All 1950s kids should have been fat

Grocery shopping for my 15-year-old grandson’s annual summer visit, I tossed taboo (in my house) foods such as Dinosaur Eggs, Cosmic Brownies and Cheez-Its into my cart. OK, I know this is an opportunity to set a good example and encourage healthy eating. Just let me relish being a grandmother a little.

Flashback 10 or so years: Sitting in his pajamas at his kitchen table, he asked, “May I have cupcakes for breakfast?” “Of course you can, Granni’s here,” his mom replied, with a nod to me.

Not that I could get away with that with all my grandchildren all the time—especially the one in health-conscious California who never tasted baby food from a jar—but I plan to indulge this teen on this visit.

Seeing Hoda and Kathie Lee eating bologna sandwiches on white bread (yes, they did) on their show this week reminded me how greatly what we eat has changed since my youth. Better nutrition information, advances in food preservation and culinary creativity have altered menus significantly—for good and bad. Boxes of processed foods with potentially harmful preservatives line the interior aisles of most grocery stores. We know better than to buy them, but often for convenience, we do.

Fatty foods and sugar, in soft drinks and almost everything else that tastes good, are culprits in today’s childhood obesity crisis. Yet when I recall what we ate, all kids in the ‘50s and ‘60s should have been fat. We were not. Then again, we ran around all day—safe and unsupervised, too—unlike kids today.

FOOD kids I can still envision the compact kitchen of my childhood home before dad broke through the wall to the dining room and enlarged it. Our refrigerator had a small freezer with a couple of metal ice cube trays with removable levers. Almost always, on a lower right shelf, were Hostess Sno Balls and cupcakes, usually chocolate with the squiggly white icing.

FOOD Hostess-Cupcake-Whole

Potato chips and pretzels were in big Charles Chips cans in a cupboard. An aluminum grease container with a strainer on the stove held solid fat to be reused for many meals. This picture looks just like ours, which one of my brothers has as a memento in his kitchen.

FOOD grease container. jpg

Ugh! Yum?

Although I seldom eat fried or fatty food today, that was my childhood norm and I recall it being pretty tasty. Like gravy bread. Most main meals included gravy made from meat drippings that we slopped over most everything on our plates, and often on plain white bread—soppy stuff that we cut up and ate with a fork. Mom used a pressure cooker to cook meat, usually breading and browning it first. It wouldn’t be dinner without a starch, usually potatoes or baked macaroni—mac ‘n cheese in current lingo.

Meatless Fridays were our favorite: French fries from the neighborhood drive-in and pizza from an Italian woman down the street who sold it from her back door. At restaurants, my usual was a hamburger, fries and chocolate milkshake.

Lunch was frequently canned soup and Lebanon bologna sandwiches, with mustard and smashed potato chips on mine. Between meals we drank lots of Kool-Aid, sucked the sweet syrup from tiny wax bottles and ate candy cigarettes, Tootsie Rolls, licorice sticks and whatever else we could afford at the penny counter of the corner store.

As I became a teen and more aware of nutrition and appearance, I switched to no-calorie Tab with my pizza, which amused my godfather/uncle. In sync with the times, I didn’t do much better as a young adult. Raising children in the 1970s coincided with the explosion of fast food. We made frequent trips to Hardee’s and McDonald’s and held birthday parties at Burger King. My pantry contained Froot Loops, Twinkies, Pop Tarts, SpaghettiOs, and still, white bread. We entertained friends around a fondue pot filled with hot oil or melted cheese.

My sons and I know better now and make genuine efforts to choose healthy food. (Well, more often than not.) Salad with chicken is my go-to meal. Even my boyfriend, accustomed to eating out most of the time before we met, appreciates my healthy recipes. Except the chia seed pudding. And the cucumber quinoa salad. “Hey Midas, you want my quinzy?” he called to his dog, purposely mispronouncing quinoa.

My teenaged grandson, who would eat only chicken nuggets and French fries for years, has developed a more mature palate, too. We’ll balance the junk food with good nutrition. But first, a trip to his favorite restaurant, a fish camp that offers such appetizers as fried kangaroo, ostrich, antelope and gator, and, his selection last summer, bison mountain oysters. Welcome to Florida!


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Catch a Pokemon or lose your coolness

Leave it to elusive insects to jolt me from my blog lapse and expose my technology lag.

“I got my first Pokemon!” a friend’s boast popped on Facebook as I watched a news report about the personal safety of playing the wildly popular game. Two guys, who miraculously survived, fell off a seaside cliff in California in search of Pokemon.

How come I don’t know about Pokemon Go, I pondered several times this week as the phenomenon became impossible to ignore. Seems everyone is talking (and writing) about the game and law enforcement is cautioning people not to walk into traffic or rivers while hunting the creatures. Until my internet search today, my knowledge of Pokemon was limited to packs of trading cards I bought my grandson at Walmart. Had something to do with a video game he liked.

I was shocked to learn that the mobile game released worldwide only nine days ago already has been downloaded 7.5 million times. Available for Android and iPhone, the challenge is to catch all 151 Pokemon by launching red and white Poke Balls at them. Vibrating smartphones alert players when they come near these adorable-to-freaky characters. At least this electronic game is getting folks off their sofas. But how Pokemon get everywhere baffles me. Virtual is the key word, I get that. Yet trying to comprehend location-based augmented reality—which puts Pokemon in a town square, shopping center or wherever you are in the real world—makes my head hurt.

Although the franchise has more than 700 Pokemon, the 151 that can be caught through the mobile app range from Abra

Pokemon Abra

to Zubat

Pokemon Zubat

and include the familiar Pikachu, a cute rodent with yellow fur. Even I remember this guy.

pokemon Pikachu 2

Alexa, slow down.

Just this week a group of seniors was discussing how fast technology is changing and speculating when we no longer will be able to, or care to, keep up. While the web, Facebook, text and email are my lifelines, I have no desire to catch Pokemon. Recently a friend showed me how to use some features on my own television, which I already forgot. Yep, pathetic. Maybe I’m there.

Further proof of how clueless I am was my astonishment last week when a friend commanded, “Alexa, play a Rod Stewart song,” and “You’re in My Heart” blared from what looked like a saltbox painted black on her kitchen counter. “Lower the volume,” she asked, and the saltbox did.

Except for my boyfriend, who got one yesterday, I was the only person there unfamiliar with the Amazon Echo, a hands-free speaker that responds to voice requests to play music, make to-do lists, set alarms, stream podcasts, play audiobooks and provide weather, traffic and other real time information. It even tells jokes on demand.

“Does Alexa know your mother’s maiden name and where we are right now?” I asked him last night, somewhat spooked by its abilities.

A little more than a year since it has been widely available, more than three million Echos are estimated to have been sold in the U.S. Perhaps I do live under a rock.

The Long Now Foundation, established in 1996 to foster long-term thinking, proclaimed 16 years ago, in a story first published in Time, that perhaps civilization needed a not-so-fast button. That was like the Stone Age, considering how technology has advanced since the millennium. “In the aging population of the developed world, many people are already tired of trying to keep up with the latest cool new tech,” it stated. The article also pointed out that technology such as automobiles, televisions and jet planes settled into a manageable rate of change, whereas computers are self-accelerating, constantly developing the next generation.

The foundation doesn’t speak for all seniors, though. Judging just from my family and friends, most are proficient in enough technology to stay reasonably informed and engaged. Others couldn’t be without their Fitbits and iPads and could rival any teenager with their tech savvy. And some—one, for sure—have never owned a cell phone or used email. Bet he would dig the heck out of Alexa.

Pokemon technology


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What’s your party? Maybe we can be friends.

Several years ago I read somewhere that politics had overtaken religion and race as causes of divisiveness in our personal lives.

The divide is blatant through the polarization of Congress and the caustic campaigning. Lately, it requires finesse to keep the friction away from happy hour, off the dance floor and even out of the bedroom.


“Obama’s in Africa, for God’s sake,” snapped a friend seated in the middle of our trio at a restaurant bar over the holidays.

“He just finished a press conference at the White House so he isn’t, but what if he is,” I replied, unintentionally riling her more.

Talking over her angry comeback in the noisy lounge, I pleaded with our friend on the other side of her, “I love her too much. Let’s change the subject.”

“You love HER?” fumed the one in the middle, mishearing and referring to Hillary.

“I love YOU! Merry Christmas!” I replied with a hug.

Not long before that, a disc jockey and longtime friend teasingly—not really—countered with, “Heck no, you’re a damn liberal,” when I requested a song. Same DJ who professes to love me to death despite questioning my logic each time I see him. Come to think of it, I don’t believe he did play that tune.

I’m old enough to remember when presidential campaigns preceded elections in reasonable lengths of time. Then the nation, for the most part, would support the newly elected president throughout his (so far) term and Congress would focus on legislating until the next election. These days, campaigning starts over with the new term, and speculation before that. Party lines block progress and nobody wins.

A very early memory puts me on our living room sofa with my mother watching a political convention on TV, black and white, I’m sure. “The loser should be vice president,” I said. “I’ve thought that, too,” she told me.

One of my favorite Christmas gifts from my parents, a bust of then-President John F. Kennedy, came when I was in high school. Much later and sadder, mom gave me a special edition John John doll. Both still create a shrine in my home. They remind me of more tolerant times.

politics JJ

 So, what’s going on?

It’s true. “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines, and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive, than at any point in the last two decades,” according to the 2014 Pew Research Center report Political Polarization in the American Public. The survey of 10,000 adults nationwide found that although most Americans do not have uniformly conservative or liberal views, partisan animosity has increased substantially in those who do. Liberals and conservatives disagree over where they want to live, the kind of people they want to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families. Thirty percent of consistent conservatives say they would be unhappy if an immediate family member married a Democrat and twenty-three percent of across-the-board liberals say the same about the prospect of a Republican in-law. In contrast, 11% of Americans say they would be unhappy at the prospect of a family member marrying someone of a different race.

Validating that, a friend stated “too conservative” as a reason for moving from Northeast Florida.

This friend has not yet met my boyfriend of three years because I—a peacemaker with an aversion to controversy—fear the potential political ugliness.

“You mean like in an airplane, with a parachute?” my friend joked when I told him a meeting between the two of them would necessitate an escape plan.

“Something like that, yes.”


Yep, we’re in a Mary Matalin/James Carville relationship. Minus the discussions. My request. Except when he gleefully tries to, quote, “stir the pot” with full animation. However, neither of us is willing to let politics mess up a good thing.

Of the 55 items on my “the man I have been waiting for” list I compiled when I retired in 2012, political compatibility is the only one he missed. Sure enough, politics came up within five minutes in our first conversation. “Uh, do you want to give my business card back?” I asked. “Oh, no!” he groaned. Out of respect, affection and admiration for each other, we make it work.

On purpose, my blogs are not controversial. Neither is this one. Please.

To be honest, I attempt to be open to others’ political viewpoints, value our political party system and don’t always vote for my party’s candidates.

In his last State of the Union address, President Obama conceded that he regrets not having been able to bridge the political divide. I’m sorry, too.

To quote the Beach Boys, “wouldn’t it be nice:”




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With my 50-year high school class reunion a recent memory, 1965 has been on my mind a lot. Heavier, somewhat, this Labor Day Weekend. I’m guessing that’s because it was around then a half-century ago that I sadly left the Jersey shore where I worked as a waitress that summer to return home to what we graduates were told would be the “real world.” That also was the summer our world changed forever.

I can’t help myself, but just the thought of that year brings a delightful ear worm: Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch, you know that I love you … still my favorite song. In daydreams I’m back in 1965:

  • Wearing khaki jeans, a madras shirt and no shoes walking to a La Salle fraternity house in Ocean City.
  • Doing The Jerk at Philadelphia DJ Jerry Blavat’s dances at OC.
  • Getting down to Junior Walker and the All Stars’ Shotgun and other Motown hits at the rec center in my PA hometown.
  • Cha-cha-ing in long lines to Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ Tracks of My Tears at YMCA dances.
  • Setting my hair in empty orange juice cans to make it poufy.
  • Playing 45 rpm records on a small turntable in my bedroom.
  • Hanging out with my friends at a popular drive-in, where cones and cokes cost 10 cents.
  • Sharing gossip with a girlfriend on our walks home from school on sidewalks lined with modest post-World War II houses.

Although I choose to reminisce about good senior year memories, also there was Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News reporting on the growing number of American deaths in Vietnam, the violent civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, street riots in Watts and—thank you, Lyndon Johnson—the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid, and the Voting Rights Act.

1965 Washington Post

No wonder those memories are so tightly wrapped up in the music:


Published this year, Andrew Grant Jackson’s book 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music chronicles songs from the Stones to Sinatra and Byrds to Beatles, as well as pivotal events from civil rights marches in America to the controversial war in Southeast Asia. Jackson skillfully relates how those events influenced music, such as Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions’ People Get Ready, Bob Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm and Blowin’ in the Wind, Bob Marley & the Wailers’ One Love and The Animals’ We’ve Gotta Get out of This Place.

1965 billboard

Recollections of just that summer as older teens at the beach capture the essence of 1965 as a tipping point. Hints of the innocent 1950s still lingered in 1965. Far from angels, we smoked Salems or Newports and drank beer or cheap wine if we could get it. We did not get high on marijuana or codeine from cough medicine, even though we knew that was the in thing in places like Greenwich Village and LA, and would be everywhere soon. The first Baby Boomers, we were the last not pressured or tempted to do drugs, whether we wanted to or not. Coffee houses were popping up, and truthfully, coffee ice cream and blueberry pie late at night at the Chatterbox was my preferred stimulant back then.

Through our transistors and the plastic clock radio in our boarding house we listened to Sonny and Cher’s I Got You, Babe; the Supremes’ Stop! In the Name of Love, The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction and The Four Tops’ I Can’t Help Myself. And, with increasing airplay, often continuously, Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction. … And you tell me over and over and over again, my friend, ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

As predicted, the real world smacked us soon and hard. One of the first members of our class to die was a soldier shot in Vietnam. An aspiring nurse who hung out with us at the shore lost her young life in a car crash. A classmate took his own life. Then another. Tragedies multiplied. By the time we gathered for our 50th last month, 88 of our 605-member graduating class were dead.

We did not destruct, however. And neither did our world, which in many ways is far better than it was in 1965 because of those revolutions. Our Class of ’65 boasts numerous successes and accomplishments, which didn’t come up much at our reunion. By now, we have outgrown our pretenses and we cherish our memories and friendships, happy to still be here and to have survived our adversities.

If you graduated from high school in 1965, you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t, I’m sorry.


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Ponce at Guana: where time stands still in Florida

A 12th Stone travel post:

Cruising down Florida State Road A1A from Ponte Vedra Beach to St. Augustine, it’s impossible not to notice the lush natural scenery. Yet on a mission to shop, eat or both, it’s common to drive right by one of the most historic and picturesque spots in the country.

The northernmost of three beach parking lots of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve features the Ponce Exhibit, which designates the location where 502 years ago explorer Juan Ponce de Leon and his crew first saw a land so luxurious they called it La Florida for its abundance of flowers. Thanks to public and private efforts, the area is preserved as it looked when his fleet of three ships happened upon it on their search for the island of Bimini.

A stop with coffee—careful not to bring napkins or anything that could blow onto the inaccessible foliage—on a recent morning begged the question: Why haven’t we done this before?

From an observation platform high above the beach dune walkover, visitors have breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway/Tolomato River. Except for the unobtrusive exhibit and parking lot, and the road itself, of course, Old Florida remains as far as the eye can see in every direction. It’s gratifying to be surrounded by nature unchanged for the past five centuries, and countless more before that as the Timucuans knew the First Coast.

The Intracoastal Waterway/Tolomato River is visible behind the pristine foliage:

Guana view of intracoastal

View of the Atlantic Ocean from the overlook:

Guana view of ocean

A graceful egret perched nearby as we descended the wooden stairway from the overlook to the coquina sand beach. Undiscovered no more, it’s a popular destination but limited parking deters overcrowding. A glorious place to walk by the ocean, caution is advised for swimmers because of the absence of lifeguards.

For history buffs, the spot is a treasure. Merely a speck of the 73,352-acre research reserve that spans St. Johns and Flagler counties, the exhibit features a life-sized statue of Ponce de Leon, facing west and pointing toward what to him was a new world. Signs and markers in the parking lot tell the story of April 2, 1513, when the fleet, sailing from Puerto Rico, moved close to the strange shore. Using Ponce’s offshore calculations of 30 degrees 8 minutes North Latitude, historians pinpointed the location.

Guana statue Ponce

 Guana informational marker at Ponce Exhibit

To safely cross the two lanes of A1A from the parking lot to the beach, visitors may push a button to activate flashing lights to alert drivers. Dune walkovers lead to the overlook platform with informational signs as well as to the beach below.

Just 29 miles from busy downtown Jacksonville and 18 from historic downtown St. Augustine, this oasis of tranquility is a peaceful escape for morning coffee, afternoon in the surf or evening stroll. For more adventure and education, the GTM Research Reserve’s Environmental Education Center—with its 10 miles of nature trails and various coastal and estuarine ecosystem displays—is seven miles south on A1A at 505 Guana River Road, Ponte Vedra Beach.

More information:

Guana signs on overlook

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Top 10 list for retiring in Florida

Retiring to Florida?

Beware of things that slither, croak, rumble and turn inside-out. Otherwise, it’s truly paradise.

Despite the warning of my executive editor when I left the newspaper to move here 19 years ago this summer, I have not been eaten by an alligator. His woeful prediction is forever preserved at the top of this mock Page One that my creative newsroom staff—quite the pranksters—presented to me at my going-away party:

Living in FL USE

Aged? Ha! All of 49 then, I grabbed an opportunity to move to Florida before retirement, when many seniors flee cold climates. Now, however, I am a 65-plus statistic, nearly 20 percent of all the people in the state. And over the past two decades, I’ve learned how to cope in this land of reptiles and thunderstorms.

My top 10 list for living in Florida:

  1. Housework and errands can wait. Going to the beach after doing chores often means getting there as the sky turns black and thunder booms. Forget anything negative about immediate gratification in this case.
  2. When exiting the front door, open it a couple of inches and slam it shut at least three times. This scares away lizards that may be lounging in the decorative wreath and snakes that may be sunning on the step.
  3. Before bringing a newspaper inside, shake the plastic bag to dislodge baby frogs that may have crawled inside.
  4. Forego umbrellas for rain jackets or ponchos. Umbrellas turn inside-out in torrential rainstorms. Gentle showers are rare.
  5. Wearing white before Memorial Day and after Labor Day is not the horrible fashion faux pas your mother said it is. Sunshine beckons white. But truthfully, I’m still too hung-up on that tradition to stretch it much beyond those holidays.
  6. Don’t walk barefoot in grass. Fire ant stings really hurt. Plus, Florida’s sod is scratchy compared to Pennsylvania’s silk.
  7. If lizards can get in, they usually can get out. If not, trap them in a solo cup using a flat piece of cardboard. Toss the whole thing outside then retrieve the “lizard catcher” after the reptile is long gone.
  8. Those humongous hard-shelled roaches don’t really want to be in the bathtub. Or anywhere in the house. They are lost. They don’t have families in the woodwork. Avoid them and they’ll eventually disappear.
  9. Keep clean sheets on the guestroom bed. You get a lot of company, which is one of my favorite things about living in Florida.
  10. Cute little palm trees can grow into monsters. Somewhat scary, my front yard “monster palm” dwarfs my house.


Living in Florida Palm 2005


Living in Florida Monster palm 5 4.30.15

If you’re among the more than 200,000 newcomers expected in our state this year—retired or not—also know that Florida is a great place to make memories and friends. If you’ve followed the sun, you’ve found it. In Northeast Florida, where I live, it gets chilly enough to have seasons and frost. But as long as I don’t have to scrape or shovel anything, I’ll take it.

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Mental journey on roller skates through childhood home

Nothing like a trip back to one’s hometown to see how much things have changed. And haven’t changed.

Another family now lives in the modest Cape Cod house where my brothers and I grew up. I don’t drive by it as often as I used to when I visit Pennsylvania, but when I do I like to envision it as it was in the 1950s and ‘60s: Our bikes, side-by-side on the front porch at night with never a thought that they would be gone by morning and strewn around the yard during the day amidst ball bats and gloves; metal swing set in the backyard that the boys made bounce with their horseplay; dad’s garden that yielded enough harvest for the whole neighborhood; white picket fence that caused the scar still visible under my nose; wire clotheslines down both sides of the narrow sidewalk the entire length of the backyard that sagged with the weight of laundry attached with wooden clothespins; big rusty barrel by the back alley in which we burned our trash; blow-up wading pool with three rings that cooled us on summer afternoons; metal milkbox by the front door, under the mailbox; TV antenna anchored to the back wall; front sidewalk where we played such games as Hopscotch, Colored Eggs, Simon Says and Red Light/Green Light; cars from an early ‘50s maroon and cream Pontiac to a late ‘60s tan Chevy station wagon parked by the curb; and the massive lilac bush with its intoxicating fragrance.

That was just outside.

As our family grew dad made considerable structural changes, including converting the attic into two bedrooms and the dormer into a bathroom. He “finished” the basement, removed the wall between the kitchen and dining room, and did other upgrades and updates. But with little effort I can mentally roam from room to room remembering our home as it was during my early childhood. Large silver ducts sprouting from a huge furnace in the basement carried warm air to metal grates in the hardwood floor, cozy places to sit on chilly winter mornings. A wringer washing machine took up too much space in our compact kitchen before an automatic washer and dryer showed up in the cellar. Our entertainment center was a floor model Philco radio and 75 rpm record player. Beat up from years of storage, it is in my home in Florida as a cherished reminder of my childhood.

obsolete radio

Our first television had doors and a small round-ish screen. More vividly, though, I recall a later black and white model with a separate channel box on which we watched shows like Howdy Doody, Sky King, Davy Crockett, I Love Lucy and, later, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, when I swooned when Ricky sang.

It amazes me how things that were so common and useful then are obsolete now.

My skate key—wish I still had that—always was on my closet floor near my adjustable metal skates that took me all over the neighborhood. The medicine cabinet in what was then our only bathroom held such remedies as mercurochrome that hurt more than the wound and spirit of nitre for cold sores. Very early, a heavy black telephone with a receiver attached by a cord sat on round table under the front living room window. “Number please?” an operator asked when we made a call. That was replaced by a wall phone with a rotary dial, which remained the only phone in the house while I lived there. Eventually a console stereo and rack of LP records took up most of a living room wall. Our first refrigerator had a tiny freezer that regularly frosted over and contained a shelf for two metal trays with levers to release the ice cubes. An aluminum canister set (which one of my brothers is still using—yay!) on the kitchen counter matched a grease container with a strainer on the stove. I also recall teddy bear and clown cookie jars, a breadbox, coffee percolators and a metal meat grinder that attached to the countertop.

Wish these were mine:

obsolete skates and key

Remember this?


Making the social media rounds:

obsolete things

Ironic how technology like Facebook and email fuels nostalgia. It tickles me when I receive pictures of “obsolete” things that I still use, such as Tupperware salt and pepper shakers and bowls with lids that burp, and vintage Corning Ware casseroles with blue flowers.

On this recent visit “back home” I was touched to see that my toddler grandson’s toybox is the same one that one of my brothers built for my boys more than 40 years ago. Nicked and banged from years of love, it has remnants of the same stickers my sons put on the front when they were small.

My grandson with the same toybox his dad stood on to present a show with his older brother in 1976.

obsolete toybox2

obsolete toybox`

And so it continues.

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