Friday, June 24, 2022

Aunt Sandy


 

I found out a few months ago that my very last living aunt had passed away. Actually, Aunt Sandy was my aunt by marriage and had been divorced from my Uncle Parvin since I was around 15, but even after that, I always considered her my aunt. Aunt Myrtle, who later stepped into her shoes, never captured the same loyalty that I had for Aunt Sandy.


Her given name was Eloise, and I am not certain how she came to be known as Sandy, but everyone who knew her called her by that name. My Uncle Parvin was 14 when I was born, and I can almost swear that I remember him throwing me up in the air and catching me when I was a baby…but, no, that cannot be true. But it does foretell the kind of relationship we had, and when he married Aunt Sandy, we continued to be close including my new aunt.


Aunt Sandy and Uncle Parvin lived in a subdivision near Dover Downs (the well-known auto racing track in Dover, Delaware) which was non-existent when they first built their home back in the 1950s. In fact, I remember their home being delivered by truck from Sears and Roebuck, one of their first prefabs, I believe. I can also remember walking around in their basement when it was just a hole in the ground, so interesting to me at that age and I’m not sure why.


Both Aunt Sandy and Uncle Parvin wanted children, but their wish was never granted, and I think that may have contributed somehow to their separation. When Aunt Sadie told me Sandy had moved out, I felt like I had lost a best friend, and I could not understand why she would do such a thing.


She taught me to crochet when I was very little, exhibiting the patience of the proverbial saint I’m sure. Granted, it was crocheting around special handkerchiefs but crochet nonetheless. We both were so proud of ourselves. And as a part time job/hobby she tinted black and white photography. I was spellbound watching the delicacy of her work, and she even let me try a few times under very close supervision. That led to my interest in drawing and painting, and she was my biggest fan. To have been in our family for such a short period of time, she made a huge impression on me. And did I mention how pretty she was. Sadly, I have no pictures of her.


After their divorce, she moved into an apartment on the south side of Dover and worked at the Secretary of State’s office for a long time. I begged for overnight stays and was allowed once in a while, but eventually we drifted apart, and I lost track of Sandy. I heard from relatives that she had remarried, and after that news of her became non-existent. 


Several years after we had moved to Florida and the internet was in full blossom, I thought of Sandy and “googled” her and to my complete surprise, she was living in The Villages, yes, that famous retirement 

community down south. Lucky for me I knew her married name, and she was still married to the same person. I couldn’t wait to write to her and that is exactly what I did. This was probably in the 1990s. I received a letter right away and the very first sentence asked if I was still drawing and painting. That was Sandy, always more interested in you than in herself. We exchanged a few letters, and I always checked Google to make sure of her address.


Through a letter in the early 2000s I learned of her husband’s passing and that she had traveled back to Delaware for his burial. She had visited with my Aunt Frances, my only other living aunt at the time, and sounded excited at seeing old friends and old places, but said she would remain living in Florida. One would think we would have visited each other and we planned to, but something always came up to thwart our plans, and a visit never materialized.


Then, around the first of this year, as I had been prone to do, I “googled” Sandy Jopp and found this. I waited too long for that visit. I would have  loved to have seen Sandy in person, but her impression on me was in no way dimmed because of that, and if there is any chance she can hear me…”Thank you Aunt Sandy for always making me feel special.”


Monday, May 9, 2022

Just Reminiscing


 

I was a sort of nerdy girl in high school, but I wouldn’t say I was especially smart. Good grades came easily due to my ability to memorize facts until test time. Then, most of everything I should have learned somehow evaporated out of my brain after the test was finished and the grade was secured.


Because of good grades, I was nominated to positions in the Student Council and actually served in all of them, but I can’t remember doing anything momentous. The thing I remember most was the campaigning and making signs to post around school imploring kids to vote for me. I loved to draw. One sign I made for treasurer, an acronym on the word, I can almost see right now. T is for trustworthy, R is for reliability, E is for exactness and so forth and so on. I was selected valedictorian of my class, gave a high-flung speech at my graduation ceremony, and I suspect I felt a little too proud of myself. Even now, on a bookcase in my living room, I display that President’s Student Council gavel in the hope it will bring some credence to my current brain power which seems to be shrinking as I age.


I was never very good at anything athletic. During PE if a ball came toward me when I was in the outfield, my first response was to put both hands in front of my face. I had fear of the ball syndrome. Field hockey was the same. Instead of trying to stop the puck that was flying toward me, I jumped over it. And getting that close to guard someone in basketball? I always kept my distance. So if I was chosen to be on a team, it was because of my brain not my brawn. The one athletic thing I did go out and received a letter for was cheerleading and that was only in my junior year of high school. I quickly decided the popularity aspect did not outweigh the physical activity required.


I went to our senior prom with the class president and remember being so sunburned from the previous day’s class trip to the beach that I could barely bend my ankles to walk let alone dance, but somehow I managed and the evening is a very fond memory. My date was nothing serious but of course when you’re seventeen, you think it is. A few years ago I had a catch-up email with him (now married with children and grandchildren of his own) and he proclaimed that he would not change one thing about his school days…which made me sort of happy to hear as I was part of them. Shortly after graduation, he left for naval training in the Great Lakes and in the fall, I left for the U of Delaware in Newark (not Newark, N.J.). He visited a few times while on leave, but we were all different then with the passing of time and circumstances.


At Delaware, being on my own, I became somewhat irresponsible. I left assignments to the last minute, barely studied for tests until the night before, loved Friday night dances, concerts, and pep rallies, and according to my waist size spent a little too much time eating chocolate fudge sundaes at the Student Center’s food court. I think we called it the Scrounge back then, and maybe they still call it that. My grades reflected my behavior. I realized my newfound liberty would soon be a thing of the past if I didn’t change my ways. So with the guidance of my upperclassman roommate, I changed my behavior, but I never really got in sync with higher education requirements.


I was enrolled in a secondary education program, a goal set by my high school guidance counselor, and my lackluster attitude may have resulted from this. Teaching a high school class was not my passion. In fact, I didn’t have a passion. But I managed to successfully struggle through my first year with mediocre grades.


Four of us in my dorm, Harrington D (just a coincidence that it was my hometown’s name) became fast friends almost immediately. My roommate, Ellen, was from Wilmington and in her second year majoring in statistics. Funny, but I don’t remember where Gerry was from or her area of study, but her roommate, Dale Coe, was from Evinston, Illinois. Delaware was her second choice after she didn’t get into Northwestern. Dale had a boyfriend at Dartmouth, and she never stopped talking about Winter Carnival and the snow sculptures. I listened in awe and never tired of her stories.


In 2010 I read of Dale’s passing…Dale Schultz, nee Coe, 65, of Kenilworth, passed away May 2. She was born Oct. 30, 1944, in Evanston and was a former resident of Libertyville. Surviving are her three children, Craig Schultz, Courtney Schultz, and Tim Schultz; her grandson, Logan Schultz; sisters, Debbie (Doug) Reed and Sally (George) Bay. A Memorial Service will be held at the First Presbyterian Church, 700 N. Sheridan Rd., Lake Forest on Friday, May 14, at 4 p.m. Info: 847-362-3009.


I had not spoken with her since my freshman year and wondered if Schultz was the Dartmouth boyfriend’s name. 65 - that was young. At school she could have stood in for the all-American girl, looking healthy as the proverbial horse and I never remember her being sick or missing any classes.


I keep in touch with Ellen (my former roommate) on Facebook. She lives in Naples and is a watercolor artist, married with children and grandchildren, and she still looks like Ellen. I think I would recognize her anywhere.


I tried to look up Gerry on Google but found nothing, funny that I don’t remember anything about her after hanging out together for a year. I do remember that she was the most studious of all of us.


Growing up, we think school is where we will learn everything we need to get through life successfully, but that is so not true. Learning never stops. I’m learning things right now at this very moment, today. In fact, I could be learning something that might turn out to be the most important thing in my life, so I will pay attention. I wouldn’t want to miss it.


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

A Day At the Beach

 Last weekend, I had the good fortune to go to the beach, invited by some friends. We had an extra wonderful day at a not so crowded strip of sand just south of Marineland (Florida), although it had become quite crowded when we left around 3 P.M. I surmised the thinner crowd due to the sand being peppered with coquina rock. If you've never heard of this sedimentary formation, read all about it here. This stretch of beach, though, had lots of sandy spots for our umbrella, chairs, and blanket since we arrived early.




It had been several years since my last beach visit so I was eager to get my feet wet in the not so cool as expected Atlantic Ocean. Shells were plentiful for the picking and as the sea drew back its salty mix, my feet sank into saturated silica prompting memories of long ago Saturday visits to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, my home State. What I didn't remember was the slight dizziness I felt as the surf reclaimed its watery mass...old age creeping up on me, again. But I stood still, looked up and the feeling passed so that I could walk a bit southward along the shoreline. A natural jetty of rocks prohibited much of a northward stroll. The sand was hard packed and felt good to the soles of my feet.





Children of all ages and a couple of tiny dogs were enjoying the sea even though the waves were crashing close to shore and farther out, much rougher than I ever remember Rehoboth being, although Rehoboth is part of the southernmost Delaware Bay and somewhat sheltered by the tip of New Jersey. Parents hovered and were especially watchful accompanying young sons into the breakers.


Carefully walking around the coquina formations, I returned to our spot in the sand and settled into an umbrella-shaded chair to people-watch. A couple of men were surf-fishing, but I never observed any catching. Pelicans were looking for lunch and several V formations flew directly overhead (no accidents, thankfully). Once in a while straggler birds would seem to float just above the waves searching for that elusive fish to scoop up, but the white caps seemed too much for fish and fowl. Like the would-be fishermen, the pelicans were striking out, too. But photo opportunities were abundant and my friends were busy with their iPhones, capturing the moment.


Between the boardwalk (reached by two sets of steps on each side) and the line of coquina rocks was a slightly angled incline of white sand, good for a leisurely stroll and improving your leg muscles. So one of my friends and I took off for a short walk on that dry stretch of beach. Many pelicans flew over and we saw some kite-flyers,not the bird kind but the people kind. Later, we saw one of the bird kind, too. It was quite windy, and birds and kites had some difficulty with their airborne maneuvers. Back to the umbrella and chairs and a long drink of water.


After a few hours of repeat performances and chair napping, simultaneously, our brains recalled that it might be lunchtime so the iPhone search for a nearby restaurant ensued, and soon it was decided. Enticed by the promise of crab cakes and grilled mahi-mahi, we grabbed our belongings and trekked back to our vehicle to begin our southward search for the Turtle Shack Cafe. It didn't take long until we pulled into a parking spot that seemed to have been waiting just for us. The odd time of day, a little after 3, meant no waiting and we were soon seated outside at a picnic table. After looking at the mouth-watering menu, my original choice of a crab cake sandwich turned into a portabella mushroom sandwich. And after tasting it, I loudly proclaimed more than once that it could easily have passed for a Philly cheese steak! No kidding! A creme brulee was ordered for dessert, shared by all, and the perfect ending to a perfect late lunch.


Anyone who has been to the beach has no trouble remembering how tired a beach day makes you so the ride home was a welcome rest up. Remarkable scenery flying by and an iPhone trivia game kept me awake most of the time but I may have taken some one or two-minute naps unintentionally. A wonderful day with kind and generous friends.



Friday, April 8, 2022

A Transition

 I am a vegetarian and have been since around 2012. Back then it was not quite as popular as it is today which made food get-togethers sometimes a bit uncomfortable. Holiday invitations were awkward at times. When you don’t eat someone’s special recipe, they tend to take it personally. But I persevered, tried to explain that it was not the food but only my preference, and hopefully remained friends with perplexed relatives and others.


Since I have eaten meat almost all my life, my recipe box was filled with little cards demanding meat as an ingredient so when I suddenly became a non-meat eater, I had some weeding-out to do. Not even all the vegetable recipes one would assume appropriate were acceptable since many called for things like chicken bouillon or bacon or other meat-based ingredients. I was left with meager pickings!




At first I loaded up with frozen vegetarian dinners especially those made by an outfit known only as Amy. Did I mention I continue to eat cheese, eggs and seafood? Amy has the best macaroni, broccoli and cheese, salty and creamed to perfection. And her Pad Thai remains my special treat when I go grocery shopping. I continue to eat Amy’s comfort food but not as heavily as at the beginning of my vegetarian path. Shortages at the grocery store have narrowed my selections and rising costs have made me think twice about the relatively cheap ingredients in vegetarian pre-made food.





Over time I have found my own “special” recipes by searching the Web and specifically YouTube. There are entire YouTube channels devoted to vegetarian and vegan fare. My favorite is the Whole Food Plant Based Cooking Show. I almost want to sing that as their theme song trickles through my brain! Jill Dalton is the host and also calls herself  the Chief Flavor Officer. She hooked me and often I follow along as she makes some very mouth-watering recipes. Some I make, some I keep, and some I discard. It is a trial and error process for me.


As a youngster, I was never big on vegetables so the transition has been difficult and a little astounding as I think about it. If your mom was anything like mine, potatoes, peas, green beans and carrots were standard vegetable fare. I could even throw applesauce in there and get away with it. Fancy cooking and “unusual” vegetables were strangers to our table. Tomatoes should be included but everyone now says they are fruits, right?


If someone had told me back then that when I was in my seventies, I would be eating avocado toast or spicy Thai eggplant, I would have said, “No way!”




And hummus? I am positive I would have turned up my nose at that! It has been amazing to me to find the many many things that now taste good, things that the taste of meat, in my opinion, obliterated. When your taste buds are “addicted” to bacon and ham and grilled steak, the lowly lentil does not seem very appealing. Meat to me is like sugar and salt, the more you eat, the more of it you crave.


I have to admit that my shunning of meat slowly came about after reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. If it has never been on your book list, Mr. Sinclair gives a very vivid account of the meat processing industry in the early 1900s. The author uses the life of a poor immigrant family to highlight the social and economic inequalities of work in the food system. The descriptions are graphic and intense. The scenes in slaughterhouses and animal pens and the conditions in packing houses of diseased, rotten, and contaminated meat truly shocked me.Those images began to pop into my brain every time I picked up my meat-laden fork, and eventually I could not make myself eat meat anymore. And these big businesses treated their workers as harshly as the animals. Meat was no longer for me.


I now have hundreds of new recipes and of course I kept some of my old ones that did not require meat as an ingredient. I am contemplating giving up the cheese, eggs, and seafood and I do not anticipate it being that difficult. I enjoy the taste of so many things now and hardly ever hesitate to try something new, which I never did before. Avocado mousse, zucchini zoodles alfredo, Thai spicy eggplant, and African peanut curry are standard go-to recipes. You may find all of them on YouTube by putting the recipe name into the search bracket. There are even some variations so be adventurous and try them all. You may be surprised at how good they taste with no meat whatsoever.


Tuesday, February 22, 2022

It's An Irish Thing


       Chicago and its green river


         With St. Paddy’s Day fast approaching, I thought I’d do a little

research and share it with you.

According to historical accounts, St. Patrick was born around the end of the fourth century in Scotland or maybe Wales, no one knows for certain, to aristocratic Roman parents. He arrived in Ireland as a teen after being kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery. Eventually, he escaped to a monastery in France. He returned to Ireland in 432 A.D. after being called as a missionary where he converted thousands to Christianity, driving out the Pagans, or "snakes" as they were called. There are no real snakes in Ireland, depending on your definition of snakes. Then, he became a bishop and was named Ireland's Patron Saint.

Irish immigrants to the United States have inflated St. Paddy's Day celebrations as a way of connecting with their roots, doing outlandish things such as turning the rivers green-Chicago was first in 1962, drinking green beer, staging parades, and wearing green clothes in remembrance of the green Isle. McDonalds celebrates with a Shamrock Shake, a minty green concoction available now. Today, over 35 million people in the U.S. claim Irish ancestry. The first St. Paddy’s Day was held in Boston in 1737 on March 17th which is the traditional date of his death. He was buried in a secret grave because there was so much bickering among the Irish over his final resting place. This secret place is believed to be in County Down where there is a permanent memorial. Below is a photo of the purported site.

When I was in elementary school, if I didn't wear green on St. Paddy's Day, I could expect to be pinched by a leprechaun. I always wore green. It makes you invisible. We even exchanged St. Patrick's Day cards just like Valentine cards on Valentine’s Day. It was a big deal even though my roots go back to the English side. My husband was the Irish one in the family.

And then there is this luck thing that's associated with the green day. The three-leaf clover is a symbol of the trinity reputedly used by St. Patrick, but a four-leaf clover is supposed to bring good luck to the finder. In fact, it’s the national flower of Ireland. Of course, they have a fancy name for it, the shamrock. Your odds of finding one in the grass in your yard are 1 in 10,000. And kissing the Blarney Stone is supposed to make you lucky in love. Leprechauns, another Irish thing, were paid in golden coins by fairies for their work at mending the fairies' shoes.


 Once I had a little ceramic leprechaun in my garden to protect my plants from danger, a present from a dear friend. Sadly, it didn't work. I think you need a green thumb for that and mine is mostly brown, but he was cute and pretended to do his job. Over time, though, the wind and rain ate away some of his pointy parts, and he looked so sad that I gave him a proper funeral in the garden he was supposed to be protecting.

There's special food and drink on the green day, corned beef and cabbage and a good pint, usually Guiness is the most popular. Here in Gainesville we have several pubs that cater to the theme all  week, Durty Nelly's, Mother's, the Queen’s Arms and Beef O'Brady's to name a few. Mother’s even had a St. Practice Day this year on the 17th of February. Dang I missed it! If you have imposed food restrictions on yourself for Lent, the Irish give you permission to lift them for this one day, March 17th.

As I wrote above, my husband was Irish, but he wasn't much for celebrations although ham and cabbage with potatoes were always on our menu for March 17th. Leprechauns interested him, too, especially that pot of gold, and rainbows are beautiful whether there is gold at the end or not. Once, while traveling east on 23rd Boulevard, we saw the end of a rainbow…but there was no pot of gold, just a beautiful and unusual vision. Maybe that was the pot of gold, symbolically speaking.

All things considered, the Irish have given us a lot of things to think about, things we wouldn't know of without them. I was lucky in love without the Blarney Stone, but if it happened to be nearby, I'd have to give it a try. Of course, I’d probably fall and break my neck and that would be very unlucky! And another thing, St. Patrick was never canonized by a Pope, so his saintly status is questioned by some. Do you have anything special that you do for St. Paddy’s Day? I’ll bet you always wear green. Getting pinched is not fun.



Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Book Festival at the Oaks Mall on April 9th, 2022

 


I will be selling my children's book (The Dragonfly and the Ladybug) at the Sunshine State Book Festival in the Oaks Mall on April 9th, 2022. I hope you drop by and say "hi" and maybe buy an autographed copy.





Thursday, January 27, 2022

Do Strawberries Call You?

 


I would say strawberries and tomatoes are two of my very favorite foods, and in Florida we are fortunate to be able to enjoy them year round, at least from the supermarket. Strawberries at Publix are now “fresh” from down south, and I have been exercising my right to take advantage of this, buying a container every week. I have them on cereal (overnight oats), cut up as dessert with a healthy spray of whipped cream, and straight from the container as a snack. Nothing beats a ripe strawberry.


I spent the first five years of my life on a farm where fields of tomatoes grew, but if you are a farmer, you know tomatoes and strawberries cannot be planted together, some disease or other. That did not stop my grandmom from having a strawberry patch at the back of the cow barn, and my mom and I visited it frequently when the berries were ripe, usually June in Maryland. I do not remember much about the care of berries back then. I was more in the eater category. I do remember seeing a black snake once as I moved back some leaves, and I high-tailed it out of there. But the memory of the juicy sweet berries overcame the fear of snakes and I was soon back at it. Grandmom made biscuits everyday and all that was needed for shortcake was to add a little sugar to the mix, nothing better than sun-warmed berries over hot out-of-the cookstove biscuits with a little fresh cow’s milk poured over.


Two of my uncles, Johnny and Clarence, continued the strawberry-growing tradition after they moved away. Uncle Johnny always had a huge vegetable garden with marigolds planted around the perimeter. He said that kept away the bad bugs.



And then in another spot, he planted strawberries each year, mulching them with straw to keep them warm through the cold weather. Uncle Clarence did the same, but strawberries were his only crop. I guess you can take the farmer out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the farmer. Both uncles seemed happiest when their hands were in the dirt. Of course, they were my two favorite uncles.


I have never attempted to grow strawberries and probably never will, but I must agree with plant experts that the taste of store-bought and home-grown are miles apart. In Delaware where I lived for over thirty years, I always went strawberry picking in June if at all possible. Our home was close to u-picks, one time just across the road, so availability was never a problem. Barrett’s Farm and Fifer’s Groves and Vegetables were too easy to ignore the opportunity. We had apples and peaches straight from the trees and strawberries when the signs went up. I know we feel like in Florida we are so lucky to have fresh everything, but central and southern Delaware is farm country, and looking back, I was lucky there, too. Even though I do not have a green thumb, I never lacked fresh fruit and veggies.


When we moved to Florida in 1978, we searched for u-picks and found Brown’s and Roger’s Farms. Roger’s was our favorite strawberry place and they are still growing them today. On Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/rogersfarmfla/), they had strawberries to pick last weekend with, hopefully, more to come. I am sure they know how to protect against this cold spell we are having. One thing we noticed when we moved here that was different from Delaware was the use of black plastic on the mounded strawberry rows, apparently a weed-deterrent and a ground warmer. I have to say I prefer straw and I will always swear that Delaware berries and tomatoes taste better…but when you’re in Paree…. Whether they are from Delaware or Florida, there is nothing like the smell of strawberries on your hands when you are capping and cutting them up.


When we moved here, we also looked for u-pick citrus groves and found one somewhere over near Hawthorne, but hard freezes quickly destroyed the trees within a couple of years after our move and we never found another. I cannot really remember exactly where it was but it was a novelty to us at the time, not able to grow oranges in Delaware. I do remember it being around Christmas-time when we did our citrus picking. Tangerines were and are my favorites with navels coming in second.



I always tell myself that I am going to make some strawberry jam with the berries I buy, but I am afraid they never last that long. I have a super easy microwave refrigerator jam recipe that I have made a few times, and it is delicious, but now I am trying to watch the amount of sugar and salt I eat so jam is on the back burner.


I read that strawberries are native to North America so that may be why we love them so much. Formerly abundant in the wild, I have never encountered any in my lifetime. I am planning to keep an eye on Roger’s Farm Facebook page and if the weather permits, I will journey over there soon, probably not to pick but to buy already picked. Then maybe I can make some of the refrigerator jam. The strawberries are calling me. Here is the link to the YouTube strawberry jam video I use whenever I can stop myself from eating all the berries…super easy!