Taking Lessons

As I rode my bike home from my first day of Learn to Row, it occurred to me I’ve been taking lessons my whole life.  I began to compile a list of all the classes, workshops, lessons I’ve taken.

First, there was ballet.  This always shocks people for two reasons.  First, I am approximately 2x the size of the average ballerina in all directions.  Second, I am incredibly clumsy.  Although, I did have a guy tell me I was graceful once.  When I protested that I’m always falling, he said, “Yes, but you fall gracefully.”  Maybe I learned something.

There were summer swimming lessons, which were re-taken as an adult when I wanted to learn how to swim freestyle efficiently.  There were ice skating lessons which were also repeated in adulthood until I realized 30 is not the right time in life to learn how to jump on ice (after partially tearing an MCL in my knee).

There were gymnastics lessons.  I was exceptionally good at the uneven parallel bars for my age.  Perhaps it was because I was the only one who could reach them?

I took piano lessons and learned how to play “Happiness Is” from some Charlie Brown musical I’d never head of.  It still gets stuck in my head from time to time.  I had slightly better results when I switched to the clarinet, but having no sense of time was a problem.

I settled on horseback riding and for 4 years was pretty much dedicated to nothing but horses, paying for them, and school.  By my senior year of high school, I realized I had to choose between having a horse and going to college–my minimum wage jobs weren’t going to pay for both.  That’s about the time I managed to come up with the money for a package of skiing lessons.

In college, I took a weight lifting class and aerobics–both part of my PE requirement.  When I was a little more settled again, I started with a trainer at the gym.  Then it was nutrition classes.  I even took a cooking class, although it turned out to be a rather alternative cooking class based on the yin and yang of food.  My husband wouldn’t eat anything I prepared from there.

I took a motorcycle class and friends taught me how to water ski, bowl, and play softball.  I took a rock climbing class and eventually took up yoga classes.

Later, Pat tried to teach me to play the drums, then I resorted to learning to play a hand drum.  Still no sense of time.  I switched to trying to learn to speak German instead, but I wasn’t much better at that.

The list goes on and on.

Since coming to Chattanooga, I’ve earned my novice hang gliding pilot rating, started learning how to care for non-releasable birds of prey, gotten some informal lessons on kayaking, and gone to several photography workshops.

Jack of all trades, master of none. As I rode my bike home from my first day of Learn to Row, it occurred to me I’ve been taking lessons my whole life.  I began to compile a list of all the classes, workshops, lessons I’ve taken.

First, there was ballet.  This always shocks people for two reasons.  First, I am approximately 2x the size of the average ballerina in all directions.  Second, I am incredibly clumsy.  Although, I did have a guy tell me I was graceful once.  When I protested that I’m always falling, he said, “Yes, but you fall gracefully.”  Maybe I learned something.

There were summer swimming lessons, which were re-taken as an adult when I wanted to learn how to swim freestyle efficiently.  There were ice skating lessons which were also repeated in adulthood until I realized 30 is not the right time in life to learn how to jump on ice (after partially tearing an MCL in my knee).

There were gymnastics lessons.  I was exceptionally good at the uneven parallel bars for my age.  Perhaps it was because I was the only one who could reach them?

I took piano lessons and learned how to play “Happiness Is” from some Charlie Brown musical I’d never head of.  It still gets stuck in my head from time to time.  I had slightly better results when I switched to the clarinet, but having no sense of time was a problem.

I settled on horseback riding and for 4 years was pretty much dedicated to nothing but horses, paying for them, and school.  By my senior year of high school, I realized I had to choose between having a horse and going to college–my minimum wage jobs weren’t going to pay for both.  That’s about the time I managed to come up with the money for a package of skiing lessons.

In college, I took a weight lifting class and aerobics–both part of my PE requirement.  When I was a little more settled again, I started with a trainer at the gym.  Then it was nutrition classes.  I even took a cooking class, although it turned out to be a rather alternative cooking class based on the yin and yang of food.  My husband wouldn’t eat anything I prepared from there.

I took a motorcycle class and friends taught me how to water ski, bowl, and play softball.  I took a rock climbing class and eventually took up yoga classes.

Later, Pat tried to teach me to play the drums, then I resorted to learning to play a hand drum.  Still no sense of time.  I switched to trying to learn to speak German instead, but I wasn’t much better at that.

The list goes on and on.

Since coming to Chattanooga, I’ve earned my novice hang gliding pilot rating, started learning how to care for non-releasable birds of prey, gotten some informal lessons on kayaking, and gone to several photography workshops.

Jack of all trades, master of none.

On the Subject of Cooking

On the subject of cooking (which, believe me, I will have nothing more to say about after this), as I was digging through old photos for evidence that I can cook, I stumbled across this series of action shots.

My nephew, already a better cook than me by the time he was 10, was having a birthday and I just happened to remember that I’d seen the perfect recipe for his birthday cake. It was a cat-box cake.

Given my nephew was a big fan of those nasty jelly bellies that came in favors like vomit and boogers, I figured the cat-box cake would be quite the hit. He got very excited about the project.

My sister-in-law, always a good sport and often an instigator, got fully behind the plan to serve a cake that looked like a cat box desperately in need of a cleaning. She even went to the store and purchased a brand new litter box and scoop for the purpose of adding authenticity.

Then, my nephew, with me reading the recipe to him just so I could feel like I was helping, proceeded to grind ginger snaps and sugar cookies to make the “litter,” mixing some with green food coloring for the “fresh crystal” look. Then, the crumbs were mixed with pudding to make them moist and hold it all together. After assembling the whole thing, the coup de GRAS was the tootsie rolls warmed in the microwave enough to allow them to be formed into a disgusting “plop” shape.

When my nephews friends finished dinner and at long last were ready for dessert, my sister-in-law made an offhand comment about needing to change the litter box and headed back toward where the real cat boxes were kept. She had cleverly hidden the cake in a very separate place that was in the same general direction. Then, much to the boy’s shock and dismay, placed the fake cat box on the table.

Everyone stared, clearly with wheels rapidly turning, trying to figure out why Megan had just set a dirty litter box on the table. They’re bright boys–they suspected some kind of joke.

Eventually, it became clear to all that this was not a cat box at all but an actual, edible dessert. Then, the boys all dug in, taking great joy in being as disgusting as possible while eating the offensively shaped tootsie rolls.

I was my nephew’s favorite aunt for at least half an hour.

I took pictures of virtually every step of the process. My nephew hammed it up for the camera, too. But the shot I love the most is of my nephew gnawing on a disgusting looking chunk of tootsie roll that has cookie crumbs stuck all over it. I guess it’s true about what they say when it comes to photography: in the end, it’s not about the exposure, composition, or number of pixels. It’s about the moment–even a disgusting one.

Yes, I Can Cook

After many days, weeks, or maybe even months of pleasantly letting trivial little disagreements slide by, suddenly some little nothing seems so important that we go to great lengths to prove we’re right.
Pat and I recently had a conversation that started when a new acquaintance offered to give me a recipe even though Pat was standing right next to me.

Later, when we chuckled about how often people erroneously assume I would be more interested in a recipe than Pat, I felt the need to remind my husband that I used to feed myself quite well. The conversation went like this:

“I can cook!” said I.
“Since when?” said he.
“I used to cook all the time.”
“Honey, what you did is called warming ingredients. You can’t really cook.”

I, who take great pride in my grilled cheese masterpieces as well as my incredibly fluffy scrambled eggs, decided I was going to have to dig deep to find photographic evidence that U have more than basic warming skills.

Thankfully, the first Thanksgiving after I got my trusty old PowerShot G3 was also the first (and last) Thanksgiving we invited Pat’s family to our house and I did the cooking.

Some may argue that having to go back 9 years might seem more like evidence that you can’t cook (especially since no one came back). However, I contend that everything in that meal was delicious, from the assorted cheeses and crudités for starters to the perfectly roasted turkey, to the freshly baked pumpkin pie. Oh, wait, Pat’s mom made the pie. And probably the stuffing. Pat made the mashed potatoes. But I, and I alone, made the turkey, the gravy, the green bean casserole, the vegetables, and the sweet potatoes.

Huh.

Funny thing . . . I just realized I really did just heat all the ingredients. Don’t tell Pat.

As I was looking at the photos, I recall seeing a show on photographing food. I believe it was actually a show on careers and the career was “food make up artist.”

The food make up artist demonstrated making a fast food burger look good. It was quite clever. She was required to use the same portion of food as is actually used to make the product we buy. However,she kept the burger looking huge by simply searing it just long enough to turn it brown, but not cooking away the fat, keeping it from shrinking. Then, she split it in the back so she could spread the burger out to fill out the front. By shooting at a low angle from the front, the burger not only looked bigger, but all the stuff she’d dome to make it look that way was completely out of sight.

Explains a lot about those fast food burgers.

I think my turkey might not look so appealing because it tasted good. To make it really beautiful, it would have had to have been raw inside.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Canon for Cannons

After spending the better part of the afternoon walking around Rock City, we made a beeline for food.  We were all starving.  I got out my trusty Urbanspoon app and discovered a little place called “The Cafe on the Corner” nearby.  The food actually sounded good, too.

When we got there, it was right between the lunch and dinner crowd, which was perfect for our four year old friend–he had some space to run around.  This is the thing that amazes me about young children.  About the time I would just lay down on the floor and take a nap because I’m so tired, they are just getting started.

The Cafe on the Corner turned out to be one of those amazing finds you hope for when you pick a place to eat.  The staff was friendly and wonderfully accommodating.  They were prepared for children with a children’s menu, something to color on, and crayons.  While that can certainly improves a dining experience, I don’t really care how nice the wait staff is if the food is bad.  Fortunately for us, the food was fantastic.

The fried-green tomatoes were breaded in panko bread crumbs and served with hot and sweet jelly.  Just writing this is making my mouth water.  The grilled vegetable quesadilla I ordered was by far the best quesadilla I’ve ever had.  Oops, I drooled–let me grab a napkin.

And, truly amazing, even the kids’ food was so good that our little friend cleaned his plate without prompting!  This may be my new favorite restaurant.

After gorging on delicious food and relaxing in the cool dining room, we headed back out into the heat and made our way to Point Park.  I think Point Park is going to be on my list of places to make sure I take all visitor’s to.  Especially since it’s close to Cafe on the Corner.  🙂

The view from Point Park is pretty darn spectacular.  And, there are cannons there, which amuse most kids, but especially our little visitor.  As I watched the four year old jump up and down with excitement over the cannons in the park, I found myself wondering what the fascination with shooting people is that all children seem to have.

Is this unique to the US?  Do children in India, for example, pretend to shoot each other with their fingers?  Is this an expression of a universal need that all children experience to gain some sort of control on what seems like an uncontrollable world?

I recall playing many games involving shooting people as a child (even though my mother would not allow us to have toy guns), but I can’t remember why that seemed like so much fun.

As adults, we enjoyed the view more than the cannons, I think.  Although, I enjoyed my Canon very much–taking many pictures.  Unfortunately, the light was not so good as seems to be true most of the time when I shoot opportunistically.  It was still fun.

In Search of a New View

On Friday night, Pat decided it was time for us to try Nikki’s, a Southern Fried Chicken and Seafood drive in that we’ve been going past regularly ever since we started taking Tisen to doggy daycare.  Pat’s idea was to get take out and go have a picnic.  I decided this was the perfect opportunity to find a new location to shoot sunsets from.

After getting two fried shrimp dinners with coleslaw, fries, and hush puppies, we follow google maps up the hill to a nearby conservation area.  There isn’t a picnic area, so we wolf down 3 weeks worth of saturated fat sitting in our mini-van.

The conservation area is a shady woods that, unfortunately, has been invaded by many foreign plants that block the view through the forest.  The trail is an abandoned road that looks wide with easy walking, but we decide to forego a hike since I’m hoping to shoot the sunset.  There is no hope of getting any views of the sunset from where we are.  Not only are there no views through the thick growth, but we’re on the East-facing side of the ridge.

We decide to drive to the other side of the ridge to a different trailhead to see if we can get a view from there.  After crossing under the ridge through a tunnel and driving around to the other side, we wind our way around to the next trailhead only to find that we are still on the wrong side of the ridge.  It’s like some kind of joke.  There is no explanation as to how we still ended up facing East.

As we head back out, the trill of a wood thrush catches my ear.  I suddenly realize I haven’t heard one since we moved to Tennessee.  As I listen to its sweet flute-like voice, I suddenly ache for the ravine we left behind.  But I am soon distracted by the search for a view of the sunset.

We end up on the backside of the ridge facing the freeway.  There is a big, bald hillside on the other side of the freeway where a new complex is under construction.  It looks like the developer hired strip miners to do the excavation.  It breaks my heart.  I cannot bring myself to shoot with this eyesore in the frame and I cannot shoot around it.  Perhaps I will have to think about how to capture the ugliness of this site, but tonight I’m seeking beauty.

After trying every road we can get access to along the ridge, we give up on having a really good view and return to our roof at home.  We are in time for twilight.  The almost full super-moon has already risen high, shining so brightly I cannot resist shooting it.  Equipped only with my wide-angle lens, I play with long exposures.

All-in-all, it’s been a fun little adventure even though we never strayed far from home.

Down on the Farm

I was ecstatic to learn that one of the lovely women I met through S.O.A.R. has a farm they are converting from cattle pastures to sustainably grown heirloom produce.  And, best of all, they are managing the farm as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) venture.  It’s like outsourcing a garden to someone who knows what they’re doing.

I love this concept.  It makes me feel more connected to the source of my food and more involved, even if it’s only through my checkbook.

The most exciting part is that Wildwood Harvest (the farm) was open to all for a visit and a tour this weekend!

The farm is set in northern Georgia, about 20 minutes South of us.  The long driveway curves its way up a hill, lined by evergreens.  In the afternoon sun, the rolling hills look romantic enough that I forget the back breaking work, the endless mud, and the perpetual coating of dirt that comes with farming.

We get to see the newly planted fruit orchard, the bee boxes waiting for their hives, the mushroom logs inoculated and plugged, the freshly tilled field ready for planting, the newly restored 100-year-old barn that was crushed by a tree, and the amazing collection of chickens and one male turkey who I will forever think of as “Thanksgiving.”

It’s always a little difficult for those of us who don’t live with our food sources to meet what we’re going to eat.  It’s particularly difficult when it’s an amazingly beautiful bird that keeps flirting with everything that moves.  I’ve never seen such a gorgeous turkey.

Had I known, I would have brought my camera.  As it is, I pull out my iPhone and shoot as best I can.  I get a few shots of Thanksgiving and a lovely rooster I start calling Coq au Vin.  (I figure it’s best to associate these birds with food before I get attached.)

In the house, we get to peek at the unending array of seeds selected for this year’s crop.  There appears to be 1000 seed packs lined up on the table.  If variety was a concern, it’s certainly been alleviated!

We meet fascinating neighbors who are artists from New York and swap stories about trying to find good produce.  What are the odds of meeting artists from New York on a small family farm in Northern Georgia?

We are called to leave by the barking of Tisen.  He’s been banished to the car to avoid an ugly dog-chicken encounter.  He’s either bored or trying to establish dominance over the farm dogs who know better than to chase chickens.  It’s about time to head back to the mountain to see if the wind will die anyway, so we say our goodbyes and head on our way.

My photography lessons:  1) Take your camera.  2) Shooting birds on the move with an iPhone is tough; see 1.  3)  No matter how beautiful Coq au Vin is, the soft focus ruins the photo; see 1. 4)  Chase all farm animals into shade when in full sun.

Feeding a Dog

Having recently brought Tisen into our home, we are going through the period of learning about each other.  We try to unravel the lessons that Tisen has been taught over the past 8 years and understand where we must be extra gentle, where we must be extra patient, and where we must be firm.

Since dogs cannot tell us their stories directly, we must hone our powers of observation to figure out what will work and what will not to gently shape this dog into the confident, trusting sweetheart he was born to be.

We start with food.

I mix his food with warm water and place the bowl on the floor.  Tisen cowers.  I take a piece of food from the bowl and hand it to him, telling him it’s OK in a “happy puppy voice.”  He tentatively takes the piece from my hand, stepping back quickly as if he’s afraid of what happens next.  I keep talking to him, telling him what a good boy he is.  I repeat the process until I lead him to the bowl where, at last, he sinks his teeth in and takes a mouth full.  I shift slightly and he is startled, cowering back from the bowl once more.

I continue telling him what a good dog he is and start over, leading him back to the bowl. I try not to move once he starts eating.  He pauses once and looks up at me; I reassure him again.  He finishes his food and I praise him.  I try not to imagine what his life must have been like that he’s afraid to approach a bowl of dog food.

As I keep increasing the ratio of his new food to his old food, I keep thinking it will be more enticing to him.  But it doesn’t make a difference.

I discover that he is just as skittish about his bone.  When I start pulling at smoked fat stuck to the bone, giving him something to bite on, he eventually gets interested and starts chomping on it for all he’s worth.  He can chew it just fine, he was just afraid to.

He seems to have a similar fear about his toys.  He won’t claim them the way most dogs will.  While it’s nice that he doesn’t claim my slippers, I’ve never had a dog who was afraid to play with a tennis ball.  Once again, I stop myself from wondering how full of terror his life must have been.

I am glad no one is home to catch me on video demonstrating how to chase a tennis ball.  For the record, I stop short of picking it up in my mouth.

Tonight, when I feed him, he comes over to his bowl with a wagging tail and digs right in.  It was the first time he’s eaten without being lured.  Funny how the sight of a dog with a wagging tail eating dog food can bring tears to your eyes.  I’ve just witnessed a miracle.

You Are What You Eat

One of my new year’s resolutions was to eat 3 fruits or vegetables a day on average. It’s not a very ambitious goal, but I find I am an over achiever and there are certain goals where it is quite painful to overachieve. Going from eating an occasional fruit or vegetable to eating, say, 10 a day happens to be one of those cases where more is not better. Since my real goal is to find a sustainable balance, I figure there’s nothing to gain by making myself miserable.

It’s January 3rd today and I’ve managed to eat 5 fruits or vegetables for two days straight. Now, we are headed out for breakfast and it feels like the last meal of a vacation, which I guess technically, it is. I am hard pressed to muster the strength to order oatmeal and eat a banana. Instead, I order “scattered ‘taters” with cheese, bacon, and an egg over medium.

When it comes, I slide the egg off its plate and make a stack. The puddle of grease the egg leaves behind is only slightly less disconcerting than the pool of grease under the hash browns. I try sliding the whole stack uphill while tilting the plate, allowing the grease to run to the far side of the plate in the hope of minimizing the damage to my arteries. After eating every last bite, we head out the door stuffed and decide we have enough time to run over to the grocery store.

We are unprepared with no bags or a list. We go inside and start grabbing the supplies we need, trying not to overfill the cart as we load up, cognizant that we’re going to be carrying our groceries home in paper bags. As we work our way around the store, a steady rumbling starts, building to the unmistakeable sound of pouring rain on a metal roof. We decide Pat will run home and get both reusable grocery bags and a car. While Pat returns to get the car, I start piling on the groceries.

I pick up watercress, celery, radishes, pears, and pine nuts for my favorite salad. I throw in a nice loaf of bread, creamy tomato soup, soy milk, and avocados. The cart is overflowing at this point. Fortunately, Pat returns before I add more. Of course, by the time we leave the store, the rain has stopped and the sun is shining. We laugh when we walk outside.

My watercress salad doesn’t fully make up for my grease-pool breakfast, but the flavor combined with the feeling of eating health makes me think I could eat healthy all the time. As I scoop up the last bite of salad and the sweetness of the pear mixes perfectly with the spice of the watercress, I remember the quote from Meryl Streep above the produce section, “It is strange that the produce manager has more to do with my children’s health than their pediatrician” and smile.

Why I Don’t Bake Christmas Cookies

Hello.  My name is Dianne and I’m a sugarholic.  I went for two years without sugar.  Then, a colleague showed up with a box of Thin Mints.  It was so humiliating.  I ate half the box in 15 minutes.  I had to ask her to lock her cookies in a drawer, all the while hoping she would just hand me the other half of the box.

I’ve since learned that total deprivation leads to massive binges.  I try to include healthier indulgences like super dark chocolate and fruit smoothies sweetened only with a little honey.  Occasionally, we buy ice cream, but I only trust myself with a pint at a time.

I once consulted with a nutritionist who had me do an experiment with “limited supply foods.”  She had me choose a snack and portion it into small servings that totaled the number of calories a day I was willing to spend on junk.  Then, I stocked a cabinet next to the fridge with about 2 weeks’ worth of baggies.  I could eat 2 baggies a day and no more, but I had to look at the baggies every time I got a craving and tell myself, “If I run out, I’ll buy more.”

The first day, it was torture.  All I could think about was that cabinet full of goodies calling my name.  By the second day, I was doing better between snacks and didn’t find it so difficult to concentrate on other things.  By the third day, I only remembered to eat 1 baggie.  By the fourth day, I forgot to eat them both.  Those baggies suddenly became a nice surprise when I remembered to open the cabinet instead of a looming fiend trying to corrupt my good intentions.

This was an important lesson that I have since failed to apply:  when I think something is a limited supply, I will eat every bite as fast as possible.  The nutritionist described this as a survivalist response and said it’s common among people who grew up in homes where a particular type of food was restricted.

But how to apply this to holidays and Girl Scouts?  These truly are limited supplies.  My mother-in-law sent Pat and me a box of goodies last week.  It was a large assortment of homemade and German imports.  My half lasted approximately 2 days.  My husband took pity and shared some of his half with me.

Similarly, if I make Christmas cookies, I have a problem with the dough.  Frequently, the dough never makes it into the oven.  And, realistically, me making cookies more than once a year is so far-fetched it’s comical.  So, how do I convince myself that I can get more?

The thing is, I really enjoy these things.  The tradition of celebrating friends and family through indulging in delicious food is one I don’t want to give up.  I just want to be able to enjoy them a little at a time.

Grocery Therapy

Well, dear readers, in response to requests from some of my geographically distant friends who would like to read my blog but just don’t have time, I am going to see if I can keep my entries to under 500 words for a while (not counting this paragraph, of course :-)).  Here I go . . .

I wake up with such an ache in my neck I feel nauseous (or maybe it’s the realization it’s Monday that upsets my stomach?).  I walk around with the weight of my head in my hands, trying to prevent a major spasm.

Throughout the day, no matter how much I keep my head propped on my headrest, the pain increases as I work.  I take a break in the early afternoon to lay on the floor and try to get my muscles to relax.  Then, I try sitting on the couch, which makes every muscle go nuts all over again.

I remember seeing a sign in the window of a local yoga studio advertising some type of therapy I’ve never heard of before.  I go to their website.  It’s called Ortho-Bionomy.  It sounds pretty logical as an approach, so I call and make an appointment.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to get in until tomorrow.  Jann, the therapist, suggests ice and anti-inflammatories in the interim.  I’ve been trying to only take the anti-inflammatories at night so I’m not taking too much of them, but I decide I should take Jann’s advice.  I take aspirin and prop an ice pack on my neck while I work.

I make it to the end of the day, and even manage to get all my online Christmas shopping done before I have to get away from the computer.

It’s late and we have no food.  I walk to the grocery store alone since Pat is preoccupied.  I plan to only pick up enough for dinner, but I end up getting milk and soy milk and yogurt and coffee and . . . I have only 2 grocery bags with me, figuring I can balance the load for the walk home to avoid irritating my neck further.

I look at the full cart and worry I’m going to be in agonizing pain walking the block home.  However, the aspirin, ice, and the walk over here seemed to have helped quite a bit–my neck feels better than it felt all day.  I decide to risk it.

I pay for the groceries–can I just ask, why is GreenLife/Whole Foods so freaking expensive?  Aren’t they supposed to be sourcing directly from local farmers?  Shouldn’t that make their groceries less expensive?

In any case, I divide the groceries carefully, distributing the weight evenly between the two bags.  I carry one bag on each shoulder and then walk home.  Amazingly, the weight of the bags pulling my shoulders down actually feels really good.  As long as I don’t turn my head, it helps.

When I get home, I heat up the stuffed pasta shells I bought and feed me and Pat.  It’s hot and good.  My neck is feeling more functional than I would have thought possible just an hour earlier.  Maybe I shouldn’t complain about the prices at Whole Foods since buying groceries turned out to be physical therapy as well?