C+ Living

school-303928_1280Raise you hand if you are a bit of a perfectionist…Raise it high. And straight. But just high enough that your upper arm doesn’t flap. And be sure you aren’t blocking anyone behind you. Is that a pit stain? Might be a pit stain, so lower your hand ever so slightly to get that situation covered up. But does lowering your hand imply that you’re less of a perfectionist? Might be. Raise it high. Oh but the pit stain. And not too fast or the arm will flap. It’s hard to hold that hand up for this long. Need to work out more. Weight bearing activity reduces the chances of osteoporosis……..WHAT WERE WE TALKING ABOUT?

Oh yeah–perfectionism.

I live with it. Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean that my life is perfect–it means I feel constant guilt because it’s NOT perfect. So maybe I’m a lazy perfectionist.

Yesterday, I was talking to my friend about people who either give themselves 100 points or zero points. Anything less than perfect is an utter failure. She and I were at the employee Health Fair. We were at  the height and weight station for BMI calculation. I got on the electronic scale and it said, “One at a time, please.” We each got our BMI and consulted the chart. Hers was 25 and she was crestfallen. “It’s in the overweight category!” This woman ran 12 miles this weekend, so she was a little bit annoyed with the BMI number. I looked at the “Healthy Weight” category. Guess what the highest range was for healthy BMI? 24.9

One tenth of a percentage and she was dissatisfied. Stuck in the wrong category after all that work. Damned by .10 on a broad scale.

It reminded me of grades and school and all those arbitrary measures we impose on ourselves. Is a 92 really that different from an 89? Is a BMI of 25 different from 24.9?

I have to remind myself constantly that C is average, not A. In those times, I shoot for C+ living. Average, with a teensy bit to acknowledge some extra effort.

Five Words To Help You Survive Dinner Time

10679568_10203880277040358_3818669094069327890_oDinner tonight: Roasted broccoli with sea salt. Grilled chicken with garlic rub. Grilled orange and yellow sweet peppers. Toasted cheese rolls. Remoulade to make little sandwiches. I put this meal together in light of what was in the fridge, which ingredients needed to be cooked and by when, informed by general principles of “eat more color,” “50% veggies, 25% lean protein, 25% carb” etc etc etc.

While G and I nommed and yummed over our sandwiches, Vivi ate two rolls and some chicken, but separately. Carlos ate one roll…eventually.

My son is in the 50th percentile for weight, always has been. How does he stay there? Hell if I know. From what I can tell, he thrives on a diet of oyster crackers, fench fies, bananas with a light frosting of dog hair, and good will.

Carlos is my third kid, so I’ve learned some lessons along the way. When I met my step-daughter, Victoria, she was a six year old picky eater. No green grapes, only red grapes. Chicken nuggets, never chicken strips. Macaroni and cheese but only the blue box, not the homemade kind.  Apples had to be sliced with the little kitchen gadget slicer, not unevenly with a knife.


G and I have been through the parental dinner time dilemma about what to control and what to let go. Every kid presents different challenges. I got some great advice from a nutritionist a few years ago and it has helped us find peace at the dinner table.

Keep five words in mind when it comes to feeding your kids: WHEN, WHERE, WHAT, WHETHER and HOW MUCH (OK, six words).

WHEN: The grownups decide when to eat. Dinner is at 7 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. or 10 p.m., whatever your family needs. Kids come to the table when dinner is served. There will be some nights when we have to juggle, but parents don’t just make food and leave it sitting on the stove for whomever might graze by. This is part of that whole “family dinner time” thing that really does give us a chance to sit down together.

WHERE: Parents get to pick where the family eats. Not just “McDonalds or not” kind of decisions. I keep this principle in mind when it’s time to gather up at the table. Sure, there are nights when we eat in front of the TV, but 80% of the time, we sit around the table and listen to each other chew. Even on Chinese food delivery nights or picking up sandwiches for dinner, we’ll sit at the table together.

WHAT: This is the biggie. Grownups decide what will be served. On the way home from school the other night, I asked Carlos what he thought we should have for dinner. Before I could list the two options, he chirped, “Cu-cakes!” Duh. He would always pick cupcakes, every time. Parents cook ONE DINNER for the family. We know all that stuff about Recommended Daily Allowances of niacin, and that potatoes aren’t a vegetable, and what kind of protein was on sale this week at Kroger. We know which brand of noodles has hidden veggies (Ronzoni Garden Delight-the one in the green box) and which are packed with homophobia (Barilla-blue box). Parents decide WHAT to eat. This extends away from the dinner table too. Parents decide what snacks are available. Don’t complain to me that your toddler only eats candy corn. He didn’t drive to the store and buy that candy corn.

Now let’s look at the kids’ responsibilities at the dinner table.

WHETHER: Once you’ve done your part with deciding what to serve and where and when, let your kids decide whether or not to eat it.  You may have the “try one bite” rule, but let the kids decide what goes in their bodies. Saturday night, Vivi ate a cup of cherry tomatoes along with her dinner. Sunday night, she wouldn’t touch them. OK. This one gave me the most trouble when we first started using these principles. I wanted them to eat SOMETHING at dinner because I would be the one they’d nag later when they woke up hungry. But it’s important to be consistent. If my kids don’t eat what is served at dinner, they can have a handful of oyster crackers and some milk before bed. My brother tells his boys, “Maybe you’ll enjoy your next meal better.”

HOW MUCH: The kids decide how much they will eat of the food that you’ve served. We do remind Vivi that she can’t serve herself more yellow rice until she’s eaten what’s already on her plate. But no more Clean Plate Club. No more, “there are children starving in Ethiopia so you’d better eat that.” I hope that my kids will learn to follow their own body signals regarding when they are full and when they are still hungry.

So that’s what I learned from Wendy the Nutritionist–simple guidelines that have made our dinner table a more peaceful place. What do you do to survive dinner?

(I think I’ll write tomorrow about Dr. Sam Garrett’s Surefire Rule for Feeding Kids and Other Wild Animals…)

Sunday Sweetness–1923 Never Left Us

I stumbled across the remake of “The Great Gatsby” the other night. Couldn’t resist watching it again. If you haven’t read the book, please do. It’s one of those books that we force upon teenagers who really can’t relate to it. I read it again in my late 30s and discovered a completely different story, once I had done some living. I’m especially drawn to the last line of the novel: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The past never leaves us.

Here’s a story I wrote about bumping into Gatsby at McDonald’s last year…click the butterfly to read on!

Life Magazine, "Flapper"

Life Magazine, “Flapper”

It’s a Wonder Any of Us Survived

4th century, gold and glass medallion, Roman mother and child

4th century, gold and glass medallion, Roman mother and child

Tonight, I listened as another mother expressed some guilt over discovering that her 9 week old baby wasn’t gaining enough weight. The lactation consultant figured out that the baby needed more milk in the evening when the mom’s supply was low. After the baby gobbled up 7 ounces of pumped milk that first evening, the mother burst into tears because she realized then how hungry her baby must have been on the other nights.

Oh, I remember those feelings. The “cold” that turned out to be a double ear infection. The funny spot that was staph. The “teething” that was really hand/foot/mouth blisters. No matter how much we read and worry and track and monitor, it’s all still a surprise half the time.

My advice to the new mom came straight from my stepmother, Big Gay.

“Honey, put down the whip.”

That’s what she says whenever I’m flogging myself over some mistake or almost mistake (kinda like when Richard was yelling “Old Lady!”). Quit beating yourself up because there’s nothing to be gained from punishing yourself for not being omniscient.

Midnight, Mother and Sleepy Child, 1794

Midnight, Mother and Sleepy Child, 1794

Sharing that nugget of advice reminded me of a funny moment of parenting advice that Big Gay gave me when I was pregnant the first time. I drove down for a visit when I was about four months pregnant with Vivi. While we were eating dinner, I started getting really tired. Big Gay asked if I was sleeping OK.

“Usually,” I answered, “but last night I woke up at 2 a.m. and realized in a panic that I was sleeping flat on my back and the book says you’re not supposed to do that after about 10 weeks because the weight of the baby can restrict blood flow and cause the baby not to get enough oxygen so I’m supposed to sleep on my side and when I woke up and realized that I was sleeping on my back I felt so nervous about accidentally doing it again that I couldn’t really rest after that.”

Big Gay looked at me for a few seconds, like she was trying to figure out if I was kidding. Or if I might be having a neurological attack of some kind.

“No sleeping on your back? Huh. I don’t think I ever knew that when I was pregnant.”

I nodded in all seriousness. “Yep, it’s in the ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ book.”

Moche Culture, 3rd century Peru, ceramic mother and child figure

Moche Culture, 3rd century Peru, ceramic mother and child figure

She picked up her bourbon and took a sip. “We didn’t have anything like that.” She leaned across the table and whispered, “And it’s a wonder any of you survived.”

Then we had a good laugh and I promised to put down the whip. And while I was at it, I put down that book, too.

Women have been doing this a long time. Even before Google.


Do I Dare To Eat a Peach?

End of the Season

End of the Season

Tonight at the grocery store, I sorted through a late summer box of peaches. Picked each one up and smelled it to see if it would ever get ripe. Checked the soft skin for signs of brown rot. Looked at the stem spot to see if it was a split seed. I placed six in a plastic bag and thought for a few seconds about a boy I’ve had a crush on as long as I can remember.

His name is Jeffrey. I won’t say his last name but I will say that I bumped into his wife a few months ago and told her I wanted to write this story and she said it would be fine. And besides, if I didn’t tell you his name, I couldn’t tell you the story about how when I was in third grade and Daddy found a little abandoned puppy in the middle of the highway, I named that puppy Jeffrey after my secret crush. Until the next day, when Daddy broke the news that the puppy was female so I changed her name to Jeffy.

Our grandmothers were friends. Our mamas have been friends since the first day of Kindergarten. His mother and my father were neighbors and thick as thieves when they were kids. He and my sister were born just hours apart and were close friends. I sat and talked with his mama last month and ate a slice of her heavenly pound cake.

I think the last time I saw Jeffrey in person was when he sang at my Pop’s funeral. (Yes, in addition to being good-looking, smart, and kind, he can sing too.) At the graveside service, when he came over to say hello, I got the giggles. It’s that bad. I went up to his sister and confessed, “When your brother is toothless and slobberin’ and 100 years old, I will STILL think he’s the cutest thing in the world!” She said she would too. And my sister concurred as well.

So now that I’ve embarrassed myself and Jeffrey by extension, let me get to why peaches make me think of him.  Back in the day, Jeffrey and I both worked at a peach stand in our home town. As the years went by, he took over the running of the peach stand and became The Boss.

One summer, oh THIRTY YEARS AGO, I worked for Jeffrey. I knew the responsibilities well. He would go to the farmers market to buy crates of peaches at the start of the week. Each morning, I’d sort through the peaches (it’s called “culling”) and throw the rotting ones or the split seeds into a box that swarmed with yellow jackets getting drunk on the nectar. We’d sell that whole box of culls for $5 to any ladies who were making jam that week. I’d take the good peaches and make up pretty baskets to display on the stand–$3 for the small, $5 for the medium, $7 for a peck.

One week, towards the end of the season, we got a lot of split seeds. That’s where the peach looks fine on the outside, but if you look up at the top, there’s a hole right down in the heart of it. Those will be rotten from the inside out. No good. Jeffrey told me clearly NOT to sell any split seeds, to pitch them in the cull box. Then he left. I started making baskets and EVERY peach was split. I sure didn’t want to let him down, but if I followed his instructions, they’d all have to be thrown out. I figured that people could get some use out of most of the peach, so I went ahead and sold them. The next day when I got to work, he was furious because he had had someone come back and complain about the peaches. I was crushed, but he was right.

He didn’t ask me to work for him anymore and I was heartbroken that I had let him down.

And here I am. Forty six years old and I still remember disappointing him whenever I buy peaches in the grocery store.

So Jeffrey, I apologize for that bad decision.

The other reason I wanted to write this is that I wanted Jeffrey to know how special he is. If I could pick a boy for my girls to adore, I would pick someone just like Jeffrey.

The other day, my friend Hester made a reference to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T. S. Eliot. It’s a poem narrated by a man who finds himself dithering into the end of his life, worried about how he is perceived as silly by those around him. He is coming to realize that he is not Prince Hamlet. His hair is thinning and he has “measured out (his) life in coffee spoons.” My favorite lines are these:

I grow old….I grow old….

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

Do I dare to eat a peach? Will I look silly if the juice runs onto my shirt? Will I become the topic of idle chatter?

While I was looking at those peaches in the grocery store tonight, and thinking of Jeffrey, and how I still feel bad for letting him down 30 years ago, and Prufrock’s peach, and the lessons of time, I realized this–we grow older but we only grow wiser if we let some of that stuff go. I have been carrying around that little kernel of shame about a mistake I made in 1984…since 1984. That’s just silly.

I am learning to apologize when I am wrong. Forgive myself when I am foolish. Be grateful for life-long friends. Run the risk of looking silly. Tell stories that remind people how special they are, still.

Dare to eat a peach.


In That Other Half of the World

December 24 1968. Image courtesy of NASA.

Today is the fall equinox–the day when dark and light are almost equal. The day when our spot in the rotation around the Earth, given the tilt of our axis, points towards things growing darker and colder. But just for a time.

In that other half of the world, it’s the spring equinox–the day when dark and light are almost equal. The day when the spot in the great ellipsis around the sun, and the tilt of that same axis, point towards the days growing warmer and longer. But just for a time.

Same planet + same moment in time = totally different experience.

Vivi asked me last night if it was morning in Japan.  “Pretty much,” I answered. Our sun only rises over the pine trees in the backyard because it has set for that other half of the world.

G grew up in that other half of the world. I asked him once what everyone did on Christmas Day and he said, “Go to church, eat, then go to the beach.” Late December is high summer in that other half of the world.

When I was in Brasil a few years ago, I couldn’t get enough of looking at the stars at night. To think–these were entire constellations I had never seen! In all those travels to Europe and across North America, this was my first time looking at the night sky of that other half of the world.

Something so concrete that we measure our years by it, like the seasons, is completely opposite for the other half of the world. Something so eternal that we use them to navigate, like the stars, can be absolutely, 100% different for the other half of the world.

It’s so hard to remember that it isn’t fall everywhere. Or it isn’t morning everywhere.

That’s one reason I think we all need to travel if given the chance–to see the other half of the world and remember that their world is just as real and right and ordinary to them as ours is to us.

My Wesleyan sister, Bryndis, and I were talking via Facebook a few weeks ago. Her family used to live in the same small town of Gay Georgia, where I grew up before they moved one town over. She asked, “As my Mom would say, who are your folks?” I said, “We got Crouches, Todds, Mathews, Garretts, O’Neals…I think that about covers it!” She told me hers until I recognized a name. She said her mama still worships at Mount Venus Baptist in Gay.

I brought up the subject of how strange it is we grew up on the same dirt, graduated from the same college, but had such different experiences. We both have strong families, good grades, lovely manners, and we know the same shortcuts over back roads. We have different colors of skin. There are exits on the interstate where she won’t stop, even in the daylight.

When I went back to Gay last month for a family funeral, my sister and I drove straight to the cemetery instead of following the funeral procession.  It’s easy to find–go through the one red light then turn left onto Cemetery Street. Drive through the dark tunnel of oak trees and up the hill. We parked the car in the back corner and walked over to our family plot inside a mossy brick wall with ornate metal gates. I recognized the names on the headstones that we passed–Baughns, O’Neals, Estes, McCrarys, Turners. Something struck me as odd. Here we were on Cemetery Street in the cemetery, but where were the Stroziers, the Renders, the Germanys? I had grown up thinking this was The Cemetery, but clearly there must be another one here in town. And I had no earthly idea where the black cemetery was in my own hometown.

It shouldn’t have surprised me. There is nothing more segregated than a cemetery. It was one of those “other half of the world moments,” just as jarring as realizing that spring is also fall and morning can be night.

When you never get out of your half of the world, it’s easy to forget that the other half lives on the same planet, on the same day, in a COMPLETELY different experience.

As different as night and day.




You Gotta Break a Few Eggs

My nemesis

My nemesis

It’s time for my annual humiliation–the night I attempt to bake a simple cream cheese pound cake for the big cake auction: The Thrilla In Vanilla. How hard could it be, you know? It only has six ingredients and a couple of steps. Courtney is making TWO cakes with ganache, chocolate mousse, chocolate curls. Jo has concocted a key lime cake and her famous burnt sugar caramel while also coaching softball. Anna just dropped off three loaves of challah, kosher for Rosh Hashannah.

And I’m giving myself a pep talk.

One year, I pulled the cake pan out of the oven and turned it upside down on the cooling rack. As I gently pulled the pan away from the cake, the entire golden crust stuck to the inside of the pan.


The instructions HAD mentioned that I should butter the pan, but I didn’t think a recipe that contained THREE STICKS of butter needed a buttered pan. I scraped the crispy crust from the pan with a spoon and contemplated just how wrong that idea had been.

The next year, I attempted to make this same cake. I buttered the tube pan then I buttered it again. Mixed up the ingredients exactly then baked it at 275 for two hours. I had gotten a late start so the cake wasn’t finished until after 11 p.m. I was about 27 months pregnant with Carlos that year and was out of my mind with fatigue. After I pulled the cake out of the oven, I thought about how my Grandmama Irene would let her tube pan cool on the neck of a bottle. I fetched an old bottle and set it on the kitchen counter. Verrrrry carefully, I turned the entire cake pan upside down and suspended it over the bottle.

In the 4 seconds that it took me to remember that upside down cooling was for angel food cakes so they didn’t collapse it was too late to save the pound cake.

Hanging upside down is definitely not for hot pound cakes.

In slow motion, I watched the pound cake slllliiiidde out of that heavily buttered pan and smash into a thousand nuggets on the countertop.

This was before cake pops, so there was no saving it. And since it was almost midnight and I was super pregnant, I stood there in the half-dark kitchen and ate my fill of shattered cake.

My favorite travesty with this cake happened the very first time I made it, back when Fartbuster and I were married. The recipe is from a family cookbook that Brett put together many years ago. I followed the recipe exactly. I’ll give you a second to put on your reading glasses and look up there at the recipe.  Does anything strike you as odd? I was new to baking, so I added just what the recipe called for–18 oz of cream cheese. Two solid blocks and a little bit of a third. Over a POUND of cream cheese. My poor little hand mixer was smoking by the time I got it blended together.

The cake smelled divine while it baked. I lifted it from the oven and inverted it onto a plate. I let it cool for a few hours and we grew giddy with anticipation at tasting my first homemade cake. When it was time for the tasting, the knife sliced through the crumbly golden crust but then it…got stuck. Like it had hit a dense core.

I pulled the knife out and tried again, with more of a sawing motion. We finally got a slice cut after a little effort. The center of that cake had so much congealed cream cheese in it that it was GRAY. It was a lot like eating PlayDoh, only not as salty.

A few weeks later, when I mentioned at a family dinner that I had made that cake, Big Gay said, “You know there’s a typo in the recipe, right? It’s supposed to be 8 ounces of cream cheese.”

I simply nodded and said, “Yeah, I figured that out.”

Like so much of life, every time I mess up this cake I learn something new. Let’s hope I get a little bit better with every try and ONE DAY…one sweet sweet day…I will get it right!

If you’re close to Athens, come by the Prince One Lobby at ARMC on Friday, Sept 19 from 8 a.m.-noon. We’ll be selling goodies and auctioning cakes for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society!