Cross Words

I am depressed… and it’s all the fault of Amazon.

I wanted to buy some crossword books and decided to check them out on Amazon. There were several categories of crossword books available, among them Crosswords for Seniors. I clicked on that and the first title I saw was Easy Crosswords for Seniors for Dummies. . Other titles were:

Easy Large Print Crosswords book

Crosswords for the Elderly

Special Puzzles Designed to Keep Your Brain Young


Alzheimer’s Association presents The Big Brain Puzzle Book

Failing Eyesight. Loss of Brain Power. Alzheimers. Is this what I have to look forward to?

No wonder I’m depressed. Thanks Amazon.

Good Neighbors

Our garbage is picked up late in the mornings, usually around noon on Mondays and Thursdays. That gives me plenty of time to put it out; I usually do so around 9 AM. Last Thursday was also the day for pick up of the recyclables; so after I put the garbage out, I headed back to the street with an armful of cutup cardboard. As I was about to deposit it curbside, my neighbor Art came over and said ” They came early today but they’re just down the street and, if you hurry, you can catch up with them.” Sure enough, the garbage truck was only a couple of doors away so I galloped after it with the cardboard tucked under my arm, yelling at them to stop. Luckily, they heard me and waited and I was able to unload the cardboard. Just then , Art came jogging up with my trash can containing the bottles and cans. I was able to get rid of them too. As we walked back, I thanked Art profusely and thought to myself how lucky I was to have neighbors like him. We’re new in this neighborhood and , prior to last week,I’d only spoken to Art a couple of times. Yet, here he was , this seventy year old man, looking out for his new neighbors and even running after the garbage truck to help me get rid of my trash.
Art is very nice but so is everyone else we’ve encountered in this community. Next door to Art, and directly across from us, live Don and Sue and these people are exceptional in this or any other neighborhood. A couple of days after we’d moved in, they knocked on our door and welcomed us with a loaf of Sue’s homemade banana bread. When he found I played ping pong,Don took me under his wing and introduced me to the members of the local club. Don and Sue are always ready to help anyone in need and they do it without fanfare. Next door to them is a man who has been afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a terrible affliction that has left him completely paralyzed. Somehow, his wife manages to care for him at home with the help of 24-hr nursing care; it doesn’t leave her time for anything else. Don and Sue quietly take care of her garden shrubs, weeding and mulching and keeping it in good shape. They also help in untold ways whenever she needs anything.

This is a still growing development and several houses were completed and occupied around the time we moved in. A month after we did, Don and Sue hosted a wine and cheese party at their house for all the newcomers, us included. It was not only enjoyable but gave us the springboard to get to know several of our new neighbors. Prior to moving here , we’d lived in three different houses but never experienced this kind of welcome. People were nice but we never got beyond the ” Hi, how are you today ?”stage. I can only hope that our friendships continue to grow and that our neighbors come to like us as much as we like them.

Summer Corn

I never think of eating corn except in summer and , when I do, I always remember the Virginia gentleman that Lucius Beebe the gourmand and historian wrote about. This gentleman had a standing order with a local farmer: every day, during the summer, the farmer was to deliver six dozen ears of his best corn at the mansion. All through the summer that was all the gentleman ate, morning, noon and night. Just picked corn still has all its sugar content ( unlike the supermarket corn which has been lying around for a day or more and could lose most of its sweetness) and the gentleman would eat it steamed, accompanied by drawn butter and copious quantities of West Indian rum. Not just any rum, but rum from a favorite distillery. When the distillery was forced to close down, the gentleman stepped in and bought all its already bottled product so that he would never have to be without it. I don’t know any more about the gentleman but I can visualize him at the dining table, a bib around his neck, a pile of golden corn before him along with a dish of melted butter and, close at hand, a brimming glass of rum. I can’t see myself eating just corn all through summer but I be happy to join him at his repast every now and then.

I do like corn in the summer, though I don’t much care for it grilled. Normally what we do is to boil it with a little sugar and a some milk. This leaves the corn sweet and juicy and, before eating, I like to rub it first with a stick of butter and a cut lemon which has been dipped in cayenne and salt. Like most people I eat it in a circular motion and I ‘ve never met any of the 5% who use the ” typewriter method” and eat it from side to side.

P.S Recently, a friend suggested another method of preparing corn. What he does is to remove the outermost husk, leaving the inner covering intact. He then heats it in the microwave for four minutes. He says that it leaves the corn moist and juicy .It sounds intriguing and I’m going to try it next time.

The Two Dollar Knife

Of all the kitchen utensils, knives are the most personalized. We’ve all seen what good care chefs take of their knives, honing them, cleaning them, and putting them away carefully. Other tools belong to the kitchen, the knives alone belong to the chef. Home cooks may not be as particular about their knives but they too have their favorites.

In my case ( and my wife’s), that would be the two dollar knife that our friend Sandy gave us almost two decades ago. She had picked up a bunch of them for two dollars apiece at a close-out sale and she let us have one. It is the best knife we’ve ever had, and we have had a few. Some of them have been quite expensive. There were two Cutco knives we bought from a friend of our son’s who was a high school senior working for a knife company that summer. They cost $ 108. Later , we bought some Henckel knives which were even more expensive. All of them were pretty good but the one that we prefer, the one that we always search for, is the two dollar knife. I don’t know its manufacture, never did, but it is just perfect to use. It has a serrated six-inch blade, has perfect balance, and is just as sharp, just as good, as when we first got it. We use it for everything. I only wish Sandy had given us two of them !

This whole issue of cost vs. value occurred to me the other day when I was out driving. It was stop and go traffic and I had plenty of time to notice the makes of the cars around me. There were all kinds : Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Hyundai when it occurred to me that if it weren’t for the logos I’d have difficulty telling them apart. No doubt the interiors were different and some had more options but, considering that some of them were twice or three times as expensive as the others, was the difference in cost worth it? Was an Avalon twice as good as a Corolla? A BMW three times as good as a Sonata? Not in my book but I know how cars can be a status symbol, proof that one has arrived.

What is true of cars is even more true of wine and food. Is the 300 dollar bottle of wine that much better than the $ 20 one? I can see that to some it might be but, any day I would go for fifteen twenty dollar bottles rather than a single three hundred-dollar one. As for the thousand dollar pizza which has toppings that include caviar and lobster I would not want at any price. It doesn’t sound good at all.

What something is worth is a highly individual matter and there are as many opinions as there are people. For me though, I’m happy with my two dollar knife.

A Small Indulgence

Most people have a small indulgence, something that they splurge on. In other respects they might be careful with their money but, for this one thing, they loosen the purse strings and let themselves go. Some people are into gourmet coffees, others collect Hummel figures or Wedgwood china. Or Lionel trains. Or Cabbage Patch dolls. Or comic books.

I used to collect cookery books but gave that up some years ago. For one thing, any recipe I want is available on the internet. I can also borrow what I want from the local library. Besides, books take up space and, as time went on, I found myself referring to them less and less. When we moved last year, I gave away most of my collection to a friend and it was easier than I thought.

Nowadays, I am into scented bath soaps.

I have always liked scents but I find cologne too strong, too artificial. Aftershave is too aggressive and, besides, the choice is limited. Soaps however are refreshing and I have a feeling of well-being as I lather myself up in the shower. The spray of hot water, the hard soap that dissolves into soft foam and the refreshing scent that envelops me make for a sensual experience and a great start to the day.

It has to be bar soap; the body washes don’t do it for me. Unfortunately, there is not much choice in bar soaps at the local supermarket and it seems to be narrowing even further. There are only Dial, Irish Spring, Zest, Caress and Ivory and some of them are unscented. I used to like Coast but I don’t see it on the shelves any more. Luckily for me , there is a variety of scented soaps available from companies that specialize in bath products, and some of them are available at discount stores.

I started out with Pears translucent soap ( $ 1.29 each) which I got at the local Indian grocery store. It comes in two varieties, both great. The scent is refreshing and distinctive, strong but not overwhelming. From the same source, I was able to get a variety of Indian soaps with unusual scents that took me back to my childhood days Rexona and Hamam and Moti (try the sandalwood). All of them are about the same price. From this starting point, I went further afield in my quest for new soaps.

Currently, I am luxuriating in Rosewater and Olive Oil Shea Butter soap from Greenwich Bay Trading , Raleigh NC. I like everything about them, the shape, the color, the scent, the box they come in. The cakes of soap are a beautiful ivory color, square-shaped with an embossed floral design. The scent is, to me, the smell of clean and, unlike some other soaps, it doesn’t fade away; it remains all the way to the end. I don’t know what Shea butter is but it’s great. The set of four 4.25 oz. cakes comes in a beautiful square box with a floral design and at $7.00 it is well worth it. It’s about twice as expensive as supermarket soap but so what? It will last for about 3 months and it’s certainly affordable.

I have seen several other soaps in the same price range and they come in a variety of scents. There’s lavender, lemon verbena, almond, red currant, eucalyptus-mint and others. I am intrigued by a Vermont company that sells goat milk based soaps with lavender and apple scents ( $ 18 for a set of three) and another that offers a choice of lemon verbena , rose, lilac, honeysuckle or patchouli ( any three for $ 13.50). Caswell Massey offers exotic combinations such as Almond-Aloe ( $6.70 ea), Coriander-Mandarin , Fig-Bamboo, Vetiver and Cardamom( $ 8 ea) , and Gardenia- Jasmine, Orchid-Honeysuckle, and Grapefruit-Green Tea( $ 11 ea). Crabtree and Evelyn has Pomegranate with a burst of citrus and fig leaf( $ 21 for a set of 3).These are all a little pricey and I don’t know that I would be comfortable spending so much for soap. I do know that I would not be buying products from another company that advertises Black peppercorn, Pink pepperpod, eucalyptus, Japanese Orange and Ginger Lily soaps ( $ 30 each). Definitely too rich for my blood.

There are certainly many advantages with soap. It’s a necessity, it only costs a little more than the regular variety and it gets used up, unlike other collectibles which take up increasing amounts of space. It’s a small indulgence but it has many pluses.

A close friend, a retiree like me, mentioned the difficulty of getting around. He lives in Chennai, India and the traffic there is horrendous. There are hour long traffic jams and public transport is overcrowded. The effort of getting around is too much and he finds himself sticking close to home, taking pleasure in activities such as gardening, journaling and music and enjoying family life. It is a feeling I can understand.

Here in Somerset N.J, the traffic is still manageable even though it is stop and go in the mornings and evenings during rush hour. However, there are other problems for the retiree who wants to socialize. Distances are much greater and friends of long-standing suddenly move away when they retire. Those who are still working have their own priorities and are busy with work and family. Getting together is not easy and , while e-mail and the phone are useful they cannot take the place of face -to-face socializing. Also, it must be admitted that the prospect of driving long distances,even to meet good friends, is less appealing than it used to be.

Luckily for me, our move to an Active Adult community has panned out very well. Most people here are either retired or semi-retired and have the time to socialize. Our houses are homes , places to live in, not things to show off. There is no more competition whether about houses, jobs, cars or children. Besides, we are all at that stage of life where the children have moved out and are on their own. Now we have the time to pursue our own interests whatever they may be. The Community Center has a variety of activities which bring like-minded people together and lead to friendship. The best thing is that we all live close by and in many instances can walk to each others’ houses. Consequently, I have made two very good friends among my neighbors and I would have made even more if I had not recently taken up a part-time job for the summer. They are making up for the friends I lost when I moved here from the town we had lived in for over forty years.

What would I have done if I were not in such a community ? One thing I’d have done is gone for a walk in the early morning and/or the late afternoon. That’s the time when older people are to be found taking a walk and it wouldn’t be too difficult to strike up a conversation with a promising type who could become a friend. Since such persons are in the neighborhood, it obviates the need for transport. Another thing I’d do is to hang out at the Senior Center if there were one close by. Some seniors can be crabby but surely there must be someone simpatico with whom we can connect. And finally, I’d volunteer. All of us are above average, even experts, at something or the other. Why not share this expertise? Tax preparation help is always needed in March-April and many public libraries have programs to offer help to those who need it. If you have always done your taxes, this might be something to investigate. If you can teach something (computers, math, English, science, whatever) that would be great because it would give you a chance to connect with young people. Just being around youngsters and their enthusiasm and energy generates sense of well-being.

Proximity counts for a lot but there are ways to get around it.

Four years ago, when LeBron James made “The Decision” on primetime TV, he not only upended the balance of power in the entire NBA but also made himself the most reviled player in pro basketball. While he had every right to switch teams, the grandiose manner in which he did so annoyed fans everywhere. Except in Miami, of course. His second decision, three weeks ago, once again sent shock ways through the entire NBA but was the polar opposite of the earlier one and will go a long way towards rehabbing his image. It took me completely by surprise…

When the San Antonio Spurs demolished the Miami Heat last month, I thought that LeBron would stay with Miami while the Heat rebuilt around him and I said so in an earlier post. My reasoning was that teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, the Chicago Bulls and the Houston Rockets would have to trade away too much of their core to create the cap space to sign LeBron and what was left of their roster would not be enough to challenge for the NBA championship. I also had thought of Miami’s Big Three as being closer than they actually were; I never thought that LeBron would cut loose from Wade and Bosh. And , finally, I thought that LeBron had burnt his bridges so completely that I never considered he might return to the Cavaliers. My bad.

I have to admit this decision of LeBron’s is a master stroke. It gives him everything that he wants : a max contract, a return to his roots and, most importantly, a core of young stars that is better than anything he had to work with in Miami and is almost certain to help him to win more championships in the years to come. In Miami, DWade was a shadow of himself and Chris Bosh was never a dominant player. Even though they both restructured their contracts, it did not afford Miami the cap space needed to give LeBron the supporting cast he needed. The Heat had holes at both guard spots and at center and it would have been impossible to fill them satisfactorily. On the other hand, the Cavaliers roster is filled with young, talented players who will only get better and are already superior to anything that LeBron had at Miami. There are no less than four recent first round picks ( Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett) and three of them ( Irving, Bennett and Wiggins) were #1 overall picks. Of them all, only Bennett has failed to live up to his promise. Irving is already one of the best at his position , Thompson and Waiters are solid players and Wiggins could be the trade bait to pry Kevin Love loose from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Love is a rebounding machine and gives LeBron the defensive stud that the Heat lacked. The Cavaliers roster also includes Dwight Powell centers Brendan Haywood and Anderson Varajeo and two promising rookies , second rounders Dwight Powell ( a 6-10 PF from Stanford) and Joe Harris ( a 6-6 SG from Virginia) It is still too early to anoint the Cavaliers as the favorites for the championship because there are sure to be several trades as the other contenders try to beef up their rosters but the Cavaliers are certainly up there. Working with young teammates at Cleveland also frees LeBron from the weight of the expectations that he labored under in Miami. His own fault for talking about six, maybe seven, championships when he teamed up with Bosh and Wade.

Almost as important as the upgraded roster is the PR bonanza that LeBron is reaping. In one fell swoop, he has gone from being a traitor to the returning hero who will help bring a championship to Cleveland, a city that has been without one for half a century. I think this is very important to LeBron because he must have chafed at being painted a villain though he did not show it publicly. Jettisoning his #6 Jersey and reclaiming his old # 23 is yet another signal that his Miami days are behind him and that he has cast his lot with the Cavs.

Nor will he be taking a significant hit financially. He might have gotten a few more millions at Miami but he will more than make up for it in the coming years. There is an opt out clause in his contract which will enable him to re-up two years from now when the NBA’s ESPN deal kicks in and the cap will be significantly higher. Not that it matters that much.His endorsement deals dwarf his salary.

Finally, the low-key manner in which he announced his decision to return to Cleveland was very shrewd. Either he has matured and learnt from past mistakes or he has some very good advisors. Maybe both. It will be interesting to see what the other teams do to counter the budding powerhouse in Cleveland.

Golden Ripples

About Food, Travel, Sports , Books and other fun things

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