The Suitcase Lady


February 12, 2019, 8:33 pm

There’s a candy crisis in America. NECCO (New England Confectionary Company) has gone out of business and all their conversational hearts have been silenced.

Sweethearts, the official name for these sugary, chalky little hearts with sayings on them, were created by NECCO in 1866. The company began in 1847 when Oliver R. Chase invented a machine that cut shapes from wafer candy. Oliver’s brother, Daniel Chase, figured out how to print sayings on the candy. Originally used for weddings, the hearts had verses such as, “Married in white, you have chosen right” or “Married in pink, he will take a drink.”

The conversational hearts associated with Valentine’s Day began in 1901. Americans have had a continuous love affair with them ever since. To stay current, some of the sayings were updated in the 1990s with LOL, EMAIL ME, BE MY ICON and www.Cupid among the new additions.

In 2017, NECCO, the oldest candy company in America, sold 8 billion hearts. But the company as a whole was struggling and was sold at a bankruptcy auction in 2018. The new owners subsequently sold the company to another candy company. To the shock of NECCO’s 230 workers, the new owners, the Spangler Candy Company, abruptly shut down the plant and announced that no Sweethearts would be produced in 2019. Not a sweet thing to do.

Stricken fans of Sweethearts and Necco Wafers began hoarding the remaining supplies as soon as the news of the factory’s closing surfaced. However, the Brach’s Candy Company was gleeful. They also produce conversational hearts, albeit without a company history dating back to the Civil War. Quoted in Food and Wine Magazine, a spokesman for Brach’s boasted, ” …we offer a much broader range of on-trend  flavors, colors and textures…as far as the sayings go, Brach’s Conversational Hearts are laser-printed, delivering much higher accuracy than Necco’s stamped process.”

Fans of NECCO’s hearts aren’t buying this talk at all. I personally feel that the blurriness or off-center nature of some of Sweethearts’ words were part of their charm. Love is never perfect.




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February 5, 2019, 9:24 pm

Public art can bring joy or dismay. Either way, I wouldn’t want public money not to be spent on it. People need art because the arts humanize us. Art is never without controversy, and even controversial art serves a purpose: it gets us thinking.

New York City has recently gone on a big binge of public sculptures. One new piece is particularly delightful to me, and I can’t wait to see it in person, preferably on a rainy day. Entitled “SPOT”,  Donald Lipski’s sculpture stands in front of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital in Manhattan. The work consists of a 24 foot tall, spotted Dalmatian which is balancing a real New York City taxi on its nose. The cab is sans engine and other guts, but when it starts to rain, the windshield wipers turn on.

Explaining his creation, Mr. Lipski says he wanted the big dog/taxi combo “to have assets we hope to find in our doctors: focus, confidence, patience and sweetness.”

This child-friendly sculpture aroused my curiosity about Donald Lipski’s other installations. I quickly learned that he is one of America’s most prolific creators of art in public places. Scanning through numerous photos of his large scale works, I loved the wit, diversity of materials and imagination he employs. But then came the big surprise: he is also the designer of a sculpture I see frequently and loathe.

The sculpture was commissioned by the University of Wisconsin and stands outside our big football stadium in Madison. A UW graduate, Mr. Lipski named the sculpture Nails’ Tales, after his roommate Eric “Nails” Nathan. The sculpture is a lone limestone column from which dozens of footballs are emerging like some malignant growths.

When asked if the University gave him any guidelines, the artist said the University’s facilities manager and athletic director both asked for “something that projects power and strength. Something that is tall and vertical and holds its space…something virile.”

Lipski adds, “They were without saying, saying they wanted something phallic.”

And that is exactly what Donald Lipski gave them. It is probably a fitting tribute to football, a sport where guys bash each other’s brains out.


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January 29, 2019, 9:36 pm

Last week, the New York Times’ food section ran a feature on the well-stocked pantry. The writers offered three lists of must-have items for the essential, expanded and expert levels of home cooking. Even before reading the article, I feared I would miss the mark on every level. And I also knew it would be my father’s fault.

Deeply embedded in my psyche is the belief that wasting food in a world where so many go hungry is very, very wrong. My father always asked my mother to cook only what our family needed for dinner, not extra food “in case someone drops over at dinner time”.

We never stockpiled food, either. Our cupboards and fridge were never crammed to overflowing. Tons of food was wasted in the 1950’s, however, as it was piled into bomb shelters so that nuclear families could survive a nuclear holocaust. (Our species does love magical thinking.)

Reading the foodstuffs required for “perfect pantries”, I was surprised that I had most of the items deemed necessary for the essential level of cooking. In fact, I excelled in the essential baking ingredients. But I will never have the right stuff on hand to reach the exalted levels of expanded or expert cook.

Here are but a few of the many items I am lacking:

  • red curry paste
  • harissa
  • verjus
  • olio santo
  • verjus
  • mirin
  • caperberries
  • dukkah
  • shichimi
  • gochujan
  • thai bird chilies
  • makrut lime leaves

I would bet a big pile of money that these items sold out last week at upscale urban markets such as Whole Paycheck.

Acknowledging that the pantry items won’t be the same for every cook, the article did provide some solid advice on managing the food we buy. My favorite was F.I.F.O. , or first in, first out. In other words, “cook in order of freshness”.

Other wise words were, “If you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it. Then restock with an eye to the things you are confident using and what you love to eat.

Now those are words I will be happy to cook by.

My cupboards aren’t bare.

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January 22, 2019, 8:19 pm

Years ago, my husband had a friend with a watermelon problem. The guy was red green colorblind and could not tell when he was eating into the green part of the melon before the rind. My husband would alert him when it was time to stop eating.

How sad it would be not to see every color of the spectrum at full hue and intensity. From as far back as I can remember, I have been in love with color. Every color in the rainbow is a source of daily joy, and I can’t imagine living in a personal world lacking such constant beauty.

However, color blindness, or color visual deficiency, is a common affliction, affecting about 1 in 12 men worldwide and 1 in 200 women. Several different variations of color blindness exist with the red green type being the most common.

Last Saturday, I chanced on a program on NPR and heard some amazing news. An “accidental invention” has led to the production of glasses that enable people with red green color blindness to see vivid colors for the first time.

The breakthrough came on a frisbee field. Don McPherson, the inventor of tinted glasses that protect surgeons’ eyes from laser lights, was wearing his invention while playing in an extreme frisbee game. His friend asked if he could try on the sharp looking glasses. When he put the glasses on, he saw bright colors for the first time in his life.

Here is a YouTube on how this chance discovery turned into Chroma Glasses which have given rainbows back to over 30,000 people. Bravo to science, scientists and serendipity.



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January 15, 2019, 7:55 pm

I received the news from a friend of mine, a former children’s librarian and soon-to-be-published children’s book author, that John Burningham has died in London at the age of 88.

An award-winning author and illustrator of books for children, Mr. Burningham’s books brim with gentle wit and kindness. He and his wife, Helen Oxenbury, also an author, have been bringing delightful tales to young and old alike for over six decades.

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing is undoubtedly John Burningham’s most famous book. However, when I heard of his passing, the first thing I thought of was avocados.

I stumbled upon his book, Avocado Baby, when I was the children’s storyteller for my local library. All these years later, that book stands out in my mind as one of the funniest books I ever used in my storytimes.

Mr. Burningham’s editor, Kate Fletcher, says, … “he never speaks down to his audience, yet captures the spirit of imagination and inquisitiveness in children so well. In his own words for describing his approach to book-making: ‘There is no demarcation in my work for children and for adults.’ ”

I invite you to see for yourself. Click here for a short YouTube video of a British storyteller reading Avocado Baby.

With the condition that America is in now, we could use an Avocado Baby in our midst.

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