Saturday, February 23, 2013

Five Memorable... Candies

Ahh, one of my favorite subjects! I used to have an awful sweet tooth. It has faded over the years, I believe mostly from not feeding the beast, but parts of my brain still light up when I just think about all those sweets that I have been fond of over the years. If I were talking about favorites, I'd start with Big Hunk, PayDay, Almond Joy, Snickers... but I'm not. I'm talking about memorable. So let's start!

Old Fashioned Taffy Slabs

They cost about five cents each and were quite large, but very flat, about like a sheet of cheap posterboard. they were sandwiched in a sheet of waxed paper and looked sort of like Neapolitan ice cream with their three colors. Though they weren't in my short list of favorites, I liked them pretty well. 

Our options for candy-buying were limited at our house, out in the country pretty far from a store. But during the summer, when we spent days at Grandma and Grandpa's house, we were in a better position. Our regular store for candy-buying was directly across the road in this country neighborhood. But a short-lived new neighborhood market sprang up towards the end of the dead-end road. If there had been sidewalks with blocks, I guess it would have been about a block and a half down. It wasn't better than our usual store, but it was different. And that made it worthy of checking out. So sometimes we strolled down there to get our candy. 

One summer day, I bought a slab of taffy. (slab makes it sound so, massive. I should call it a "leaf of taffy.") I paid my nickel and waited until I was almost at my grandma's to open it. When lo and behold, I saw that I had inadvertently picked up two. One was stuck to the other. 

Oh the dilemma! My well-developed little conscience, that little angel all in white with a sparkly halo, said, "You must turn around and take it back." My little id, that little critter with horns said, "You didn't mean to take two. He should have noticed it and peeled them apart."

"No, it's the right thing to do, and you always do the right thing."

"That's ridiculous. It's only five cents. Keep it."

"I can't believe you'd keep it and eat it!"

"Just eat it up so you can quit feeling so disturbed!"

So of course, I ate it. Right after the other one. But it's funny; two in a row didn't taste nearly as good as just one at a time. And worst of all, I hurt my bruised tooth on it.

(Sidebar: I bruised my tooth when my cousin Randy and I were running through the sheets hanging on Grandma's clothesline. Whee! I'm running right into this solid thing and it gives way before me! Until Randy's head met my front tooth in the middle of the sheet. It turned gray, hurt, and after a long while, whitened up again.)

I suffered with my sore tooth for probably a day and a half. And wouldn't you know it, that annoying little angel was right there, harping at me, "I told you so!" So that's how I took it and crossed my heart that I would be honest next time. 

Candy Treasure Chest

I don't know if they were actually Neccos, I don't think so, but they were similar in color, shape, size and texture. They came in a box about the size of a small box of band-aids that was decorated like a pirate's treasure chest. Along the same lines as Cracker Jack, a small prize was nestled inside along with the candy wafers. It was usually a plastic thingy, like a little golden figure or clear doo dad. The wafers were ok, and the prizes were nothing special, but the marketing was good. Getting A PRIZE inside EACH BOX was worth the nickel.

This was in the days long before any kind of factory sealed product. Anyone and their auntie could open anything up in a sly way and do whatever they wanted with the contents. But that sort of thing didn't usually happen back then. So, fully trusting, as only 6 or 7 year olds can do, I bought a Treasure Chest out of the bin, started on the way back to Grandma's, opening it to eat on the way. 

What the...? It was only half full. Cheated! I turned around and walked back in the store to get the situation remedied. I walked up to the counter.

"I opened up my box, and it was half empty."

And here is where I learned one of the Ways of the World.

"How do I know you didn't eat them when you walked out?"

I had no answer for that. He spoke truth. How did he know that? I had just assumed that people didn't do that sort of thing, and that people would believe you when you told them the truth. So, disappointed and a little confused, I just turned around and walked out, pondering what had just happened. 

I guess the lingering lesson on this epiphany that I carried into adulthood is this"

CYA! Because they might not believe you.


I'll bet that if I asked you about nostalgic or favorite products, you could name the first time you tried it. That's the way it was with Chick-O-Stick. The little store that was directly across the road from Grandma's had a charming little candy area at the front. It probably wasn't charming then, but we would look at it nowadays and coo over the worn wooden bins that held the Pixy Stix (2 for a penny) and bags of Gold Nugget gum, the hardwood floor, the wire racks of little toys and comic books. 

I was always looking for the Next Good Thing. I joke now that my favorite flavor is "sampler." Yeah, I like that one, but what new one have you got? One day, with a nickel burning a hole in my pocket (that I probably bummed off my grandfather), I saw a brand-new candy lined up in a basket next to the counter. It looked like nothing I'd had before. Even the coconut dusting the orangey surface did not dissuade me. It looked INTERESTING, and it was! Roasted peanut butter threads in crunchy buttery sticks. And if you ate it slow by just sucking and gnawing at the top edge, leaving the bottom in the cellophane, it lasted a long time. Chick-O-Stick became my new favorite candy. And it is also wrapped up in the good feeling tones of Andy Goats Market, the candy mecca for the kiddos in the neighborhood.

Now if you knew where my Grandparents lived, you would say, "What the heck was a little market that seemed to have mostly candy in it doing out there? And staying in business?" It was one of those little farmworker neighborhoods along a highway a few miles from town, surrounded by orange trees and irrigation canals. I never gave it a thought, until one day recently I was talking about it to my mom.

"Andy Goats Market? Well, the other half of the store was a bar!"

Now that she said it, I could vaguely remember a curtained off section behind the counter...


Toblerone is simple. The first time someone gave me a bite was my new boyfriend. Now my husband. So it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when I have one. And even though both of us prefer dark chocolate, I like the milk chocolate ones because that was the one he gave me.


I didn't really even like mint that much. Occasionally I'd get the cinnamon ones, and sometimes someone would pass you a fruity one, but liking them was not the point. The mint ones were the ones for the job. Peppermint specifically. You might be a spearmint person, but if so, you were sort of rare. I was fond of wintergreen, and that is almost mint, but it had a passing acquaintance with the scent used for toilet bowl cleaner, so I wasn't sure that would work. 

And you see, it had to work. We were all counting on it, because of the awful truth. The awful truth was this. We all had bad breath. Every last stinking one of us. I'm still not sure why the little kids didn't, and the adults had a different kind of bad breath. And besides, they already had their sweethearts, whereas we, the teenagers were still looking. And the only thing that could approach bad breath in its terrible magnitude of horrors was sweat stains under the armpits. 

As we entered the church for Sunday evening services, we girls checked our purses for the essential contents: lip balm/gloss, Certs, hand mirror, bobby pins, tissues, a few dollars for Shirley Temples after the service. The front 3 pews at the left were where you could find us teenagers (plus or minus a couple years). When we judged that we had about 5 minutes left, we would surreptitiously pop a Certs. This was no time to be selfish. You had pity on your pewmate, because you never knew when you would be stranded without a Certs yourself. 

Afterwards, mingling with the boys and the other girls, we could be confident that we had sweet breath, sweet minty breath, not befouled with whatever random odors our mouths, we were sure, were constantly producing. 

Ah. It's a pity that teenagers have to be so self-conscious and unsure of how they appear. Did we think that our breath was bad because of savvy marketing? Probably. But the end of it is that it now irritates me that I felt that way. And I wouldn't buy Certs if they gave me a free coupon for some.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Five Memorable... Kid/Young Adult Books

I've been busy with a number of things, and if I don't have something that begs to be written, then most of the time nothing gets written! But that's not what I want to happen, so I decided to have a little "filler" standing topic. "Five Memorable... Fill in the Blank."

There are those of us who really like lists. Going over lists is almost like going over deposits to your savings account for the satisfaction they give. (Almost. And don't ask me why, I don't know!) So I decided to start with one of my favorite topics, Kid and Young Adult books. I believe there is a crucial age when children learn to love reading books. When good books at the right reading level are made available and time for reading is encouraged, a reader is born.

And I reserve the privilege of calling something "Young Adult" or "Kid"  if I was a young adult or kid when I read it!

Two On An Island

Something wonderful landed on my desk at school in the 3rd grade; a Scholastic Book Services leaflet and order form full of marvelous paperbacks for kids, and with prices that fit in with my pocket change, 15 to 25 cents. Each book for sale had a brief description and a picture of the cover. Over the next several years, the leaflets faithfully arrived, and the prices mercifully did not increase too much. Two on an Island was one of my favorites.

Any fantastical situation throwing a couple of siblings and their dog into a bad situation can be thought up out of a writer's head. Maybe conjure up a sorcerer, a dragon's egg, an enchanted dog, treasure waiting to be dug up, but as entertaining as these stories are, they aren't REAL to a kid. They are fantasy. To read about these typical kids, a bickering brother and sister who, on the spur of the moment, dash off for a little rowboat ride out to a sandbar and then become marooned, is to imagine without much effort a similar thing happening to you.

While the dangers they face; illness, dehydration, maybe even death, are part of the interesting and exciting plot, the real story is of their changing relationship in which they begin to really care for each other.

As a bickering sibling, it was difficult to imagine any other relationship with my sisters and brother, but this book gave me a glimpse into what was possible.

When Worlds Collide

What can I say? One of my most favorite SciFi books ever. My wonderful mother used to take us to the library about once a week during the summer, usually the Exeter Library, but sometimes the Woodlake Library. That was where I ran across this gem. It was written a long time ago, I think in the 30's, but a good idea and good writing hang around through different fads and changing science. OK, so some of the writing was a little over the top about populating a brand new, brave new world, but I skimmed over the tedious parts. They made a movie about it, which wasn't bad. But the book is better. Plus you can find out what happens later in After Worlds Collide. With all the technology, this book was also about people and relationships and how they responded to the "The End of the World."

A Wrinkle In Time

Another Scholastic Shot in the Dark, hoping it was as good as the brief description. Boy was it! It is just wonderful to have strong female protagonists in good books for kids. Meg is the only one who can rescue her father and her clever little brother from the evil "IT" of the planet Camezotz. Apart from the fact that I found Meg a bit whiny and complaining, it was easy to imagine myself in her place, being the strong one. At that age, I didn't try or even want to try to look for deeper meanings in books; I just wanted the plot to move along. But in spite of that way of reading, the meanings and symbolism in good literature insinuate themselves to promote a deeper  way of thinking as time goes along, I believe. Again, the story of relationships drive some of the best parts of the tale.

The Black Stallion

As a young reader, I thought I knew what I liked and what I didn't like. Since I was not a horse-person, I knew that I did not like horse books. My sisters were horsey-people, and they had a pile of horse books. I wasn't even tempted. Since I wasn't really all that fond of dogs either, I also knew that I wouldn't like dog books, like Irish Red, Big Red, Lad of Sunnybank Farm, Lassie, etc. 

So in one swoop, I dismissed Black Beauty, Tall and Proud, National Velvet, Misty of Chincoteague, etc. And then one day I came across The Black Stallion. What piqued my interest in this book? Maybe the cover, maybe the description on the back. I was a sucker for marooned stories. So I asked my older sister if I could read it. Sensing an advantage, she gave me a condition for reading it. I had to learn all the parts of the saddle. I still remember that those little round leather cut-outs with the dangling thongs through the middle were called the buttons. Perhaps having to work for it made it that much sweeter. But of course, as any Walter Farley fan would guess, I read it straight through and changed my outlook on all books horsie, and even other categories, like doggie and western.

Swiss Family Robinson

There are a lot of reasons I am adding this book to my list of five. But it's probably not the one you think.

This was a great little book, at least the abridged version was, one that I got in the third grade through Scholastic Book Services. Another marooned story, right up my alley! And the dad had all sorts of knowledge that put to use all the plants and animals they came across. Not to mention the incredible resource of a fully stocked ship, with only their family to plunder its contents before it sank off the reef it had grounded upon. I was amazed at the bounty of the large island they made their new home on. The only other contender to a sought-after storybook geographic location is the African land of the Great Anthropoid Apes who raised Tarzan. Alas, as I grew older and became more knowledgeable, I realized that the mismatched bounty of the island was just as much a fantasy as the giant boa constrictor that swallowed their donkey.

The reason I am including it is the lesson it taught me. When I first attempted to read it in the third grade, it was beyond me and I put it away as being too hard, and unpleasant to try to struggle through. That feeling stuck with me whenever I looked at it, but being a good bookhoarder, I kept it. Next year, in the fourth grade, I found myself without a book to read and picked it up, not expecting much. Surprise! It was easy! It was good! It was exciting! I really liked it. So what I think of when I see that book is that a book is not really static, in spite of its solid cover and unchanging typed pages. It changes as we do, it exists as we do, our minds meet it where we are at the time and it becomes a part of us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Just Cookies? (Sigh)

Since I have been trying to reduce calories, especially empty, wheaty, sugary, addictive, therapeutic calories like the ones that come in cookies, I usually just try to avoid the bakery aisle. And truthfully, the impulse to pick up the goodies and put them in the cart has faded mostly. I'll think about the spongy goodness of a fresh maple bar, with that soft yeasty aroma and the quarter inch thick maple glaze that has crusted over slightly, that when you fill your mouth with it, it fills your olfactory cavities with mapleness, and then I set my jaw, look away and concentrate on the next aisle, which contains the distilled water.

So the other night, I was feeling a little cocky. Sure, I was a little hungry, which is when I'm weakest for those food influences, but it was only a quick little stroll up to the Walmart for some binder dividers and ice. Then I'd be back and could eat an apple or something.

But when I got to the Walmart entrance, what did I Spy With My Little Eye? Girl Scouts. I slipped into the store through the door furthest away from them, but I confess, I knew what would end up happening. You could almost say I planned for my failure when I chose the other door to exit the store.

I buy Girl Scout cookies about once every 4 or 5 years, which is when all the conditions are just right. Which they were the other night.

So I looked over the table of cookies. There were Trefoils, which I gather are sort of shortbread cookies. There were Samoas, which reminded me the old Hey Days we used to buy on Sunday afternoons at Jeans Market after Sunday School. They had some called Savannah Somethings, which I was tempted by, since they were dusted with lemon flavored powdered sugar. But I knew I would be disappointed in them because those kind of cookies are never lemony and tangy enough for me. There were some others I can't remember the name of, but they were like Nutter Butter sandwich cookies. I was really thinking about those, but I couldn't help thinking I could buy a big package and a half of Nutter Butters for what this little 8oz box cost. At the back of the card table of cookies were two lone boxes of "Dulce de Leche" cookies tucked away. I assumed they had some caramel going on there and was briefly tempted to see if she would sell one to me, as they were obviously held back for someone. But no. I chose the Thin Mints.

Why? You ask. Well, for one thing, I like them. The mint makes them feel slightly beneficial for digestion and good breath. And I read somewhere that people who sniff peppermint oil are better able to control their appetites afterwards. And mint is in sugarless gum. And mint also grows wild as an aromatic herb, useful for flavoring tea, which is good for you.

But I must confess also the motivation that reveals the base nature of the animalistic people we are; I would get them all myself since Cork does not like mint.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Snow Dogs!

My first introduction to the Far North sled dogs was probably the same as most folks, Jack London's The Call of the Wild. I loved that book, read it many times. Most of the artwork surrounding this 1904 novel show Buck, the main character, as a husky-type dog.

Never mind that he was actually a St. Bernard/Sheepdog cross. When people think "sled dog," they think huskies and malamutes, wolfish looking landraces. (Landrace is my new word. It means a breed of something that is naturally selected for the environment it calls home.)

Last Saturday we drove up to the Siskiyou Dog Sled races held at the Deer Mountain-Chuck Best Snowmobile Park on the northeast flank of Mt. Shasta. We had read about it in the paper the week before, and it seemed like a great adventure. Neither of us had ever seen anything like that in person before.

We were a little concerned about the snow on the road, since the truck does not have four wheel drive, but we did have chains in the back, just in case. It was a lovely drive up there, just under two hours, I believe. The sky was clear and blue, the snow pretty and white, the views and the scenery beautiful!

We arrived shortly after the first race had set off, which gave us time to get bundled up and look around before the next race was to start. The races were either distance or sprint, and with either 8, 6, or 4 dog teams. The other type of race was called a "skjorling," which is a skier tied on to a certain number of dogs who apparently pull the skier madly across the terrain.

The dogs were either tethered to the rigs or cozy inside their kennels. It was kind of fun comparing it all in my mind to the horse trailers with the hoses tied up to the trailers. But this was all in miniature. The dog owners had all sorts of set-ups. One had a small flatbed trailer with a multi-plex kennel mounted on top. Several had 2-story kennels on the back of their big pick-ups. One professional-looking outfit had a box trailer with 3 stories of plastic dog kennels facing the back door opening. Their dog sleds were mounted on the roof of the truck.

The dogsleds were terribly cute. Some were made of modern materials, but most had a framework of bent wood and were artfully crafted. It looked like the brake was some kind of plate between the skids. One sled at rest had two metal anchors holding in place in the snow.

Most of the dogs looked young and fit. They were lean, with not an ounce of fat. You could almost see a shadow of ribs. They reminded me of the endurance horses in top form that I saw at the Tevis Cup race in Auburn. They looked content to just hang out on their lines with a water bowl in front of them. What seemed intriguing to me was that they did not engage in the typical dog behavior you see when handfuls of dogs get together. They did no run around marking territory, sniffing other dogs, barking just for the heck of it, or approaching strangers. In fact the only dog that seemed interested in sniffing butt was a pet dog someone had on a leash.

From the moment the traces were laid out and dogs were brought to be hooked on, the pack could tell that it was game time, and that was when the barking and howling started! It was an exciting sound, it was music.

The teams left the starting line staggered by a few minutes. As each team was brought to the line, the handlers held each pair of dogs steady. One or two handlers held the dogsled in place until the signal was given to start. Once at the line, the dogs wanted to run! They were so excited, they jumped up in the air, they howled, they yodeled, they barked, they moaned, they lunged.

5-4-3-2-1-GO! The dogs leaped forward, straining their traces, pulling at a run. The 4-dog teams took a few seconds to get up to speed, but the 8-dog teams flew forward, skimming over the snowy trail and disappearing out of sight in a moment.

The whole spectacle and the lovely dogs made me wish I had a good friend who did this so I could help crew for her! I had an unreasonable desire to actually do it myself, but Cork looked at me sternly and then I came back to myself.
The warming hut.

Most of the dogs were huskies and malamutes. Some were other breeds I couldn't identify. One musher had a few huskies along with what looked like husky crosses with a hound dog looking breed.

I had heated up some of my homemade chicken gnocchi soup and put it in thermouses for us. It was just the right thing!

 We also had a cup of hot chocolate at the Kiwanis food truck.

 A two-dog skjorling

We stayed until the skjorling racers took off, and then we headed back down. It was sort of warmish by then, about 38 degrees, and we didn't want the road to get more icy as the afternoon progressed.
 A one-dog skjorling :)

Even though I'm putting pictures up, they just can't convey the feeling of the event like video does. When I get my footage up on you tube, I'll make another post giving the link to that.