Sunday, July 31, 2011

Words of Wisdom: Barbara Ellison

What we need is now and then to set our faces obstinately against the duties, real and imaginary, that crowd us and give ourselves over with the glorious abandonment of children to the spirit of the small boy who, with delightful inconsequence, goes off fishing when he ought to be doing something else.

Inspiration, 1926

Friday, July 29, 2011

Dept. Of Home Economics: Vinegar

Sometimes your tummy is unhappy. Maybe you ate too much garlic at an Italian restaurant last night, maybe you just got over a bout with the 'flu, maybe nerves or acid reflux are rearing their ugly heads. Fret no more, gentle readers. Auntie Maria has a remedy for that. It's cheap, it's easy to concoct, and you probably have the ingredients already in your cupboard.

1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey (or more to taste)
1 cup hot water

Stir the apple cider vinegar and honey together in cup or mug. The vinegar will begin to break down the honey and make it dissolve more easily. Add hot water and stir well. Sip when cool enough to drink. Believe it or not, it's delicious. Repeat 3 times a day until symptoms improve.

Now, don't be silly and try this when you've got an active stomach virus, and don't take it instead of going to a doctor if your symptoms get worse. But for relief of short-term stomach pain and nausea, this remedy really works.

According to, 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar dissolved in 16 oz. of water and sipped throughout the day can help with allergies, arthritis, gout, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and more. Models drink this concoction to help with weight management. I tend to think models look better than I do because of superior genetics combined with consuming far less cheese and chocolate. But it's worth a try.

White vinegar is great for all kinds of things around the house. You probably already know it's great for cleaning windows. But it can do so much more.

I like to mix white vinegar with a little baking soda to make a paste (it will foam like crazy, so use bigger bowl than you think you need). This mixture is great for scrubbing the sink, removing stubborn stains from countertops (spread it over the stain and let it soak for a few minutes), and any time you want a little muscle but you don't want to use an abrasive cleanser. I've even used it to remove the stains left on a hardwood floor by magazines that got wet.

Vinegar. It's cheap, it's versatile, and it's probably already in your kitchen. Mary Agnes would approve.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Heartache Came to Visit Me, But I Knew It Wasn't Ever After

On Friday, I read online about the bombings and shootings in Norway. At the time, my friend Monica said to me via instant message "Who would bomb Norway? Norwegians don't bother anyone. They are peaceable, fish eating, skiing, sauna takers." Later we learned who would bomb Norway: a pissed off right-wing Norwegian.

Yesterday I went to a gathering for the Friends of Anne Hutchinson which is held every year to celebrate Anne Hutchinson's life and legacy. She was the leader of a group of people who founded Portsmouth, Rhode Island, which was the first town in the New World to allow religious freedom and whose citizens were a "body politic." After being thrown out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for minor divergences in religious belief, they wrote a compact guaranteeing the separation of church and state.

When I got home, I learned of the existence of a radical right-wing group here in the USA who is advertising -- in militant and quasi-military terms -- a plan to "lay seige" on Washington D.C. to change it from the "District of Columbia" to the "District of Christ." They also plan to hold demonstrations and prayer vigils in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and in each state as they carry out plans for a "reformation intercession." The movement is growing, and according to what I've seen, it appears they are pushing for a theocratic form of government. Because, as we've seen throughout history and even into the present day, theocracies work out great for everybody.

I've met people like this, and while many of them are relatively harmless, they are also not very bright and easily led. As George Carlin famously said, never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups. Frankly, these people scare the bejeezus out of me.

And then last night while I was watching TV, I thought I heard gunshots. What I probably heard was a particularly loud type of leftover 4th of July fireworks, but for a moment, I seriously entertained the idea that guns were being fired. In Newport, Rhode Island. I feel like I'm living in a world gone mad.

I won't be made useless,

I won't be idle with despair

There isn't much one maiden aunt can do in times like these. But this afternoon, I can draw a cartoon for my food blog. That seems to make my readers smile. I can sketch out some ideas I have for a birthday gift for my great-niece. I can work on the invitations for my BFF's 90th birthday party in August. I can do whatever small things that are in my power to shine a light. And I will.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small. We haven't time - and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time.
Georgia O'Keeffe

Did you know clover flowers? I didn't. I guess I've always been too busy, headed here and there and walking right by. Some of the time I was headed someplace fun and happy; looking back, most of the time I wasn't. But wherever I was going seemed very important at the time.

This morning, nothing was more important than running indoors for my camera to take a picture of my discovery, and to tell you about it. Yes, there is laundry to fold and a rug that needs vacuuming, but this morning, I really saw a patch of clover.

It's a good day.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer of Awesomeness Guest Blog: ROAD TRIP!

What could make your summer more awesome than hitting the open road? As part of Laura at Rhinestone Armadillo's Summer of Awesomeness series, please join me on a virtual roadtrip around the USA, where we will look for the kitschy, the tacky, the interesting, and the downright strange. Maybe one of the sites I've selected will be near you (and if you're a reader from outside the US, maybe some of the sites I've found will inspire you to visit)!

I must, of course, begin with Rhode Island's own Nibbles Woodaway, who stands guard over I-95 outside Providence. The 58-foot-long Big Blue Bug perches on top of the offices of New England Pest Control. He even gets dressed up for various holidays.

Heading southwest-ish, we arrive at the Haines Shoe House in Hellam, Pennsylvania. It was originally designed in 1949 as a gimmick to advertise Mr. Haines' many shoe stores in the area. For the first few years, the house was offered to elderly couples for a free weekend getaway. Nowadays you can take a tour for a nominal fee.

In Hardeeville, South Carolina, we find giant pink and gray elephants standing in front of Papa Joe's Fireworks. Why giant elephants? Why not?

Winging our way north to West Virginia (see what I did there?) we encounter a 12-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture depicting The Mothman. Legend has it that a mysterious creature, part man and part moth, terrorized the town of Point Pleasant back in the 1960s. I don't know if Batboy was involved in any of this, but it sure sounds like his kind of thing.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Gemini Giant, whose photo I took on my first Route 66 adventure with my sister Rachel back in 2008. We took a day trip from Chicago to Wilmington, Illinios, where this relic of America's fascination with the space program stands in front of the Launching Pad diner in all his 1960s kitschy glory. (For you youngsters out there, Project Gemini was the name of NASA's second human spaceflight program in 1965 and 1966.)

While we're on the subject of giants, let's visit The Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota. This advertising icon stands 55 feet tall on the farmland where the Green Giant vegetable company got its start. Ho, ho, ho!

Next, we drive on over to Afton, Wyoming, where we find the Elkhorn Arch stretching 75 feet across Highway 89. The arch is, as the name indicates, entirely made up of elk antlers. There is a sign proclaiming it to be the World's Largest Elkhorn Arch. I'd be willing to bet that's an easy claim to make since it's probably the world's only elkhorn arch.

It's a good thing we are taking this trip in the summertime, because Cut Bank, Montana claims to be the coldest spot in the nation -- and I, for one, have no desire to go there in January to check. It's cold enough in Rhode Island in the winter, thank you very much. This 27-foot penguin, standing in front of the Glacier Gateway Inn, is awfully cute, though.

Tacoma, Washington, is home to Bob's Java Jive. The coffeepot-shaped restaurant was originally built in 1928 and has gone through many incarnations since then. In my opinion, this roadside icon gets extra points for being a kitschy shape and decorated with neon.

At the southern end of the Pacific coast we find Queen Califa's Magical Circle, a sculpture garden created by the French artist Niki De Saint Phalle, in Escondido, California. The garden includes a maze entryway, a snake wall, scultped garden benches, eight totemic sculptures, and a whole lot of awesome. The artwork is adorned with mosaics of paint, stone, glass, and more.

I was excited to cross Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas off my Bucket List this year. Originally created in 1974, this art project pays homage to the tail fin of the Cadillac, as it slowly disappeared from the new models between 1949 and 1963. The project continues to evolve as people spray paint the cars with graffiti. My friend Monica and I signed our names (and the names of her two cats) in Sharpie marker.

The last stop of our whirlwind tour around the USA is in Joseph City, Arizona, home to the Jackrabbit Trading Post. This spot is the perfect place to buy cheesy souvenirs and get your picture taken on the back of a giant jackrabbit wearing a saddle. You know you want to.

I hope you've enjoyed our quick tour of roadside oddities in the USA. There is SO much to see out there, my friends. I encourage you to check out websites such as Roadside America and find out what there is to see in your area. It will make your summer so much more awesome.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cool Chicks

One of the things I love about my mom is that when I instant message her on a random Tuesday afternoon asking if she feels like going on a mini road trip to look at gravestones, she replies "Sure. What time?"

We went to my mom's hometown of Little Compton, Rhode Island, and had a look around a couple of graveyards. In the picture above, my mom is standing next to the memorial for Elisabeth Alden Pabodie, daughter of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins of the Mayflower. John and Priscilla were later immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem The Courtship of Miles Standish, in which John Alden and Miles Standish vie for the hand of Priscilla Mullins. Nobody knows how much of the poem is fact or fiction; however, if she was deciding between the two, in my opinion Priscilla made a wise choice. According to what I've read, Miles Standish was a bellicose creep with a Napoleon complex.

I love the way the carver continued the letters above if he ran out of room -- note the word at the end of the first line. It's actually "Body," but the Y is very small and placed above the D.

The creative spelling is interesting, too (I looked at my mother and said "Dyed what? A shirt? A bolt of cloth?"). Coincidentally, I've become obsessed with a genealogical mystery from the year of Elisabeth's death, so I've spent a bit of time recently looking over documents from the 18th century. The spelling is enough to make me dizzy after a while.

This is my grandma's headstone. She was a hot ticket. When I was a kid, she drove a convertible and took us on foliage rides. Her favorite color was red and she wore it with abandon -- clothing, lipstick, accessories. In the summertime she favored large straw hats with flowers on them. (My mother claims that the flashy dressing gene skipped her generation, but I have seen my mother in a large straw hat with a flower on it. Just sayin'.)

Gram was the kind of person who shouldn't have been asked a question unless you wanted her unvarnished opinion. Actually, she'd often give her opinion even if you didn't ask. Looking back, I like that about her -- she always spoke her mind honestly and without apology.

Despite her shocking lack of cats, I have a particular fondness for Auntie Grace, my mother's maiden aunt. She was my grandfather's sister and a force to be reckoned with. Auntie Grace was a sharp businesswoman who worked for the Fall River Electric Light Company in the early part of the 20th century, and then ran the Simmons family grocery store after her brother's death. Auntie Grace's last words, uttered in the hospital emergency room in ringing tones, were "Young man, you're hurting me. If you can't do your goddamn job, go find someone who can." Now that, gentle readers, was an eighty-six-year-old with moxie.

Those are just some of the women in my family. Now you know a little bit about how I ended up to be so awesome.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Auntie Appreciates Art

On Sunday, the Army Dude and I took a quick jaunt over a couple of bridges to the village of Wickford for their annual art festival. For those of you who ain't from around here, Wickford is not really on the map as it's a village within the town of North Kingstown and does not have its own zip code -- unlike the village of Greene, which is a village within the town of Coventry and does have its own zip code. It's this kind of dedication to inconsistency that has the tourists shrieking in despair by the time they get to Newport and are confronted with its maze of one-way streets without street signs.

The art festival is huge, with dozens of exhibitors from around the world. We walked down the pretty, tree-lined streets and looked at booth after booth containing art of all different kinds.


It's a tough call, but I think my favorite was the Wild Women and Dogs series by Peyton Higginson. I just love everything about the paintings: the colors, the details, the movement, the joy, the textures, the crazy hair.

The village itself is very interesting and pretty, with lots of historic homes and picturesque New England style churches. This steeple belongs to St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Main Street.

The big draw, however, was the Baptist church across the street. What they lacked in charming architecture they more than made up for in food. They had chowder, stuffies, hotdogs, hamburgers, and more. This strawberry shortcake was To. Die. For. The Army Dude took leave of his senses for a moment when we got to the food booth and suggested we share a strawberry shortcake. I didn't want to hurt him. But I would have.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Nature has it.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Dept. of Home Economics: Retro Beauty with Pond's

Okay, so it's not on a par with worrying over global warming, but I've been having a tough time lately finding an eyemakeup remover. The problem is that I wear waterproof mascara every day. I live on the coast in Rhode Island where mist, fog, and rain happen -- sometimes all in one day -- so unless I wear waterproof mascara it gets all Rocky Horror Picture Show up in here. There is really only one liquid makeup remover in my price range (cheap) that works on waterproof mascara, and I've been having trouble finding it. What's a bargain shopper to do?

Well, the last time I was in the skin care section of Ye Olde Walmarte, I spotted a jar of Pond's Cold Cream. I thought if it worked for the pancake makeup classic Hollywood beauties wore in the movies, it will probably work on waterproof mascara. Sure enough, it says it does right on the label. And since a 6.5-ounce jar costs under $5, I what did I have to lose?

Pond's Cold Cream removed my eyemakeup (including waterproof mascara) like a charm. I wiped it off with a cotton square and then followed up with my usual skin cleanser. Using it as a makeup remover only, I've probably got a year's supply in the jar, so it's a cheaper than the $30 or so per year my previous product cost.

Cold Cream is a little too thick for me to use as a facial cleanser this time of year, but I'll definitely try it in place of my usual cleanser during the winter when my skin is dry. I might even be able to skip applying night cream (which I use in the winter) and that would be an even bigger savings.

Fun fact: Betty Grable used Pond's Cold Cream on her legs to get them photo-ready. Or at least she did in this vintage ad that probably made every man in America want to kill photographer Walter Sanders who is applying the cream to her legs. It's not for nothing that 20th Century Fox insured those legs for a million dollars.

Pond's Cold Cream: after 97 years, it's still a great product and it's still a bargain.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Auntie Has a Whale of a Time

In honor of my turning 29 AGAIN last week, the Army Dude and I decided to go on a whale watch on Sunday. Here I am aboard the Whale Watcher, owned by Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises in Barnstable. I'm wearing my uber-cool Friendship Trap sweatshirt and carrying the also-uber-cool tote bag a good friend brought me from Belgium. You can't see it, but the tote bag says "le joie de vivre avec stuff."

It was at about this point in Barnstable Harbor that I realized the downside of this adventure. To wit: my fellow man. I'm not a huge fan of humanity to begin with, and the boat was packed with a lot of particularly noisy specimens. Entire families, many with small children who were distressed by the wind, the motion, and the fact that they weren't allowed to get up and run around during the hour it took to get to Stellwagen Bank.

Incredibly, the Army Dude actually dozed off in the midst of all this. I couldn't believe it, but then it occurred to me that it was probably quieter than working with an airborne battalion in Iraq. I decided to quit being a delicate flower and enjoy myself.

As we approaced the feeding grounds of Stellwagen Bank, we started seeing whales. The naturalist on board warned us that there was no telling what or how much we'd see.

And then the next thing we knew, it was whalepalooza. There were whales everywhere! This group is bubble feeding, which is when a group of whales gets together and surrounds a school of fish. They release air from their blowholes which creates a net of bubbles that contains the fish. Then the whales swim right through and scoop them up.

This whale is kick feeding, which is when an individual churns up the water with his fins and tail. The bubbles confuse the fish and then he scoops them into his big, gaping mouth.

Note the baleen on the top jaw. That's for the purposes of straining out the water and leaving only the tasty, tasty fish behind. Not that I think whales spend much time savoring their meals. This feeding thing looks like a tremendous amount of work, and it takes an awful lot of fish to keep that blubber layer pleasingly plump.

This is another example of bubble feeding. If you look closely, you can see another whale in the background near the boat. Even as we watched whales feeding right up near the side of our boat, we also saw others feeding and spouting in the distance. By the end of an hour we'd seen over 30 whales in the area, with sightings close enough to identify 19 individuals including two mama whales with their calves. It was amazing.

We learned that the technical term for that water vapor in the air is "whale snot." This was the third or fourth exhale that came right at us, before the naturalist helpfully suggested that we should keep our mouths closed and turn away because we didn't want to be breathing it in. Well, that ship had already sailed.

The Army Dude is convinced that we are going to come down with some kind of exotic whale disease. "Like whooping cough or swine flu," he said, "except a whale thing." So far, I feel fine. I am craving sushi, though.