For the Love of Sister Dresses

marg and dana sister dresses


This photo hangs in my hallway and I walk past it everyday without really looking at it. Today while I stood at my ironing board I looked up at the picture and thought about how often my sister and I were dressed alike for the big occasions, you know, Easter, Christmas and the Forth of July Picnic.


This photo was taken on my Grandparents front porch at the farm where my Aunt lives in that house and my parents just past her in a new house. I know for sure that is where we were sitting, not because I can remember that day, but because of the painted metal glider in the background where many a Grandmother drank many a bourbon.


The fact that I am wearing a hat, or bonnet to be more precise and Margaret and I were dressed in identical outfits means this was Easter and we had come to visit from Connecticut. I don’t know this for sure, but I can guess that my mother had bought these dresses at the Junior League thrift shop in Norwalk where she volunteered so she could get first crack at the barely worn Florence Eiseman outfits so many of the well-off New Canaan and Darien mothers dropped off at the shop. The Peter Pan collar was pure Florence in the mid-sixties.


It was common practice for WASPS to dress their children in matching outfits, probably to be able to tell them apart from other blond straight haired children when picking them up from the church Sunday school. Proof of this is the fact that my mother was often able to buy us matching clothes even though I am three and a half years older than Margaret. If she were buying new it would have been easy to just buy the same dress in two different sizes, but it takes real skill to find two matching ones at the Junior League Shop that fit both girls at the same time.


Well, they did not always fit so sometimes I had one on that was just too tight and Margaret was swimming in hers. My sister Janet, being five years younger than Margaret never really had to do the sister dress thing, but then again, she barely did the dress thing at all and my Mother had given up volunteering by that time.


I wish I had a picture of the matching bathing suits Marg and I had that had a daffodil made out of some starchy organza material that stuck out 3-D from our tummy’s and had a cut out in the middle of the suit that made the center of the flower. We loved the tan polka dot that cut out made on our stomachs.


I hardly see anyone dressed in sister dresses anymore, except maybe in those TV shows with families with 19 children. I guess their matching outfits are homemade from the same bolt of gingham popular with fundamentalists. Sad that they have gone that way, but maybe it is a sign that parents can differentiate one child from the next.

Healthier Red Beans and Rice



I am in charge of bringing a vegetarian main dish to a church supper for new members tomorrow. I decided to go all out and even make it vegan just in case. I have a giant bag of rice that I can’t eat on my current diet so I wanted to use some of that, and then it hit me, Red Beans and rice, the perfect vegan dish that I can make ahead. Of course I usually would make red beans and rice with a smoked ham hock to add flavor and then fat too, but that was out of the question. The answer was to use smoked Paprika to bring that smoky flavor without the meat. The other oddity is I added light grape juice to bring sweetness and a little bit of, “Hmm, what is that?” So here is my vegan version


Spice Mix


2 T. kosher salt

1 t. garlic powder

2 t. onion powder

1 t. dried oregano

1 t. dried basil

1 t. cayenne pepper – less if you a spicy adverse

1 t. black pepper

2 t. smoked paprika


The rest

2 large sweet onions chopped

3 stalks of celery chopped

1 green bell pepper chopped


4 cans of dark red kidney beans drained and rinsed

32 Oz. of vegetable stock

1 cup of light grape juice

2 T. apple cider vinegar


Big pot of cooked rice- you can figure that out


Mix all the spices in a bowl, you can vary the amounts to make any flavor profile along the heat spectrum you like.


In a large Dutch oven on the stove top on high put the onions, celery and green pepper with half the spice mix and cook, stirring every so often for five minutes. Add a cup of stock and continue cooking for five more minutes.


Add the Beans and the rest of the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat a little and cook for 30 mins at just under a boil and above a simmer. Add the grape juice and cook at least another 45 minutes stirring every five minutes to scrape anything off the bottom of the pot. You want it to reduce to a thick beanie gravy.


Add the vinegar right before serving. Put a scoop the beans in a bowl and top with a scoop of rice. YUM

Nice Pays Off

Today while Carter was taking her first exam I decided I would go to the mall and buy her a quilt and new cooling pillow that she wants for camp. You have no idea what a big sacrifice this is for me. I hate going to the mall. I think the last time I was there was before Christmas.
If there were stores that had different and unusual merchandise I might not mind fighting the groups of slow walkers walking abreast with no idea they are taking up the entire width of the walkway, or the circlers looking for the closest parking spot at 3 miles per hour, or the sales clerks who have their faces deep in their phone with no peripheral vision to see how desperately I need help. No, the regular old stores are just not worth putting up with these people and the many others who have all the time in the world to while away at the mall.  
Carter had pointed out the items she liked in a catalogue I had purchased from before. The shipping and handling charges were like $34 for a small box and the stuff was not cheep to begin with. You know what handling charges are, PROFIT. Since Macy’s had texted me they were having a big sale I decided in the name of cheapness I would go and actually shop. How Macy’s got my cell number I’ll never know, but the marketing worked. At least to get me into the store.
After perusing the quilt offerings at Macy’s I decided to sprint the length of the mall to see what Belk’s had to offer. Usually if Macy’s is having a sale so is Belk’s. After dodging the lotion squirters and massage givers I fast walked my way past the stroller brigades and AARP card holder mall walkers to Belk’s where I found the perfect quilt. It helped that looked so much like the $189 one in the catalogue, before tax, shipping and handling but was on sale for 50% off and when the young man rung it off he added an additional discount and it came in at $25.87 which included tax. Hooray for the mall!
Having been without iced tea for at least the last 45 minutes I decided to stop at Panera Bread on my dash back to the other end of the mall where my car was. Since I am on this crazy strict diet iced tea is the highlight of my day. There were quite a few of the mall walkers waiting in a very long line, but I spotted the hallway window was manned and no one was waiting. As I approached the young girl in the black Panera apron I noticed a very old man in the main line who looked like he could not stand another minute without sustenance. The approved one asked what I wanted, just as I was summoning the old man to come and order in my short line.  
I looked at the Panera girl and said, “I only want and iced tea, but why don’t you take this man’s order first, I think he has been waiting a long time.” He thanked me as I stepped back so he could order. Before he got a word out the young Panera girl handed me a clear plastic tea cup and said, “Tea’s on me since you are so nice!”
What? I am rarely called “Nice.” I stepped into the drink dispensing area and made myself a big cold free tea. It tasted better than any tea I had drunk in a while. I think I am going to have to try this being nice thing more often, but I hope it works at places other than the mall because I still don’t want to go there.


Thanks Carter

Carter is about to finish up her sophomore year. Today was her last day of regular classes before the drudge of exams starts. One of her favorite classes was advance photo and not because she does not have an exam in it. Last year in photo she learned the basics of dark room and Photoshop, but this year she got to delve more deeply into photo topics.


When I got home today her portfolio was sitting on the breakfast room table. One of her assignments was a group of six photos and a write up that was displayed with them in a show. She had shown me the photos, but this was the first time I read her write-up. It made me cry. Her response was, “Now you have your blog today.”

I asked her if her photo essay could be my blog and she agreed, but my phone pictures of her actual photos does not do them justice. Nonetheless, I am a proud mother so please indulge me this one time.



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My Childhood

When I was told that this project was about identity my first idea was to take photos of the places I spent the most time at when I was younger. I decided to take these from a child’s point of view to emphasize the memories of my childhood. All of these photos show the places most important to me when I was younger and still are very important to me.

The first place (photos are left to right, top to bottom) is the Durham Academy Lower School. I have attended DA since Pre-K and I have so many wonderful memories at the lower school. The second place is Rolling Hills Stables in Chapel Hill. I am at my happiest here and I’ve ridden at Rolling Hills Stables since 3rd grade. I learned almost everything about horses and discipline at this place. The next place is Hope Valley Country Club. My mom would always play Mahjong in the Women’s Locker Room and I would sit and watch as a little child curious about how the game worked. Another place is my mom’s Toyota Land Cruiser. I am an only child so I spent a lot of time with my mom and with horses, and always going on adventures. Westminster Church is where my mom and dad attend church. I grew up in the church because my mom was part of almost all the boards there. The final place is the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina. My mom has been on the board there since before I could remember. She was the President of the board last year. Whenever she would have meetings when I was younger I would always tag along with her. I loved it there.

Every single one of these places taught me a lot about growing up. The horse in the top right photo is named Red. He taught me discipline of controlling a 1500 pound animal as a small seven year old with grace and strength. He was the first horse I rode at Rolling Hills Stables, so it’s fitting that he should be involved in this project. During the half hour drive to the barn, my mom would answer all my questions about anything and everything in her car. Some of these photos feature my mother. She was and still is the biggest influence in my life and formed much of my identity. At the Food Bank I learned how important it is to give up your own time and money for others.

I hope these photos give you an insight to my childhood and what has helped form me into the person I am today.

Thank you.



Not Your Normal Veggie Tray




Just when I think there is nothing left to write about a gift from heaven drops in my lap. Tonight I was invited to my friend Pokey’s house to look at some India Hick’s products. True to form for me at all gatherings I got tired of standing around talking so my friend Lynn volunteered to sit of the sofa with me. My neighbor Beth joined us, moving some books from the ottoman/coffee table so she could sit close enough to talk with us.


I’m not sure how long we were there before Lynn pointed out the vegetable tray right next to Beth. Since I am doing this very strict diet I had basically blocked all party food out of my brain, but I knew this one needed inspection if non-eater Lynn had something to say about it.


From afar it looked like any normal veggie tray, with carrots, peppers cucumbers, broccoli and a bowl of dip, but at closer inspection I saw why Lynn was pointing it out. There in the middle of the tray was a giant bed of iceberg lettuce. Wait. Can that be? None of us had ever seen chopped lettuce as part of a veggie tray.


Pokey, ever the consummate hostess had to have a good explanation about this dish and so I asked, “What’s up with the lettuce?” She howled and in her best laughing voice said, “I ordered a veggie tray from the club and that’s what I got.”


“Did you bring them the tray asking for a big salad?” I asked.


“I brought the tray yesterday and asked if they could make a little hollowed out red cabbage for me to put dip in with the cut veggies. Not exactly what I got.” Michelle, ever the diplomatic one said, “Perhaps they were instructed to put some decorative lettuce on the platter first and then the veggies.”


We all agreed that iceberg, as a dipping item was a risky way to get ranch dressing in your mouth without a fork. Thank goodness Pokey has such a good sense of humor. But what could she do when her husband brought it home; he had no idea that she did not order lettuce.


She could complain, but all the complaints about the food are met with the same response, “Just wait until the new chef comes on June 1.” I think he should start by reading my blog to learn what not to do.


Pokey said her kids were definitely getting that lettuce in their lunches tomorrow. The chef should have to listen to them complain too.

Don’t Ask Me I’m Not A Trustee Anymore



Well before Carter went to Durham Academy as a Pre-K student I got a Land Cruiser. It is a tank of a car, perfect for shuttling kids for field trips to the Life and Science Museum and friends to Mother Daughter Weekend at camp. We drove that car to Upstate New York and then into Canada without a passport for Carter and then were able to sneak her back in the country because she was practically invisible in the third row. When gas was almost five dollars a gallon we drove to Michigan one summer to visit the Hannans and then up to the Ferry at Mackinaw Island and back to Durham all for $700 worth of gas.


As the years went on and there were fewer field trips to drive for I parked the Land Cruiser in favor of the Smart Car that was one sixth it’s size both physically and in gas consumption. Then Russ took the Smart and got me a C-Max because it was big enough for us all to fit in, but got the same mileage as the Smart. We kept the Land Cruiser thinking is was the perfect car for Carter when she got her drivers license. My father changed that plan when he gave her a newer Jetta and the Land Cruiser sat sadly in the driveway waiting for group concert trips and hauls to the Good Will. Against Russ’ better judgment I thought we should keep this old car.


It was only fitting that the car that has made so many trips back and forth to Durham Academy be called off the bench today to take Russ and me to my final Trustee reception. For six years I have served on the board and due to good governance it is time for me to retire.


I have loved being on this board with a large number of really smart people that I would never had gotten to know in the same way if it weren’t for our service. It was not always easy but it was a place that I felt safe to ask hard questions and rarely got slapped for off the cuff remarks.


As a retiring trustee it is normal for another trustee to give a little speech about the retiree, then give them the DA Chair. I remembered that part and that is why we drove the only car we have that could hold the chair. Tonight three of us retired, Shelayne Sutton, who I got to know and love because of being trustees together, Dave Beischer, who has been a trustee for more years than Carter has been alive and is a walking DA encyclopedia and me.


Janis Tillman gave the speech about Shelayne and then Shelayne got up to give her remarks. WAIT! She had prepared remarks on paper. I forgot about this part. She thanked all the important people, especially her husband. I looked around the room. I prayed that Frank Morgan would give the remarks about me since he is probably the kindest human I know and would gloss over the bad things about me as a trustee.


After Shelayne sat down Frank did get up and spoke much too long about me and Less Dana. As I went up to the podium I told the room that they already had gotten more Dana then they needed and I confessed I had no prepared remarks, but certainly that I could talk without them. And I did, but after I sat down next to Russ I realized I had not thanked him for all he did for me that enabled me not to cook dinners on board nights, or stay up late working on committee work. I felt like the academy award winner who forgets to thank their spouse. It was all I could think about.


Then Brendan Moylan spoke about Dave Beischer and compounded my error by talking about what a saint Michelle Beischer was to be married to a twice board chair. Her husband thanked her profusely too.


So as my unthanked husband carried my heavy chair to the Land Cruiser parked at the far side of the parking lot I vowed to make it up to him. How? I don’t think offering for him to have my chair in his office is the right thing, but Russ, I just want to say here you are the best husband who finally came to a trustee reception after all these years. Sorry I did not call you out there, but you know I appreciate you and am thankful that you never made me sell the Land Cruiser because we never would have gotten this chair home without it.

It’s Always a Challenge

Last year about this time I reached my goal weight. I tried to set a new lower goal, but true to my weight loss/gain history had a hard time just maintaining my original goal. I am a strong believer that losing weight is exciting and maintaining weight is the real hard work. Since the weight loss game is a brain issue and not an eating one my brain decided that once I got to the goal I had been trying to reach for two years it could take a break. Now my body kept exercising and my cooking tried to keep me eating the non-white diet that I knew was good for me, but without full brain cooperation things broke down.
About this time one other big thing happened to me, I finally was declared to be in full blown menopause. Not that I could really tell. Years ago I had an operation so the normal signs of growing old were more subtle with me. I have been lucky enough to not suffer hot flashes, or as some of my friends call it, their own personal summer. I was glad that I had gotten my weight down before I passed over into the world of old womanness because true to folklore I found out fairly quickly that losing weight is more difficult at this stage of life.  
Actually what I quickly found out was gaining weight was more easy now too. So between my brain taking a diet break and my body taking a youth break permanently I started gaining back some of the hard fought pounds I had lost. I tried upping my exercise but with that I also ate a little more than I needed. I also enjoyed the eating seasons, starting with Thanksgiving, passing or not passing on the Christmas feasts, rolling right into Spring break in Italy with all things normally forbidden, like pasta, pizza and gelato all around me, followed by May – the month all about me with my birthday, anniversary and Mother’s Day.  
I knew I had do something while I could still wear my smaller underpants. The answer was try a new program to reengage my brain and hold me accountable. I had a bunch of friends who had tried Metabolic Research Center so I am giving it a try. The good news is that I went in when I have just a little to lose so it won’t take me long.  
I can tell you that any diet you do works if you stick to it. For me I like to try something new because it engages my brain and makes me work harder if I am having to learn a new plan. Of course I also really like having to weigh in with someone else. I know most people think that is the worst thing on earth, but once you realize no one cares what your number is on the scale just that it is going down, it becomes a great tool for accountability.
I hope I am getting smarter and not letting my weight yo yo the full string’s worth. A little tiny bit up and it is time to nip this issue in the bud. It helps that the eating season is over and my garden is starting to produce edible results. I’ll report back on my feelings about Metabolic as a good way to loose weight .