What exactly are we celebrating on Presidents’ Day – other than it being a Federal holiday?
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: When it comes to celebrating birthdays, Red thinks of cakes and gifts, but obviously, that doesn’t apply to dead presidents; while Black, who barely tolerates birthdays (hers or anyone else’s), wishes we’d celebrate Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays by honoring who they were.
Red used to love both George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays when she was in elementary school (back in the 1960s) and not just because they’d have off from school on each of their respective birthdays. (Although only Washington’s birthday was a Federal holiday.) She loved that the holidays prompted learning about each president and even now, decades later, thought of each of them as true heroes of American democracy – Washington as one of the Founding Fathers and Lincoln as the creator of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Black could relate to Washington, who supposedly worked on his birthday, but always thought turning it into a “shared” Presidents' Day diluted the meaning of each. But understood the “logic” (and politics) of creating it, and ultimately making it part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act in order to create more three-day weekends. Her concern, though, is how historical figures, including presidents, are being judged based on current standards vs. the times that they lived in,
Context is everything. Does the fact Washington had slaves (12 of our first 18 presidents did) and did not make sure his wife, Martha, would be allowed to vote, negate that he was instrumental to the United States getting its independence from Britain and our first president (FYI, he warned against political parties)?
That got Red thinking as she’s always loved history and strongly believes one of the most critical roles that history plays is to help us learn from the past and, hopefully, not repeat mistakes. But that shouldn’t mean forgetting to acknowledge what was accomplished, even if “new” facts come to light,
I’ve always loved movies, and being a theater major, I know it’s critical that the story be told so that you understand the time period in which it takes place and how that influences the character’s decisions, and often, their dilemmas. But it’s that “character” development that shows you whether they were just lucky in life or deserved to be called heroes. The same with historical figures.
So, today’s the perfect day to celebrate Washington, Lincoln, and all the other presidents. They may not have been perfect, but they stood up for what they believed and worked hard to make changes they thought important. And even using today’s standards … doesn’t that represent ideals and actions that we can all learn from and emulate?
Can we agree to disagree? No, we’re not talking politics – we’re talking pumpkin spice.
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: Fall has become the season of pumpkin, or more specifically pumpkin spice; which Red absolutely loves for various reasons while, for Black, besides the fact she doesn’t like the flavor, it just screams, well, MARKETING.
Yes, Red will admit that having pumpkin, one of the strongest symbols of fall, appear in August (thanks Starbucks, Dunkin’, and Cup Noodles, yes, pumpkin spice flavored noodles!) while we’re still in the midst of sweltering summer heat is a bit much. But she loves how it reminds her of growing up in the northeast, with the first crisp mornings and the onset of early and chilly evenings. With childhood memories of raking mounds of leaves only to jump in and scatter them, and then repeating the process. (Which Black has pointed out is now deemed dangerous, something Red plans to conveniently forget when she travels down memory lane).
But mostly, the sight of pumpkins reminds her of picturesque pumpkin farms and the brilliance of fall foliage, which, now that Labor Day weekend is behind us and her thoughts turn to fall, is what she misses most. So, short of jumping in the car to take a road trip to see fall foliage, she’ll have to settle for the tastes that remind her of fall, which won’t be difficult given all the pumpkin spice options.
Although this year, there’s one that has special meaning for Red,
When the girls were growing up, even though it was in Texas, one of their favorite fall “treats” were pumpkin spice Oreo cookies. But they stopped making them in 2017, the year that Natasha moved overseas. So, when I learned they’re coming back this year, it made me smile. I’ll be stocking up on them so I can send them to the girls, although I have a feeling I’ll have to ration them.
Black appreciates how much all of this means to Red, and even tracked down some of the new limited-edition pumpkin spice graham crackers Goldfish (a partnership between Dunkin’ and Pepperidge Farms) before they were publicly available as a surprise for her 60th birthday. But that doesn’t stop Black from rolling her eyes at all the people who have succumbed to the pumpkin spice marketing machine, and the seemingly endless list of pumpkin spice products (besides food and beverage, there are air fresheners and candles, but hair color?!).
I am not going to get into the science of why people are obsessed with pumpkin spice or the fact it is a $500-million-a-year business. Interestingly, it started in 2003 when Starbucks introduced the pumpkin spice latte, now commonly called PSL, although pumpkin spice has been around for over 200 years. So, it is not a new concept, but does show you the power of marketing.
P.S. – Given all this talk about pumpkin spice, you might be surprised to learn that it doesn’t even have pumpkin as an ingredient.
In a promise to “never forget” we’re rerunning our 2021 post so that we always remember …
September 11 is a date on the calendar, but "9/11" is a date in history.
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: Much like JFK's assassination was to an older generation (although Black's old enough to be included), we both remember exactly what we were doing when we first heard the news of the attacks on the Twin Towers, Pentagon, and Flight 93; but, interestingly, how we reflect on 9/11 is a bit of a role reversal.
Red, being a lover of history, thinks about 9/11 unemotionally, focuses on what led up to it and what has happened since, although she doesn't deny the feelings of total disbelief and sadness. Black, usually the pragmatic sister, remembers the power of the emotions the country felt. First, feelings of shock and grief, immediately followed by an overwhelming need to help, and then the realization that what makes America great is our collective pride, courage, and compassion. Feelings that 20 years later are difficult to forget … or are they?
Rightfully so, there's an overwhelming number of TV specials about 9/11, its history, the 20-year aftermath, the politics. And a long list of books, ranging from facts and research to opinions and viewpoints to first-hand accounts. Red, of course, favors the movies, and one that stands out is 'Worth," which explores the facts from the perspective of a story (vs. a documentary) while still conveying the power of the events and the people touched by them.
But what about all the young people (like Red's oldest daughter, who was only three at the time, or her youngest, who wasn't even born) who are only experiencing 9/11 through the eyes of others? What do you want them to know or remember? Perhaps, John Kerry said it best,
Remember the hours after September 11th, when we came together as one to answer the attack against our homeland. We drew strength when our firefighters ran up the stairs and risked their lives so that others might live. When rescuers rushed into smoke and fire at the Pentagon. When the men and women of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves to save our nation's Capitol. When flags were hanging from front porches all across America, and strangers became friends. It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.
So, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, never forget … the best in all of us.
Enjoying your favorite TV show and your favorite foods at the same time … what could be better?
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: What could be more basic (and nostalgic for many) than the TV dinner, although who would’ve thought something so simple could generate such different reactions from Red & Black?
As a kid, Red loved TV dinners (and truth be told, she still does, but hates the calorie count), especially because she found it a perfect combination of comfort food (with her favorite being fried chicken), convenience, and everything arranged perfectly,
I remember them having four compartments – a meat, two veggies, and dessert. Usually apple cobbler. But as long as there were mashed potatoes, I was happy.
But what made her even happier? The compartments in the aluminum trays! (It’s hard to believe they were replaced with plastic microwave-safe trays 40 years ago.) As weird as it might sound (and as much grief as Black has given her about this for decades), Red used to have a “thing” about her food touching. Not to mention, she had a habit of eating her food one item at a time. Which made TV dinners ideal for her, and regardless of what they might have been named, Red used to love eating them at any time of day. Or night!
Mention TV dinners to Black, and she’ll agree they’re perfect … as an example of brilliant marketing. She’s fascinated by the fact that frozen meals were not a new idea, but they just had never gained traction, until 1953 when television was a new phenomenon. But the connection was due to Swanson, the frozen food company, greatly overestimating demand for Thanksgiving turkeys that year, and was desperate for ideas,
The story goes that a salesman suggested turning the turkeys into frozen dinners using three-compartment aluminum-foil trays similar to what airlines used for in-flight food service. But, the key was tying the marketing campaign to the new must-have prestige appliance – the television. Even the packaging was cleverly designed to look like mini-TVs, including tuning knobs (you have to be a certain age to remember those).
Black wondered if they had any idea how successful “TV dinners” would become, or that they forever changed how people ate their meals – making it acceptable to eat in front of the TV instead of gathering around the dining room table. Red, on the other hand, had never thought about either of those things, preferring to reminisce about the simple joys of TV dinners.
However, when Red learned there was a National TV Dinner Day, she decided the best way to celebrate would be to stroll through her favorite grocery store’s frozen food section and buy at least one … for old time’s sake. And whether it became dinner, lunch, or a just a snack, she’d savor the mashed potatoes and enjoy it … in front of the TV.