Goodbye Delango



Russ and I are much better at buying cars than we are at selling cars.  This morning when I woke up we had a 1964 Morris Minor woody station wagon and a Smart car in the garage.  They are our smallest cars thus allowing us to have a garage packed with lots of other stuff but giving us the illusion that it is actually OK since we can still fit two cars in it at the same time.


Out in the driveway were the big cars, the 2000 Land Cruiser the fairly new Ford C-max and the 1999 Dodge Delango.  What, you’ve never heard of a Delango?  Well it is quite a special model.  The Christmas Carter was born my Dad stole Russ’ seven year old Ford Taurus station wagon and traded it in and gave him this White Dodge Durango he had renamed and rebadged as a Delango model.


In the early days of our marriage my father thought Russ was actually not of German decent, but of Italian because of his love of all things red sauce.  The nickname of Roussilini Delango was the one my father called him.  So when Russ started eyeing the new SUV from Dodge my father, who’s favorite pastime is buying cars, jumped the gun and got him one.


Not only did my father surprise Russ with the car on Christmas morning, but also the regular “Durango” silver letters on the side of the car had been removed and in the exact same typeface the new ones spelling out “Delango” were in their place.


The Delango served Russ well.  He drove it back and forth to the airport at least seven hundred and thirty two times.  When we went to buy the C-max last fall I asked Russ if we could trade in his old car.  Why did two drivers need five cars?  For whatever sentimental reason he said no, but the Delango sat idle in the driveway all year.  Finally on my fix it day this week I decided it was time to sell that car.


I had to wait until Russ was home so we could drive two cars to the dealer and leave the Delango there and come home to a driveway with only two cars in it.  The old car came into our life at the same time our only baby did.  It is hard to admit that soon she will be gone too.  Until that time comes she has to get her drivers license and the good news is the old Land Cruiser is the perfect first car for a kid.  At least it won’t be so ridiculous to have four cars and three drivers.

Inspiring Circles



Today a friend and colleague reached a big weight loss milestone.  Andrea Griffith Cash the Editor of Chapel Hill and Durham Magazines set out to lose thirty pounds before her thirtieth birthday.  First I have to step back and say, gosh, she’s only 30, and is a great editor.  Now back to the story.  In the spring I was having lunch with Andrea and she told me that she was inspired by my weight loss challenge and wanted to do something for herself.


Being a busy editor, especially of two magazines that cover a lot of food stories is not the easiest life to keep weight off, let alone lose it.  I told her that the one big thing that helped me was making my challenge to lose weight public.  It is much harder to break your diet if everyone you know is watching you.  It also is much harder for people to sabotage you if everyone else is watching them try and push food on you.


Andrea went full on public with her goal by blogging about it in the Chapel Hill Magazine website-  Thanks to her hard work and vigilance she reached her goal before her September 5 birthday- Right On baby.  It wasn’t all easy.  In August we met for lunch and Andrea told me she was stuck on a plateau.  Having visited many flat places myself I encouraged her to try a few tricks to kick her butt back into losing mode and she did it.


Today I went for a walk with a new friend who also was interested in how I lost weight.  I told her a little about my plan, but I was mostly thankful that she would walk with me because I need to move more to get myself off my current plateau.


Both Andrea and my new friend are helping to inspire me to push harder.  I may have motivated them at one point and now their work is coming back around to help me.  I am sure from reading the comments about Andrea’s success that she is encouraging others to their own success and so the circles of inspiration continue.


Whatever you may want to try and accomplish there is probably someone out in the world who has succeeded at it.  Look for their story.  Learn from them.  Take that spark to energize you.  You don’t actually have to meet them or know them.  When you have some success help someone else and in that passing of the encouragement torch you will help yourself.

Fix It

Today is a rare day in my little world.  Carter is away on a school trip and other than my early morning trip to the trainer I purposely kept my day completely free.  Imagine the fun I could have.  With Russ at work and no one to answer to other than my sweet dog Shay I could do what ever I wanted– well, other than eat chocolate or cheese fondue.


The possibilities for excitement were endless and I did not disappoint myself.  What in the world did I do on my big free day, you ask?  I fixed everything that was broken in my house!  Maybe not everything, but most of the things that had been piling up for months awaiting a repair.


I know it sounds incredibly boring, but it has made me practically giddy.  I took my favorite reading glasses that had the lens held in by fishing line that had snapped into the optician and got them put back together good as new.


While on vacation in Maine my old beloved camera started acting sluggish so Russ ordered me a new battery.  Putting it in he dropped my camera and broke the battery door.  You would have thought he cut off my hand the way I acted about it.  He thought he was going to have to buy me a whole new camera, but today I found an honest to goodness camera repair store today and in a flash he replaced the broken part with a new one he had on hand, I never.  In this day and age to actually have an obscure part like that in stock is practically unheard of.  The camera still is acting sluggish, but I was able to leave it with this photo superhero who I have great confidence can fix it.


I noticed while taking a shower today that the drain was a little slow so I picked up enough Draino at Costco to unclog every pipe in my neighborhood and now the showers running free.  I’ve had a couple pairs of Russ shorts/pants that have needed mending sitting on my dressing table for a month so I whipped those up with a quick needle and thread.


None of these minor chores were difficult or time consuming but somehow they sat undone at my house with no excuse.  If I had known that getting them done would have given me a high very similar to eating chocolate I would have done them long ago.  Next time I am having a craving I’m going to look for something to fix.

The Seven Layers of Hell



I got a recipe e-mailed to me today for a seven-layer salad.  I’m sure the word “salad” in the recipe made them think of me, but if they had read the ingredients they might have realized that this salad is more fattening than chocolate cake.  The layers are iceberg lettuce, hardboiled eggs, frozen peas, bacon, lots of bacon, mild cheddar cheese (what is the point of mild cheddar cheese?), mayonnaise mixed with sugar and green onion.  If I were going to splurge to this degree I would most certainly eat something with good melted cheese and not iceberg lettuce and frozen peas.


Granted when you put all these things together it really is tasty, but just not worth the calories, which total almost 400 for one cup of this salad.  That is about the same calories as a medium Wendy’s Chocolate Frosty and that reportedly has mayonnaise in it also.


There are many dishes that are named Seven Layer Something, like Seven Layer Dip made up of refried beans, cheese, sour cream etc. etc.  Or Seven Layer Bars that include graham crackers crumbs, butter, sugar, chocolate chips, butter scotch chips, walnuts, coconut and sweetened condensed milk.  About 300 calories for a bar that is what I would consider a very conservative serving, no licking the knife after cutting.


I cannot find any recipe for Seven Layer anything that is healthy.  Perhaps that it is because Seven Layers equate to the seven deadly sins.  Every layer of something fattening and yummy you add on to a dish the more sinful it gets until you reach the maximum in decadence at seven.


So my tip for today is if you are trying to be virtuous in your eating stay away from anything with the word “Seven” in the title.  Now I’m sure Diet Seven–Up drinkers might take homage here, but why risk it, switch to Diet Sprite.  It’s virtually the same drink but has no connection to that terrible number seven.

How Are Magazine Covers Communicating With Me



I walked in my bedroom tonight and noticed a magazine that must have come in the last few weeks that I have not had time to even glance at.  The issue of Real Simple had a couple of cover articles that seemed to be screaming at me; DIET VS. EXERCISE- Which Works Better?  Or Do You Need a Mentor?    It seems that some of things that I was dealing with must be issues for lots of people because they made cover articles on one of the only financially successful magazines in America.


Now in full disclosure I have not read any of these articles.  Oftentimes the cover headlines do not even tie to the actual articles, although Real Simple is usually fairly good at not pulling a bait and switch.  But I laugh that even the magazines I have sitting around are echoing what is going on in my real life.


I already know that diet wins versus exercise, at least for my body, but it really isn’t an either or issue.   The real answer is diet and exercise and as Austin Powers would say, “Yes, Please.”  I am more likely to groan, “Yes, I know.”


The mentor question is not really do I need a mentor, but do I need to get other people mentors?  As part of the Welcoming Committee at school we did away with Mentors for the upper school kids and replaced that program with one where we invited new families and a couple old families to parties so kids and parents could meet each other and hopefully find some people they like.


The older kids get the harder it is to just throw any random two together and hope they become lifelong friends.  Even if you use a computer dating-like matching criterion that says this kid plays soccer and so does that one and they both are good at math and a little quirky, tada they just end up not really liking each other.  It’s not like throwing two four year olds together and one looks at the other and says, “You have arms and I have arms, so do you want to go on the swings with me and be friends?”


Making friends is like dieting.  You have to work at it, it’s not just eating or exercise but both.  If you want to have a friend you have to be a friend.  I remember when my parents moved to London in 1979 they decided to throw a party to meet all the people who lived on their street in St. Johns Wood.  Not knowing any one’s names my parents sent my sister Janet out to put invitations in everyone’s mail slot.


The day of the party came and the whole street showed up at my parent’s house.  My Dad put out a big spread with lots of liquor, which was totally consumed by the guests.  My family being the newest people on the block was shocked to discover that hardly anyone knew each other.  Although people seemed to have a good time, days after the party when my Dad saw his new neighbors on the street they did not greet him as friend, which is what my North Carolina born and breed father expected.


He went to work and asked one of his British colleagues why this was.  The Brit told him, “If we considered you a close friend after one meeting what would we have to talk with you about in the future?”  Apparently the “getting to know you” phase of friendship was a much longer time period in the UK than in southern America.


Just like you can’t lose all the weight you want overnight so to might it take a little while to make a really good friend.  If you have to work at it, it will be that much sweeter.


I bet if I looked around my room a little I will find other magazines that are touting answers to problems I have.  I’m waiting for the magazine to show up with the headlines, Your House is Free of Clutter- Now what?  Or You’ve Gotten so Thin You Need a New Wardrobe- Where to Begin?  Those are problems I would like to have.

Eggplant Pesto Bake



I found two nice Eggplants in my garden today so that’s what’s for dinner tonight.  In our house there is nothing as good as eggplant Parm, but there is also nothing more fattening.  So in a spirit of a healthier version I made up this recipe.  I pre-baked all the vegetables separately so I could coax the best flavor from each. I left out tomatoes sauce because it has too much sugar and I greatly reduced the cheese.  Since I was not frying the eggplant I added a few sliced potatoes for structure and Pesto to get a big flavor.


2 big eggplants sliced into ½ inch rounds

3 medium Yukon gold potatoes sliced very thinly with the skins on

4 tomatoes sliced

2 large yellow onions sliced thinly and caramelized (recipe follows)

1 cup of basil pesto

2/3 cup of mozzarella and Parmesan – any proportions you want


Make the caramelized onions.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Line a couple of jellyroll pans with foil and spray with pam.  Put a cooling rack on one pan and layer the eggplant on the rack.  Spray with Pam and place in oven and cook until the eggplant is browned, about 30 minutes.  On another pan layer the tomatoes and spray with Pam, salt and pepper and place them in the oven, cook until the water cooks out of the tomatoes, about 30 minutes.  On a third pan layer the potatoes and spray them with Pam, salt and pepper and place in the oven, cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.


Once you have cooked all the parts spray an oblong shallow pan with pam.  Place a layer of half the potatoes down, followed by all the caramelized onions, and half the Pesto.  Place a layer of half the eggplant, and start again with the potatoes, pesto, eggplant and end with the tomatoes.  Sprinkle cheese on top and place the whole thing back in the oven and bake about 20 minutes until the cheese is melted.  Good served hot or at room temp.


Caramelized Onions – master recipe


Caramelized onions are one of the truly great low calorie foods.  I make big pans of them and then divide them up into smaller portions and freeze them.


They can be used to top a turkey burger that is just a little bland, or put in a sandwich to add some depth of flavor.  Added to tomato soup, even canned, they will make your mouth so happy.


They are easy to make, but still take a little time.  Always cut more onions than you think you will need they cook down to less than ¼ their original volume.


Sweet onions






Slice onions.  Spray Pam in a large frying pan and put onions in it.  Place on medium low heat on stove.  Cook low and slow, stirring every so often. After about 20 minutes the onions should start to get golden brown.  Don’t try and get there faster by making the heat higher.  The low and slow develops the onions natural sugar.  When they get to the color in the picture sprinkle a tiny amount of sugar on top and stir.  Continue cooking about 5 more minutes until they get brown.  Putting the sugar on too soon will make them burn.  Salt to taste when done.


Use them on everything.  I love them in salads, mixed in eggs or in a grilled cheese, but that’s not very figure friendly.

Back to Schedule



I love summer, the freedom, the opportunity to sleep even if I don’t actually take it, the travel, the time with Carter on trips, the time without Carter while she is at camp, the lack of a dictated schedule.  But summer has come to an end in my life as Carter started school a week ago.  It is not all bad.


One problem for me during summer is I let myself be freer with my eating and less strict with my workouts.  Of course when I travel eating has the potential to be out of control, but that never seems to have a huge negative impact on the scale, probably because travel also includes activity.  The times during the break when things can get out of hand are the ones when I’m home without a plan, or many great commitments.  Somehow being less busy gives me more chance to eat and eat badly.


If I am not virulent almost all the time I fall into some false sense that I can eat what other people eat and remain the same weight.  It just ain’t so.  I am almost never just maintaining my weight.  I am either going up or going down.  Yeah, sometimes I am stuck on a big time plateau, but that is always when I am trying to go down and being practically religious in my good food choices.  Too bad I have not found a plateau when I am not counting every bite.  Life just does not work that way.


Having a schedule with great predictability really helps me stay on track.  This week I have eaten my standard arugula salad with roasted pears, skinless chicken thighs, a touch of blue cheese and a couple of cashews for at least one meal a day.  My body is happy.  I have lost all the weight I put on in the summer.  In case you are not a weight loss expert I will let you know that weight you just gained is fast and easy to lose, fat that has been with you a while is much more stubborn.


Now begins the push to get some of those long-term pounds off.  I’m in a good zone having weaned myself from the sugar and flour that are not my friends.  I’m drinking water and only having one fruit snack a day.  The weather is good for walking and my new trainer is kicking my butt.  The best part is my mind is ready and one thing I have learned over my years of gaining and losing is it’s all in your mind.

Peace Interrupted



A day in late August in North Carolina with no humidity and temps in the low 80’s is a rare thing indeed.  It is a perfect Saturday to take Shay out for a long walk and get a little exercise for both of us.  As Shay led me down the least busy street in the neighborhood I was able to close my eyes and lift my face to the warming sun.  It was peaceful and serene and perfect.  I opened my eyes just a big yellow butterfly flew inches in front of my face.  She must have been attracted to my bright pink shirt.


Shay and I walked and enjoyed the solitude and my heart was happy, but then it happened.  The bucolic nature of the walk was suddenly ripped apart by the blaring sound of leaf blower.  A jet could not put out more decibels than the single horsepower engine spurting out air for the sole purpose of moving a few pine needles off a driveway.  When did the world become so obsessed with having driveways they could eat off of?


I’m all for people keeping their yards nice, but damn I wish yard tool manufactures would invent silent mowers and blowers.  We sent men to the moon almost 45 years ago with no help of computers but yet we still have small gas powered engines that should be run while wearing ear protection.


Unfortunately weekdays and early mornings are no better in my neighborhood since most everyone, including me has a lawn service.  The other day I rode down my street and I could hardly get through because competing lawn companies had parked across from each other and were both trying to blow their grass clippings from their client’s side of the street to the other side.  It was like an old west showdown with leaf blowers.


I know that both Shay and I need to walk more, but I really would prefer if there were a few mower/blower free hours of the day to take those walks.  Actually, I think that I need to call up that Dyson genius and get him on this problem.  If he could just invent the silent lawn tool line I would work hard to make sure we outlawed the noisy kind.  Until a silent model exists I guess I have to live with the loud.

Shavers, My Sister and Radio



Just when I have no idea what I can write my blog about that won’t get my child kicked off a team or make my husband’s back hurt anymore something falls in my lap.  I opened my computer to write and saw an e-mail had come in from my sister Janet with a link to a download for a radio interview she did today.  It was a show out of Los Angeles called Tee It Up, which as you can guess is about golf.  Now my sister loves to play golf and has at one time or another been quite a good golfer, but not so much recently so I was really curious what she was being interviewed about on this radio show.


The download completed and the host started talking about shaving.  Ahhh…. I thought.  This is a show guys listen to; Janet owns a company that sells a shaver called ShaveTech, an electric shaver that plugs into a USB.  So for about ten minutes I listened to Janet talk to two men about shaving.  This was not normal radio, it was infomercial disguised as a conversation.  After all the shaving talk they spent a couple minutes talking about another one of her products, a knife sharpening tool called AnySharp.


Janet did a great job keeping the conversation casual about how men can keep this razor in their desk drawer at work in case they need to shave before a big meeting or a date.  These two radio hosts loved the USB charging capability since you did not need to carry adaptors and it works anywhere in the world.  On and on they went about Janet’s products and how they make great presents at $30.


How did my sister get in this business?  She went from telecom, to owning a women’s clothing store, to marketing consulting and now owns a business that sells all kinds of stuff from travel perfume sprayers called Travalo to Shavers.


All of a sudden a vision came to my mind of a time when Janet was about three and she practically cut her thumb off playing with my father’s razor.  I remember my mother screaming for me to get a towel to wrap her blood gushing hand in so she could drive her to the emergency room.  Little did any of us know she would grow up to sell electric shavers, which are much less dangerous than a razor with a straight blade.  What kid plays with razors anyway?


We just never know what path life is going to take.  If you asked me twenty years ago if I would ever hear my sister being interviewed about men shaving I would tell you absolutely not.  She’s really not that into men shaving.  But listening to her tonight I got a real charge, no pun intended, to hear carry on such an interesting conversation about something so mundane.


I wonder in Janet even remembers almost cutting off her thumb or her fascination with razors at a young age. I guess we should walk the path that is in front of us and eventually you are going to get somewhere.  It might not always be where you thought you were going, but it might be more fun than you expected.

Dieters Jeopardy



I really like to watch Jeopardy on TV.  I love Alex Trebek’s nerdish seriousness while trying to be cool.  I love to scream out the answers at the TV and I love contestants who play all over the board looking for the daily double.  I think it is good strategy to keep the other players from getting too comfortable with a category, especially if it is one that is tricky, like Before & After where the answers are a combination of two things with a common word in the middle.  An example would be “Italian covering your window without seeing on a dangerous road.”  The answer would be “Venetian Blind Curve.”


Lately there have been a number of special groups competing in Jeopardy.  There is the teen tournament, the kids’ tournament, the teacher’s week, celebrity Jeopardy and the Jeopardy all-time champions.  I could knock any kid out in the kid tournament, teens gets a little tougher because they tend to have a category or two that are geared to the youth, like Hit Songs of 2012.  Often those categories backfire on the teens because they tend to be a highly nerdy group that were smart enough to pass the entrance test and know very little pop culture.


Since I don’t qualify for any of those current special interest groups, that is as long as they don’t consider my Mah Jongg teaching as qualifying me as a teacher, then I only have the general pool as an option.  I was thinking that if I were to increase my chances for Ken Jennings like success on Jeopardy I would need to qualify for the Dieters Tournament.


I think that in America there is a very large population of dieters.  In fact I think it clearly could rival the number of teachers in the US and certainly is a larger group than currents teens who are willing to go on Jeopardy.  The categories could be things like; Food with Low Glycemic Indexes, How Many Calories Does That Burn, Sugar Substitutes and Fat Camouflaging Clothes.


One side benefit of a Jeopardy episode based on dieters questions is that it could be considered a public service to educate the growing fatter American TV watcher what good diet tips might be.  Not all current heavy weights know that Greek yogurt is a healthier option than sour cream on a baked potato.  So I’m not so self-serving to suggest this special Jeopardy, one where I might have a fighting chance.  Consider this a service to the nation.


Overwhelming Thanks



Most days when I get the mail I wish that I had an auto button that could just send the contents from the post box to the trashcan.  Today was a rare one in the world of my mailbox.  When I flipped open the door I could see multiple envelopes with hand written addresses.  At first I wondered if I had agreed to some old-fashioned recipe exchange or pen pal club.


As I began to flip through pile I counted not just a couple, but six real letters.  I opened each one to discover they were all thank you notes for five different events.  One was a thank you from my sorority for a recommendation, one for a lunch for a friend’s birthday, two for a dinner I hosted, one from a friend at church and the last from a friend I brought lunch to.  It was an embarrassment of thanks.


Each thank you was lovely on their own, but somehow feel magnified by getting so many at once and for such varied things.  It makes me worry that I have let so many things people have done for me go by unthanked.


I am sure that there are no less than three people a day that do something for me or for some organization I work with that I should thank with an actual hand written note.  I’m quick to send off an e-mail or worse yet a text, but that just does not have the same impact as a real-stationary-put-a-stamp-on-it-and-mail-it-note.  Based on the way this gaggle of thank you’s made me feel I am committing to writing at least three thank you notes a week, even if it is just for a kind word someone has said to me.


I hound my child about writing her thank you notes, but I myself need to follow my own advice.  So often I will think good thoughts about someone, but not tell them personally.  Of course lots of people make this blog so they get some public thank you, if they read it.  But certainly that is a passive way of expressing gratitude.  The world would just be a better place if we all were a lot more appreciative of every kindness shown us.


My Grandmother Mima was a great thanker.  The smallest act always elicited a note from her that made me feel very special.  I wish she were still alive for me to tell her how much she contributed to my self esteem and thank her for being such a great role model.  Carter’s Godfather, David is also a world-class thank you note writer.  He has a way of lifting up something small and making you feel it was a monumental act.


To anyone who is reading this I want to say thanks.  The fact that I have readers keeps me disciplined to keep writing and sticking to a healthy program.  To anyone who has ever done a thing for me, I’m sorry if my thank you is late.  I’m going to try to do better in the future.

First Day Down



How did I get so old that I have a freshman is high school?  Actually how did Carter get so old?  I feel like it was just yesterday that I was bringing her to Durham Academy for Pre-K.  Mrs. Ellis and Mrs. Stafford met us at the door to a big world of real school.  I remember sitting in the pre-school great room with the other mothers who became my wonderful friends, waiting for her school day to end at 1:00.


It feels like less than the time it takes to read Goodnight Moon Carter has gone through the pre-school, the lower school, the middle school and is starting the last school she will attend at Durham Academy.  How things change.  I dropped her off this morning at 7:45 in the morning and picked her up at 5:45 this evening.  A long time for me to wait to hear how she liked it.


Happily she reported good news, relief for a mother.  She liked her teachers, even though she may have a quiz tomorrow, she did not get lost, enjoyed the afternoon carnival, loved reconnecting with old friends she had missed over the summer and meeting new kids.  I hardly could ask for a better day for her.


First days are memorable although I don’t remember a thing about my first day of high school.  I spent my freshman year at Wilton High School, a big public school in our Connecticut town.  I can’t say I learned much.  I think I was one of five hundred in my class.  I had to ride the school bus to and from school and I would get home at three in the afternoon with nothing to do having done my homework on the bus.  This was well before title nine so girls did not stay to play sports unless you were a cheerleader.  I was never going to be a cheerleader.


My father found my education lacking and decided I should go to boarding school.  I was totally against this idea until I went to visit The Ethel Walker School and knew I would love everything about it.


I started as a sophomore and I do remember my first day well.  I was the only girl excused from taking a singing test since the Choir Mistress decided from my speaking voice I was not singer.  Also that first day I was put in a Latin class with only six other girls all of whom were “old girls,” meaning they had been at EWS at least one year and were used to the rigor and they all went on to Ivy or Ivy equivalent schools.  It was not my best class.


My rooming situation was no better than Latin.  I had two roommates and the three of us could not be more different.  Lizzy was the innocent daughter of an ex-pat living in Mexico City and seemed to have stepped out of the 1950’s.  Anne was all tomboy, good at sports and not really interested in classes.  I was somewhere in the middle.  Despite the rough first day, and really rough first year, I did fall in love with boarding school, my friends, my teachers, the camaraderie and the traditions.


I count myself lucky that I can keep Carter at home and still send her to a school that offers an education that is better than I had available at either of my schools.  I know these four years will fly by based on the speed of the last eleven.  I am already sad thinking about her going off to college.  I just want to hold on to these moments a little bit longer.

Southern Hospitality



After a weekend of hosting three welcoming dinners/events for all the new kids in the Upper School where Carter’s goes I was looking forward to a little rest this morning before we began the back to school activities of the afternoon.  That plan was thrown out the window when Carter and I got finished last night at 9:30 and came home from the Jaymie, my welcoming co-hostess’ beautiful house out in the country to discover Russ’s incapacitation from throwing his back out.  We spent the morning getting Russ help with a doctor who came to the house since he is completely immobile.  Hopefully he will recover quickly with the help of some muscle relaxers.


After playing nurse Carter and I headed off to school for a lunch with her advisory.  It was the kids who will be together for the next four years and their parents meeting the teacher who is going to guide them through high school.  It was a great way to ease into school.  We then had a meeting with the head of the upper school so all the new kids could get their bearings and parents could get any last niggling questions answered.  No matter how much communication parents get some big concepts, like what time school starts and yes, you needed to have bought your books already seems to have gotten by some of them.  Thank goodness the first day is not so serious and everyone will survive any mistakes that happen.


We got to see many of the new to the school families we had just entertained over the weekend and more than a few mentioned how nice it was to see some faces they recognized and even a friend or two they felt they had made.  Being new to a school when you are a teenager is scary, but being new at Durham Academy we hope has been made easier.  In the car today Carter said, “I seriously don’t understand why the rest of the country isn’t southern.”  I asked what she meant by that and she said that the food, the hospitality and the weather all make the south great.  Then she went on to add “Yeah, and if you drive five minutes out of the city you are in the country with beautiful farms.”


I love that I have raised a Southern loving girl.  I think that hospitality to new people is so important.  She clearly gets that everything-is-better-with-food attitude from me.  And good weather puts everyone in a better mood.  I don’t think that the south is the only place these things happen, but that part about the city and the country being close together is true. I will say a place where a doctor will still make a house call and be really nice about it is one good place to be.  When I asked Carter what kind of southern food she wanted to dinner tonight she said, Mexican, Indian or Sushi.  I guess anyplace south of here is southern to her.

Appreciate Your Back



Russ hurt his back today.  Sometime between his walking Shay and my leaving to help host two Welcoming Events for Carter’s school, his back seized up.  Before Carter and I left the house he was still able to move, but was in obvious pain.  I thought it was OK for me to leave him home alone for seven hours, but maybe that was not the best plan.


Halfway through the second party Carter alerted me that Russ had called her and needed me.  I called him to find out that he was unable to get out of bed and needed someone to walk Shay.  I called my super hero dog walker Mary who came right up and took Shay, but Russ remained stuck in bed.


I finally got home at 9:30 and did what little I could do for my poor husband by giving him dinner and getting the back massage machine.  He still can’t get out of bed, but at least he is not starving.


Not being able to get out of bed is just down right horrible.  I feel very helpless to fix him.  I’m cutting my blogging short so I can try to figure out what I can do to help.  Seeing Russ in such pain makes my heart hurt and makes me appreciate my good back.

The Joy of a Nap



I am normally a morning person, but without the need to get up to drive Carter to school I end up staying up later and later in the summer.  These last few days of vacation are my waning chance to sleep late, but somehow I keep waking up earlier and earlier.  “Why, why,” I cry to myself as I look at the clock on the DVR.  No matter how hard I try to go back to sleep this past week I have been unable to do so, so I just go ahead and get up.


There is nothing wrong with getting up early and being productive.  It is one reason I like the morning.  Time to do things before the rest of the world feels like they can intrude on your space.  I don’t really like staying up late because that time is wasted on me.  What I need most is sleep.  If I have eight good hours of sleep I am at my best during the waking hours.  If I only get six forget about it.


This past week has been a six-hour night every night.  The two places I notice it affecting me most is my food choices and my short fuse.  If I get the right amount of sleep I have a 90% chance of eating good for me foods in smaller portions.  Every minute under that optimal time increases the likelihood I will have a bite here and a lick there of something diet busting.  It starts with slightly larger portions of my regular food but then with enough sleep deprivation it can escalate into eating a whole blueberry muffin or lasagna for dinner, like last night.


This morning was the same story.  After going to bed at midnight I woke up at six twenty.  I got on the scale to find out the lasagna from last night was still with me. I knew that I needed to get control, which had to start with eating right and getting enough sleep.  The best part about sleep, outside of feeling better when you wake up, is that you can’t eat when you are sleeping.


Since sleeping at night has not been working I took a nap today.  It is the perfect day for a nap, cold and rainy.  Now I have gotten back the hour and a half I should have had last night.  I have planned out my dinner of a small bit of leftover smoked pork chop and lots of broccoli and a peach with some milk for dessert.  I am staying in, away from people who cause my extroverted personality to want to stay up.  I figure I will wake up early tomorrow, which I just can’t help, but at least I am going to do everything possible to get eight hours of sleep and see if it can help me stay on the healthy eating track.  Oh yeah, that should also help my short fuse so that my family will be happier too.

I Wish I Had a Me



In college I started a catering business.  It happened kind of by accident.  The summer I lived in Carlisle I worked in the catering office of the college.  Since the Washington Redskins had their summer training camp at Dickinson all their meals were considered special and ran through my office.  Then a professor’s wife who was my friend asked if I could help her cater another Professors daughter’s wedding and do all the cooking with her.  By in the early eighties there were just not a lot of good food choices in Central Pennsylvania and the bride was not interested in having steamship round of beef.


Once I got out of college and had a real job in Washington DC I thought I might as well keep catering since it was easy money.  Feeding people and throwing parties was always one of my favorite activities.  Since it was my side business I did not have a commercial kitchen or any major overhead, thus my prices were dramatically lower than the big time Washington caterers.


Over time I developed a nice group of clients who were mainly middle-aged women who loved to have parties but did not want to do all the work themselves, or quite frankly none of the work themselves.  Typically I would get a call from one of them asking if I could do their party, they might have a theme, they would give me the number of people of coming and the date then really leave everything else up to me.


I would get to decide on the menu and just show up with the food, the drinks, the staff and the equipment.  My client would be a lady of leisure the day of her party and get to act more of a guest.  At the end of the evening, we would clean up and haul everything out and her house would look as if no one had been there, except for the leftover food that would fill her refrigerator.  Before I left she would write me a check and we were done.


I am now the age of those women.  I look back on how easy it was for my clients.  I would kill to have a young, great caterer who was cheep as dirt, who brought doctors and lawyers as wait staff, who I trusted to take care of everything, make interesting and yummy food and leave the house spotless.


Of course I know wonderful caterers now, but they are real businesses.  Having them do my parties is easy, but I pay for it.  I also still like to cook some things myself and that does not always suit caterers.  Sometimes I would just like some experienced help.   When I was a kid I would work my parent’s friend’s parties serving cheese puffs or rumaki.  Kids don’t seem to do these jobs now.  Hell I can remember teenage boys bartending at our house, too young to drink legally, but certainly capable of pouring a Scotch and soda.  I guess now you might get arrested for letting children bartend.  If only I could find a younger me so I could be the older me that is tired of doing all the work.

A Welcoming State of Mind



I think I sounded a bit whiny yesterday in my blog post titled, “No Favors Right Now.”  Wow, how self absorbed and selfish can I be?  Any person who writes a daily blog is already way too self-centered and for that I apologize.  I know from the cravings I am fighting that the hormones are playing a part, but that excuse is so tired, so I’m going to look for other reasons for my rebellion.


One possible reason for my bad mood yesterday might be the cooking I was doing that I can not eat.  One of my volunteer roles at Carter’s school is being the Welcoming Committee with my partner Jaymie for the new families to the upper school.  I have been part of the Welcoming Committee for about eight years, moving up through the ranks of lower school rep, then middle and now upper.


I am a big fan of doing everything possible to integrate new people in the nicest possible way.  It has to be a little scary as a kid to come into a new school, especially one where many of the kids have known each other since Pre-K.  One thing I hope all the new kids find out is that those students who have been around are down right excited to have some new faces on campus.


When kids are little it is easy to get new parents involved because parents are needed to help, but it is much harder as a parent of a new high school age child to get to know people because our kids aren’t that interested in having us around.  That and quite frankly it is time to let young people do things on their own.


To span that place between the helicopter parents who are hovering and those parents who drop a kid and run never to be seen at school until graduation is a tricky job.  This year Jaymie and I changing up how we welcome new families by having dinners in our homes for all the new families so they can meet each other and a couple of old families too.


This all seemed like a great idea when we planned it in May.  Three days, three parties of fifty people each.  Being the former caterer I volunteered to make the lasagnas, a meat version and a veggie one for each party.  I started cooking yesterday making the sauces and doing all the prep I could do in advance.  I have not eaten much if any pasta in a long time.  The more I worked on this dish the more I started craving this lasagna, but I can tell you this is the last thing I should eat.  I am sure that this is contributing to my mood.


Russ came home last night to a house that smelled like his Italian restaurant dream only to be disappointed when I told him we were having salad Nicoise for dinner.  It was a cruel trick to play on him, but at least he will be able to actually eat the lasagna tomorrow, me not so much.  Tonight he is not going to be any happier because we are going to have to eat leftovers so I have room in the fridge for all this food.  I know that when this weekend is over and I have done my best to help welcome new people I will be much happier and let’s hope less whinny.

No Favors Right Now



I feel summer ending fast.  It’s not that I have been driving back and forth to school for sports or working on the Welcoming dinners for new families at Carter’s school that make me feel this way, no it’s the requests for help, favors and volunteering that have started streaming in that gives me that the-vacation’s-over feeling.


Today I purposely did not look at my e-mail from the time I woke up until three in the afternoon.  I wanted a small break from life.  Now of the 212 emails most were junk and were quickly deleted.  One was from a long lost, I mean like 34 years lost, friend catching me up on her mesmerizing life’s story of marriages, children and spies.  That was an e-mail worthy of my time and one that deserves a really good and well thought out response.  Then there were the requests.  Pleas for help, hands, money, words, time and ideas.  I counted.  Twenty-eight different people were asking me to do something for them or their organization, friend, kids or group.


On a request-by-request look most of them were not too difficult or potentially time consuming, but added together they would take a significant amount of time. Remember these were just the requests that came in the last fifteen hours.  I have not responded to any of them yet, but am tempted to not respond to any.  Is this incredibly selfish?


A few years ago when I got into volunteer overload I created a new rule for myself – The One Year In Advance Rule.  Whenever anyone asked me to volunteer for something I told him or her I needed one year’s notice of the request and even then it did not guarantee that I would say yes.  It was a way of gauging if I actually was interested in helping and really had the time.  The One Year Rule worked for a while, but then I would find myself saying yes to things because a very good friend would ask me or I knew it was an easy job I could get done quickly.


I am a lot less likely to say yes to things that require a lot of meetings.  I am easily frustrated by people who go on and on in meetings and I hate to be the bitch that I really am.  Going to a badly run meeting will ensure some wolverine like transformation and I may lash out at a poor unsuspecting, but well-meaning dolt.


One reason I do favors and volunteer is that I also ask people to do things for me and the organizations I work with so I don’t want to burn any bridges, but I’m not sure if the teeter totter is even.  The only thing I do know is that if you have asked me for something recently I might not be getting back to you any time soon and for that I am sorry.  If your request came via e-mail I’m sure that by now it has fallen so far down the e-mail rabbit hole that I have forgotten and am never going back to reread all the requests.  It is easier to ask someone for something in e-mail and it is easier for it to get missed that way.  So I am posting this as a public message not to be asked for any favors for at least the next month.  Please don’t take it personally; I think my plate is full.

Needlepoint Treadmill


Today was a red-letter day in my small world.  I got back four ornaments from the fabricators.  Not just any ornaments, but two were three-dimensional ones and one was a fairly big Santa.  The HOHO Jack-in-the-box was probably the biggest ornament I have made so far so seeing it finished and ready to go on the Christmas tree was very exciting to me.

What, its only August — aren’t you thinking about Christmas too?  I dream about Christmas all year long.  This year especially since I set a goal to make a dozen needlepoint ornaments.  See, if you want to make an ornament and have it on your tree this year you have to finish stitching the canvas by September 10th so that the saints who take them from that point into the beautiful ornament with braid on the edges and a nice cloth backing have time to do their magic.

True to form I way surpassed my dozen-ornament goal long ago.  I am going to have to keep my actual number to myself so that I appear less obsessed.   I can justify doing all this needlepoint because it was a goal I set, but I think it has been at the expense of my weight loss goal.  I certainly do spend more time sitting than I do working out.  I am able to needlepoint standing up and have been known to do it while standing in the parking lot at school while waiting for Carter.

I think that what I need is to start to do needlepoint on the stationary bike at the gym, or on the treadmill.  I’m not sure how fast I can walk and needlepoint, but since I have already surpassed my ornament goal I need to add exercise to the equation.

One of my favorite parts of this needlepoint life is going to Chapel Hill Needlepoint, by local store owned by Nancy McGuffin.  Not only is Nancy’s a place to buy canvases and threads and all the do-dads needed for needlepoint, but also she has a big round community stitcher’s table.  Sitting around with Anne, Kate, Mary, Vickie, Elizabeth and any number of other enthusiasts is great fun.  I have learned from them all and they kindly listen to my stories.

I’m not sure there is room, but if Nancy were to replace the round table with a circle of stationary bikes I think she could charge us gym memberships and we could still stitch and talk while we worked out.  My other idea to keep me moving while still needle pointing is that maybe I have my strong light source powered by a treadmill and unless I am making enough energy from walking I won’t have the light I need to see.  I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do know that working out just to loose weight is not enough for me, I like to have a finished product for all my hard work other than my body.

School Lunch Ain’t Like it Used to Be



Retailers are probably the group who are most excited about back to school.  Every ad on TV is for new clothes, or stuff to decorate your locker, like a mini chandelier, or food for lunch.  The Target ads with the background music of middle school band songs are my favorite.


When I was a kid one of my favorite days was going to Boyd’s stationary store in the village center to buy my new cloth covered blue notebook and all the supplies that went into my pencil bag. That one notebook served all my subjects so the divider tabs read, English, History, Science, Math and French.  French was my worst subject.  I wish that someone had clued me in that Spanish was easier and so much more useful here in America, but no, French was the language of diplomats.  Somebody should have figured out I was never going to be cut out for diplomacy.  Now Carter has to have a different notebook for every subject.


Today I ran into the Harris Teeter to get some cheese for a cheese soufflé.  OK, I cook French, but don’t speak more than menu French now.  While I was perusing the cheese rhombus, I did well in math; I noticed a lot more individual “lunch box ready” cheese options.  First, I must say I was looking at the ‘gourmet” cheese case, not the processed, presliced, shredded or string cheese case.  In the fancy cheese home there were the omnipresent Baby Bells, which now come in about six varieties, then some small Allouté cups of garlic cheese spread, not so fancy or gourmet, but still a step up from the Velveeta or American Cheese slices of my child hood.


Then I saw a small plastic bag with six individual cups of, wait for it, Brie!  Lunch box ready Brie — Have you ever?  Now I would have loved brie in my lunch as a kid and I know my daughter would like it now, but liking it and being given Brie for school lunch are two different things.  When I was a kid we made our own lunches. We were lucky if we got a peanut butter sandwich made with the heels from two different sized loaves of bread so that when you put it together the peanut butter on one side stuck to the baggie.


If a cheese producer has done all the research to know there is a big enough market for individual Brie’s in a cup I’m sure they will sell.  I looked around near the Brie and could not find mini baguettes, small individual bottles of sparkling grape juice or mini cream brulee.  What was the Harris Teeter thinking?  When you go up market you might as well go the whole way.  I expect that the cost of a gourmet, but quick to throw in a designer neoprene lunch box is going up, but kids now a days must not be settling for peanut butter sandwiches anymore.

Mango-Blackberry Mustard Sauce


Somehow mangos don’t get eaten as fast as they need to at my house.  I am drawn to the 10 for ten dollars Mangos for sale and even though I may only buy one I ignore it ripening on my counter.  Today, while I was testing my farmer’s market peaches to see if anyone of them was ripe enough to eat I stumbled upon my mango.

The answer to my mistake was to use it in some sort of sauce.  Since we are having smoked pork chops for dinner I decided a mango mustard sauce might be a nice compliment.  I added a few other things to give the sauce more complexity and think what I came up with would be nice on chicken or pork.

1 ripe Mango –chopped

1 medium onion – minced

Handful of blackberries

1 T. red wine vinegar

¼ cup of honey mustard – or Dijon

1/8 t. red pepper flakes

Big pinch of salt

In a non-stick fry pan sprayed with Pam put the onions and cook until wilted about five minutes, stirring every once in a while.  Add the mango and any juice that you created in cutting it up and continue heating.  After a minute add the black berries and the vinegar and salt and cook another two minutes, stirring to break up the blackberries.  Add the salt and the mustard.  Cook another minute stirring.  Add a few red pepper flakes to your heat liking.

Will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

I think it would also be nice on a turkey sandwich.

Warning Signs on Cars, Vans and Trucks



At 8:00 this morning I was on my way downtown to the farmers market when a white van pulled out in front of me without quite enough room.  I slowed so as not to hit the other vehicle and was struck by the words on the back, “CAUTION – CHURCH VAN”.    What the hell does that have to do with anything despite the fact that the person driving at that moment might be a really bad driver?


I started thinking of all the things that could happen to me as the driver behind that van who was being warned of their presence.  At any moment might they begin to throw bibles out the windows at me?  Could the driver along with the other passengers suddenly break into a prayer where they closed their eyes?  If the rapture actually took place could the van suddenly be left without a driver?


I always find those cautionary warnings on the back of vehicles interesting.  Like the one warning me of the presence of “SHOW DOGS” in front of me.  Are the dogs inside those cars so full of themselves that they decide they should actually be the one driving and push their handlers out of the drivers seat?


How about when giant dump trucks have signs saying “Keep Back 200 feet – Not Responsible for Windshield Damage”?   Seems like if something big falls off your truck and hits me it does not matter what your little old sign says.  You are responsible for something, whether I can prove it came off your truck or not is a whole other issue.


The only kind of warning I might really worry about is if a truck in front of me had a sign reading “WARNING – DONUTS MAY FALL FROM TRUCK”.  If I were following some kind of food truck that might suddenly stop and hand out BLT sandwiches that is something I need to be concerned about.  Or “ICE CREAM BEING MADE RIGHT NOW” is a warning that is important because I might give up going to my intended destination and instead follow that truck until it stopped.


The fact that a van may be going to a church or some overly pampered dogs are going to the hairdresser is really not much of a worry, especially to how I relate to that car or van on the road.  So if you are considering putting a silly warning sign on your car so that people will drive more carefully around you make it something people might care about like “CAKE SAMPLES INSIDE”.  No one will want to run into the back of you and destroy you cakes incase you meant for the sign to read “FREE CAKE SAMPLES INSIDE”.

What Is It With Dogs and Package Delivery?


Long before George Bush the Younger created the Department of Homeland Security it existed in homes around the world where dogs lived.  I was on the phone with my friend Lynn today discussing important matters such as the last episode of The Bachelorette, when suddenly her sweet Wheaton Terrier, Millie went wild and crazy barking as if Freddie Kruger had broken into their house and was hacking Lynn to bits.


As the normally sweet and docile Mille was ferociously barking three rooms away from Lynn I asked if I needed to call 911.  Lynn screamed at Millie in that “Shut up, your mother is on the phone,” voice and sweetly came back to me and said, “No worries honey, it’s just the Fed-Ex man.”


My darling and none-too-vicious dog Shay Shay also staunchly guards our house from any potential offending package deliverers.  Yesterday in all her been-shaved-too-close-skinniness she stood her ground against the UPS man who threateningly held the box containing the menacing Texas Instrument TI-84 calculator Carter needed for math class.  I don’t know if Shay Shay thought he might compute us to death, but to her it was her duty to prevent that man from giving us that very very bad package.


When I was in college I had a sweet mixed terrier mutt named Beau.  Beau weighed about twenty pounds and never met a stranger, except for our Mailman. I lived off campus in a row house that had a mail slot in the front door.  Beau would sit perched on the back of an arm chair in the front window, looking more like a cat than some trained attack dog.  As soon as the postman stepped up on our front porch Beau would jump down and stand barking and growling at him, ripping each piece of mail from his hand as he pushed it through the mail slot.


Neither my dog’s nor Lynn’s acts this way when a different stranger comes to the house.  Shay has never turned into some Cujo-type dog when the Jehovah’s Witness people come and stand patiently at my front door.  Many a teen-ager selling magazines has rung the bell over and over again and Shay is not half as concerned about them as I wish she would be.  At first I wondered about the uniform, but the Gasman has not been met with the I-am-sure-you-are-evil greeting that a person with a package has.


Let this be a tip to all you conspiracy theorist that are sure anthrax is being sent to you.  Get a dog.  It is your own personal homeland security department.  Not only can you prevent dangerous packages from entering but you will be well loved locked safely in your home.

Names Are Important


I have what I consider an easy name, Dana Lange.  Since you are reading this silently to yourself (that is a big assumption on my part, god I hope my of my readers don’t need to read out loud still), but as you read to yourself you have no idea if you pronounce it correctly or not.  It certainly does not matter what in the world you call me in your head as you are reading quietly.


So my names, four-letter first name and five-letter last name, which should be so easy apparently, are not.  Let’s take Dana.  It is pronounced, DANE- UH.  That is like a Danish person with and UH on the end.  I cannot think of one word that actually rhymes with it.  Of course it is not spelled at all like it sounds, but it is also not such an uncommon a name.  The most common mispronunciation is DANNA that rhymes with banana — like DAN with a NA on the end.


Then we get to Lange.  There are some famous Lange’s like Jessica Lange who spells and says her name the same way we do.  Lange that rhymes with hang, sang, rang, bang, got it?  But ninety percent of the time someone who does not know me says my last name they say LANGE that rhymes with Phalange.  Well all the words my name rhymes with do not have an E on the end and Phalange actually contains “Lange”, but in all my years of living I have run across more than just the people I am related to named Lange who all pronounce their name the way I do and not one who says something that rhymes with Phalange.


To top it off I don’t think that most of the people at the checkout or in the call center who butcher my name even know what a phalange is.  So giving them credit for recognizing the “Lange” in phalange is a big stretch.


I write all this because school is getting ready to start up again.  There are a good number of new people who I am going to be welcoming to Carter’s school and when I read their names I am certain that the voice inside my head is pronouncing them incorrectly.  I am a big lover of name-tags since my aging brain is not as good at remembering as it used to be, but now I am getting sensitive about how to even say the name I am reading on the name tag.


I mispronounced a nice woman’s name at church and she was very unhappy about it.  I can’t blame her.  We actually know each other; I am not a telemarketer who is trying to read her name off my computer screen.  So my resolution for this fall is to ask people I meet to please pronounce their name for me.  Not only will it help me remember it, but also hopefully it will prevent me from saying it wrong back to them at some future time.  Names are important.  If they weren’t I would just go ahead and change mine to Banana Phalange.

I’d Rather Go With You


This afternoon as I was driving home from a fun time at Chapel Hill Needlepoint’s fifth birthday party I heard a great African quote on NPR.  “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far go together.”  I had to pull my car over so I could jot it down.  At this point in life I am often forget things I really want to remember.  But it turns out that this quote made such an impact on me that as I am sitting here to write this I was able to recall it without looking at my note on my phone.


Carter started high school this week.  Not actually school, but tryouts for volleyball started Monday.  Basketball is Carter’s sport of choice, but I strongly encouraged her to also do volleyball because it would greatly help her with basketball when it comes around this winter.  When I say greatly encouraged her, you know that means she did not have much of a choice.  Carter asked me what I would do if she did not make the team since these were actual tryouts.  I responded that if as the tallest kid trying out she can’t make it I would know she was not trying.


She made the team and the good news is that she remembered how much she liked volleyball, but even more so liked being on a team.  When we were together this afternoon she told me that one of the big things the coaches stressed was that these girls were a team and even if they did not particularly like each other outside volleyball, inside they had to be supportive and nice to each other.


When I was young I was more about going fast and alone.  I was easily frustrated by having to work with others, that is unless I was in charge and I always did everything possible to be in charge.  Can you tell I was the oldest sister of three girls?  I had jobs that were about my individual performance and I owned a business where I was the chief.  It was not until I got much older that I learned the joy of working on a good team.  I became less critical and more appreciative of other’s talents.  I fully embraced the idea that more minds were better than one but I am still working on appreciating all minds.


Today, I could care less about going fast.  I know now that the long haul is what life is really about.  So if I am going somewhere, and we all are, I much prefer to go with someone, especially if I get to choose who I go with.  But even if I can’t choose, like Carter’s new volleyball team, I still think that having a team of people you know you can depend on is going to be better than getting somewhere faster alone, especially since you don’t always end up where you thought you were going.

My Skinny Model Dog



Shay Shay went to get groomed today.  Her curly bushy hair had gotten a little matted while we were on vacation.  I knew that a good hair cut was the only way to deal with the tangled mess that continued to grow like the weeds in my garden fed from all the rain.


The groomer met us in the waiting room and looked at me with concern about what I was going to request.  I really like Shay to be the cute brown bear that she is naturally, but I knew that was going to be impossible.  “Do what ever you need to do to get rid of the mats, “ I said.  “Its just hair and it grows like crazy so it will come back.”


I kissed and hugged my sweet shivering girl goodbye.  She was none too happy about being left there.  I was standing in the grocery store at 4:45 when I realized I was supposed to pick my puppy up fifteen minutes before.  I left my cart in the aisle and went running back to the car.  When the groomer brought Shay out to me my dog gave me the look of a mad child who was the last one picked up from pre-school.  Both anger and sadness were in her eyes.


I looked down at my baby.  Where did she go?  Standing before me was the skinniest dog whose legs looked more like a French teen-age super model than the fluffy labradoodle I left there this morning.  Her thigh gap would be the envy of any diet-obsessed girl.


I gave her a hug and laughed as I told her what a cute girl she was.  I could see from the look on her face she did not believe me.  “You did this to me” was the attitude she projected.


We got home and she drank two bowls full of water.  She refused to eat.  I think the skinny model look has affected her appetite.  To make matters worse now she is pouting in that super model way, refusing to smile instead adopting a runway scowl.  I am doing everything possible to win back her trust and love.  I am keeping the bathroom doors closed because they have mirrors that go to the floor.  I think if she does not see what I did to her she might forget and come back to her normal loving, bubbly high jumping self.  For now I am just happy that she did not discover smoking cigarettes like the other model dog to keep skinny.

Is Vacation Worth It?



Last week I got home from a couple of weeks in Maine.  Since Carter and I came home in the middle of the week I kind of eased back into real life, not accepting any thing that might be construed as work.  But today is Monday and so I can hide no more.  Time to go full-blown back into “work.”  I have to say work in parenthesis because I have been on sabbatical from my “Job” for a year and a half.  Even my job was more of a hobby and truly part-time.


During my sabbatical I have been the Board Chair for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, a place that I have a great passion for.  My term continues for another year, but it is a “job” I find so satisfying that it is not like work, even though it is a lot of hours.


Before I left for Maine I had discussions with my friends at Durham Magazine and I agreed to come back to work in the smallest possible way.  I am going to be writing a column for the magazine.  The good news is that I get to write about people who are doing really good things for Durham and have interesting stories.  If you know someone like that I would love to hear from you.


Between the Food Bank, the magazine, church, Carter’s school, Russ, Carter and Shay Shay I have a few projects I need to get done.  This being the first Monday after vacation I made a list of everything I could think of that I had been ignoring that required my attention.  Only 42 things, then I just stopped thinking.  I dropped Carter off at volleyball tryouts, made four phone calls and sent nine e-mails to set up more phone calls, went to a meeting in Raleigh, made ten phone more calls, sent sixteen more e-mails and I was able to cross six things off the list.  Then I thought of five more things that needed to be added to the list.  I’m down one thing!


Suddenly, the carefree days of vacation in Maine are flooding back.  Days when I did not respond to any e-mail, or take any phone calls.  Days when I read, needle pointed and played games without any guilt.  Days when I made new friends, who had not already heard all my stories and ate food prepared by others.  Days when I did not touch a washer or dryer and learned I could paddle board without falling in the lake.  Did the world stop when I did?  No.  Did the work still pile up?  Well, yes.  Was taking time off from real life worth it?  Damn, Yes.


No matter what, work is still going to be there.  Whether I do it every day or do it one week on and off another.  Whether I get paid for it or I do it for free.  Whether I think it up or someone else thinks I should do it.  Work will exist.  But those days of monotony are not the ones memories are made of.  The special days away from home, with your family are the markers that make life special.  So to answer the question is vacation worth it?  You better believe it is.  When do I get to go away again?  I’m putting it on my list.

The Old Lady Freshmen



Today after church I was talking with two of my favorite people, Sara and her mother Mary.  Sara and I are about the same age and so you can guess her mother is about twenty years older than us.  Sara complimented me on my silver flat shoes I was wearing today.  They are one of the less orthopedic pairs I wear; even my teenage daughter likes them.  As I was commenting on her cute shoes, which she had actually taken from her teenage daughter’s closet her mother got in on the conversation.


“You are lucky you can still wear cute shoes,” Mary said.  Both Sara and I complimented her on her attractive black pumps.  “I’m all for comfortable shoes,” I replied.  “Of course you are, since you two are in the freshman class of being old ladies.”  No she didn’t.  Did Mary just call us “old ladies?”


“Yes, and I am a sophomore,” she added.  In her math I guess you are a junior in your nineties and a senior has got to be at least a hundred and five.  I told Mary that she was hazing us freshmen as she got in her car and drove away.  The good thing is that sophomores can still drive their own cars.


It is one thing for a small child to think of me as an old lady, but for an actual senior citizen to put me in their ranks is sobering.  I know I like to do a lot of old lady pastimes, like bridge, mah jongg, needlepoint and ladies lunch out, but I know much younger people than me that also likes those things.  I also like white water rafting, mountain hiking and yoga.


So when are we old?  For now I am going to do everything possible to fail out of Mary’s school where I am a freshman.  I am also taking Sara with me.  I think we easily fall back solidly into middle age where we clearly belong.  I have no problem owning my actual age of fifty-two, but I plan on being around another thirty-five or forty years.  Call me an old lady in another twenty-five years when I have earned the title.  I am going to continue wearing more orthopedic shoes than fashion ones so that my feet can last for forty more years.

Big Box Manners

I normally would not choose Saturday
To go into Costco with crowds I say

But dishwasher and laundry soap I did need
So to the big box I drove with great speed

The lot was full up with amateur shoppers
Who pass by the carts in the parking lot hoppers

Being an expert I grabbed the first cart I did find
Far from the store but I did not mind

Just as I thought, the baskets were none
By the door of the store where the customers hung

After squeezing and shuffling through the aisles of the store
I paid and I made my way out of the door

My cart was so full of too many things
Pineapple, paper and lotion for stings

I was loading my car and offered a man
Said he could have my cart if he’d just give me a hand

“I’m not going to help you,” he said in a snit
Ha, I thought, he will see what it’s like in a bit

Just as I knew there were still no free carts
By the door for this man who was a big fart

I watched as he looked back at me and my basket
Go on I thought, come back and ask it

As he walked toward my car with his head hung low
I saw an old woman I wanted to know

“Excuse me'” I yelled as I ran over to her
“Here is a cart I know you will need for sure”

I looked at the guy who was seething and red
“You could have had it, but you were rude instead”

Fast Real Cooking



Long before the microwave oven became the fastest way to cook anything, well really only the fastest way to cook small things, there existed the miracle invention the Pressure Cooker.  You may have seen this big pot with a locking lid in your grandmother’s kitchen and just passed it by as some old fashioned gadget.  Unlike a butter churn whose time has passed the pressure cooker is still as valuable today in a modern kitchen.  If you don’t own one and passed up inheriting one from your maiden Aunt you have missed a big boat in the world of fast cooking.


A pressure cooker uses a method of cooking any food in a liquid, which gets super heated by being trapped in the air-tight pot thus steaming the food and tenderizing at the same time.


I have to make a chicken tetrazzini for a church supper.  The recipe calls for six cups of cooked chicken.  I just threw a whole chicken, you know what that is I hope, the cheapest way to buy a chicken, in the pressure cooker with some water and salt and pepper.  I locked the lid on the pot and set it on the burner.  After about five minutes on high heat the steam release value began to hiss indicating to me that I needed to turn the heat down to medium for the duration of my cooking.  A whole chicken only takes eight minutes per pound.  That is less than half an hour.  If I were going to boil it or roast it in the oven and dry it out at the same time it would take at least an hour and a half.

Pressure-cooking is by far the fastest and most energy efficient way to cook a whole chicken and when it is done it will be more moist and juicy than any other way to cook it.  A pressure cooker is great for things like artichokes, which take a crazy long time to steam or boil in a regular pot and even after an hour of simmering are often still tough.


If you have a poor cut of meat a pressure cooker will cook that baby until it is fork tender and you did not have to baste, braise or babysit that meat at all.  The most important element in using a pressure cooker is the liquid.  It does not have to be water, but could be broth, sauce, wine or any old liquid; it just needs to be something that has enough water or water-like content so it can release steam.


Things like vegetables and rice are done in a record time.  There are a few drawbacks to using a pressure cooker; you can’t add anything to the pot once it has started cooking.  The reason the top locks on top is to keep the steam in and the food from being blown out of the pot.  Once it has finished cooking you need to release the steam and when the pressure inside the pot has dropped enough you will be able to unlock the top.  That means no tasting along the way.


If you have a pressure cooker please send me your favorite recipe for using it.  If you don’t you can borrow mine.  If you ever wonder why your grandmother’s chicken salad tasted so much better than your, she might have used a pressure cooker to cook the chicken.  You need to try it yourself.









My Least Favorite Chore



I’m sure you have heard those famous words from Albert Einstein, “Insanity:  doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  It took a true genius to boil human nature down to it’s most simple when explaining people being stupid.


Today I had to do my least favorite household chore, defrost the garage freezer.  I knew before I went on vacation that it needed to be done, but I ignored it.  Then, while we were away our house sitter, texted me that the ice in the freezer had grown to the point of pushing the door open.  Thank goodness she brilliantly duck taped the door shut.  That act bought me not only the next week we were away, but also a few more days at home to continue to ignore my most disliked job.


I don’t know why I hate this job so much.  It is not that hard.  It really only took me about an hour from start to finish today and provided me with a lot of squatting exercise opportunity.  I think the reason I hate it so much is that I know if I would have dealt with the problem when I first noticed the ice dam build up beginning it might have been a fifteen-minute job.


The good news was I did not have too much food in the freezer so I was able to put it all in two coolers while I used both a portable heater with a blower and my most powerful hairdryer to melt the three inch thick wall of ice that accumulated on the bottom of the freezer.  I also took this occasion to throw away five containers of leftover soups/stews/chilies that never should have gone in the freezer to begin with.  I am great at cooking too much and horrible about eating food out of the freezer.


Have I learned anything?  Will I change my ways?  Probably not.  Last year I put a monthly reminder in my calendar to change all the furnace filters.  Each month the reminder chimes and do you think that makes me change the filters.  No, it just makes me feel guilty about not changing them.  I could just go ahead and do it and kill two birds with one stone that of not creating more guilt and keeping my HVAC system is better working order.  It just is not that exciting or horrible so it gets over looked.


That’s the thing about life.  There is just a lot of boring stuff that you need to do and you really can’t get out of it.  The dishes need to get cleaned out of the dishwasher because there are new dirty ones that need to get cleaned.  The cars need to get their oil changed and be inspected.  Dull, but you’ve got to do it.  Russ has a good trick when he wants things in the house cleaned up; he plans for us to have a dinner party.  It is amazing what gets cleaned because people are coming for dinner.

So now I think I need to plan a dinner party that involves guests needing to use my garage freezer, inspect my filters and check the cleanliness of the oil in my car.  I’m sure I can throw in about forty-two other monotonous chores that have been on some list somewhere that I am avoiding.