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My Mom practically invented recycling. Most people think the big recycling craze just started this last decade or so, but Mary Ann practiced the art of recycling way back in the ‘60s.

The most obvious recycling event at our house happened every August with hand-me-down clothes. I don’t remember buying that many new clothes during grade school as I was always getting someone else’s clothes. I was the runt in my family. Even my younger sisters eventually outgrew me. But mostly, I inherited my older sister Tracy’s clothes. That was fine with me because I thought she had the coolest dresses, and I was lucky to get them two years after they had gone out of style. I also got my cousins’ clothes. Of course after grade school, once I had outgrown the hand-me-downs, Coleen and Melissa got them. But at least by then the clothes had come back into style.

When Tracy and I were toddlers, my Mom made some of our clothes. They were pretty cute for ’60s standards, and always matching. Tracy and I are practically Irish twins, and Mom usually dressed us as actual twins.

See.

 

Mary Ann made us identical clothes through our early grade school years. I even remember being in a ‘fashion show’ when I was in fourth grade and Tracy was in fifth. We modeled my Mom’s designs: polyester peach elephant pants with peach and blue halter tops. And she had us wear big straw hats and sunglasses. Move over Heidi Klum. Did I mention this fashion show was held in our grade school cafeteria? We were famous for five minutes, then went home smelling like creamed corn.

My Mom couldn’t help but be resourceful. Each year after birthdays or Christmas morning, Mom would quickly snatch up the discarded bows to put in her package-wrapping stash for the next big event. I’m guilty of this today. Well c’mon, I’m not gonna throw out a perfectly good bow; I just take off the used tape so the next person will think they’ve received a fancy new one.

Anyway, Mary Ann reused everything from coffee cans to Cool Whip containers, and she had a big stash of plastic bags. I don’t remember plastic grocery bags when I was a kid, but I certainly remember clear plastic produce bags and bread bags. She would not throw those things away. In fact, she would rinse them out and carefully set them out to dry, by sticking them up on the louvered kitchen window. They came in handy for all kinds of things: storing homemade cookies … packing picnic lunches … making homemade snow boots.

Mom would build up a plastic bag supply before we took a winter trip to Lake Tahoe or somewhere else to play in the snow. Why bother with buying the kids snow boots or galoshes when you have 300 perfectly good plastic produce bags and Wonder Bread bags? Mom would outfit us all in two pairs of socks and our sneakers and then put about five plastic bags over each foot — securing them with leftover rubber bands from newspaper deliveries.

You probably think I make this stuff up.

Nope.

 

A little hard to tell above, but those are some plastic bags over our shoes.

 

 

I’m on the left in this one above. My plastic bags are already covered in snow and frostbite is setting in so I’m trying to build an igloo for shelter. You can still see through Tracy’s and Coleen’s plastic bags pretty well. Coleen is looking at my Mom as she holds up an ice trophy for “Best Homemade Snow Boots.”

Our fancy plastic bag snow boots would last about an hour until each layer had ripped through appropriately and our feet would get wet and cold. Then we’d retreat to the brown wood-paneled station wagon to thaw out and have some sandwiches — packaged in recycled plastic produce bags.

Thankfully Mary Ann never put two and two together and tried to make our clothes out of plastic bags:

 

  “Dress up Baby as a loaf of Wonder Bread” by Mike Mozart is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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Halloween was my favorite holiday when I was a kid. I loved it more than Christmas. It was that cool time of year when the leaves would fall from the trees on windy evenings and the breeze still had a hint of warmth. I guess it also had to do with the fact that on Halloween night I could trick-or-treat and get CANDY, CANDY and more CANDY — especially since every other day of the year our parents warned us never to take candy from strangers. I loved dressing up and loved creating my perfect costume. When we were little, my Mom would make Halloween costumes for us. Here’s me and Tracy in the late ’60s:

“Help, I’ve lost my sheep! And my dignity.”

In later years, Mom would sometimes buy us costumes from the store — probably K-Mart, and most likely a Blue Light Special. Little girls in the late ’60s and early ’70s had about two costume choices: nurse or witch. I chose the nurse. There were little candy pills that came in the little plastic nurse’s bag. Hand-me-downs were also a part of Halloween: Coleen and Melissa would be wearing those Little Bo Peep costumes a few years later.

Once I became a lot older (at least 9 or 10), I would pride myself in making my own costume. I wasn’t your typical girly-girl who wanted to be a Princess or Fairy or Bride for Halloween. I was immensely proud of a Bum costume I designed once. I used a pair of my Dad’s old pants, an old shirt and tie, and a sailor’s hat. Hmm. Apparently I was a bum from some ’40s Hollywood movie. I rubbed used coffee grounds all over my face to resemble a five-o’clock shadow. “Brother, can you spare a dime? Or a Snickers?”

When I was in elementary school, there was a super dry spell in Halloween festivities for children in the San Francisco Bay Area. There was a crazy serial killer named the Zodiac on the loose. During those Zodiac Years, no trick-or-treating was allowed in Vallejo. I hated the Zodiac. I was too young to understand what was going on — all I knew was some crazy person had ruined my favorite holiday. Of course if Halloween fell on a Saturday night, we could have our own party around the TV when this Bay Area classic came on:

“Creature Features” was an awesome horror movie show that played on Saturday nights. There was a cool, somewhat weird, host named Bob Wilkins and he would talk about the scary movies they were playing that night. These were usually “B” movies (maybe “C”) that aspired to be as bad as movies like “War of the Gargantuas” or “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” You probably noticed Bob in that opening clip, wearing his Buddy Holly glasses and puffing on a big cigar. In hindsight, I bet that thing was full of weed, because he was just way too mellow. I know you’re gonna click on that again just to hear that awesome, funky ’70s theme song.

Anyway, during the Zodiac Years, all kids were banned from the streets and had to go to school cafeterias or community centers to celebrate Halloween. Trick-or-treating around a cafeteria just isn’t the same once you’ve experienced the real thing outdoors, especially when that nasty corn smell is still lingering in the cafeteria air from lunch time.

We’d parade around the cafeteria in our costumes getting candy and snacks. Oh, and there was bobbing for apples, or as I like to call it, “Hello, Hepatitis!” What were those adults thinking? Hey guys, let’s grab a huge, rusty pail from the backyard scrap pile, fill it with water from the hose and throw some apples in it. Then let’s have the kids dress up like dorks with crazy makeup all over their face, run around the block begging the neighbors for candy in the cold, then drag them and their runny noses over to the big, rusty water pail full of apples and stick their faces in it. Then let’s have them bite at the apples with their candy-corroded teeth long enough so that all their spit mixes together in the water. If one of them actually snags an apple in their teeth, they WIN!! They win an APPLE!!

Even as a kid I knew there was something terribly wrong with bobbing for apples. But there were also other dangers lurking around in Halloween goodies. My Dad made us well aware of the potential razor blade or cherry bomb or “drug injected by needle” that just might be hiding in our mini Three Musketeers bar. When we got home from trick-or treating during the Non-Zodiac Years, we had to line up and pass our bags over to Dad for official inspection. Dad would check for pin holes and the like in our candy wrappers. Many times he would have to taste test our candy to be sure they were safe for us. He had to taste test A LOT of our candy. Well, he didn’t want a cherry bomb to blow our cheek off.

One time I didn’t listen to my Mom and Dad’s lecture telling us not to eat candy at night and I snuck lots of candy from my trick-or-treat bag right before bed, and proceeded to eat most of it. That night, I had the dreaded “eating-candy-before-bedtime nightmare.” About werewolves. Dancing werewolves. If you missed that post, click here, or here (I tend to write about those werewolves quite a bit, apparently).

I don’t eat candy before bed any more. And I sleep with a gun loaded with silver bullets.

I love Napa. I was lucky to grow up there. Even though I don’t live there anymore, it’s still home. I visit friends and family there when I can to get my “Napa Fix.” So much has changed over the last few decades, yet it feels exactly the same to me whenever I go back. Once I drive into Napa and see the mustard growing in the vineyards, I know I’m home.

When I was a kid, all the tourists passed by the actual city of Napa and headed up valley to the wineries. They missed out on a lot of cool stuff. Now they flock to Downtown Napa, with all of its new restaurants, wine bars, boutiques, hotels and a bustling riverfront. But there are so many other beautiful places in Napa. Just drive away from Downtown in any direction and you’ll see.

I can’t wait to go back. Besides, I’m overdue for some malfatti. Which brings me to my Top Ten List.

Top Ten Ways You Know You’re a True Napan:

10.  You snuck into Kay-Von Drive-In in somebody’s car trunk. Or you snuck in under the fence. Or you simply paid to get in by cramming as many people in the car as you could.

9.  You call the country club the Country Club. (I don’t know what the “Silverado Resort and Spa” is … )

8.  You have your own personal Rebob story. It probably involves either one of your friends trying to scare the crap out of you, or you trying to scare the crap out of one of your friends.

7.  You cruised the “J” on Friday and Saturday nights, and waited all year for the big Cruise Night. And you found your friends somewhere along Jefferson without the help of cell phones.

6.  You went to the Big Game every year at Memorial Stadium, and your life depended on who would win.

5.  You headed to the Lake many summer weekends in an overcrowded car stuffed with friends, Doritos and beer, blasting AC/DC and Journey all the way. Or you went up with the family in your station wagon. And you saluted the Old Man With the Pipe on the way up.

4.  You walked Downtown on the weekends and met up with friends (usually at the Clock Tower — officially known as the Paul R. Gore Clock Tower. Paul was the Dad of a few of my high school friends). You probably grabbed something to eat at the Woolworth’s counter, or at The Fox & The Grapes, or at the deli next to Mervyn’s. You stopped in Partrick’s Candy (now Anette’s) to smell the chocolate. You browsed Brewster’s, Mervyn’s, Merrill’s and Carithers. Sometimes you’d see a movie at the Uptown, when they had intermission and cartoons, too. You hurried past the Connor Hotel, but slowed down at the deserted Fagiani’s long enough to peek through the front door window. If you dared.

  “Napa Clock Tower” by Will Murray (Willscrlt) is licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0-US

3.  You know the exact two spots in town to pick up malfatti. And you likely took a big pot to the back door of The Depot back in the day to pick some up from Clemente and his family.

2.  Depending on which generation you fit into, you either partied at the Tucker Bag and Rainbow Bridge or you hit Alfredo’s on Tuesdays for Nickel Beer Night. And you probably hit whatever incarnation the popular Downtown hotspot was at the time (either The Oberon, Main Street Bar & Grill, or Downtown Joe’s). Maybe you played volleyball at Tom Foolery. You probably even stopped in Henry’s … if you were in-the-know.

1.  You know the difference between a Napan and a Napkin. A napkin, by definition, is “a square piece of cloth or paper used at a meal to wipe the fingers or lips, and to protect garments.”  ‘Nuff said.

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What Day Is It??!!

I think I’ve mentioned I love Friday the 13th. I’ve always loved Friday the 13th. When I was a kid I simply loved Fridays. Which is strange, because that often meant Friday Night Casserole for dinner. But Fridays after school were also the start of the weekend, and when it was a Pay Day Friday we were able to pick up our favorite fast food or go out to dinner. And then we’d sprawl out on the living room floor to watch our favorite prime-time lineup: “The Brady Bunch,” “Nanny and the Professor” and “The Partridge Family”:

So when I combine Friday with 13, I can’t go wrong; 13 has always been my favorite number. I don’t know why. It’s just awesome. And I’ve won my fair share on the roulette wheel betting on 13 Black. It’s also a baker’s dozen, and you can never go wrong with one extra donut, amiright.

Some people freak out and think Friday the 13th is totally unlucky and scary. Probably because of scary movies. One time after the original “Poltergeist” came out, my sisters and I pulled a prank on my Mom, figuring we’d freak her out when she woke up on Friday the 13th. After she went to bed the night before, we placed dining room chairs on top of the kitchen table and scattered a few around the room. And we opened up a bunch of kitchen cabinet doors. We taped this note to the dining room table, and by the reply she left, you can tell we didn’t scare her one bit:

fri-the-13-note

Anyway, I always look forward to Friday the 13th being a lucky day. They don’t happen that frequently. The last Friday the 13th was in May. And that was the exact day Jay and I received a letter in the mail letting us know we were chosen to be “Wheel of Fortune” contestants. True story; stay tuned.

So don’t sit home like a scaredy-cat on Friday the 13th. Get out there. Go buy a lottery ticket. Ask that special someone out on a date. Send in an audition tape to “Wheel of Fortune.” The next Friday the 13th isn’t until October, so today’s your only chance for another 10 months. Well, if you’re Irish, you have St. Patrick’s Day coming up. You know, luck of the Irish and all that. Plus all the alcohol. So essentially you have another lucky day in just two months.

Of course, if you’re planning a camping trip this weekend at a place called “Camp Crystal Lake” you might want to change your plans.

I remember little bits about my first day in Kindergarten. Back then, since hardly any kids went to preschool or dance class or played pee-wee ball, we usually didn’t know another soul in the classroom. You’d think that’d be traumatic for some kids – especially a little paranoid four-year-old like me – but I couldn’t wait to go to school. Luckily, my best-friend/next-door-neighbor, Randy, and I were the same age and we went to school together that first day. But when we got there, he cried like a little baby so his Mom took him home to wait for the next school year. Still, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to get into that classroom and eat paste.

Kindergarten featured a lot of finger painting, coloring, singing songs and playing in the fake little kitchen, but my favorite part of the day was snack time. Every day we’d get graham crackers and milk. My second favorite part of the day was recess, for obvious reasons. My least favorite part of the day was nap time. I don’t know about you, but I could never fall asleep on a dirty plastic mat on the floor. I’d just lay there. Apparently I was resting on my left side on Picture Day.

Yes, my Dad cut my bangs (see: “Papa Don’s Discount Salon“) and my Mom put that crazy bow on my head, on top of what was at one time early in the morning my hair pulled back tightly and neatly into a ponytail. Anyway, nap time was magical if you were the kid who got to be the “Wake-Up Fairy.” Each week several kids were assigned different tasks to carry out for the week. I can only remember two tasks: one was the Wake-Up Fairy and the other was the “Kid who had to make sure all the jump-ropes, four-square balls and other playground equipment were accounted for after recess.” I remember that task vividly because the one time I had it, I was trying to fit all the playground stuff into the big storage closet and a big wooden post fell on my head. Anyway, I always wanted to be the Wake-Up Fairy. That lucky kid received the magical wand from the teacher and was able to get up a few minutes early from nap time to go around and touch each kid on the head with the wand to wake them up. It was the first taste of power for a little kid.

Once I hit first grade, it was serious business. We had to stay in school all … day … long. No naps, snacks or skipping home at noon. But I still loved it. We actually ate lunch in the cafeteria. Everyone popped open their Partridge Family, Campus Queen, Archies or Superman metal lunchboxes and dug into food that had been sitting unrefrigerated in the back of classrooms for four hours. And everybody had milk money (usually a dime) taped to the inside of their lunchbox. Some sandwich and snack trading would happen, but all liverwurst, deviled ham and olive loaf sandwiches ended up in the trash. The week after a Payday Friday, Mom often packed my favorite lunch: a PB&J, a little plastic baggie of BBQ chips, and a few apple slices or half an orange; sometimes even a few store-brand cookies thrown in to make it fancy.

There were several magical days every elementary school kid would wait for each year. First was Halloween, naturally, because we got to dress up in costumes and walk around the school in a little parade. And we got candy. After Halloween, we waited for Christmas to roll around. There would be Christmas crafts, songs and other activities for the week leading up to Christmas break, and then usually a fancy party the day before Christmas vacation. And we got candy.

Nothing was quite as exciting as the holidays as a kid, but there were a few recurring events at our elementary school I always looked forward to. Besides field trips, I loved Ice Cream Days; I’d get a dime each time to buy a Lemon Bar or Fudgsicle. But one of the most magical days was Scholastic Book Day. Every few months or so the teacher would hand out Scholastic Book Order Flyers.

Scholastic Book Club Flyers by Enokson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

We’d pick out several books in our flyer, take the form home for our parents to approve and then bring it back to school with an envelope of dollar bills and coins for our purchase. Then we had to wait for the day the books arrived. When they did, it was like Christmas. Each kid who ordered books received their little bundle, packaged together with a big rubber band. I guess it was the early version of Amazon. It was so exciting getting your own brand-new books. And if you had brothers and sisters, your book supply at home was even sweeter. We had a cool, built-in cabinet in our house with lots of shelves and a fancy pull-down door accented with a metal treble clef and music staff. That’s where we kept all of our books and encyclopedias (Note to Millennials: Encyclopedias are primitive book versions of the internet). When my sister, Coleen, was a baby, she’d go to that cabinet and pull every book off the shelf. My Mom said it was a daily routine.

I guess getting new books back then is similar to the experience when kids today get a new tablet, or phone, or laptop or electronic game. Only when I was a kid, no matter how much we loved those shiny new books, we’d drop them in a heartbeat to go run around, ride bikes, climb trees or run through the sprinklers with other kids in the neighborhood. Actually, I have lots of unread books lying around today because I’m still always outside running through the sprinklers.

Back in the early ‘70s, kids would run home after school to catch their favorite cartoon or other kids’ show coming on TV at 3:00. My favorite was the cartoon “Kimba the White Lion.” He was a cute little cub. I can hardly remember what that cartoon was about, but I remember the theme song:

 

 

As the seasons went by, my favorite changed to “The Banana Splits”– a groovy, goofy Hanna-Barbera gem with an addicting theme song (“Tra la la, la la la la”). The Banana Splits were four surreal animals (dudes in costumes) that did crazy antics, skits and songs, and they’d play short episodes of different cartoons or live-action shows every day.  They featured “Arabian Knights,” “The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and my favorite, “Danger Island,” a crazy cliffhanger about explorers on a tropical island tormented by pirates and natives. (“Uh-oh, Chongo!”) It was awesome … if you were 11.

 

 

Once I hit 13, my afternoon favorite changed to “The Mike Douglas Show” where I’d hope to catch dreamy guest stars like Shaun Cassidy or Andy Gibb. If the TV Guide said one of these ‘70s teen idols would be on a certain day, that afternoon at school after the last bell rang you’d see flocks of junior high school girls fleeing the school grounds like their Dittos were on fire.

There was another afternoon show that always had a pay-off, for someone. It was “Dialing for Dollars.” In the San Francisco Bay Area, Pat McCormick hosted the show, which featured an afternoon movie and offered viewers the chance at a cash prize. Pat was a Bay Area icon. He also hosted the “Charley and Humphrey Show,” another hit with the local kids.

 

 

On Dialing for Dollars, there were several intermissions throughout the movie when Pat would call some lucky Bay Area viewer who could win the jackpot … IF they were watching and knew the infamous Count and Amount. The Count was a number code like “2 From the Top” or “7 From the Bottom,” and the Amount was the jackpot – usually somewhere between $100 and $300 dollars. Big bucks, people. Sometimes my sisters and I would sit through the dumbest movies on the planet waiting for Pat to call our house. He never did. But he did call my Grandma Smothers once. She wasn’t watching the TV, because she was probably making Calabasitas, so she didn’t know the Count and the Amount. But they sent her a gift certificate for Chicken Delight in the mail as a consolation prize. Which was actually pretty cool. Chicken Delight was quite the rage when I was a kid.

I remember one night when my Dad was working swing shift at Mare Island, Mom ordered Chicken Delight for us. It must’ve been a PayDay Friday. Chicken Delight was about the only place that actually delivered food to your door back then. Mom laid a blanket out on the living room floor so we could have an indoor picnic with our Chicken Delight delicacies. I remember chicken, but not much else. I imagine there was cole slaw or french fries or rolls, but whatever there was, it wasn’t Friday Night Casserole, so it was delicious.

I love birthdays. Especially mine. And I love birthday cake. Not the kind from the bakery, but actual homemade cake. My Mom always made our birthday cakes when we were growing up.

Below is a pic of one of Mary Ann’s cakes. This is my little sister, Melissa, on her second birthday. She’s blowing out her birthday candles surrounded by my sisters, Coleen and Tracy. Looks like Coleen’s helping her blow out the candles and Tracy is holding her by the PJ’s so she doesn’t fall off the chair. Melissa’s sporting a fancy birthday hat one of us made with paper and glitter. Not sure where I am — maybe those are my hands on the left. I’m probably clapping or rubbing my hands together excitedly because we had to eat Friday Night Casserole for dinner and I was starving.

 

 

My favorite was Mary Ann’s M & M Cake, which I thought she had invented: chocolate cake and chocolate frosting, decorated with M & Ms. Tracy knows how much I loved it, so here are some cupcakes and a mini M & M cake she made for a recent birthday of mine:

 

 

My second favorite cake was Cherry Chip with pink frosting and pink sprinkles. Mary Ann taught me how to bake when I was little, and I still like to bake. I’d make cakes and cookies with the nieces and nephews when they were little. Below is my niece, Madi, helping make a Cherry Chip Cake a few years ago. She’s quite the artist, so she made sure to add pink sprinkles just like Mary Ann would:

 

 

And here’s my niece, Addi, helping me make a cake when she was about 4:

 

 

Here’s a brownie-baking session with Addi:

 

 

The head-in-bowl technique was apparently something she learned from her Uncle Jay.

 

Here’s my nephew, Logan, at about 4, helping with chocolate chip cookies :

 

 

Or actually, feeding cookie dough to my sister’s dog:

 

 

There was another cake Mary Ann made that we liked. But if she had told me the ingredients involved, I would’ve never eaten it. It was called Mayonnaise Cake. There’s actually mayonnaise in it. That’s disgusting. I’m a Miracle Whip girl at heart, and never liked mayonnaise. Growing up in our house, there were always two condiments you’d find in the fridge, thanks to Papa Don: Heinz Ketchup (of course) and Miracle Whip. Papa Don used Miracle Whip on every sandwich, and it’s all my sisters and I used when we made school lunches. Miracle Whip and Land O’ Frost luncheon meats, Miracle Whip and American cheese, Miracle Whip and liverwurst (hurl). Papa Don even ate Miracle Whip and peanut butter sandwiches. I tried one once. Not a fan, but it was still better than Miracle Whip and liverwurst.

So I did like Mayonnaise Cake. It simply tasted like chocolate cake to me. Mary Ann would ice it with Cool Whip, which I’d scrape off. But you could’ve fooled me that there was mayonnaise in it. As I got older, I realized that adding mayonnaise was really no different than adding oil and eggs, so it made sense. So give this cake recipe a try if you run out of eggs and oil. Just be sure not to substitute Miracle Whip for the mayonnaise.

Mayonnaise Cake

1 Cup sugar

1 Cup water

1 Cup mayonnaise

1 tsp vanilla

2 Cups flour

½ Cup cocoa

½ tsp baking soda

Mix the sugar, water, mayonnaise and vanilla in a large bowl. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking soda, and then add to the wet mixture, mixing until combined. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. When the cake is cooled, frost it with Cool Whip if you’re retro, or use good ol’ chocolate frosting. Or forget the frosting and place a doily on top of the cake and dust it with powdered sugar to make it ’70s fancy.

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