Nostalgia: Astro Pops!


This is my favorite candy from my childhood. The wrapper says Astro Pop, but I always knew it as a pirulí.

I think I loved it so much because it was a rare treat. My grandparents usually bought these for me when I visited with them, first in New Jersey when I was a very little girl, and then a little later, in Miami.

I don’t recall seeing them at the grocery store, where Hershey bars were front and center (and also a big time favorite of mine), but the pirulís seemed to be at every check out line in the little hispanic markets. In fact, it was the only place I ever saw them.

I guess that’s why they were so special. Because it was an occasion to get one.

Everything about the pops is unique. My favorite part, the first, yellow layer, was so tasty and sweet. I couldn’t quite place the flavor when I was a kid but grown-up me knows it’s supposed to be pineapple. It’s more like cream soda as far as I’m concerned, but I’ll let the manufacturers call it pineapple if they want. It’s followed by passion fruit, another flavor I couldn’t have identified as a child, but the bottom layer, the toxic cherry, was easy enough to name.

I usually lost interest in the candy once I had licked the yellow top into a fiercely dangerous point so sharp it could cut. I know this because I once drew blood testing the point. What’s not to love about a confection that doubles as a weapon? I wonder if the TSA confiscates it along with the nail clippers.

Another reason I rarely finished it was because the base was stuck to a chunk of hard wax. Who wants that crumbling in their mouth?

Still, every once in a while, I’ll smell some pineapple candy and it will remind me of the pirulís I enjoyed (or at least, half-enjoyed) when I was a kid, and it takes me back to those days. I see the same clear, shiny, toxic colors of today’s Jolly Ranchers and wonder why they don’t taste as good as those Astro Pops.

I know why I love pirulis, and it has nothing to do with stabbing my little brother with the sharp point, or even a highly tuned palate that appreciates pineapple and passion fruit. No, it’s because the sight, and the smell, and definitely the taste of this candy transports me to a time in my life when everything was perfect. When happiness wasn’t fleeting and order was the norm.

Perhaps that perception is as artificial as the colors and flavors in the candy, but one thing is for sure: it is reminiscent of a beautiful time in my life full of love and family. What could be sweeter than that?

just a little moment of silence…

…before I chomp down on these little treats…

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They tell me it’s business, not personal. What’s next? Tony the Tiger is gonna retire? No more Frosted Flakes?

coloring the night away

Some of my happiest childhood memories are from moments spent on the floor of this living room, coloring. This picture is cracking me up. You can see the aluminum dinette chair with the plastic upholstery in the dining room, and up against the wall is my doll house. Also aluminum.

In fact, our Christmas tree was aluminum, too. With deep green glass ornaments. And a tacky little green spotlight that made the silver tree shine green. Oh. My.

What can I say? My dad was into the space program — we were whooping it up like The Jetsons.

And that’s me, Judy Jetson, with my hair picked up and flopping off the top of my head. I hated that hairstyle my whole childhood. And then I inflicted it on my own girls. Teehee. It’s so cute.

I spent a lot of time sprawled on the floor…listening to the TV, listening to the grown-ups visiting, listening to my mother play Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck LP’s.

Just plain listening.

It’s why I like to distract myself when I listen to things now. I doodle and fill in letters on meeting agendas, and generally make a gigantic mess of any paper in front of me if I’m sitting through something that I find interesting. It takes me back to a time that was carefree — truly free from any cares. My biggest dilemma was trying to figure out what distinguished the green-blue crayon from the blue-green one.

If only my life could be reduced to the simplicity of a Crayola crayons box, with everything neatly labeled.

Meh. It’s only a temporary and fleeting desire. The truth is that more often than not I tried my hand at creating my own pictures. I tired of coloring inside the lines a long time ago, looking for adventure outside the traditional box with the 8 colors. I wanted the box of 64, with the neat sharpener built into the back.

Yeah. I wanted lots of colors.

I got it, too. The big box, that is. I have no complaints, no regrets. In fact, things around here get more colorful all the time, and I’m happy to throw myself on the rug and enjoy it.

I don’t color anymore — I fill up journals now, but it’s kind of the same thing for me…the sound of the pen scratching against the paper takes me into a little world that’s all my own.

Jellybeans and other things

I ran into the woman who coached my basketball team, the Jellybeans, when I was a kid in 1971. I can’t wrap my mind around the decades that have passed.

Few people know that I have this secret past as a basketball playing, pony-tail shaking, trouble-making bookworm.

Well. Maybe you might believe the last part of that. The basketball, though, often comes as a surprise. I’m okay with people looking at my middle-aged “comfortable” body and squinting to see if there ever could have been a lithe athlete in there.

She’s still there, moving slower, and less gracefully, but in some way…full of grace.

It has less to do with the muscle memory that leads to flawless lay-ups, and more about the muscle memory of the heart.

I learned many lessons while playing sports. Research shows that girls and young women who play sports tend to have better self-esteem, better body image, and better mental health over all. They tend to delay sex longer and are better students.

Those physical lessons that led to championship seasons and excellence on the court were secondary to the moral lessons that influenced my character and directly affected the kind of girl I was, and the woman that I have become.

For every suicide that I ran, building stamina and speed, I learned that suffering and pain can sometimes be fleeting and often leads to strength.

For every monotonous dribbling or shooting drill that improved my skill, I learned about patience and commitment, and the rewards of hard work.

For every play that was repeated over and over until we operated in unison, I learned the value of working together and perhaps more importantly, that everyone on a team has unique skills. I learned to ask for help when in a pickle, and to selflessly jump into the fray to help when I can.

The coaches who taught me those important lessons were in my life for a season (ha, how do you like that unintended wordplay?) but their influence has been timeless.

I’ve passed along those same lessons to athletes I’ve coached, students I’ve taught, and adults I’ve advised. I’v passed those lessons along to my children.

I live those lessons, I hope, with humility but determination. To be my best. To do my best. To be a good sport. To enjoy the game. To laugh, and joke, and celebrate. To lose gracefully, and perhaps, too often forgotten, to win gracefully.

To remember to drink water.

And finally, to begin every endeavor, whether large or small, in prayer.

Our Lady of Victory, pray for us.

Coke and Peanuts…a match made in heaven

There’s been an awful lot of talk about Sweet Tea and other Southern things over on Twitter and the occasional episode of Catholic Weekend. When sampling Sweet Tea turned into a cultural event at a conference I attended at the gorgeous Callaway Gardens, I had to laugh.

Sweet Tea is an iconic southern tradition. It is thick and sweet, and when icy cold, a delicious complement to BBQ. That’s about where I draw the line. If given a choice, I usually reach for the regular iced tea, often referred to as unsweet, but there’s a whole dissertation waiting to be written about how tea can be sweetened, but it cannot be made unsweet. Promises promises. I’ll see that blog post. Never.

My point is, and I do have one, is that there are all kinds of funny southern quirks that generally leave my yankee friends confused, if not down-right appalled. Our gracious host at the conference, a brassy dame from Long Island who cleaned up nicely and was representing the Boston offices, had a sip of the sweet tea, gagged and choked, and shared a rather classy expletive with us. I think that’s the general reaction.

Today, while cruising through twitter while distractedly waiting for a teleconference meeting to start, I ran across a nostalgic tweet about drinking Coke from a glass bottle. Oh! The rush of memories that washed over me! I used to save nickels and dimes and go to the laundromat that was in our neighborhood to buy 8 oz. bottles of Coke (please, pronounced Co-Cola) and a packet of Lance’s salted peanuts from the vending machines. It was 15 cents for the drink, and 10 cents for the peanuts.

I’d sit on the plastic chairs that ran along the length of the landromat, and carefully pour the peanuts into the glass bottle. It would fizz a little, but that never stopped me from drinking that cold Coke and trying to get peanuts in my mouth all at the same time.

It was heaven.

My tastes run a little bit more refined these days. I generally pass on the tea, whether sweet or unsweet, and reach for the pinot noir. But I haven’t forgotten the heady smell of salt and sweet, and how it tickled my noise just so.

I wonder…do y’all know if they still make moonpies?

are you sure you want to room with me at the CNMC?

that's not a mullet -- I swear

I was always the chick that got dirty, had skinned knees, and was one of the guys. It served me well in elementary school when all I ever did was roam the fields behind our home and play hide and seek, or cowboys and Indians, or kickball – to the dismay of our parents who could never keep us off the grass. As it happens, there was no loss there—that neighborhood has since been demolished and replaced with a strip mall that, ironically, houses a very fine Cuban restaurant. But I digress.

It wasn’t really until Mother Nature decided to endow me with the attributes of a full grown woman (at age 14) that the relationships started to shift a little. I was a Tomboy, no doubt about it. I played all the pick-up games with the guys. I could smoke the locals in a swim heat (the backstroke, and the important leg in the freestyle relay), smash them at ping-pong, and inflict some serious damage on the basketball court.

That’s when I realized that if I charged the key, the guys would move out of my way. They wouldn’t touch me. No one would touch me. Ha! I could do anything – and have a lovely little lay-up waiting for me. I was slow to realize that my now slight build, at  barely 5’8”, was no match for the six-footers who were getting taller by the day. I was dangerous,  not because of my height, but because I was a girl.

They stopped playing with me. Or I stopped playing with them. Does it matter? Eventually we all moved to a different playground, anyway.

When I was older I did the whole study abroad thing and even backpacked through Europe – an adventure I remember fondly. I will share one picture. One. Let’s just say that the past is comfortable just where it is.

Anyway, we were a motley crew and had a blast absorbing as much of everything as possible. A really grand adventure that among other things, revealed to me that I hadn’t changed very much from the sandlot days. Most of the girls spent their days complaining about not having showers, having to walk, eating on the run, and heaven forbid, sleeping in sketchy places. While I admit that I am too old now to want to sleep in sketchy places, I’m still ok with making do with whatever else roughing it entails.

It was their loss. I saw things and did things like accidentally stumbling into Cezanne’s workshop (closed to the public but we unintentionally entered through a back entrance) because a group of us decided to try a short cut while the girls were getting their hair done. (I put my hair up in a ponytail and opted for the adventure). I also trespassed on Picasso’s summer cottage (it was a villa, who am I kidding?) and picked wildflowers on his property.

Oh. And I slept in a house of ill-repute. But that’s for another blog.

That’s relevant because at the end of the summer, in the dog days of August when there was an oppressive heat wave in Italy, I found myself in Rome with this same motley crew. All the girls piled into one room, and all the guys ended up next door. In the late afternoon, we all went on the balcony to watch the sunset, sip on room temperature water, and make plans for the evening. We had a magnificent view of the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, and excellent location for partying that night. There was talk of going to a couple of discos, dinner in a piazza, the possibilities were endless.

And then my roommate piped up. She was the Ugly American, always poised to gripe about having to endure a hardship, and given to ordering ketchup on everything. She also thought she was Maggie McNamara, and was INSANELY insisting that I could be Dorothy Maguire and we should live out Three Coins in a Fountain. Her plans for the evening included seeking the Fountain of Trevi.

We vetoed that. Immediately.

But not before the boys in the group had to listen to the entire plot of the movie and her romantic notion of having us all go throw away our money. We were poor college students, remember? That’s about when a little animosity toward her started to arise, unbeknownst to the girls. You see, Maggie, put out by the heat and clearly losing her mind, decides to tell us all that it is too hot to sleep in pajamas and that it’s a good thing the balcony has some crazy spikey barrier to keep the boys away, because she intended to sleep au natural that evening.

What an idiot. She then proceeded to assign sleeping arrangements to all of us, because there were two double beds and a cot, and her delicate frame could not be subjected to the cot. In a hurry to end the conversation and get on with our evening, I said I would sleep on the cot, she could have the bed furthest from the balcony, and couldn’t we get dressed for dinner…all in the presence of the guys.

Later that night, back from a magnificent evening, ready to crash and prepare for a full on adventure in Rome, Maggie started sighing from her corner of the room. Although my cot was a little lumpy, there was a breeze that cropped up randomly. None of it was making it to Maggie. More sighs and lamentations of heat exhaustion. Fed up with not being able to sleep, I offered her my cot. Please don’t think I was being altruistic – I wanted her to shut the hell up.

That was an unfortunate switch for Maggie. You see, the guys were planning a little practical joke on me. They were going to cover me in shaving cream, having risked sure death by scaling the barrier on the balcony.

Only, it wasn’t me they covered. Instead, they found a very naked Maggie lying in the cot. It was too dark for them to see that it wasn’t me and they were about to make a mortal mistake. Fools that they were, they decorated Maggie’s body with shaving cream and jumped back over the barrier to safety.

We were awakened by hysterical screaming.

When I realized it was shaving cream and nothing had been disturbed, I started laughing. It was clear to me exactly what happened but Maggie would hear none of it. She grabbed a bathrobe and started banging on the guys’ door, waking everyone up on the floor and barreling into their room accusing them of all kinds of assault. I couldn’t stop laughing. The more distressed she became, the more I laughed. The more confused the guys became, the more I laughed.

The next morning at breakfast I was the one who was ostracized. Maggie was sure I had set her up. The guys thought I had set them up.

I just sipped my cappuccino and smiled quietly.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I think I finally get old people

Had lunch with a dear old friend. A four-hour lunch. I’ll confess that we drank a number of margaritas. We were busy talking and didn’t want the check or the annoying waiter, so we’d wave him over to get us a couple of more. Which led to a couple of more. And a couple more. …Perhaps it’s not prudent to actually reveal how many we consumed. :)

It was like old-times in college, and by that I mean that it was like nary a year had passed after we finished the pleasantries and caught up with where we were with the husbands, the kids, work, you know. Then suddenly, we were just jabbering away.

The meal itself was forgettable. Mexican nouvelle cuisine. It was different. Not bad, just…different. It was nothing like the ridiculous greasy portions at our old stomping ground, El Torito, but the ambiance was good, the margaritas exceptional, and the company, of course, unparalleled.

I don’t enjoy days like that enough — I just don’t make the time for a restorative afternoon for myself, with someone I like, doing something I enjoy (this isn’t helping my reputation as a lush, is it?).

Don’t read something sad or pathetic into this — that’s not where I’m going with my thoughts. I have plenty that keeps me busy, and in spite of the griping and busy-ness of it, I enjoy what I do, the friends I have, and the random escapes with the hubs to watch movies IN THE THEATER! (this is significant if you know John can’t stand going to the movies and being surrounded by teenagers with their cell-phones).

It made me think about why we find such comfort in reconnecting with people from our past — people we still feel close to because they were such an important part of our lives, but circumstances, distance, heck — life – has happened and created distance. A distance, by the way, that we’re content with but is so easily bridged. With a call. A conversation. A message on Facebook.

And yes. A margarita. :)

Those friendships age like a good wine — maturing and gaining strength, and perhaps we are drawn to them when we’re older, not so much to re-live wild days, but reminisce and feel the bonds of that relationship. It validates, not so much who we were, but who we have become because the roots of that are certainly set in those relationships.

We were just two middle-aged broads holding the menus at arm’s length and fumbling around for the reading glasses. It was a good laugh.

And a reminder that this is a good life.

Cuco and Yayo…priceless

With apologies to my English speaking readers, I had to share this with the cubiches in my family and friends circle. This abuela explains how the internet search engines work, Google (Cuco) and Yahoo (Yayo).

The brilliant elements here are of course the Cuban propensity for calling anybody a derivative of their given names, and the omnipresence of Cuco’c/Lalo’s/Yayo’s et al. Absolute brilliance! If you read Confessions of a Middle-Aged Cubanita then you know I love the nicknames.

I’ve been reading My Big Fat Cuban Family for a while and regret not having caught this sooner. But here it is, and I encourage you all to give her a read too. She writes in English, even though the video is in Spanish.