I Am Who I Am

When I was young I always wanted to be like someone else. I saw other women who were more beautiful or popular than I felt that I was. There was always someone who seemed to be brighter, more accomplished. I would look in the mirror and see every flaw on my face and body. I was my own worst critic and I was a really hard grader when it came to assessing myself. I felt like a mess without realizing that almost everyone goes through such a phase.

Eventually I became so embroiled in living and surviving that I had little time for dwelling on my imperfections. I overcame many challenges and began to like myself just as I was. How I looked became less and less important. How I behaved was my focus. I realized that looking outward from myself and thinking more about the people I encountered was the real key to happiness and satisfaction. I saw that people respond to genuine concern and value a person’s heart more than external characteristics. Losing myself in caring about and for others made me feel better and better about who I am.

I suppose that in some ways I did use certain role models to change myself but they were not the ones that I had once wanted to emulate. I saw how certain people made me feel capable and comfortable and realized that I enjoyed being around them. I watched them carefully and saw how the secret to their seemingly good lives lay in their selflessness. I’m still quite imperfect when it comes to getting out of myself and into the needs of others but I know the feeling of contentment that comes from sharing and caring.

When I find myself feeling dissatisfied it is usually because I am comparing myself unfavorably again and worrying about trivial aspects of being human. That’s when I engage in activities that force me to get out of my own head. I have always enjoyed teaching because it is almost impossible to be give instructions in mathematics while brooding. I also find it helpful to consider someone who is having serious problems when I get too wrapped up in thinking about my flaws. 

I am not as successful as some of the women I know nor do I have as much money as they have. My hair is often limp and unruly and osteoporosis has twisted my body and bowed my legs. I’d like to think that the people who know me do not even think of such things when they see me. I am not defined by titles or savings accounts or how gorgeous I am. The best people I know are beautiful and wonderful because of the essence of their generous personalities, not because of what they own, their power or how physically beautiful they are. 

Sometimes all of those things come together in a single person. Dolly Parton is talented, wealthy, attractive but more importantly compassionate. We love Dolly not for her accomplishments and physical attributes but because we know that she is a kind and understanding person. She is beloved to virtually everyone unlike other women similar to her who seem not to care about anyone but themselves. Ugliness of the heart transforms even the most physically beautiful person into hideousness. On the other hand a generally plain person like Mother Teresa was lovely because she gave herself to those who were suffering every day of her life. 

I am old enough now to understand these things and so I am relatively content with the person that I am. I still work hard to become better because I know that I am imperfect but I do not dislike myself the way I once did. I am able to laugh at my mistakes and correct them. I may curse my hair when it appears to have a mind of its own but I know that it does not matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. I am no doubt the only person who even notices that it is misbehaving. I have chased the green eyed monster of jealousy from my mind and instead revel in the success of my friends and family members. I appreciate other people and find joy in  our differences. I no longer see life as a kind of competition between winners and losers. We are each unique and wonderful. 

Getting old can be tough. I have arthritis in my knees and hips. Sometimes just walking is difficult. I have days when I feel grumpy but mostly aging as lead me to wisdom. I love myself. I am the only person exactly like me in the whole world and that is a fantastic thing. I do not need to be like anyone else nor do I want to change places with anyone. I am who I am and that is glorious. 

The Taste of Love

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Dessert was not an option in my home as I was growing up. The only times that I recall eating some kind of treat after a meal was when we went to visit my grandmother who was known for her cooking far and wide. The meal itself always featured bowls filled with vegetables fresh from her garden and meats and fish sometimes caught that day. Grandma was more than ready to get out her fishing pole or run after a plump chicken to provide the entree for one of her delicious meals. 

We’d stuff ourselves with corn, green beans, tomatoes, collard greens, okra, chicken, cornbread and biscuits all flavored with hand churned butter and accompanied with homemade jellies and pickles and condiments of all sorts. Every dinner time was a multi course feast but we knew to save room for dessert. While Grandma made many delicious things there was nothing to compare to her berry pies and strawberry shortcakes brimming with freshly whipped cream. In all of my life I have never tasted better versions of these delights anywhere, any time. 

Whenever we went to the local cafeteria our mother gave us the option of having an entree and two vegetables or an entree, one vegetable and a dessert. We were children so it should not be too difficult to guess that we always opted for the dessert. I mostly liked pie but I never expected it to be as good as my grandmother’s. Nonetheless it was a huge treat to have something sweet once in a blue moon. 

I’ve probably had more dessert during COVID 19 than in all of my other 72 years. I have indulged in cookies and ice cream and banana bread more than I should have. I need to go back to my more Spartan and healthy ways soon or I may have to invest in a whole new wardrobe a size larger than what I presently wear. 

I usually reserve desserts for vacation time or nights out on the town. Since I am doing neither of those things at the moment I suppose that I have justified my new bad habit by claiming that I deserve something for the sacrifices I have made. Still, I find that dessert is one of those things I would be willing to forego in a heartbeat. It’s just not something that I unduly crave. 

There are only a few dessert moments that I truly enjoy as much as those meals with my grandmother. One is indulging in beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. I actually feel happiness serotonin tracing through my veins when I am there. I generally want two of the puffy square donuts with a cup of coffee or sometimes a carton of milk. I love how they are hot out of the vat of oil and just a bit crispy on the edges with a dredging of confectioner’s sugar that invariably ends up all over my clothing. This is the nirvana of my comfort food.

Once a year I like to go to the Cheesecake Factory for a slice of pumpkin cheesecake. I usually visit around the time of my birthday in November an revel the the creamy goodness of this delight that is only served for a limited time between October and December. When I was young and slim and trim I ordered a whole cake to take home and enjoy for a week or so. Now just thinking about such a thing adds five pounds to my weight so I stick with the one slice and call it season until the next year. I even managed to get my slice during the height of the pandemic by ordering it to go and sitting outside in a large open courtyard that was all but devoid of people.

I’m also a fool for banana’s Foster at Brennan’s restaurant. I’ll take either the one in New Orleans or Houston. They are both exceptional. The very act of creating the dessert is fun and always brings a smile to my face and then the combination of the caramel taste of the sauce over the bananas and vanilla ice cream is to die for. Sadly I only get to Brennan’s once every many years. I think the last time was about three years ago and before that it may have been five years. I suppose that not indulging in this delight only makes it seem better when I have the opportunity.

On a trip to east Texas one year we discovered a little cafe and bakery in Gladewater that features pies made by a young lady who must surely be the reincarnation of my grandmother because her offerings come closer to the perfection of my grandmother’s than any I have ever found. I am particularly fond of her coconut cream pie which is sinfully good. When we enter the restaurant we order the pie before choosing our lunch. If we wait surely someone else will get the last piece and we will be out of luck. Trust me when I say this has happened before.

Aside from the desserts that are my absolute favorites there is not much that tickles my fancy. I suppose that I never really became accustomed to eating sugary things when I was growing and as an adult there were so many years when I needed my money for other things that I never developed either a craving or a habit for such things. 

To me the most soothing food is a grilled cheese sandwich. If I had to eat grilled cheese everyday for the rest of my life I suspect that I would be content. I developed the habit when I was watching children in my home. Each time I asked them what they wanted for lunch the reply was the same, so for a couple of years I enjoyed the melted goodness and crispy outside of an ordinary grilled cheese sandwich everyday. I never grew weary of eating one. 

You’d never know to look at me but food and dessert in particular is not generally a source of satisfaction for me. If I am alone I sometimes even forget to eat. Mostly I eat to be sociable. I like enjoying a meal with my husband and with friends more for the company and conversation that for the act of eating. Sadly it does not take much of that these days to increase my girth. 

Being a child of the Great Depression made my mother a devotee of food. She saw food on the table as a sign of success. To her love was making sure that we never ever missed a meal. Perhaps because she managed to provide us so well I do not have particular cravings for eating much of anything. Still, if ever I’m near Cafe du Monde I lose control. I must have that delicious little pastry as much as I once longed for my grandmother’s pies and strawberry shortcake. Maybe my joy in such consuming such things is mostly about the taste of love

For the Birds

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Years ago my next door neighbors had a couple of parrots who sometimes flew freely from their cages through the house. Whenever I visited they became agitated and hid in the recesses of their metal homes until I left. My neighbors insisted the the two birds were well versed in the English language and capable of rather remarkable speech but I never heard much more than squawks. I longed to hear a conversation between those birds and their owners but I was never there long enough for the creatures to realize that I was not going to hurt them. They simply shivered in fear until I left.

My brother and sister-in-law have a parrot who is a little less shy. He sees himself as the master of the domain but only shares his linguistic abilities when he wants to do so. He is a quirky soul with a sense of humor which isn’t surprising because my brother is always up for a good joke and a laugh. I imagine he and the bird having a great time poking fun at the world. I take delight in his antics but have little desire to have a feathered friend of my own.

I’ve never had much desire to own a bird of any kind. I’ve seen how messy those cages get and I really don’t want to have to add the chore of keeping them clean to my to do list. It might be fun though to have a talking animal but not one that requires so much maintenance. I just wish that dogs had been given the ability to speak. Somehow I think that if we were actually able to converse with our four legged furry friends we might be rather amazed at how bright and observant they would be. I laugh at the very thought. 

Easter time always reminds me of the days when grocery stores dyed the fluff of baby chicks and ducks and sold them as amusements. My brothers and I begged and begged our mother to allow us to bring one of the little critters home each year and after much nagging we finally broke down her resistance and allowed us to bring one home. Back then HOA’s had yet to become the rulers of the neighborhoods. We were free to have whatever we wanted in our backyard so we proudly created a little nesting area for our chicken who promptly died within a couple of days for who knows what reason. 

After that we had a difficult time convincing our mother to allow us to raise another chicken even as we argued that the one that died must have been defective before we even brought it home. Eventually we saw some brightly colored ducklings being sold in our local grocery store and with a great deal of persuasiveness talked her into letting us try a different species of bird. We purchased a pair of the critters thinking that loneliness had been the culprit that took our little chick to animal heaven far too soon. Sure enough the little fellas grew into very handsome adults. We assumed they were male but had no earthly idea how to determine whether or not that was so. We chose generic names for them just in case we had girls instead. I no longer recall both of the monikers but one of them was known as Ducky Lucky. 

When they began to fly around the backyard and attempt to leave the confines of the fence our mother announced that it was time to give them a new home. We gathered them into cardboard boxes and drove to the cemetery where our father lay in rest. There was a lake there populated by ducks and swans. We had often stopped to feed them whenever we visited Daddy’s grave. It was a lovely tranquil spot and we were excited that our sweet ducks would be living there. 

When we let them loose they joined the other birds without ever looking back. Within minutes we were unable to tell which were our babies because they all looked alike. When we were about to leave one of the ducks appeared to come to say goodbye and we convinced ourselves that it was Ducky Lucky showing his appreciation for all that we had done for him. For years we returned to the lake certain that we knew exactly which bird was our beloved duck.

We never got another bird, not even a parakeet. My brothers had a snake that terrorized me and we had a cat and a dog. One time the Easter bug hit us again and we convinced our mother to let us raise a couple of bunnies. My brothers built a makeshift hutch in a corner of the backyard and things were going exceedingly well until a neighbor’s dog who often roamed freely through the neighborhood jumped our fence and helped himself to a rabbit dinner. I was horrified to find him with our beautiful chocolate bunny in his mouth. It is a sight I will never be able to erase from my mind and the trauma of it was so grim that we never again asked to bring any of the Easter animals home. 

Since those times I have been content to have a dog. I’ve had very good luck with them. I’ve owned a collie and two golden retrievers. All of them were bright and sweet and faithful. I could trust them to roam inside the house when I was gone and they never damaged anything. They were wonderful companions who guarded my home better than a cache of guns might have done. While none of them ever uttered a word I had many conversations with them and I truly believe that they understood what I was saying. 

I have no pets for now. I like to travel and until my wanderlust is fully satisfied I don’t want another animal. When I finally settle down I think I will once again bring a dog back into my life.  To each his own but for me any animal other than a sweet puppy is for the birds. I’ll stick with man’s best friend. 

The Bath

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Our bathrooms are perhaps the most underrated rooms in our homes. We tend not to really notice them unless they are unclean and we mostly think of them as being utilitarian rather than worthy of great effort in decorating. Aside from the kitchen there is probably no more important area in our domains. Anyone old enough to remember outhouses might even insist that our bathrooms are treasures. If you’ve ever been to a remote area in a national park you have experienced the horror of taking care of emergencies in a cramped space as you try not to actually sit over a foul hole filled with indescribably horrible odors. Modern day bathrooms of the kind we take for granted in our homes are in truth one of the marvels of invention. 

Some people take great care to present their bathrooms in a favorable light. I have entered such rooms and felt quite confident that I am in a healthy well maintained environment. I have often decided whether or not I wanted to eat in a home based on my experience in the bathroom. When the cleanliness includes plenty of soap, clean fluffy towels, and a nice scent I’m even more encouraged. If I also see interesting art and artifacts that tell me something about the owner I smile. What I do not want to see is dirt and chaos coupled with noxious odors. If there is not soap I really become wary of ingesting anything lest the person providing it has not properly washed his/her hands.

When traveling in Texas I grow quite excited whenever I see a Buccee’s. For the uninitiated these are combination gas and food stops which are famous for their many spotlessly clean bathrooms. There is always at least one employee meticulously cleaning the stalls and replenishing the supplies of toilet paper, soap and paper towels. Buccee’s is fun for other reasons but it is the bathrooms that bring me inside

I used to laugh at my friend Pat who introduced me to the most wonderful life hacks. One of her rules was to always keep one bathroom clean and kitchen counters wiped down. She insisted that nobody cares if you have dust on your furniture or a bit of chaos in the other rooms but dirty kitchens and bathrooms are major turn offs. She advised me to maintain those areas in impeccable condition so that I would be ready for even a drop in visitor. She also suggested keeping some frozen cookie dough at all times to pop into the oven for both a nice snack and a lovely smell while chatting up a guest. She was like the Heloise of my world. 

I now have three bathrooms and I have to admit that I have become lax in their upkeep since nobody has been to my home other than repair people during the past year. I clean those areas regularly and I use the huge store of toilet paper that I purchased in the early days of the pandemic but I have mostly lost my motivation to be the Buccee’s of homemaking. Nobody seems inclined to come my way any time soon. I mostly concentrate on disinfecting on the go and giving each of the areas a thorough cleansing once a week. 

In the past I have decorated my bathrooms with limited success. I actually like the guest bathroom the best because it features a glorious painting by one of my daughters. It is a room the size of a closet that is incredibly elegant and restful. It perfectly epitomizes by personality and my decorating style. it’s my go to bathroom for guests whether any come or not.

My en suite style master bathroom was all white when I first moved to the house. It has white tile, white marble countertops, a garden tub and a shower with the actual toilet area housed in an enclosed space. My first inclination was to use all white accessories but I soon grew weary of the colorless scheme so I painted the walls a deep khaki color and replaced the towels and bathmats with shades of turquoise. It feels like a much happier place now but I have to admit that it has so much wasted space. I wish that someone had created a better design. The tub is huge and I can count on one hand the times I have used it in the sixteen years since I moved in. I would have much preferred more storage space or even an area where I might have stored my exercise equipment. More square footage in the master bedroom to include a reading nook or window seat would have been a better use of real estate. Sadly the bathroom just looks like a long wide white aisle lined with utilitarian features. Nothing seems to soften its stark impression, not even artwork or plants or candles. I get the feeling that it was designed as an afterthought by someone with little imagination.

The third bathroom is very much a  stock variety. It resembles the 1950s bathrooms of my youth. It is just a long narrow area with a vanity and toilet on one side and a tub and shower combo on the other with a storage closet filling out the rest of the room. Surprisingly it is quite cute and much more user friendly than the huge one downstairs. I started out giving it a maritime feel for my husband but he did not like the seafoam color I had chosen and when I went to a neutral color it lost some of its charm. He loves but I’m still studying how to return it to the whimsy it once had.

We never think much about our bathrooms when we probably should. Our modern day bathrooms are the envy of kings and sadly there are still so many places in the world where what we take for granted does not even exist. I’m just feeling blessed that I have three of them that are working well. Those who lost water or had broken pipes during the winter freeze know exactly what I mean.

Our Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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Last week our family had a very bad day. If something had the potential of going wrong it seemed as though it was actually going to happen. Things began normally much as they always do and then suddenly it felt as though we had been selected to be the grand prize participants in a nightmare. Nobody was untouched by some form of difficulty. 

I had taken my second dose of the Shingrix vaccine with a warning that I might have a bit of soreness at the injection site and perhaps a few chills and or fever. The first injection had been rather easy so I assumed that I would be fine the second time around. Boy, was I wrong! Before all was said and done I had a knot the size of a lemon on my arm, a temperature of 102.4 F, chills, nausea, a massive headache and a malaise that sent me to bed for most of the day. Given that there are still cases of COVID 19 popping up even among those who have been fully vaccinated I found myself worrying that perhaps I had become too lax in my precautions and had somehow contracted the virus. Surely the side effects of a vaccine would not be as severe as mine were. 

While I was nursing my reactions my granddaughter was traveling with a group of students and a teacher to a veterinary medicine competition in north Texas. Along the way they passed a tornado tracker who urged them to turn back and find cover. They were driving right into the center of a storm that would create destruction all along the southern United States. My granddaughter kept us apprised of their situation while we sat helplessly on pins and needles hoping that they would soon enough find a safe haven.

On the same evening there were hailstorms all over central and north Texas. My grandson who is a recent graduate of Texas A&M University had his brand new car, the first one that he had ever purchased, parked in front of his apartment. It was a beautiful car and a source of pride for him because it represented the culmination of many years of hard work and studying. After the storms passed he found his one month old vehicle pocked with about one hundred quarter sized dents from the hail that had beaten down on it. 

Meanwhile another adopted grandson was on his way to school when he was stopped for going five miles over the speed limit in a downhill area that caused him to accelerate without even placing his foot on the pedal. Of course he got a ticket and was late for classes only to find out that there was a conflict in two extra curricular activities for which he has been training and practicing for months. 

While running around the neighborhood as he routinely does each day my son-in-law tripped and skinned his arm from the elbow down to the wrist. He injured a hand that had been broken before and had required surgery. He wondered if he was going to have to endure the same sort of pain and inconvenience once again. 

Finally two other grandsons were bitten by the remote learning bug and those horrific deadlines that time out sometimes before the work can be properly submitted. With only two months more of high school classes they were both suddenly looking at averages unlike anything they have ever before seen. 

Of course there is nothing fatal here, nothing so horrific that it cannot be overcome or repaired. I slowly recovered from the horrible side effects of the shingles vaccine. Now I should not have to worry about contracting that painful illness so my couple of days being under the weather were a small price to pay. My granddaughter made it to the safety of a hotel with instructions to get into the bathtub if a tornado warning sounded on her phone. My grandson has contacted his insurance company and the damage to his car will be repaired. The ticket for speeding is just one of those very annoying things. My son-in-law will heal. The grandsons with a touch of “senioritis” have learned a lesson in time management that will serve them well as they head off to college next fall. Still, it felt as we were all having one of those “Alexander terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.”

Sometimes life gives us almost more than we think we can bear but in retrospect we realize that our woes are not nearly as bad as they seemed at first to be. In truth we were all somewhat lucky on that day last week. The things that happened to us might have been far worse. In the grand scheme of things they were annoyances rather than full blown tragedies, reminders that our lives are actually rather good because we have the resources to recover from such things.

I spent some time recently talking with a young man from Vietnam. He immigrated to the United States a few years back because of the possibilities that living here afford him. He told me that sometimes on our very worst days here in America it is still so much better than in many parts of the world. He said that he has great sympathy for those attempting to enter our borders and that most of us do not truly understand the desperation that they are feeling. We have days when things look so bleak but people all over the world have an endless parade of hardships that we might never be able to imagine. We had the good fortune of being born in a place of freedom and opportunity. There is nothing terrible, horrible, no good, very bad about that and it’s time we felt gratitude for our luck and understanding for those who do not have it.