Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Back in a twink

It's been awhile since I last posted on this blog, but gripping news yesterday caused me to pry open my dusty laptop. Hostess, the maker of Wonder Bread, Twinkies, and other confections has filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11.

This is disturbing news to anyone who spent their lunchbox years in the 1970s--a joyous time, when parents put pleasure before nutrition. I can still recall the excitement of unlatching a metal lunchbox and finding a treasure trove of Hostess goodies there for the unwrapping.

There were Twinkies, of course. You couldn't help but marvel in their golden, creamy sponginess. Two came in every pack, and they were so perfect and fresh it was easy to see how the "Twinkies never expire" rumor got started. (Regretably, according to that buzz blower Snopes, Twinkies do in fact have a shelflife.)

But this splendid treat paled in comparison to my favorite, Zingers. These were basically small Twinkies (three to a pack) with the most intriguing hardened yellow icing on top. The icing was indented with thin lines, as if someone had dragged a small rake through it.
My mom also packed Hostess Cup Cakes--chocolate cakes with chocolate icing and a squiggle of white icing on top. These were sometimes confused with Ding Dongs, which had chocolate icing but no squiggle. Ding Dongs are now wrapped in plastic, but back in the '70s, they were wrapped in aluminum foil. They looked like little hockey pucks. After you were eating, it was fun to wad up the foil into balls and pitch them into the trash.

Sno Balls...well, we all have our limits, even in the '70s. I never did try this coconut flaked mound of pink creaminess.

My kids know all too much about limits. They are growing up in the nutritionally obsessed '00s and '10s. This is, after all, the time when "Deceptively Delicious" became a bestseller because it taught parents how to sneak pureed spinach into brownies.

I wasn't even sure they had tried Twinkies before. When they got home from school yesterday, I asked them. My 12-year-old daughter tried them once, but didn't like them. My 16-year-old also tried them, but didn't remember if she liked them. Nonetheless, she mourned their absence in her lunch bag.

"You were the mean mom in elementary school," said my 16-year-old. "I got the boring snacks."

So, apparently there are parents still out there who send fun snacks to school--enough of them that Hostess has expressed confidence that the reorganization will work. The rest of us "mean moms" can watch this video and remember a time when parents weren't so uptight about food.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ya-hoo! Retro Mountain Dew and Pepsi are back

Due to overwhelming response, Pepsi has brought back its "throwback" line of products, based on its beverages from the 1970s. The Pepsi and Mountain Dew products, which feature a vintage look, are made with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. They first appeared last spring. After the line sold out, grumbles could be heard far and wide on Facebook and other social networking sites.

Pepsi heard the call. For a limited time, consumers can again flashback to the golden days of beverage consumption. The throwback Pepsi products will be available in stores from December 28 to February 22. One sip, and you'll be transported back to the time of shag rugs and The Brady Bunch.

Dedicated fans can also participate in "Mountain Dew Throwback Spotting," by taking photos of themselves in kitschy settings. Some of the challenges include posing with a grocery store cut-out of "Willy the Hillbilly" (Mountain Dew) or taking a photo at an old-school diner. Prizes up for grabs include limited edition Dew gear. For more information, please see

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Really, Really Big Chill

Some of us are big wimps when it comes to cold. Then there are tough guys like my cousin, Stede Barnes, who will soon be taking his second polar plunge into the frigid waters of Virginia Beach in February. I wondered just how awful that first dunk must feel.

"I basically run in as fast as I can in order to minimize the initial shock," said Stede. After that, "it really isn't that bad. A couple of my team members and I went in a second time."

Stede Barnes (far right) and team, post-plunge.

How could he stand to do something so unpleasant? "First and foremost, I decided to do it because it raised money for a good cause, Special Olympics. Additionally, our team was comprised of a fun crowd and I knew it would be a good time," he said.

I wondered if Stede's wrestling background (2x district champ, 1x regional champ, 5th in the state) prepared him in any way. "My previous high school wrestling experience probably made me just crazy enough to enjoy jumping into icy cold water," he said.

He described the plunge. "Basically, you line up on the beach and wait for the kids with special needs to run into the water first. This is probably the most rewarding part of the entire day, because of the genuine smiles on the children's faces that come from being a part of an event of this size," he said. "It's not every day that you get to see such true happiness and feel proud that you had something to do with it."

After the kids exit the water, there is a countdown and then the rest of the participants sprint into the ocean. A line of coast guard volunteers in wet suits stand near by, just in case. Some of the participants go into the water wearing costumes. Last year's group included Darth Vader, some Smurfs, and a team of Christmas trees.

About 10,000 are expected for this year's Polar Plunge XVIII Winter Festival, which will take place in Virginia Beach February 5-6. The festival will kick off with a Friday night Plunge Party, and the actual plunge will take place on Saturday. Additional events include ice carving, a Kids Zone, live music, games and booths, and a giant sand sculpture display.

Last year brought unseasonably warm temperatures, and a water temperature around 45 degrees. Stede anticipates a much colder plunge this year. "But cold weather has never really bothered me." Stede raised $930 through the plunge last year; this year his goal is $1,000. The funds will come at an especially important time. Special Olympics funding is down, which has forced the non-profit to cut some events. Stede said he supports the non-profit because "I feel like it gives children with special needs a chance to compete and experience the joy of winning."

If you would like more information about the event, please see Stede's sponsors may donate at

Good luck, Stede!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Stuff of Dreams

The great odometer rolls over once again and we find ourselves in 2010. A nice even number, and the start of a new decade. It is time for celebration, a time to begin again.

Ryan Seacrest, co-host of "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve" for the last five years, described the feeling of being in Times Square at midnight when the ball drops. "It's about the most unbelievable feeling you can ever have," he said in a recent Parade magazine interview. He's especially taken by "the look of happiness on everybody's faces. Whatever is bothering them, whatever personal nightmares or financial problems they're having, it all just escapes from everybody's faces at that one moment."

At just 34, Seacrest is one of the most successful talents in broadcasting. His other gigs include a morning radio show and American Idol, the most popular t.v. show in the U.S. As a child he dreamed of being a broadcaster like Dick Clark. "From the time I was 15 or 16 years old, every single thing I did, every day of my life, was to get closer to that dream."

Unlike Seacrest, many of us drift away from our childhood plans. Instead of traveling or writing or being an astronaut, we are too busy working and raising children, or taking care of our elderly parents. But then the ball drops, and it is January 1, and this could be the year that we finally get serious about some of those dreams.


I have been incredibly unfocused in both my personal and professional life for the past few years. In an effort to get myself back on track, both mentally and physically, I joined the Y over the holidays.

I haven't received training on any of the equipment yet, so for now, I just run on Y's wooden track. It's on a balcony overlooking the basketball court, and you can glance down and watch players throwing free shots if you get bored. You have to go around 19 times for a mile. I usually keep count by repeating the lap number over and over in my head.

When I get there, someone is usually already on the track, and I just fall in place behind them. Walkers, inside lane; runners, outside lane. The other day when I arrived, an older man was running counter-clockwise around the track. Hey buddy, I wanted to say, you're going the wrong way. Instead, I decided to just join in. It felt funny at first, but eventually I was running counter-clockwise with ease. A few laps into it, I noticed a sign that clarified things for me:

The schedule made sense. It probably ensured a proper wearing-down of the track. But there is also both a mental and physical benefit in changing your direction, and breaking old patterns.

Sometimes we put off the things we really want to do because we worry that we are being selfish, or because what we want to do involves some risk. For years, these two worries used to gang up on me everytime I made travel plans. I used to stress out that I would pick the "wrong" flight--the one that would crash. This fear followed a particularly frightening flight experience that ultimately ended up o.k. (For some reason, I always overlooked the "o.k.")

I sucked it up for visits to family, weddings, and funerals. But the fear led me to curtail what I felt were "unnecessary trips." As a result, I had put off visiting the place where I spent what were probably the two of the most idyllic years of my childhood: Newport Beach. My family had lived there when I was in third and fourth grade, and I had it so good. I was excelling in school and was, for the first time, popular. I had a fort in the bushes behind my house, a best friend, and a nearby canyon supposedly filled with arrowheads (I never found one but it was fun looking). I had a t.v. in my room and a babysitter who gave me all of her Barbie dolls. On top of that, day after day, there was the amazing California sunlight--so bright, with such sharp shadows.

Two years ago, I resolved to get over my fear of flying by taking more trips. Last year, I am happy to say, I was a relaxed flyer on our cross-country trip to California. I finally got back to Newport Beach. I found our old house, and was surprised to see that the walk to Eastbluff Elementary was not as far as I remembered. Winding through my old neighborhood streets, I could almost see myself as a nine-year-old, riding around on my pink, banana-seat bike with my best friend, Muir. I remembered all those endless sunny afternoons, when I had nowhere special to be.

We looked for my favorite old beach in Corona del Mar, following directions from my mom. When we got there, and I couldn't find a place to park or a way down to the beach, I began to question my mother's ability to remember directions from 30+ years ago. We kept driving. Eventually I saw an entrance to a beach parking lot. One look and I knew the beach wasn't the right one.

"The cliffs were bigger," I insisted to my family. Yet, as I said this, I worried that I'd gotten fooled once again by my memory. Things often take on such a dramatic scale when you are a child.

I got out of the car and asked for some help. A local told me to turn around and go back the place where my mother had directed me. "You just park on the street," he said. "When you get out, you'll see a path you can take to the beach."

We drove back and parked. We walked to the end of the street and saw a path that we had somehow missed when we were driving. As I neared the path, I looked down and saw the cove that I remembered. "That's it," I said, excitedly.

It was the perfect beach, surrounded by rugged cliffs and crashing surf. The afternoon sunlight glittered on the water.

What a thrill to spend a day again on my childhood beach. My kids played in the surf and looked for sea creatures in the tidal pools. I had a flashback when I saw a large boulder in the surf with a distinctive hole in the middle. I'd forgotten all about the rock but remembered it in an instant. I knew that it would still be there for many years after I was gone.


May 2010 find you well, whether you are chasing your dreams, taking a wonderfully unnecessary trip, or doing whatever is the grown-up equivalent of riding on your banana seat bike with your best friend next to you, a long afternoon before you, and nowhere special to be.

Monday, November 2, 2009

More creepy wallpaper

My 13-year-old read my last post and said, "That wallpaper at Mandarin Palace reminds me of an OK Go video." I hadn't seen it, so she zipped through iTunes and pulled up the "Do What You Want" (wallpaper version) video. Like everything else that I've ever seen from this band, this video looked like it belonged in the portfolio of some hip kid from Parsons. It was perfect; I had to have it.

With my daughter hovering, I looked up her favorite band's official website and emailed to them asking for permission to post. ("OMG you're writing to OK GO?!?") One of their managers responded, and said that I was free to "share it with the world." (I don't think he knows how small this site is!) Nonetheless, I am happy to provide a link to this fun video, which brings creepy, red velvet flocked wallpaper to new heights:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My weirdest fortune ever

Last night, our family went out to dinner to Mandarin Palace. We like the food and the people that run the restaurant. Everyone there seems to speak in slightly hushed tones, in true Chinese restaurant form. We like the small tiki bar set into a cubbyhole by the kitchen and marvel that a bartender can fit inside it.

We are always mesmerized by the peeling, flocked red velvet wallpaper that has been there since the restaurant opened in the 1960's. My husband remembers it from when he went there as a child. Perhaps the wallpaper was unconsciously on my mind when I ordered the Chicken Velvet. It was tasty as always.

That should be enough to satisfy any diner, but there was more. After our dishes were taken away, I cracked open my fortune cookie and saw what is possibly the weirdest fortune I have ever received:

(You will read this and say "Geez!! I could come up with better fortunes than that!")

I like to imagine the bored fortune cookie factory worker who slipped that one in. I regret that he or she did not get to witness our family breaking the respectful silence as we laughed hysterically in our booth surrounded by the creepy wallpaper.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mum's Still the Word in Texas

It's late October, and homecoming season is in full swing. "Are you going to the dance?" is what everyone wants to know. It's time for Friday night lights, and the Star Spangled Banner, and the exciting moment when football players burst through long signs held by cheerleaders. It's time for drill teams stepping in matching boots and bands waiting for their cue, polished instruments raised.

And, in Texas, it's time for the homecoming mum. I wondered if this tradition might have fallen to the wayside, but judging from the photos recently posted by my friends on Facebook, the mum is not only around, but has gotten bigger, bolder, and more pimped out than ever.

For those unaware of the phenomenon, the homecoming mum is a corsage formed around a single flower: a mega-sized chrysanthemum. To the right is a photo of a mum that I wore in 1981 to a Jersey Village High School homecoming game and dance. Hanging from the mum were floor-length ribbons, in my school's colors. My school's name and other various things were written on the ribbons in glitter. And if the visual of the mum itself did not attract enough attention, there was a dangling cowbell to announce my arrival.

The tradition was so widespread that you could actually order your mums in the cafeteria; it was a fund-raiser for the school. You would pick up your mum on Friday, and wear it to the homecoming game and dance that night. At the game, the stadium would be filled with girls picking their way up stadium steps--in high heels, of course--trying not to trip on the long ribbons.

But the mum I wore in 1981 is downright humble compared to the mums of today. Angela Perry, of Mom’s Custom Made Mums in Corpus Christi, has graciously agreed to let me post of few of her creations. The mums, which can range in price from $15.50 to $150 (for the "Cascading Heart" to the left), go a long way to proving the adage that everything's bigger in Texas.

According to Janna Lewis, of the Fort Hood (Texas) Sentinel, "They have been around as long as I can remember and the mums represent the admiration a young woman inspires in people who know her...The bigger the mum, the greater the love."

Doing a little research on the web, I found that you can show your love in a whole host of ways. You can order a single, double or triple mum. You can have a "satellite" mum connected to your main mum (as pictured to the right). You can have your name and your date's written in pre-pressed gold letters or in old-school glitter ("retro lettering"). You can accessorize with teddy bears, feathers, disco balls, battery-operated lights, or just about anything you can imagine. According to the McAdams Floral blog, "For the truly extravagant, florists in larger Texas cities provide 14-karat gold jewelry trinkets."

Trinkets, such as megaphones and musical symbols, identify your involvement in school and personal interests. And in a surprising development since 1982, the guys are now wearing smaller, matching "garter" mums.

Over-the-top? Yes. Outrageously cumbersome? Absolutely. But show up without one for your date and you're toast.