Long may it wave. . .

 

Today is a day for waving the flag. It always has been. On this most American of American holidays, Old Glory — the red, white and blue — is displayed prominently everywhere. Along with the fireworks, the hot dogs and brats, sauerkraut and beans, potato salad and beer, it is a quintessential American holiday. I love it, and so do most people I know.

Other countries also have national holidays, and they’re wonderful as well. But this one is mine. I am an American, above all, and I celebrate the history of my country and the heritage of my forebears who worked to build and preserve this nation.

This weekend I will celebrate! With outdoor concerts and picnics, with old friends and new acquaintances, on the lake and in the park, I will celebrate. Here in Hot Springs Village, the celebration has continued since Friday, culminating in a “beach party” and fireworks over Lake Balboa tonight. I have enjoyed it all, but at some point in the celebration, I will pause to remember why.

I will celebrate the freedom that was proclaimed for us all 255 years ago, and won anew in skirmishes that extended for years, until a decisive battle was won against the British in September of 1814. It was the battle that led to the penning of the poem that was to become our National Anthem.

And it was the tattered American flag flying over Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor “in the dawn’s early light,” that inspired Francis Scott Key to write those words. How different history would have been had it been the Union Jack that he saw.  However, it was not until 1931 that The Star-Spangled Banner was adopted as our national anthem.

Have a wonderful Fourth of July everyone.

 

 

 

 

77 Years Ago — Another Time and Place

A new fighter group was activated on June 1, 1943 and was assigned to the Los Angeles Air Defense Wing, IV Fighter Command, of the United States Fourth Air Force at March Field, California. One week later, three squadrons were assigned to the group, each with a cadre of 40 enlisted men; The squadrons were led by captains, while a lieutenant colonel commanded the group.

The group moved to Van Nuys, California, in August, and by mid-September, each squadron had a roster of between 40 and 44 officers and from 189 to 217 enlisted men. Training intensified in October to include mock dogfights in the air over the Pacific, with the three squadrons flying out of separate fields in Southern California. Mock dogfights were staged over the Pacific with naval pilots from a nearby port. Sadly, during training, a number of aircraft crashed and several pilots were injured or lost their lives.

Just after Christmas, the 364th Fighter Group passed muster and was deemed ready to engage an enemy. At that time, men assigned to the group did not know where they would be going. The question was answered when on January 13, orders were received and the next day, the entire group departed California on a troop train bound for New York, arriving five days later. The men received final physicals and 12-hour passes on a staggered basis until, at about 8 p.m. on February 1, all were boarded onto another train, then transferred to ferries in New York Harbor, arriving at a cargo dock under cover of night.

A first-hand account of that night is in the history book of the 364th, produced in 1991 by those who had survived the ensuing months and years of war, and finally were ready to share their memories of it.

“We had time to guzzle hot coffee (viewed now in retrospect as a fabulous luxury) and doughnuts proffered by the Red Cross. The more enterprising, though perhaps not too security-minded, of the squadron were able to learn from the M.P.s that our ship was the Queen Elizabeth, that we would go unescorted, and land in Glasgow in seven days. All of which predictions proved correct.”

The ship, planned as a luxury transatlantic liner, had been outfitted earlier as a troop carrier, and she did, indeed, sail to Europe with precious cargo, but with no military escort. The men of the 364th Fighter Group, now part of the 8th Air Force in Europe, boarded a train immediately upon disembarkation for transfer to Honington Field in Suffolk, England, “where both officers and enlisted men were quartered in more luxurious quarters than we had ever had in the United States of America.”

Mission No. 1 was flown by two of the squadrons of the 364th Fighter Group on March 2, 1944, less than one month after arriving in England. They “supplied withdrawal for bombers returning from Germany.” The account of that first mission notes: “Lt. Kenneth Nicholson had to abort. Returning on one engine, he belly landed the P-38. The plane was the only casualty.”

During the rampup to D-Day, operations for the 364th Fighter Group were “costly,” with the loss of 18 pilots in May and 137 planes aborted. It was just the third month of combat for the group

On June 5, 50 P-38s were a part of Mission 62, termed an “area support mission” in the official records. The invasion fleet had departed from the English coast, and “Neptune” had begun. Missions 63 through 117 were flown in the 10-day period from June 6 through June 15. The following day, the three squadrons of the 364th Fighter Group returned to flying “normal” combat missions.

Once again, from the history of the 364th Fighter Group:

“Major Brad McManus led off the first section of the 383rd at 0330 hours with 16 planes flying. The take-off was in a blinding rain and trying to make formation over the base was a challenge to say the least. . . .

“On the day’s last mission of the 8th of June, Lt. Loren Wilson (383rd) was heard to say over the R/T, ‘Hell, B.B. (his flight leader, Lt. B.B. Wilson) I’ve lost you. I’m going back.’ Lt. Wilson never returned to the base and a crashed P-38 was later found south of London. This was the only loss the Group suffered while flying 321 sorties.”

Today, on the 77th anniversary of D-Day, I cannot help but return to the entries that detail this one American fighter group’s part in that war. Just last week, on Memorial Day, we paid tribute to those who lost their lives, not only on D-Day, but in all the battles waged by this country against foes around the world.

However, for me, World War II remains unique. My father was there — first in California to train with the newly-formed fighter group. He was on that five-day troop train journey from the West Coast to the East, and he was on board as the liner decked out in battleship grey, the ship he called “the Lizzie,” made her way unescorted from New York to Scotland. He was there at Honington on June 6. He was 25 years old. Even though he did not fly, I know he waited with concern for planes and pilots to return from each mission. I know he grieved when they did not return as scheduled.

He did not talk about those days, nor did he talk much about the war, or about other battles in other wars. I suspect he carried vivid memories of the war years, but he chose not to share them with me. But the pride he felt about being a member of the 364th Fighter Group during World War II was something he never hid.

The last Mission of the 364th was flown from Honington on May 6, 1945, not quite two years after the fighter group’s activation. During its short life span it achieved a remarkable record, flying P-38s and, later, P-51s. The fighter group was deactivated on November 10, 1945. My father returned home from England in July 1945, with the expectation of being transferred to the the Pacific Theater of Operations. Thankfully, the war ended before he received his orders.

So, now I try to piece together the stories I wish I had heard from him, and I share his pride in the unit, and the service members — all of them — who played a part in the effort that culminated in D-Day 1944.

Decoration Day

Today is Memorial Day. It was proclaimed so only in 1971, by an act of Congress, to be celebrated on the last Monday in May, but the tradition of decorating gravesites and paying tribute to those who died in battle, or as a result of injuries sustained in service, goes back a lot further in time. Some say it was always a Southern tradition. It is true that May 30 was celebrated as Decoration Day, beginning in 1866, following a declaration by U.S. Gen. John A. Logan, who took his inspiration from the practice of cleaning and decorating relatives’ graves each spring, especially the gravesites of Confederate dead.

I was privileged last Friday to be one of a small group who volunteered to place flags in a single section of the Little Rock National Cemetery for Memorial Day. In a little more than two hours, our group of nine decorated more than 1,800 headstones with the small, simple reminders that a nation still honors those who died in wars fought to defend the freedoms we now enjoy.

The day was first celebrated nationally in the United States in 1868, during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., where both Union and Confederate dead are buried. As the years passed, it came to be known as Memorial Day, and after World War I, the same date was celebrated across the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the world as Poppy Day or Remembrance Day. The tradition continues, but in many places, the date has come to be celebrated not as a tribute to those who gave their lives in service to the country, but as a party weekend that signals the beginning of summer.

Perhaps there is room for both.

I choose, each Memorial Day, to take at least a few moments to pay tribute to those who died so that my family and I can live in peace and enjoy the coming summer’s activities. As the proud daughter of a retired military officer, the wife of another former Army officer, and the descendant of many men who served honorably in war and peace in our country’s past, I cannot forget the sacrifices of those who served, both at home and in foreign lands and did not return to enjoy the privileges that they won in battle.

I have written before about my visits to battlefields, and my feelings. I could not help but recall, as I planted small flags aside the headstones of men and women I did not know, those other visits and those other feelings. When the work was done, I took a few moments to walk alone among other markers at the Little Rock Cemetery. Sadly, there were not enough volunteers this year to place flags at all the headstones — many of them date to the Civil War. Separate burial grounds of Confederate and Union soldiers have been incorporated into the grounds of the National Cemetery.

The markers and their inscriptions are telling. Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War. History is alive in this somber place. Veterans from all services who have markers here served in all the battles this country has been engaged in — from that war between the states to foreign battles in which we had no stake. Most of them did not die in battle; they died as old men, but they served, and that service changed them. I am sure that, until the end of their days, they took pride in their service, knowing that what they did allows the rest of us to live our lives in relative peace and prosperity until the end of our days.

Taking to the seas, skies and roadways once again: Be smart, and enjoy the trip!

More people today travel to more places more often than ever before in history. At least they did, before the world came grinding to a halt due to the COVID pandemic. When restrictions are lifted once again for worldwide leisure travel, the experience will undoubtedly be changed.

What will it look like? As yet, we’re all a bit uncertain. What is certain, however, is that Americans and other nationalities will continue to travel, very probably in record numbers.

It’s not just the numbers, but also the percentages of people traveling that has skyrocketed in recent years. More than 28.5 million people took to the seas in 2018, according to Cruise Lines International Association, the world’s largest cruise industry trade association, and 2019 was expected to reach or exceed 30 million, once all numbers were tallied. Cruises regularly discharged passengers into crowded ports around the globe for visits that spanned only a few hours.

According to figures from the U.S. Travel Association, “U.S. residents logged 1.8 billion person‐trips* by air for leisure purposes in 2018,” and a record number of Americans, more than 93 million, traveled outside the country that year, according to data supplied by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Travel and Tourism Office. A fair portion of those flights brought travelers to foreign ports so that they could board cruise ships.

*A person-trip is defined as one person on a trip away from home overnight in paid accommodations or on a day or overnight trip to places 50 miles or more [one-way] away from home.

All Those Ships

The cruise industry had become a major economic factor for many nations, impacting an astonishingly broad spectrum of goods, services and specialties. It is one of the largest worldwide employers, and the shutdown has affected broad segments of the worldwide economy.

The statistics are sobering:

It is estimated that 8.75 million passengers missed their cruises as of October 31, 2020. Between mid-March and the end of September last year, approximately 334,000 cruise-related jobs were lost. In the United States alone, the lost revenue was estimated to reach about $26 billion by the end of October 2020. And those figures don’t begin to count what has happened since.

There’s no doubt that it was “big business,” but there is even less doubt that the number of travelers will continue to increase, according to cruise industry spokespeople. Despite the worrisome statistics, bookings for future travel are up for the coming year, and for succeeding years, pointing to significant future demand. Travel is not expected to return to the “old normal” soon, perhaps not ever. But those who miss traveling and are eager to set off once again, for the most part, will embrace airline and cruise travel no matter what new restrictions may be are imposed.

About 7,000 cruise passengers were quarantined aboard their ships, in Japan, other Asian ports and various other parts of the world, including some ports in the United States in the early days of the pandemic. and other places in Asia. However, bookings for future cruised were not canceled in large numbers until the cruise industry ban on travel became a reality across the globe. Today, based on reports from all cruise lines, bookings are up for 2021, 2022 and already for 2023, even though only a handful of ships have actually begun to carry passengers.

“Stay Nimble!”

The prevailing attitude of passengers booked on a Transpacific sailing scheduled to depart Yokohama, Japan May 10 was “wait and see,” until the final moment. The cruise, of course, was canceled, but a high percentage of those passengers affected by the cancellation immediately transferred their deposits to another sailing on a future date. Refunds and incentives for future bookings were attractive, and most cruisers seem willing to wait it out.

My husband and I are among those who have had multiple cancellations. We are eager to see the return of cruise ship travel. As others in the same boat, we had little idea that the ban would persist for an entire year. We certainly did not foresee longer than a year!

Now we are encouraged not only by recent rulings that will allow ships to travel from U.S. ports to Alaska for a part of the summer, bypassing British Columbia. We are even more encouraged by the news that other U.S. ports will be embarking passengers this summer for short itineraries to Bermuda, the Bahamas, Mexico and the Caribbean.

We currently have deposits on three cruises — one this fall, one for January 2022, and another for June 2022. This is new territory for us to navigate: We seldom plan that far ahead. Typically we are much more spontaneous in our bookings. But by booking early, we have taken advantage of lower prices and additional perks. We still have dreams to hold on to. We have practiced living with hope for far too long.

Fears and Facts

Major concerns still exist. Will the logistics of future travel become more difficult? Will insurance continue to cover financial loss due to a world health scare. Will the spread of Coronavirus finally be contained. Will we be able to travel without masks, but with proof of vaccination? We realize that these concerns may seem frivolous in the face of illness and death, financial woes and the other pain associated with a worldwide pandemic, political unrest and continuing uncertainty about the future.

But for many of us, the ability to meet new people, enjoy new experiences, and explore new ideas through travel is nearly as vital as breathing, eating and sleeping. So, the questions remain.

If you love traveling, are you currently making plans for the future? Where — and how — will you be traveling? When will you deem it safe to leave home, to fly to a destination half a world away, to be on a ship at sea with thousands of other people and no immediate access to comprehensive medical care. Is taking a road trip across the United States now a viable alternative to other forms of travel?

These are important questions that each person and every family must answer from an individual perspective. There are no right answers. What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you.

Until we can all meet up in some foreign port and share stories around a friendly table, just stay curious and be safe. Be ready to pack up and go when it becomes possible!

Thinking about what lies ahead

Over the past several months — months when I felt increasingly trapped at home due to a virus over which humans seem to have no control — I searched for some sort of meaning to it all. I certainly found it hard to write about travel and good times; I seriously considered renaming my blog.

Good Places in Long Ago Times came to mind, or Distant Memories of the Faraway.

Now that there are some hopeful signs that the world will once again open up, albeit not as quickly or totally as I would wish, I am consumed by thoughts of what the future will hold. Will we, months from now, still be hunkered down, focused on the perils that may await us if we travel too far and too fast, both figuratively and literally?

Have we learned anything over the past 13 months? And just what are the lessons that we could or should learn from this modern-day plague?

I, for one, have learned that being with others is always better than being apart. A year of separation from loved ones has not made us better. If anything, this year has induced in many of us a kind of stupor, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Some of those I know truly believe that we will be wearing masks in public for the rest of our days.

Can you imagine not ever again seeing a smile on the face of a stranger?

Others are still filled with fear for themselves, but mostly for loved ones and coworkers — and, yes, fear for the teachers, the caregivers, the first responders. It is a paralyzing thought that keeps them homebound and alone. That is far from the “good life” that I choose to embrace. There is much sadness around us these days.

Bitterness, anger, rebellion, distrust and angst — these are the symptoms of perilous times. There are medical authorities and social scientists who firmly believe that the collateral damage of this pandemic will constitute a growing future crisis of far-reaching proportions.

It was with all that in mind that my husband and I planned an early April visit to see relatives in Maine. I might add that we booked the trip only because we, and those we planned to visit, had been totally vaccinated, and because we had an airline credit that would cover our flight costs. But it had been far too long since we had seen and laughed with our cousins, who are very good friends as well as relatives.

We were all ready for a brief reunion. It has been a difficult year for all of us in individual ways, and we needed some respite in the form of togetherness. The four of us were together nearly two years ago for a glorious two weeks touring Portugal and the Azores, and we were eager to repeat that experience on home turf.

Masked travelers were no surprise; crowded airports were.

Flying out of Little Rock National at 7 a.m. was easy. There were few flights scheduled, fewer passengers waiting. The plane was small — 2×2 seating and half empty. But changing planes in Charlotte proved to be a totally different experience. Normally a large and busy airport, it was especially chaotic this time. We attributed the crowds to Spring Break and Easter travelers, but still we were surprised that although officials are still warning against unnecessary travel, so many would choose to fly.

The flight was filled — shoulder to shoulder, middle seats as well. We were greeted with a hand sanitizer packet, offered by a blue-gloved hand, not by smiles and words of welcome. There was to be no beverage service and no snacks. Along with seat belt and emergency oxygen instructions, we were admonished to keep our masks on for the entire duration of the flight. We settled in with our books for the next two and a half hours, noticing that even the in-flight magazine bore a “sanitized” label.

There were no huge crowds in Portland, Maine, our destination; just a steady stream of masked travelers. The mood was quiet, almost somber. Visitors to Maine from beyond the neighboring New England states who are not fully vaccinated still must provide proof of a negative test or undergo a voluntary 10-day quarantine. And masks are required still in all public places.

In our newly-adopted home state of Arkansas, the mask mandate and social distancing were relaxed by the governor effective March 30. However, many local businesses still required masks when we departed. We returned to a different world. Although we still carry our face masks with us, many of the signs have been removed from public places. I attended a meeting this past week that did not require them, and I was able to sit next to friends without three feet of space between chairs.

Coming home to relaxed rules is refreshing

Last night my husband and I joined a friend for dinner at a casual pizza place near our home. All the signs have been removed, and only one or two patrons entered with masks. Even most of the servers were unmasked and smiling. I asked about that, wondering if the younger, unvaccinated employees were nervous about increased exposure.

The answer: “No, not really. But would you like me to put on my mask?” So, the thought is still with us — with us all — that we have not yet returned to normal. More importantly, perhaps, none of us quite knows what normal means anymore. And we still receive somewhat conflicting advice from our leaders. We can’t help but wonder if we are moving too fast, or in the wrong direction as we hear more news reports about growing numbers of infections in other states.

For now at least, each one of us must set personal boundaries. I’m not sure what they will be for me, going forward. What I do know is that seeing the smiles on the faces of friends and family is important. And I look forward to the time when it will no longer be a question of wearing a mask or seeing a smile.

I still hope that the time will come sooner rather than later. I can now believe that the day is approaching when I can book a trip without also having an option if it is canceled. I look forward to making future memories in those faraway places, and to sampling, once again, all the good food that is waiting to be enjoyed.

No, I have decided not to rename the blog, but rather to continue to search out new experiences in interesting destinations.

In a year’s time . . .

Note: One year ago today, the World Health Organization upgraded the status of a spreading virus, dubbed COVID-19, to a global pandemic. That announcement changed our lives forever. Today, as I write this, approximately 118 million cases have been confirmed around the world, and 2.62 million individuals have died. The United States leads the world, unfortunately, in total deaths, almost 530,000 to date, but not in “deaths per million” of population. Yet, however, it is measured, this pandemic has been deadly. The good news, if there is any, is that nearly 70,000 million people worldwide are deemed to be fully recovered, and that a handful of vaccines are currently being administered around the globe. They seem to be effective in preventing serious illness and death. That fact alone is reason for hope. The number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths continues to decline, at least in the United States. The hope, as expressed today by leading medical authorities, is that perhaps by fall citizens of this country might expect a return to some sort of normalcy.

For me, that means a return to travel.

Just a little over one year has passed since I was first affected by COVID-19. The pandemic was not yet big news, but we were notified in February 2020 that a cruise we had booked for May of 2020from Tokyo to Vancouver, British Columbia, would be cancelled due to “an abundance of caution” surrounding the growing number of infections, on cruise ships as well as on land. All of us who lived through this past year know how the cancellations, shutdowns and stay-at-home orders progressed.

We had returned to the U.S. on Thanksgiving Day 2019, following a trip to the Mediterranean, and we had taken a short voyage to Mexico in January to celebrate an anniversary. Life looked good at the time, with many more trips already taking shape in our minds. We were confident that modern medicine and early warnings would be effective against the spread of a new virus, and that we would soon be traveling again.

How mistaken we were.

Little did we realize at the time what the coming months had in store. When our planned North Pacific crossing was canceled, we immediately began looking for other itineraries. We boldly booked several. Over the years, we have had to postpone other trips due to illness and we have cancelled others because of a simple change of plans. We have occasionally missed a flight; we have adjusted travel plans to adapt to changing conditions and reworked schedules based on circumstances beyond our control.

Our previous trips have been memorable. And we have the memories of those journeys. But this year, to date, we have had 11 planned cruises canceled by various cruise lines, the most recent just last week. As have others, we have accrued a handful of future cruise credits, rebooked some itineraries for the following year, and opted to have other deposits returned in cash. As have others, we had flights canceled as well, and we still have a handful of travel vouchers for future use. We are beginning to plan how we will use them.

In conversations with representatives of three separate cruise companies this week, we have been given little hope of being at sea again this summer. We remain hopeful about the fall, but we are not yet confident. We have to believe that our plans for 2022 will, indeed, materialize. Down deep, though, we hold on to the thought that, with the vaccine now available, we just might be able to walk up the gangplank of a ship for a quick getaway before year’s end. Maybe sooner? Some cruise lines still have May 31 marked as the date their schedule will resume. In the meantime, we have begun to plan some road trips within reasonable driving distance of our home.

And, because of the vaccine, we felt quite confident booking a flight to visit family in Maine at the end of the month. An island somewhere in the world continues to beckon us for a fall visit.

We look forward to the time when we all can venture out without fear to see family and meet friends, to enjoy restaurant meals and to take advantage of the cultural and educational opportunities all around us. There are many places we have not seen, and others we are eager to see again, many within a few hours of our home.

The truth is that staying at home has been hard, and not every journey has to be a long one. Road trips have their own distinct appeal. We’re looking forward to exploring more of Arkansas, our new home state.

But, when the infection rates come down, and a high percentage of the world’s population is vaccinated, watch out! We continue to hope that day comes soon, and you can bet we’re making plans right now to travel to those exotic destinations that have been waiting for us.

Are you?

Looking back . . .

During the past few months, I have spent many hours trying to organize travel photos and make sense of my travel notes and journals.

I have also spent hours poring over newly-discovered recipe books and cards saved by previous generations of family. They are nothing if not enlightening, filled with tasty treats meant for celebrating with family and friends, and also packed with ideas about how to “stretch” food enough to get through hard times. Some of them surprised me, and a few made me weep.

One — Fried Oatmeal — brought back childhood memories of what I thought at the time was the best breakfast ever, served hot and crispy from my grandmother’s cast iron frying pan. It was Fried Cornmeal Mush, the leftover “raw material” from a Sunday cornbread or stuffing dish or perhaps leftover breakfast grits from a previous morning. Served with butter and syrup, it was a favorite way to start a day. However, cold cereal was much more common!

This particular card — one of a collection of recipes in a box that was obviously a promotional effort for Gold Medal Brands — notes that “This is a good way to use left over porridge.” I could not help but remember my grandmother’s refrain, “Waste not, want not,” as I pored over other cards in the sturdy wooden box.

Interspersed with the printed cards, there are traditional Scandinavian treats, some no doubt passed down from generations past. There are Polish and Russian dishes with beets, cabbages and potatoes. Many are hearty and filling, healthful and full of vegetables, but not overloaded with meat. Some are simple egg dishes. The desserts, I found, tend to be less sugary than today’s versions, and many rely on fresh fruit and spice for flavor and punch rather than chocolate and refined sugar.

There are many recipes for sweets made rich with butter and cream. Some of the old recipes required spending hours in the kitchen, and intensive preparations for holiday observances. Others were quick and easy, no doubt meant for times when there were more important things to think about, when food counted only as simple sustenance.

Hand-written recipes sometimes had notations — “easy or fine, or from Aunt Ida, or Papa’s favorite,” and I have found interesting notations even in familiar well-used hard-cover cookbooks, the standard reference for any cook back in the day. One made me smile: “Too much work!” Another simply bore a single word: “NO.” Many of these recipes are reminiscent of “Sunday dinners” and holidays, and of life well-lived in small towns or on farms throughout the flyover states. That is my heritage.

Others of those tattered recipe cards, however, bear the stigma of more difficult times, when food and funds were scarce, resources and pantry reserves were slim and many of the men were off fighting wars in foreign lands. There are notes about sugar substitutes — sugar was one of the first products to be rationed during WWII. But rationing followed in 1943 for meat, butter, margarine, canned fish, cheese, canned milk, fats and oils. Fresh food was often in short supply simply due to the season or to transportation snags.

From the war years, there are numerous ideas for Jello molds, salads and simple puddings. And there are “ration recipes” for meats.

Celebrations were more somber and homemakers “made do” in innovative ways in the effort to use available food stocks and to preserve a sense of hope during those lean days. Epidemics, wars, weather, the economy and a shift from farms to cities all seemed to align against a comfortable existence during much of the 20th Century. But family life continued.

A “Hard Times” Recipe for Cinderella Crisps

The Secret: Magically turn ordinary white bread into extraordinary tea crisps. Scrumptious!

The Recipe:

6 slices trimmed white bread, each cut in 4 strips

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

2 2/3 cups (about) Baker’s Angel Flake Coconut

Using two forks, roll bread strips in sweetened condensed milk, coating all sides. Then roll in coconut. Place on well-greased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove at once from baking sheet. Makes about 24.

I will confess that this is one I have not, and probably will not, try. Please let me know if you do!

Moving on to New Experiences

Today I take it as a personal challenge to try to make healthful, good-tasting meals out of simple ingredients. I also have some recipe cards that became my “go-to” resource when I was a young bride with little kitchen experience to guide me. Perhaps not surprisingly, I still occasionally refer to them. I read recipe books with as much delight as the latest novels, but I tend to make up recipes as I go along, instead of adhering strictly to the directions. Although I like good food, I do not love spending unnecessary hours in the kitchen.

I collect recipes from my travels and love recreating the tastes of faraway places when I return home. I like to experiment with new flavors and seasonings, and I think meals should look appetizing, smell wonderful and taste great. Most of the time, I think meals should be prepared fresh, not pre-packaged or ordered as take out. I take as much delight in preparing a meal for two as I do planning a holiday open house. Those holiday gatherings have been in short supply this past year, haven’t they?

Perhaps before too many more special days pass, we will once again be able to celebrate together, with hugs and laughter, with old folks and babies, with new-found friends, and especially with family. This pandemic year has taken its toll. Hopefully we will get beyond it and look forward to the good times to come!

For now, it’s enough to remember.

Pizza — the ultimate comfort food?

My January/February issue of Food Network magazine arrived recently. Looking at the cover, I had to smile. Prominently displayed in mouthwatering color is a pizza with what appears to be some distinctly non-traditional toppings. I was eager to sit down with this new issue and explore ideas presented by some of my favorite television chefs.

And as I did just that on a chilly day when it was prudent to stay indoors, I was reminded of the pizzas I have ordered and consumed in faraway places . . . Here are some of my favorites from the previous few years of sampling good food in unique places! Pizza does indeed seem to have universal appeal!

Pizza, whether shared with friends, prepared at home, or ordered by the slice as a quick snack, always seems appropriate. The fact that it’s so versatile — and so varied — is a large part of its appeal. No matter how you enjoy your pizza, at home or abroad, with a soda, a glass of wine or a beer, chances are good that others will share your opinion and be willing to join you for a slice of goodness.

Because it’s still impossible to take to the skies, the seas or the highways across the globe, the next best thing — for me and for many others this year — has been to spend time in the kitchen, savoring new taste treats inspired by our globetrotting of the past. That has taken me, at least, on some unexpected journeys — recalling previous trips and wonderful food experiences — as well as into past times when life was at least as difficult as it is today and good food was hard to come by. I have become captivated by some of the dog-eared recipes in my grandmother’s recipe box.

More about those in coming days — It has been an insightful few weeks, and I’m eager to share some thoughts.

I realize how lucky I am to be alive today, in these times, as hard as it has been to be at home and not on the road during this pandemic. There’s a reason I chose to write about good food and far away places. Cooking and travel are both art forms in their individual ways. Each brings joy.

One of the travel realities that continues to surprise me is that it’s possible to find pizza on a menu almost anywhere on the globe. The “pandemic hours” that I spent organizing photos and notes of my travels have confirmed that good pizza is not confined by geography or defined by a particular culture, that the love of pizza transcends borders, and that it can be both a satisfying “street food” consumed on the run and a full meal elegantly presented. Or anything in between! Also, almost anything can become a pizza topping! From the delightfully simple basil and mozzarella-topped classic in a tiny Neapolitan trattoria to an oversize and overloaded game day pizza delivered direct to my doorstep, pizza is a beloved tradition, and a treat that only seems to gain favor with each passing year.

One shouldn’t miss the classic Pizza Margherita when visiting Naples! But there are many other pizza choices in other places. On our European trip in late 2019, we enjoyed pizza several times in distinctive locations, from a seaside restaurant with a stunning view of the Adriatic to a cozy small-town town eatery tucked into a centuries-old building in Pula, Croatia. Pizza is a staple at airports across the globe, and during this summer’s pandemic shutdown, a required motel stay in Texas brought us “no contact” pizza delivery from a local take-out-only chain pizza parlor. It was our only option, and we were happy to have it!

I also found among my photos a shot of the familiar Domino’s sign in Barcelona, with a crowd of people awaiting their own orders, testimony to pizza’s universality!

Dessert pizzas have also become popular, and they are definitely worth a try. In addition, I have discovered how much fun it can be to make pizza at home; not only is it a great way to introduce kitchen skills to younger children, but there is nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment that comes from creating a hot and satisfying meal out of leftovers and “refrigerator finds!”

No matter how you slice it, it’s entirely possible to enjoy pizza wherever you may roam. By the way, the magazine photo that attracted my attention was of a non-traditional Brussels Sprouts Pizza Carbonara by Chef Ina Garten. Instead of red sauce, it features a white Bechamel sauce, ricotta cheese, Italian pancetta and thinly-sliced Brussels sprouts. Here’s the recipe. It’s one I’m going to have to try.

A relapse of restlessness . . .

Mornings are chilly. Daylight comes later and is as apt to be dull and gray as bright and sunny. Dark descends early, and the glow of a fire in the hearth is welcome. But today marks the winter solstice, and the earth will once again slowly begin to reawaken after its winter rest. So, too, will our spirits. 

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This has been a long nine months — leaving a wealth of sadness, anger, distrust and uncertainty in the wake. I know I am not alone with the feeling that it just needs to be over so that we can all get on with living our lives the way we wish to live them. And, because the nightly newscasts now intersperse continuing Coronavirus reports and charges of election irregularities with the news of vaccine approvals and deliveries, we have  cause for hope. The vaccines may be the best holiday gift we could imagine.

For me, my future will once again hopefully include travel, dining out in the company of others when the mood strikes and gathering with groups of friends to share good times. I hope we will soon be able to greet family and friends with hugs rather than fist or elbow bumps, and put away the masks that hide our smiles.

I cannot wait. I am making plans. However, I am well aware that the return to a sense of normalcy will not be abrupt. I just hope that the path to that return can be relatively smooth.

Perhaps, sooner rather than later, the threat of COVID-19 will become just another memory, and we can all succumb to Spring Fever instead. During these dark and lonely months, we have tried to cope in ways that made sense to each of us individually. Perhaps now we can join together to pave the way back to a lifestyle that is punctuated with laughter and hope rather than fear.

Life is always uncertain, and if that is the great lesson of COVID-19, let’s all take heart that good times lie ahead. I anticipate than 2021 will be a good year, even though I recognize that there are continuing challenges to meet.

In my heart — and in my world — the time to plan new excursions is past due. My travel partner and I want to escape to an island for a bit of sea and sun; we want to be able to freely explore our new home state, savor the fun of out-of-the-way destinations, and discover unique “back alley” eateries. I am compiling a list!

I have satisfied my wanderlust somewhat these past few months by reviewing and editing the past several years of travel photographs, reliving memories and cataloging ideas for posts still to be written. It has only served, though, to increase my appetite for the next journey and for new destinations.

It helps that cruise companies and travel planners view spring as the season to offer reduced deposits, bargain fares, new itineraries and great incentives. They’re all very tempting, but the reality is that travel plans are still tenuous, and the disappointment of more cancelled cruises would be almost too much to bear.

So, even as I ramp up the planning for trips that lie ahead, I remain sensible enough to know that for the next several weeks, perhaps months, my travel is apt to remain virtual. I will, however, post weekly photos and share some stories of past travels just for the fun of it. 

The good food? Well, that can be found almost anywhere, and staying at home has proved to be a way rediscover the goodness and the joy of home cooking. I recently found some old family recipes, saved from the hard times of long ago. So there will be stories of them as well. And some of them may surprise you.

When the world settles down a bit, I have compiled a variety of travel tips for anyone who is ready to pack bags and head off to new experiences. I hope you’ll join me!

Ring those bells . . .

A random Facebook post from a faraway friend captured my imagination this past week. And now it has become a “cause” because I can’t seem to help getting caught up in grand ideas that are designed to bring people together in quirky, frivolous ways. Great things often come from small and simple acts. This time it seems a lot of others have joined in with enthusiasm. I hope it lasts, and I hope it grows.

It has been reported that the effort was begun by a housewife and “mum” in the U.K. who thought it would be a good memory for her children in years to come. I learned about it via several Facebook posts, among them one from a relative in Norway; and the word is spreading fast!

Just as the balcony singing across Italy seemed so spontaneous and emotionally uplifting in the terrible, early days of the pandemic, this recent request for citizens of the world to gather on their front porches at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve strikes an emotional chord with me. I want to be a part of it. I want to hear bells ringing from every doorstep on my street. Then I want to watch the television news coverage of bells ringing in other time zones and in other nations. It will restore my faith that people everywhere — from Capetown to Chicago, From Anchorage to Ankara, from Dublin to Denver are more alike than they are different, in the words of Maya Angelou. I want to celebrate with those people on apartment balconies and front porches all across the world. I am gathering up my bells!

Does anyone remember Hands Across America?

It was 1986. It was a BIG IDEA. Organized by USA for Africa, the same organization that produced the star-studded video concert We Are the World in 1985, Hands Across America was designed to underscore the need for funding to fight devastating famine in Africa, and also to address hunger and homelessness in the U.S.

The thought of people from all walks of life clasping hands to form a human chain stretching from the West Coast to the East to highlight the plight of those who needed help was more than I could resist. I became an early supporter. It was conceived as a benefit effort, not only to address problems but to be a ray of hope for those who had little else to sustain them. The 80s were difficult times for many Americans and for the world, although the sting of those years has faded over time.

The route was designated and mapped, and for a small donation, individuals were assigned a place to be at a specific hour — 3 p.m. Eastern time, May 25, or noon Pacific time. It was a Sunday. I gathered up my family, including my husband and young son plus several equally spirited friends. We drove about 30 minutes to be at our designated spot along a highway not far from our suburban Dallas neighborhood. We arrived shortly before 2 p.m. to find only a few others scattered along the roadway. I remember being somewhat disappointed that the crowd wasn’t as large as I had hoped.

But, as happened in other communities, we joined hands at the appointed hour and stood in solidarity under the Texas sun for a cause that was born from a dream, a cause we believed had the potential to change the world. We stretched our line along the roadway as far as possible. It was reported that there were breaks in the line throughout the nation, but in a cornfield in Iowa, in the geographic center of the United States, 16,000 people gathered. There were throngs in New York, in California, and in Indianapolis, where the Indy 500 was rained out but people stood in the rain for another reason.

It is said that long-haul truckers honked as they passed the lines along the country’s highways. It is said that a few stopped and joined the chain for brief moments. In some small towns, church bells rang out as neighbors gathered along their streets, one hand in another. And anyone who participated felt uplifted by it all.

President Ronald Reagan joined hands with others at the White House and then-Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill brought the U.S. Capitol into the chain. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton joined in in Little Rock, and scores of entertainers lent their names and their support to the effort. A theme song, Hands Across America, was broadcast simultaneously from radio stations coast to coast. For 15 minutes or so on one day in 1986, millions of people came together in a most unusual way.

Even though the actual human chain did not span the 3,000 plus miles as intended, it is estimated that more than five million individuals participated, perhaps as many as 6.5 million. Though there were empty spots along the route, it is also said that if those who joined the effort could have been equally spaced, the line would have stretched from coast to coast, and the effort was termed a success by the organizers, raising more than $15 million after expenses. Many of the participants donated more than the stipulated fee for the privilege of joining total strangers to see an audacious idea take shape.

So it is this year. It’s an outrageous request to ask people across the globe to step onto their front porches Christmas eve to perform a symbolic act — “to spread Christmas spirit and help Santa fly his sleigh” — with no thought of reward. But it’s also inspiring, isn’t it?

I want to hear bells echoing throughout my neighborhood the evening of December 24, and I want to see news reports of millions of people in scores of other countries shaking their own bells with an energy that could change the world.

Is that too fanciful a dream? Perhaps, but I hope not. Even if it doesn’t shake the world, perhaps it can open hearts, spark a new hopefulness, contribute to a happier holiday, and become the source of lasting smiles for many who have precious little to smile about this year.

So, enlist your neighbors, spread the word to friends and family, join neighborhood and online groups that are springing up to support what has become known as “The Christmas Eve Jingle 2020.”

Get those bells ready!

At the very least, perhaps it will be a fond memory, and provide a unique story for future grandmothers to tell their grandchildren in years to come.

We all know that 2020 has been a tough year. We all want the coming year to be better. And, no matter what holiday or holy day one celebrates this December, the year is coming to an end. Each of us must now look ahead to 2021. We cannot escape the passage of time, and we cannot turn back the calendar to a date that was more pleasant or more “normal.” All we can do is move on, so why not begin the process of moving ahead with a bell in each hand and new purpose in our hearts? It’s up to each one of us to make a difference.

I believe in hope and I know that we could all use a new measure of hope this season.

I remember Hands Across America, I remember We Are the World, and I want to be a witness as another Big Idea comes alive!