Paying For My Sins

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I spent most of January recovering from the parade of birthdays, anniversaries and holidays that actually began with my husband Mike’s birthday way back in September. For whatever reason our family has very little to do for most of the year and then we go into overdrive in the fall. The temptations that come from celebratory occasions overtook us during the last few months, making our sensible diets only a memory and pulling us from our exercise program with a vengeance. The result has been terrible backsliding and an increased girth around our midsections. Never to be undone by anything or anyone I have found myself working hard for the past several weeks to recuperate from my sins of indulgence.

I teeter between guilt for my inability to look the other way when temptations of cookies, wines and other delights continually passed my lips during the many weeks of revelry and the thought that life is short and I should grab every second of enjoyment while I am able. Still, I do feel better when I am kinder to my body and it always seems worthwhile to have a bit of control over my impulses. Surely there is a nice compromise between total abstinence in the face of goodies and a bit of imbibing in the name of having a good time. Sadly walking that very thin line is not as easy as it may seem and while I expended a great deal of effort doing so, I found myself failing to maintain control time and again when faced with cornucopias of delight .

There’s a commercial for something or another in which a woman is preparing for a dinner party. She is cooking a multitude of dishes to accommodate the dietary preferences of her expected guests. There’s this one on Keto, that one on Paleo, and so forth. I’ve lately experienced the same frustration in putting together a meal so I know the feeling of attempting to make everyone happy. It results in having mountains of different kinds of food at the ready just in case. Being a hostess is becoming ever more complex which is why I try not to foist my own food preferences on others whenever I am invited to gatherings.

As a child I was taught to be satisfied with whatever was offered. My mother suggested that if I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to eat some item I should either take none of it or just choose a small dab of it until I was certain that I would actually be able to eat all of it. Never was I to make comments about what I preferred or disliked. I’ve remembered my manners well over the years and self police myself when out and about rather than regaling others with long descriptions of my current eating needs or preferences. I always find something that works for me or I eat small portions so that nobody is aware that I am on a different sort of diet.

I appreciate that there are many different reasons why some people need certain types of food. My father-in-law is diabetic so I always prepare items that work for him. I have a nephew who has food allergies and his mom, a pediatrician, brings goodies that he can eat so that the rest of the children can have their cakes and cookies while he enjoys his own. I’ve begun to cook with mostly spices rather than salt due to my husband’s heart disease so I always keep a shaker of salt on the table for those accustomed to a bit more punch. I have started to include more roasted vegetables in my menu but I have many fans of my macaroni and cheese as well whom I never deny. In other words I try to create a variety of foods that will take almost every person’s preferences into account.

I love the traditions of our family celebrations but because there are so many one after another I am piling on the calories in a regular succession from September all the way through the first week of January. Each year I have to spend the next many months trying to recoup the progress that I had made with diet and exercise. Like the sinusoidal graphs of trigonometry I go up and down in a regular pattern each and every year. Some call it the yo-yo effect and I am subject to it’s unhealthy effects. I go down and then I go up, down and up, over and over again from year to year. My only small defense of my actions is that I always get myself back in shape. Nonetheless, I often dream of having so much self control that I breeze through the holidays with my healthy intentions thoroughly intact.

I’m like a monk these days, eating mostly vegetables and fruit, avoiding salty, sugary, fatty foods. I’ve closed the rings on my Apple watch for many days now. I make walks and trips to the gym a top priority. My progress is slow but steady and perhaps by next September I will have recuperated from my self inflicted overindulgence. I make resolutions to have more self control when the season of joy rolls around again, but I do love my brother’s pecan pie and my own pumpkin variety. Surely it won’t matter much if I yield a little here and there as long as I don’t overdo. Perhaps if I’m a bit better at measuring just how much turkey and dressing to put on my plate I will be okay, but it’s just so yummy that I want to go back for seconds.

I have made a vow that if I show signs of living as long as my one hundred eight year old grandfather did I will follow his example. When he turned ninety he threw all caution to the wind. He did and ate exactly what pleased him laughing at the idea that something was most surely going to take him out of this world so he might as well enjoy the final ride. He eked out eighteen more years while feeling no guilt when he ate cake and donuts. I like his thinking.

For now I am recuperating from my sins and I have to admit I am also feeling good. I’ll continue my self imposed restrictions and think about how to deal with future temptations tomorrow. Maybe this is the year when I finally learn how to be good and stick with my resolve. 

Another Place In Time

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I live less than an hour away from Galveston, Texas, a heavenly island in the Gulf of Mexico with a storied history. On a lovely day it’s easy to understand why it was one of the fastest growing and most influential cities in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. It’s avenues boasted lovely Victorian homes, many of which still stand, and panoramic views of sandy beaches and the ever changing sea. It was a mecca for entrepreneurs and folks hoping to enjoy a better life. It certainly seemed to be a place that would fulfill all of the hopes and dreams of its citizens. In 1900, a storm approached that would destroy much of the city and kill more individuals than any other hurricane ever has. The terror of the night when nature turned what had been a model city into splinters dashed the optimism of many, but not the underlying spirit of the city of Galveston itself.

While the neighboring town of Houston became the behemoth of growth and progress Galveston settled for transforming itself into more of a sleepy resort and home for a determined populace that would forever boast of the courage and ingenuity of those who were BOI, born on the island. They literally raised the entire city and built a seawall as a defense against future hurricanes. While the citizenry has seen destruction from storms again and again it always finds a way to bounce back from the momentary setbacks and to enjoy and celebrate life on the island.

There are a number of festivals that have become traditional in the city that is a little bit New Orleans, a little bit refined gentry, a little bit touristy, and always bold. It feels as though life in Galveston is a year long party, a determined celebration of life. Perhaps it is so because the people there understand just how tenuous the human experience actually is.

My favorite of the Galveston festivals has always been the Christmas themed Dickens on the Strand. The buildings of commerce from long ago Galveston still grace the landscape near the city’s port, a place where immigrants first saw the land of the United States and where titans once ruled. Lovely shops and restaurants now attract visitors from places near and far. It’s a wonderful weekend haunt for residents of Houston and its suburbs and for vacationers from other parts of the country and sometimes even the world.

In early December the Strand is decked in Christmas finery and peopled by actors in regalia from the time of Charles Dickens complete with visits from Queen Victoria herself. Those who attend the annual party often wear period costumes filling the street with a long ago feel as they walk among wardens from London, men in top hats, and ladies boasting their finest bonnets.

There are craftsmen and merchants selling all form of goods from Christmas ornaments to art and fine clothing. The smells of roasting chestnuts and cinnamon treats fill the air along with the music of bagpipes and the tunes of Irish jigs. It’s a kind of frivolous way to simply enjoy the season without the worries of time constraints and shopping lists. For a moment it feels like Galveston may have seemed in the long ago when Victoria was still on the throne and a lovely December day in the city was filled with soft sea breezes and brilliantly blue skies. It’s a time when everyone is friendly and happy and seemingly without cares.

The event extends from a Friday evening preview until late afternoon on Sunday usually on the first December weekend before the big Christmas rush begins. Each day features a parade and St. Nicholas wanders through the crowd ready to pose for photos and a recitation of Christmas wishes. One might encounter a band of pirates or a group of steampunk dandies, There are British Bobbies and Scottish clansmen. In other words, its a feast for the eyes and the imagination.

My husband Mike and I have generally arrived incognito in our modern attire but this year we decided to join in the fun of dressing as characters from the past. Mike was particularly impressive with his striped grey suit pants with matching vest, his long coat, top hat and paisley cravat. His neatly polished shoes and silver handled cane made him a Victorian dandy for certain. I found a long black skirt to pair with my high collared white blouse which I adorned with a cameo pin that came from either my mother or my grandmother. I found a hat worthy of a visit with the queen and wore a black shawl in case the fickle weather turned cool. I also happened to have a pair of black boots with three little button fittings to secure them. On the whole we looked rather authentic and turned a head or two as we strolled down the Strand.

It was amusing to be approached by strangers who wanted to take their pictures with us. There was even one child who held us in as much awe as she might have done with Mickey and Minnie Mouse. I found myself getting into character and wishing the people that I passed a good day in my most refined accent.

Our afternoon was a much needed diversion from the hectic demands that seem to overtake us the closer we get to December 25. It reminded us to focus on the fun and meaning of the season, perhaps more so because we silently remembered the Galveston citizens of long ago who had so innocently believed that they had found heaven on earth before their lives were ended so brutally and abruptly . Life is indeed short and unpredictable so we have to grab delight wherever and whenever we find it. Dickens on the Strand is a wonderful way to remember to have fun and to love.

Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die

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Willie Nelson did not look very good at the Country Music Awards earlier this month. He appeared to be having difficulty breathing as he sang Rainbow Connection. It was quite sad to see him struggling to do the very thing for which he has been such a star. Since I had tickets for his performance at the Smart Financial Center on November 18, my birthday, I was rather worried that watching him perform might be a sad occasion marking the beginning of his demise. He is eighty-six after all and not in the best of health. To my great joy the Willie Nelson that I saw that night was beyond spectacular.

From the moment that Willie stepped on the stage he was magical. His gray hair was woven into his trademark braids and he wore nothing fancy at all, just a teeshirt, some jeans, boots and a straw cowboy hat over his signature bandana. His face was carved with the deep wrinkles of time and the adventures and misadventures of his lifetime. His hands were bent and worn but they still made sweet music beat up old guitar, Trigger. His voice was strong, with no sign of the breathing trouble that seemed to plague him only days before. He sounded just like himself and he played with joyful enthusiasm sometimes urging the audience to sing along with him which we happily did.

His playlist included favorites like On the Road Again, Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, and Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys. He paid homage to old friends like Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings with pieces that he had once sang with them. He poked fun at himself and those who believe that his time has passed with songs like Roll Me Up and Smoke When When I Die. He seemed to be having great fun proving the naysayers wrong while at the same time facing his own mortality. There was a bittersweet tone to his performance that brought both smiles and tears.

There were a few lucky folks who received priceless treasures as Willie tossed his cowboy hat into the audience and later threw out some bandanas as well. All of us fans were in awe of his talent and his stage presence. Somehow he made his performance seem so personal, so moving. With an amazing energy he literally went from one song to the next without taking a breather like some artists do. It was all so good that we would have liked to have him perform for hours but we all seemed to know that he had given us his all and when he walked away he looked tired but happy with himself. He enjoyed our adulation while at the same time seeming to be so humble.

Willie Nelson is a Texas treasure. As a young man he went to Nashville only to be told that he just didn’t have the right personality or voice to be a successful performer. Instead he wrote music for other singers, like Patsy Cline who made Crazy an iconic country western tune. Eventually he found his way back to Texas and the Austin music scene where he proved that he was commercially popular as a performer in his own right. In fact, his unique style, melodious voice, and uncanny ability to play the guitar made him a worldwide phenomenon.

Willie has never forgotten his Texas roots. He performs in front of a gigantic Texas flag, lives in Texas, and draws much of his material from his Texas experiences. His band is a family affair with few electronic devices beyond microphones. His little sister is on piano and other siblings and children accompany him as well. All he seems to need to create unforgettable music is his own guitar, a bit of percussion, a harmonica now and again, the piano, a big bass and a few other instruments here and there. Of course there is also his unique voice that is so enticing whether he’s singing about going to pot or describing the joys of love.

I have seen some great performers in my time, but I have to say that Willie Nelson remains at the top of my list. I felt that seeing him on my birthday was a very special gift that I will forevermore cherish. He is beautiful in his very essence. His hands strumming his guitar are a work of art. His face tells as much of a story as the lyrics of his songs. Willie Nelson is pure poetry. The stuff of legends, and I actually got to see him one more time.

As I grow older myself I realize that experiences are the true treasures of our lives. The trips to places far away, the occasions when we see or hear greatness are the things that we will remember at the end of the day. I have been blessed to have had so many wonderful moments. Seeing Willie Nelson is a thrill that will bring a smile to my face whenever I think of it. I wish that there were a way for me to express my undying gratitude to him for all of the joy that he has given me through the years. I love you, Willie andI hope that you will be able to do what you so obviously love to do for a long time more.

Harriet Tubman

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The first time I learned about Harriet Tubman I was stunned by her story. She was born a slave as were her mother, father and siblings. Her father eventually earned his freedom but was unable to free his children. Over time he bought his own wife when she had grown old and confused and was of little use to her master but many of his children still languished as property.

Harriet was originally known as Minty. She married a free man but still had to live on the plantation of her owner. Nonetheless she dreamed of freedom and hoped to one day join her husband as a free woman and start a family. She watched helplessly as her sisters were sold and sent to some unknown place. She suffered under the yoke of slavery and finally reached a point of preferring to die rather than remain enslaved. Somehow she managed to travel over a hundred miles all alone to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she finally lived as a free woman and chose her own name of Harriet.

Most people would have simply enjoyed their good fortune and lived happily ever after without chains and the whims of slave masters but Harriet was not happy knowing that her husband still lived so far away and that the members of her family were suffering. She decided to return to the place of her captivity risking her very life to be reunited with her husband and bring him north with her.

What she found was that he had married again when he thought that she had died. He was unwilling to leave his new wife who was with child. Harriet soon found that her brothers were about to be sold and so she decided to help them escape just as she had. Others joined her in the journey north which was hazardous but ultimately successful.

Over time Harriet worked with the Underground Railroad returning south again and again to free as many as seventy slaves. During the Civil War she served as a spy for the Union Army and even became involved in combat. She is credited with freeing another seven hundred slaves during that conflict.

In spite of risking her own freedom Harriet was passionate about helping others who lived in bondage. She understood what might happen to her if she were caught but she nonetheless felt compelled to fight for others who were still suffering under the chains of slavery.

Harriet Tubman is indeed one of the most courageous women in the history of the world. I cannot even imagine the kind of bravery that it took for her to accomplish as much as she did. She was a fearless warrior for justice and I think she should be honored as much as historical giants like Abraham Lincoln. I seriously can’t think of another woman in the story of our country who compares to her.

Now there is a wonderful movie about this amazing woman. Harriet is a beautifully crafted film that tells her inspiring story with a cast of actors who seem to be passionate about their roles. It is one of those films that I recommend to everyone, young and old alike. It is also one that I will probably watch again and again because its story is one of faith and grit and honesty. I can’t think of when I have been so moved by a movie, and knowing that it is true makes it even more wonderful.

I once visited a landmark in Memphis, Tennessee that had been part of the Underground Railroad. The guide told us how the slaves developed a way of communicating through their songs and with quilts that alerted them to which locations were safe. There was a whole world of intrigue that helped thousands of slaves find the freedom that they so deserved. It both a tragic and touching story of the human spirit and all people’s desire to live free.

The holiday season is upon us and people will be going to movie theaters for the annual round of family entertainment. I know that there will be cute little films reprising the Frozen story and even action and adventure movies, but I can’t think of a better way to spend time with the family than watching Harriet together. It is a story that has been longing to be told and everyone needs to see it.

Taking Some Stress Out of Christmas

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So many people get annoyed with those of us who start shopping and prepping for Christmas when Halloween has barely passed, but I find that if I don’t do a bit here and a bit there for many weeks I get caught at the last minute expending all of my energy in one fell swoop. Instead I learned long ago that if I slowly chip away at all of my Christmas tasks and I will have time to enjoy the season with friends, neighbors and family. It takes a bit of planning but I learned how to do that quite well as an educator when I had to be certain of teaching all of the concepts within a certain timeframe.

One aspect of my holiday traditions is the sit down dinner that I host on Christmas Day. I truly enjoy readying my home for that gala but in the past few years I have found that I spend most of the day getting the food served and then cleaning all of the dishes and pans for hours afterward. I have lovely Christmas place settings that are so festive but they generally have to be washed by hand and doing so takes far more time than it should. I have guests who quite sweetly attempt to help but the problem is that they get to visit with every one even less time that I do when they volunteer, and that isn’t much fun for any of us.

This year I decided to do something about the one Christmas duty that I abhor. I made a visit to the Party City website and ordered plastic plates that appear to be elegant china with matching bowls, dessert plates and even cups. All I need now are a few of those huge Costco garbage bags and the cleanup will be quick and easy. I will spend my time actually enjoying my guests rather than making sure that my kitchen stays orderly enough not to be designated as a toxic waste dump.

I still plan to use my Christmas tablecloths and napkins. They are easy to just toss into the washing machine. I also plan to set out my mother’s silver and the pewter utensils that my dear friend Egon left for me upon his death. I really don’t care to eat with plastic knives and forks and spoons and using the real thing will not create much mess at all. The entire lot will fit nicely into a sink of hot soapy water where it can soak until later. I’m thinking of maybe going with throw away serving bowls as well, but I have a wonderful Christmas platter that I always use for my roast or turkey or ham. It is a tradition that I refuse to surrender. It won’t take much to clean it and put it safely away. 

I feel a bit guilty about possibly damaging the environment with so many disposable items. The modern trend is to recycle everything but I will be seventy one this month and quite frankly I am tired of the annual cleanup. My mother-in-law announced her retirement from hosting the Christmas gala when she was younger than I am. My mother followed suit rather quickly thereafter. I don’t want to give away my day to provide the family with a feast just yet, but I am going on strike over the task of using all of the good china. I don’t think anybody really cares what the plates look like as long as what is on them tastes good. I’ll spend more time perfecting my menu and less washing and drying crystal and china.

Everyone seems to have a great time on Christmas Day. They have lively conversations and play games. I tend to be puttering about for so long that by the time I finally join the group they announce one by one that it is time to go home. I suspect that such has been the lot of women for decades. We eat our food cold and perform the “Martha” role to the point of missing all the fun. This year I am going to remedy that.

I’ve even sent out a family email to determine what everyone actually wants to eat this year. I have set a deadline of November 18, for the input and I will go by majority rule. I think it will be fun for everyone to have some say in what we our feast will be.

Many have suggested that I have a potluck but I don’t mind the cooking at all. It is one task that is fun for me and I prefer knowing ahead of time how to balance the meal. Besides the idea is that the dinner is a gift from me to the family. It is the one time of year when everyone comes and I have the honor of treating them. I get great joy out of the entire event.

I’ve bought a few Christmas gifts already. It’s easy to find great gifts for some people and almost impossible for others. I don’t know how it is for anyone else but the men are the hardest for me. I can only purchase so many ties or shirts or books or whatever. The guys tend to have very specific desires whereas women like just about anything. It will take me many weeks to figure it all out and then I will just have to hope that I have hit the spot.

Christmas is undoubtably my favorite time of the year and I plan to keep streamlining it so that I can get every bit of enjoyment out of the season and keep stress at a bare minimum. I’ll let you know how the plastic place settings work out. I suspect that they will be a hit.