, Ellis, Victor and eventually all the way to Calvin! That will take about two months if I keep progressing. I haven't decided yet if non participation should result in back slippage to the previous week's goal.

I've also loosely defined "daily", allowing for substitutions if I've been on my feet a lot shopping or if my leg starts acting up again.

Silly as it sounds, I felt quite accomplished this week and energized with my modest walk and peaceful time just breathing, enjoying the neighborhood and having an imaginary chat with George. Now granted, I am no way near the Fit Bit crew out there. I know I would be severely embarrassed to see how many steps I log daily. But, just putting it in writing here does add a little motivation.

"Isn't it wonderful?" I keep reminding myself.  I try to emulate a little guy who laughs from the sheer joy of movement. And he doesn't even know yet that someday he'll be walking unassisted and then running, jumping, skipping....

Monday, February 9, 2015

Tuesday Movie Day Revisited

A friend asked if I still did Tuesday Movie Day. No, I replied. Every day can be Tuesday Movie Day now--right from my own family room couch. That's good and bad.

I miss the sense of adventure and the pleasant anticipation of sitting in a theatre and watching the big screen either alone or with a friend. I don't think I've seen as many foreign and independent films as I used to at Claridge Cinema in Montclair. But I do have so many options now.

We get HBO and Showtime as part of our Silver Cable package. I still get Netflix DVD's in the mail twice a month. Many of the foreign and independent films only appear on DVD and not on streaming. My son was amazed when he was home one vacation to see the bright red envelope and he promptly ordered Netflix online with a few clicks of the remote. Did he pay for that? Not likely. I was also informed by Amazon that I had access to their Amazon Flicks, since I became an Amazon Prime customer for the free shipping. There's also Public Television. What would we do without our British imports? And the always popular Saturday night at the movies with a classic film followed by an independent film and then a short (if you can stay up past midnight) 

I dont' want to add up the price of all these services, but presumably they might be less than the steep movie tickets, even for us seniors at the matinee discount.

And it's so easy...I have to plan my day, so that I don't succumb to full time TV watching. I just digested Amazon's 10 episode season of Transparent in the course of one week. (but in fairness they were only half hour shows) Another friend had recommended the BBC's Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch which had been on Public TV. We found it on Netflix and yes, I have become a Cumberbitch.

It's hard to replicate the delicious abandon of sneaking out of work early, when Tuesday Movie Day first started. I was still working then, but had already been told we would be merged out of existence within the year, so it was the perfect way to add a little excitement to a job in a holding pattern. Today I try to do all my non profit work now in the morning and early afternoon so I'm ready by 3 pm to indulge--not every day, of course. Well, let's say, not every day in the good weather.