Shmoozing With the Word Mavens


When the Weather Outside Is Sweaty

Northeast on Fire! Massive Heat Wave Bearing Down! No Relief in Sight! When summer comes, TV weather people shout these teasers at us, warning us to take shelter in air-conditioned libraries, avoid caffeinated drinks, and check on our elderly neighbors.

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 1.25.55 PMIt has to hit 90-plus degrees for three days in a row to be labeled an official heat wave, and we’ve had two so far this summer. It’s been sticky, steamy and stormy and we’ve lost our Internet service, but as the weather people keep reminding us, it doesn’t compare to the Snowmageddon of 2014.

We really shouldn’t kvetch about the heat, but we will because we’re shvitzing, which is the Yiddish word for “sweating heavily.” Shvitzing isn’t perspiring or having a moist glow; it’s sweating so much that you need to reapply your deodorant or change your shirt before dinner.

Those who live with us might argue that it doesn’t matter what the weather conditions are outside: We’re always complaining that we’re hot and shvitzing. We are women of a certain age, and our internal temperature control is out of whack. That’s probably why we like to sit inches away from an air conditioning vent.
An advertising banner from the Camac Baths.

An advertising banner from the Camac Baths.

The Jewish people have been sweating for thousands of years, and we’re tired of it. When Eastern European Jews immigrated to America, they brought the shvitz – a place to sweat – with them to their new neighborhoods. In 1929, Alexander Lucker opened the Camac Bath House in Philadelphia. (It’s now  the site of the 12th Street Gym. People still shvitzing!) At the bath houses, men would relax and socialize in steam room. Sweating was considered a good thing.

We prefer to sweat in private; we take refuge at home, meticulously following tips from the American Red Cross and the National Weather Service to “slow down, don’t engage in strenuous activities, and drink plenty of fluids.” Although we were reluctant to follow the directive from Homeland Security to make an emergency evacuation plan for the family or the instructions from the attorney to draw up a living will, we have no problem lounging on the sofa drinking ice tea and not cooking dinner – but we still have to provide something.

In the dog days of summer, we look for quick, cold dinner options. Sometimes we do bagels and lox, the traditional, cold brunch that can easily stand in anytime. Or takeout sushi. Or the Seinfeld big salad – with olives, cheese, almonds and whatever else is in the pantry. Sometimes we even say, “You’re on your own. Have a bowl of cold cereal.”

In the days before central air conditioning and microwaves, our mothers had to come up with summer dinners that didn’t involve turning on the oven and heating up the  house. Salmon croquettes, tuna salad and egg salad would make an appearance all too often. On some nights, our moms would cook on the stovetop, and we’d enjoy buttered, boiled Creamettes with those salads.

We’re not complaining. We know we are blessed with central air, microwave ovens and automatic ice dispensers. And we’re grateful not to be among the 2-3 percent of the population that has hyperhidrosis, the medical term for excessive sweating no matter what the weather or physical activity. Hyperhidrosis does not describe your husband when he comes in from jogging. People who suffer from severe cases of hyperhidrosis can be so sweaty that it’s hard for them to “hold a pen, grip a car steering wheel, or shake hands,” according to WebMD.

We read that other causes of excessive sweating include diabetes, hyperthyroidism and a high arsenic level. If someone is slowly poisoning you with arsenic, being sweaty is the least of your worries.

As long as it stays hot outside, writing this essay is enough activity for us for the day. We’re going to pour ourselves a cold drink, sit quietly on the couch, and wait for Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz to announce: Killer Heat Wave Ending!



The Internet Afterlife
June 1, 2014, 9:26 am
Filed under: culture, Current Events, technology | Tags: , , , , , ,

Heaven is often depicted as a place in the sky where everything floats on beautiful clouds and people don’t age.

heaven 8

Is it a coincidence that the Cloud where our electronic footprints dwell is a lot like this place?

 

On Facebook, it appears that time stands still. When you click through a friend’s albums, you might see photos of a Bat Mitzvah girl smiling shyly with her new braces, a fabulous trip to an Eastern European country, and kids posing by the lake at a summer camp. In reality, that teen just graduated from college, the Eastern European country is now seven independent nations, and that summer camp is a housing development.

In the actual world when time marches on, you can see the Closed sign on the facade of the restaurant and the For Sale sign on the storefront. You notice the occasional abandoned car on the highway. No so on the information superhighway.

heaven 5

In the virtual world –  what’s been abandoned is invisible. There’s no clue that things have changed. Online you’ll still find:

  • reviews of restaurants that have gone out of business,
  • blogs that have lain dormant since the author’s enthusiasm for breeding dachshunds waned, and
  • online stores that appear to be in business until you fill your cart and try to enter your credit card on the last screen.

Likewise, when people die, they live on in cyberspace. This got us wondering: What happens to people’s user names and secret passwords when they are no longer users? Family members will eventual divvy up their possessions, clean out their closets and close their online bank accounts, but will they remove the TripAdvisor review of the bad mule ride down the Grand Canyon and the Goodreads review of Tom Clancy’s spy thriller? Probably not.  Will they take down their loved one’s Facebook page?

facebook

It turns out that Facebook has a set of guidelines for this eventuality. When someone passes away, his or her Facebook page can be memorialized. This is different from closing your account or creating a Facebook alias because you’ve posted too many photos of your drunken self-holding a red plastic cup. According to Facebook, memorializing a page means it can be viewed but it can’t be logged into or changed. However, “anyone can send private messages to the deceased person.” Facebook notes, once a page is memorialized, they will take care of the awkward possibility that you’ll get a birthday reminder or a suggestion of “people you may know” for someone who is deceased.

All this playing online makes us realize that we’ve left quite a trail on the Internet. In fact, when we Googled ourselves, as we are wont to do, we got 22,500 results in 0.55 seconds – 8 pages documenting 14 years of writing. Our Passover reminiscences, parenting advice, and musings about kugel are filling up quite a few clouds out there in cyberspace. For writers like us, this is heaven.

P.S. We are proud that we are still blogging as The Word Mavens. This is our 106th post. You’re reading this, and we’re still here. We have not gone out of business or lost our enthusiasm for kibitzing with you.

 

 



Be Careful What You Click For
May 8, 2014, 5:02 pm
Filed under: culture, technology, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

We prefer shopping solo. Sometimes we drag our husbands along and it’s not as much fun as we think it’ll be. They have a shorter attention span, and we don’t like anyone looking over our shoulder at the price tag. We’re not fond of shopping in small boutiques where enthusiastic saleswomen assure us that “it looks fabulous on you.” We don’t even go into those fancy stores that put you in the dressing room and bring you a few precious items one at a time. We’ve stood naked while the sales woman hollers to the front of the store, “Do we have it in an extra large?”

We used to think that shopping online was a boon to us solo shoppers – where we could in peace at any hour of the day or night, but it turns out someone is always watching.

We were in the market for a new food processor last winter – and yes, we visited a few websites to compare features and prices. We bought one. For six months after, we were targeted by ads for jumbo-size food processors, battery-powered food processors, and mini-chop food processors. It wouldn’t stop nagging us to make a choice.

When you shop online, every click indicates interest. The computer doesn’t differentiate between window shopping and serious shopping. It doesn’t know that we already made our purchase. How many food processors do we need?

Screen shot 2014-05-08 at 4.58.04 PMWe don’t always remember what’s in the back of our closet. We’ve been known to walk into a department store, pick up a purple shirt and buy it because we liked it. It was perfect. We’d come home and find that we already owned one exactly like it. There’s less chance of this happening when we shop online. That electronic reminder that tells us that “customers who bought this also bought…” is a clue to us not to purchase the same shirt again.

In the old days, dress shopping for an occasion meant making many trips to specialty stores, where we’d decide if what looked good on the hanger looked good on us. Now we wonder if what looks good on the laptop will look good on us – and if the color described online as “dove grey” will be more “mud brown” when we take it out of the FedEx package.

We have a friend who bought a fancy dress from Bloomingdales.com. She felt a little guilty paying full retail price, but look what she saved on gas. The purchase was complete and gone from her mind – until her computer thought otherwise. The next day, a targeted ad offered the exact same dress at a lower price. Our friend couldn’t resist. She bought it and planned to return the first. The nightmare continued the next day when her computer offered up a third dress at an even lower price. She took the bait. She’s now busy printing out return labels, filling out the forms, and driving to the post office to mail Dress 1 and Dress 2 back. It would have been easier to say yes to the dress at an actual brick and mortar store.

Screen shot 2014-05-08 at 4.58.18 PMDon’t make the mistake of shopping online for something sketchy. We thought we were searching privately with no one looking over our shoulder, but we were wrong. We asked Google how to skirt the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba, and now we’re inundated with offers to join the Communist party, buy Cuban cigars, and purchase cases of rum. We peeked at our daughter’s screen and saw that her targeted ads were Victoria’s Secret bras, fancy chocolate, and tickets to Coachella. And we thought she was studying for finals.

We try to keep our online personal information to a minimum, but our husbands might feel bad if we didn’t tag them as our spouses. Likewise, we won’t get invited to the reunion if we don’t list our high school graduation year. The downside is that we are getting ads for teeth whitening, 55-plus communities, and loan consolidation. Our computer has figured out that we are women of a certain age.

We used to have real friends – just a handful – not 367 Facebook friends. We would see them in person and talk to them using our voice, not 140 characters. If we told a friend that we liked her new glasses, it was simply an exchange of pleasantries – without a paper trail. Today, if we click “like” on a friend’s Puerto Vallarta vacation photos, we’re inundated with ads for Mexican hotels.

We don’t enjoy being typecast as middle-aged moms who drive Subarus to Macys to buy Spanx, so we’ve been trying to figure out how to outsmart our computer. Technical advice, like clearing our cache and giving back our cookies makes us nervous.

So once in a while, we click on some things that are out of character. Just yesterday we searched for youth hostels in Hamburg, Germany, and thong underwear in size XS. We can’t wait to see what our computer wants us to purchase tomorrow.

 



We Won’t Be Caught Short
April 19, 2014, 2:23 pm
Filed under: culture, jewish food | Tags: , , , , , ,

In a recent Passover article, The New York Times reported that gefilte fish was in short supply this year. During this past harsh winter, the Great Lakes – where gefilte fish roam free – were frozen with four feet of ice that was slow to thaw, making it difficult for fisherman to catch white fish.

Large companies like Manischewitz were spared any shortage because it buys its fish up to a year in advance, freezing it to mix later with fresh fish. But delis and small gourmet purveyors, who don’t have the buying power, had trouble meeting their customers’ demand for their ubiquitous Pesach appetizer.

In our last blog, we wrote about the abundance of products in the supermarket. It’s ironic that this week we’re writing about products that are in short supply.

 

shelf

In the run up to Rosh Hashanah, when noodle kugels are on the horizon, no one wants to get caught without the 12-ounce bags of fine egg noodles that their family prefers. God forbid we should have to use wide noodles. We ensure our kugel’s integrity by stocking up on ingredients way ahead of time. (Maybe that’s why we always have a spare jar of crushed pineapple in the pantry).

Sometimes having too many choices creates a shortage. There are 12 varieties of bagels at the local store, but when we come up to the counter, why is the bin of poppy seed bagels always empty?

bagels

“They’ll be out of the oven in 7 minutes,” the cashier tells us. We can’t wait, so we’ll buy “everything” bagels and scrape off everything but the poppy seeds.

We were tempted to scrape the salt off the bagels this past winter to melt the ice on our driveways. Rock salt is another commodity that can be in short supply. During the recent polar vortex, hardware stores ran out and news reporters were kept busy, telling us where to run and buy the few remaining bags. Then they televised the crowds rushing to grab that last bag of salt – like the moms who line up at Toys R Us before Christmas to snag a Sparkle Eyes Barbie.

Other items are in short supply because we’re the only ones asking for them. We’re not looking for typewriter ribbons or film for cameras. We know these items are obsolete. We’re talking about products we’ve been using for a long time, which are suddenly hard to replenish. They’ve gone out of fashion right before our eyes, just as we use up the last drop.

Luckily, we can still go online and search.  We just need our reading glasses to shop for mothballs, roll-on deodorant, shoe polish, and a certain brand of men’s tightie-whities that are the kind “that fit the best.” That husband won’t be tempted by Calvin Klein’s athletic-fit, pro-stretch boxer briefs.

deodorant

When we googled “food shortages” to find out why the supermarket was low on chocolate chip cookies, we ended up on websites run by survivalists. They warned all good Americans – in supersized font and red, white and blue type – to stockpile seeds and water purification tablets and build backyard shelters to prepare for the coming apocalypse.

Forget canned goods and jugs of water. If we’re going to stockpile anything, it’s our favorites. We know what we love and don’t want to run out. In fact, we’ve already put in a supply of coffee and coffee filters, jars of hearts of palm (a favorite snack food in our house), Trader Joe’s chocolate bars with cookie and cocoa swirl filling, large bottles of Pinot Grigio, and Kelloggs Shredded Mini-Wheats. We may not have drinking water when the apocalypse comes, but we’ll have good snacks.



Pesach’s Coming: We Have Way More Than Four Questions…

We remember when macaroons only came in vanilla and chocolate. Now the supermarket display is stocked with chocolate almond, chocolate dipped, chocolate chip, chocolate chunk, and “doubley chocolate gluten-free.”

pesach

 

Choosing one is almost as confusing as deciding whether our teeth need the toothpaste with “advanced whitening” or “tartar protection.”

We’ve been known to stand before the drugstore shampoo display paralyzed with indecision. Is our hair fine or limp? Do we need “Truly Relaxed” or “Curl Control?” Mostly, we’re just glad to wake up and find that we still have hair. We should probably go with “Age Defy,” which promises to “turn back the strands of time.”

These days, there are more choices than ever –and it’s both wonderful and exhausting. We understand how Russian immigrants, for whom shopping used to mean standing in a bread line, felt when they entered an American supermarket for the first time and were bewildered by the variety and abundance of consumer goods.

Shopping requires some soul-searching. To buy chicken broth, we have to weigh the relative evils of fat, salt, chemicals and chickens that haven’t been allowed to roam free. The problem is solved when we find a box that promises none of the above – at twice the cost. We also have to debate the merits of tried and true vs. something new. That turns out to be easy: The brand-new, “light whole wheat Bran Matzos” don’t even tempt us. We’ll stick with the plain kind.

After we navigate the grocery aisles, we realize that with Pesach coming, we have waaay more than four questions:

1. Do we have enough room to include Uncle Harold’s “lady friend” this year?
2. Where exactly should we put that orange on the seder plate?
3. Will our family want the same-old haroset or would they enjoy an exotic Sephardic version?
4. Should we finally buy new haggadot or use the raggedy old ones.

There are thousands of haggadot in existence – from an ecological haggadah that asks us to think about the four trees to a feminist haggadah that focuses on the contributions of Miriam, Sarah, Rachel and other women in Jewish history. Other haggadot themes include LGTB, interfaith, and hip-hop (for those who want their Jewish tunes written by rap artists). The 30-Minute Seder haggadah caters to those who want to nibble the gefilte fish sooner rather than later.

There’s even a new edition of the Maxwell House Passover Haggadah, which more than 50 million people have used since it was first printed in the 1930s. It’s considered the longest-running sales promotion in advertising history. On the inside cover it asks three questions: Do we want Master Blend, Breakfast Blend or Original Roast? Dayenu.

While we’re all in favor of diversity, we prefer to stick with the haggadot we pieced together through the years. We copied pages with our favorite passages, added in catchy songs from preschool, and deleted the parts we didn’t like. We’ve always disliked reading the section about the “four sons.” How dare they call one of the kids simple!  There is one chief advantage to hosting the seder: We get to choose the haggadah. As the most famous Pharaoh, Yul Brenner, said, “So let it be written; so let it be done.”

When we were young, the choices – both secular and religious – were few. Watching TV meant walking over to the set and turning the channel from ABC to CBS to NBC. Three channels not three hundred. Buying sneakers meant choosing between Keds and Converse, and buying coffee meant instant or perked. For jeans, it was bell-bottom or straight leg.

Now we can’t buy sneakers until we decide if we are going to use them for tennis, running or walking. (Go for cross-trainers if you’re indecisive.) Buying a cup of coffee requires weighing the merits of venti vs. grande, cream vs. nonfat soy, and fair trade vs. exploitation. Shopping for jeans demands self-assessment: How do we know if we would look better in high-waisted, hip-hugging or low-rise? The online site we turned to for help asked us if we were shaped like a pear, apple or banana. At least we’re not an ugli fruit.

Passover was simpler then, too. There seemed to be just one recipe for haroset; it had apples and walnuts, not dates and pistachios and ginger. There was just one cup on the table for Elijah. You bought the big bottle of Manischewitz Concord Grape and didn’t worry if it paired well with roasted chicken or was perfect with salty fish appetizers.

Miriam's Cup; a not-so-new addition

Miriam’s Cup; a not-so-new addition

Don’t get us wrong. We appreciate having lots of choices, but we do get tired of making them. And we know we’re not the only ones stressed out by the abundance of options. Maybe that’s why a number of manufacturers are reintroducing “classic” and “original” versions of their products.

This Passover, we’ll make it easy for ourselves, and we’ll pass over the “new and improved” super-tasty matzah, the “bigger and better” Pesachdik granola bars, and the “self-cooking” chicken. We’ll stick with tradition.



Let Them Eat Hamantashen

Purim is this Sunday, March 16. While we like the carnivals and the costumes, we love the hamantashen – both baking them and eating them.

According to the world-famous, super useful, really fun to read Dictionary of Jewish Words, hamantashen literally means “Haman’s hats.” Haman was the bad guy in the story of Purim. An advisor to King Ahasuerus of ancient Persia, he hatched a plot to kill the Jews. Queen Esther and her righteous uncle, Mordecai, were the good guys. Esther foiled the plot and saved the day. Spoiler alert: The king was in love with Esther.

Queen Esther depicted in a mosaic portrait by artist Lilian Broca

Queen Esther depicted in a mosaic portrait by artist Lilian Broca

During Purim services, the Megillat Esther, the scroll of Esther, is read in synagogue. It’s customary to make noise – clap your hands, stomp your feet, and twirl your grager (a small noisemaker) – whenever Haman is mentioned, to drown out his evil name.

It’s also traditional to bake and eat hamantashen, triangular-shaped cookies filled with fruit. Traditional flavors include apricot, cherry, mun (Yiddish for poppy seed), and lekvar (the Hungarian word for jam that has become synonymous with prune butter). We’ve been known to fill hamantashen with dark chocolate chips, too.

We kvell when Yiddish words show up in the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee. In 1983, the winningest word was “Purim” correctly spelled by Blake Giddens from New Mexico! In 2007, contestants were asked to spell lekvar and in 2013, knaidel (spelled just the way we spell it, incidentally) was the winning word. Maybe next year it’ll be hamantashen!

hamantashen2

Hamantashen are fun to make, and a great project to do with kids.

We’ve expounded on hamantshen before, but were inspired to write this post because we saw many hamantashen recipes on the Internet, and not all of them were great. As experienced Jewish cooks, we can’t resist dishing out our advice.

1. Don’t use regular jelly or jam. It will melt and run out during the baking. Use pie filling fruits, the kind that comes in cans, or fruit “butters,” like prune butter or apricot butter. (Apple butter is too thin.)

2. Don’t roll out the dough. Many recipes for hamantashen instruct you to roll out the dough and cut circles with a cookie cutter. Anyone who has ever made sugar cookies/Christmas cookies/Hanukkah cookies knows that rolling out dough can be challenging. The dough sticks to the counter and the rolling pin. It’s difficult to lift the wiggly shapes of dough onto the cookie sheet. The kids start to complain that baking together isn’t really fun. We are here to tell you that rolling out the dough is UNNECESSARY. It is much easier to simply make a small ball of dough (meatball-sized) and flatten it with the palm of your hand. This gives you the circle shape that is perfect for filling and folding into a triangle. Our friend the Bible Belt Balubusta – an experienced and creative Jewish educator, agrees with us.

3. Don’t overfill them. As delicious as that lekvar is, you really should only put a scant teaspoon of fruit in each one. Fold the three sides of dough up and pinch the corners together to ensure that filling does not leak out.

Many hamantashen recipes are pareve – meaning that they contain neither milk nor meat, which allows those who keep kosher to enjoy them with any meal. We’ve found that using cooking oil (instead of dairy butter) gives a more cookie-like, crunchy texture, but the raw dough can be too crumbly to shape well. Using margarine,  butter or a combination of solid and liquid fats gives a more easily shaped dough. If your dough is too dry or crumbly, add a few teaspoons of liquid. We like orange juice, which imparts a fresh citrus vibe. Modern pareve cooks can also add in almond or soy milk.

Hamantashen Recipe

2/3 cup margarine or solid vegetable shortening (like Crisco)

1/3 cup oil

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 cups flour

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream the margarine or shortening, oil, sugar and eggs. (You can use an electric mixer to amke this part easier) Mix in the baking powder, vanilla and salt. Add the flour to this mixture one cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl until it forms dough. If you need to, add a teaspoon or two of milk or orange juice to get the dough to come together.

 Use our secret “flatten a ball method” to make dough circles.

Filling:   Fill with your favorite pie filling (if you stick to our recommendations and only use a teaspoon or so per hamantashen, one can of each flavor filling should be plenty.) We like Solo brand cake and pastry filling, which we find in the baking aisle of our supermarket.

Fold them into triangles and bake until brown on the edges, about 18-22 minutes. They won’t look completely brown like a traditional cookie, just brown on the bottom and tips of the triangle.

 Makes 1-1/2 to 2 dozen medium-sized hamantashen – bigger than an Oreo, smaller than a catcher’s mitt.

Have a good nosh!

mun



A Gift for Me!
February 11, 2014, 8:49 pm
Filed under: culture, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,

It seems like no one sends anything by U.S. mail anymore. If you have urgent news, you pick up the phone. If you’re under 35, you text it. Getting the mail just isn’t as much fun as it used to be.

Today’s mail brought three credit card offers, one bill (the rest come electronically), two ads from local real estate agents asking to list our houses, and brochures for day camps that our kids have aged out of.  

Where are the handwritten thank you notes and the “wish you were here” colorful postcards from friends on exotic trips?

gifts

It’s been a long time since an actual party invitation or a beautifully wrapped birthday gift was delivered to the front door. While we appreciate the evites and Amazon gift cards that are “delivered” to our inbox, we miss their three-dimensional, touchable versions. It’s not the same when you have to print out the gift or invitation to hold it. Every now and then a package arrives and we get excited: Did someone send us a present? What could it be? What store is it from? Then we remember that it’s the replacement refrigerator filter that we had to go online and order from GE.com.

We miss getting surprise packages in the mail and, evidently, we’re not the only ones. There are dozens of gift/product/special thing of the month clubs – and if you sign up, your mail carrier will come bearing a fun gift each month.

gifts2We considered signing up for a Fruit of the Month club. Remember those crates of oranges that would arrive from Florida? Harry & David started it all when they took over the orchard business from Samuel Rosenberg, their dad. They grew the unique Comice pear, which was delicious and prized by fruit lovers. When the Depression hit, they needed to find new customers, so they started a mail-order fruit and gift basket company. They remain the kings of the Fruit of the Month clubs.

We like to buy our fruit at the supermarket, so we decided to check out some other “of the month” clubs.

For $10 a month, BirchBox.com offers high-end cosmetic samples “curated” just for us. If we sign up, a handsome box filled with soap, eye shadow, mini-hairsprays, hydrating lipsticks and luxe shampoos will arrive at our door. We don’t even have to be beautiful to join their club: We can shuffle to the door with bed head, wearing our grungy bathrobes, to pick up the gift boxes. But unless the company includes its $85 anti-aging Wrinkle Resist Plus Pore Minimizer Moisturing Serum in our boxes, we’re not signing up. We need more than their Face Rejuvenator to rejuvenate ourselves.

The Dog Treat of the Month Club offers a “full pound of doggie-deliciousness” in the form of fresh-baked gourmet dog treats. Fido will geta  new shape and flavor each month. The club promises that your dog will be so excited to taste this amazing treat. But wait a minute: The doggie treats cost twice as much as the cosmetic box, and we don’t have a dog.

Feeling neglected, we checked out the Cookie of the Month Club. Compared with the gourmet dog biscuits, which come in orange and yellow and pink and are dipped in sprinkles and shaped like flowers, the plain brown cookies – meant for human consumption – didn’t stack up.

The Pickle of the Month Club  delivers jars of pickles to your front door. You can choose among their sweet, sour, bread and butter, and spicy varieties. At $18 a jar, it adds up to almost $300 for a year of pickles. We prefer to go to our local deli and have our pickle with a nice turkey sandwich. It has a whole pickle bar where you can spear your own, and it’s free. Life is good.

The Hot Sauce, Puzzle, Jerky, and Candle of the Month options didn’t interest us either. All are available and looking for new members for their exclusive clubs, but we don’t want to join and go to a lot of unnecessary meetings.

At the bottom of the list, for those who can’t make a decision, is the Grab Bag of the Month club. Even the description sounds bad: “This club gets items out of our warehouse and into your hands at a great value.” There are no photos of the products you’ll receive, just a question mark. A disclaimer says, “This club is not for picky people. It is for those who love all foods or for groups of people who will eat anything.” As Groucho Marx said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

gifts6We agree that the Coffee of the Month club is tempting. We think that a week of hazelnut followed by Zanzibar gold and then Hawaiian kona would be great, but whom are we fooling? After a month of all that variety, we’d be longing for our tried and true. We’re particular about our coffee and we know what we like. Ellen gets Zabar’s coffee delivered to her house; Joyce gets her dark roast shipped from Costa Rica. We like to think we’re adventurous, but don’t mess with our morning joe.

Most of the clubs offer 3-, 6- and 12-month options. While we love the idea of a present coming in the mail, we think 12 months of anything could be too much. No matter how unusual it is at the start, after you open it three or four times it will become the same old, same old. It’s like people shouting “Surprise! Surprise!” at you over and over again.

Come to think of it, we have enough surprises courtesy of our aging memories.

If we order a box of chocolate-covered strawberries right now, between now and the time it arrives, we’re likely to forget that we ordered it. We’ll stand at the front door, look down at the package and wonder who sent it. Then we’ll exclaim: “Oh, it’s from me!” and dive into this thoughtful, perfect gift.

 Maybe we’ll even write ourselves a thank you note, put a stamp on it, and send it in the mail. We’ll be delighted when it arrives.

gifts 5




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