All Cake, No Presents

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Today is my friend Kristin Teer’s birthday. As she has been known to do, she threw a beautiful, and when I say beautiful I mean gorgeous, lunch, but not for herself. It was a party to celebrate her friends. Since it was not a birthday party for her we were instructed to absolutely not bring her any gifts. So I showed up empty handed, ate what I was served, more about that in a minute and left feeling totally celebrated and happy. But like the little drummer boy I felt like I needed to something and what I can do is so small, so KT this blog is for you

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First I want to talk about what was the real hardship about going to a party at KT’s, it was being forced to eat the fabulous food prepared by her chef partner Paris. A perfectly composed salad with apples, candied pecans and goat cheese shared the plate with a black and white orzo topped with a delicate shrimp cake and the surprise yummy on the plate was a grilled piece of bread which I think had rosemary in it, but I was so overwhelmed with perfect tastes I can not be certain.


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Thankfully that plate was small so no one thought they were overeating. That just meant that no one had any excuse not to eat at least one of the, let me actually count the ways, five different desserts. I was seated at one end of the birthday table between Morgan Moylan, the other birthday girl and Stacey Burkert. Stacey and I sing from the same choir sheet that believes it is not a birthday in Durham without coconut cake from Thai Café. Really if you are going to break your diet, it is the thing to do it for.


From where Stacey and I were sitting at lunch we were looking across the table not at our friends on the other side, but at the sideboard laden with a whole coconut cake, a large platter of French macaroons and two big plates of Tonya Petrucci’s works of art sugar cookies. I could feel my head practically explode as I thought about which dessert I would celebrate this birthday with.


Before I could make up my mind a surprise dessert was placed in front of me. Of course Paris was not just going to serve desserts made by others at the celebration of his love’s big day. A not so small glass with a layer of hot fudge on the bottom and a slightly warm and gooey espresso brownie on top and a rather large scoop of salted caramel ice cream as the crown was Paris’ entrant into the dessert Olympics. Stacey held off from accepting the ice cream having gotten her mouth set on the coconut cake. Morgan and I foolishly tasted our Paris dessert and decided to have it and the coconut cake.

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The only good decision I made today was to stand up from the table before any macaroons or sugar cookies were offered. My mouth was so happy, but there is going to be a piper to pay for all this celebrating.


To distract me from running a finger through the cake plate I met Kristin’s newest rescue dog. I am not sure if that makes 7 or 8, but I am fairly certain that one of the guests, who shall remain nameless because her husband could read this, almost put that dog in her purse. She could have blamed the dog napping on the sugar high since she is also a coconut cake lover, but she withheld and left the party puppy free.

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All I have to say is thanks, Krisitn Teer for all the fun you always provide. Your generosity, creativity and style should be enough, but you know I love you for your sense of humor most. I won’t blame you for what the scale will say tomorrow. The celebration was worth every calorie.




Costco Needs A Salad Bar



Russ had a few Costco Items on his list for me to pick up today. Things that are certainly available at the regular market, but why buy them where I pay twice as much, like salted peanuts or real bacon bits.


I do my best not to go to Costco during mealtime or when I am hungry because the temptation of food samples is so great. “It’s just one bite,” is the downfall to any diet. One bite of a taquito, a small cup of candied pecans, a scoop of cheesecake, a cracker with a teaspoon of lobster salad and a cup of “green juice” is a meal worth of calories, but of course you never count that as a meal.


The other thing I try and stay away from is the Costco snack bar. As far as I can tell there is nothing there that is healthy. The closest thing is the Chicken Caesar salad, which with the dressing, croutons and cheese is equivalent to a Big Mac. Of course I have never actually seen anyone eating the salad.


The sad people sitting in the Costco picnic table area I have to drive my cart past to get out of the store usually have one of three things in front of them, pizza, a hot dog & soda or ice cream. For the most part none of them should probably eat any of those items, ever, but I understand they are in expensive and filling.


This is the problem in America. Eating healthy food is expensive and time consuming. Costco sells plenty of good for you foods. I hardly go in there without coming home with a giant $2.99 pineapple or a big bag of haricot vert for $4.99. But both of those items have to be prepared. Hell, in the case of haricot vert you have to take French first to even know that that just means skinny green beans.


I know that Costco is not Whole Foods, but I think there is a business plan to be made for keeping their customers alive longer and adding a salad bar to the snack bar would be a step in the right direction. Maybe it’s not exactly a salad bar, but at least some lower calorie, already made, fast to eat items. A big fruit cup could go a long way to longevity of the card-carrying members. If Costco was to lengthen the life or at least the ambulatory life of the customers it already has they might increase sales year over year.


Any business knows it is cheaper to keep a customer than it is to acquire a new one. At the calorie rate Costco is serving it’s customers they appear to be doing their best to kill them off. Healthy food can be really tasty. Costco already knows this since they sell so many vegetables. Why not make then available ready to eat by the door?

No Walking In The Rain


I have full proof that our labradoodle is a real princess, she does not like to walk in the rain. I don’t know how much of her is actually Labrador since getting wet is a basic affront. The misty rain actually helps curl her brown fluffy coast to be more poodle like but that hardly matters to her.
When it is raining Shay Shay stands at the front glass door looking longingly outside, but when I put her leash on and open the door to go out she stands her ground hard. I have tried coaxing and begging but I practically have to drop her down the front steps so she can potty. The looks she gives me could kill a large mammal. “Why do I have to get wet?” Is what her little eyes are saying.
She will quickly pee and then drag me back to the cover of the front porch. It does not matter than she has not done more than pee in five or six trips outside. She refuses to spend more than thirty seconds in the rain.  
This is not a big issue if we are having one day or even one hour of rain, but the biblical five days so far with at least four more ahead must be messing with her system. I am practically at the point of buying some turf to put down in the garage to see if she might go there.
I have taken to watching the radar and the second I see a dry opening in the cloud cover I am running home to get her to go for a walk when the sky is not crying. App antsy it is not just falling water that she does not like, but wet pavement and soaking grass is practically as bad.
Where did I get such a princess? No one else in our house is so particular about anything. Just the one who must have rotisserie chicken mixed with her kibble for dinner and a freeze dried liver treat after every venture outside. You would think the promise of liver would make her want to go out just so she could come in and be treated, but nooooo.
So very few outdoor steps for me in the last few days, but even worse, no steps for Shay since she also hates the treadmill. 

Useless French


When I was in fifth grade my teacher, Mrs. Baldwin, started a French club and asked a select group of us if we wanted to be in the recess time club. I felt very honored to be asked, but I have no idea what her criteria was to join. Most likely it was not the smartest people, but the ones who failed at play ground dodge ball, and no they were not the same group.
I can remember taking a 1950’s French beginners book out of the library. The first lesson I learned was the oh so important phrase, “ouvre la fenêtre”, which means “open the window.” I don’t know how often I say that in English let alone in French, but it has stuck with me for the last 44 years. I think I was most interested in French because the cutest boy in my fourth grade class had moved to Paris. He spoke perfect English so why would I need to learn French?
Over the years I have used my French a little hear and there. Like when I went to school in France the summer between Freshman and Sophomore year in college. I really was just trying to get my language credit out of the way and I hardly spoke at all out in the French public because I either had my fluent friends Wendy Yazuzian or Marty Dluzansky to speak for me. In Marty’s case I could read menu’s and he had his father’s American Express card, so it was a good match.
As life has gone on I have found myself often wishing I could speak Spanish since I encounter people daily for whom it is their first language and I must say never do I meet anyone around hear where French is the case. When Carter was able to chose a language at school I encouraged her to take Spanish for this very reason. She seems to enjoy it.
One of the requirements of her class this year is to go out to places where Spanish is the main language being spoken. It is a fairly easy task. So today she and I went to Raleigh to La Fiesta Del Pueblo. Thank goodness she does not have to go find a festival for French.
I ate lunch before we went because I was sure that I did not want to be tempted by the food. It was a good plan. Carter asked me what was for lunch at home and I told her to get something at the festival and she was happy. Ordering from the vendor in Spanish was no issue, speaking menu is an important skill I instilled in her in many languages. The neon orange soda she got was not something I craved, but her asada quesadilla looked mighty fine. Carter tortured me by oohing and aahing all about it.
After the food portion we walked Fayetteville street looking at the various tents with Latin radio stations giving away cups and pencils, immigrant service providers offering advice and the strangest group of republican presidential candidates tents with voter registration. We watched dancers from Honduras and Chile and heard proclamations made declaring it Latin Month from September 15- Oct. 15. I found that an odd range, since months usually indicate one actual calendar month and not a 30 period that spans two months.  
The good part of the festival was that Carter was able to translate everything for me. I knew she was right when she was telling what the proclamation said when they announced it first in Spanish and then it was read in English. It just would not be done that way in French. If there was a Franophile festival they would read the proclamation in French and leave it at that, if you did not understand then , “ffff” the sound of disdain coming for the Frenchman.
The only thing about a Francophile festival is the food would be great. I can just imagine the crepe stands or the escargot vendors. I can still speak that language and now I don’t even need Marty since I have my own American Express card, but it would be fun to show Carter.

Just Ten Foods

When I graduated from college my parents moved to Washington, DC. As I was looking for a job, my Dad was learning the phone business and my Mom was renovating a house we lived together in a tiny apartment in Crystal City, otherwise known as the Houston of Washington for its lack of zoning. The apartment had been the model for the building with bad corporate furniture and I slept in the coat closet by the front door. Since we all were new to the city none of us had any friends so I would leave every weekend and go visit friends who were living back home with their parents, but at least in regular sized houses.
One Sunday I returned to the apartment and found my parents sitting on the two chair balcony watching the planes land at National Airport, each scribbling things on pads of paper. “What are you doing?” I inquired. I was quickly shushed and they continued writing.  
My father broke the silence first, “Steak, cheese, potatoes, milk…”
“Milk is a drink and we already agreed that was free,” my mother interrupted.  
“Great, I have to redo my list then,” my father continued.
“Artichokes, Chicken, avocado, eggs, cheese…” My mother said.
“What are you doing?” I demanded from the only other chair inside.
I came to find out that my parents had spent the entire weekend discussing the foods they would choose if they were only allowed to eat ten things for the rest of their lives. Not just one conversation, but a whole weekend. They negotiated the milk truce and other finer points before they finally got to the list point. I thought they had really lost it, but the older I got and the longer I’ve been married, the more I understand it in a weird kind of way.
As I was eating my regular arugula, chicken, goat cheese and caramelized pear salad I thought about what my ten foods would be. It seems to me that I have practically already gotten to the state my parents were only hypothetical about. If I am alone at home I eat exactly the same foods over and over when I am trying to loose weight.  
I thought then ten foods game was a crazy one for my parents to play, but now I have fallen into living it. When I vary from my regular foods I tend to over eat and eat naughty things I know I should not. It is so much easier to make my standard salad, which I really love, but know that it does not make me crave a gooey undercooked chocolate chunk cookies or bowl of salted caramel ice cream.
As much as I like to cook for others when it comes to me alone I am satisfied to just have the regular. I wish my parents had kept their lists. I would love to see if their tastes from the early 80’s has changed or if they would have been happy with those same ten foods for the last thirty plus years.

Perhaps You Are In The Wrong Job


I can only imagine that having a job that I don’t enjoy would make me a little grouchy, but even in my most insignificant jobs I tried to make the most of it, or at least pretend I liked what I was doing. Obviously the economy has a lot of people doing things that they are probably over qualified for, but if they can’t do those jobs well I am not sure they are ever going to go anywhere else.
Today must have been my time to encounter those people. It started with a call to the customer service department at Russ’ life insurance company. Paying your life insurance bill is high on my list to get right. In August I used my banks automated payment system as I do to pay all my bills. I was quite unhappy when I discovered two letters saying I had not paid. I went online and found the confirmation from the back that indeed I had paid, but the check was not cashed.
I called customer service and after an unsatisfactory call with a regular rep who would not talk to me since I was not the policy holder I asked to speak to a supervisor. After many “hypothetical situation” questions, since I was still not the policy holder I finally got out of this guy that they had changed the payment address a year ago and my check probably went to the old one. I got him to take my new payment over the phone and asked what would happen to my check if it ever got to them. I was told they would cash it and credit my account for an extra year. Not the right answer, but I would deal with the bank on that.  
I suggested that they might pay the post office for a longer forwarding service so they would not miss other payments that were automated like mine. “Not my department,” was the I don’t care answer.  
“Yes, but it affects your department with all the customer service calls you have to take,” I said.   
“That’s good job security.”  
Wow. So purposely annoying customers is good for this guy personally. I could feel his disdain for me over the phone. Time for him to get a different job, but as far as I could tell he was unemployable.
After my morning frustration with insurance I went to lunch with my friends Lynn and Christy at a locally owned restaurant. We had a waitress who acted as if serving us was too much trouble. I ordered the beet salad and asked her to leave off the polenta croutons. Her surely response was, “That doesn’t come with croutons.” Then all the better, I did not want them anyway, but for good measure I looked at the menu to make sure since she was not going to request something be left off that she did not think was on there to begin with. I had not been dreaming, polenta croutons big as life in the description. She was not happy about being wrong.
We had to ask for tea refills which took forever as did the change giving from the check. Being the queen of cash I put a twenty in my check folder. Eventually she came back and brought my change. Interestingly even though the ticket said the change was $3.34 she only gave back three ones. I was planning on leaving all the change for a tip, since I feel like restaurant workers are underpaid, but I thought it was quite presumptuous of her to not return the coins. She might not have even made the change, but she certainly did not care enough to check. Really being a waitress is not the right job for her, or perhaps she had just had a terrible run in with an insurance company customer service supervisor.

Giving A Hand Not What I Expected


This morning nine members of the Hope Valley Garden Club assembled at Elizabeth Wiener’s house to get our orange vests, black spider gloves and official road side trash collection bags to help with trash pick up week. Our garden club has volunteered to pick up trash along the sides of the road before and I thought it was a fun way to be with friends, get some exercise and do good at the same time. And who can deny that the orange vest is not a big enticement?
Last time we did this job we were assigned about a half a mile of busy road to clean. We must have done an exceptional job because this time we were given University Drive from DA middle school all the way down to Thai Cafe, a good mile and a half. It seemed like a daunting task.
Elizabeth, ever the organizer had laid out the vests with a pair of gloves on top of each on her front steps. After we had had suited up she had us each pick a playing card from a select group she held in her hand and told not to look at them. Of course I looked before I was supposed to, but I don’t know what difference it made, I did not have any other cards in my pocket to change with. I had the Jack of hearts and after all the cards were picked we were told that we would work in pairs according to our suit. My partner was Beth Sholtz, my birthday partner and good friend. This turned out to be important later.
Beth and I were assigned the north side on University starting at DA. Renee Hodges and Kay Peters took the south side. Starting at the Thai Cafe end was Elizabeth Wiener and Carolyn Sloate on the south and Thecky Pappas, Betsy Ross and Esten Walker on the north. We all started working from our own ends and picked up trash and recyclables until we met in the middle.
This was only a fun job because I had a friend to talk to while we gathered trash, cigarette butts, cans and bottle people had thoughtlessly discarded. The worst things to pick up were the cigarette butts and those little plastic ends from cheep swisher sweet type cigars. As if smoking is not gross enough the people who do it need to realize butts are not biodegradable and not throw them out the window of their car.
About half way down our side of the road Beth and I came upon a cedar tree with branches to the ground that had a lot of trash blown into the trunk. Our arms were not long enough to reach in and get all the plastic bags and beer cans that had congregated inside the tree. Beth brilliantly used a stick to pull things out. I just pushed my way in like a bull in a china shop. What I did not realize is that the rain starved tree’s cedar needles were very brittle and as I was bending over trying to grab the old paper wrapped around the branches I felt a huge bunch of prickly needles go down the back of my jeans.
I stood up and felt like I had a thousand little needles sticking me in the butt. In the most unlady like way, right there on the side of the road I put my hand down the back of my pants but since I was wearing jeans I was unable to dislodge many needles. Beth, being a mother of four and grandmother to two wasted no time and came right over and stuck her hand down my pants while telling me to pull the pant legs away from my full thighs and shake my leg at the same time. With her hand down the back of my jeans, palm towards the pockets she shock me so hard we looked like two dogs mating by the side of the road. Anyone driving by would certainly wonder if two crazy women with Alzheimer’s had escaped from their lock down. Only the orange vest distinguished us as non-runaways.
After a minute of shaking I told Beth we had done the best we could do together and I had to work on the needles inside my underpants myself. The goods is the nine of us were able to clean the whole road in an hour and the needles in my underpants went no farther. Saying we are a close knit garden club is probably an understatement.