The Wonders and Evils of FaceBook… and Finding Old Friends

If you are someone who gets online regularly these days, you have encountered Facebook – a social networking site where you can connect with friends.

A lot of people make fun of Facebook (FB), saying they don’t care what you had for breakfast or how you feel about politics, but there is so much more to FB than that. I tend to think of it like that old rhyme by Longfellow (1904) that said,

There was a little girl,

And she had a little curl

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good

She was very, very good,

And when she was bad she was horrid.

I say this because I’ve had some horrid experiences on FB. Twice I’ve actually closed my account because of negative feedback. But both times I returned because I missed it. Once you make friends on FB you really do wonder what they are up to every day. It is a virtual, but living, network.

I think what you have to realize is that FB, while being a very social place, is also a platform for narcissists. Hiding behind an anonymous computer screen makes it easy for a lot of people to say derogatory or inflammatory things they might never say to someone in a face-to-face setting. And the more they do it, the more emboldened they become. They are cyber-bullies. You’ve probably encountered a few if you’ve been on FB for a while.

These are the folks that “block” and “unfriend” you the minute you say something they don’t like. It sounds inconsequential. After all, who cares? It’s only FB…

Turns out plenty of people do. After I was blocked and unfriended by a number of people, I researched the subject. And in today’s world of social platforms, there truly is a system of “etiquette.” Certainly everyone has the right to maintain their status on FB as they see fit. But it can be a little bit like junior high school.

Remember that popular girl who demanded that no one in her circle speak to anyone she was displeased with? That actually happens on FB! Offend her and you are toast to her and her friends. One article said that “unfriending” along with “blocking” is the equivalent of throwing your drink in someone’s face at a party. And let me tell you, if you happen to be the “blocked & unfriended” – that is exactly what it is like. It is a power play someone uses to publicly let you know you are excluded from their world. Very definitely junior high mean-girl mentality.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of “blocking” or “unfriending” people unless they are somehow dangerous or threatening or obscene. All you have to do is “unfollow” them and you don’t see what they post. It’s the polite way to ignore those you don’t want contact with all the time.

Others feel more strongly about the “unfriending” business and use it liberally. They say they are taking charge of their timeline and controlling who has access to it. Which sounds reasonable at first.

But here’s the thing…

Why did you “friend” such a person in the first place? Did you actually know them? Were you trying to expand your friend-count as though FB is some sort of popularity contest? A lot of people do this. They have many hundreds of FB friends – basically anyone they’ve ever talked to in their lives. But honestly, if there was no FB, would you really have 500 “friends” in real life? I don’t think so.

And that means, you don’t know a lot of these people at all. All you know is that when you post the pics of your latest vacation they all jump on and say “Wow! Hope you had a great time!” And you can bask in the glow of all these friends who congratulate you even when they don’t know you or even particularly care.

I’m not saying that to be mean. I’m saying it because FB is very much a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, you can reach out into cyber-world and put on a show about your wonderful self. And when you’re down for a day, you can post that and others will give you encouragement. “Hang in there,” they chime. “You can do it!” they applaud. “Don’t let the turkeys get you down!”

Oh, how good that sounds! Hordes of friends always there every time you type a few words into FB. No more crying into your pillow at night… just post it on FB and the positive feedback pours in. (And let me say, this is a wonderful thing among real friends, but pretty superficial among those hundreds you’ve never met.)

To me, this is not the beauty of Facebook. It is the illusion. The mirage. The false assurance that others have your back when truly, they don’t know you… have never met you… and wouldn’t recognize you if they ran into you on the street.

So, if I feel this way, why in the world am I still on FB???

Simply because…

It’s like that little girl, who when she was good, she was VERY, VERY good!

And FB at its best is a social connection like no other.

Believe me, I have lots of FB friends I’ve never met. Some are acquaintances that I play games online with. Some I’ve met through business connections who want to expand their network. And my list of “un-confirmed” friends is quite long since I decided long ago to not just “friend” someone I don’t know in the interest of building up my “friends” numbers.

But… and this is a very big BUT…

Some days you are just cruising along, minding your own business, and a request will show up on your FB timeline like a blast from the past. And it’s someone you actually know. And you haven’t seen them in 40 years. And they aren’t looking to build a friend list… they just found you and genuinely want to know how you are.

This, too, occurs all the time. I can’t tell you how many old high school mates, neighbors from the old stomping grounds, friends of my children and others I’ve known through the years who have found me on FB. These people are actually friends. They are treasures from the past. And you never know when they’ll come back into your life via FB.

I love it when this happens. And it just happened to me again a few days ago.

This particular friend request came from someone who was a pal of my dad’s more than 60 years ago – and still is, although they are not in regular contact today. Somehow he came across me on FB and got in touch. And since we live in different cities now, this would never have happened in real life.

I immediately recognized his name, Bill Venrick, and excitedly responded. “Are you that old friend of my dad’s?” I asked.

“Indeed, I am,” he replied. And our conversation continued from there.

I went to Bill’s timeline and discovered he is still celebrating life with his wife Jean (over 60 years now) and that in recent years they have published several books on the history of Lancaster, Ohio, which is hometown for all of us.

The Venricks have written a history of the Boys Industrial School (known to locals as the BIS,) complete with historic photos, called Echos from the Hill. They also recently published the history of the Fairfield County Children’s Home called A Place to Call Home. Both of these locations are of great historical interest to anyone who lives in Fairfield County or grew up there as they were/are local landmarks and institutions.

(Note: these books are available from the Fairfield Heritage Assoc, 105 E Wheeling St in Lancaster OH, or The Frame Shop on the corner of Union and Columbus St in Lancaster. Or you can call the Venricks at 740-654-3072 to get a copy of either or both by mail.)

But I’m not just promoting the Venrick books here.

No, I’m pointing out the wonders of FB friendship when it happens just right.

As I said, Bill “friended” me and we were able to chat and get a bit reacquainted. Then the most wonderful thing happened…

Since Bill and his wife really were friends of my parents all those years ago, he just happened to have some photos to share with me. He sent them to me in an email, and when I opened them up, I literally burst into tears. Let me show you why…

Here’s Bill with my dad, Ralph Tipton and a friend, Ronnie Wilkinson (now deceased) one evening in early 1952. Bill is the one wearing the foam rubber nose and my dad, Ralph, is in the middle… (please click on photos to enlarge)

Bill V, Dad, Ronnie

In the following photo, the Venricks had stopped by after church to play a little music at my dad’s place. From left to right is Jim Buckalew (dear friend of the guys, long deceased), Bill’s dad Ike Venrick, Bill, my dad, Ralph, and his step-dad, Lawrence Featheroff. I can’t tell you how much I love seeing this photo of my dad and grand dad when they were so much younger than I am now…

Music - Dad, Grandpa, Venricks, Buckalew

THEN! Bill includes these precious photos that made me cry…

Here’s my mom, Margie, age 17, holding me at age 3 months…

Margie & Lynnie 3 months

And Dad holding me as well…

Dad & Lynnie 3 months

And mom and dad with me that night in early 1952 when I was just 3 months old.

Mom, Dad & Lynnie 3 months

These are not pictures I had seen before – or ever would have seen – if not for Mr. Venrick finding me on FB and sharing them with me. I haven’t had a chance to share them with my dad, but I will. And he will be quite surprised to discover that his old high school buddy still had these photos and found me to share them with. What a treasure!

Sadly, my mother died just over a year ago but I know she would have enjoyed this time capsule when she was so young and hopeful with a new babe in arms.

This, my friends, is Facebook at its best. Connecting people from all walks of life, from different generations, and with timeless memories to share.

When FB is good, it is very very good.

May everyone enjoy it as it is meant to be.

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Tomato News

cherry tomatoes2

This is an unusual tomato year for me. My cherry tomatoes from last year seeded themselves and took off right away. I didn’t even have to plant them! And the few bigger tomato plants I put in haven’t borne much fruit. So I’ve got dish-fulls of the little guys and just a few regular tomatoes from the neighbor. Not enough to can but too many to eat outright.

So I went online in search of what to do with the cherry tomatoes. Seems some people just wash them and plop them in freezer bags for later. Some roast them in the oven to dry them. I might try both of those methods later on.

For now, I found a recipe by Mario Batali on Serious Eats and was rather surprised by the rave reviews. I DO make marinara sauce but it involves skinning the tomatoes at some point and that is a messy job. But this specifically says you can use the cherry tomatoes and you don’t have to peel them! You don’t even have to cook them very long! It is a really fresh sauce.

I’ve tried fresh sauce with regular tomatoes before and didn’t much care for the skins in the sauce. But this recipe has enough good feedback that I’m game. It is Spaghetti al Pomodoro, intended to be a lighter dish with all fresh ingredients.

First I’ll give you Mario’s recipe as written…

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 teaspoon hot chili flakes
  • 2 pints of Sungold Cherry tomatoes (or 3 cups of chopped fresh tomatoes and their juices)
  • 20 leaves fresh basil, cut into fine slivers (chiffonade)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino

Procedures

  1. It is even easier than it reads. Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a spaghetti pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt. Heat a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and garlic, and cook until light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the chili flakes and the tomatoes, and cook over medium heat, stirring to keep the garlic from cooking any browner until the tomatoes just start to burst or deflate, about 5 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat, and set aside. Drop the spaghetti into the boiling water, and cook until 1 minute less than the package instructions call for. Drain and toss in the pan with the tomatoes; place the pan over high heat and toss to mix well, about 45 seconds.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, add the cheese, then the basil, and toss well to mix. Then pour into a heated bowl, and serve immediately.

Now me… I’m pretty loose with directions and I just wanted to use what I had on hand.

Cherry tomatoes… check.

Basil… went out to my mini-garden and picked a few leaves and chopped them… check.basil2

Garlic… instead of slicing, I minced a couple cloves up fine since I don’t like big pieces of garlic in my food… check.

Red pepper flakes… got ‘em in the cupboard… check.

Pecorino? Nah. Never have it. It is a pretty strong cheese. When I was in Italy for a few months it is the main cheese they eat. It ranges from ordinary-strong to flat-out stinky-crazy strong! I never got used to it. So I’ll use what I have on hand… shredded parmesan and a bit of finely shredded mozzarella. Check.

And here’s a couple tips for you concerning the other ingredients…

As for olive oil and dry pasta, I rarely buy those at the grocery. I have a source I like much better and it isn’t what you’d expect. One of my very favorite stores is Home Goods (part of the TJ Maxx family) and I have to go there once a month just for a window shopping fix. Home dec is my thing but I can’t bring home everything I love from Home Goods. However, I can go down their gourmet food aisle and have a hey-day!

Folks, this place is a treasure! When I first saw these “grocery items” in a store like this, I was a bit afraid of them. Who buys food in a retail store? But I got brave enough to try it and now it is one of my go-to places for good stuff. This is where I buy pasta from Italy, olive oil from Spain and tea from England. Hey this store brings the world to you and the items are not in a gourmet market at three times the price! You never know exactly what they’ll have, but it will be good.

Check out the jarred olives, the canned paprika and the real-deal shortbread cookies. I always have a box or two of “designer” cookies in my cupboard to serve with tea if a friend drops in. It is so impressive – and delicious! And if you want to take a “hostess gift” or a “just because” gift to a friend, pick up one of these items. Then go back a few aisles and get a gift bag. You’re all set! (You can thank me later!)

I recently visited my dad and stepmother and I hate to go anywhere empty-handed, so I picked up a lovely tin of crispy chocolate chip cookies from Denmark at Home Goods. I know my dad and his wife like something sweet with their morning coffee. And sure enough, when I came out the next morning, they had eaten half the tin!

“Did you know those cookies are from Denmark?” asked my dad. “But, of course!” I replied. “Only the best for you!” Now aren’t I just the clever one!

Anyway… back to the Spaghetti al Pomodoro

I truly am surprised I’ve never tried this before because I am a NUT for anything Italian. I collect books on Italian cooking and I’ve spent YEARS perfecting my pizza recipe. So it was time to use the cherry tomatoes and here’s what I did…

First I put a saucepan of water on to boil. Threw in a good amount of salt. This is necessary to get the pasta the right flavor.

While the water came to a boil I washed off the cherry tomatoes and chopped them up. I also minced the garlic and fresh basil.

egg pasta2This is the pasta I had on hand… it is an egg pasta from Italy formed into little “nests” about the size of the palm of your hand. It is VERY thin and will cook in no time. (I used two of them.)

I heated up a larger, shallow saucepan and poured in some olive oil. Just a couple swirls… I don’t measure. Then added the garlic and stirred and stirred so it wouldn’t burn. In went a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir a little more.

Pour in the chopped tomatoes and continue to stir. This doesn’t take long at all since it is a fresh sauce. And since I’m a rebel in the kitchen, I added a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper (you do use a pepper mill, don’t you?) and a teaspoon or so of sugar to combat the acidity. Keep stirring. Then I got out the potato masher and gave it all a good stomping.

By now the pasta was done. This really thin pasta cooks fast, but if you are using any other pasta, cook it a bit less than the package says. You want it “almost done” when you put it in the sauce to finish cooking.

And here’s another secret of mine… I don’t drain pasta. It’s an extra wasted step.

cooking spiderAll you need to do is use your “spider” to scoop the pasta out of the water and into the hot pan of sauce. The little bit of starchy water that clings to the pasta thins the sauce out just right. Cook the whole mess for another minute or so to get the flavor of the sauce into the pasta. (Honestly, you HAVE to finish cooking the pasta IN the sauce or it just isn’t right!)

Finally, pour it all into a serving dish and toss with the basil. Add your cheeses and bring it up to your nose for a big sniff. Close your eyes and swoon. That first bite is going to be as yummy as it smells!

I have to tell you… this recipe was a revelation to me. It is quick and easy and fresh and tasty. The red pepper flakes gave it just a bit of kick. The tomato skins seemed to dissolve and the basil smelled divine. And you should be able to make this with any fresh tomatoes you have on hand. I really can’t imagine I never made it before! Believe me, it takes much longer to tell you how to make it than to actually do it!

pasta pomodoro2

I’ve got another dish of cherry tomatoes on the counter that are almost ripe, so I’ll be making this again in a few days. I have a package of little pasta bow-ties – from Italy, of course – that I think will be perfect! Can’t wait to try this again!

And before I leave you with this Tomato News… here’s another idea for your regular-size tomatoes…

I learned this years ago from my sister-in-law Karen. One summer night, she and her family came to our house for pizza. Karen brought along a couple of nice ripe tomatoes and sliced them up. When the pizza came, she encouraged us all to put a slice of tomato right on the hot pizza.

Hmmm… it wasn’t love at first bite for me, but it was oddly refreshing. But I will say, the first time I tried it, I liked the pizza better by itself. Still… every once in a while when we got pizza and there was a fresh tomato on the counter, I would try it again. And I always thought… hmmmm… but kinda good.

tomato on pizza2

Well, now I’m a convert. (And must I lecture you on how you develop your taste? It takes more than one try, folks! Grow up and try things! More than once! Otherwise you’ll never know what you are missing.)

Anyway, today, I’ve got just a few luscious red tomatoes on the counter and I got to thinking about that pizza connection. Suddenly I had to have it. I called Cousin Vinny’s for a thin-crust pepperoni and while I was waiting I sliced up the ripest tomato as thin as I could get it. (Use a serrated knife for this!)

When the pizza came, I put the tomato slices right on the hot pizza and sprinkled just a PINCH of salt on the tomato. Yes, it’s salty, but I like to TASTE the salt on top. Wow! What a special treat that can only be had this time of year. (Thanks, Karen!)

So enjoy your tomatoes while you can. It’s feast or famine with those babies!

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