Thursday, December 27, 2012

Celebrate, It's Not Too Late

My mother, Helen D. Sefcovic, loved the holidays.

Her coat closet was filled with wreaths, decorated for all the holidays. Each was kept in pristine condition on its own hanger with a bag pulled over the top to keep off dust.

There were kitchen mats for all the holidays and seasons. Rolled, they filled a very large shopping bag.

Kitchen towels also celebrated with motifs of summer, fall, winter, spring and all the special occasions therein.

She wasn't a great cook, but her wonderful sense of style and beauty expressed itself with fashion and decorating.

Until she became too old and weak, she always decorated the outside of her apartment building with Christmas plants and decorations for the pine tree out front.

Her upstairs porch was hung with big red bows or other appropriate holiday decorations.

One of the last times we sat together when she still had geraniums on the porch, a hummingbird visited her plant several times. It was the first time I had ever seen a hummingbird.

When we were little, the Nativity scene was surrounded with a village lit by colored lights.

Photo circa 1960, the village surrounded by wooden fence; me holding the ill-fated Tavvy McTavish who developed an incurable kidney condition.

The lights were concealed beneath glittering cotton snow paper. Mountains were constructed of shoe boxes and rolled up newspaper and tissue for the lead skiers.

There were two ponds with ice skaters. One was very old chipped mirrors. The chips made them all the more beautiful and loved.

Some of the figurines were so old, they were paper mache, not lead. These dated to World War II and the metal shortage.

There were even two doughboys from World War I with rusted round helmets.

The houses also were paper. Some were well constructed, some were cheap, and there was an orange church with a spire. I especially remember one home that looked like stucco with California style arched windows.

Surrounding all was an old Lionel train set on the wide tracks.

Our home, a rented apartment except for about three years just before my father died, glowed with warm colors for the Christmas and New Year's holiday.

In the old days, visiting lasted until Epiphany on January 6th. Relatives traveled to each other's homes in the evenings, packing the family into winter coats, rubber galoshes, mittens, and mufflers. Of course, TV was in its infancy in those days and not the center of our lives. It functioned only in the evenings and only on three networks.

I loved the Christmas village and took it when I got married. I crawled around on the floor and tried to recreate the magic my mother had made for us.

When my husband and I split up and I took off for New Orleans, the decorations were in boxes in the basement of the old hippie house when a pipe burst.

My best friend and my husband acted afraid to tell me the bad news when I got back: some of the village's paper houses had been ruined.

That was the beginning of the end of the village.

A few years later, I sustained a back injury in a mugging and could no longer crawl around the floor.

Still, I lugged the village wherever I went. I set up the Nativity scene and what houses I could where there was space on a mantle or shelf.

One of the last times I set up the entire scene, Athens, GA, during the early 1990s.

Then, even that became too much and I gave all the bottle brush trees, figurines, ponds, and houses to a library.

Now that Mother is gone, I wish I had kept a few of the best ones and the Nativity scene.

This is my first Christmas without my mother.

I went to Mexico and had Christmas with a lovely bunch of people who I shall probably never see again. I saw a hummingbird in one of the trees, and it reminded me of one of the last afternoons I spent with her.

I run away from the holidays, but my mother embraced them until the end.

RIP, Helen D. Sefcovic, I love you and miss you.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mural Depicts Fort Lauderdale Theme on Elevator Shaft

This mural is fading in the harsh sunlight; the building appears to be deserted. A BankAtlantic location on the ground floor has apparently been abandoned since the local entity was purchased by BB&T.

I like the way the blue Florida sky, with some puffy clouds, reflects off the mirrored windows.

It is not unusual to see exterior elevator shafts in South Florida. This is the only one I have seen that features a mural depicting scenes of the Florida environment and history.

The twin leaping sailfish on the front of the tower are dramatic.

This side features an alligator and, at the top, a representation of a native American.

You can find this bulding on Federal Highway (U.S. 1) slightly south of McNab Road, on the east side.

UPDATE: April 21, 2014 -- Sadly, the mural is no more. The elevator has been repainted plain sky blue. Given the state of the building, I doubt that it will be replaced with a new mural. If it is, I will return with my camera.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

BB&T Fraudulently Using Homeland Security Act to Seize Access to Customers' Guaranteed Cashier's Checks

Banks such as BB&T are hiding behind the Homeland Security Act to deny customers access to certified cashier’s checks in amounts over $500.

A cashier’s check ensures that the money is immediately available upon deposit.

Now banks are "allowed" or "entitled" to put a hold on your access to your money for up to two weeks. BB & T did not disclose they were using the Patriot Act to seize money; I had to do a lot of digging to discover what was going.

I am not an attorney, and I am not dispensing legal advice. Here is what I did learned from my research when BB&T denied me access to proceeds from the dissolution of my mother’s bank accounts after her death.

All I got was a notice that stated the bank was "allowed" to hold the money for two weeks.

Huh? I thought. Cashier's check means "guaranteed," so in what universe are they allowed to deny me access to my money. Turns out, they are allowed to do this in my universe -- under four specified conditions.

Banks MAY deny access IF they believe the cashier’s check is fraudulent or terrorism, money-laundering or drug dealing is involved. None of these things apply to my 87-year-old mother who maintained a relationship with the bank of origin for 30-40 years. BB&T fraudulent used the Patriot Act as an excuse to pretend to believe something fishy was going on.

Note: Being able, allowed or entitled to do something does not mean one should do it.

BB&T did not inform me at the time of the deposit that it was going to seize my money for two weeks.

Five days later, I received a form notice saying that the bank was "allowed" to do this on a "case by case" basis.

I went into the BB&T branch where the deposit had been made with the final statement from my mother’s bank.

When the manager told me that the bank was "entitled" to hold the money, I pointed out that:

(a) The bank is entitled to seize access ONLY if they believed the check was fraudulent and I was providing proof that it was not

(b) I am entitled to demand next-day access and the bank is supposed to comply for a cashier's check -- that is the point, after all, of guaranteed drafts.

(c) The bank is entitled to sue me two weeks later if indeed turns out that the check was fraudulent.

It is an outrage that banks are pretending that good, honest citizens may be terrorists or drug dealers or paper-hangers who are trying to perpetrate a fraud. Checks clear in three to five days, and all it takes is a phone call to verify the authenticity of a check.

It was an insult to my mother's memory to seize her funds under the flimsy pretext of the Patriot Act.

Don’t take my word on this; be sure of your rights and don’t let banks get away with this kind of unethical and fraudulent behavior.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

What's Up Tiger Lily Ribbon Fan

This $18 fan from WalMart shows what a few rolls of dollar-ribbon and a bit of creativity can accomplish.

I lusted after pretty floor fans in the hundreds of dollars at department stores, while my white PVC fan plugged along, silently doing its duty and looking very large and very white against the cork floors.

Finally, I decided to wrap the stem in some dollar-a-roll ribbon I'd picked up at after-Christmas sales at Michael's crafts. They'd been on the shelf for months, so why not?

At that point, all I wanted to do was disguise the ugly thing; I hadn't planned out an entire DIY craft project.

I wrapped the stem carefully, without using glue to keep it in place. You can see the place where the PVC joint bulges that was especially challenging to cover neatly.

The ribbon is the kind with fine wire at the edges, which made it a little easier to shape.

This Maypole wrap defies gravity, secured at the top near the motor with just a bit of tape.

Now that I've had so many compliments on this piece, I won't hesitate to use hot glue when I redo it.

When the pole looked pretty good, I decided to try my hand at hiding the hideous base -- a big white plastic circle against the beautiful cork flooring. I didn't have enough leopard ribbon for the whole base and of course I couldn't go back and buy more, because that sale and those products were long gone.

I experimented with overlapping the different ribbons to feature the leopard print. I was still reluctant to anything permanently, in case I didn't like it and wanted to rip it all apart.

I settled on gluing some of the ribbons together, one on top of the other, but not to the fan base, to create the wheel. I use tiny dots of hot glue and quickly poke one piece onto another with a barbecue stick.

The design is fairly delicate, and I probably should hot glue my creation in place one of these days to make it more stable. I move it gently holding onto the motor so the whole thing doesn't crumble away, but the fan mostly stays in the same place anyway.

With the stem and base complete, the white face of the fan stood out like a big old full moon, only not in a good way. My next step was to use the remaining leopard ribbon as edging.

My first idea was to please the two-inch wide ribbon and make a ruffle all around the fan face. I was hoping for a leopard-printed sunflower.

This was too girly and silly. Shows why it's not a good idea to run wild with a hot glue gun until I know what I want to do.

I experimented until I came up with folding the ribbon from front to back. It turned out to be the easiest process of those I tried. The wires helped with that, too. Tiny pleats shape the ribbon into the circle. These are held in place with an especially sticky double-sided tape, applied in small pieces.

This wasn't a 15-minute project like the maribou lampshade. It started out as a bit of whimsy and ended up as a full DIY craft project. My cheap fan gets lots of compliments even from repair men who stop by to fix appliances!

2 Maribou Feather Boas, 1 Lampshade, and 15 Minutes with a Glue Gun

This DIY lampshade cost about $15 to make out of two feather boas.

A pair of these glass candlestick lamps were on my mother's vanity my whole life. They used to be my grandmother's, and they look 1920s.
They are petite, with delicate etchings of vines and flowers on the base and stem.

When Mother passed away in July, the lamps came home with me to Florida. They sit on a three-piece Art Deco set that includes a drop-top desk from a Royal Scandinavian furniture maker. Amazingly, I acquired all three pieces at an auction for $75, and they are the pride of my furnishings.

The old-fashioned glass lamps are a perfect accessory.

While in Schenectady, I saw a large maribou-covered lampshade in the window of a vintage upcycling store. It was $200 which is about $188 more than I'm prepared to spend for a lampshade.

Today, I at last had enough confidence to tackle the job of recreating the look. Maribou is so right for the era, too. It evokes memories of those flapper gals with their feathers and beads.

It took more feathers than I thought -- about 11 feet. Each boa is two yards. I figure 7-9 feet, but I used all but a foot of two boas; each is six feet.
estimated 5 to 9 feet for the job.

I've go to go back to JoAnns fabrics and buy another boa tomorrow.

Next try, I will see if I can pull the feather rope a bit tighter and perhaps better defining the rows of the wrap.

It took only a few drops of hot glue to anchor the wrap here and there. The bottom row took the most, perhaps six to eight, so that it would be stay in place. As I wound upward, I used about three or four glue drops for each level.

Total cost of the DIY lampshade is $15.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Florida to Cancun 14-Week Delayed Passport Blues

When I applied for my passport in July, I hadn’t even settled on a trip to take. I did not pay for expedited processes, because I knew I’d be traveling on Christmas break.

I had a passport back in the Seventies. Eventually, the papers got all stiff and a little moldy, and I tossed it out.

Bad idea. But that was the good old pre-911 days when Americans didn’t have to stand on one leg and spit nickels to prove you are a gen-u-wine, bone-a-fi-dee U.S. cit-eye-sin.

Submitting your old passport apparently earns bonus points and helps you win the amazing race not to lose the money one has paid for the trip.

Yes, I do have trip insurance but I didn’t notice “didn’t get my passport on time” as a reason for reimbursement.

Within three weeks, the State Department sent a letter saying my birth certificate was no good.

It was issued by Schenectady County with a seal, damned upstart Dutch province established long before the colonies became a united-states of anything – and who can trust those demmed furriners to know whether I was born or not.

I had to order a copy from the New York State Department of Health.

The next part of the cock-up is my fault – I did not read the fine print. I sent a check for $30 for 10-12 week processing, instead of $45 for two to four week processing. So sue me, my eyes are not as good as they used to be, I’m bad at paperwork, and I did this right after the death of my mom when I was seriously grieving and handling all the details of her passing.

When I called about three weeks later, I was told not to expect the birth certificate for a long time. So long that there seemed scant chance I could get it to the State Department in time.

New York State had a simple solution for that, however: Pay us $65 right now and we will get the passport to you in five to 10 days.

This turned out to be a lie, as it took 15 days. Nothing I could do about it and, of course, no refunds to me for their poor performance.

Being stressed out about the process, I next paid $56 for overnight delivery to the State Department and $72.72 (yes, really, 7-2-7-2, does someone have a number fetish in the Passport Office?) for expedited processing.

So, I guess I will be going to Cancun and the Mayan ruins for Winter Solstice and can slip through some crack in the cosmic egg or whatever is supposed to happen then.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Jupiter: Dappled Sunlight Through Canopy of Cypress Trees

The approach to Carlin Park in Jupiter, Florida, offers an outstanding canopy of cypress trees.

By this point in the drive, I had dawdled over where to eat so long that I created an impossible situation for myself.

In tourist towns and on the beach, one often pays for the view and quaintness, rather than the quality of the cuisine.

By this time, I wanted a hamburger, having consumed only two Dunkin' Donuts and an iced coffee all day. Well you know what they say -- America runs on Dunkin.

Since I've discovered how good the iced coffee is for half the price of Starbucks, I can't waste my money on the latter anymore.

I stopped in Delray Beach, another lovely small town voted in 2012 one of the most interesting small towns in the USA on Travel Channel.

It was crammed with couples from their 30s upward. Even so, I managed to find free parking.

By this time of a lovely busy Saturday evening, there were only two kinds of restaurants -- those that were crammed with couples and uncomfortable to eat in by myself or those that were empty and there suspected of bad food. Or else they'd be crowded, right?

I ended up grabbing some nachos at Moe's on Commercial Boulevard, bad food and not that cheap yet a satisfying end to a day in small-town South Florida.

Stuart Offers Picturesque Water View and Small-Town Charm

I drove down Route 1 from Vero Beach to Stuart. There are many antiques and second-hand stores along the way.

Daylight was waning, so I didn't stop. Someday I will return and take my time.

I haven't stopped in Stuart since 2003. I've always enjoyed it's small-town charm and small parks on the water.

The lock and chain attests that crime is not completely unknown, however petty.

This mural with tile insets was one of the first things I observed after I parked. Parking is still free, by the way, not like here in downtown and beachside Fort Lauderdale.

Like so many other South Florida town, Stuart has taken care to maximize its old-time appeal.

This building advertises a Stuart claim to fame.

I'm not sure if I completely like it. Before, Stuart was just an old town; now it has uniformly lettered signs with an antique script and Caribbean-colored storefronts that look like a movie set.

Theater with live band music coming from behind the closed doors -- probably a practice session.

Garden entry to attorneys' office evokes memories of New Orleans.

Charming pink cottage advertises rooms available. I believe the back yard is on the water.

I wouldn't mind living in an apartment with a balcony overlooking the small-town doings.

If you look closely, you may see a dancing woman and a parrot on the trompe l'oeil balcony that decorates the facade of the plain exterior wall.

Fake window scenes between real shutter further the illusion.

Built along the river, Stuart has preserved several places where all residents can enjoy the view -- unlike the Palm Beach to Miami metroplex where tall condos and hotels dominate the sands.

Here some folks enjoy cool evening breezes, and it looked like a preacher or other speaker might have been preparing for a presentation.

A final look at Stuart -- this sailfish fountain shining brilliantly as it was backlit by a bright sunset.

Vero Beach: A Quaint and Quiet Old Town

Vero Beach was named by a Mayor's wife, back around the 1920s, after the Latin word for truth, veritas.

This theater marquee preserves a sense of a vital city on the move, that it was considered in those days. While driving from town, a Public Radio program featured an interview with a town librarian and historian of Vero Beach history.

All photos are the property of Ordinary Gal and must be credited back to this article on the site.

Small shops and restaurants now occupy the theater building and arcade.

South Florida small towns, like those in other parts of the country, are working hard to provide the esthetics and things to do that appeal to local residents and tourists.

The plain facade, above, is relieved by painting building sections different colors. This makes it look as if there are attached buildings, instead of a single, unrelieved wall.

Another plain building was enhanced with tiles.

View of the Pocohontas apartments -- a native American who did not live in this part of the county.

Mural is more fitting homage to the Native American past in South Florida. Gator-fighting is still carried on as a tourist attraction by the Seminole tribe in the Fort Lauderdale area.

The part across from Vero Beach City Hall is beautifully maintained and lightly used on Saturday afternoon.

On the walk back to my car, I noticed this handsome guy. What gal can resist her knight in armor?

Small Town Florida: Vero Beach, Stuart, and Carlin Park, Jupiter

The small towns of south Florida are quaint and offer shops, restaurants, entertainment, and architectural beauty.

Yesterday I took a ride that lasted most of the day to Vero Beach outlet mall to buy some cotton bras that I can't seem to get locally.

I prefer the Vero Beach mall to the nearby Sawgrass Mills outlets mall for several reasons:
First, Sawgrass Mills is noisy. Very noisy. There are lots of things for kids to do. On Friday, I saw a youngster almost flying using bungee cord-trampoline jumping. I probably would have been too dizzy too walk if I tried it, but it made me happy just to see his grins and antics.

Second, Sawgrass Mills is a hub of indoor corridors -- great for the Fort Lauderdale visitor who gets trapped in a hotel room on rainy days but not so great for a Floridian who would prefer to transverse outdoor walkways.
Third, it is skewed very young. At Vero Beach, music that appeals to my people, Boomers, was playing. It is easier to find clothing that interests me at Vero Beach.

Vero Outlets is nicely landscaped and a pleasure to walk. There is a free trolley for those who prefer to ride.

After that, I went into Vero Old Town to take some photos. Pictures are the property of Ordinary Gal and must be linked back to the site. They may be sold or otherwise used for your personal profit or that of your organization.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Recipes Tell the Story of A Life

Most people save photographs.

I’ve kept a journal for some years.

A charming little book, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, documents a life with clothing. I gave that one to several friends and now, years later, it's a play.

I was caught unawares when culling and sorting my recipes turned into another route to Memory Lane.

Some of the earliest recipes are hand-written by people who no longer or rarely make the old Polish dishes.

Sandy Dykeman's banana cake recipe reminded me of high school and our early college time. I haven't seen her or made the recipe in decades. But I cannot throw it out, for I have no photos of her, and it is a memory worth having every once in a while.

Some of the recipes are from Cosmopolitan, the 1970s bible of liberated young career women. Sandy and I tried many of these. A recipe for shrimp, smothered in fresh summer tomatoes and goat cheese, is one I still use from time to time.

One of my early jobs in newspaper was typing recipes. Of those I saved, the paper has turned brown, and sometimes the letters have faded so nearly indistinct.

Here's a recipe for chicken cacciatore I made the first time I had my husband over for dinner. He was living with another woman, and she came too. I did not see our love affair coming. The memories are sprinkled with stardust. That recipe stays.

Quite a few recipes are from the healthy recipe books a Baltimore friend and I used. I remember bringing my own containers to buy different kinds of flour, rice, and yeast from tubs at the Sikh health food store. Is it still there, I wonder? I am pretty sure that the bins probably are no more.

Saturday was a wonderful day to visit the Baltimore markets, come home with my booty, drink wine, cook, and entertain. Many of these recipes are stained with ingredients from those times long past.

A few recipes are from gourmet cooking school. Reporters are no longer allowed to accept such freebies, but I learned a lot.

Some of these are keepers, especially the salad dressings.

I was wondering as I sorted through these if I had ever allowed myself the luxury of walnut oil for a salad dressing. I think I must try it, however expensive it may be. Then I see a notation of a Baltimore supermarket where I obviously bought it. I remember now, I tried it, and I was not as impressed as perhaps I ought to be.

Here are the recipes I cooked when we were poor – lots of beans and tortillas and casseroles and very little meat. There are some good soup and stew recipes among this lot, things I cook now and again.

There are recipes for things I no longer eat – veal and pork. A growing collection of salad and vegetable recipes as my preference has gone in that direction. I begged for the antipasto salad when I was a girl and my family sent out for pizza. I don't know where that craving came from, among my meat-and-potatoes relatives. I still embrace vegetables and increasingly the world does, too.

Sometimes I wonder at why I kept a recipe. Do I really need a instructions to make deviled eggs? Or herb chicken? These are dumped.

I haven't need instructions to whip up easy dishes -- pasta, omelettes, steak -- since the 1970s. It's always been about what's in the cupboard and what goes with what. I get two or three recipes for a dish from my cookbooks or the internet, compare the ingredients, and decide how I will do it. This comes from those years of typing recipes. I quickly saw that certain things go with other things and the many variations of a single dish. Perhaps I also have been blessed with a keen sense of smell. That helps, too.

I continue sorting and culling the dishes of times past, memories of people I have loved drifting through my fingers like fairy dust.