Right under your nose

When I was a kid burying my feet (thankfully, not my head, although I’ve been accused of that on occasion) in the sand in Ocean City NJ, I used to love watching for the banner-towing planes that flew back and forth over the crowded beaches.  The sky banner I remember most vividly advertised a nightclub in “wet” Somer’s Point, just outside “dry” Ocean City:

Your Father’s Mustache… where the time of your life is right under your nose.

I’ve pilfered that versatile slogan time and time again. So many treasures and curiosities lie just beneath the visible surface of our everyday lives—just under your nose, in fact. When you’re #retired, you have time to search them out. And so I did today.

My initial goal was to locate a photo of the restoration of a historic church in Harrisburg, PA, where I was raised but not born (that was Boston, remember?). My uncle, an Old World-worthy stonemason, had rebuilt the brickwork some 50 years ago. While my search for the photo proved fruitless, in the process I stumbled on an interesting website—The Historical Markers Database, “an illustrated searchable online catalog of historical information viewed through the filter of roadside and other permanent outdoor markers, monuments, and plaques” produced and maintained by an “organization of self-directed volunteers” and over 500 “contributing correspondents.”

Within the database listing for “Old Salem Church,” I found nothing about the  church’s restoration, but I did find links to other historic sites in Harrisburg, including “The Peanut House.” My mother had often talked about the little store at 2nd and Chestnut Streets, run by  Italian immigrant Salvatore Magaro, and for years I’d thought the owners were cousins. The digging I did today leads me to believe that they probably were not. What I did discover, however, is that “The Peanut House,” in a prior incarnation, figured in the genesis of our National Anthem. Here are excerpts from the inscription on the marker:

On this site for nearly 180 years stood a two and a-half story brick building with ties to local, state and national history. Initially the home of early settler John Frey, the house was sold in 1817 to a noted clockmaker, Frederick Heisley, whose son George is linked to the National Anthem. George Heisley, during the War of 1812, was a member of Pennsylvania’s First Regiment. At the siege of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, September 1814, he reportedly provided Francis Scott Key with music for the Star Spangled Banner.

The house later was owned by the Boyd Family, then a succession of merchants. At various times it was an oyster house, a dry cleaning business and a restaurant. Its nickname, “The Peanut House,” comes from Salvatore Magaro, an Italian immigrant who came to America as a stowaway at age 17 in 1889. In 1921 he leased the building and turned it into a grocery store and living quarters. His store, “The Buzy Corner,” lasted 70 years and earned a reputation and a name for its fresh vegetables and its nickel-a-bag fresh-roasted peanuts.

Considering that I’ve lived in Central Pennsylvania for so much of my life, it’s pretty sad that I know so little local history, and that local history as a discipline gets so little attention. So—here’s an idea for those summer days when you’re looking for something to do with your partner, your pals, or your grands. Go to the Historical Marker Database, pick a location near you, and head out the door. You may be pleasantly surprised at what’s been right under your nose all along.

Sweet distractions

I’ve been lean on writing  this last week; sometimes, real life just intervenes. In this case, in a good way. Here is where my time usually devoted to writing has gone…

The kitchen cabinets
I set out determined to clean both pantry cabinets and all the kitchen drawers, and I did. They are beautifully organized, old stuff has been pitched, and some goodies I’d forgotten I had have been used or scheduled for use in dinners or other delights. Some of you will no doubt think I’m sick, but cleaning closets and cabinets is really the only household task, apart from cooking and baking, that I truly enjoy, perhaps because it fairly screams, “Fresh start!”

The garden
We’ve spent considerable time enjoying our backyard garden and the roses and clematis that give our house the look of a little cottage on the Maine coast. Everything we planted, moved, replaced is thriving this year; all we need do is take the time to savor it. We added a climbing rose this week and hope it will be happy in the place we chose.

Long walks with Miss Pup
Our walks have been extra pleasurable on the sunny days that followed what seemed like ages of damp and dreariness. One of the things I love most about our neighborhood is that people are always out and about—kids playing on the green, mamas and papas walking their babies, and lots of other doggies taking their constitutionals. Everyone smiles; everyone waves. The world needs that.

My first Tana French
Faithful Place is a dark crime novel set in Dublin. Oh, my goodness, what skill with voice! This one is really hard to put down.

Strawberries
Our local berries, the real ones, bear no relationship to those big, tasteless California imports in the grocery stores. We’ve been devouring our local berries for over a week, both in biscuit shortcake mounded with real whipped cream and just out of the dish, unfettered.

Every now and then, I catch myself frustrated with how few tasks I’ve completed in the course of a day. Sometimes, I still feel unproductive or even a bit guilty. But really enjoying your #retired life isn’t about changing the sheets, is it?

Photo: In my history with azaleas, which goes back to childhood, this may be the fullest and most beautiful. I take no credit for planting or feeding it—that all goes to our “tree whisperer,” Don. I would have posted a photo of the strawberries, but they disappeared before I could say, “Cheese.” I did include a link to my favorite shortcake recipe, just in case you’re interested.

Sibling revelry

I may have mentioned in a previous post that I’m an only child; my history is absent the dramas of siblings one-upping each other, swiping each other’s toys or clothes, falling out over a girl/boyfriend, fighting over who-did-what-to-whom. In a word, my childhood was boring by all obvious measures.

Although I feign a yawn when Hubby and his two brothers retell the same childhood stories we wives have been hearing for lo! these many years, I’m a little envious deep-down. All last week, my husband and his brothers engaged in sibling “revelry,” laughing themselves silly over secret “Apple Club” meetings, being chased around the house by Grandma Sadie, late night noshing with their dad, or engaging in various exploits with a neighborhood full of mischievous chums. But to say that their storytelling is only about enjoying a mutual laugh would be to sell it way too short.

Reams have been written on the importance of storytelling. The drawings on the caves affirm that it’s an occupation as old as time itself,  an integral part of our eternal quest for understanding ourselves and the world around us. My husband and his brothers, like most of us, are still putting together the jigsawed pieces of their personhood. Our parents’ generation—and I believe this is true across ethnic boundaries—was far more private, even secretive, about “personal” matters; little of significance was discussed in the presence of the kids. Thus, there will always be some question marks about what shaped them and why they behaved as or did what they did. The nature of our speculation changes over time, given our vastly different trajectories, but the curiosity never ceases. The storytelling helps.

 

 

Stepping it up

Nobody talks about just going for a walk any more. Now, we talk about steps.

Early this afternoon, I set up the Fitbit my son gave me for my birthday, per my request. This after saying that I would NEVER, under any circumstances, wear “one of those things” that turn steps, and all that other stuff, like drinking water and how long you stand or sit, into a veritable obsession. Yes, I ate my words.

What pushed me over the edge was that the kids gave Hubby a Fitbit for Christmas, and he took to it like the proverbial duck to water. Before long, he was announcing the receipt of badges with silly names not for meeting the goals he’d set, but for far exceeding them. Months later, competitive fellow that he is, he’s still setting that gizmo on fire. I clearly had to “step” up to the plate. Why should he get all the attention?

I’d been using my phone to track steps for several years, but it’s a pain to carry the phone with you constantly, and beyond annoying if you forget it and then don’t get credit for your efforts. The last straw was the day I left the phone in my purse, put the purse in the grocery cart, then spent an hour tramping up and down the supermarket aisles, only to discover later that my phone was totally oblivious. It could almost hear it saying, “Sure, you walked 7,000 steps today. Where’s the proof?”

That’s when I crossed over and asked for the Fitbit. I’m happy to report that I exceeded my admittedly modest goal of 4000 steps today. I know that’s not nearly good enough. We’ll see.

 

Photo: My cousin Liz getting her steps in on Old Orchard Beach, ME.

 

Old dogs can, in fact, learn new tricks

UPDATE: Notice the goof in paragraph 2, where I wrote “spring” instead of “string.” Wishful thinking if not a Freudian slip, so I’m going to leave it as is!

I launched my blog with the New Year after months of tossing the idea, well seeded by my daughter,  around in my head. Finally, around Christmas time, I plowed headfirst into WordPress to see if I could figure it out on my own. Some aspects were fairly intuitive; others, virtually inscrutable. I’m no techno-dummy, but at times I felt completely intimidated by all the techno-speak.

I plodded along, going back again and again to try to unravel what seemed like that gigantic ball of spring that sits along a roadside in Kansas. With each small victory, my confidence grew. Sometimes, it took four or five tries. Sometimes, I hit a brick wall and needed professional help (probably in more ways than one). My son pitched in when he could. One of my new younger friends, whom I like to call my techno-angel, has been very gracious and helpful. Little by little, it’s coming together. I try very hard not to get discouraged—after all, this is supposed to be fun—but there are moments when I long for a resident 10-year-old. LOL.

Happily, I’m making progress with each passing week. Now, thanks to the wise counsel and assistance of my techno-angel, I even have a Gravitar… a “globally recognizable avatar” that shows up online whenever I do, in my #HashTagRetired persona. As my irrepressible Uncle Sam used to say, “Who’da thunk it?”

I’m determined that this blog will always be not only informative and entertaining but also lovely to look at. I know a striking, user-friendly website when I see one, but it was a revelation to learn, thanks to my kids and my techno-angel, that my initial notion of a beautiful look wasn’t necessarily the most effective for a blog.

It had never crossed my mind, for example, that I should be more concerned about how format and photos look on a cell phone than on my laptop screen. That was an Aha! moment for sure. I write on my laptop every morning, but I use the phone all day long to check email, the sites I follow, the weather, yadda, yadda, yadda. Most of us do. And even though I agree that we’re overly dependent on our electronic devices, if you resist keeping up with technology, you risk losing your social context. And just like sitting in front of the TV in a recliner, being out of context can make you feel old and out of touch long before your time.

You may have noticed that I started out with #retired and then migrated to #HashTagRetired, which, if you’re techno-savvy, you probably think is redundant. I’m not 100% sure where that will land. If you’ve followed the blog from the start, thanks for your patience with the changes thus far. There will be more; there’s no room for complacency in the faster-than-Superman online universe. Tweets, Instagram, maybe even Pinterest—they’re all on the horizon. A blog, I’ve discovered, needs to be just as organic as the thought process that produces it.

Photo: Miss Puppy Clouseau visits her friends at the solar farm.

 

What’s cooking?

Cooking changes when you’re “around the ranch” most of the time. I’m still in the process of rethinking  my shopping and cooking habits.

For example, there is the problem of lunch. When we’re on one of our traveling vacations, a long, luxurious lunch is often our principal meal of the day. When I have a busy work day outside the home, I’m often very hungry at lunch time. On the home front, however, lunch always seems like an outlier. Following my mother’s example, some good cheese with water crackers and a piece of fruit are often sufficient for me; but if there are two of you, you need to consider your partner’s lunch preferences as well as your own. Having the  right sort of leftover on hand—a pot of stew or soup or chili, perhaps—helps. Reserve some to freeze, enjoy one dinner from the batch, and have the rest for lunch. Nothing revolutionary about that, however…

This brings me to the subject of meal planning. I have friends who meticulously gather their cookbooks together and plan the next week’s meals before they shop. I can’t tell you how much I admire their discipline as well as their culinary ability. Every time I set out on this path, I get distracted reading my cookbooks*. The net-net is commitment anxiety, and I end up shopping the way my father always did—the menus derive from what looks fresh and appealing and is well-priced. There’s nothing wrong with that approach—it’s actually closer to the European model— but for me, it results in a tendency to fall back on my “old reliables.”

The point is that absent the energy and focus that your work life once required, you can easily become bored with both cooking and eating, which is about how I feel right now, after weeks of roasted root vegetables. If you are the sort of person who has always taken pleasure in cooking and eating, you won’t want this to happen. Stale menus are as unappealing as stale food. You will have to change the paradigm, which will be so much easier now that you have time on your hands. A few suggestions:

  1. Randomly pick a cookbook from your collection or the library. I like a “real” cookbook, rather than electronic, for this purpose because you can take time to enjoy the photos and “digest” the narrative. Hand it to your partner, and ask for three recommendations to try in the next week. Then, choose one or two recipes yourself. Make your list, stock up, and proceed. If you can do so harmoniously, share the shopping, prep, and cooking responsibilities.
  2. Cook with a friend. Make a date to meet at your house or your pal’s. Confer and decide what to make and what each of you should provide. Next month, switch kitchens. You can turn this into a casual dinner party with partners or other friends, or just take home what you’ve made. You’ll have fun and maybe even learn from each other.
  3. Restore the time-honored ritual of “Sunday dinner.” If you don’t have family around to share it with, invite friends or neighbors.
  4. Take a round-the-world culinary tour. One week a month, go beyond spaghetti and tacos: try a few completely different recipes from another country or tradition. This would be a fun activity for the “grands”; you can get them involved in the research and decision-making.
  5. Take a cooking class every now and then, perhaps as a couple or with a friend. You’d  be surprised how many of these there are, even outside the big metropolitan areas. Check out supermarkets, specialty food stores, Williams-Sonoma or Sur la Table, or any school, even a high school, that has a culinary arts program.
  6. Follow some food bloggers. The internet is full of trash as well as treasure, so this will take some exploration. Perhaps start with Saveur magazine’s 2016 blogs-of-the- year award winners. I could poke around these sites for hours without getting bored.
  7. Finally, Ina Garten never disappoints. Need I say more?

*Why wouldn’t you expect this of any self-respecting Pisces, whose zodiac sign is two fish swimming in opposite directions???

‘Le weekend’

By the time we get to Friday, even those of us who are #HashTagRetired are ready for the promise of relief that the weekend affords. “Weekend” is a word so emblematic that the French, who used to be very zealous about protecting their language from outside influence, gave it a gender and added it to their franglais vocabulary. Le weekend is just a bit different in France, however, because the kids are typically  off school on Wednesday and Sunday but have a half-day session on Saturday.

The weekends of my childhood, and possibly yours, as well, were very special and “set apart” from the normal course of everyday life. Saturdays were spent marketing and tying up any loose ends; Sunday was truly a day of rest. Where I grew up, stores weren’t open on Sunday; our life was church, family, and Sunday dinner-centered. After dinner, we visited older family members—a gesture of respect, affection, and familial continuity. In the warm weather months, we went for a ride in the country or to the neighborhood dairy for an ice cream cone. Sometimes, we went to the movies. Once stores opened up, however, Sunday changed fundamentally—not only for shoppers, but for those who worked in retail, who could no longer spend Sundays at home. You might not think of this as a big change, but looking backward, it seems to me that it was: many people who previously were home with their families on Sunday had to give up that free time. (Of course, anyone who works in public safety, healthcare, or a service industry anywhere in the world gives it up as well—and for that, the rest of us owe them our gratitude.)

In many European countries, the Sunday pace is still slower and more family-oriented , with stores and businesses shuttered for the day even where tourism is a major economic driver. Restaurants are crowded with diners chattering away while they enjoy a leisurely  “Sunday lunch.” People of all ages gather in parks and public gardens. The net effect is a calming sensibility that everyday obligations can wait. Perhaps being #HashTagRetired gives us a chance to restore some of that calm. Why not try reinventing Sunday to incorporate some of the old-fashioned traditions?

And here’s the flip side. When you are #HashTagRetired, and much of your life was planned around a work week, it’s a little unsettling at first to realize that you don’t have to crowd all of the chores and obligations and social events into the weekend or your other days off. You can go to the movies or a show on a weeknight (or day, at a matinee price) and carouse all you want to afterward, without worrying about getting enough sleep. You can shop on Tuesday morning, when the grocery store isn’t crowded. You can watch This Is Us at 6 AM if you want to—and you’ve remembered to record it (thank you, technology). You can book flights on low volume days to reduce the airport agony. You don’t have to drive anywhere during rush hour. What’s not to like?

Photo: En route to Sunday lunch, a garden enclave in St.Remy de Provence.