In Defense of Banana Bread

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

My Dad

It’s the new definition of “stir crazy.” According to a bunch of newspaper articles (and my own experience at the supermarket), when the safer-at-home order was announced months ago, quarantined people everywhere grabbed their wooden spoons and began to stir up cookies, cakes, and breads like crazy. In those first few weeks of panic buying back in March and April, the shelves at my local market was consistently out of three things: toilet paper, sanitizing wipes, and…flour.

I readily admit I am one of those people who turned to the kitchen for entertainment when my other hobbies were squashed by the coronavirus. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and baking (especially baking), and not being able to leave my house gave me a chance to delve into recipe books I haven’t looked at for ages. But I’m not a dedicated chef: I like my recipes short, simple, and with common ingredients I regularly have on hand. In other words: Banana Bread.

First of all, what else are you going to do with those too-soft-to-eat-but-too-good-to-throw-away bananas? Unless you puree them into a smoothie, the choice is pretty limited. That spotted, over-ripe, fruit is begging to be made into a bread or a cake.

Secondly, it’s easy. It needs only a few common ingredients and can take just minutes to mix up. It is delicious in its most basic, bananas-only form. And yet there is a world of possibilities in a loaf of Banana Bread. Bake it in a round pan and you have cake. Use a loaf pan and you have bread. Use muffin tins and it cooks in half the time. Add spices, flavoring, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, even strawberry jam for a creative touch.

Now multiply those variations times the gazillion recipes out there. I did a brief survey of my small collection of cookbooks and found at least eighteen distinct and different recipes for Banana Bread. If I make one a week, it’ll be November before I‘d run through all the recipes immediately on hand.

To make use of this week’s half-dead bananas, I turned to a pamphlet published by the Fruit Dispatch Company of New York, circa 1960, entitled “Serve Bananas in Latest Style.” The cover features a dancing banana with big eyes and eyelashes, surrounded by confetti, waving a handkerchief. I had found it years ago tucked inside a first edition (1960) of the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook that I rescued from the curb when a neighbor was throwing away books.

The only recipe I’d ever made from this pamphlet was ‘Ham Banana Rolls in Cheese Sauce’ (but that’s a story for another day). I can now say that the Banana Tea Bread recipe, with the suggested variation of adding nuts and dates, is a mid-century classic. No spices, no flavoring (not even vanilla), and completely delightful. An old-fashioned, delicate loaf; biting into it conjures up perfectly coiffed ladies in hats and pearls socializing after a bridge game. A charming taste of the past as I bake my way into the future, solace in these tough times.

Keep Going

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

My Dad

Walking in my neighborhood back in April – remember April? – I went past a children’s game chalked on the sidewalk. It was a race course, or maybe just a running game, that went around the block. Various directions told participants the rules of the game along the way: “Run,” “Skip”, “Walk,” “Keep Going.”

I found “Keep Going,” a particularly apt instruction during the pandemic isolation, so I took a photo of it. And that was April 3, when we naively thought we might get back to normal by the end of the month, or at least by the middle of May.

Now that June is here (and will be gone sooner than we think), the sentiment of “Keep Going” takes on even more importance. I know for myself it becomes harder and harder to get motivated to do anything, since each day just melts into the one before, with no discernable difference.

I’ve found myself struggling with the monotony of sitting at my home office desk for eight hours: Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, sending emails, watching content online. No matter how interesting, informative, and useful it is, I am still just sitting at my desk, using only my eyes (and maybe my hands for typing). No wonder I get cranky and demoralized. Then I remember what some child scrawled on the sidewalk back in April: “Keep Going!”

I remind myself to get up and away from the computer. I make a lot of phone calls during the day for work. With the technology of cell phones and ear pieces, I can make that phone call out in the sunshine, walking around the block. When I am sitting at my computer, I often play the jazz station, and when a danceable tune comes on (which is VERY frequently!) I get up and do a few steps of a cha cha or foxtrot. I look forward to the Senior Center’s online BollyX class on Friday afternoons, where we all get to exercise by dancing to Bollywood music.

But most of all, I “Keep Going” by intentionally breaking my routine and not letting the monotony take over. This can sometimes feel not only impossible, but pointless when you are still stuck at home. But give yourself that kick in the pants and “Keep Going.” Challenge yourself to do something different every day (ok, how about 3 times a week?). Cook something you’ve never cooked before (Kohlrabi soup is very tasty). Take your walk at a different time of the day than usual. If you usually watch television at night, read a book instead (or vice-versa). Tired of talking on the phone or on Zoom? Write a postcard to a friend. If you’re like me, you have a drawer full of postcards collected on travels and never sent. Now is the time to get them in the mail! Here’s my promise – if you send a postcard to me at the Senior Center and include your address, I’ll send you one back! It’s a great way to “Keep Going.”

My Dad

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

This coming Sunday, June 21, is Father’s Day, so it seems only fitting that I dedicate today’s blog post to my Dad, Tom. Thomas Southard Laskey, Jr. was born on January 6, 1928, which puts him in his 93rd year. And, boy, is he irritated at COVID19.

Up until March 16, he was out most days and many nights, singing with a Barbershop Harmony chorus and his church choir, taking acting and theatre appreciation classes, going to movies and theater, eating out, attending parties, and still finding time for a bit of travel. None of that now! But he gamely tries to make the best of it, doing classes and socializing on Zoom, practicing his singing, staying active with daily walks around the neighborhood, and watching lots of movies.

Dad and I have been amicable housemates for decades. Before we were all quarantined at home, I really didn’t see him that often, even though we lived in the same house. I was at work all day, he was out at his singing or theatre activities most evenings. We’d practically have to make appointments to have a meal together. Now, we are together all the time and have to work out ways to NOT see each other! I have a desk in my room where I work on my laptop, and he has the front room where the PC is set up, along with an armchair by the window for reading. I take long walks; he goes out to the backyard and sits in the sun. On Saturdays, I go to the Senior Center to work in my office with no one else around, giving us a whole day apart!

We do, however, still make appointments for meals. Monday through Friday, I stop work about 5pm and fix dinner (Dad’s job is to set the table). Then we “dress for dinner.” Dad puts on a dress shirt and tie, I pick out my best jewelry and nice shoes, and then we take a selfie. The weekends are a little different. Since I’m in Pasadena most Saturdays, we don’t have dinner together, but we do take a photo. Sunday is always a fancy champagne brunch.

Dressing for Dinner gives punctuation to the day: one more COVID day successfully navigated! We talk over dinner about what we did (or didn’t do) during the day. Talk about what we will do (or won’t do) the next day. Champagne on Sundays means yet another week has passed (yep, it also means a bottle of champagne a week, but it’s all in the name of sanity)!

This surreal time has brought much tragedy, chaos, and anger. But although COVID19 has locked us down and put the activities we love on hiatus, it is precisely because of the pandemic that I now have 85 (and counting!) photos of my dad and I that would never have been taken under “normal” circumstances. Every day, another photo. Dressed up, smiling, and toasting the past, present, and future.

Smiling

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Song Books

We’ve been told to wear masks in public for quite a while now. However, working from home, I don’t leave the house very often, and live in a quiet neighborhood where I can walk for an hour and not pass anyone by very closely. I got used to wearing my mask down around my chin and would only pull it up when I saw someone heading towards me. I walk a lot in my neighborhood, often two or three times a day. It’s my main exercise to vainly try to avoid the weight gain from all those extra loaves of banana bread I’m baking.  As someone cleverly remarked, that’s where COVID19 got its name – from the 19 extra pounds we’ve each put on from staying at home and eating our way through the lockdown.

Back to masks. With stay-at-home restrictions eased a little bit, people are out and about more. When I go walking in the neighborhood now, I’m far more likely to encounter other walkers; so on goes the mask. The discomfort of covering my nose and mouth is balanced by how nice it is to see other human beings. “Hello,” “How are you?” “Nice Day,” are some of the pleasantries we exchange, accompanied by a smile.  The smile is an instinct, so much a part of the act of greeting we hardly even know we do it. That is, until you realize you’ve got a mask on and the other person can’t see your smile.

The other day I was out walking and came to an intersection at the same time as a car.  The driver stopped and waved for me to proceed, and I waved and smiled in thanks as I crossed. A totally ordinary, everyday experience. But it was then that I realized - really, really, realized - how wearing a mask obscures your face.  The driver couldn’t see me smile!  There was something strangely disconcerting about that, silly as it may sound. Yet another human response changed by the pandemic.

But has it changed? With my mask pulled up and my hat pulled down, my face is totally obscured. But just because my smile can’t be seen, doesn’t mean I’ll stop smiling.  I smile when I’m alone.  I’m smiling now as I write this, and it doesn’t matter that no one can see me. Just like the old saying about the tree falling in the forest… 

There were jokes making the circuit early on in the pandemic about a returning to bowing and curtsying to replace hugs and handshakes as common greeting practice.  Curtsying may be a bit too 18th century for most people but bowing is still important in many cultures and does remain a nice acknowledgement. Maybe not a deep, sweeping gesture like in a Shakespearean play, but an inclination of the head with a small bow. A way of expressing greetings and respect that can be seen despite face coverings.  Accompanied, of course, by that hidden smile.

Looking at the Sky

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Song BooksFor ten weeks, it’s been a delightful challenge to think of topics for my weekly blog. I look for inspiration in the odd trials and small joys found during social isolation and the upheaval of my life as I knew it. I find ideas through an offhand remark or a story I read in the paper or something I see on my daily walk. Week to week I pick a subject, sometimes right at deadline.

But this week? How do I pick a lighthearted topic when our region has exploded with anger and rage and violence? When the noise of sirens is a constant in the background as I write? When the fragile hope of some return to normalcy with reopening of businesses has been destroyed by looting and vandalism? Is now the time to write about flowers and music and books and friends?

It’s Monday night, already past deadline to turn in my blog. As I stand in the kitchen, doing the dishes, I’m still puzzling this out. What to say, what to write? Impossible to address these extraordinary days, but impossible to ignore them. I hope that by the time this is posted, the city won’t be burning and the sirens will have stopped, and the healing will start in earnest. But that takes a long time. Coronavirus won’t go away by Thursday, nor will broken buildings and people heal overnight. By nature, I’m a hopeful and happy person, and like to look on the bright side of things. Heck, I throw parties for a living. But it is hard to find a bright side in this very dark moment.

I opened the back door to let some cool air into the kitchen. There was an odd light in the sky, glowing on the horizon. Swirling grey clouds had darkened the sky to make it appear like night had already fallen, but the sun found a way through and lit up some of the clouds fiery red and gold while others remained gray and stormy. I went out to the street to stare at the sky, mesmerized by the tumult and chaos and absolute beauty of the sight. I was all alone. No cars. Everyone inside due to the curfew. Just me, alone with the sky that seemed to mirror all the anguish and emotions of the moment. The sky burned brighter and brighter, gorgeous with color, then faded into night.

I remember a handful of spectacular sunsets through my life: rowing to shore from a sailboat at Half Moon Bay in 1978, watching the sun set over the Nile when I visited Egypt in 2006, catching the perfect summer sunset from the top of Tarzan’s Tree House at Disneyland last year. Tonight’s sunset is one I believe I will long remember; for its drama and emotion, and for the reminder that indeed there can be beauty in the midst of distress, and it is when the clouds gather that the silver linings (or gold ones, in this case) appear.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Song BooksEver gotten sidetracked with details? Of course you have. Probably now, more than ever, since the only appointment you have to keep is with your computer for the next Zoom event. The click-bait of the internet is more enticing than ever, and the journey down the rabbit hole of information is almost irresistible.

I enjoyed a dive down the rabbit hole recently looking up information on the history of the Senior Center’s facility. The Pasadena Senior Center turned 60 this past Friday, May 22. In old-fashioned terms, it was our Diamond anniversary. We celebrated this past Friday with a party (virtual, of course). I compiled a short slide show of images of the Center over the years for the presentation.

One of the images I found shows the exterior of the original building; a simple ranch-style structure, long and low with a pitched roof and a 1950s modern aesthetic. The beautifully manicured lawn in front and the trees of Memorial Park in back show the Center as a serene and pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The basic footprint of the original clubhouse encompassed the north hall of our current facility, where the Lounge, Sy Graff Fitness Center, Dance Studio, and Cliff Benedict Room are, with an enormous lawn between the entrance and Holly Street.

PSC Construction Expansion 1997The Scott Pavilion opened in January 1998, part of an expansion that tripled the size of the building. Funded by a generous bequest from the estate of Margaret Bundy Scott, this major project gave the Center the configuration that we know today.

But wait! In the Center archives I found a construction photo from the 90s expansion that showed the old building stripped down to the studs and the big lawn torn up ready for new construction. That photo clearly showed a large wing on the west side of the grounds that was not there in 1960. None of the Center’s limited written histories mentioned any construction between the 1960s and the 1990s. Oh my! Rooting out this completely unimportant detail became a cause for me – a mission – and an excellent excuse to take another dive into the rabbit hole of internet research.

I went back to the online archives of the Pasadena Star News, Pasadena Independent, and San Marino Tribune. I guessed the era of the mystery addition was the 1970s, and searched by keywords related to construction, addition, expansion. Finally, voila! I found it. A small mention in the Star News as part of a regular column listing Senior Center activities:

Pasadena Star New, February 5, 1975: “Ground was broken and construction is beginning on the Paula E. Foley Service Wing at Pasadena Senior Center. The completion date is now set for April 14. This much needed addition will allow us to greatly expand our services to our community.”

But who was Paula E. Foley? Woo hoo! Another rabbit hole to explore! (P.S. “Polly” was the Center’s Executive Director 1964-1974, just in case you wondered).

Interesting Times

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Song Books“We are living in most interesting times,” as British statesman Sir Joseph Chamberlain said in a speech in 1898 (and many other people have said since).

The near total disruption of our lives due to the coronavirus pandemic has caused anxiety, panic, and tragedy; but it has also created moments of strange beauty, compassion, and introspection. Faced with social isolation, we’ve memorized the contents of every closet in the house and waged battles with dust bunnies, and we understand the power of friendship and community in a way we never did before.

Working from home for the past eight weeks, these blogs I write are letters to my friends from the Center. As I write I see the smiles and waves from folks gathered around the coffee bar, hear laughter from my classmates in Ballroom Dance, respond to jokes by co-workers, talk to friends from Master’s Series (yes, Alan Chapman WILL be with us this summer, albeit online), and, of course, party with everyone!

All of the things that each of us enjoy and depend on at the Center, is why it was created. Back in 1957 a task force on older adults convened by the City of Pasadena determined that a Center would best serve the needs of the large senior population in the city. The Pasadena Senior Center opened May 22, 1960, conceived as a home-style community clubhouse where there would be social interaction (parties, dances, clubs), intellectual stimulation (lectures, classes, activities), and support (social services, meals). Run with a small staff and a large number of volunteers, the Center was dependent on the generosity of donors for the majority of its funding. Sound familiar? Indeed, little has changed except we now have a much larger building and exponentially more programs and services.

The image on this postcard from the early 1960s shows Center members relaxing on the patio of the original building on a delightful spring day. I’m guessing it is spring and not summer, since no one, not even the brightly attired ladies in their cotton shirtwaist dresses, are wearing hats. The conversational groupings under the umbrellas, the foursomes at the tables in the shade along the side of the building, as well as other people milling about, all speak to the spirit of camaraderie at the heart of the Pasadena Senior Center.

We may have weeks or months to go before we can gather in the patio again, enjoying the lovely park setting like the members in the photo. However, the memory of it stays in our hearts while we are away, and friendships formed at the Center sustain us. Don’t let those spiteful dust bunnies get the best of you, and when we are all together again, we can share stories about how we lived through these “most interesting times.”

Party Like It's 1960

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Song BooksThe Pasadena Senior Center turns 60 this month. The doors opened for the first time on May 22, 1960, and the newspapers reported that 2000 people attended the opening festivities. I’ve been spending time recently looking for information about those early years. Researching online, I found a set of color postcards of the Senior Center from the early 1960s (ah, the joys of the internet, and the amazing things available on Ebay!). ’ll be sharing a postcard each week in our Anniversary month.

I’m starting with the image closest to my heart: a dance party in the ballroom! I had seen a grainy black and white copy of this photo before, but color really brings out its character. I can’t resist the red polka-dot dress of the lady on the right (I want one just like it!), and a closer look reveals an amazing yellow-and-magenta print on the Hawaiian shirt of the man dancing nearby. The plain hall is dressed up with green and white floor-to-ceiling curtains and faux Chippendale chairs. The Center was significantly remodeled and expanded in the late 1990s, so this room as photographed doesn’t exist anymore. It was replaced by our Scott Pavilion; a larger and more elegant space, yet still sporting a room divider same as its predecessor.

It stands to reason that a Senior Center would have a tradition of ballroom dancing. Seniors attending the Center in the 1960s had danced their way through the 1920s, 30s and 40s and it was a way of life. We still dance to tunes from those eras at our parties today, courtesy of the Great American Swing Band. Actually, to tell the absolute truth, we aren’t dancing to them at the Center right now, due to the sad and necessary social distancing measures in place to combat the spread of our current pandemic. However, when you think of the date of this postcard, early 1960s, we know that every senior at that party was born before 1914: therefore each dancer had survived the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, as well as the trauma both World Wars. If they could dance again, so can we!

I’ve always loved dancing, but I became a ballroom dance addict two years ago, when I joined the class at the Senior Center. Before the world shut down in March, I was ballroom dancing two or three times a week and loving every minute. Since it is pretty impossible to foxtrot six feet away from your partner, dancing, like so many other things, suddenly stopped. Done. Dancing alone just isn’t the same as waltzing around the room with a partner. But one thing wasn’t cut off: the dance friendships I made at the Center. We still talk, commiserate the lack of dancing, and share tips to keep in shape for that time – soon, I hope, soon! – when we can all gather again and visit, listen to music, and dance. Just like in 1960.

Rearranging the Furniture

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Song BooksIt’s a time-honored strategy to deal with boredom or stress - rearrange the furniture! There are lots of reason this is a good thing: 1) It takes your mind off of whatever you are, or are not, doing, 2) Engages the right and left sides of your brain as you calculate spatial relationships and contemplate aesthetics, 3) Gets you some physical exercise, 4) Gives you a new perspective on familiar things.

I’ve been doing a lot of furniture rearranging lately and can attest to the benefits. My first task was to carve out a home office in my room (our dining room was not going to work as a long-term solution if I wanted to stay on good terms with my dad). Figuring out how to craft a workable office area in a tiny space proved much more productive and fulfilling than worrying about Covid-19. For practical purposes, I needed enough room for a desk and a chair, but I also wanted it to be a space I would actually want to be in for eight hours a day.

The fun (yes, fun) of planning, along with the physical exertion of moving the furniture around, led to a really pleasant workspace. An added bonus is that I see the room from a new perspective, sitting for hours a day in a part of the room where I never had a chair before. Our house was built in 1929, and I have a very pretty room with a slanted beamed ceiling and casement windows which it is a pleasure to look at.

While I have been figuring out how to work from home, there is also work being done to my home. We’re having the entire house’s 91-year old electrical system rewired. It’s a lengthy project (4-6 weeks), and everything has to be moved to make room for the electrical work. Furniture is shifted and pictures taken down off the walls. Vases, curios, and tchotchkes are moved or stuffed into drawers. Clothes taken out of closets. It’s a mess, but it is also an opportunity. When all this is over, I won’t put everything back where it came from. I won’t even keep everything. Just as museums change their gallery shows and shops change their window displays, it’s a chance to change my perspective and shake things up a bit.

Last week, it was terribly hot. The electricians were still working in the house in the afternoon, and our backyard was covered with their stuff. It was 5:00pm on Friday, and time for a cocktail! Where to sit and relax? Nowhere comfortable inside or in the backyard. The only thing to do was to move the dining room chairs out to the front lawn, and have cocktail hour there. Lovely late afternoon breeze. Waving hello to the neighbors walking their dogs. Enjoying the neighborhood from a fresh perspective. Delightful. That’s the real benefit of rearranging furniture: when you change the physical, the mental follows.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Posted in #AgeWell

Written by Annie Laskey, Events Director, Pasadena Senior Center

Song BooksWe’re now on week six of the Safer at Home directive. Have you had your fill of Zoom gatherings yet? Followed enough links on the internet to form a chain a million miles long? Forwarded your share of toilet paper jokes? Cleaned out the garage? Figured out what to do with all the lemons on your backyard tree that you can’t give away anymore?

Along with the depression, frustration, boredom, and fear for the future that this pandemic has brought, there are some bright spots—literally. Flowers. Lots of them. Everywhere. One small piece of luck for us is that coronavirus hit Southern California just as spring was starting. A bunch of days of rain nourished the plants and the city burst into color: pink crepe myrtle trees like birthday cake icing, bright orange poppies taking over gardens and fields, and magenta ice plant turning hillsides into neon wonderlands. Not to mention all the birds and bees and butterflies that these flowers attract.

Spring is always beautiful here; what is remarkable about that? The difference is that we are experiencing it in a new way. With activities limited and movement restricted, many of us are walking in our neighborhoods more—much more—than we ever have before. Instead of walking once or twice a week, I’m walking three or four times a day. Short walks with my 92-year-old dad. Long walks with my next-street-over neighbor whom I met at the Pasadena Senior Games several years ago. Medium walks around the neighborhood while I talk to friends on my cell phone.

I would have thought I’d get bored covering the same ground over and over. But each day, and each time I go out, the flowers are different. They open full on sunny days, hang their heads on gray days. Poppies will appear overnight and be gone in a few days, whereas a particular rose, with a particularly fine scent, might be leaning over a fence for me to enjoy for what seems like weeks.

There is a house about six blocks away, which I often walk past now. The front yard is filled with fragrant herbs and flowering plants. Dad and I always stop there on our walks to watch the tiny iridescent hummingbirds flitting from tree to flower, dancing along with the butterflies. There is a wonderfully aromatic sage plant in that yard. The owner gave me a cutting from it, which I’m rooting now so I can have one in my own garden.

I always have my phone with me when I go out walking (who goes out without their phone these days?), which means I always have a camera handy. As a photography enthusiast, I’m now fascinated with the colors, shapes, and textures of plants I hardly paid attention to before. Years from now, when 2020 is known as the year the world stopped, I’ll have a scrapbook full of photos to show that when the world stopped, I stopped too—to smell the roses.

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Pasadena Senior Center
85 East Holly Street
Pasadena, CA 91103