A well-known October treat

A well-known October treat


Need I even mention the name of this month’s major holiday? Not hardly when 70% of Americans are expected to spend an estimated $12 billion this year on Halloween costumes, decorations and candy—big business for the U.S. economy. Yet this spooky-fun event had its beginnings 2,000 years ago when the Celtic New Year was celebrated at summer’s end with bonfires and people wore costumes to ward off evil spirits.

M&M’s are one of the most popular candy treats given out for Halloween. The sugar-coated goodies even have their own special recognition—October 13 is National M&M Day. Introduced in 1941, M&M’s are currently sold in over 100 countries worldwide. The original colors were red, brown and yellow with the logo lettering in black that was changed to white in 1954.

Over the years, colors have come and gone and returned again by popular demand such as orange, which debuted in 1997, was discontinued in 2006 and returned in 2010. A special blue M&M was introduced to promote “The Blues Brothers” in 1979 and was only available for a short time. Considered to be a rare M&M, one recently sold at auction for $600. Today there are a total of 25 colors and 61 different flavors that range from the original “plain” chocolate, peanut, caramel and mint to flavors commemorating many holidays and tastes such as Mexican Jalapeño Peanut M&M’s.

Some of the M&M colors have been animated and outfitted. Red is portrayed as the life of the party, always up for a fun time. Wonder if that is why red M&M’s are the most popular color. Yellow is considered the happy one who smiles and laughs. Typical of blue, this color’s character is calm and collected. And green is the fiercely independent one, the one that likes the outdoors. If you’re in a quandary about a costume for Halloween this year, consider being one of the M&M’s.

M&M’s offer plenty of trivia for those so inclined—they’re the most popular chocolate candy in NASA’s space program, became the official chocolate of NASCAR in 2006 and Google employees have unlimited access to M&M’s. The famous slogan, “The milk chocolate that melts in your mouth, not in your hand” and the M&M’s brand characters were trademarked in 1954. The voice of Ms. Brown is Vanessa Williams and the character first appeared at the Super Bowl in 2012. It’s reported that more than 400 million M&M’s are produced each day which means there should be plenty of colors and flavors for the trick or treaters to enjoy this Halloween.

Published by Orange County Register, October 12, 2023


Cooling off vicariously

Cooling off vicariously

Weather wise, August can be a very hot month which makes this story a perfect way to vicariously cool off. Visualize what it would be like to board a plane or boat from the UK and land at Port Lockroy scientific base on Goudier Island that is still buried in four meters of snow from last December. That’s what four women who were selected from a group of 4,000 applicants faced when they arrived in Antarctica to manage the world’s most remote post office during summertime in the southern hemisphere.

To get an idea of the setting, in addition to the post office, there’s a gift shop and a museum that is frequented by visitors from 200 expedition ships that annually stop at the busiest place on this frozen continent.  About 16,000 visitors are expected for the 2022/23 season along with explorers and scientists. It’s also home to a thousand Gentoo penguins, the fastest swimming penguins in the world with speeds up to 22 miles per hour. What a sight that must be!

Clare Ballantyne is the 23-year-old postmaster who is joined by base leader Lucy Bruzzone, wildlife monitor Mairi Hilton and shop manager Natalie Corbett. It certainly wasn’t the housing accommodations that attracted the ladies since they share a room with no running water or internet, take advantage of showers when ships are in port and have limited access to fresh food. Collectively they claim the motivation was to live and work in a place that is so vast and ‘unlike anywhere else on earth.’ That and being responsible for keeping scientific tabs on the whereabouts of the penguins.

Cheeriness goes a long way to solving problems quickly and making the most of the unique experience. For their bi-weekly day off, catching up on sleep is a priority followed by slow walks to enjoy the island’s pristine clear air and vast environment teaming with limpets, moss, starfish and krill. Photography is big along with reading and reflection.

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators manages the tourism. There are codes to monitor waste and water, biosecurity and the worthiness of ships traveling in the polar region to protect tourists. Yet, so much of the Antarctic plains that are larger than the UK remain untouched.

For me, Antarctica sounds exciting to visit but not to live. I’m grateful my mom came to California from Nebraska when she was 18 years old. Her first time back was 50 years later when we went for a family reunion—I loved meeting relatives and am happy SoCal is my home.

Published by Orange County Register, August 10, 2023


Going without a phone?

Going without a phone?

It was a perfect morning to enjoy a trail walk to Barbara Lake, the only natural lake in Orange County. Soon after I headed out, I realized I’d left my phone in the car. Did I really need it? After a bit of mental back and forth about not having a camera or the step tracking app, I decided to keep going and appreciate an outing free of distractions to observe everything around me as well as underfoot which really paid off in the end.

First up were two delightfully different critters—a small blackish bug trying to carry the equivalent of what looked like half of a miniature acorn. I applauded its perseverance and made a mental note to remember that little guy in tough times. Next was a fun-to-watch, one-inch version of a moving bottle brush—picture a bristly-looking worm slowly plugging along. Feathered friends also showed up, in particular a taller, thinner version of an orange-throated house finch. At the lake there were the usual mallards and cormorants along with happy hummers hovering in the trees.

As I meandered south down the Lake Trail, a first-time surprise treat was waiting for me. Just past the three tree canopies and off to the right in one of what I call see-through trees, there has always been a huge empty nest. Doing a double take, I could hardly contain my excitement seeing what looked like two Copper’s Hawks standing guard. Such a thrill.

Next a purple flowered plant caught my attention because it looked similar to comfrey which is grown in Europe, Asia and parts of North America.  Also known as symphytum, it’s great for bone health among many of its herbal benefits. As I approached an offshoot of the lake, I heard what sounded like a mooing cow. Listening more intently, I recognized the sound of a deep baritone bullfrog and grinned knowing how funny they looked all puffed up.

When I was approaching the canyon road underpass, I quickly realized that I was about to step on a snake. Dodging it, I nearly landed on a much smaller one and if someone had had their phone handy, I’m sure they would have captured a hilarious TikTok video. I laughed at the thought and moved on.

What was my takeaway? Photos are indeed lovely treasures and I do cherish mine, however, there’s no question that I had captured pictures of another kind—the ones forever etched in my mind’s eye. Could that be another aspect of being a minimalist, the theme of last month’s column?

Published by Orange County Register, June 8, 2023

Live more with less stuff

Live more with less stuff

In 1981, I had just come home from traveling around the world with me, myself and I. My one and only backpack for the journey weighed 23 pounds at the onset.

So imagine what it was like in 1980 to plan such a travel adventure when there were no ATMs, cell phones and other kinds of digital assistance to make such a journey easier. I’m talking about cutting up multiple resources to create a customized guidebook, choosing a lightweight 35 mm camera, figuring out versatile clothing for all four seasons, finding safe places for travelers checks, and including a small container with a few of my favorite things to remind me of home—some sand, a seashell, a suncatcher, a ceramic turtle.

My journey took me to the East Coast first to explore my own country’s roots and government. My budget was $20 a day which was tough in NYC. Staying at the President’s Hotel, I thought that no president EVER slept there. Then it was off to Europe, Southeast Asia, India, Hong Kong, Japan and down under to Australia and New Zealand. During a train ride from Munich to Salzburg, my decision to become a travel consultant when I returned became a reality for 10 great years before the internet made it easy for people to plan their own travels.

My first residence post world travels was a 200-square foot studio overlooking the ocean in Manhattan Beach. Compared to my previous lifestyle, I lived in a palace that I relished for 12 years. Since then I’ve lived in a 150-square-foot space with kitchen access and up to 1500-square-foot residences.

People often tell me I’m a minimalist regardless of the space I live in. For me, my home reflects what I learned traveling—that I get so much more out of life with less stuff. Of course over time, I have acquired the basic furniture, but the essentials and accessories are carefully chosen. I like empty drawers, cupboards and shelves. From what I’ve read about the importance of decluttering and keeping it simple, the underlying benefit is the feeling of peace and tranquility.  Isn’t that what we all want? To feel there is a serene place to relax, rest and recharge. For some reason, this story came to mind. Maybe it’ll speak to you.

Published by Orange County Register, May 11, 2023

Board games anything but boring

Board games anything but boring

Board games are great for get togethers with family and friends, especially here in our community. My favorite is Jenga although it isn’t exactly played on a board. I love how the tower constructed with 54 blocks captures everyone’s attention when a player carefully tries to  take out a block without it toppling over. The more blocks that are removed, the shakier the tower gets. As a result, games don’t take that long unless you’re playing with eight-foot solid pine blocks weighing 600 pounds each, and move them with Caterpillar construction vehicles. In 2015, that game lasted 28 hours until the fourteenth round. Bet that was quite a sight to see.

My fondest board game memories are from my youth when I could spend hours playing Monopoly. I loved setting up the board, being the banker, counting out the money and occasionally winning! It never crossed my mind that the game was used to help British prisoners escape the Nazis during World War II or that the chances of winning a game in 20 seconds are one in 254 trillion. Can’t even fathom that in 1988 a San Francisco jeweler would make a Monopoly set decked out to the tune of $2 million. We’re talking a board made of gold, diamond-encrusted dice, and hotels and houses embellished with rubies and sapphires. 

Cousins taught me how to play Yahtzee, the dice game invented by a wealthy Canadian couple who introduced it to their friends while aboard their yacht. When the rights to the game were sold to a toy maker, the so-called “yacht game” became Yahtzee, a much catchier name. Bunco is a similar dice game played in pairs with players rolling the dice, keeping score and moving from table to table. My sister and I taught this game to 150 relatives attending our family reunion, and they’re still talking about how much fun it was to play the fast-moving game.

Scrabble rounds out my board-game favorites. Even though I’m a devoted word person today, initially I never took the game seriously. That is until I met an 87-year-old lady who was a fierce competitor. She loved winning, and whooped and hollered when she did, which was often when we first started playing. But I watched and learned how she scored the big points, and yes, I whooped and hollered big time when I won. What great times we shared.

When I started writing this column, I had no idea it would bring back such fond memories. Think it’s time to create new ones. Anyone for some scrabble?   

Published by Orange County Register, August 11, 2022

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