When I met my boarding school roommate, Nancy in Charlotte for dinner Sunday she brought up a subject dear to my heart, cooking. Nancy was one of my early, non-family members I cooked for. At Walkers I was the only person who had an illegal toaster oven in my dorm that I made Boursin stuffed mushrooms in. Now there might have been other girls with toaster ovens, but no one else made anything with mushrooms.
Nancy said that when she watches the TV show, “The Next Food Network Star” she thinks of me. Her actual words to me were, “You could easily win that show.” Now I don’t think there is anything easy about any of those cooking competition shows, but they do seem like something I have been training for my whole life.
I have been cooking since age five when I would get up and make myself scrambled eggs while my parents slept late on weekends. I started cooking dinner for my family around third grade since my mom was very sick for a year. I started a catering business in college without any training and kept it going for ten years. That is the cooking side.
I love to entertain people and could talk about food, cooking and people’s connection to food all day long. I channeled my passion for eating into a zeal to make sure that no one goes hungry in Central and Eastern North Carolina through my volunteering at the food bank. I have lost and gained hundreds of pounds so I am good at cooking both fattening and healthy food. That’s the heart part of cooking shows.
Then I love games. I love to play games, I love to win at games and I love to be strategic in everything I do. Cooking competitions are not about who is the best cook since no one watching the show can taste what people make. Learning to satisfy the judges better than the person next to you, all the while making people like you is the crux of those shows. In the end the person who wins is the one people like the best. That’s the hardest part about it.
As much as trying out for one of those competitions is something I would love I have one bigger thing that holds me back. My family. Not that they are holding me back, they are supportive, but my real life job is to make sure that everything in our household is running, hopefully smoothly, but at least running. As long as Carter is still home and Russ is still traveling all over working I need to be here, at least for Shay Shay. So cooking competition will have to wait at least until Carter goes to college.
Nancy, thanks for the encouragement and lifelong support. Two more years of cooking everyday and writing about food can’t hurt my chances, not as much as trying now and not having my head in the game because I was worried about what was going on at home. That’s the strategic part of me talking. I need to clear the deck if I am going to try and win and you know I always play to win.
I am a lightweight and a mess. Last night I got home just before two from driving Carter and her friend to the concert in Charlotte. I had drunk enough coffee to keep an army awake so even though it was hours past my regular bedtime it took me until three in the morning to wind down and actually go to sleep.
Fast forward four short hours and my alarm was gonging its Big Ben tone and it was time to wake the girls for school. After dropping them off I went to my regular appointment with my trainer and home to walk. I could have gone back to bed I was so wiped out, but I soldiered on to two appointments and picked Carter back up from school.
At five in the afternoon I could take it no longer and I passed out on my bed, reading glasses perched on my nose, every light in the room on. If it weren’t for the phone ringing I would still be asleep, but two hours after I passed out I got up to write.
I am more of a dishrag now than I was before my unplanned nap. I don’t know how Carter went to school, turned in a paper, took a quiz and attended classes without a complaint. She made herself dinner, did her homework, fed the fish she is caring for at a neighbor’s house and when she saw me awake told me to go back to bed. I’m now the lightweight. The roles have been reversed.
Back to bed I go. Certainly I will recover after one full night of extra long sleep. I did not even go to the concert. I did not stand screaming at two different boy bands for six hours. I just drove the car. Old age has set in.
Another night, another mother job of driving Carter and a friend to a concert. My life as the driver is coming close to being over since Carter will be getting her license in a couple of months. Too bad because I have finally figured this concert thing out. Now Ai know about the drop off line and no longer have to subject myself to the loud music.
This trip to Charlotte had a big bonus that was not known when I bought these tickets five months ago, dinner with my boarding school roommate Nancy. Nancy lives in Connecticut, but she had a conference in Charlotte and since her daughter is a freshman at Davidson she came down for the weekend. You know I never could had made a more perfect plan.
As I sat across the lunch table from Carter and her friend Paloma while they shared a brownie crepe dessert it dawned on me that they are the same age as Nancy and I were when we first became friends. It seems like yesterday that Nancy and I would share a brownie sundae at Friendlys. I realized that many of Carter’s friends will be her friends for her whole life, like Nancy is mine.
I am thankful that she has such a great group. There is nothing like having friends who have known you most of your life and have seen you through the big things, both happy and sad. We can’t help who we are related to, but we can chose our friends carefully.
I am lucky that I still adore my high school friends. I hope that in forty years Carter and her friends feel the same way.
Russ is about to have a big birthday, but I am forbidden from doing anything about it or even mentioning it, so you will just have to guess. No parties are to be given, no once in a life time trips are to be planned, no cakes are to be baked and absolutely no banners being pulled by a biplanes are to be flown around town. I keep begging him to tell me what we can do to celebrate this momentous occasion.
Today Russ went to pick Carter up at riding and the two of them hatched a plan of something I could cook for dinner that I only would do if it were somebody’s birthday, spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread. Since Russ will be out of town for work on his actual big day I rejoiced that he had one request even if it was so pitiful that it hardly qualifies as a celebration.
I know that for the last two and a half years there has been very little pasta around here, no homemade meatballs and nary a crust of garlic bread. I too love all those things, but need to steer clear because carbs of those caliber are what got me a hundred pounds fatter in the first place. But why should Russ suffer? So I got to work cooking. I bought myself an acorn squash to use as a bowl for the meatballs and sauce so I could avoid the pasta. Somehow I still feel very bloated.
Once I was given the green light of a small recognition of Russ’ birthday I stretched out the spaghetti and meatball party to include a homemade peach pie. Russ has never been much of a cake guy, but an offer him a slice of good pie and he will follow you anywhere. I had a basket of peaches I bought at the farmer’s market last weekend and they finally got ripe enough to eat, so a pie they became.
We have had our main course of dinner, but are holding off on the pie so everyone’s stomach could settle a little. Apparently my 800 days of chicken dinners have conditioned everyone to not be good pasta consumers anymore.
So happy birthday, a couple days early, Russ. You don’t look a day older than you do the day I married you. In fact, you are thinner. I hope that you are only half way through your life because at the rate we are going you are only going to get spaghetti and meatballs about 18 more times.
I just drove over to Raleigh and back in rush hour both ways and it was worth it. I had a big ten-minute slot on the Food Bank telethon. When I got there they were $444 away from reaching their first $10,000 milestone.
Thanks to my wonderful cousin, Ellen Underwood who called in a pledge from Florida and my hard working husband who donated online while he was on a conference call we made the goal. I got the pleasure of ringing the gong in celebration.
While I was in traffic my dear friends Susan Spratt and her husband David Tendler made a very generous donation. Susan is an endocrinologist and has been learning first hand how so many of her diabetic patients are living in houses completely void of any food. This lack of nutrition does not help people fight this deadly disease. Helping people have good for them food is a big priority at the Food Bank. Thanks David and Susan your donation will provide 2,500 meals to people right here.
It is never too late for you to help. The telethon is going on until noon tomorrow. Log on to www.foodbank24.org to see it. There is a donate now button right on that page and you can donate with a credit card, or call the phone number 919-865-3077. Tell them Dana sent you. I know that Nancy McGuffin at Chapel Hill Needlepoint was donating and thanks for that! Anyone else who gives will get a big call out of thanks from me on the blog.
If you are an insomniac I suggest you log in at the 4:00 am hour. Food Bank Social Media Darling Molly Rivera will be doing an hour-long segment on cheese. She is from Wisconsin and really knows her topic. Her dad also sent a huge box of cheese curds for her to use during her show. Really, I promise it will be better than reruns of The Andy Griffith Show and I say this with the utmost love for Don Knots.
I’m off now to a dinner where I will give thanks for being lucky enough to have food today. Not everyone does and it is embarrassing for anyone in this country to go hungry, but they do.
Don’t panic, but Christmas is less than three months away. Since I needlepoint Christmas ornaments all year you would think that I have all my Christmas stuff done by now. But you see those ornaments are just for me. Yes, I selfishly stitch for myself. No one else would appreciate the time or cost for such small works, so rather than make myself mad by giving away a labored over treasure only to have it put on the back of someone’s tree, or worse yet, sold on e-bay, I just do that work for myself.
Today I worked on some minor gifts that took some computer work to create them. I have not yet come up with my hostess gift of the year. I like to make something small and unique to give to those kind enough to entertain during the holidays. The problem is now with Pintrest the stakes for hand a crafted item has been raised to a crazy level.
I can’t even look at Pintrest because I don’t want to copy what others have invented and I don’t even want see pictures and then later think I made something up. So I am trying to inspire myself, but so far no winners have crossed my mind.
I easily could make some food item, but I feel guilty bringing candy or cakes to someone’s house when I would not be happy if they were brought to mine. Of course no one wants me to bring them kale salad either. Perhaps I am imposing my own feelings on my hostess gift receivers.
I am also anti-more stuff. I don’t want another candle or dishtowel. We have not had enough power outages for me to use up the 34 candles I got in the last two years. So in keeping with my own philosophy I don’t want to give “Stuff” to others. Only usual stuff that I am sure would be consumed is even under consideration. How can I make toilet paper worthy of being a hostess gift?
This is really going to take a creative effort on my part. You would think there is plenty of time, but no. Blink and it will be Halloween then we are rolling right up to turkey day and then the hostess gift season starts. Panic has just set in.
September is Hunger Action Month. As far as I am concerned every month is Hunger Action Month because I think I am hungry all the time, not just in September. But you know how these things go, causes only get one month, like Black History Month is February even though blacks make history everyday.
Lots of things are celebrated in September. I bet you did not know that September is also National Guide Dog month as well as Cranio-facial Awareness Month. I understand celebrating dogs, especially those who serve people who need them, but Cranio-Facial Awareness? Are we recognizing that we have heads and faces? I’m going to get letters about this, I can feel it.
About embarrassing myself… This Friday the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC is holding it’s 24 hour telethon to raise $60,000 + to help feed people. It starts at noon and goes like it says, 24 hours until Saturday noon. It is a big time marathon for the staff at the Food Bank who stay up all night running this show.
I am going to be interviewed at the 4:30, PM Friday time slot. You can log into the telethon at www.foodbank24.org and as long as you have a computer with an Internet connection you can see me live. You never know what in the world I am going to talk about with no script and no editing.
Of course I would really love to get some donations coming into the Food Bank while I am on. We are trying to provide over 300,00 meals to our hungry neighbors in the 34 counties our Food Bank serves. It would be so sad if no donations came in during my segment. Of course I have no idea how long I will be on so donations anytime are appreciated.
So set your alarms, ignore the calls from the face and head people for money, take a break from the Kay Hagen-Thom Tillis fight and log in and watch the telethon. If you send me a facebook message or a Lessdana comment while I’m on the air I will call you out by name.
Fall came right on time this year. The last couple of days I have opened my closet and looked longingly at my sweaters as I wondered what I could wear that was September appropriate yet still cool enough for the eighty degree days we were having. Then just at the sun was passing over the equator and ushering in fall today I opened my front door to a cool breeze and grey skies and wondered what should I wear today? Hooray, I need a sweater.
After a morning walk with my friends Christy and Mary Lloyd where I was practically cold in my athleta skort I came in the house to get a warm shower and had the TV on as I tend to do while getting dressed. On the Rachael Ray show was a doctor talking about losing weight and activating brown fat as if everyone on earth knew what brown fat was.
Perhaps the explanation on brown fat happened while I was in the shower so this afternoon I went to the answer machine that I carry in my hand at all times and googled “brown fat.” Here is the latest in the fat world. We have multiple kinds of fat, white, the regular grown up kind and brown, the kind babies have. Apparently some really smart fat experts have found we have multiple kinds of brown fat. Now why do you care what color your fat is, your skin conceals it all?
Well, brown fat burns calories at a much higher rate than white fat. White fat is like the storage unit, and brown fat is the burning one. Babies are born with brown fat around their necks to protect them from cold. OK, so we can’t do much about what type of fat we have, especially since we can’t see it, but here is the good news. Doctors have discovered that being cold, like shivering cold, makes the brown fat we do have activate the burning mechanism to the degree that we use as many calories shivering for ten minutes as we would exercising for an hour.
So welcome fall! Hello sleeping with the window wide-open being as cold as possible. How about meeting me for a chat in the cold room at Costco for twenty minutes without our sweaters on – it will be equal to taking a two-hour walk. So long beach spring breaks, I’m thinking Iceland in March is a good idea. Hot Yoga is out and ice fishing is in. With all the fat I have some of it has got to be brown and I’m all about activating it.
I wonder what would happen if I turned my office where my walking desk is into a freezer. Do you think I could get both the brown fat and the white fat to burn at the same time?
Today I had to take Carter downtown for her photo op with Mayor Bill Bell. My shot is not the official one, but the proud mother in sitting in the audience photo. Carter was one of what looked like a hundred kids who had worked as a volunteer this summer for over 100 hours for a local non-profit. There are enough kids that they spread the photo taking over two days so I assume there will be as many kids there again tomorrow.
The real ceremony is next week so I guess that is when I will hear from the Mayor what a difference all these young people make in the community. I know that most of these kids do this volunteer work as a way of getting things for their college CV, but I think that in Carter’s case she gained as much out of her work at the Animal Protection Society as she gave.
Learning what it is like to get up early everyday and spend nine hours at a job with people you have never even met before is in valuable experience. At first Carter was in charge of the kitten room where she cleaned out cages, fed and socialized kittens, but eventually she got to move on to more interesting work.
The highlight was getting to help in surgery. Her excitement in telling me what it was like to help spay or neuter an animal made me a little queasy, but not her. She also discovered that she had a special talent for reorganizing files and creating systems.
I am forever grateful to the wonderful people at APS who took her on, especially Susan Teer. Kids need to find ways to get experience in work, but they can’t get work without experience. The Mayor’s Award, which encourages kids to help the community through volunteer work, is not just good for the non-profits who can use the help, but the kids themselves.
Carter, I am proud of you. And I am really glad you wore flats to get your photo taken with the mayor. Who knew you were a good six inches taller than him?
In the use-up-what’s-in-the-fridge mentality today we all ended up eating different things for dinner. Russ is always the best sport about taking the oldest leftovers for himself. Carter opts of Asian as is her constant preference and I look around at what I have to chose from the ready made dishes and decide to make something new.
Staring me in the face are two fennel bulbs that are in the use them or lose them category. So fennel it is. As a child I hated all things that had to do with anise or black licorice, but my grown up palette now loves fennel.
2 fennel bulbs sliced very thinly
2 oranges cut into segments
1 red onion thinly sliced
25 black seedless grapes – halved
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. limejuice
1 T. olive oil
4 packets of Splenda or 1 T. honey
Salt and pepper
Blue cheese crumbles to sprinkle on top
Mix the fennel, onion, grapes and oranges in a big bowl. Mix all the other ingredients, except the blue cheese, together and pour over the salad. Toss it up. Sprinkle the blue cheese on the individual servings just before eating.
Maybe I should say too many cook books. Once in a while I walk in a room in my house and look at something that has been one way for years and years and say to myself, “I need to change that, or clean it up, or get rid of it, or upgrade, paint, redecorate or do away with that.” I don’t know why this happens. What causes me to suddenly see something and dislike what I once loved or actually notice a mess that I have let pile up for months on end with some blind spot about it?
My office is my private domain of all the things I love to do, arts and crafts supplies, photos and the various equipment required for that obsession, and then there are the cookbooks. I have a number of large bookcases in my office. Some are original since our house was built as a bank president’s retirement house that clearly wanted an office worthy of a man of his position with room to display his various civic awards. Once I had packed that wall of shelves and cabinets with my pedestrian things like stationary and colored pencils I had to add another wall of shelves and cabinets.
The majority of the books in my office are cookbooks. I estimate I have over 300, which is a culled down number from 500, the last time I recognized I had a problem. I have junior league cookbooks I bought when I was in college, to all the Silver Pallet books, which were my bible’s when I started catering, to the set of The Best of Gourmet from the years 1990 to 2003 that I bought each year as an extravagance since I also had all the magazines, to books Russ buys me now that come from restaurant’s we visit that he loves and hopes I will recreate memorable meals.
Here is the actual problem; unless I am baking a cake I really don’t ever use a recipe anymore. Yes, I guess that I have a PhD in cooking by now. I have read many of them like novels, absorbing the ideas in them into some brain recipe file. But I think of cooking as a sport and I am not interested in recreating someone else’s idea, even if it might be the most delicious thing on earth.
So why do I keep them? I’m not getting any younger and my memory is not what it used to be. If Russ says, “Can you make something like we ate at Pok Pok in Portland?” I need the book to remind me what the hell Pok Pok even is. And yes, I sometimes buy an ingredient at the farmers market and realize I have no idea what it tastes like so I go to a book to help me.
The Internet has all but made my well curated collection obsolete, but some how I hold on. I may have just noticed that the books are out of control again and may need some straightening up, but I am not ready to do away with them completely. One part of me hopes that my daughter one day will show some interest in cooking. Maybe when I’m gone she will want to make something in the style that I used to and will need a book to do that. For now, I am going to continue making up new recipes, mostly for this blog. They have to come from my own head so I don’t get in trouble with a publisher for stealing someone else’s work. I guess as long as this mess stays in my own private office I don’t have to do anything about it today.
Today I spent the whole day at the Food Bank board retreat. Even though I am just the past chair I still had a number of responsibilities at the meeting. All I can say is that it was a good thing I had my session in the morning. After a full morning of activities and a nice lunch we had a learning session rotating through different departments’ tables learning what is going on in the Food Bank.
One of my favorite groups is the social media and online department. They always are up for some fun so when the events group let me put on the big carrot outfit, the online Manager Jen was happy to take a picture with me dressed in my worst color orange. I will say that I was the only board member who dressed up, but then again no one asked any board members to do it.
By the last session of the day my energy was waning. I had not drunk my usual 60 ounces of iced tea and I don’t think I ate enough protein at lunch, but I had eaten both breakfast and lunch. The last person to present to us was a nice woman who was doing a study for us as a consultant and she was only half way through her work, but she was asked to present her progress to date.
Poor thing. I went immediately into my questioning personality and was probably tougher on her than I should have been. After it was over I realized that I would have been a lot nicer if I had at least eaten some grapes before she started. She probably wishes I had eaten two or three of the big cookies instead. I also realize that I had been stuck sitting in one place all day. Without getting my usual steps in the middle of the day I think my body was looking for endorphins.
On my drive home, after I had a giant iced tea to revive me, I got to thinking about what life is like for the people who are dependent on the Food Bank for food. If I turn into a raving bitch just a couple of hours after eating an actual meal I can only imagine what life is like for people who are truly hungry. Imagine what a single mother with two small children are like at four in the afternoon on a day when none of them have had enough to eat.
I’m sorry if I was short to the nice presenter, but it has given me a good reminder why fighting hunger is so important and has given me a kick to continue the fight, just not literally fighting with people who are doing good work.
Dieting is not a new thing, but the need to watch what we eat has grown as access to food has increased. Hundreds of years ago the food supply was not as consistent as it is now. The lack of refrigeration or ability to transport food long distances meant that people were a little more careful about what they were consuming.
My Paternal Grandmother used to “can” produce that she and my Grandfather grew. I can remember fondly eating stewed tomatoes she had put up from the summer before. The amount of work it took her to grow the tomatoes, pick them, skin them and cook them down into the stewed form, sterilize the jars, pack them and then seal them took not just hours but days. No wonder she used to dole out the precious fruit to us as if it were gold. There was no way we would get fat on one spoonful.
If I had to live on what I could grow, can, put up freeze, catch, kill, find, hunt or gather I would be the thinnest person on earth. My father was born in 1938 so was just a little boy during the War. I can remember him telling me about how he was in charge of killing the chickens for Sunday dinner when he was five years old. I say chickens plural because he used to tell me this story in relation to the preacher coming to Sunday dinner — my father’s immediate family got to split one chicken among the four of them and the preacher got a whole chicken to himself. I bet this made an impact on my father’s younger brother who was three at the time. Unknowingly this might have been one of the reasons he grew up to be an Episcopal priest.
My maternal Grandmother Mima was always concerned about her figure as well as her daughters’. My mother used to tell me that when she was a teenager her mother told her that having a cigarette rather than something to eat would be better for her figure. Selling cigarettes as a diet aid was brilliant until they started killing people.
I think for Mima the thing that cigarettes did best was dull her taste buds to the point that nothing tasted good so why bother eating.
Of course for all my Grandparents cocktail hour was more than an hour long. I think that drinking so much that you forget to eat dinner was a big diet aid. Not that bourbon was calorie free, but if it caused enough fighting someone was bound to storm out of the room and go to bed without dinner rather than sit down at the table together. Oh how times have changed in my generation. No one produces all their own food, none of us smoke and I don’t think that any of us drink our meals. We might be heavier, but I think we are happier.
Try as I might to stop writing about bad service, or terrible food or questionable management at eating establishments sometimes I just have to break my own rule and share a particularly horrible experience. Here is my one disclosure, please do not continue reading this if you are eating your dinner right now. Fair warning.
Today I went to a charity luncheon to support an organization that is doing good work in our community. You know the type of thing. A giant room full of women with five uncomfortable men scattered about. I am all for charity spreading their message and getting a few bucks to keep their doors open. What happened at this event in no way should reflect badly on the organization that was benefiting from it.
After visiting with old friends from far and wide I rarely see except at these things I joined the table I was asked to sit with. We were lucky enough to be right by the kitchen door, which meant that the staff did not have far to go when we had a need. When we arrived at our table our perfect for ladies who lunch salad with chicken was sitting at our places. On the table were carafes of water and tea.
Being polite Southern women we poured each other glasses of tea and passed around the tiny sauce boat of dressing, each trying to take only a drop or two since eight of us needed to share the serving that usually would cover two salads.
After all the pouring was done, one friend took a sip of tea and declared, “Oh no, it’s sweet tea.” Now I may live in the south, but any caterer worth their salt knows better than to serve middle aged women who try to avoid sugar at all costs sweet tea without warning them. One woman asked a sever if they had any unsweet tea and without much trouble a new carafe was delivered to our table. But what to do with all the glasses full of brown sugar water?
My table neighbor and friend K asked a server who was passing bread if she could have a new glass. She quickly disappeared into the kitchen and upon her return with breadbasket and tongs in her hands she leaned one side of her body into K and offered her a new glass that she was carrying tucked tightly into her armpit. I wish that I had a video of our faces as she pulled the glass from rim to stem fully through her sweaty shirt, keeping her arm tightly squeezed against her body so she would not drop the glass. K took the glass trying to touch as little of it as possible and placed the offending crystal as far from her plate as she could.
K looked at me with that did you see what I saw look and we both almost spit our lunches out on our plates in disgust with the thought that a server in any sort of establishment thought that it was sanitary to carry anything in her arm pit, let alone something someone might put to their lips. The fact that the server in no way thought this was acceptable is the scary thought. Imagine what might be going on in the kitchen.
Consider this my public service message to cater waiters, servers and restaurant owners everywhere – Never and I mean Never Ever carry anything in your armpit. Outside of the one in one million person with an armpit fetish no one wants to touch, let alone eat or drink with anything that has been tucked up there. I guess to the manager of this place he might have thought he did not need to cover this is training, but I guess you do.
I am a person who likes to get things done, has big ideas about improving things and has a hard time keeping my opinions to myself. I feel like most problems in the world can be solved if worked on and I see so many things that need work. On the other hand I really enjoy doing fun things that have no real world changing purpose other than making me happy. Then there is the middle ground, the stuff I need to do to keep me healthy and well, not really fun and not making an impact on any one but my family and me.
How to walk that fine line between taking care of myself, doing what is needed for my husband and child, helping my friends, and the world and then the just plain selfish hedonistic things is a balancing act I’m not sure I’ve mastered yet.
When I was first out of college I worked a full-time traveling salesman job and had a catering business on the side. That left no time whatsoever for me to have much fun, nor really give back. My mantra was to make as much money as I could; it was the 80’s after all. Greed was good, was the theme of the decade.
Thank goodness I outgrew that mode, the greed one, but I still worked too hard and did too little self-care. I also had not learned the word, “No.” If I noticed a problem I often volunteered to fix it. Frequently I was the one pointing out problems, which meant that I was practically obliged to offer to help.
My worst enemy is my mouth. I just did not know when to keep it shut. Just because I could help fix a failing system did not mean I had to be the one that did it. I blame my father for my shortcoming, or over confidence in this area. He told me from a very young age that I could do anything. I came to believe he was right about that, everything except climbing the robe to the top of the gym ceiling. He was also the one who taught me that if I could not do it to talk my way out.
Now, I would like to do less, offer fewer solutions, let others figure things out, or just live with an imperfect world. That is hard on me. I practically have to go through life with blinders on. It is not that I have the only answer or even the right answer; I really just want to get the conversation started and have others help fix the world.
So please understand if I turn down your request for help, or don’t volunteer I’m working on finding balance. That means I have to be less bossy, not in charge, have fewer opinions. You think I can’t do it? Yeah I know.
Over the summer as one trip would lead into the next and I spent less and less time in my office because I just was not around I let mess pile up. Stacks of mail, catalogs, bills and invitations sat feet high at my sitting desk. Portfolios of work I needed to complete competed for space at my walking desk with art projects, letters from camp and lists of things to do.
Always at the top of each list was “Clean up my office.” Even though it was ranked number one it never seemed to get done. As my office was getting out of control I let my walking slip from 20,000 steps a day to 10,000. My excuses were many; 10,000 is still good, 20,000 takes a really long time, my hips needed a break, but mostly my office was so horrible I could hardly stand to be in it.
With the loss of half my steps came the gain on the scale. Just a pound or two, but I know what happens when I take my eye off the well-proven plan. It was time to face reality, get out of “summer-head” where I am not thinking about the important stuff, just fun and travel and sleeping in.
Last week I made a concerted effort to get back to 20,000 steps a day. With my office still a mess I upped my steps to about 15,000 a day. It was better, but I was still frustrated by not making back to my long fought for goal.
Rather than just fighting it out on the walking desk amongst the piles of three-month-old mail I decided to get off the treadmill and clean things up. Some of the sorting and throwing away I could do while walking with a trashcan on one side and recycling bin on the other. Some of the work involved making new file folders and going to the financial filing vault, known as the furnace room.
I came across photos of Carter from kindergarten I had gotten out for some unknown reason as well as stamps that now required the addition of a three-cent stamp to make them worthy to mail a first class letter. I put everything in the right place, which mostly was the trash.
Suddenly I was getting more than 20,000 steps done in my more cleaned up office. I no longer had guilt starring me in the face driving me out of the room that made me feel bad. The number of items of my to do list decreased by seventy percent almost overnight.
I was happier, I was thinner, and the pace of my walking increased dramatically all because I cleaned up my office. I realized the cluttered view I had at my desk was confusing my mind. The newly cleared space gave me new energy. My computer even started working faster. The spinning beach ball disappeared once the piles of paper were put away, how did my computer know? Whatever the good juju is I want to keep it going.
In an effort to use items in my pantry I am making up recipes that use unusual ingredients together. I had a package of short ribs and I did not want to ruin a lot of really good meat, so I looked carefully at my stash. I have an inherited trait of saving expensive things past their usefulness because I don’t feel worthy of using them.
I know I get this from my mother. My father talks about buying my mother some really beautiful dresses from The Little Shop in Chapel Hill when they were students and first married. My mother only had one dress and two skirts and blouses before my father went wild buying her expensive clothes. My father was sure he was saving himself from having to see my mother in her same old and well-worn clothes.
The day after he bought the dresses my mother put on her old outfit prompting my father to ask her why she was not wearing a new dress. “It’s too good to wear so soon.” Years later my father is still mad that she did not throw her old clothes away and just wore the new clothes. That trait has never left my mother.
As I looked in the pantry at my stock of ingredients I noticed a jar of Stonewall Kitchen Red Relish that a houseguest had brought me as part of a larger gift basket. I don’t know what I was saving it for, so I decided today was the day to open it and use the whole thing. With it’s red peppers, onions and vinegar it was perfect with the rich short ribs.
8 big beef short ribs
2 large softball sized sweet onions sliced
Head of garlic- minced
1 16 oz. jar of Red Relish
1 Cup of strong Coffee
1/2 C. Ketchup
¼ c. Worcestershire sauce
3 T. fish sauce
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Put a large Dutch oven on the stove on high heat. Spray with Pam. Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper on all sides of the Beef. Without crowding the pan, put the beef in the hot Dutch oven and brown on all sides. You may have to do this in batches.
Set the meat aside after browning and add the onions and garlic to the pan, which probably has some fat in it. Cook on medium for five minutes stirring to loosen any brown bits that had been created from browning the meat. Add all the other ingredients and bring them to a simmer. Add the meat back in and cover the Dutch oven and place in the hot oven. Cook for 3 hours. Using a dry paper towel, soak any accumulated fat off the top.
I served with pureed cauliflower instead of potatoes to help lighten the calories..
We have to go to an affair tonight. In the old days I would describe an affair as an event I would have to dress up and wear panty hose to. But times have changed, kind of. More and more women have stopped wearing panty hose, which is evident by how hard they are to buy.
Growing up in the sixties I was witness to the change from stockings and garter belts to panty hose. As well as the change from buying your leg wear at the local department store or lingerie emporium to getting panty hose at the grocery store. I distinctly remember the fight between L’eggs and No nonsense, you know the ones in the orange plastic bags, for who could make the cheapest product and gain the most market share.
Quickly the free thinking hippie days with maxi dresses and no bras of the sixties gave way to the all buttoned up and dressed like a man suits of the late seventies and early eighties. Heaven forbid that I went to a job interview in 1983 with out hose on or without my little long looped bow tie from the new woman’s department at Brooks Brothers.
Today things are not so clear. The women at the Needlepoint Council Roundtable were on both sides of the hose aisle when discussing dressing for and affair like a wedding. The problem for me is that my legs are just not that great and are helped out in a huge way by hose. Really my leg wear of choice is black tights, but it’s much to hot in early September to wear tights and certainly not black, yet.
I don’t know why I am even worrying. No one at this event is going to be looking at my legs anyway. The advent of Spanx has given women the freedom to have bare legs and a squeezed in tummy and butt all at the same time. Control top panty hose used to the solution for keeping the giggiy bits less so. Also self-tanning lotion has added color to the otherwise pasty parts so no “Suntan” shade of hose is needed.
Somehow I still feel less dressed up not in hose, but happier at the same time. I am thankful that my always perfectly dressed grandmother is not alive to witness the loss of hose as a requirement. She used to wear a linen Doncaster dress with hose and spectator pumps to sit by the swimming pool. Thank goodness those days are gone, but I have to say her legs always looked great.
As any regular reader to this blog knows I have more than a few obsessions, but out side of food probably my most long term and consistent ones is for the game of Mah Jongg. I first learned to play from my game-loving grandmother Mima in Knoxville, Tennessee. We played the Chinese way. I am not sure my very Episcopalian Grandmother had any idea there was an American version.
Many years after learning to play with Mima I moved to Durham and quickly was adopted into my friend’s Roz, Jan and Judy Woody’s group. Soon after it became one of my addictions I did what I always do when I love something – I started spreading the love of the game by teaching Mah Jongg lessons. It started with Academy Nights – a fundraiser for Durham Academy, but when Academy Nights was discontinued I found lots of people still wanted to learn. So I just kept holding classes, either at my house or at my club. I calculated that I have taught over 300 people how to play over the years.
Every month or so someone asks me when my next class is going to be and I tell them I will let them know, but then I don’t write down who they are. I figure the blog is the best way to spread the word that I am going to be holding a class. It is going to take place on three consecutive Tuesday evenings, starting October 7th from 7-10PM. It will be at my house and will include snacks. The cost of the class is $50 a person plus $8 for your official National Mah Jongg League Card and membership. I will be teaching people how to play the American way, which is the way that is widely played around here.
If you are interested in taking this class or just have questions about it please e-mail me at Dana@onelangegroup.com. It is a good idea to sign up with friends so you can have a group to play with. The class will be limited to 12 people.
My only requirement is that you speak English. I’ve had non-English speakers sign up for my classes before and it has not been successful for them, and I hate that they don’t get my jokes.
As I walked out of the old Nortel warehouse in Research Triangle Park this morning I felt something small in my sneaker that was annoying my foot. I shook my Mary Jane style clad foot around and the annoyance disappeared so I kept walking. It was a good quarter mile to my car in the sea of vehicles in the parking lot of the once vibrant, but not shuttered building.
The building had been opened for the Food Bank to use today for our largest volunteer operation ever, The Sort-A-Rama in remembrance of 9/11 and Hunger Action Month. Over a thousand people from such supportive companies as Food Lion, Cisco, Net App, Duke Energy, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Sun Trust, Wells Fargo, Wood Forest Bank, Extreme Networks and more came out early this morning to help bag 200,000 pounds of beans, rice and pasta into family friendly sized bags.
It was the third annual Sort-a-rama and definitely the biggest one yet. The Governor came to help welcome and thank the volunteers on this sad day. At 9:05 the crowd in their corporate volunteer t-shirts, and requisite sort-a-rama ball caps, in keeping with food handling safety guidelines bowed their heads for a moment of silence for our lost Americans on September 11, thirteen years ago. The 400,000 square foot room was so silent you could hear a mouse try and steal a grain of rice, if one had been there.
After the national anthem the troops were off to man the pallet sized boxes of rice and scoop out five cups per bag into smaller plastic bags and after tying them off depositing them into a different pallet sixed box. My job, as past chair of the Food Bank Board was to walk the aisles as groups of five or six volunteers each worked together. I tried not to interrupt the flow of work while I thanked each person for volunteering to spend their morning helping the Food Bank and thus the over 650,000 hungry neighbors we help.
I was overwhelmed with the responses, “Thanks for letting us do this,” “I am honored to help,” “I want to do more,” “Thanks for your service.”
The work these very bright people were doing in no way taxed their brains. Bending over a big crate and scooping up dried beans is not hard, nor is it really fun, but it is humbling. Taking care of those in need often means we need to stop and stoop over and take a moment. No one in that giant room of people was any more important than the other, or the people they ultimately were serving with the food they will be getting from this Sort-a-rama. It was just one neighbor helping another.
When I got to my car after my job was done I took off my shoe to figure out what was annoying my foot. I found a single grain of rice inside my shoe. I decided to leave it there to remind me all day of the hungry people who need help. On this solemn day in our country’s history I hope you had a chance to take a moment and think about what it means to you to be an American. If you are lucky enough to have a good meal on your table tonight give thanks. Not everyone is as lucky.
I love fresh peach ice cream. It is one of the summer treats I let myself taste once during the season, except not this year. I splurged on other things so I had to hold back on a few regulars, and peach ice cream was it. As the summer peach season is coming to a close I find I am craving that treat so I took one of the two ripe peaches I have left and tried to make a healthy version of a milkshake to curb my ice cream desire. Of course it’s not the same in the creaminess department, but it was still good in the peachy arena.
1 peeled and sliced ripe peach
1 cup of milk
2 Splenda packets
Splash of almond extract.
I froze the peaches after slicing them. Then I put the milk, Splenda and almond extract in a metal container and put that in the freezer for thirty minutes. I added the frozen peaches to the milk container with a half-cup of crushed ice and using the stick blender whirled the whole thing up. It was cold, peachy and probably will hold my peach ice cream craving at bay until next summer.
Fifty years ago today my little life in Dayton, Ohio was changed forever because this was the day I became a big sister. Margaret Michie Carter was born and I had no idea what craziness was in store for me. I was the dutiful, well behaved and this will come as a big surprise to most of you, shy, quite one. Margaret came into the world, big. She was loud, funny and musical with a definite sense of style.
Margaret had her own ideas about how things should be done, including things like math. Following rules was not her thing, but she quickly learned how to win over the rule enforcers with her wit and charm.
Margaret also was good at turning a crazy idea into money making venture. I can remember her sitting at a table in our family room with dozens of bottles of model airplane paint and hundreds of plain metal barrettes painstakingly dotting colors with toothpicks onto the skinny tops of the hair clips. She turned her eye for color and design into a great business selling her wares in pairs to the preppy mothers and daughters who lived in our town.
Reading a book was not her idea of fun when she had orders for hairclips to fulfill. Margaret liked to earn money because there was always the latest fashion or cool room décor that she had her eye on. She also loved to organize all her stuff and loved to collect decorative jars and boxes. If the container store had not been invented before she graduated from college she would have started it.
Margaret eventually turned her great eye for design and fashion into a successful decorating business. Growing up in a demanding customer service oriented family trained her well for work that is very personal and requires customers to like and trust you.
I think that after years of hard work and self determination it is fitting that Margaret was just named one of the top 15 designers in Washington DC. If you would like to see the whole article here it is.
So congratulations and happy birthday to my sister Margaret Carter. You make the world colorful and exciting. You must have had a big effect on me because I went from being shy and dutiful to the person I am now and I think that happened about the time you came along. I hope your next fifty years are even better than the first fifty.
Today while I was having lunch with a friend I will just call, “E” she said, “It was a terrible day when I realized I had missed my window to become a professional tap dancer.” Now E is younger than I am so I challenged her on the idea that she was too old to do anything. See if she were too old, that meant that I was too old to do anything and I am not admitting that yet.
As I delved deeper into this passion for tap dancing that was unknown to me before today I learned that E had never even taken one tap dancing lesson, let alone missed a professional opportunity. She followed up the tap dancing dream with one as a back-up singer/tambourine player in a band. Again, not something she had actually tried out for, yet was still a dream.
Now I am not sure what the demand for “Professional” tap dancers is, but I certainly think that E is much too young and capable to be giving up any dream she really has. I am sure that there is a band out there somewhere that would take her on with tambourine in hand to sing back up for a few numbers. If they threw her a couple of bucks at the end of the night that would qualify her as a pro too. If she owned tap shoes, she might do a few steps while harmonizing and then that too would satisfy her tap dancing dream.
Back when I weighed more than a hundred pounds than I do now I used to dream to be able to walk into Neiman Marcus and try anything on in the “Misses” Department, better known as the regular sized clothing. That dream seemed as far away to me as E’s tap dancing dream. But like E, I had not done anything to try and fulfill it.
Then I started. I made a bold declaration that I was going to lose weight. I practiced, like a tap student, I studied, and I worked my ass off literally. Suddenly my dream was not a dream, but a car ride away from Neiman Marcus. Last month when I drove Carter and her friends to Charlotte I decided to make my dream come true.
Alone, with no one to witness a possible snubbing by the high and mighty Neiman’s sales clerk I went into the store. I wandered through the designer collections. Sales women fawned over me, practically begging me to try on the dresses I eyed. After taking my time looking at all the tiny clothes that represented my dream I agreed that a nice young man named Nate could carry in an armload of items for me to try on.
One dress, followed three blouses, five sweaters, two skirts and four pairs of slacks, each one fit or was too big. Nate was quick to get me smaller sizes and find me other items he thought would work well on me. I could have worn them all. Poor Nate worked very hard for the one blouse I bought. See my dream was not to buy everything in Neiman’s, just be able to fit into it.
So E, let’s go take a tap dancing class. It only takes one tiny step to fulfilling your dream. I also know a band that might let you stand in the back and sing along. It’s never too late to fulfill your dream and certainly not if you are still just in your forties.
The other day I flipped the wall switch in my office that controls the upper outlets on all the plugs and I heard a big pop from the circuit breaker and the room lost all it’s power. It was not a good sound or great feeling since my office is the wireless hub of our house and home to my walking desk.
I went to the panel in the furnace room of the 70 year old side of our house, found the offending breaker and switched it back on. All the electronics in my office that were plugged into the bottom outlets came back to life. A big sigh of relief from me, so I tried the switch on the wall again, boom. Darkness. Back to the panel. One flip of the switch and I got back the electricity except for the lights that were plugged into the top outlets.
Being married to an electrical engineer for twenty-two years has taught me a few things about basic home maintenance, as well as watching every episode of “this old house” with him. My education started the day we first looked at this house before we bought it. I was video taping Russ looking at the house so I could show it to my parents. The best scene in the video was not of the lovely living room, or pine paneled kitchen, but of Russ looking at the electrical panel in the furnace room and in a voice reminiscent of Homer Simpson looking at a plate of donuts saying, “MMM, Nice Panel.”
Using my wifely knowledge I was fairly certain that the problem was in something that was plugged into the top outlets or the switch or an outlet it’s self. I still called Russ and asked him if I needed to call the electrician. He instructed me to unplug everything from the outlets and flip the switch. BOOM. Unfortunately that meant a visit from Tony our electrician.
Tony likes coming to our house since Russ has trained to me to whittle down the possibilities for Tony in advance of his arrival. I may have done that, but was still worried that the offending outlet could be behind the largest piece of furniture in our house. It was not. A small wire, which was not correctly installed 70 years ago, had finally had the protective covering burn off and it was causing the circuit to pop.
Brilliant. Rather than the house burning down a breaker stops all current from running to a faulty wire. It took Tony about ten minutes to fix it and I was back in lighting. Russ’ loving word, “NICE Panel,” like a teenage boy looking at a dirty magazine resonated in my head.
It got me thinking about how I wish I had circuit breakers in other areas of my life. What if I could program some kind of machine to stop me from eating sweets after just one bite? One taste of cake and I shut down. When I was powered back up and foolishly took another bite I would get shut down again. Eventually I would tire of this game and stop eating cake. Or for alcoholics, smokers or drug addicts there was some kind of breaker to stop behaviors that were killing them?
Electrical Engineers have brought us so many great technological wonders; cell phones, pace makers, cable TV. It’s time to put them onto diet aids. Mouth breakers are all we need.
I like orchid plants. I have a sunroom in my house where they seem to thrive without much attention from me. Russ has caught on to this fact and so an orchid plant is his go to last minute gift since he can just call up Family Garden and they will deliver it. One of the things I like most about orchids is the lack of attention they need. I water them all just once a week and when they start blooming they stay in flower for months on end.
Today while I was enjoying the good light in the sunroom needlepointing I looked around at most of the plants and they were looking mighty poorly. I know there are other things I should do with these plants, like repotting them, but quite frankly I hate to mess with success since they seem to eventually come back.
What I did not like was the fact that most of the plants are not in flower right now and they have a bunch of lanky sticks that once held dozens of blooms, just sticking up like skinny legs in the air. They reminded me of the legs of a new born colt, or a very tall skinny adolescent girl who had grown six inches over a summer and not gained an ounce.
How funny that I dislike those thin stick like legs on the plants. All my life all I ever wanted were those skinny legs like Susan Dey from the Partridge Family had. When I was in boarding school I used to think that my legs could compete as telephone poles.
At my last boarding school reunion my friend Karen Polcer handed out pictures she had come across from our senior skip day 35 years before. Mine was an unattractive shot of me standing freezing on a beach in my jeans. I looked at the picture and although it is not a great shot my first thought was, “My legs were not as bad as my mind remembered.” Of course they had gotten much worse over the years, but I don’t remember hating them as much when they actually were telephone poles as I did when they were just normal.
Looking at the spent orchid stalks today I thought, “Why did I ever want legs that were so thin and spindly they could not hold me up?” That thinness is just not that attractive. Of course I am not an orchid. I doubt I could hold a bloom for six months straight, but I am thankful that I have finally come to like the imperfections I was given. I will never have thin legs, but they get me where I need to go and isn’t that what is important?
Russ is not a dessert guy. Given his druthers he would choose a nachos bar over an ice cream sundae bar, full of ten ice cream choices, with hot fudge, caramel, butterscotch, strawberries whipped cream, nuts and cherries any day. But even so every once in a while he would like a simple piece of apple pie after dinner, maybe even cherry. The chances of finding a pie in our house these days is slim to none so when that craving hits his best chance for scratching that itch is when we are at a restaurant.
Since Carter was out babysitting tonight the two of us decided to grab a quick bite out. After a very small dinner Russ thought, “Pie,” and asked to see the dessert menu. This is always a dangerous time for me since I know if he get a dessert that is not nachos he ultimately is going to take one bite and remember that he really does not like dessert, even an apple pie. So two bites in he will offer me a bite, which I will take. I love dessert that is why there is usually not any in the house. One bite of dessert almost always leads to another. God help me then.
Tonight I was lucky. No pie on the menu, no nachos either. Actually four of the six items were all variations on desserts that could be eaten without your teeth, mousse, brulee, cream caramel and rice pudding. Not that we ordered any of them, or even saw them so I am not passing judgment that they might not all be wonderful, but reading about them made Russ’ tongue think the opposite of nachos in texture and certainly not pie.
I think he likes pie because a good crust is like the chips in nachos, flaky and crunchy and the fruit is the cheese and sour cream of nachos. It is completely a texture thing. He wants the crunch. That is why he does not like ice cream. Creamy only things just go down too easy. No work for his teeth. So a flan, pudding, mousse and even a brulee that has a tiny crunch then mostly softness underneath don’t satisfy his desire for texture in his mouth. It is not just a salt versus sweet thing because a good dessert will be both sweet and a little bit of salt.
Now I am on the search for the perfect dessert to make my husband happy and is not too bad for me. Just a little naughty, with crunch, a bit of sweet and some salt and nothing that coats the tongue and just slips down the throat. Something that is less than a hundred calories would be best. As soon as I figure this out I’ll test it out on Russ and if it passes his test I’ll put it out there. I don’t think it actually exists in anything other than one bite of apple pie, but if I figure it out I’ll let you know. For me all this talk of dessert has been deadly. Thank goodness I still have a container of Thomcord grapes in the fridge.
I had a couple guests coming for a working lunch at my house today. I felt like they deserved more than my regular salad for lunch. I looked around my kitchen and noticed a couple of peaches that were ripe. Cobbler, but I did not want to add any white flour to my day so here is what I made up. It actually was quite tasty.
2 big ripe peaches- peeled and cut into chunks
5 splenda Packets
½ t. almond extract
½ cup almonds
1 T. melted butter
1 T. milk
pinch of salt
2 T. minced crystallized ginger
Preheat oven to 350.
Put the peaches, 2 packets of Splenda and the almond extract in a bowl and mix up.
Put the almonds in the food processor and chop them up to a powder. It will take about 30 seconds. Don’t run them too long, you do not want it to turn them into butter. Put the almond “flour” in a bowl and add the egg, butter, milk 3 Splenda packets and salt and mix together.
Spray four small ramekins with pam. Spoon a quarter of the peaches into each dish and then spoon a quarter of the almond mixture on top. Sprinkle the crystallized ginger on top of each. Place in oven for 20 minutes.
Can be eaten at any tempreture.
Today is the official year end to turn in needlepoint Christmas ornaments at my Local Needlepoint Shop (LNS), Chapel Hill Needlepoint so stitched canvases can get fabricated into actual ornaments in time for Christmas. I only stitch Christmas ornaments so today is like my year-end, my April 15, my New Year’s Eve.
I first learned to needlepoint as a child, but had not picked up a canvas since boarding school until two and a half years ago. I had gone to a friend’s house that had the most beautiful ornaments and quickly got hooked making my own. Last year I stitched 34 ornaments in one year and thought that seemed a little obsessive.
At my LNS there is a community table where any customer is welcomed to sit down and stitch and talk and learn from each other. At first I was a little intimidated by the years of experience and the quality of the group’s work, but I sat down anyway. I was quick to find out that regardless of your skill level it was the most welcoming and fun group of ever changing women and some very friendly regulars.
One stand out stitcher is Elizabeth Hurd. She worked on projects that are museum quality. If I had a question I knew she had a great answer. Last year on this year-end turn in date she asked me how many ornaments I had completed since it was my first full year of needlepointing. I can’t remember how many she had done, but it seemed to be fairly equal to my number.
“How about we have a contest this year to see who can do the most?” Elizabeth asked me. There was no talk about size or level of difficulty, just number. Since I clearly was already addicted to needle pointing I quickly agreed to this competition. It was my hope that I could equal that year’s number of 34, so off we started.
As we would sit around the “stitchers’ table” other friends would ask about the competition. No one else officially said, “I’m in it with you,” but people’s interest was peaked. Questions would arise, “Is the contest just Christmas ornaments or do other small things like Easter and Halloween ornaments count? What about two sided or 3-d ornaments, do they count as one or two?”
I started the year off a little slow, not quite keeping pace with my goal of three a month. My original challenger, Elizabeth was working on a number of giant projects, like a kneeler for her church, so I was fairly certain that I had a chance against her. But I had no idea who else was silently in the contest.
In the friendly way the whole thing started we said, “Any ornament, regardless of size or complication counts as one and all are welcome to compete.” Eventually my friend Christy who I got hooked on needlepoint last year and Kate a long time stitcher and practically pro-needle pointer both announced they were also in the race. This meant I had to pick up the pace. In the last two weeks I finished seven projects. The calluses on my pointer fingers are proof.
At Mah Jongg today I finished one last little initial ornament and asked Christy what her number was. Forty! She had finished forty – quite a feat for her second year. I went to Chapel Hill to turn in my last five canvases. There at the stitching table sat Elizabeth Hurd and Kate. “How many?” they asked. “Forty-three,” I proudly announced.
Elizabeth said, “Congratulations, you easily beat my twenty, but sit down.” I looked at Kate, “How many?” I asked the dark horse at the table. “Fifty!” I was easily beaten, but I did not lose.
There was no prize for this contest. I won with the forty-three new Christmas ornaments I will have on my needlepoint garland this year. Kate quietly put out the most with 50, but she generously said, “The contest was originally Christmas ornaments, if you had kept it just that you would have won since about 12 of mine were Easter ornaments.” It was a kind thing to say, but unnecessary. The camaraderie, fun, and fellowship of the stitchers table is the best part of the whole contest.
So now it starts all over again. The new needlepoint year is today and Kate already finished one while we sat at the table. All are welcome to join. Some friends are joining by setting a personal goal rather than trying for the most. I want to learn new and more complicated stitches this year. But you can bet damn sure I’m also going to try and beat my this year’s number of forty three. For now there is laundry to do, a garden to replant and photo books from summer trips to complete. I think I need to get into a scrapbook contest to get those done.
I am the oldest sister. I have two younger sisters who are three and a half and eight and a half years younger than I am. Those halves are very important in sister years. Having a sister who is so much younger than me kept me connected to things that younger people were into when I was past that stage of my life.
For example, Sesame Street premiered the year my baby sister Janet was born. Since I was almost nine when it started it was something I totally would have missed if I did not have a baby in the house when it came out.
For the longest time having such a younger sibling made me feel younger than I actually am because she would share with me what things were going on in her life. Today happens to be her birthday. I texted her first thing in the morning to wish her a happy day and year, she texted me right back and said, “Thanks, 45 it’s a big year.”
Holy S%$&. My baby sister is 45 today. How did that happen? If she is forty-five, that makes me actually old. I think back to my childhood and I can remember my Dad throwing a big party for my Mom when she was forty. I remember it so well because I was in boarding school and got to come home for the weekend to celebrate. To think that Janet is now five years older than my Mom was when I was in high school blows my mind.
The funny thing about getting older is that I don’t really feel like I am old, and I certainly think of Janet as really young, which she is. She is the coolest 45 year old I know. She works harder than anyone else I know, except maybe my husband. She takes the best trips of anyone I know. She has a fabulous girl friend, Sophie. And she is a great sister, daughter and Aunt.
But hey, Sista J, start lying about your age. As long as you are young that helps me deceive myself that I am young too. You came into this world in 1969, really the coolest year of the last decade and you have stayed true to your year. Thanks for being a great sister and I hope that this is your best year yet. You’ve had some good ones so the competition is high.
I know the name is Labor Day, but it really should be called Non-labor Day since it is traditionally a day off from work. I am married to a person who is almost always working so getting Russ to take off a day is difficult. That is unless he is at my family farm with our sweet dog Shay Shay. So when Russ suggested we go to the farm for the day I knew it was the perfect way to get him into a non-labor frame of mind.
Although we all love going to the farm and have never brought anyone there who did not beg us to go back we somehow have not been once this summer. Perhaps it was because we were in Africa and Maine, maybe it was even because while we love the farm it is damn hot there in the summer. So celebrating the last day of traditional summer at the farm relieved some of my guilt for not visiting my parents all summer.
Carter got to drive her car, “Katherine,” up to show my father how much she loves the present he gave her for Christmas. I got to needlepoint all the way there and back and some in between. Russ got to have Shay Shay sit on his lap and look out the window with the happiness anticipation look on her face that read, “We’re going to my favorite place where I run FREEEEE!” At least that is how Russ interprets her look.
To none of our surprise it was damn hot there today. Good thing we brought our swim suits along with our friends the Toms and their dog Millie. Lynn and Logan Toms are the extra children my parents wished they had because they are so nice to my mother and father. Their daughter Ellis is also like a granddaughter, which doubles the number of kids they actually like.
After lunch at our regular Mexican restaurant where Carter and Ellis got to eat in my Dad’s regular booth alone while the adults sat at a separate table we went back to the farm to laze away the afternoon by the pool.
Since Russ personifies everything that Shay Shay does he insisted that our brown dog was hot and needed to go swimming. Shay hates going in the water, but Russ says since she is half Labrador she should be a great swimmer. She is not. Just like every other time she has been in the pool she clung to the closest human by the sharpest points of her toenails, shivering and looking like a wet rat.
After her first dip she jumped out of the pool as fast as she could and shook herself off all over my mother. Not good form from a guest at my mother’s house. After an hour or so Russ decided that Shay was hot again even though if she was she could have jumped in the pool herself. This time he put her on a raft so that he could save the delicate skin on his shoulders from certain clawing. This suited her better and she tentatively stayed on the float while Russ and Carter played with her a while.
The way I see it is Shay’s psyche was sacrificed so the Russ could take the day off from work and play with his dog, his child and his friends. Since Shay loves Russ more than any thing, human or animal I think she is fine with this. Perhaps she even plays up her dislike of the water so Russ feels needed to save her from drowning, even if he is the one making her endure the water. Whatever, she provided the perfect excuse for celebrating Non-labor Day because if we were home Russ most certainly would have worked. So thanks baby Shay, you make us all relax.