Fruits & Vegetables: USPS Forever Stamps

At no other time have I been more concerned about the USPS. The Postmaster General is seemingly trying to destroy it from within and the timing is especially harmful. The pandemic isn’t going away any time soon and the most important election of our lives is just weeks away. Reliable mail delivery is paramount.

I certainly can’t save the Postal Service on my own. None of us can individually. But each of us can support it in tiny ways. How? Make a few purchases from the post office.

When you really think about it, it’s so cool that we have a choice of different stamps. They’re colorful and pretty and whimsical. They don’t need to be. A stamp could be quite utilitarian. But we’re provided choices of new ones on a regular basis — practical pieces of art celebrating American culture.

Back in 2014, the Celebrity Chef stamps were a favorite of mine, along with the Farmers Markets stamps. Now, you can purchase USPS Farmers Markets Notecards, which include the stamps. They’re a nice gift for yourself or someone else.

I’ve never bought notecards from the Post Office, but I will in the future. However, I did recently purchase two books of the new Fruits and Vegetables stamps. They’re so pretty!

The stamp designs that we’ve known and loved over the years were created under the direction of USPS art director Derry Noyes. Noyes was interviewed for an article on Artsy, where she explains the process.

It all begins with the Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC)—a 12-person panel composed of historians, educators, designers, and others who determine the subjects for each year’s crop of stamps. (Noyes actually served on the committee herself for several years, before transitioning to art direction in the early 1980s.) Their goal, she said, is ‘to pick a broad spectrum that reflects American history, pop culture, people, events—to try to get a good balance for each year.’ …

The stamp-making process typically lasts between two and four years, Noyes said, though it can go on for much longer—particularly if legal issues arise. During this time, the four USPS art directors meet monthly to discuss their ongoing projects and critique one another’s work. Eventually, they share their work with the CSAC to see if they like the direction. The committee eventually votes to approve the final stamp designs, which then must be approved by the postmaster general before they can be released. ‘Unlike a fine artist working for him or herself, doing whatever they feel like, this is a real team effort,’ Noyes said.

While most of us don’t send as much mail as we used to, we still do every once in a while. So buy some stamps that light you up, so the next time you send some snail mail, you’ll spark some joy in the simplest of ways.

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Photo Credit: USPS

Holiday Recipe: Gingerbread

Gingerbread in pan fresh from the oven.

If you know me in person and see me around the holidays, you’ve probably had my homemade gingerbread.

This past week, a recent work project ended. I baked a couple of loaves and brought it in to thank the firm for the warm welcome.

This morning, I baked another loaf to bring for Thanksgiving dinner later today. Gingerbread has been my signature holiday dessert for over 20 years. At this point, it’s part of my identity. I bake gingerbread.

I first found the recipe in a magazine that my maternal grandmother gave me. It’s called Mother’s Gingerbread and is from the book  Cleora’s Kitchen. Over the years, I’ve adapted it. So it is somewhat different from the original.

It’s one of my favorite things to eat and most other people love it too. So I often give it as a gift. It’s easy to make and maybe you might like to bake it too. Here’s the recipe below.

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Gingerbread (makes 1 loaf)

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
2 eggs
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups flour
1 cup hot/boiling water

INSTRUCTIONS:
Place parchment paper in loaf pan or grease pan with butter, then shake flour in pan until the pan is covered with flour. Dump out excess flour. Set oven to 350 degrees.

In large bowl, combine butter and sugar. Stir in molasses and eggs. Stir in cinnamon and ginger. Stir in baking powder and baking soda. Stir in flour. Stir in water. This should be a very liquid mixture.

Pour mixture into loaf pan. Depending upon your oven, and maybe the pan that you use, bake for 60 – 75 minutes. When the gingerbread is almost done, you should smell it. The scent is amazing! Sometimes I’ll bake it at night, so I can fall asleep to the wonderful aroma in the house.

Use a toothpick or fork, etc., to test it before removing from the oven. It should come out clean. If there is some liquid on it, then put back in the oven.

When it’s finally done, let cool for a few minutes. I usually wrap it in foil and store it in the fridge if I am keeping it. It’s great served warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

It can be frozen as well. Usually I make gingerbread to give away or bring someplace else, so I don’t refrigerate it. Just keep in foil and bring with you or package it well in order to mail. It will remain fresh and moist even in the mail for  2- 3 days. So choose your postage accordingly!

Happy Thanksgiving and all the best to you for this holiday season!

Nift: You Got Me Miffed

Colorful circles in shades of red, green, orange and yellow, on a Nift Neighborhood gift card.

Have you heard of Nift? I hadn’t until this past fall when I received a Nift card as a gift.

When I went to the website to redeem my gift, I was very excited. According to the face of the card (see picture above) I would have $50.00 or more to spend. The “or more” should have put me on notice that something might be a bit off.

Anyway, Nift seems more business focused than consumer friendly. It’s a way of introducing local businesses to consumers. Which is actually a great idea.

But most of the suggested businesses weren’t that easy for me to get to in my normal day to day routine and I wasn’t that interested in the merchandise of many of them. However, there was one suggestion for a place that I had planned on going to anywayChill On Park. A new ice cream shop in Dorchester.

Within days of activating my card, I planned to meet a friend there. I arrived first, during their normal Saturday business hours and they were closed for some reason. Maybe Thanksgiving? I don’t know.

But my friend and I had to find another place to go, so we went to Dot2Dot Cafe, which was very close by and a place we had been to before and really enjoyed. I had planned to blog it, but never got around to it.

Anyway, back to my being miffed by Nift. You should note that Nift expires very quickly. I activated it around November 17, 2016 and the expiration date was December 22, 2016. It was only good for a little over a month. That seemed odd to me. And rather unfair.

It was my understanding that in Massachusetts, gift cards are good for at least seven years. This is true, according to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. I emailed Nift’s customer service about this and received the following response.

Thank you for reaching out! We are well versed in gift card law. If the gift expires any funds if paid are returned. If you have any questions about this, please refer to our Terms of Service.

I just extended the expiration date of your Nift to March 1st, 2017, so you can now use it at Chill On Park, in Dorchester. You can also find again your gift certificate here. After having used your gift, click on the “Redeem in Store” button. This lets Nift know that you’ve used your gift. We will then send you a new gift code, via email, including your residual value.

Please let me know if you have any other questions, and enjoy your gift!

Based on my understanding of their TOS, the business that purchased the Nift card is the customer, not me, and any money left on the card after the expiration goes back to the purchaser.

I didn’t get a chance to use Nift by March 1st either, so I sent another email and received another extension until March 30th.

You can probably see where this is going. I didn’t get a chance to go by March 30th either. When I sent another email, I was told that there were no more extensions.

Then I received an email stating that my “gift” had expired and would I please give some feedback. I told them that I didn’t have a chance to use it.

It seems to me that if you really want people to use a gift card, they should have more time to use it. It’s probably why Massachusetts state law allows at least seven years for gift certificates to be redeemed. Four months is hardly enough time. Especially when that time is the winter. Oh well.

For anyone considering buying Nift for their customers, buyer beware.

Free Donuts + Sunday Shopping at Shake The Tree in the North End!

A picture of a dozen different flavored Union Square Donuts in a box.

Since discovering Shake The Tree while strolling around the North End several years ago, I’ve been a fan.

Shake The Tree is the perfect little shop to find clothes, jewelry and other quality items that are unique and fun. Both for yourself and others.

While speaking with owner Marian Klausner, I learned that she used to be an attorney. On my old blog she was one of the first people to participate in my interview series called Back To Law School.

For that interview, Klausner told me that surviving law school gave her “a tremendous sense of self-confidence.”  She practiced for eight years before opening her shop.

Law school and the experience of day-to-day practice gave me the sense that I could achieve any dream I had, if I really worked for it. I never thought of myself as exceptionally brilliant before law school but I did well academically and that made me realize that if I focused on something I wanted to create, I could really do it!

Her story is inspiring and I love how she often collaborates with local shops that sell the best sweets.

So, if you’re looking to shop small and local over the next two Sundays (12/11 and 12/18, 10am – 12pm), I definitely recommend going to the North End and stopping by Shake The Tree.

You can get some free Union Square Donuts and enjoy discounted parking while you’re there. Parking validation is $3 for 3 hours at the Parcel 7 Garage, next to the Haymarket T on Sudbury Street.

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Image: Shake The Tree Newsletter

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Recently Read: The Woman I Wanted to Be

The Woman I Wanted to beHappy Holidays to you!

Time is more than scarce right now, but I wanted to make sure that I wrote about this book before Christmas. It would be a great gift for someone if you are still shopping.

The Woman I Wanted to Be, by Diane von Furstenberg, is truly inspiring and has changed the way that I start and end each day. What an amazing woman!

Even if you don’t buy this book, read it. Borrow it from the library. Read it in the store. But read it. Especially if you are trying to start something new and find your own way. If you are seeking inspiration and confidence, you will find it in the pages she has written.

Her philosophy has been that she wanted to live the life of a man, but in a woman’s body. She wanted the career, money, and freedom that used to only be in the reach of men, but she wanted to be able to do that as a woman. And she has!

Because of this book, each day I ask myself the question, “Am I closer to being the woman that I want to be?” If not, I try to make little changes to get closer the next day. If yes, well, then I smile!

Most of us know of von Furstenberg as the creator of the wrap dress. She has had a life full of glamour and leads a very jet set existence. But in the book, she still comes through as being very down to earth. She was part of the Studio 54 scene and knew all the stars. But it’s not like she is being fake and making things up. This was her life!

Her mother was a Holocaust survivor and her story provided core values and great determination that were passed down to her daughter. Regardless of her deep strength, we learn about the ebb and flow of confidence in her life by how she wears her hair. Plus she tells an interesting story about a very young Bruce Springsteen.

My curly hair had become an asset. I felt confident and free. That confidence didn’t stay with me all the time. My hair became a barometer for my self-esteem, and in the early nineties I started to straighten my hair again. Those were not great years. I was yet again in search of myself and was a bit insecure. As I regained confidence, I let the curls come back. I learned how to master them, how to use them and let them be a part of the true me. I even started to welcome humidity because it adds so much volume to curly hair.

It might seem trivial to give that much importance to hair, but I know all women with curls will identify with this struggle. So will some curly-haired men, I recently discovered. During a vacation last year on the boat of a friend, entertainment mogul David Geffen, I was having a conversation about hair with the women on board when Bruce Springsteen the macho, superhero rock star chimed in. He, too, used to hate his Italian curls when he was fifteen and starting out, he confessed, and so did his teenage band mates, The Castiles. They all wished they could switch their Mediterranean curls for straight bangs like the Beatles. So, at night, they would go secretly to a beauty parlor for black women in Freehold, New Jersey to have their hair straightened!

I laughed out loud with that story! Especially as a black woman and having gone though my own natural hair journey. The book is full of so many interesting stories and they all make their points. The introduction to her book sets the stage and summarizes what her life is about. I really like this quote from it as a nice takeaway.

As a girl, I did not know what I wanted to do but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be my own person, independent and free. I knew that freedom could only be achieved if I took full responsibility for myself and my actions, if I were true to the truth, if I became my very best friend.

I liked this book a lot. And feel like I’m becoming a better person for having read it.

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Screenshot: Simon & Schuster