Tag Archive | eating

Flirting with Death–Growing Up Boomer

imagesRT5WAQE7If you grew up in the 50s, 60s, or 70s, it’s a miracle you’re alive. There’s a reason for the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” In other words, raising your children with danger and bad medicine didn’t end with the discovery of seatbelts and penicillin.

I can hear my mother now: “If a little does a little good, a lot will do a lot of good.” This was her rationale for ignoring dosing instructions on over-the-counter medications. To her, a tablespoon was a serving spoon from the table. A teaspoon was the soup spoon. She cheerfully ladled out Pepto-Bismol to reverse my problem, then ladled out mineral oil to reverse the cure. I was almost grown before I knew medicine doses measured like salt and baking powder, not mashed potatoes.

My mother was a helicopter parent long before helicopters were invented. Maybe she was a spiro-gyro or hot air balloon parent. Worrying was a way of life for her, and we were first on her list. A sneeze or cough was enough to make her drag us off to the doctor, where we were guaranteed a penicillin shot. The miracle drug was dispensed for complaints big and small. After all, what’s the use of having a miracle drug, if you aren’t going to use it for everything? And if we were really sick, too sick to go downtown to the Medical Arts building to his office, the doctor would stop by our house on his way home, and he always had a supply of penicillin in his bag.

The bathroom medicine cabinet was full of over-the-counter remedies, too. Pepto-Bismol, iodine, mercurochrome, Little Black Pills, and Carter’s Little Liver Pills all played a role in keeping the family healthy. Bayer aspirin, and later Excedrin, were the cure-alls for headaches. Aspirin, hot tea, and dry toast was the treatment for cramps. Little Black Pills were for constipation, with Pepto for diarrhea. Cuts and abrasions called for iodine. Always. Period.

My parents would have fit right into the Stoics’ society. If there were no bones sticking out and no blood, you were fine. Suck it up and walk it off. Of course, first we had to annihilate the enemy of the Free World–germs. These little critters were a relatively new discovery when my parents were little, and their parents attacked them as if they were going after “Kaiser Bill.”

For a good part of my childhood, iodine was the poison du jour for medical germicide. Unfortunately, iodine felt like having lava poured into an open wound, probably because it had an alcohol base. Screaming because of the injury redoubled when I felt the cure.

There was a kinder, gentler antiseptic–mercurochrome. It didn’t burn nearly as badly, and much of the discomfort it caused could be eliminated by blowing on the wound until it dried. No one considered the fact that blowing germ-laden breath on an open wound was counter-productive. In addition, it didn’t seem to impress anyone negatively that the active ingredient was mercury. Yes, as in “permanent brain damage” mercury. Mercurochrome wasn’t banned as an over-the-counter product until 1998.

And speaking of mercury, we loved it when Mama dropped the thermometer while “shaking it down,”  shattering it on the tile bathroom floor. That provided a really cool, new toy to play with: mercury. We were fascinated by the way it “crawled” when it moved, and even more awed by how well it cleaned tarnish off dimes and nickels when we smeared it over the coins with our bare fingers.

Dental care was high on the list for “better living through chemistry.” When an Air Force dentist looked at my husband’s teeth and exclaimed, “Good grief, boy! You’ve got Cadillac teeth!” there was a brief moment of alarm, before Bryan realized this was a good thing. His hometown, Pasadena, Texas, was one of the first cities in the state to put fluoride in their drinking water. Consequently, cavities were rare, but their smiles looked like a “before” picture in a whitening gel commercial. The recipe needed a little fine tuning.

imagesQ4VRVBCKDDT trucks driving up and down the streets, spraying for mosquitoes, were also part of growing up in Pasadena. Bryan and his friends rode their bikes in the fog behind the trucks for fun.

If being endangered by your parents and health care professionals wasn’t enough, toymakers and Madison Avenue joined in, too. No cool kid would have dreamed of wearing a helmet when riding a bike. I remember my father saying, “Aw, she doesn’t have to wear one of those. Nothing’s going to happen. Besides, she can hardly see out from under it. That thing’s dangerous.” And why on earth would you need child-proof packaging on medications and drain cleaner? “Kids know better than to get into those.”

My brother had a chemistry set. He managed to make his room smell like dead fish for a month, but at least no one was killed. Early Gilbert Chemistry Sets included 56 chemicals, such as ammonium nitrate (a key ingredient in homemade bombs) and the poisonous and flammable potassium permanganate. The “Atomic” chemistry sets of the ’50s came with radioactive uranium ore. They got a little safer in the ’60s but weren’t really reined in until the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

imagesHT8EWSF6As if the sexy men and women puffing away in movies weren’t convincing enough, we were encouraged to smoke by actors dressed like doctors on television. No one had even heard of secondhand smoke. And remember candy cigarettes? I used to get them in my Christmas stocking.

Car seats and seatbelts were optional. imagesZYTDNG9FAnd lead-based paint, which causes brain and kidney damage, wasn’t outlawed until 1978. It was routinely used on cribs, among other things.

I don’t blame my parents. They only knew what they saw on TV and in the newspaper. I do blame the scientists and advertisers who knew these things were dangerous, even if they didn’t know the full extent. They ignored the fact that people were buying and using their poisons, and it really hasn’t changed much over the years. It seems like every day something is recalled or declared unsafe, something we did to our newborns is now considered deadly, and some medicine our parents gave us is now used to kill roaches.

There are seven billion people on the earth, and the population is growing. How can that be when we are doing our best to kill ourselves off? Maybe it’s the underdeveloped countries, whose people don’t have access to our medicines, cleaning products, and chemical-infused food, who are overpopulating. They better hope the don’t catch up to us. That could be a real health hazard.

Five Christmases, a Birthday, a Broken Finger, and a Virus

The title of this post is the answer to the questions:

1) How were your holidays?

2) Why haven’t you posted to your blog in such a long time?

We had five separate Christmas get-togethers. The evening after the first one, I fell in a parking lot and broke my pinky finger. Going with my upbringing (If there is no blood and no bones sticking out, you’re fine!) I continued the holidays wondering vaguely why my finger hurt so much.

The day after actual Christmas, I hosted a 65th birthday party/roast for a friend who has had a rough year. You can’t go wrong with 20 old friends and Threadgill’s comfort food. Then it was off to Longview for the last Christmas and to see our family there.

Every bit of all this was a blast. We had wonderful holidays and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. The first day back from the trip it was time, however, to get the finger checked out. Eight days after the fall I found out it had a hairline fracture. No wonder it hurt.

New Years came and went, and two days later I was wrestled to the ground by a virus. It had the earmarks of flu but no fever, so I just had to tough it out for two weeks with over the counter medicine. It ended the day the cedar pollen went through the roof, which landed me back in bed.

Okay, enough already. I am finally well and anxious to get back to my life. And back to my writing. My pinky finger can finally hit Enter without too much pain, and I’m ready to go forward.

One benefit of the illness, I was able to restart my diet. I had turned into an eating machine over the holidays, but that all changed with two weeks in bed. I’m pleased to report my stomach has adjusted to Small Bird Diet II, and I’m on my way to whipping my figure back into shape.

I’ve been fighting the battle of the bulge my whole life. I was a fat baby, child, and teenager. As an adult, my weight roller coastered so much, I collected enough different sizes of clothes to start my own thrift shop. But one of my New Year’s resolutions is to declare war on my body, get control of my weight this year and keep it under control. My other resolution is to cut back to three or four Christmases next year.

So if you haven’t seen or heard from me in a while, now you know why. But I’M BACK! Pull up your socks and tune in for adventures in 2014.

Guilty Pleasures

janis joplinzodiakjane austen

duck dynastyapple pie

I wish I loved opera. Or abstract art. Or The Catcher in the Rye. The truth of the matter is, I never hum “Don Giovanni” in the shower. I can’t look at abstract art without noting the folly of not wearing a seatbelt. And one paragraph into J. D. Salinger”s novel, I wanted to slap him and his whiney main character, Holden Caulfield. I am afraid my tastes are downright plebeian.

‘Fess up, now. We all have guilty pleasures, those little diversions we don’t mention to strangers. We enjoy them, despite the fact they are nerdy, uncool, and sometimes downright tacky. They almost never include any of the things we are supposed to enjoy. But since we’re all friends here, I’ll confess my top five.

When it comes to music, I don’t listen to much of anything recorded after 1975. As far as I’m concerned, disco heralded the end of civilization. I wrap myself in oldies and sing along to lyrics seared in my brain. There were a few dicey moments when Austin, a city stuck in the ’60s, decided it no longer needed an oldies radio station. Thanks to Sirius, I’m back on the road in my time machine, radio buttons programmed by decades, ending with the ’70s. And I’ll keep going to those tribute concerts, like Janis Joplin and the Fab Four. Heck! I may never have to catch up.

Although I have never paid to have my horoscope done, I admit I check out the forecasts for me and various friends and family members each morning. It’s not that I actually believe in it or depend on it. I just like to see what it says lies in store for the day. It’s completely coincidental that I pay especial attention to it when my life is in crisis, or I want to see if a friend’s new sugar is compatible or an axe murderer.

When it comes to literature, you’d think as a writer I would have more intellectual tastes. Of the authors I had to read in school, I liked only a handful. I loved Harper Lee, Dorothy Parker, and Oscar Wilde. Stream of consciousness, a la William Faulkner and James Joyce left me frustrated and angry. Mostly I read nonfiction: history, especially World War II, biography, and true crime.

There’s one exception, Jane Austen. I have her complete works on my Kindle, and whenever I’m waiting for something, or when I’ve had a whole day of dealing with the masses of asses that make up too much of today’s society, I retreat into Jane Austen’s world. It had its share of asses, too, but at least they were painstakingly civil.

As for reality television programming, the next time I swallow some deadly poison, I’ll just tune into Honey Boo Boo. Forget ipecac; that show makes me violently nauseous. There is, however, one reality show I like, and it’s definitely a guilty pleasure. I’ve gotten a little hooked on Duck Dynasty. At first I had my doubts, but I watched to humor Bryan, who seemed just about ready to dash off a fan letter. Once I got past the beards, I realized these are well-educated, articulate people who espouse values I can get behind. No women’s work/men’s work sexism here. Men’s work consists of duck hunting and anything else the women will let them do. The truths of life, even delivered with a southern accent, are still valuable and refreshing

And then there is food. Gourmet food is lost on my peasant’s palate. Three bites of thinly-sliced something, drizzled with squiggles of some sauce from a mustard squeeze bottle will never get me through the night or cheer me up, much less make me want to slap my mama.

There was a local company called Pie Fixes Everything. They made miniature pies that contained absolutely no guilt. Unfortunately they went out of business after eight years. If only I’d found them sooner! In their honor, however, I have adopted their company name as my personal credo. If I ever design a family crest, Pie Fixes Everything will be emblazoned on a field of rhubarb and meringue. I’ve been known to drown my sorrows in a Hostess Fruit Pie, so I can’t imagine a more appropriate family motto.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Guilty pleasures. Dish! I can’t wait to hear…

London, Paris, Las Vegas…Johnson City?

QuiltI’m not admitting I’ve sold out to aging, but Bryan and I had an unusually fun weekend recently doing something I never thought I’d do. For my birthday, we drove to Johnson City to attend a fundraiser for their library.

I became aware of this function the weekend before when I attended a writers’ workshop at the library. There I met Leslie, one of the library ladies when she’s not selling ice to Eskimos. We talked while I waited for my folk to arrive, and she pointed out a gorgeous hand-made quilt they were raffling, several cellophane-wrapped baskets of goodies to be auctioned, and she mentioned the spaghetti dinner, Bingo, and silent auction the  following weekend. I bought some raffle tickets, because I really wanted that quilt, and went on to my workshop.

Bryan did the driving that morning, and we arrived early enough to eat breakfast at the Hill Country Cupboard, a Johnson City must. They advertise their chicken fried steaks – Nearly 3 Dozen Sold – but their breakfasts are really excellent, not the artery-clogging fare we expected. He dropped me off at the library before backtracking to Pedernales State Park to do some hiking.

Showing back up at the appointed time, he entertained himself looking at all the things I had checked out earlier. Leslie asked if he was Janet’s husband. I’m not sure why, since the whole class consisted of women about my age, and he said yes and introduced himself. She proceeded to tell him everything we had discussed earlier, filling him in on the fundraiser, and he was paying for two tickets to the spaghetti dinner when I met up with him.

Fast forward to the next weekend. We drove to Johnson City, found the Methodist Church where they were holding the fundraiser, and were welcomed by some really nice church ladies that looked exactly like the church ladies we both remembered from our childhoods. Dinner was tasty and organized as only church ladies and drill sergeants can.

Soon it was time for Bingo. The last time I played that game we covered the numbers with pinto beans. These cards, with their little sliding number covers, were strictly uptown. Bryan won a Bingo game and received a gift certificate for a local, highly-recommended barbecue joint, so we’ll be going back to Johnson City again real soon. I won nothing, including the quilt, but that was a close one. I had a moment of excitement when they drew and announced the winner was another Janet from Austin, but not me. Bryan also put in the winning bid on a watch at the silent auction, one of the few he didn’t already own. He couldn’t have been happier if he were twins! As he says, you can never have too many watches.

While driving back on Hill Country backroads as dark as the inside of a black cow, we talked about how much fun we’d had. We visited with some really nice people, ate good food, gambled, and played Bingo, all without having to set foot out of our home range. We also didn’t have to set foot in Vegas, something I try to avoid. I may be getting older, but I wouldn’t trade our Hill Country odyssey for a chi-chi dinner in a Houston uber-restaurant, which we used to enjoy so much in our younger days. We wore comfortable clothes, sensible shoes, and garnered many a story to pass on over the next few weeks–AND–it was for a wonderful cause, helping the Johnson City Library pay on their beautiful new building.

So if you get tired of Green Pastures, the Driskill Hotel, or even Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, consider spending your time and money in Johnson City, Texas. It’s definitely a place worth writing (home) about.

Happy Holidays and Family Fruitcakes

Christmas at the Zach

After my last blog, a plaintive rage against the negative aspects of the holidays, some of you may think I was born with a heart three sizes too small. I have great memories of the family Christmases of my childhood, and this time of year never fails to trigger my nostalgia.

Funny how my sharpest holiday memories revolve around the women in my family. As far as I could tell, the men were mere observers, invited guests who played little part in the preparations. They were generally affable, long-suffering sorts who lived on the outskirts of our lives. They worked hard, hunted, fished, and tried to stay out of the way of their womenfolk.

Likewise, children were expected to watch from a distance, do odd jobs when asked, and keep out from underfoot. The boys usually headed outside to run around and make noise, but for me and the other girls, the kitchen was a finishing school offering everything we needed to know to take over as the next generation of Southern women.

Firstly, everyone either had a nickname or was addressed with multiple names. Uncle Robert Edwin was Pete and Uncle Charlie was Jock. My cousins, John Howard, Merry Lynn and Janice Kay, remain thus to me, even if they prefer John, Merry, and Janice now. And then there was my Great-aunt Pobo. Her real name was Willie Polk, which she hated. As an adult she legally changed it to Pocahontas P., which she considered an improvement. One of the kids dubbed her Pobo and it stuck.

What is it about the southern latitudes that encourage quirkiness? Maybe it’s the heat and humidity, bringing it out in families the way it brings out mildew on bathroom tile. Movie makers and writers usually just perpetuate Southern stereotypes, with few capturing our essence. A transplanted Mid-westerner, who loved “Steel Magnolias,” was flabbergasted when I told her I was related to or went to school with every woman in that movie.

“Oh, come on,” she said. “What about the Shirley MacLaine character, Ouiser. Who do you know like her?”

“My Great-aunt Pobo and my husband’s Aunt Faynelle,” I answered without hesitation. “Every Southern family has one. Matter of fact, you’re lucky if there’s only one.”

I never knew any Tennessee Williams women. We didn’t have a Blanche Dubois or a Maggie the Cat in my family. They never stood around in their slips–that I knew of. Most of them wore corsets or enough Lycra to make their real shapes anyone’s guess. And they never “depended upon the kindness of strangers.” Most were tempered steel, wrapped in velvet. The rest were just plain steel.

Pobo tended to take out her dentures after eating and lay them on the table. My mother believed in parenting through paranoia, inventing terrifying superstitions for every occasion. My grandmother loved watching professional wrestling on television, waving her fists and yelling things she’d whack me for saying.

Women in my family had timidity bred out of them, and those who married in soon learned. You had to fight to get a word in, the noise level intimidating all but the most determined conversationalists. I never knew anyone in my family who was quiet or shy. If such a throwback existed, she would have gone unnoticed and unfed, fading away from starvation.

These women who filled my childhood are gone now, but I clearly see and hear them in my mind. They are bustling around the kitchen like tugboats in a busy harbor. Cackling laughter drifts through the house, following delicious holiday smells—ham, pickled peaches, mincemeat pie, and my mother’s “blonde” fruitcake. Made in a huge bowl I only saw at Christmas, it was chock-full of nuts and candied fruit, but not a drop of whiskey. Mama was raised Hardshell Methodist, a branch rarely found outside the South.

Above all, I hear their voices rising above the kitchen clatter:

“Did you notice how much weight Clarice has gained?”

“Notice? She looks like she’s being followed!”

“Now, y’all be nice. It’s Christmas!”

“I am being nice. Did I say a word about her hair color? Did I ask if she got it from the Ringling Brothers?”

I have a sudden craving for fruitcake.


Doin’ the Lighten-Up

What kind of country schedules four major annual holidays within a period of 60 days? Answer: America the Bootiefull. Every year we spend ten months a year trying to recover from and lose weight gained during two consecutive months of seasonal stuffing. Beginning with Halloween and ending with New Years, traditional holiday goodies are more trick than treat, more jowl-ly than jolly.

Actually, even if you don’t eat a lot of holiday goodies, the odds are you’re ingesting thousands more calories than usual for you. This is because holiday foods were invented by people who thought butter, sugar, and eggs constituted their own food group. What other time of the year can you consume a 2” cookie containing more calories than the daily allotment for an NFL linebacker?

Over the years, I’ve become adept at lightening up my mother’s holiday recipes. Believe me, it can be done and without altering the flavor. Most of the ingredients I substitute are empty calories you never miss. For instance, replace eggs with egg substitute, and in some cases, melted butter with reconstituted Butter Buds™. These two changes function beautifully in Mama’s dressing, eliminating a truckload of calories, a blessing because I haven’t figured out how to lighten up the cornbread and dried white bread. Applesauce can be substituted for oil in baked goods, which brings my pumpkin bread into the realm of reason. As I mentioned in my Thanksgiving blog, killer pies can be replaced by manslaughter mini-pies, eliminating much booty-bound fat.

My point is, if you just think about it, you can probably lighten up your family’s traditional recipes, too, and even your crabbiest relatives will never know the difference. It’s unrealistic to expect people to pass up holiday foods in favor of a sensible diet, but you can minimize the impact with a few simple changes. And when you’re finished, you won’t feel so much like that stuffed turkey.

I’m still working on lightening the menu for Christmas and New Year’s Day. I haven’t decided whether our traditional Christmas chili will be a tasty vegetarian version or made with lean bison in lieu of beef. The tamales will certainly be of the vegetarian or chicken variety. (You don’t really want to know what the traditional ones are made from anyway.) And as for my New Year’s blackeyed peas, I can’t do much about those calories, once I eliminate the slab bacon my mother cooked with hers. I’m open to suggestions.

So do your family and yourself a favor this year. Do the lighten-up with those holiday recipes, before your clothes do the tighten-up. You won’t be deprived of the holiday munch-down, and you’ll feel a lot better afterwards.


Live Free or Diet

Dieting at any time stinks, but pre-holiday dieting is the worst. You self-deprive to get ready for upcoming orgies of high-calorie delights. I’m currently sacrificing for Thanksgiving (November 21), Christmas (December 25), New Years (January 1), and St. Patrick’s Day (March 17). I just finished up pre-holiday dieting for Juneteenth (June 19), the Fourth of July (July 4), National Left-Handers Day (August 13), Stepfamily Day (September 16), Halloween (October 31), and Guy Fawkes Day (November 5). It’s a never-ending struggle.

I once read a quote by Linda Ronstadt: “The figure my body maintains naturally went out of style the year I was born.” My natural build went out with those plump, pudgy, and poochy Renaissance babes draped over settees, surrounded by dogs and grapes. So I diet, I splurge, and I go back to dieting. That interim splurge is as inevitable as the penitent return to Spartan fare. I know the lapse is inevitable, because no matter how hard I try, I can’t convince myself that kale tastes better than gingerbread pancakes.

Undoubtedly we humans are hard-wired to associate eating with comfort and love. As babies we wolf down mother’s milk or formula and drift off into blissful sleep. As adults we do the same with Thanksgiving dinner, lucky to finish the dishes before we lose consciousness. Eating your fill is the way of life on the savanna; it’s unfortunate it doesn’t translate to the suburbs.

Exercise is key. I blame the development of farming for my problem. When we started gathering more than we hunted, it was all downhill from there. Undeniably, there’s nothing like bulldogging a mastodon to rip a six-pack or levitate a bottom-lift.

I was never very athletic in my youth, and I expected to stay that way as I aged. Unfortunately, my husband had a penchant for forced marches and Hannibalesque mountain crossings on foot. I managed to hang in there for quite a while, but after a trip to Big Bend, transecting the Chisos Mountains, my knees rebelled. A couple of surgeries later, my knees make sounds usually associated with a need for WD-40. My doctor has told me not to do exercises involving walking, and I’m left to ponder the effectiveness of deep finger-bends.

As the days wind down toward Thanksgiving, I’m trying to figure out how to lighten my mother’s recipes, which were developed by women who believed lard was good for you. For one thing, I’m making just enough this year for Thanksgiving Day and one day of leftovers. That will eliminate several days of guzzling what is supposed to be a one-time, special occasion munch-down.

The main challenge is desserts. There’s just no way to cut calories in pie, so I’ve decided to cut the pie, literally. This year we will have miniature pies, little two- and three-bite versions of the traditional Killer Pumpkin Pie and Death-by-Mincemeat. The trick is to eat them the right way. Never pop one in your mouth for a snack. Sit down with it. Give it your full attention. Appreciate the cute factor. Take a small, tentative bite. Concentrate on the kaleidoscope of flavors that burst forth on your tongue—and then disappear.

Truly, if you blink you will miss it, so don’t blink. Savor it, enjoy it, and turn away. The next day you won’t feel as guilty. And you may even convince yourself how uncannily tofu tastes like pumpkin pie. Possible, but not likely.