Masks Off

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Cautiously I have taken off my mask! So have most of my friends and acquaintances. I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with it off–but carrying one or two with me.

Now I miss being greeted by a Betty Boop or some piece of information I didn’t know about someone, such as their mask with a college emblem in the corner, a profession, favorite color or flower or that they liked butterflies, song birds or crabs. Or how patriotic they are wearing stripes and stars, the state flag or family crest. Then there were masks for all seasons. I liked the Christmas ones best. Tie-dyes, words and mottos, company IDs. Innovative, creative, I’ll say no more.

Hopefully this is the end and we can stop reading eyes.

Now, however, I can appreciate what some people in other countries have had to put up with where there has been or is fog, contaminated air from fumes or heavy smoke, some coal miners. Television sometimes has brought us scenes of people such as the Japanese, Chinese or other Far Eastern countries where masks are worn often. Or a volcano has erupted and masks are urged. And, I might say that in some countries women are required to wear veils that could be compared in a sense to masks. So although this may be the end for one phase, I hope it has not been a practice session for a time we too might have to wear a mask for other reasons. I think that is called “thinking proactive.”

Mister Umbrella Man Quiz

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Mister Umbrella Man, Stories About Inventions by Frances Altman

ISBN 13:978-0692400227           10:0692400222

“Mister Umbrella Man” is a collection of thirteen stories about inventions we all know! Some were invented by an individual. Others were the collaboration of several inventors or companies.  “Chef Potato Chip, “Doctor Peanut Butter” and “Balloons, Balloons” are among the true stories. Each is  given a fiction-like treatment  to allow the reader  to be beside the inventor as he brings his idea to a reality.   You may have already used or eaten one of these inventions.  But sadly the inventor’s name may long ago have been forgotten. 

            Teachers Discussion Guidelines

Grades  3-5

After reading  “Mister Umbrella Man,  Stories About Inventions”  use these questions to start a discussion with your students about the book .  (“Mister Umbrella Man, ” is available in paperback or Kindle,

Have you ever tried to invent something?  Was it a food item?  A toy or game? What kind of success did you have? 

In the Forward to “Mister Umbrella Man” the word “evolve” is explained.  What inventions in the book  “evolved” from similar inventions?  Think about products today that may have evolved from other products?

Have you ever played with a paperclip and twisted it into another similar product for holding paper together?  Could a piece of wire be twisted into a small key?

What kind of an attitude do you think an inventor should have?  Should he or she be curious?  Should the inventor be rich or poor?  How long should a person persevere before they give up?

Name several other characteristics that an inventor might need?

Was wearing their boots a good way for B.F. Goodrich Company  to test their boots?  What might be another way to test a new product or  invention?

“Mister Umbrella Man” describes inventions of earlier years.  Look around your home or school room and describe an invention that you may be using now, or recently obtained, or heard about.

Some of the inventions mentioned in the book appeared to be made for fun activities.  Name one or two.  Were they invented for fun or for other purposes?  

Whenever an inventor invents a new product, he/she applies to the government  for a “patent.”  What does a patent do for the inventor? 

Sometimes you may hear a person  call a product a “gadget” or a “gizmo?”  Do you think that is an appropriate name for  an invention? 

Inventors names are generally forgotten.  Why do you think that is?

Standing in Line

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The  first time I remember standing in line was back in the mid-1940s at the butcher shop in San Gabriel , CA  There was a postwar shortage then of some items.  So I stood in line to buy a pound of  bacon from our butcher and my Mom stood in the cigarette line for my Dad.  Of course, there was a milk line in elementary school and lots of cafeteria style food lines throughout my entire life or at  some educational event. I remember standing in line to pick up my cap and gown for graduation from Roosevelt University  two times.  And  on through the years I’ve stood in different kinds of lines and never thought much about it.  A couple of times even I sat in my car waiting in line for gasoline. I thank God that I have missed standing in line for bottled water or food.

Standing in line seems to be a part of the American culture, you might say.  Generally it is orderly. And next Thursday I’ll be going to the hospital to stand in line and get my second Covid shot.  When getting to the voting poles early in the morning—that generally means there’s a line.  Same with the grocery store but there you may have a choice to choose which line might turn out to be  the shorter.  Now, you probably have to stand on the floor signs a few feet apart and maybe speak loudly to your neighbor a few feet away.  I did choose not to stand in line for the Cabbage Patch Doll because I didn’t like its looks and I knew my daughter could live without it.   

I can think of two times in past years when standing in line became significant in my memory.  One was in Las Vegas at a National Food Writers Workshop.  I was standing in line with a colleague, Olga Carlisle, to pick up a ticket for a drawing.  We were sort of standing side by side talking, and when we came to the box to draw from, I motioned her ahead. She drew—yes, the winning ticket to a week at a Paris cooking school sponsored by the Mars Candy Company.  Another moment in time was at the International Food Exhibition in Chicago  to have  my photo taken with the late  country music singer, Kenny Rogers,  sponsored by Tropicana’s orange juice division.   He quickly put his arm around my shoulders,  and  said “Hi, how are you, darling” and the photographer handed me  a Polaroid picture.   The image of Kenny and me was still coming into focus as I stepped away.

I’ve never stood in line to shake hands with a politician. I do like book signings where an author usually expresses a sentence or two of appreciation for buying their book.  And, waiting a dozen or more times to buy a lottery ticket when millions of dollars lured me in.

Right now, Covid has taught me two things about standing in line.  I can get more satisfactlon from ordering on line.  And, how to practice patience.   But yes, standing in line will probably continue as part of our culture even as other things may change in our lives.        

Norm Swept Away

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“New Normal” is a new fast fading phrase that has joined our vocabulary. But when I look back over my own past personal forty years, I spot other times of “turning the page, ” as they now say, each time a new normal has begun,

“Downsizing” was a new word used for several years. And, I was in the middle of it. For fifteen years and more I had traveled the country as manager of the National Hot Dog and Sausae Council or for short was called “the Hot Dog Lady.” My public relations/marketing position was cut. Another comfortabale normal was as a adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond for seven years. A normal retirement followed.

Nor it’s time to change my attiude. I know turning the pages, and pages and pages is bringing me up to today. “Shelter in place.” Where did I hear that before–way back when I was in kindergarten in Los Aneles and we would do drills and hide under our desks in case bombs would fall. For a little while that was normal then. My best advice is don’t look back hunting for normal. Make your own. And, as they say in the Mindfulness Zoom class I visit, breath in and out and whisper: May I be safe, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be at peace. And, keep looking ahead! Normal seems to be a word that evolves into New Normal and then morphs into Normal again when we get used to the situation.

Moment is Now

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What’s the length of a “Moment” you might ask.  That word appears frequently  in writing, particularly when describing a period of time.

            “Wait up a moment,” you might shout out to a friend.  You read it often in romance novels.  To me a romance writer just cannot  say “he looked into her tangerine eyes for six and a half seconds before deciding to kiss her.”  No, I feel positive the writer then would substitute “a moment” instead of being so exacting. For some it may  mean “a minute.” To others longer. When you spend an hour pulled out of a day spent with someone special, a moment may represent a  block of time.  

            The word “moment” is an old word that has regained much usage in recent months.  It heralds from the Fourteenth Century but according to the Oxford dictionary can mean present time, a particular moment or a period of time.   

            For example, Captain Chesley Sully Sullenberger has used it often when  describing his emergency landing on Hudson River.  He had a moment to decide what to do—he can’t remember or will even calculate how many seconds it took. On Sept. 30 Senator Cory Booker said “this is a dangerous moment in time,” meaning a period of days. 

            This week (Oct 1 to 5, 2020)  I began to hear it used more frequently as President Trump went to the hospital and news people recounted certain time periods.    

October 2, 1 p.m. Chuck Todd “a moment like this” referring to a 14-day quarantine period. Usage continued, many adding an adjective. Bazaar moment. Not a fake moment. A get real moment. A sober moment. A snapshot moment. We take from this moment.  And, on and on.   

            “Is this a moment we didn’t think would come?” October 2 at 4:30 p.m.  Nicole Wallace asked.   Thus, I cannot but conclude that it all means  the “moment” is now.

It’s Time to Have Grit

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  I don’t often review a book, but this one has given me a lot of thought.  The  book is timely.  It’s called  ”Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth. Although the book is two years old, just last night the author appeared on an MSMBC  program and she also will host an   AM Joy news hour.

The book  is about how the power of grit can  help you achieve your potential.  “What we accomplish in the marathon of life depends tremendously on our grit– our passion, our perseverance for long term goals.”  Duckworth  is now a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Formerly she worked with West Point cadets to determine what inspires perseverance.  I thought it would have some inspiration for senior citizens like me—it does sometimes.  However, now she is promoting how perseverance can help you find hope and decrease depression during this pandemic. 

Through  charts, data, and grids she  challenges people to keep going. She suggests that Grit can be cultivated by family culture or special support groups. Duckworth’s experience is that once you have done the work (for me, exercise to gain back leg  strength) you have then created a clear vision that you should follow. Discipline and effort then will help maintain that vision.  Passion,  Perseverance and Hope  go hand in hand.  Many quotes are given by college coach John Wooden and  Seattle Seahawks coach  Pete Carroll. “Create a vision for yourself and stick with it,” advises Carroll, “you can make  amazing things happen in your life.”

Last night Duckworth asked  “what can you control?  One thing is hopelessness.  How can we change?  By helping others during this period.  Take control of your time.  To be gritty is to resist complacency, whatever it takes.” Although she has somewhat repositioned the purpose of her book, she is suggesting a method by which you can channel your vision to achieve a healthier attitude during this period in time.  So, Persevere!  Stay cool!  Frances     

Saying Thank You

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            Saying “thank you” is a very simple task.  Maybe that’s why it seems to be so difficult for many people to write it. 

            Yes, you may even agree.  Expressing gratitude verbally seems to be easier than writing or texting it.  As soon as a deed is done, such as a package is delivered, a quick “thanks” is shouted out.  If it’s a task, often “well done” is said instead or “good job.”   During the current pandemic  singer/songwriter Alicia Kays and others have expressed their thanks in song. “Good Job, ”  she composed and sang. 

            Signs stating “thank you” have gone up outside hospitals and fire stations all over America.  Just simple signs.  Ones that can quickly be written.  It seems like the politically correct thing to do.   The signs last for a  few hours, days, weeks into months.   

            Frequently clapping is another way to express appreciation. Applause after a concert or symphony is how an audience will express its appreciation and bring a conductor or musician back on stage.  Applauding  a recovered patient as he leaves the hospital has become a  custom of many health institutions today.  It’s easy to do.  

            Once upon a time years ago, companies got in the habit of giving out “Atta boys” as corporate signs of appreciation.  Companies had Quality programs and the thank you rewards there were gift cards or plastic signs or paperweights for your desk that signified gratitude.

            Expressing thanks, however, becomes more complicated when it is written or texted. It may also be more difficult to compose.  Research published in Psychological Science and co-authored  by Amit Kumar, assistant professor at University of Texas,   says “anxiety about what to say or fear of their gesture being misinterpreted causes many people to shy away from expressing genuine gratitude “  (in writing).   

            Once a week TV entertainer Jimmy Fallon brings thank you cards to his desk and with music to match writes “thank you for” …… He has made it an regular part of his show.   It doesn’t seem difficult the way he does it. 

            Right now high school seniors, college students, job hunters who are being interviewed  are faced with writing an expression of gratitude back  for someone’s recommendation.  

            Here again a simple “thank you” may be all that is necessary.  What is significant about Kumar’s research and its result is that such notes and letters of gratitude should be written and sent more often.

            “When we saw that it only takes a couple of minutes to compose letters like these, thoughtful ones  and sincere  ones, and  it comes at little cost,” they recognized that the  benefits  were  larger than people expected.

            Unfortunately we may be saying it so much that it becomes easy to slide across our lips, and it may have become even meaningless.  

Green is alive

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Green grows the  grass.  Green in all its vibrancies and shades grows in my garden. And, green must be this year’s favorite color with designers.  Unfortunately some of that green becomes so light on packaging that it is difficult to read.  Especially on food packaging.

My most difficult to read nomination goes to Perdue Simply Smart (but great tasting) Chicken Breast  Cutlets frozen bag.  On the back the cooking instructions blend from a medium green to a tiny font of light green blending into a white background.  Yes, I was challenged to microwave from those instructions.  However, the Nutritional Facts panel is in black and white on a white background. 

This is  not the only food packaging  splashed with green.  Green Giant recently redesigned some of its Simply Steam frozen food packages—and there it is dark to light green on the back of Broccoli Spears. Compliments go to Lean Cuisine which did just the reverse on their frozen foods—using white type lettering bursting out of several shades of green.  Marie Callender also uses similar green mixtures on some of its frozen boxes. Perhaps “green” is just one of those colors that whets the appetite. 

One of the most prominent users  of green is Fidelity in its TV commercials.  Follow that green arrow.  You’ll also find on screen  True Green  grass.  Then there’s the Weather Channel and other weather reports where you’ll see green splotches racing across the weather map screen representing rain.

Throughout civilization green also has come to mean money.  “Give me the green stuff.”  It’s also an old name coming from Europe as  my family’s name.  In one of my favorite movies, “Predator”, green comes alive.  So let’s leave it at that:  Green makes me come alive!

Moon Talk

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A couple of months back–August, I believe, the month was labeled “Moon Month,” meaning that it was the 50th anniversary of man’s landing/walking on the moon. A few years back we used to know the names of the first astronauts. Today we are lucky if we recall those names or even recent ones. There’s the Kelly twins of recent trips and the medical assignments they participated in. And, recently I heard Mary Ann Jung, a Maryland actress and Smithsonian scholar, gave a presentation on Sally Ride’s life in zero gravity aboard the Space Shuttle.

When my son, Scott, was in Cub Scouts we lived in the Chicago area and made a trip to the Cernan Space Center at a local community college. It had been planned and supported by that astronaut. It was a very nice center with a large telescope that the Scouts enjoyed visiting.

But what I remember most was having the opportunity of meeting Commander Scott Carpenter, the astronaut that just circled the moon . It happened one day in January when I twas walking the aisles of a national food convention in McCormick Place, Chicago, and there he was. (He was a member of the Apollo group.) Traditionally at conventions big companies employ a celebrity to spend a day or so greeting visitors to their booths. Commander Carpenter was promoting Fugi Film and handing out NASA lapel pins of rockets.

Actually there were very few people walking nearby and no other person in the Fugi booth because at that very moment another celebrity was signing autographs at another booth across the hall. The attraction was baseball player Hank Aaron and the line to meet him wound around the wall of the hall and beyond. I walked up to Commander Carpenter and held out my hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said, or something like that. I actually could not believe that people would pass up a chance to meet an astronaut and go wait an hour in line for a baseball players handshake. Someone who had flown within spitting distance of the moon and returned. “It looks like he is drawing a big crowd,” I said by way of small talk, and took my pin.

“I wish I was in that line,” Carpenter casually responded. I couldn’t believe it. He sounded so wistful just like my son might have sounded about receiving a signed baseball. Although Carpenter never went back into space, he did continue explorations under the sea, spending 30 days in the Navy’s Sea Lab II program and other Navy projects. He also wrote novels about submarine warfare, etc. that I enjoyed reading in later years. The one thing that I always have regretted was not getting his autograph. But I still have the pins.

Books for decor or reading

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In recent years I have become obsessed with books that serve as background decorations rather than for reading. This is not unusual because it has gone on for a long time. But it is fascinating–at least to me.

On President’s Day I was watching “55 Days in Peking” on Turner Classic  Movies (TCM)  when midway through there stood actor Charlton Heston  in front of an interesting book case in Peking’s government house. It was filled with books except for two areas where two white camels stood,  drawing your eyes away from the books as well as Heston’s dialogue.  Thanks to  the set director.

Today you will find many news commentaries (MSNBC, CNN, etc. ) given in front of a books background.  Have you ever noticed the arrangement of the books?  They are not all setting in up and down style  but here and there will be three or four books laying on their sides. I don’t think these arrangements are made for you to read the titles of the books, just for a pleasing  background.  At this same time Bernie Sanders announced  his candidacy for president.  What was behind him?  A panel of books but somewhat blurred. I wondered if it might be a book wallpaper which I have seen available in rolls.

During the George Busch (the son) administration I was an officer in  the Illinois Chapter of National Federation of Press Women . During our national convention I  was invited to sit at a table with the keynote speaker Peggy Noonan, who was a prominent Capitol Hill reporter at the time.  Now at  the time President Busch gave his press briefings in what appeared to be the library.  Or at least there appeared to be a wall of books behind him.  Behind his right shoulder was a standout blue book with a ratty binding.  I asked Peggy if she had ever noticed that book and what was the title.  She never did get back to me, but the briefings moved on.  I have often wondered if  the books were signed by their authors or if someone just collected books from the White House basement and popped them on the bookcase.

There was a point in time when people with bookshelves would just go to Goodwill or a book store and buy discarded books and fill their shelves.  At one time I too subscribed to Great Books because the bindings were richly matched in mauve, greens and browns.  My mother-in-law gave me a set of  five books by Pearl Buck in matching tan covers with gold  imprinted titles. Started off with The Good Earth.   

One place where you can still find beautifully matched books is a law office.  So many of these are available digitally that the books seem to be subscribed to just for decoration. In the 1950s when I began my career with a law firm in Springfield, MO.  I really did open and use those books.  They were heavy but beautiful!