LONG DISTANCE LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I used to have a vibrant and full social life with lots of lunch dates with women and dinners with couples. There were trips to museums and shows with friends, dinner parties at people’s homes, meetings with fellow volunteers and ‘play dates’ with our children.

This sounds normal, but it assumes that your friends actually live near you. That was the case when I was younger – not so much anymore. Now I’m removed from most of my friends – separated by geography. My closest friend moved from the next town to Virginia many years ago. Another close friend moved to Florida. Two other couples moved to LA and Portland, Oregon, respectively.

Several good friends live in New York City which is driveable, but very inconvenient. We often spend over two hours in the car one way and have to pay $30 or more to park our car when we get there. Two other friends live in Massachusetts, a two and a half hour drive, which is not taken often.

Other nearby friends have drifted away over the years, like the parents of my kids’ friends who were apparently only convenience or proximity friends. Add to this the fact that my wonderful daughter has lived in LA for almost ten years!

The upshot of all this is that my connection with the people I love is more electronic these days than face to face. I have had to adjust to a life of texts and emails and the occasional phone call. I actually make ‘dates’ with one friend to have a long phone conversation every few weeks to stay caught up and to just chat.

My daughter and I have long phone conversations about everything but she hates the phone so this doesn’t happen as often as I would like. I love talking on the phone so staying in touch by phone satisfies my desire for connection.

It seems that my everyday contact is more and more through texts and emails, which are good for some things but not for others. It’s great to be able to share a cute photo of my dogs or show off the new lamp, or dress I just bought. My daughter has sent me selfies from the dressing room of a store to help her pick which outfit to buy. That is great. So is sending quick news flashes about insignificant happenings.

It falls short, however, when complex things are going on in your life or when there’s an emotional issue that requires more than a few lines to explain. Sometimes you just need a reassuring voice in your ear. On the other hand, sometimes a few lines of moral support from a distant friend can be very meaningful and helpful. Not quite a hug, but not all that bad.

My intimate conversations are mostly done by phone now. I have a few close friends nearby but they are not retired yet and have very busy lives. So finding time to sit and talk isn’t always easy, even when we live down the road.

I’ve gotten used to this situation and can feel satisfied after a good phone talk in lieu of an in-person interaction. I don’t love Face time or Skype. I don’t feel seeing a small, usually distorted photo of my friend on a small screen, really adds anything to the conversation.

My son has also moved one and a half hours away so we talk on the phone every day and text a lot – mostly jokes and memes and quick updates. I still feel very close to him, which may be easier because I get to see him every few weeks.

These in-person visits add to the relationship because they give us time to just hang out together. I’ve realized how important that is. I’m closer to my boat friends because we spend lots of time sitting on each other’s boats, talking laughing, drinking or just reading together. It’s this unstructured time I miss most when I have to rely on my cell phone for personal contact.

My future holds more texts, emails and ‘phone dates’ and less in-person contact as more friends retire and move away. I’ve coped so far, so I guess I’ll just get to love my phone more as my main contact with the outside world.

ADULTING 101 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I read a fascinating article from Today, on Facebook. It was written by Meghan Holohan on March 29, 2019, and is titled “ ‘Adulting’ Class at Kentucky high school teaches crucial life skills.”

What a great concept! I’ve always thought high schools and colleges should offer life skills classes so kids aren’t left totally unprepared when they move into adulthood (that is if their parents don’t prepare them, which most don’t).

In the Kentucky school, ‘Adulting’ seminars were offered and the response was overwhelming and positive. Parents were as thrilled as the kids when the project started blowing up on the internet. Seniors could choose three out of eleven workshops to attend with the goal of gaining more general knowledge and specific skills needed to help them navigate their lives after high school.

The classes offered were awesome and totally practical. Some of them were: Dorm Room Cooking, How To Interact With the Police (I’m assuming it’s an inner city school), Healthy Relationships and Boundaries, It’s Money, Baby, i.e. Personal Finance, Writing a Resume and Cover Letter, Filling out an Application, Basics of Checking and Savings and When you Need to See A Doctor.

The first class to fill up was dorm room cooking. The Police were the second most popular and the third was Healthy Relationships. Apparently, a lot of young girls were not sure how and when to set boundaries in a relationship and what you should and should not expect — or accept — in a relationship. If you don’t see good relationships in your life, I guess you need to be taught what a good one looks like and how to get it. Very sad.

This school’s adulting classes are hopefully the start of a new trend. I looked online and found an adulting class for millennials that teaches them ‘survival’ skills like monthly budgeting and how to open a wine bottle with a cork. A library in Oregon offers “Adulting 101: Basic How-To’s for ages 16-25.”

Apparently, neither mainstream schools or parents are preparing kids to take on the world beyond home and high school.

I’ve read several conflicting explanations for why kids today seem so clueless when it comes to basic adulthood skills. Some blame it on the fact that so many kids continue to live at home through their 20’s, and even later. But one article pointed out that in the 1940s, people lived at home in even larger numbers and for even longer periods than recent generations. But those kids also did chores and were given adult responsibilities while at home, so making it in the real world was not a problem for them when the time came.

That points to late 20th-century parenting as the problem.

One author argues that both parents usually have to work crazy hours just to provide good lives for their families, so no one has time to teach life skills to their kids. Another author blames helicopter or snowplow parents who treat their kids like delicate, pampered snowflakes, do everything for them and expect nothing from them.

Another school of thought blames high schools, which used to teach skills like cooking, shop, and bookkeeping but now don’t. My husband had a great home economics class and learned how to cook as a teenager. He was the only boy in a class full of girls! Win, win!

Another author argues that every generation of young adults is equally ignorant of life skills and that most people learn them in the field, as adults. I had never cooked a thing until I reached law school and had my first apartment. Many kids don’t have their own checkbooks when they live with their parents and so they don’t learn how to manage one until they are living and working on their own.

I’m not sure which theory I believe, but I agree with the person who said that whatever the root causes of their egregious lack of ‘adult’ knowledge, the kids today should be commended for trying to learn what they realize they don’t know.

Hopefully, there will be a big spike in enrollment in the Adulting School that has opened, which offers classes in cooking, sewing, and basic conflict resolution. I know some adults who could use those classes. I know many career women who don’t know the first thing about cooking, except ordering out. I still can’t balance a checkbook.

Where do I sign up?

THE JOY OF COOKING SHOWS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The less I cook, the more I watch cooking shows on TV. I particularly love baking shows and I haven’t baked in years. But I’m obviously not watching these shows to improve my cooking skills or to learn new techniques or even to collect new recipes. I think for me, it’s more of an outlet.

I did once replay a Bobby Flay show a few times so I could write down his recipe for baked meatballs. We still use this as our go-to meatball recipe and it comes out great every time. But that was the exception, not the rule.

Bobby Flay

Since menopause, I’ve had to watch my weight (I fortunately never had to before).

I gain easily so I had to pay attention to what and how much I ate. Then over a year ago, I had to start taking Prednisone and I slowly gained ten pounds over the course of 15 months. This is a common side effect of Prednisone. Most people gain a lot more than I did, but I was actively ‘dieting’ to keep the weight gain down to a minimum.

This is particularly frustrating because I love food – I love to eat and I love to cook. I once created a whole line of baked goods for a business that never took off. I’ve put together several of my own cookbooks and I used to constantly look for new recipes to add to them.

One of my own recipe collections

I tried to cook something ‘interesting’ every night when my husband was still working and I came up with creative ways to use leftovers. Recently my husband was warned he was about to become pre-diabetic. He had to lose weight, cut down on sugar and alcohol to prevent it from happening.

He lost 30-pounds and is now as obsessed with maintaining his weight as I am. So no more rich sauces and cheesy dishes for us!

Recipes I adapted or created for my defunct English Dessert business

We got an air fryer (which I highly recommend) so we can still have French Fries and crispy chicken wings without any fat. But most nights we eat plain grilled meat, a baked potato, and vegetables.

Tom does the grilling and I occasionally roast something in the oven or cook an actual vegetable recipe, as opposed to plain, boiled or steamed veggies.

Air Fryer

But my love of food and creative cooking has not diminished. So I get my foodie fix by watching TV. My favorite shows these days are The Great British Baking Show, The Best Baker in America, Masterchef, and Masterchef Junior and Top Chef. I find that these shows have the best cooks and bakers and the nicest contestants.

The level of skill and knowledge is very high, as is the spirit of camaraderie as well as competition. The plating and decorating is usually impeccable and creative. Also, the shows have the classiest hosts and judges and the best production values.

Best Baker in America winner last season

I’m still amazed that an eight or nine-year-old can bake a macaroon or an éclair without a recipe, in one hour, even if they’ve never made one before. The amount of baseline skill and knowledge this implies is mind-boggling. The complex and imaginative dishes the food show contestants come up within an hour or less blows me away. I can’t seem to create dishes in anything in less than an hour and my dishes are far from sophisticated, mouth-watering of beautiful to look at.

Masterchef Junior contestants

These cooking competitions are at a level way above mine. I couldn’t even begin to copy any of their recipes. Tom and I have always longed to learn how to plate elegantly, but we’ve never gone beyond making a vegetable puree and serving it under each piece of protein, a common practice on cooking shows.

The decorations on TV seem to require lots of planning and extra ingredients and we never seem to get around to even trying. I wouldn’t know where to start making those colorful ‘drops’ that appear on so many artistic plates. And who keeps fresh parsley around just to use as a garnish? I buy it if I need it for a specific dish and it only lasts a day or so in the fridge before it wilts and becomes useless.

I love watching skilled people, even amateurs, do their magic in the kitchen. I love hearing the judges’ critiques, which teach me what the dishes are supposed to look and taste like.

While I’m not going to try to duplicate what I see, I am a more educated restaurant goer and a more attentive home cook. That, along with the hours of enjoyment I get watching my cooking shows, is enough.

RDP Saturday: GOURMAND

DISHES AS DECOR, PART 3 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I use all kinds of plates and dishware as decorative elements all over my house. It makes sense in the kitchen and dining areas, but I also use them in my bedroom and bathroom and in my bookcases.

This is an arrangement of prints and plates on my small bedroom wall

On the large wall of my bedroom, I used a mid-century mirror from the Algonquin Hotel in NYC as the centerpiece. I surrounded the mirror with prints and plates to create a large vignette across the entire wall.

Long shot of the wall
This is my ‘toilet room’, as you can see by the toilet paper holder in this decorative vignette
This is a decorative baker’s rack used to display plates and chatchkus in the bathroom
Whimsical teapot and teacup in my bookcase
Teacups and matching dessert plates used with bookends to create a fun moment in my bookcase

DISHES AS DECOR, PART 2 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I love to use all kinds of dishes and serving pieces as part of the decor in my home. I find it’s an inexpensive way to fill the walls and the shelves all over the house.

In Part 1, I showed you the kitchen area, where you would be most likely to find dishes as part of the decor. Now we’re moving into my family room, my dining room, and my foyer, where I also use decorative plates and other dishes, such as candy dishes.

These plates are in the wall cabinet in my dining room. I use the other dishes from these sets when I have company.
One of my favorite mid-century candy dishes used in the hanging shelves in the dining room
These two mid-century candy dishes are in the large, decorative bookcase in the family room
Red and blue mid-century candy dishes accent my artwork in the family room
This Crate and Barrel platter works beautifully with my art deco decanter and a modern glass box in my foyer. They sit on a 1906 stove with a glass top over the burners.

DISHES AS DECOR, PART 1 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Growing up, we had some beautiful sets of China that we actually used to eat on. My mother also displayed pieces of her china sets whenever possible. So I love dishware and always try to buy interesting and beautiful pieces for meals, but also to use as part of the decor. It is an inexpensive way to add interesting chatchkas to your home – and my home is full of chatchkas, often arranged into decorative vignettes.

Here are some of the dishes I’ve used in my kitchen, eating area and sun porch, on shelves, on tables, and on the walls.

This cabinet is mostly decorative and I rarely use those items.
This cabinet is totally functional and houses my everyday dishes and cups.

I also use plates as wall decor.

The same fish plates used on top of the cabinets above the stove area in the kitchen

I still have many of my mother’s and my old china sets that are too country or too formal for my homey but modern house today. They also don’t fit in with my mostly aqua and turquoise color scheme. But I still love them and want to share them with you.

Formal dessert set I got for my first wedding in 1974
The charming and less formal set I bought for my first home in New York City in 1974 (from Italy)
My favorite of all my mother’s china sets which we used in our summer, country style house in CT

SPRING HAS SPRUNG – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I don’t love summer because I’m very sensitive to heat. I actually feel sick when I get hot because my sweat glands don’t work properly and I rarely sweat. Great savings on antiperspirant bills but it sucks when everyone else is happily sitting outside in the sun and I’m stuck inside with the air conditioning.

Apple Blossoms

So, summer is not my favorite time, even though I have a boat and summer is the prime boating season. I spend most of my boat days – you guessed it – sitting in the air-conditioned cabin, often by myself. Even my loyal dog, Lexi, who usually follows me everywhere, lays in the sun on the deck on a nice day and abandons me to the interior of the boat.

Daffodils

But spring is great. The obvious joy of spring is watching the grass and the flowers and the leaves bloom, turning the world from grey to a rainbow of colors.

Spring!

Spring is when my waterfall is fully flowing. I can open the windows to hear that wonderful sound throughout the house. In the summer, the stream usually dries up since we have less rain and more heat. So the view from my window is glorious – a picturesque waterfall in the middle of a continually greening wood.

The stream

Another, more pedestrian plus of spring is putting away my darker and heavier winter clothes and pulling out the bright-colored clothes of this bright-colored season.

I pay particular attention to my spring/summer wardrobe because when I hang out on the boat, I schmooze with people every day, as opposed to winter when I can go days without seeing anyone other than Tom. And when I make my rounds to the Post Office and the local stores and coffee shop, people can see what I’m wearing because I’m not wearing a coat that covers up what is underneath.

Brighter colors of spring

Not wearing socks is another wardrobe benefit of spring and summer.

My socks bunch up all the time and I have to take my shoes or boots off regularly to adjust them so I can walk comfortably.

There’s also the problem of navy versus black socks. I can’t seem to tell the difference in my bedroom, but as soon as I get downstairs, I can tell immediately that I’ve picked the wrong one and have to go back upstairs and change. (Yes, I care!)

Sock drawer, abandoned in the spring

Not wearing a coat or a sweater is also a spring thing. Outside, the temperature is perfect (same in the early fall) so no outerwear is necessary.

I don’t have to wear a sweater inside because the air conditioning everywhere isn’t at full blast as it is in the summer. I always carry a sweater with me throughout the summer in case I am subjected to frigid A/C’s.

Sweaters necessary indoors in A/C weather

Spring also means that the many local farms in my town reopen their markets and I can get beautiful, fresh produce and other gourmet treats, right in my backyard. The freshly baked bread is awesome!

In the offseason, I have to drive 20 minutes each way to a supermarket to even get an onion or a potato. Now these staples, as well as the seasonal fruits and vegetables, are just a few minutes away.

Tom is happy in the spring because he can start working on the boat, preparing it to go back in the water in May. So spring has a lot going for it in my world. I don’t hate winter, like most people, and I love snow, but spring really is a lot better.

Except for the hordes of tiny black ants that invade my kitchen every spring. Here they come! Get out the ant traps!