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.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

One Line a Day

Last year I bought the blue One Line a Day 5 year Memory Book, like the one my son has. For some reason I started on February 1, not January 1, a delayed New Year's resolution. The format of the book is simple. There is one page for each day and space for 5 entries(years) per date. The advantage of the one line a day is that it’s not too burdensome to maintain. Even if you wait a few days, you can remember what happened during the week and log some thoughts (usually!). It’s not intimidating because it’s hard to get really serious or philosophical in a few lines. My mother-in-law used to write in a notebook and her posts consisted pretty much of the weather report. I try to be a little more creative than that. I suppose the modern equivalent is posting a status everyday on FaceBook or Twitter, but then they disappear.

And the fun really begins in the second year, when you can bore everyone with entries from last year. Do you know what happened on this day last year? It’s my own little "This Day in History." A few observations:

  • It puts things in perspective- what we worried about a year ago may have worked out or some concerns may now seem trivial. For example, on February 4 last year Beth was admitted to the hospital with premature labor. My entry: “Calm down, little Atticus, you have 7 weeks to go!” Atticus was renamed Alex at birth and he has proven to be a little man on the go even now, cruising the furniture and almost ready to take his first steps.
  • A lot of things stay the same--like this entry from last February 9 “Never got dressed today- relaxing.” Hmm…that seems to occur quite often, although this year I have dubbed it “hibernating.” Need a new word to describe it when spring comes. Also, last year: "Trying to re-establish my exercise routine." LOL.
  • I had thought this would be a stepping stone to a more complete diary, but I am content with the one line a day. I would invite everyone to try it. You can take it as a challenge to dress up your mundane life in 20 words or less. (That's a lot more leeway than 140 characters.) Or, you can just record events so you can figure out what you did this past week or month. I like to think that writing things down is a memory booster. Now when people say, “Did you have a good week?”, you can do a quick check and have something to say other than “Same old, same old“.
Anybody want to join me this year?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Obsolete Activities

As we get older, we expect to fall back a bit in keeping up with the latest changes. Maybe we don't really care about celebrity gossip or the latest i-Phone app, but I do believe that being current keeps you young. So I was surprised the other day when my son remarked that a large part of my day was spent in doing "obsolete activities." Wow! I'm not an early adapter, but I certainly don't view myself as the old curmudgeon in the corner who says "Bah, Humbug" to every new technological advance.  Gee, I pay my bills online and follow Facebook and twitter. Some of my routine activities revolve around tasks done for the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, but here's the list:

1. My weekly trip to the post Office to mail packages or buy stamps. OBSOLETE!  You can buy stamps online if you must send things snail mail and packages can be picked up from your house.

2. My trip to the bank to deposit checks. OBSOLETE! I did ask the Chase teller if I could just take a picture of the check and send it to my account but he happily replied that it wasnt available yet for business accounts. After all, he added, soon we'll have to start selling milk here to get people to come in (and to keep him in a job!)

3. Buying said milk and groceries from an actual trip to the store. OBSOLETE! have I never heard of Pea Pod or Fresh Direct?

4. Watching TV for either movies or tv shows OBSOLETE!  When I could easily see the same shows on my computer.

5. Going to an actual movie theatre! OBSOLETE! See #4

6. Being one of the few remaining Netflix customers who waits for and anticipates the delivery of the red envelope. OBSOLETE! (But I do have the Netflix streaming option, too!)

6. Having the newspaper delivered each morning and reading the paper version. OBSOLETE! So much more eco-friendly to read your digital subscription on your iPAD or laptop.

7. Listening to books on CD in the car. OBSOLETE! I recently saw an ad for a new car that offered no CD player at all.

8. Printing out pictures and putting them in a picture frame. OBSOLETE! Get digital, lady.

9. Still loving email. OBSOLETE! Too slow and old school. Message me for goodness sakes.

10. Actually going to the library to browse and pick books. OBSOLETE! I have a kindle and I use the library website, but sometimes it's just nice to go there.

11. Going shopping. OBSOLETE! Tell that to all the other shoppers that crowd Route 17. Amazon may rule and online shopping is easy, but nothing beats seeing and touching the merchandise before you buy.

While the modern improvements make things easier, sometimes you wonder if the intent is to get us all to the point where we don't need to ever speak to another human being. (Good and bad there!) Can you add any Obsolete Activities of your own?