Secret to a Happy Marriage in the 50’s – The Mixmaster

All you needed in the fifties was The Mixmaster and all your marital problems go by the wayside. So it would seem. She lived happily ever after, because she had The Sunbeam Mixmaster. If only I’d known that!

I’ve been dwelling on Blog Stats this week. I’ve also looked at the “Freshly Pressed” blogs, which are picked by WordPress to appear on their home page. Once your blog is selected, it will receive greater amounts of traffic by virtue of it being there. To have this great honor bestowed upon my blog would be a gift from the BlogGod.

This week, one of the Freshly Pressed blogs was Life in the Boomer Lane, A Guide to Life After 50. It’s a very funny blog. Click here to view.

It listed the recommendations in the following categories from AARP and then added more:

  • What Not to Wear
  • Things Never to Do
  • Words to Ax
  • What to Do at Least Once

It is very funny, and very true. But it started me thinking about my Boomer life and, I think I might have been unloading the dishwasher when it occurred to me how very different kitchens are today, than they were in, say, 1956 when I was, well younger.

We had a typical kitchen back then, broken up by four doors and two windows.

The first wall had the two windows and there was a sink between them, one of those white things that hung on the wall with the plumbing showing underneath. The sink part always had one of those three-cornered garbage collector things sitting in the corner, and there was a drainboard next to it.

The second wall was without either doors or windows and along that wall were floor to ceiling cupboards.

The third wall was for the refrigerator. I guess back then, it was better than an “icebox” where you had to buy ice, but not much. Remember those tiny little freezers and how they got all coated up with that hard white ice stuff and you have to “defrost” it every week? And that always had to be scheduled before you went shopping for groceries.

And the fourth wall was for the stove, one of those monstrosities with the double ovens and that was all that fit on that wall.

Forget your stone countertops. As I remember it, there was only the Formica kitchen table to use as a work area.

And also forget small appliances. There was a toaster, a pancake griddle and The Sunbeam Mixmaster! Here it is, in all its high tech splendor.

And here it is again, but wait! How’d she get those cool green bowls? Our bowls were white. Everything was white in those days.

I loved the Mixmaster. Many cakes were beat up in that thing, and frosting, and cookie dough, with beaters to fight over to lick. That was the good part of food in the 1950’s. The desserts were great.

But the rest of the food wasn’t. An example of what wasn’t so great back then:

  • Pear salad – This was a summer substitute for a vegetable. It consisted of one half canned pear, sitting on one piece of iceberg lettuce, topped with a maraschino cherry. (Do you really want to think about maraschino cherries and how they get to be that color? I didn’t think so.)
  • Lime jello with shredded carrots – Whoever thought up this combination? Does anyone even eat jello anymore? Although you never really “ate” it, it was more like you sucked it into your esophagus. Sometimes it would have pineapple added. That was good. Sometimes it would have walnuts added. That was bad. Something about that crunch and slippery jello didn’t sit right with me. Sometimes it would have a dollop of mayonnaise on it. Blechh. And, we were one of those “Miracle Whip” families. That stuff is just gross.
  • Fruit cocktail – In a pinch, instead of the above two delicacies, this canned concoction was substituted. Do they still sell this? The stuff where every single fruit looks and tastes the same?
  • Sweet potatoes with marshmallows – This was a special treat, at Thanksgiving usually. Some sort of candied mushed up sweet potatoes, whipped up (in The Mixmaster) with butter and brown sugar and topped with those smaller sized marshmallows, the kind that got stale after twenty minutes. And sometimes, it would appear with those colored minis. What fun! Pink and blue and yellow things on top! But the color combination, the pastel with earthy orangey, was visually upsetting.
  • Chipped beef on toast – This is an abomination. A terrible thing to do to children. This is what you got when your parents were going out to dinner but still had to feed you.
  • Creamed chicken on biscuits – This was where a few cans of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup mixed with milk are placed in the big yellow bowl (remember those nesting bowls, the largest was yellow, then green, then red, then blue but the last two might have been reversed). The biscuits were placed on top of the soup and baked in the oven. The biscuits were always soggy, because they sat in that soup too long.
  • Goulash – This was a combination of four things, hamburger, ½ teaspoon diced onions cut up until they liquefied, tomato sauce, elbow macaroni. There might have been a little salt and pepper in there too. Baked in the big yellow bowl.
  • Chef Boyardee Pizza – This was a pizza “kit”. It consisted of some flour stuff that was mixed with water and formed dough, which you pressed onto a cookie sheet. Pour the Chef’s pizza sauce on and top with the Chef’s parmesan cheese. Talk about a boring pizza. But back then it was delicious. We weren’t creative enough to imagine anything else on it.

There’s more, but these stand out in my memory. Got any cool fifties recipes to share?

Writing With Music

The type of music I listen to while writing depends mostly on what kind of writing it is and sometimes merely the mood I’m in. My writing area is in a loft, so when there are others around, the sound of the TV drifts upwards. Think History channel, which is fine but distracting or the Military channel, which is not so fine and also distracting. I can’t believe there is a military channel but I guess these days there is a channel for everything. Political shows are always extremely distracting because there is never just one person speaking, at any given time there are usually at least two, one Republican and one Democrat. And then there’s sports, enough said there.

If it’s none of the above there are always reruns of Predator or War of The Worlds, or whatever the name of that one is, the one with Tom Cruise and the annoying screaming girl child.

An iPod is as necessary for me anymore as food, I think. When I thought my iPod was broken, while my first reaction was — Great! Maybe I can get a bigger one! — I panicked at the thought of not having it right then, at that time. But all it needed was a charge and was so run down it wouldn’t turn on.

Sometimes I listen to rock music. I like the Eagles, Tom Petty, The Moody Blues, but then random songs that I have always liked. Stuff like Wicked Game, by Chris Isaak, Like a Rolling Stone, by Dylan, and The House of the Rising Sun, by Eric Burdon and the Animals.

There are references to music in my two novels: I Can’t Make You Love Me, by Bonnie Raitt, and Just the Way You Are, by Billy Joel, to name two. I like the lyrics of these songs, they really say something and can make for some powerful dialogue.

But when I want to write an emotional scene, about maybe sex or breakups or death, I listen to classical music and my favorite classical album of all time is Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; Barber: Adagio for Strings; Grainger: Irish Tune from County. I highly recommend this CD. If you are interested, here it is on Amazon.

Best listened to on a great sound system cranked up, but you will get the feel just through the computer speakers.

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (Vaughan Williams) is simply one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever heard. The more I hear it the more I want to listen. I am so impressed by people who can write music. How do they do that exactly? How do they put the melody and the different instruments together, with the pauses and the crescendos and the harmony in such a way? This piece is, just, inspiring, I guess I’d have to say. It’s hard to express music, and the way it makes one feel.

Listen here to Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis:

Another track on this same CD is Barber: Adagio for Strings, Op. 11. I’m not sure of the meaning of “Adagio” nor what “Op.” stands for, but if you feel emotional, or sad, listen to this. It is typically played when there is cause for mourning. This YouTube video is a live version of it performed on September 15, 2001, in memory of the 9/11 victims. How fitting that I found it today, exactly ten years later. I am sincerely sorry if there is a commercial in the beginning. It’s too bad everything has to be bastardized with advertising. This is way too moving and emotional to be preceded by a car ad (or whatever other atrocious clip they fling at you) but that’s the way it is, I guess. This is breathtakingly beautiful, and I usually don’t talk that way.

Listen to it here:

It’s hard to describe music. I tried to do that in my novel Second Stories. Here is the description (Café del Mar – Training):

 It was simple piano music, mixed with special acoustical effects, a serious, haunting, melancholy melody, the kind of music he’d listen to over and over, the notes ingrained on his brain, eerie and unforgettable. As he listened, there was a crescendo, and the piano played in a higher key, and other instruments mixed in, before returning to the same somber notes he’d first heard. He stood still and listened.

Here is the actual song:

Too bad there isn’t some way to incorporate music into books. I’ll bet that’s coming soon, but isn’t here yet. I wanted to describe this music, and I’m not sure if I succeeded or not. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t lend itself to laptop speakers too well. It might sound a little tinny, but is a very nice piece.

Images in Ebook Files – How to Include Them and Maintain Sanity

I recently rereleased my first novel, Whatever Happened to Lily? I took on this effort because of a stupid error on my part, I hadn’t been consistent with the author name among the print versions and Kindle versions of my two novels. I felt it important enough to change, so asked how this might be done.

Alas. The author name is engraved, set, permanent, not to be changed! And the book has to be completely redone in order to put a new name on it. After some thought I decided I’d go for it, and so if I was going to go that far, I might as well reread it and see what stood out as needing work, or being eliminated, or otherwise crappy writing. I found some things I didn’t like, and added a couple of parts to make the character (Jay) seem less of a turd. I also added a washed out image on one of the front title pages and tweaked the cover. I uploaded this to CreateSpace and all is well.

I ordered a proof, decided I messed up the cover, fixed that and ordered another proof and liked it, plus the interior. That was finished, but now the Kindle version must match the printed version so I did that too.

The Kindle version requires a Microsoft Word document with different formatting. It must have no headers or footers, and the dropped cap and small caps at the beginning of each chapter must be removed.

Next it can be saved as html and, in the past, this was the end of that process. But wait! I wanted images in the Kindle version too, I thought that would make it look more professional. I see the cover picture on some of the books I’m downloading, and I want mine there too, plus I want that washed out title page included.

I transferred the html file to my Kindle and (naturally) the images weren’t there. Figures. That would be way too easy.

I spent two (that’s TWO) days on figuring out how to do this, and I am still not satisfied with the outcome, although the Kindle version looks fine now. I got on the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) message boards and sure enough, there is plenty of chatter about how to include images. Lots of posts that begin with “Help!!” so I know I’m in the right place. They all say, put your images in a folder along with your html file and zip them together and upload the zip file.

Ah! Of course, why didn’t I think of that? It doesn’t know where to find them. I did what they said. Interestingly enough, all three files ended up on my Kindle, both images and the html file, and looking at the html file revealed that the images were, uh, missing. Still missing. A couple of problems here. One, I DON’T want those image files uploaded as separate files, and two, I DO want them to be included in the html.

I am one of the unlucky people who can’t just chalk this up to experience and look for another way. That would be too easy. No, I’m one of those who will find out why this doesn’t work, dammit, zipping up three files shouldn’t be rocket science.

Maybe the path inside the html file is wrong, I thought, and I fiddled with that, wasted more time. Finally I had to give it up. This is a very hard thing for me to do. I decided I had to try to use some software that I had downloaded a few months back, but hadn’t really used, called Mobipocket Creator.

Another learning curve, but I used that and I did get the images to appear inside the file. But now I had formatting issues. It appears, this software ignores those hard break lines you put in the Word doc, which is then converted in the html file, but when creating the mobi file, it ignores those blank lines.

Wonderful. I now have to Google that and discovered that I can create a Style in word. The first line should have 24 pts (points?) before it, which is about three lines. I’d never done too much with Styles so this was good information.

Once that Style was created I could apply it to the first paragraph of each chapter. I was pleased with the end result, but am still frustrated that the first method didn’t work.

There was an interim step in the process where I downloaded more software called Sigil. This was before I ended up with Mobipocket. Sigil informed me that I had to update my browser to IE9 which I’ve been putting off. I did it, and now I have another learning curve to figure out where everything went. My favorites used to be on the left, now they’re on the right. The refresh button moved. And where is the Print button?! I had to actually Google to find out and it seems you have to press the Alt key in order to get the File Edit Tools, etc. menu which then allows you to enable the Command Bar with the printer button on it. Really? The Alt key? Is this really an upgrade? Seems like we’re going back to the olden days, where you had to know secret combinations of keys.

All I want is a browser, a damn browser. I want it to be familiar, and useful, and intuitive. I thought we had that. I don’t mind the upgrade, but why can’t the basic functionality, and the location of buttons, stay the same? It sounds like Change For Change Sake to me, and that is never a good idea.

Even though I want to write, it seems that so much of my time is devoted to trifling stuff like this. I guess I have no choice but still, it is distracting, frustrating and counter-productive.

Now, back to writing.

Marketing That Doesn’t Work

Number 1 marketing scam that doesn’t work: I just got off the phone with The American Express Food & Wine Publishing Company. In order to speak to these oh-so-helpful folks, I had to call the regular American Express number, enter a whole bunch of numbers, make a whole bunch of choices (none of which were what I wanted), so I had to select zero in order to be connected to a customer service representative.

The representative had obviously been well trained in polite-speak and I could just imagine what she said to the person next to her after she put me on hold. She would have said, “Nasty bitch”. I told her what my problem was. That I had received a card in the mail telling me that (Good News!) I would soon be receiving the annual 2011 Food & Wine WINE GUIDE, which will tell me all about wine pairings with food and stuff. I buy big bottles of wine and as far as I know, it “pairs” well with just about anything.

If I wasn’t “delighted” I could return the book within 90 days and if I was “delighted”, for my convenience, they would be happy to charge my American Express account. I have a problem with this. I could return a card if I didn’t want to get the Wine Book (for which, of course I had to supply a stamp), but I do not want to be bullied into a credit card charge, simply because I am too lazy to return a book or even a card. I want to buy what I want to buy, and I don’t like this. I know the cost isn’t that great (only $12.95 plus 1.99 for shipping), it’s the principle of it that I question.

Maybe I’m getting cranky and all worked up about it but how do they figure they can just inform you that they are mailing you a book, without your having asked for it and bill you for it and make it kind of difficult for you to say No Thanks? I decided I wasn’t going to lay down for it (<– that’s probably a cliché but too bad).

Never mind how frustrating it is to get connected to a breather these days, why does the music they play while you are on hold have to be so God-awful? It hurts the ears, and is always accompanied by distortions that threaten to cause hearing loss. And they apologize profusely about why it is taking so long to transfer me to the Publishing Area. Finally Jason comes on the line, and he is from the Publishing Area, and he is so willing to help me with whatever my problem is. Sure! I can cancel you out of that! So sorry!

Why did I have to go through this? Aren’t there regulations these days about aggressive marketing techniques such as this? It doesn’t work with me. It just makes me mad at American Express for partnering with these people.

Jason likely turned to his neighbor after I got off the line and said, “Nasty bitch”.

Number 2 marketing strategy that doesn’t work: I call this the Jos. A. Bank marketing technique. Jos. A. Bank is an upscale men’s “furnishings” store. They sell cashmere sweaters for hundreds of dollars, expensive suits, nice sports jackets, silk shirts, beautiful ties. Anything the self-assured, confident, upwardly mobile male could want. They cater to a clientele that is affluent so guess what, they are usually pretty smart.

Their ploy is that if you buy one item, they will throw in a bunch of free stuff. Buy one, get one absolutely free! That doesn’t work? Buy one, get two absolutely free! I have heard them go up to as many as five (that’s 5) items free if you buy one overpriced sports coat.

The other day, they were selling jackets for $99. Just $99! But wait! Nothing free? Where’s my free stuff?

The point here is that the audience they cater to was not born yesterday (cliche alert), nor are their IQs falling off the low end of the charts. They are smart, and they can figure out that if Jos. A. Bank can afford to give away so much free stuff, and we know they are still making a profit in there somewhere, else they would not be in business, why don’t they just sell their products for a reasonable price, and stop with all the advertising of “free”? It’s pretty ridiculous, and if anyone ever bought anything in that store for full price with no free stuff, they probably need a brain scan.

Just don’t think you can fool us, Jos, because we aren’t Walmart shoppers here.

Number 3 marketing technique that doesn’t work: I’ve touched on this subject before. Cracker Barrel and the necessity to drag out the holiday cheer five months before we want it! I like the restaurant, the comfort food they serve, and the funny old stuff they hang on the walls, old calendars and pictures and advertisements. It’s a nice atmosphere, and you can be assured that Friday will always be “brown rice day” in any Cracker Barrel from Ohio to Florida.

Brown rice is the vegetable of the day on Fridays. It’s yummy, and combine that with some other vegetables and you’ve got yourself one good lunch. (Although I’m still not sure macaroni and cheese is a vegetable.)

The store part is questionable though. I don’t mind the old fashioned candy, and the candles, cards and even the country western CDs. But the holiday crap needs to go. Take a look at my picture of the talking broom.

Here’s a poor soul forced to wear a witch’s hat. If I were this lady, I would quit that job, citing “intelligence discrimination” as in –  Why do I have to wear this dumb thing on my head and look like an idiot just to keep this lousy job?

Here is the tackiest item I could find, a clock where the numbers are apples. Note how the numbers at the fifteen minute marks are half apples. Isn’t that special?

And here is a lovely platter, complete with tacky saying. You know the kind. “No matter where I serve my guests, it seems they like my kitchen best!” Meh. Barf. Wish this photo had turned out a little better, the TS (Tacky Saying) is “With a Heart that is true I’ll be waiting for You in the shade of the old Apple Tree”. Wow. Nice.

Does anyone really buy this stuff? And the fact that they get these awful items into the store at such an early date is deplorable. It’s two months until Halloween! It’s three months until Thanksgiving! It’s four months until Christmas!

Halloween is not a big deal anyway, it’s another marketing day, and an excuse to show Chainsaw Massacre on TV. Ooh! Frightful. No, actually, just a really bad movie.

No one really buys much for Thanksgiving, except food, and flowers. And maybe wine. Hey, you might want to try the American Express Food & Wine WINE GUIDE!