Thursday, January 11, 2018

A warm highlight in Iceland

Happy New Year 2018. 
Editor's note: This article is written after a December trip to Iceland. 
    When you don’t second guess yourself, you come out for the better. Here’s my story.
    Quickly assessing my body’s overall condition from head to toe, there’s a noticeable dull throbbing from intermittent sleep. A pretzel is a more accurate description as my limbs unpeel themselves from resting in an uncomfortable economy seat for so long. My breath is stale and bed head is the best I can do with my appearance. That’s not an ideal prospect for the start to a brand new day. 

    Without any further fanfare, my husband and I get off the plane in Reykjavik, Iceland, at 6:30 am after a five-hour overnight flight from New York. It’s dark and no one notices. Thank goodness the press wasn’t alerted.
     The plane is full of sleep-deprived people anxious to hit solid ground and stretch their legs. I notice that the tourists like myself are bundled up in heavy down coats, hats, boots and gloves. On the other hand, the Icelanders returning home are in lighter jackets, sneakers and hatless.
     We step into predawn air, and surprisingly it is nowhere as cold as when we left Rochester the day before in a steady snowfall. Rochester was the land of Arctic tundra compared to Reykjavik with mild 30-degree temperatures. Ah, those hardy Icelanders expect you to deplane outside on steps, too, year round.
     After passing through customs – no hold-up for me today – my husband and I head over to the Fly Bus to take our excursion to the Blue Lagoon, a tourist favorite.
     It’s too early to expect our hotel room to be ready and this tour seemed like a cool idea when I booked it back in July. Previous travelers claim that it will be our initiation into the Icelandic way of life.
     Now I am questioning my sanity. We had carefully packed our swimming gear in our carry-on luggage, but to shed all those layers of winter clothes for a couple hours in a communal locker room for an outside pool in December seems a lot of bother.
    Later I am told by an Icelandic resident that locals go several times a week to an outdoor pool for its rejuvenating and restorative powers, along with the accompanying socialization. Besides, it staves off only 4 hours of daylight in the winter, and it is healthier than other forms of indoor entertainment. Obviously we aren’t believers yet, and our Thomas name is living up to its reputation.

     The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is located in a lava field in a location favorable for geothermal power, and is supplied by water used in the nearby power station. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis.  The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 99–102 °F. The Blue super-heated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in.
     Iceland has a strict code of hygiene and guests are required to shower prior to enjoying the geothermal spa. The communal showers are split up by gender and of course, bathing suits are required.
     The silicate minerals are the primary cause of that water's milky blue shade. After the minerals have formed a deposit, the water re-infiltrates the ground, but the deposit renders it impermeable over time, hence the necessity for the plant to continuously dig new ponds in the nearby lava field.
     With a spring in my step I walk briskly to the edge of the pool barely seeing one foot ahead of me.  I perceive a chill in the air, and I rapidly slide in.
      The instant I dip into the warm waters - icy rain falls down on my hair from above - and start looking around the murky landscape – it is still completely dark outside – I realize that it is the most surreal moment I have ever encountered. As I explore different parts of the water I convince myself that here I am far away from home soaking away all my weariness in a country I have been curious to visit for a long time.
    The lagoon winds around and there are many spots to stop and soak. It is amusing watching people taking pictures with cell phones, and frankly, I am satisfied to have left mine in the locker away from the water. I’m not going to chance a protective plastic pouch either.
     I have no desire to get out of the water. The deterrent isn’t the fact that I would have to rush back through the cold air to the locker room. It is simply a fabulous moment that I wish to cling to as long as possible.

     Once I do, all my aches and pains disappear and I feel on top of the world and ready to tackle a day of touring.
     The next afternoon I visit a different spa and the same sensation takes over which lasts the whole trip. Right then and there, I become a convert to geothermal baths. My husband not so much.
      Cheers to the Icelanders - and other Scandinavians - for sharing their secret of a healthy body for all seasons.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Finding the comfort in comfort foods

    From the rocky shores of Lake Michigan to bucolic Perkinsville, NY, folks are serious about food in their lives. This time of year is no exception.
    Again, I appealed to my Facebook fans, and asked them to mention a food that made them joyful and over the moon happy.
      I held my breath afraid that this idea might be overkill. After all, I had written a successful column, Weird Things that Make Adults Happy, earlier in the summer. I should leave things alone. Apparently, I will never learn.

      However, it wasn’t but a minute later that I received my first response. Another one. And another post.
     I was on to something. Social media ceases to amaze me anymore.
     In most cases a reader mentioned one food. Some couldn’t leave it at that, though, and the mere suggestion of eats got them writing memories of favorite family members and places. Others have special dishes found only at specific places. I received pictures, too, posted with thoughts.
     I left each post exactly as written for the individual language says so much, too.
      In no particular order – There’s one from our own Livingston County editor mixed in the list – enjoy and if nothing more, you’ll grab an idea of what you might dream about tonight.

Homemade soup, yum. Our nephew once said, "Soup is very welcoming.” We made soup often, and always have it ready to heat up when guests arrive. My second favorite food is ice cream, with Turkey Hill All Natural Salted Caramel my favorite among the choices at Wegmans.

I could say anything I don't have to cook..LOL My weaknesses are brownies, pasta, smoothies from Caffe Far Bella in Saint Clair Shores and a good cup of coffee.

Thanksgiving stuffing--my brother has perfected my mother's recipe.  Barring that, grilled cheese and tomato soup. So lame.

Spaghetti and meatballs is my all time favorite food.

Hands down---Ma's cold meatloaf, thick cut on Dill Rye slathered with Hellmann's mayo and the sharpest cheddar cheese (white---no orange cows) I can find. Sigh of delight and taste bud happiness. Secondary---meatloaf omelet with same rye toasted perfectly.

A good grape pie.

Ritz crackers with peanut butter and jelly. That's my easy-to make go- to favorite. Nuthorns from my mother and milk.

Strawberry shortcake made with homemade biscuits and real whipped cream. It is always strawberry season on my birthday and that's what I always had instead of cake and ice cream. Recently found a restaurant that serves it just like when I was growing up. It's Our Family Diner in Retsof. Absolutely delicious.

Fruit cake spiked with anything left in the liquor cabinet and a tall glass of egg nog. A late Saturday night date with myself after working retail all day.

A food that is a seasonal favorite that only comes out once a year or that you only make for a holiday. Cider and donuts, Mom's fudge, frosted cut out cookies, the first grilled cheeseburger of the summer...I'm sure everyone can add to this.

My grandmother’s canned raspberries over vanilla ice cream. We would save these for a treat after or long trip back home in Pa. from Rochester. It was like having Gram right there with us.

Pizza burgers at the old Sugar Bowl!!

Pancakes with real maple syrup and fresh blueberries really take me back. The first time I tasted real maple syrup I was about 8 years old and we were having breakfast at the Toboggan Inn in Eagle Bay in the Adirondacks. Summer camping in the Adirondacks, chilly mornings, breakfast aromas of bacon sizzling, and pancakes -- I'm in heaven.

I love the Tom Wahls fish fry. My attachment is; when I was a kid living in the West Ridge neighborhood of Greece, there was a joint in the basement of the Ridgecrest Plaza called Charlie Vella's Restaurant. My folks didn't have much money in those days so it was a major treat when we could afford the Friday Night Fish Fry. Tom Wahls is almost exactly the same so every time I have one, I am reminded of some very happy days!

A treat with a story is La Florentine Torrone candy - when I was little visiting my grandparents, we would walk to the corner store filled with Italian meats, cheeses and aromas from heaven, and I was allowed to get one box of Torrone (placed way up high on the deli counter). It was a special memory of my visits; my grandparents have passed away but I recently heard that the corner store is still in operation. Wonder if they still have Torrone...

Black and white cookies! Soft cake like base with glaze icing that you can sink your teeth into. So...good...

Noble Pig's upside down apple pie... my husband bakes it for me with love.

Porcupine meatballs with tomato soup sauce (never fear, no animals were consumed in this dish LOL)

 Fresh wild-caught Alaskan salmon is my favorite food.  With that goes memories of ordering it everywhere I dined in Alaska where it was caught that very  morning. What a difference. (That’s my contribution.)

     Add yours to the list, too.

     There you have it.  Well-done, everyone. Bon app├ętit.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Trip to the dump lightens your mood

     There’s nothing like a run to the dump – officially called a landfill - to cleanse the weary soul of accumulated garbage like a total full body purification ritual.

    The dump is a meet-and-greet your fellow town folk place second only in popularity to the local diner on the rural life scale. It’s perfect for politicking and grabbing the latest bit of trashy gossip unfit for print.   
     I even had a proposal of marriage at a landfill far away from here. It’s a long story. A guy was chasing me in high school, and in a last ditch effort to get my commitment before I left for college, he made his proposal. Why we were there together I have no clue. I guess you could say that the boy got dumped.
     Today, loaded down with plastics, cans, bottles and newspapers all semi- sorted at home, I arrive at our local dump. It’s a well-kept place, and depending upon the day of the week and time, it can be very busy with a line-up of contractors’ trucks and cars filled to capacity, or relatively quiet as a door mouse on a shaded porch keeping out of the cat’s reach.
      I am not alone. A lady in a Milwaukee Twins baseball cap and denim Capri pants is parked next to the place I back in ever so carefully. I’m good at that even though I forget to trust my back up system on the dashboard one hundred percent of the time. She stops what she is doing, puts her hands on her hips and watches her car protectively, as if she doubts my driving skills. There’s a history of scratches and nicks I suppose in her life in parking lots, and she is of a cautious nature. When she is satisfied with my car placement, she pulls on her badly worn work gloves with a hole in each thumb and resumes her job.
     She has an SUV. I miss mine on dump days. There is something about a roomy space knowing that at any given time you can pick up that vintage rocking chair on the side of the road yard sale, or get the supplies at the lumberyard. It makes me giddy with all the freedom for roaming at will. 
     My husband does the main trash, but he is not here in the second car this morning. That’s how we divide up the chore.      
    You wonder why we don’t have a truck. My husband used to have a blue truck that he drove into the ground so to speak. That was before my time. He claims that he can’t rationalize the need for one.
     Parked on the other side of me is a gentleman who is more efficient with his organizational skills than I ever dreamed possible. I can tell because he has white buckets for each type of product properly labeled in black marker. He’s a serious dumpster. My haphazard collection of bottles and plastic spilling out must make him cringe.
     He doesn’t pay any attention to me until almost at the end of my back and forth routine when he quietly tells me that I should relax. “You’re working too fast.”
     Okay. I hear him and smile. I have no comeback ready. Instead I pick up my pace and get the job done. It’s just not the sort of place I want to hang. Heck. The overripe communal smells can sometimes get to me like on a warm summer’s day with its rising pungent odors.
     I pull out the plastics first. So much comes wrapped that way at the supermarket. Sigh. The first tray is one for berries.  We used it for liberally sprinkling paprika and putting it in the garbage can. It’s to keep the bear away from rummaging in our garbage cans, and it works. We forgot once early in the summer, and woke to a small amount of garbage strewn on our side lawn.

     As I reach into the trunk for a batch of cans – mostly from our cat’s meals – a white-haired woman drives up in her Focus and steps out with two small white bags each neatly tied. She tosses the contents – two or three cans and one or two glass jars - and in no time flat, she is back in her car and off. What’s that all about? 
     When I go to toss my newspapers and magazines over the fence into its section, I notice decent reading matter scattered on the concrete floor. Some of you will remember the days when the dump was a place for scavenging, and you would come home with one or two treasures, if not a gently used magazine.
     I am wondering if there is proper attire for a visit to the dump.
The lady in the Milwaukee baseball cap and Capri pants – oh, she had on clean white canvass sneaks – appears sensibly dressed. The neatly organized gentleman wears baggy kaki pants and a sky blue nylon polo shirt. The woman in the Focus was maybe a tad overdressed – a floral colored matching outfit – and sandals.  As for me, I am not a fashion plate on dump day and my jeans and tee shirt will suffice. Always sneakers. Once I wore sandals and cut my foot on a little bit of glass, and that was a good lesson in wearing sturdier shoes.
     When I drive off, it is with a huge sense of relief that the job is completed and my junk is out of sight. My mood is no longer in the dumps.  I’ve left it to the landfill people to figure out where it will move from here.      



A special chair tells our stories

     Clothes that are too dirty for the closet, but too clean for the laundry: welcome to The Chair.
     Isn’t that what a bedroom chair is for?
     Not for stacking books. Draping a special occasion purse. Depositing paper products destined for the bathroom. 

     However, you might find them crowding in on The Chair, too.   
    My excuse last night was that I was too pooped after coming home way beyond my normal bedtime to do anything else. Rather than land on the floor – I honestly don’t have that in my genes – my slacks, sweater and top went to The Chair where they rested for the next six hours debriefing quietly from an awesome night out. The clothes, like me, wished to savor the evening a tiny bit longer.
     Truthfully, the first thing – perhaps, the second, or third thing – I did this morning was to examine each article before sending into the hamper or hanging for a rerun. You would think I would have done that with one toss of a minor decision last night.  The Chair made sense without much effort on my part.
     The other odd thing is that I folded the clothes neatly, too, on The Chair. There is hope for me, those of you who are cringing in your own chairs at this moment. You won’t turn me into a neat freak completely at this late date.
     In a way I am a little guilty that The Chair is a handmade one designed by an area craftsman, Roy Grisewood, using maple wood from the region. The seat is woven, and twigs along with bigger branches make a freeform design. It is truly a work of art and should be left at that for appreciation. It is not an object bought in a furniture store, or a clothes tree.
     If The Chair could speak back, though, it is grateful that it is thought of so highly that it is put to reasonable purpose on a nightly basis. That’s my rationale here.
     What memories all those clothes share with you, dear chair.

     Remember the night I came back crazy with joy after the concert sitting five rows from Sting? Those black leather skintight pants – those were the days – and light gray sequined sweater all for Sting’s approval, and I doubt I was more than a speck in the crowd to him. I honestly tried. I kidded my husband that if Sting reached out, I would be gone in a flash on his jet plane to Tuscany. Forget about the Genesee Valley. Forget about my job. Those idle dreams.  Needless to say, the outfit wasn’t one I wore around town the next morning, or the one after. As I recall, it was used again a couple “somewheres” before leaving me for other more youthful closets.
     Then there was the black outfit that sat and sat on The Chair for days simply because I couldn’t mentally get the energy to move it anywhere else. I would walk past it and tell myself that I ought to do something. I’d say to myself, “Pick it up.” I didn’t take action until I felt a fresh hope come over me.  That funeral had taken its toll on me and I required time for grieving.
     Chair, I threw off my travel clothes after a long flight and the following morning as I picked them up I still smelled the scents – pungent and unpleasant – from hours of sitting in a plane and lack of decent washing after a trip in the Moroccan desert.
     Remember Chair, the exercise clothes I threw down on your seat before I raced to the hospital emergency department after the dog bite? Supposedly, I thought I needed fixing up a bit before I was seen in public. Am I the only one who cleans up before going to the hospital?
     My cat will sleep under The Chair if he is waiting for me to get into bed, but never, ever on top of the chair. He knows his place.
      I do have a set of hooks in the entry of my closet area that would be the perfect spot for clothes in the in between clean and dirty stage. Unfortunately, the hooks already are in use for robes, a couple sweatshirts and my yoga pants. I told you I am organized.
    Anybody in the military past or present would disagree with me totally. They have learned a discipline about living life that I don’t have. If there is a chair in their bedroom, I doubt that their partner or spouse dares placing a single piece of clothing on it for long.
     On the other hand, I do know that there are folks out there who consider the floor a just space for leaving clothes and probably won’t own up to it unless you walk right into their bedroom. I am no judge. It’s all about priorities.
     Parents sweat it out for a few years with teenagers and their slipshod habits, which come to an end once they have their own first apartments. I promise you, it will be so.
     Right now as I finish writing, I will move through my bedroom to pick up the clothes lying on The Chair and wear them again today. Thank you, Chair, for your special place in my world.



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What makes me smile

Will and Kate are expecting Royal Baby #3. I told you that I was obsessed. 

A new character in my novel insists on speaking out. How dare him.

Of all my empty nesting friends, one couple saw the humor and went ahead and posted a picture of their front doorway without the kids on the first day of school.

My Florida and Texas friends are unscathed, and have a healthy respect for hurricanes. I can hear the relief in their voices.

The missing sock has no longer gone AWOL from the dryer and is found two days later clinging as if its life depends upon it to a t-shirt folded in the drawer. It’s found its sock mate.

My daughter is one year older, and I still feel like I am the youngest mother on the block.

After calling and calling to no avail, I discover the cat is hiding in the back of the closet watching over my shoes without a worry in the world.

Yesterday waking up to gentle rain on the metal roof invites me to stay in bed a few moments longer absorbing the peacefulness.

The best of show winner in the fall autumn tree category is an elderly maple down the road around the curve. It never lets me down. Now the walk back up the hill is another story.

My Tweet is retweeted twice. I don’t understand how virtual people find me. #Hastags I am told. I still don’t get it.

A neighborly cow photobombs me in a selfie on my walk past the pasture while all his cohorts lie on the ground “mooing” him on. The nerve of that herd.

Poking fun of my own writing like what I am doing here provides me with my morning grin. If I can stretch it out to a complete column, my sides will convulse in laughter.  I think I can like The Little Engine That Could.

The Bills win a home opener and all my dyed-in-the-wool friends who are fans revive their hopes for this year’s playoffs. Faith is an admirable quality in all circumstances.

I receive a handwritten note in my mailbox from a reader of AND ONE MORE THING… that loved the column, “A Fight With the Mailbox.” I chuckle and send her a reply to brighten her day.

SNL impersonations are a HUGE hit, and I mean Melissa McCarthy’s are the best of the bunch. She’s got style.

Repurposing for yard decorations

A third-grader in Florida has his dad video him doing live weather forecasts like an expert meteorologist and post to Facebook – a few professionals on the Weather Channel are pretty stupid hanging on in driving wind and rain - after Irma passes them by.

Sisters are notorious for one-upping their brothers with their quips, and it never stops no matter how old they get. It’s one of those things you come to expect in family life.

I am snickering while observing a middle-aged woman arriving at the town landfill dressed to kill. She deposits her two small plastic bags of recyclables before taking off to her social engagement. I stand there looking like a slob.

Just the thought of a chicken barbeque dinner makes me smile, and the aroma lingers long after, too. You know what’s for dinner at my house tonight.

A friend says that when she takes off her outfit and her clothes are not clean enough for going back into the closet, and yet not dirty for the hamper, she puts them on a bedroom chair. Yes, I have The Chair, too.

A toddler learns the art of language through his conversations about everyday things, and I hear a smidgen of it in the supermarket while he discusses the merits of fruits over veggies with his dad. Sweetness.

My car passes inspection. It is relatively new and has many more miles of work ahead.

A Danish author of mysteries, Jussi Adler-Olsen, scares me to sleep every night and the subsequent dreams are over the top. And that makes me smile, how?

Finding that I can speed down the highway listening on Sirius to a CBC station with chansons in French, and pick up on every six or seventh word after all that time away from the textbook, lets me sing like a lark.

I am able to wear short-sleeve shirts for a whole weekend of sunshine while sipping pumpkin spice coffee on the porch. My plan to bring in the houseplants can drop to the bottom of my chore list.

The headline on Twitter forces me to read it twice: “Call it an accidentally white wedding: A couple's nuptials at Burning Man, Nevada's experimental art festival, were left covered in dust and joy.” Apparently, a dust storm came up during the ceremony and the subsequent photos ware not your typical selection. Cheers to the flexible photographer who is able to go with the flow.

How many of you know that The U.S. Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787? If you are of a certain age, you may smile along with me. You learned that fact in history class along with your geography without a doubt.

I’ve often wonder when I am in a different time zone how many, many people in my home locale are up way into the wee hours of the morning on Facebook. Then again, what am I doing looking at FB and not out seeing the sights?

Life is made up of the little things. Let your smile beam brightly.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

More wanderings on country roads

A sunny afternoon, 80 degree temperatures, a hat, water bottle and a camera is all that's needed for a hike down the steep hill to see what's around me.  And I even got photobombed by a cow, too. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Looking back over the summer

     Asking a child to tell you what he did over his summer vacation is a vague question, and ranks second only on the dumbness meter to “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
      A youngster mentally freezes. Thanks to you, he’s put on the spot. Most likely he will reply, “nothing much.”
     That’s more than sufficient for Twitter, but not a face-to-face discussion of any substance. You repeatedly grumble about children doomed in the 21st century, and this is what you receive in return. Everyone stands in awkward silence and there will be not a single thing gained except possibly a bruised ego.
     On the other hand, if a kid is the least bit verbal and has learned the game of playing adults, he will tell you what he thinks you want to hear back. That’s the nature of a child.

     A well-brought up child will dare not answer, “I don’t want to be you when I grow up.”
     As adults you and I respond in a similar fashion.
     Ask me what I have been up to, and nothing, and I mean nothing, comes to the top of my mind. It sounds lame. Or, I might tell you stuff that is not the least bit of importance in my books and keep the big things tucked away.
     With children, learn to be more skilled in your questioning and work up to it gradually. Besides, a kid will connect much faster with an adult who is curious about him as a person, or at least he will look away from his gadget for a mere second pretending to be on the same planet as you.
     Then again, you and I have big plans for the summer months, and half of those ideas never work out probably for the best, too. One or two surprises take up your time and set you off in different directions. I look at that as a win-win and go with the flow summer. It all balances in the end scheme anyhow.

     I never did get the back shed straightened out. That had been on my books as a summer item for months. On frigid days stuck in the house, I would dream of sorting and tossing in my short sleeves. Instead, I did a miraculous job of keeping the two gardens weeded. Boy, am I proud of my efforts, too. A little backbreaking work is good for keeping me limber.
     The trip to Stratford, Ontario never materialized and somehow a trip to New York City took its place. I got to visit with my daughter and the timing was perfect for a mother-daughter bonding.
     I did connect with a couple close friends living in other parts of the country thanks to them reaching out, and we had chances for skipping down memory lane. Both occasions were spur of the moment, too, and I dropped everything I perceived might be more important and ran with the fun.
     My husband did orchestrate the completion of our front patio with the landscaper as planned instead of pruning the trees. There’s a more appropriate time for that chore in the fall.
     When I was growing up, the first day of a new grade the teacher would write the question on the blackboard in proper handwriting and expect students to write a composition of a specific number of words while the clock ticked away. I remember resisting. First of all I thought to myself, it is none of a teacher’s business what I did over my summer vacation, and secondly, what I did in my free time shouldn’t be evaluated by anyone else’s standards.

      My stock answer when a grown up would ask me what I did over my summer vacation would be to say that I was reading through the alphabet in the public library and collecting sea glass on the beach. That seemed to satisfy them that I was being productive.
     Adults feel kids have to account for activities and any thing less than that is laziness. I totally disagree.

     I wonder if I said that I spent hours on the beach daydreaming what they would think of me? Truthfully, that was what I did a lot of the time. It was my way of stirring up the creative juices. I didn’t understand its purpose then. There was no way I was sharing that with others, though, and at the time I didn’t know any fulltime writers other than the elderly gentleman down the street who passed the hours scribbling sci-fi stories in a notebook that had complicated interwoven plots leading nowhere for my taste. Apparently, neither did any publisher.
     Believe it or not, when it came my turn to start teaching, it was still a popular opening day activity, and let me add, an easy out.

     I refused to acquiesce. I would ask instead for students to write in their journals:  Tell me what you want me to know about you so I will be able to help you have a successful year.
     Perhaps, I was fighting off something that held me back myself in the classroom and I wasn’t going to subject another generation to the torture. Oh, I could write as a kid. I kept those diaries filled at home and the neighborhood newspaper, too.  It wasn’t in school under the watchful eye of a grammatical perfectionist, though, that I ever would shine.
     Looking back over the summer, despite the rain and clouds more frequently than not, it was a fine season. Let’ leave it at that.