THE GREAT MOLASSES FLOOD – By ELLIN CURLEY

I’m a history buff and I particularly enjoy learning about the odd, unusual occurrences that often don’t make it into the history textbooks.

For example, On January 15, 1919, a freakish but deadly accident occurred in Boston. A massive, 50-foot tall tank storing molasses which were used in the production of industrial alcohol, ruptured. It created a giant wave of molasses that engulfed everything and everyone in its path.

The molasses swamped one of Boston’s busiest neighborhoods, killing 21 and injuring 150 people. (NOTE: Each newspaper originally claimed a different number of people died or were hospitalized. It apparently took a while to get the numbers correct and finalized.)

Globe headline – the great molasses flood

The statistics of the flood are gruesome. 2.3 million gallons of molasses created a black tidal wave 25 feet high and 160 feet wide that traveled at 35 miles per hour. This generated enough power to crumble small structures, knock the firehouse off its foundation and rip away a supporting beam for the elevated train tracks.

Two city blocks were quickly under the glue, so to speak. People outside drowned and suffocated as did people trapped as their homes and basements quickly filled up with the unforgiving goo. Others were swept away with the sticky tide. It was more deadly than a similar amount of water would have been because it was thick and sticky and trapped many people who might have escaped from a flood of water.

Boston, MA – 1/16/1919: Smashed vehicles and debris sit in a puddle of molasses on Commercial Street on Jan. 16, 1919, the day after a giant tank in the North End collapsed, sending a wave of an estimated 2.3 million gallons of molasses through the streets of Boston. Twenty-one people died and 150 were injured. (Boston Globe Archive)

During the summer of 1918, residents began noticing leaks in the giant tank. Being a typical corporation with little governmental regulation, the company responded by painting the tanks brown instead of grey. That way, you could no longer see the molasses seeping through the cracks in the tank. It was a literal cover up!

Local historical marker from the event

The litigation that followed the disaster lasted six years. The 1925 verdict held the company responsible. It was ordered to pay to the victims’ families the equivalent of 9.2 million dollars in today’s money — or then, about $7000 per family .

One of the company’s defenses was a claim that the tank rupture was caused by an anarchist’s bomb.  But there was no bomb nor any anarchists.

Damage from the great molasses flood – Boston 1915

In 2015, a Civil Engineering Magazine published an article that concluded that the walls of the tanks had been too thin and that the builders at the time should have known this.

This story is reminiscent of the tragedy of the Titanic, which sank in 1912 because of faulty design and inferior materials, including rivets. The iceberg caused the rivets to burst, flooding a fatal number of chambers in the Titanic’s hull. Just before the 1919 molasses flood, people heard popping sounds as the rivets on the tank popped and the contents of the tank exploded onto the street.

I love quirky historical stories like this one. I hope you enjoyed it too!

IDIOCYNCRATIC DRESSING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Women are known for their love of shoes and bags. Many women buy shoes for specific outfits and switch bags frequently depending on what they’re wearing. I’m not one of those women.

For everyday, I have one black bag for fall and winter and another bag, either blue or beige, for spring and summer. I never change bags unless I’m going to a dressy or formal event, in which case I use one of maybe two or three black dress bags (some inherited from my mother). I just don’t relate to purses. To me, they’re not an important part of my wardrobe. They are just daily luggage.

A winter bag and a summer bag

As for shoes, I do have quite a few pairs, but they’re mostly either black for winter or beige for summer. I have several pairs of boots, both short and tall, flat and heels. I also have several sandals for when it’s hot. Add in a few ballet flats and low heels (I never wear high or spiked heels) and there’s my shoe wardrobe. Very basic and unexciting. Again, I don’t really care what’s on my feet as long as they generally match the season and the occasion. I occasionally get compliments on my shoes, which is surprising but actually very gratifying.

Another female fetish that I’m not into is nails. I rarely get manicures, partly because my nails break and crack so frequently that I rarely have more than a few t the same length at the same time. So, putting a colored polish on them is like putting lipstick on a pig. I do it for special events or if I have more than six nails of reasonable length. Even then I only use clear or nude shades of nail polish.

My usually plain nails

I never do pedicures. First of all, I feel uncomfortable when strangers mess with my feet. Secondly, I never understood why women want to draw attention to what I see as our least attractive feature. Besides, feet are usually covered up by shoes for most of the year, at least where I live. The few months when we all wear sandals might make sense but I still don’t like brightly colored toenails.

I have a friend who never wears makeup but always has meticulously manicured hands and feet. So her hands and feet are ‘enhanced’ and draw attention but not her face? I don’t get it. I’d rather wear some makeup on my face and ignore my limbs. My face is what people should be looking at when they talk to me.

On the other hand, I am a costume jewelry fanatic. My neckwear and earrings overflow two large drawers and one small three drawer jewelry box. And that doesn’t include the two drawers full of costume jewelry left to me by my mother. Her earrings were all clip on, which I can’t wear, so I just kept her neckpieces and bracelets. These tend to be much dressier than I would wear every day, but I do use them for special occasions. It’s a real treat to go ‘shopping’ in the ‘Mom drawers’ when I need something special and dramatic to wear.

My ‘small’ jewelry box for everyday wear

When I get dressed, I go through my arsenal of earrings and decide which one goes best with what I’m wearing. Usually, I have many to choose from and this extends the time it takes me to get dressed – often by a lot.

Sometimes I try several on and eliminate one at a time till I find the winner for the day. Other times I have a ‘favorite’ pair of earrings that I wear whenever it goes with my outfit. Either way, earrings (and to a lesser degree, necklaces) are a big deal to me. So I usually have ratty nails and embellished ears!

I also have an extensive collection of tops – shirts and tees mostly and quite a few tunic tops. I treat myself to a few new ones each season, even though I don’t need them.

They, along with earrings, are my vices – and are the only things I spend money on these days. All other purchases have to go through the ‘do I really need this’ test. This is the one place where I let ‘I want it’ be the main criterion for purchase. For my husband, it’s electronic equipment and video games, which end up costing a lot more than my annual splurges. So I don’t feel too bad about my excesses.

Everyone has their own special likes and dislikes and ‘can’t resist’ items. So I guess I’m no quirkier or stranger than anyone else. I just feel like I am!

A BROADWAY AWARDS SHOW – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom was in charge of the audio for the Outer Critics Circle award show at Sardi’s in New York City on May 23, 2019. So Tom and I got to have a unique and fun and very ‘New York’ experience. The show is a mini version of the Tony Awards but done in the afternoon, so no glamorous evening gowns.

Event program
We had to drive into the city the night before to bring in all the audio equipment and set it up on site. My job was to gaffer tape the endless wires to the carpet and walls so no one tripped over them. It was interesting to watch the event coordinators set the tables (it was a lunch/dinner at 3 PM), decide who sat where and set out the place cards.

The 27 awards were announced beforehand so only the winners showed up, which limited the guest list to 120, or twelve tables of ten each. Most of the people were behind the scene stars who I didn’t recognize. People like producers, directors, composers, sets, costumes and lighting people, agents, publicists, etc. The room covered all aspects of what it takes to put together a theatrical production, both musicals, and straight plays.

Page in program listing award winners
The audio table was set up for Tom and me in the back near the back door so I didn’t expect to see any celebrities close up. Surprise! They had set up a black curtain with the Outer Circle Critics logo all over it right next to me, near the back door. I thought it was just for decoration and name placement. I didn’t realize that that door was where everyone entered so they could be photographed in front of the black curtain.

The press corps, photo, and video were directly right in front of me. The celebrities entered, one by one, and posed for the press in front of the curtain/backdrop.

They chatted briefly with the press. All this took place three feet in front of me! I was taking photos too and the press photographers moved out of the way so I could get good shots. I told them it was just for a blog, but I got professional courtesy and was treated like a member of the press corps.

Photographers lined up to take pictures of celebrities
I also got to see some video interviews — a real treat.

Tina Fey was one of the presenters/masters of ceremony and she was charming and funny, as usual. I got some close ups of her as she entered and posed for the cameras and I also took pictures of her talking at the podium.

Tina posing for the photographers.

A film and TV actor, Hamish Linklatter was also very funny as a presenter,  The Big Short, and Fantastic Four movies as well as The Newsroom and The Good Wife on TV. He did a dramatic reading of his presenter speech, which was hilarious.

Hamish Linklatter

Bryan Cranston gave a delightful acceptance speech too — “Breaking Bad,” “Malcolm In The Middle,” and “All The Way” (TV) and the movie “Trumbo.”

Joel Grey
It was a thrill to see classic stars like Joel Grey — “Cabaret,” the play and movie. John Callum — “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” among numerous stage credits as well as TV’s “Northern Exposure,” and “Madame Secretary.”

John Callum
The legendary costume designer, Bob Mackie was also there. He did all of Cher’s clothes for her TV show as well as the costumes for the Carol Burnett Show. He also dressed many stars, like Judy Garland and Liz Minnelli, to name a few.

Bob Mackle

Another charming actress who got an award was Stephanie J. Block for her role as the older Cher in the musical based on her life. She said she had 29 costume changes during each show, eight times a week!

Stephanie J. Block
I also saw a favorite of mine, Brian D’Arcy James, who was in the TV musical Smash as well as originating lead roles in the musicals “Shrek the Musical,” “Next To Normal” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

Brian D’Arcy James
Our friend, Barbara Rosenblat was in the audience. She is a member of our Audio Theater Group, Voicescapes Audio Theater as well as being a world-renowned, award-winning audiobook narrator.

She has also appeared many times on the Broadway stage. She was in the original cast of “The Secret Garden” and got her caricature drawn and hung in Sardi’s. The restaurant opened in 1921 and is known for these caricature drawings covering all of its walls, representing the Broadway stars from the 1920s to today.

Barbara Rosenblat
I knew Barbara’s drawing was there but I had never seen it. We, along with the rest of the crew, were treated to a dinner at Sardi’s restaurant downstairs after the show. Coincidentally, I was seated directly in front of Barbara’s drawing. So Cool!

Barbara’s caricature on Sardi’s wall
All in all, it was an exhausting but wonderful adventure.

THE START OF BOATING SEASON – BY ELLIN CURLEY

From New Years on, Tom counts down the days until he can start working on the boat to get it ready to go back in the water. It spends its winters shrink wrapped and up on pilings in the parking lot of the marina, squashed together with all the other beached boats.

The first thing we have to do each spring is getting off the shrink-wrap. This involves lots of cutting and rolling of the large sheets of plastic protecting the boat from the winter elements. This usually takes one day, which is not too bad. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Then comes the cleaning, which is a big production. The bottom has to be painted and the hull has to be waxed and buffed. On a 40-foot boat, that’s a lot of waxing and buffing!

It also has to be over 55 degrees and dry for Tom to be able to do this kind of work and this year the weather has not been cooperating.

We had a few warmer days and he got a lot done, but then it either rained or was too cold for over a week. Tom’s brother came down to help him work on the boat, but they only got one good day out of four. This time of year the weather is always erratic, but it seems to be getting more schizophrenic each year.

Big pile of cut plastic rolled up next to the boat

The fiberglass and the metal railings on the inside of the boat also have to be cleaned and Tom likes to get this done while the boat is out of the water. That’s because once the boat is in the water, Tom gets lazy and just wants to relax and enjoy it.

My job is the interior cabins on the boat. While it’s still out of the water, I do the annual thorough cleaning. Everything is covered in black soot and dirt and is disgusting. I throw away a garbage bag full of black paper towels. But I persevere and clean every inch of the boat, including the two toilets, the bathroom floors (by hand) and the shower. This is my least favorite day of the year.

The deck inside the shrink wrapping

Once I’ve cleaned the inside, I take home all the sheets and towels, wash them, bring them back to the boat and make the bed and put the clean towels out.

My pile of laundry for the boat.

Then I have to stock the kitchen. I have to wait until the boat is in the water because the only way onto the boat in the parking lot is by ladder and I don’t want to carry heavy grocery bags up a shaky ladder. Stocking the kitchen is like stocking a house – I have to buy every necessary item in my kitchen, starting from scratch.

I need basics like coffee and tea, salt, pepper and sugar, herbs and spices, condiments like ketchup, mustard, mayo, barbecue sauce, and salad dressings, and items to cook with like butter, oil, vinegar, chicken stock, onions, tomato sauce, etc. Then there’s snack food and company food because people are always stopping by for a drink on the dock. So I need cheese and crackers, chips and dips as well as cookies and other sweets.

The other trick in shopping for a boat, is I have to try and find the smallest versions of everything so I can fit it all in my small kitchen.

When the kitchen is stocked, my last job is to clean the deck and the flybridge. That has to be done last because Tom keeps all of his cleaning items strewn all over these areas. It looks like a bomb went off at West Marine. Once he finishes his cleaning and puts everything away, I get to do the final job.

That’s when the boating season officially begins for us.

Anchors Away!

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