Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!

Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!
Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Perfect Song for a Mood

Sometimes all you need is that perfect song to put you in a good mood. It amazes me how certain songs from my past and present evoke such great memories and feelings. I was in such a miserable mood this morning at work and popped a CD in my computer. My mood changed almost immediately. Thank you to that certain song for changing my mood! I needed it after a difficult morning.

Many years back, I went on a trip with my sister Sheryl to see Mom in the Florida Keys. Everytime now that I hear Gloria Estefan's album gloria!, it evokes such strong memories of that trip with Sheryl. With a Caribbean dance theme, the music takes me back to 1998, driving down US Route 1 south through the Keys, the car CD player blasting, smelling the salt air, the warm ocean breeze, passing palm trees, resorts, and marinas. What a wonderful time!

On the flip side, a certain song will also bring me to tears thinking about Mom. There are songs that she listened to which remind me of my childhood with her. There are songs which I associate with when she passed away that I cannot bear listening to. Sometimes I do listen to them when I feel the need to express my grief.

Songs from the 80's remind me of high school. Dark songs from The Smiths or The Cure remind me of depressive times in college. Guns and Roses and Motley Crue remind me good times at my fraternity parties and tailgates. Certain club music reminds me my party days in Philly and New York in the mid 90's. Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, Tony Bennett, or Diana Krall singing the Standards just completely relaxes me.

That's the joy of music. It is a part of our day to day culture and life. Certain songs stay with us and can also influence us.  Almost like a drug, they are mood enhancing and often mood changing. If you ever find yourself in that sad mood, listen to one of your favorite "up beat" songs and don't be surprised if you are feeling a little better. Who needs therapy? Just give me a good song!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Epicurean Vacation: Part II

While visiting Dad and Martha out in California for my 41st birthday, I was treated to meal after meal of new culinary experiences! As I stated in the blog article before, Martha is an accomplished cook and the simplest of lunches and dinners were elevated to gourmet status by her deft hand.

For instance, one evening, Martha started us off with homemade pita and hummus. Tastes even better homemade! We dined on a medium rare rib eye. Unfortunately, as Martha, Dad, and I agreed, the ribeye turned out to be a bit tough, even cooked medium rare. BUT, our meal was elevated by grilled asparagus with an aoili sauce and roasted potatoes with an herbed mayonnaise of parsley, oregano, and chives. We drank a lovely 2009 Menage A Trois, a California red wine consisting of 3 varietals: Merlot, Cabernet, and Zinfandel. Dad had also picked up a wine to try, Poor Bob's California red wine. The irony of the name didn't escape my father, Bob. Unfortunately, although named extremely well, the wine tasted ... well poor! Hopefully Poor Bob's other wines are better than the bottle we tried. Nice try, Pop. Ha ha! The entire meal was rounded out with a homemade strawberry rhubarb pie.


(SOURCE)

(SOURCE)
Another evening, we were treated to grilled hamburgers, medium rare of course, with toasted buns. Martha added sauteed portabella mushrooms, caramelized onions, and more of the aoili sauce. Again, simple elevated to gourmet!  One the side was freshly roasted beets and Cypress Grove Chevre goat cheese.  That evening we drank beers from the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, California. Specifically, their Tangerine Wheat Beer and their Alley Cat Amber Ale. While out surveying the local bar scene in Humboldt County, California, I have also enjoyed their Downtown Brown Ale and their Great White Beer. Lost Coast Brewery is also a great brewery you can visit and dine at their restaurant .

One of my favorite meals that Martha made was a Thai dish of penne pasta with peanut-coconut sauce, chicken breast, and broccoli. The dish was made with limes, cumin, coriander, spearmint, garlic, cilantro, and ginger. Just an incredible culinary experience in my mouth! If you are interested in the recipe, email me and I will forward it on to you. Sidebar: I have started experimenting with different spices this past year, including coriander, cumin, turmeric, and curry. I consider myself pretty well versed in eating various ethnic cuisine. Now I need to start stepping up the plate and cook with these exotic spices!

Martha also cooked my birthday dinner which consisted of a deconstructed chicken pot pie. It was artistic, abstract, and delicious all at the same time. With heirloom carrots, mashed potatoes and a rich mushroom and pearl onion gravy, pardon the cliche expression, but it was simply to die for.  Who knew basic chicken pot pie could be elevated to something gourmet? She also made a tofu version for our vegan family members in attendance. One the side was a warm cabbage salad cooked with red onions, spinach, and dressed in a walnut balsamic vinaigrette seasoned with caraway and garlic.

For my birthday cake, Martha asked me what I wanted and as she has not disappointed my appetite in 18 years, I pretty much gave her carte blanche to surprise me. She did confirm, if I remember correctly, that I would be OK with a gingerbread cake as opposed to something chocolate or vanilla. This intrigued me, never having had a birthday cake of gingerbread. She made me ... get ready for this ... a gingerbread cake with a sour cream and maple sugar whipped cream frosting drizzled with a salted maple caramel sauce! So rich, so decadent, so good! The cake had fresh ginger(of course, duh!), Chinese five spice, and maple sugar and was topped with homemade candied pecans.  In three words, SHE DONE GOOD.

Next up, Part III:
My first experience with an authentic Indian dinner and lunch with Dad, Sheryl, and a herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Epicurean Vacation: Part I

The best vacations leave you with incredible memories. Usually those memories are of places and things seen. Vistas, views, people seen, artwork, shows, treasure found and bought, and evenings out make up the memories most often associated with a great holiday away! My trip in June with my sister Sheryl out to Arcata, California, to see my Dad and my stepmom Martha was no exception to that idea but with one major addition, the food!  My stomach growls as write this. It was truly a vacation of epicurean delights! 


(SOURCE)
We traveled out for my 41st birthday and I knew I would eat well. Martha is an incredibly accomplished cook, and a cookbook author in her own right!  She has cowritten a wonderful cookbook, Locally Delicious: Recipes and Resources for eating on the North Coast with 5 of her good friends. The ladies call themselves the Heirloom Tomatoes with each having tomato names reflective of their personalities. Martha is the Jersey Devil Tomato!  A link about the cookbook can be found here at Eureka Books, in Eureka, CA.

In no particular order, I enjoyed the following epicurean delights!

Northern California, specifically Humboldt County, California, prides itself on it's locally grown food products and well as the freshest seafood one can imagine! My trip included two meals at a well known Japanese restaurant in Eureka named Bayfront Restaurant which ironically is also known for serving some of the best Italian cuisine in the area!  Being on the West Coast right by the Pacific, I chose the sushi to get a sampling of some of the freshest available. My first lunch with Dad included probably the best Miso soup with tofu and seaweed that I have ever bad, dragon roll with shrimp tempura, and a luncheon plate of several sushi: BBQ eel, octopus, yellow tail tuna, red snapper, egg over sushi rice, shrimp, and salmon. We downed our meal with traditional green tea and Kirin Ichiban Japanese beer. My second lunch at Bayfront Restaurant was with Martha and Sheryl. We dined on more miso soup with tofu and seaweed, soft shell tempura, salted roasted edamame, gnocchi with salmon, and chicken teriyaki with sushi roll. Of course I just had to pair my meal with more Kirin Ichiban Japanese beer! That meal was just as good!

The day Sheryl arrived (we flew out on different days), we went to lunch to a favorite spot overlooking the coast in the small seaside town of Trinidad. I dined on fish-n-chips with freshly caught rock cod. The fish was so fresh, firm, flaky, with a mild flavor. Trinidad is located above the North Coast Harbor and has spectacular cliffs and beaches with rocky outcroppings perfect for long walks. Tidal pools are abundant from the crashing surf and tides.

That was not the only way I was able to enjoy the rock cod though! Martha sauteed up cod cheeks one evening for dinner. They were SO tender! She paired them with a red cabbage salad with crisped pancetta and currants dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Breakfasts were also epicurean delight!  Martha served up the simplest poached eggs with a gourmet hand. On the side was a homemade pear cranberry compote, rhubarb orange marmalade, and her own spiced pickled watermelon rind. I didn't not think I would like the watermelon but I was sold! On another mornings, she made Ebelskivers with honey glaze. These traditional Scandinavian breakfast treats have been described online as a combination of pancakes and popovers. They are so much more though. You could eat a dozen of them and they seemed fairly easy to make. One morning, Martha indulged us with an asparagus frittata with mixed fresh vegetables and Chevre on toasted pita.


Another morning, Martha made homemade mini pancakes from a recipe from Bette’s Oceanview Diner in Berkley, CA , a favorite spot of hers and my fathers. And still another, she whipped up Creme Brulee French toast!  So rich and so decadent. One of my favorite breakfasts was just having coffee and a croissant at the downtown Eureka at Old Town Coffee and Chocolates while Dad was in a meeting around the corner. I enjoyed writing my blog on the netbook and people watching out of the large cafe windows. The croissant wasn't the freshest, but the Italian roast coffee was so warming on a foggy morning.

Next up, an Epicurean Vacation: Part II .... dinners!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Good Neighbors / Bad Neighbors


(SOURCE)
I grew up in the idyllic hometown of Wenonah, NJ. I have such fond memories of my youth there. In the 70's,  two out of our three neighbors were very, very nice. We had Violet and Tom Conoway across the street. They were a sweet elderly couple that acted as surrogate grandparents to Adam, Sheryl, and I. Mrs. Conoway would bake us cookies. We would come into their little kitchen which always smelled so good and have cookies and milk. Adam and I would follow Mr. Conoway around in his yard and garage. When we were really young, Mom and Dad would sometimes arrange for us to stay there for a bit if they had errands to run and we couldn't come along. Just popping in would assure yourself of getting an oatmeal cookie or two!

On one side of our home were the Millers. Mr.and Mrs Miller were younger than the Conoways but about 10 years older than Mom and Dad. Mrs. Miller was sweet as well. They were the neighbors that my parents would talk to over the fence, have an occasional glass of wine with, exchange zucchini bread recipes, and hire their daughter Betty Jane to babysit us kids whenever needed.

On the other side ... well let's just say we did not get along with them. I will call them the Smiths. They were about the age of the Millers. They had one son: shy, introverted Billy. Billy never went out, was a mathematical genius, had pasty skin and thick glasses. Definitely not a sociable fellow. Billy was older than my sister and all momma's boy. He and his mother would be seen creepily throwing the ball underhand to each other for exercise when he was well into his teens.

Mrs. Smith and my mother did NOT get along. The Smith's yard was completely overgrown and unkempt. It was a tangle of bushes, vines, and foot high weeds. Mom complained that they were lowering the property values on the block. She continually warned us not to let our whiffleballs fly into their yard. We would sneak over and grab them and often got yelled at by Mrs. Smith for trespassing. She was notorious for keeping them. Or, she would bring them over and bang on the door, yelling at us again for being so irresponsible at 7 yrs of age. Uh ... okay. When she was nice, which wasn't often, she would bring us into her house to give us the ball and show us her pet box turtles. We went nervously. The odd thing about it was that her two pet turtles were kept in forced hibernation in the refrigerator crisper. I AM NOT KIDDING! Where most people kept their lettuce, she kept two box turtles. It was such a disturbing odd sight. There is just nothing more I can say about it! Just odd, just disturbing.

Then there was the Smith's electric organ. Mrs. Smith had an organ which she played at ungodly hours in the middle of the night. She would be playing Abba, Barry Manilow, the Eagles, and other 70's soft rocks hits. The organ was located up in the attic right next to window. My parents would call and call pleading with her to stop. She would for the evening but then start up again the next night. It was a nightmare.  After continued complaining, Mrs. Smith started to leave on the attic light all night just to antagonize us. It shown right into my bedroom window. Mom and Dad were undeterred and kept up the calling.  She finally stopped.

The funny thing was that Mr. Smith was such a kindly older man. He was nothing like the harpy of a wife we were subjected too. I think he knew he couldn't argue with his wife and would just give in to her craziness. Eventually, the Smiths moved to a home several blocks away. The home they moved to looked exactly like the one they moved from.

Soon, a new family moved in. We were so nervous as to whom we would "get". After all, you can pick your friends but can't pick your neighbors! Bob and Kay Croney moved in with Kay's daughter Tracy, and luckily, we got along so well with them, as neighbors should. Our parents had glasses of wine together, we would all talk across the fence, and had a BBQ every now and then. Tracy was in Adam's grade and if I remember correctly, they even went together to the prom or homecoming one year.  Our parents became friends and she became like a "sister across the yard." All was how it should be!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My 80 year old Doctor

When I was 28, I moved out of Philly down to Media, PA. As with any move to a new area, eventually you get around to choosing a new doctor, dentist, eye doctor, etc.  See I said eventually and not immediately. I happened to wait up to the last minute and went scrambling for a doctor when I came down with bronchitis.  I plunged into the spare bedroom still filled with unpacked boxes frantically looking for my health benefits guides. I needed a doctor and needed one fast! Finally after what seemed like a dozen boxes, I found my benefits guide listing doctors available in the area.

Flipping page after page, I needed to find a doctor close by. I then remembered that Riddle Memorial Hospital was only a mile down the road, so I figured I would pick a doctor from there. I looked down the list and saw 'general medicine' and chose Dr. Morty Zimmerman. He sounded nice. So Dr. Zimmerman it was! I called immediately and set up an appointment later that day.

Upon arrival at Dr. Zimmerman's office, I checked it with the front desk. The woman was polite, but I do remember her giving me a strange look. Now paranoid, I asked for the restroom and checked my teeth for the remains of lunch. There was nothing. Okaaay, maybe I just imagined her odd look.

I sat down in the waiting room and a couple other people came in and sat down. I grabbed a magazine on Senior Citizen Travel and decided to plot where to spend my retirement while waiting for the doctor.  10 minutes passed. An elderly man came into the office with his walker and had difficulty transfering to a chair, so I helped.  I grabbed another magazine, AARP, and started reading about senior citizen discounts available to me once I reached 65. Wow! You can sure save alot, I thought.

Finally Dr. Zimmerman, who looked vaguely like the cartoon Mr. Magoo, came out and called my name. He must have been 80 years old! I got up and strode towards him and got a funny look. Do I look that bad? I thought. I must look really sick!

After examining me, he prescribed an antibiotic. Before he left, he turned to me and asked, "Son, how did you find me?"
"Well," I began, "I looked you up in my health benefits guide under "general medicine" for Riddle Memorial Hospital."
He laughed. "Son, I'm not under 'general medicine', I'm under 'geriatric medicine!'"
"What's the difference?" I asked,
"About 50 years," he retorted and he left the room.

I sat as I got changed and thought about it. Geriatric ... 50 years ... AARP ... senior discounts ... Holy CRAP! I picked a senior doctor!

Once changed, I walked through the waiting room now filled to capacity with senior citizens from 70 to 100. Walkers, wheelchairs, and even a couple of oxygen tanks abounded. I shook my head and laughed quietly. I couldn't believe my mistake!  But you know what, I went back to him until he passed away 4 years later. Sure I got funny looks from the other patients 50 years my senior, but he was one of the best doctors that I ever had.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holidays When You've Lost Someone

When you have lost someone in your life, a spouse, child, parent, sibling, or close friend, the holidays become extremely difficult and sad. Judy Garland's version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from the musical "Meet Me in St. Louis" comes to mind. Judy sings, "From now on we'll have to muddle through somehow."  I find the lyric so sad and poignant. Later versions changed that lyric to the more positive ""Hang a shining star upon the highest bough!"  You can thank Frank Sinatra for the more jolly line.



I actually like the sad lyric. It reminds me that there are others out there like me, that struggle to get through the holidays after losing a loved one. You try and put up a brave face but sometimes the sadness makes it difficult. Anyway, that's how I read it. I do have fun holidays though, but these days they are bittersweet.  My Mom was the focal point of our family. She gathered us kids at her house each year, whether Christmas Eve or day, made dinner, and was our Northern Star that we looked to for guidance, familial warmth and love.

If you know someone who has lost someone important in their lives, recognize that at some point, they will be sad during the holidays. I express my sadness in private, or to my sister or brother, or  OK OK, on my blog. Alright, I am pretty open about my sadness. There I said it. :o) For me, it has become cathartic to write about it. If I haven't said it, thank you for allowing me the ability to write about my feelings.

Realize that your loved ones who lost someone will most likely will come out of it and join back in the festivities. Give them a hug and let them know that you understand why they are sad. It will (and from experience I know) be greatly appreciated. If you yourself have lost someone, reach out to a close friend or family member who has too. Sometimes there is nothing wrong with commisery. A good cry and hug does wonders!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My Worst Apartment: the Mole Hole

Back in the mid 90's when I was a partying twenty year old in Philly, I looked at my apartment as just a place to sleep. I got up, went to work, ate out, maybe came home to change, and then went out for the evening until sometimes 5 to 7 am. I was a hard partying kid. I have no regrets. It was all in good fun. I lived alone for the most part, other than for a stretch with my great roommates Greg and John, when I lived with them on Rittenhouse Square. My only other worthwhile companion was Smokey the Cat. My favorite apartment was at the Claremont apartment building at 10th and Clinton. I had a wide spacious studio apartment. I considered it a walk up as I didn't trust the elevator.  It creaked and shook between the 2nd and 3rd floors. I loved that apartment though and have fond memories of it. 

My worst apartment was the Mole Hole. I named it after I discovered the back 1/3 was partially underground. After living with Greg and John for a couple of fun crazy years, I decided that I needed to get my own place again. I had been relatively lucky with apartment hunting for my first two besides the Rittenhouse Square apartment so I figured I would just look at one or two sites. For me, it became all about location!

My entrance way was on the left side of the bright green plant. Can't see it? That's because it's barely a 2ft wide alley!

I decided that I wanted to live in the Olde City neighborhood of Philadelphia. I loved the art galleries, the old factories slowly being made into lofts, and the historical sites like the Betsy Ross House and Ben Franklin's grave. It was also far enough away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Center City Philly that I felt like I was in my own neighborhood without the hassle of running into everyone I knew.

I looked at two apartments. The first one was too expensive in the long run. I jumped on the second one at 2nd and Race Street. It was a cheap studio apartment in the the rear first floor of an art gallery owned by a middle aged Swedish couple. I gave it one walk through and decided that this was it! Soon, though, I would realize why it was so cheap. Granted the only entrance was down the brick covered dark 2 foot alleyway, but I figured I weighed 135 lbs and could easily slip down it. Also, there was no door bell to reach me in the back and large people had to walk sideways, but it was nice and secluded from the noise of the city. Oh yes, one other thing. Visitors would have to run thrown a gauntlet of dripping water down the brick alleyway. ICK!

I signed the lease almost immediately and made arrangements to move in. I brought my big sis, Sheryl, down to see my little apartment in the hippest neighborhood! It was the first time I saw her truly speechless. It was also the first time I saw her openly sob immediately upon walking into the apartment. "Can you get out of the lease!?!?!?" she quickly asked. "Uh no...," I began. She sobbed again openly. I said, "It isn't that bad!" Sheryl asked me how many I had looked at and I told her two. She said I should have looked at more, and I should have consulted her, and asked again if it was too late? I drowned her out in my mind. I was sure this was a find and convinced myself I would love it. At $235/mth rent, I would learn to love it! That was June. It would be a couple weeks before I would begin rethinking my apartment choice.

The apartment itself with three long narrow rooms, one after another. The first room was the kitchen/dining room. It had a small window, 1 ft by 1 ft which opened. That. Was. It. One the gallery side end of the building, it had a doorway blocked off by a sheet of plywood from the gallery in the front. (Months later, in an act of defiance, I would play club and disco music at high volume to disrupt my landlords' gallery openings when they wouldn't repair my tiny bathroom.) The front room was about 10 feet by 6 feet. The bathroom was right off of this room. It was small enough where you could sh*t, shower, and shave without moving from the same spot. It was that small. The toilet frequently backed up. I often found roaches crawling up from the drains. Curiously, there were none the day I looked at the apartment. I always said they were in cahoots with the landlords.

The second room was the living room. With my futon, it became the bedroom too. It was about 8 ft by 6 ft with a large 5 foot picture window. I loved the window, it looked over the little back patio but unfortunately, also created a sauna like atmosphere in the summer. The apartment often heated up to over 90'F until I started covering the window with a layer of bed sheets.

The back room, which was supposed to be the bedroom, was the most interesting. I found that as I walked further into it, it sloped downward unnaturally, like there was a sinkhole beneath it. Looking at it from the patio, the room actually slanted underground into a little hill behind the row home. Hence, the name Mole Hole was born. Also, there were no windows in this room, and the walls were just painted cinder block. Well, I figured, it will be cool in the summer! And oh it was. Nice and cool. Unfortunately, there was no heat in the room and during the winter, I actually froze water back there. Since there was also doorway closing it off, I had to hang 3 wool blankets across the doorway to keep out the cold. Even the mice and roaches didn't dare go back there.

Soon, my friends were offering to meet me out instead of coming over. The one friend who did stay over had his car stolen from out front of the apartment. My only guests were either the landlord dropping by unannounced, sometimes surprising me in my naked glory, or my dear trusted feline companion, Smokey. Smokey had the crazy habit of catching the mice and roaches and leaving them for me on my pillow as gifts. Ah ... what a good and thoughtful kitty. Thank you Smokey! Rest in peace! My neighbors played rock music constantly until 4 am. It annoyed me only sometimes as I was usually out with friends until at least 5 am.

Well I knew I wouldn't be staying for another year, but for $235/mth rent, I sucked it up. Needless to say, my landlords and I did not part as friends. For years afterwards I could recite various Swedish curse words they yelled at me for constantly complaining about the apartment. Sheryl helped find me a great apartment at16th and Spring Garden St, just 5 blocks away from her apartment. I think she liked having me closer. I  made out with free meals.

What did I learn from this experience?  Location isn't everything. See many apartments. Get other people's opinions. Choose an apartment with a window you can actually fit through. Don't pick rodents and vermin as possible roommates. Choose an entrance way with an actual door bell and one wider than 2 feet.  Lastly, DO NOT take an apartment just because it is cheap! It is usually cheap for many reasons and none usually are desirable.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Endorsement: Swag Boutique in Philly!

I just love the hip Philadelphia boutique Swag, located in the latest trendy neighborhood, Northern Liberties!  What a great place for gifts and stocking stuffers!  My sister Sheryl and I had a great dinner one evening at Bar Ferdinand and decided to walk off the several rounds of tapas and signature drinks that we had. (Sidebar: For a great meal at reasonable prices in a fab Spanish atmosphere, check out Bar Ferdinand!  They make a wonderful Sangria too!)  If you are like me, you are always trying to find that fun affordable gift that will stand out above all others. You want your friends or family members to be talking about it long after the holidays! This is the place to get that fun, creative gift with flair.  Swag has office and housewarming gifts all about whimsy and fun, not to mention a great selection of pieces made by local artists and crafters.

A couple of my favorite items I either bought or admired include:
Nesting doll measuring cups:s
Daily Mood Pads showing 47 moods you can pick from to match your day:
Herb plants in a bag:    
Chopsticks kids:

Spilt Milk Bowl:    
Sake bomb sake decanter:

The proprietor of the boutique, Mey Shou, is very nice and goes out of her way to help you.  She runs the boutique with her husband Tom. As the website states, "Our gifts are all works of art in their own right." but it truly is a fun place to shop after lunch or dinner in NoLib. Don't live in Philly? Check out their website: http://www.swagphilly.com/. It's easy to navigate, has great descriptions and pics, and reasonable shipping! I have also included a link on my blog to theirs: http://www.swagphilly.blogspot.com/.  They are also on Facebook at SWAG Boutique.

Swag Boutique is located at:

935 N. 2nd Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19123
(267) 888-7246

info@swagphilly.com

This Saturday, November 26th, 2011, is American Express Small Business Saturday! AmEx is asking you to support the small businesses in your community and Swag Boutique in Philly is participating! You will not only support the local businesses but also help our economy! Make just one purchase, it doesn't have to be big. Make the pledge to shop small!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Celebrity Encounters of the Political Kind

In no particular order, these are some encounters from my past with those of the political arena that I remember for one reason or another.

I met the former governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, on the Rutgers campus at a rally for his 1988 failed presidential bid. I don't remember his speech. Don't remember his promises, Don't remember his platform. I remember his eyebrows, black and bushy. I also remember Robert Redford introducing him! Although I didn't get to shake Robert Redford's hand, I do remember his sandy blond hair and piercing blue eyes. Very handsome Hollywood leading man looks. Michael Dukakis ... eyebrows. I was more excited to see his wife, Kitty Dukakis. 

The year after Anita Hill testified in Washington D.C. against then US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, I waited on her while she was dining in the Azalea Dining Room at the Omni Hotel Philadelphia. She was very nice. Very soft spoken and polite. She was giving a speech in Philly. I feel I was in the presence of someone of a strong character who stood up for something that she believed in. Clarence Thomas would become a US Supreme Court Justice and still sits on the bench today.  Anita Hill's testimony is said to "have launched modern-day public awareness and open discussion of the issue of workplace sexual harassment in the United States with the ultimate result that the behavior is less tolerated today." (source)

Back in October of 1992, I found myself with friends down in South Philly waiting for then presidential nominee Bill Clinton to arrive. We got a bite to eat at Geno's Steaks and waited. After what seemed like hours, he finally arrived and people went nuts! Former President Bill Clinton's charisma is legendary and the crowd was just captivated by him. I remember shaking his hand and saying hello to him. He replied "Hello there son!" I just stared at him smiling and kept hold of his hand. Secret Service eventually had to separate us. The agent commanded me, "You can let go of his hand now!" and gave me a dirty look. Oops.

Lastly, I have met and spoke with Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell on more than one occasion while waiting tables at various restaurants or hotels in Philly when he was mayor and then governor.  He was always genuinely friendly and happy to see me. Whenever I had ran into him or waited on him he would always act like he remembered me. I really appreciated that but knew he probably didn't, although I have served him enough hors d'oeuvres for him to. A good politician can pull off that without you even realizing it.

All of that was a good ten or more years ago. These days, the only political figure worth mentioning that I met is my self-proclaimed block captain Charlotte. She's my next door neighbor who I have often seen wandering the yards along my street, just keeping an eye on everything.  She's more interesting that 99% of the political figures out there.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Did I Make a Mistake by Voting?


I came out of the voting booth this evening feeling troubled. Should I have voted for Sigmund T. Bigglesworth (*not his real name ... duh) for the position of county coroner? I mean he was of my party, but I really didn't know who Sigmund was. I wasn't even sure what the county coroner did but I knew it had to do with investigating dead people. I know I liked Sigmund's last name, Bigglesworth. It reminded me of a character I had read in a novel. Sigmund, I really didn't know a thing about you, my friend, and yet I still gave you my vote. Did I do the right thing? Does the average voter know all they need to know about the candidates they are voting for? I think not. 

For years I have voted. I have felt very strongly in favor of it. My parents have always voted and taught us kids that it is our right, our privilege, and also our "civic duty" as they say, to vote. I truly believe that. Even if you feel you have no real voting power or your vote doesn't count, you cannot deny that there were some elections where the outcome was so close! So maybe my vote does count.

At the very least, I figure that if I am on the fence about voting, so are hundreds of other people. Therefore, if I do vote, I am hoping those others will decide to vote and with as close as some elections have been, it seems our hundreds of votes would and do count! For example, in the Washington gubernatorial election of 2004, Democrat Christine Gregoire defeated Republican Dino Rossi by only 133 votes, following two recounts, after the initial count and first recount showed Dino Rossi as the winner! (Source Wikipedia.com) Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, you cannot deny that this was a close election! Under Wikipedia's list of close election results, there are other examples.

Sure, I may only know the woman who ran for county controller because she stopped by the firehouse bar one evening dropping off beer coasters with her name on it.  By the way, classy ... not (and you didn't get my vote.) But at least by voting, I am exercising my right and staying true to my political ideologies. Oh no, you won't get my party affiliation out of me that easy.  I may surprise you though. I have been known to vote outside of my party lines if I feel the candidate is well qualified. The others, I pick based on how well I like their last name.  JUST KIDDING!

So after mulling it over on a glass or two of wine, I do believe I did the right thing by voting, if not by candidate, then by party lines. So Mr. Sigmund T. Bigglesworth, you can thank me for my vote.  And I solemnly promise to learn more about my local candidates next year. Now do your job without corruption and let's clean up this mess!

Monday, November 7, 2011

National Geographic's "7 Billion People: Are you typical?"

I love this slick video from National Geographic on our ever increasing world population and wanted to share it with my readers. Check out their others at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/


RIP Andy Rooney

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Over the weekend, the lovable curmudgeon of a writer, Andy Rooney, passed away at the age of 92. Andy was a well known writer, humorist, and commentator on 60 minutes from 1978 to 2011. We should all be so lucky to live such a long life doing something we absolutely enjoy. I count Andy Rooney as one of my influences in writing.  My others include Erma Bombeck and David Sedaris.

After years of trying to form my writing style or find my own niche, I finally gave up. That was an epiphany for me. I realized it needed to happen and develop naturally. Instead, I started reading writers that I admired or just liked what they wrote. My style soon developed on its own. That style is influenced by Andy Rooney. I had wanted to meet him one day and figured that if I ever say him in a restaurant, I would say hi. Andy Rooney's response would probably be, "Can you go away? I am trying to eat my dinner."

Memories Lost


Mom and I during a recent Christmas Holiday
What sucks when someone close to you dies are the memories lost.   One of the things which I find particularly upsetting is that you end up starting to forget the memories of the person who has passed away. I come down on myself so much sometimes when I try and remember something that Mom did and cannot. I just don't want to forget anything about her.

I was spent the day in Jim Thorpe, PA sightseeing today and came across some owl figurines. I remembered how much my mother used to love and collect owls back in the 70's and 80's. She had quite a collection of figurines. I suddenly became nervous and panicky that no one else would ever know that she just loved those owls! It would be a memory remembered by my sister Sheryl and brother Adam, but alas, ultimately lost. I grew very sad.

I also remembered how recently, she loved hearing about my local trips around the area and camping:  hiking around the Northwest; my sister's trips to Europe and the Islands, and my brother's trips around the world. She lived through us and enjoyed our travels. Mom also just loved chocolate covered cherries. I know it's a rather random memory, but as the years go on, her grandkids won't know about these random memories. I don't know everything about my grandparents and wish I knew more. Unfortunately, that is the way life goes I guess.  What a sad and sobering realization. Some memories will soon be forgotten.

I mourn lost memories. It just sucks. Who will know that my mother had a crazy Beanie Baby collection? Or that she was such a party girl in Key West, Florida, who loved their festival Fantasy Fest? She would walk up and down Duval Street with all the thousands of revelers. Her favorites shot was Hot Damn cinnamon schapps.  She would always have a bottle on hand to do shots with her kids when we came to visit.

During the 70's, Mom loved macrame, cross stitch, Judy Collins, and Abba. She made am awesome meatloaf and a rockin' spaghetti sauce. She had one of the best holiday parties in Wenonah. In later years, she collected Lladro ceramic figures and holiday nutcrackers.  After her passing, Adam, Sheryl, and I found that she kept gifts we had given her from back in the early 70's. She kept everything from hand made clay ashtrays to hand made birthday cards.

Mom also was a flower child from the 60's hippie generation and before that in the late 1950's, she roamed the beatnik smokey jazz clubs of the Village in New York City. She continued to love jazz up until she passed away. Diane Krall was amongst her favorites.  And even before that, my mom used to party it up at Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick, NJ. It tickled her pink that I would end up going to Rutgers myself, her old stomping grounds. I have an awesome picture of her at a Rutgers house party with the Phi Ep Fraternity. She was so excited for me when I joined my fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi.

Thanks for indulging me about these memories of my dear mother. I often write about things that I feel we all go through or can relate too. Losing someone is difficult, even after a couple years. You want to be able to honor them after they have passed by holding onto those important memories. I feel awful when I can't remember certain things about them. I guess it's part of moving on with life. You remember the love and feelings you had. Pictures and scrapbooks fill in the remainder.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The October Nor'easter

On October 29th of this year, a nor'easter hit the northeastern US causing destruction in its path. They called it Snow-tober. Snow fell at unprecedented rates felling trees left and right which had not yet lost their leaves. Several million were without power. It was a storm causing more damage and outages than Hurricane Irene's path through the area in August of this same year.  We lost power for about 8 hours. Some areas were still without power five days later.

My area, Schuylkill County, received between 8 and 16 inches of heavy wet snow. Some areas had snow drifts of 2 feet!  By the time it was over, my yard had several trees down with at least as many bushes destroyed.  In my front yard are two large silver maple trees which lost all of the top branches from the weight of the snow on the leaves. A good 15 - 20 feet were snapped off the top of each one. In the middle of the yard, a beautiful cherry blossom tree fell over. We are going to attempted to replant it with 5 friends.

All of the butterfly bushes were destroyed. The nor'easter finished off what Hurricane Irene began. The rose bush is gone.  Forsythias were ravaged. The dogwood, lost one of three main branches off of its trunk. It had already lost two from Irene. I would estimate that 75% of the trees had some sort of damage.

This one-two punch culminates a bad year weather wise for the area. We went through a bad drought this summer followed by Hurricane Irene and then literally two weeks of heavy rains. The rains caused the flooding of almost every river and stream in Pennsylvania causing death and widespread destruction. And now, October 2011 ended with one of the earliest snow storms on record.
My focus is now just cleaning up the yard for the winter. The temperatures are back up in the 50's. The snow has melted and it will be mild for the rest of the week.

I count my blessings. No branches hit the house or deck. Sure, the yard destruction is not covered by insurance, but most will grow back or be replanted. The trees bear the scars of this storm.  A huge branch fell where my car is normally parked. I had traveled down to Philly for the night to my sisters for a Halloween party.  Granted it's a crappy car, but no one wants the headache of their car being destroyed.

Life goes on and the cleanup continues.

Followup:  With the help of three of my neighbors, John and I were able to replant the cherry tree!  It will need to be staked for the next year. Fingers crossed that it survives. At least we were able to save it for now!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Memories

Growing up 70's and 80's, Halloween was always fun in my house. As I have stated in previous blogs, my family didn't have that much disposable income when I was young, so alot of costumes were homemade. We kids didn't complain too much, it was just how it was. I knew I wanted to be something else, but when the end result was still getting candy, I was still happy. Therefore, in the Haynes household, Sheryl, Adam, and I were often hobos, bums, or clowns! 

I do remember one year, when I was 6 or 7, that I pleaded for Mom to buy me a skull mask. I wanted it SO bad! She gave in and bought it for me. We had no idea what I was going to do for the skeleton body though. Never thought once about that. Halloween crept closer, and I started asking with urgency, "What about my skeleton body!"  Mom suggested ratty clothes and I stated that I just couldn't been seen in ratty clothes and a skull!  Didn't she know that wasn't a skeleton! I need a skeleton body and if I didn't have, everything would be ruined! I was full of drama even at such a young age.



I actually found the mask being sold online at a vintage store. It is the one in the top right corner! Not too scary today, but back then to a little kid, it was scary enough for me.  Dad came to the rescue and spray painted a skeleton on a sheet and cut out holes for my head and arms and I became the "scary" skeleton that I wanted to be!

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Money was tight for my family back then, so as I stated we were either clowns, hobos, or bums. What's the difference between a hobo and a bum? Not sure, ha ha, but I know I went as either for several years. It was an easy costume.  Dirty clothes, an empty bottle, a plastic cigar, and a dirty face. I remember Adam and I tied the pile of clothes on the end of stick to indicate we were "traveling" hobos.  I think Mom got it stuck in her head that these were easy cheap costumes. Years later, I would be shown pictures of her as a young girl, dressed up as a hobo and a clown! 

Mom and Dad splurged one year and bought Adam and I these cool rubber hobo masks. They had a huge comic nose, beard and chin but your eye are was open. So we went as updated hobos with exaggerated features. Half of the people thought we were Groucho Marx or Jimmy Durante. No one at school knew who I was. I remember loving the anonymity of it all

Dad would walk Sheryl, Adam, and I around the Wenonah neighborhood going trick-or-treating. When Sheryl got older, she would then take us. We didn't have fancy bags, a good old supermarket paperbag worked just as well. Mom and Dad would wait at home for us to see what we collected in our trick-or-treat bags. Back then, you didn't have to worry about razor blades or pins in candy, apples or homemade treats. They were all safe. There was a sweet old woman with a thick European accent on the corner of Clinton and Maple who used to give out Ziploc bags of homemade cookies. They were the best!  For the life of me I cannot remember her name. She was so sweet though. I used to also rake leaves for her in the Fall. 

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Anyway, when we arrived back home, Mom would have hot chocolate waiting. We three kids would sit in the breakfast room and go through our spoils!  Trading and counting candy would commence! Mom would then store the rest in our own personal Tupperware containers but way up high in the top cabinets of the kitchen.  No sneaking candy!

One of the last years trick-or-treating,  Mom had hung a fabric sewn pumpkin that she made in the front door window. My sister Sheryl still hangs it up in her front doorway as Mom did. I smile each year I see it. Dad created a huge spider web on the porch. He constructed the web out of rope and then fashioned a spider out of Styrofoam balls.  Ever the artist, his art skills came through! The entire neighborhood was talking about the spider web at 205 East Maple Street! Now, you see them all over the place, but I swear my Dad created one of the first back in the early 80's!  With a scary music record (yes record!) playing, my sister dressed up as a witch and scared kids left and right who wandered up the stairs to our house. 

Mischief night, the night before Halloween, was also fun, but nervous fun. Adam, Sheryl, and I guarded our house from egg throwing, toilet paper hanging hooligans. Only one year did our block get egged. Another year we came home to smashed pumpkins and tossed mums. Mom was so angry that year swearing what she would do to those kids! Dad eventually calmed her down.

My last memory of Halloween I want to share is my allergy to chocolate. What a horrible thing for a kid to endure on one of the best holidays for kids! I would break out in itchy hives.  In the year that I started having allergic reactions, I broke out in hives so bad, that my back actually became one big hive. After that, Mom and Dad would allow me one or two pieces of chocolate and watch me for break outs.

What fun memories, but I still vow never to be a clown, hobo, or bum again.  And thankfully, I outgrew my allergy to chocolate!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tasting Macallan 50 yr Single Malt Scotch


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For several years in the late 90's and early 00's,  I was a purchaser at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia. Specifically, I was in charge of purchasing the wine, liquor, and beer. Every week I would put in my order for the hotel and its restaurant outlets. We aren’t talking about a couple bottles were and there. We are talking about liquor and wine orders of up to 40 cases, sometimes on special weekends, double that amount. One top of that, an average of 30 cases of various beer would be delivered by the beer guy. I would fill the orders of the bartenders and outlets and delivery them down to the various bars, restaurants, and banquet areas.

I also actively participated in tastings with the vendors that sold to us. Many times I took part in them knowing full well that I would not be carrying the vendors bubble gum flavored vodka in lobby bar, but just wanted to see what it tasted like! I would schedule liquor and wine tastings throughout the day. One particular day, I included a 10 am tasting from a vodka company, a 2 pm tasting of whiskies, and 6 pm red wine tasting in the Grill Restaurant. Somedays, I would have to put in the main food order for my boss, the director of purchasing, Big Daddy JW, as I affectionately referred to him. If it was a particularly full day with tastings, I had been known in the evening to mistakenly order 100 cases of romaine lettuce instead of 10. Thankfully, our food companies were nice enough to call and confirm that I really wanted 100 cases before putting processing the order for the night.


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One of the best tastings I was able to take part in was tasting the Macallan 50 year old Single Malt Scotch.  Our vendors Steve and Bob came in with a large wooden case containing the scotch. We talked before hand about the hotel purchasing a bottle of the expensive Single Malt.  Such a bottle would cost the hotel around $10,000. It would be seen as an investment and something we would get press for in Philly. "Come to The Vault Bar at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and taste the Macallan 50 year old Scotch! One of the only restaurants on the East Coast to carry such an expensive Single Malt Scotch!"  I was just writing the press releases in my head! I pictured business men coming in and buying a round at $500 a shot to impress their clients just like they did in buying a round of Louis XIII by Remy Martin, one of the most expensive cognacs in the world , at $200 a snifter.

After talking for about 15 minutes, I could hardly contain my excitement! I had retrieved 3 rocks glasses from The Vault for my and the two vendors to sit back and sip the fine Scotch. I wiped them clean several times to make sure nothing was present to throw the taste of a glass of this scotch.  I had tried the Macallan 10, 12, 18, 25, and 30 year, but this was the grand daddy of them all! 

Steve, our vendor, opened the wooden case and I was waiting to see what type of incredible crystal bottle the Scotch would be in! Would it be Lalique? Could it be Bacarrat like the Louis XIII cognac? Instead he brought out 3 glass droppers. Wha wha what? The record scratched to a halt. Into each glass, he emptied one dropper full of Macallan 50 year.  I just stared at the sip barely covering the bottom of the rocks glass. Just stared at it. For a good couple minutes.  Steve laughed and said to me, "What, did you think the three of us would drink the bottle?" Well, I thought, maybe? I began to laugh as well.

Having gotten over my disappointment, I smelled the Single Malt. I smelled caramel. Then I took a sip. It was smooth, so smooth. I breathed in. It was smokey, oaky, and peaty, just like I like my single malts. But oh so smoooooth! That sip was worth it. This was what a Scotch of this caliber should taste like.  No I did not get a nice heavy pour but I did get a priveleged tasting experience I will most likely never have again.

How do I pick topics to write about?

More than a few friends have asked me how I choose what I write about.  Sometimes an idea just comes to me and I write about it, going off on a tangent for several paragraphs. Other times, I go to my little notebook of ideas. I keep a running list in a notebook of topics that I want to write about at some point in the future. As I write about them, I check them off, one by one. I carry a little notebook with me to jot down ideas, keep one by the bed, and keep one in the car, just in case!

A Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette Recipe

I discovered this recipe for a balsamic vinaigrette dressing awhile ago while surfing the net and I just love it. I found it on the Food Network website. It is by famed chef Emeril Lagasse. I had wanted something simple I could do in 10-15 minutes for a tossed salad.  I included the link to the recipe below. I have even changed it up by adding some Dijon Mustard for a Dijon Vinaigrette. Add for taste. You can also mix it up by adding soy sauce, lemon juice, honey, walnut oil, sesame oil, rosemary flavored olive oil, basil flavored olive oil, or any other flavors!  Enjoy!

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/simple-balsamic-vinaigrette-recipe/index.html

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Celebrity Encounters

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Working in the hotel/restaurant business has afforded me many an opportunity to meet celebrities. I am fortunate to have mixed with some interesting folk, or at the very least, had some interesting run ins with the Glitterati, the Glam, and the occasional Goth rocker.  In a new segment on my blog, I am going to write about these fun and sometimes not so fun encounters. Hope you enjoy!

As I wrote about before, one of my favorite encounters was with Chef Julia Child. I have met other chefs though. One of my most memorable was meeting Chef Marcus Sammuelson while he was head chef for Washington Square, a restaurant in Philly by famed restaurateur Stephen Starr.  I was there sipping Champagne with one of my close friends Jerry when we decided to order an appetizer. Having never had sweetbreads, we decided to given them a try.  For those of you that do not know, sweetbreads are either the pancreas or thymus in calf, lamb, beef, or pork. For the life of me, I wasn't not sure what I animal I was eating. They were served fried and were very tasty though. Suddenly, Chef Sammuelson was at our table and asked in his ever so smooth voice and eloquent manner, "How are your sweetbreads Gentlemen?" I gulped Champagne down and barked back "They are very good Chef!!"  I think he was taken aback by my exuberance and quickly moved on.

While working at my previous job at the luxury hotel, I had the joy of meeting Sigourney Weaver in a potentially awkward moment. I was in the elevator taking it down to the lower level where our main kitchens and ballroom were. Riding it down, I was standing way to close to the doors. Usually one should move to the rear of the elevator. I think I was looking at myself in the mirrored doors. Suddenly, the doors opened on the lobby level and I came face to face with the perky breasts of a very tall woman.
"Like what ya see?" she asked smiling down at me.
"Uh ... uh  I'm sorry!" I sputtered looking up. Sigourney Weaver! She was in town for the Philadelphia Film Festival and I was accidentally staring at her chest.
She laughed and I moved aside, she entered and the doors closed. It was just Sigourney and me. She was gorgeous, tall, looking radiant in heels, black slacks, and a leopard print top.
"Are you enjoying your stay Miss Weaver?"
"Yes, thank you, the hotel is beautiful."
With that, the elevator doors opened on the lower level, and she glided away to give a speech in the ballroom.

At another time in the earlier 00's, I jumped on the main hotel elevator going up. Who was on the elevator beside me?  A well known 80's film actress who had appeared in several adventure movies. She was now appearing in a large play production in Philly which was just recently touring the country after Broadway.  I had heard she was sick and admittedly, she did not look well. She was coughing and looked worn out.
"Are you alright, Mrs. X? Can I get you anything?"
In a deep husky voice she responded,"I could go for a scotch on the rocks, but a cough drop will have to do."
I laughed nervously and told her I would let the concierge know. I had another encounter with her during her stay. She was not the diva I had heard she could be. She seemed always nice and cordial to our staff.  I look at her as a screen legend and was privileged to have my encounters with her!  Out of respect, I have not revealed her name as at the time she was supposedly having issues with alcohol.

I have also met others in passing, I served breakfast to James Darren, Bobby Rydel, and Fabian when I worked at the Omni Hotel in Philly while they were in town touring back in the late 90's. Nice guys, great tippers! My mom was so excited that I waited on them! The Goth rocker Marilyn Manson was such a tall guy in his black boots. I turned around and he scared the heck out of me. But such a sweet heart of a guy! He was very pleasant and friendly. Lastly, I met Richard Wagner and Jill St. John at the last hotel I worked at. Now THEY are Hollywood royalty. She was beautiful and he was so handsome. Both were pleasant and so polite. I count them as one of my favorite encounters!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A little break!

Sometimes we need a break and boy did I ever! I went off the "grid" for a bit just to refresh my mind and soul. I took a week off and stayed in a cabin at Worlds End State Park in Forksville, PA. Hiked all around, roasted marshmallows, sat by the Loyalsock Creek for hours and just watched it tumble by. Also went on a couple short trips to Hershey PA and Gettysburg, PA. Love doing the touristy stuff!

Shrouded by clouds, mountains march to the horizon in this photo of the Worlds End Vista at Worlds End State Park, Pennsylvania.
The Vista at World's End State Park
I had vowed to try and not go online during that week. I really didn't tell alot of people and so friends started to wonder if I was alright. Sorry if I worried anyone! Sometimes you just need that mental break. It was nice not to have to type on on the keyboard for awhile. I needed the mental break too. Just to think about where I am going, what I am doing. Remind me what is important in life and what is not. That sort of thing.

When I came back and went back to work, I was overwhelmed last week! My job at Domestic Relations is one where you really can't take a week's break without paying for it the week before and the week after. Ah... the plight of the overworked social worker. Gotta love/hate it. But it's a secure job in questionable economic times ... you get the picture. I was also bartending several times too. That's my side job if I haven't mentioned it before. I bartend at the local firehouse. I love it, great people, fun atmosphere. Unfortunately it is a smoking atmosphere which just kills me with my allergies!

Today is the first day I can get anything out on here. I have written a couple pieces, just haven't polished them up yet. It is so rare that I actually sit and type away in a sort of stream of consciousness and just put it out there. My blogs are becoming pieces which I put aside and then come back to after a bit. Rework, rewrite, etc, and then put online. This one obviously, is just put on as is.  And there is nothing wrong with that!  :o)

Well I am back and gonna try and make up for lost time. I have been trying to put up two posts a week. So I am a little behind my normal schedule.  Hope everyone is doing well. I am excited for that the fall is here!