The Ghosts of Dinners Past

I’ll admit when I chose this challenge I was concerned I wouldn’t have much to say about such a simple topic: HOW TO PROPERLY SET THE TABLE.  Crafting a relevant essay about proper table setting that anyone might find interesting seemed beyond my abilities. What I found was that parental guidance, in regard to manners, is a universal topic. Many people, not all related to me, shared aspects of their childhood dinner table expectations. One of the reasons I enjoy writing this blog, is that it allows me to spend time thinking about things I rarely give thought to. Childhood memories are often linked to larger occasions or memorable events but with the focus on table etiquette I found myself envisioning the daily meal routine of my childhood.

Table manners and general etiquette were obviously important to my mom. Like blue eyes and long arms, many of the expectations I had for my children were inherited from my parents and passed down. Just as the folk tale Boy Who Cried Wolf  demonstrated the dangers of lying to generations of kids, there remains one singular figure from my family lore to illustrate the importance of good manners. Her name is unimportant, but my siblings all know to whom I am referring. The poor child has served as a living example of how NOT to act for decades. I don’t know any of the specific details, only that a young guest in our home, elementary school-aged, drank directly from the milk container. Opened the refrigerator, picked up the milk carton, placed lips to spout and took a drink.

The act in question occurred before my birth but has lived on through telling after telling. No one wanted to be called by the name that had become synonymous with bad manners. We knew not to drink directly from the milk carton but any similar infraction might call forth that name, like the ghost of Christmas past, and cast you in the role of Scrooge, himself. This was not a mean-spirited activity, it was always offered in a joking manner, but the lesson was understood. It served to impress upon us that our behavior, especially outside our home, reflected on our family as a whole. The implication was that the child was not at fault, but her parents, for not having taught her any better. Hence the repeated manta of every parent, “What’s the magic word?”

Maybe that is why I feel like I need to clarify something. When I said I gave up on my kids having to excuse themselves from the table, you might have envisioned young Suttees pushing back and leaving the table anytime they wanted. In reality, there was no asking to be excused. No need to ask.  We treated dinner table chairs like airplane seats. Until the fasten the seatbelt light was off, no one was going anywhere. Although I like to think we offered our kids independence in thought and action when possible, that did not occur at the dinner table. Much like my own childhood, dinner time was more dictatorship than democracy. I’ll acknowledge freedom is a better teacher than control, but as many young parents come to realize, the illusion of control exercised in a few select areas, keeps a person sane. Go ahead and judge. While you are judging, I’ll give you a great example to boost your argument.

When our basset hound, Luke, was a potty-training puppy we lived in a base-housing duplex without a fence. The living and dining areas were at opposite ends of a large room. The door to the back yard was near the dining end of the room.  If you opened that door fully, and someone was sitting at the head of the table, you would hit them. It was not a large place.  One night, we were all seated at the dinner table, and Luke started to whine at the door to be let out. Rachel asked to get up to let him out and Lee said he could wait until we were done. In rapid succession, Luke pooped. Three-year-old, Andrew, vomited then cried. Everyone yelled.  We were all excused.

Luckily, nothing like that happened at the ball. No one pooped by the table, no one sat on their feet, and no one vomited. Years ago, at the next table, someone did indeed vomit at the ball, on his salad, during grace. His name is also unimportant but his message is clear. You will not be remembered for all of the good things you did over your career, if you puke during dinner at the Marine Corps Ball. You might, however, be remembered in the blog of an acquaintance you probably wouldn’t recognize anymore.

This post has taken a rather disgusting turn, my apologies. Back to the ball.

I drank from the correct glasses and used the correct fork. Whether you can credit BMW or bd for that, I cannot say. Wasn’t hard due to the fact that there was only one fork. Frankly, I was also confused about what I believed, according to BMW, to be the dessert spoon because, sadly, no cake was ever served at our table. Only through keen observation and advanced tracking techniques were we able to spot and retrieve cake for ourselves, from a table tucked in the corner of the ball room.  Forks were provided at the cake table. Why the spoon?

I will leave you to play which one of these is not like the other.

 

Thanks for sharing your etiquette memories and tips! I appreciate you spending your time, and a bit of your head space, with me.  Knowing you are reading helps me keep writing, so if you wish I’d just stop already, it’s your fault

In case you were wondering:

2020ballgifts.jpg
Ball gifts this year.

Before you go…I can’t find anything that says you can’t remove your shoes to dance at a formal event so apparently no etiquette rules were broken.

FOrKS & BMWs

We are going back to basics this week. I’m going to pretend it hasn’t been months since I last posted and you are, too.  Bossing people around is not the best way to start a post about etiquette, but here we go.

Our latest challenge is to LEARN HOW TO PROPERLY SET THE TABLE.  This time of year with the approach of the Marine Corps Ball and Thanksgiving it seems a fitting challenge.

I have a solid base level knowledge in this category.  My mom was a big believer in setting the table so I’m aware that the fork goes on the left, the knife on the inside right and then the spoon.  The glass goes upper right.  We put our napkin to the left, under the fork. My mom probaby knew, and even more likely, told us that the knife blade always faces the plate, but I can’t say that I’ve paid a bit of attention to that over the years. Growing up, we rarely had any need for anything beyond this setting.

The Emily Post Institute (EPI) calls this setup the Basic Table Setting and includes a handy tip for remembering the order of plates and utensils. They suggest using the word FORKS and following the letters as your guide from left to right, F: Forks, O: Plates, R:?,  K: Knives, and S for Spoons. Pretty helpful, really, as long as you don’t get confused about that missing R.  Reminds me of the mnemonic that my eighth-grade Science teacher, Coach Stoll, taught us to help memorize the order of the planets: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizza Pies.  I was always confused about the word pie at the end. Unnecessary. Not only is there not an additional “P” planet after Pluto (is Pluto still a planet?) and why use the word pie at all? Could just be nine pizzas or even nine pies. Is that a regional food reference that Coach Stoll grew up with?  Does anyone else from Highland East Middle School remember this? Does anyone from any school remember this?

Growing up, I did not have a lot of rules. I’m the youngest of six, so maybe over time my parents just figured out what was worth battling over. Or maybe they were just tired. Either way, if I went to school, tried to learn something, carried my pile of clean clothes up the stairs to my room in a reasonable amount of time and generally spoke to them with a modicum of respect my parents let me be. In return, I did all of those things, and for the most part, tried to not to disappoint them.

The one area of life that was governed by strict rules was the dinner table. I received more corrections during the dinnertime period than during the course of a regular week. Sit up straight.  No elbows on the table. Feet front. Finish your milk. That one might not fall under the etiquette heading but I definitely heard it every night. The queen mother of dinner table infractions was sitting on your feet. I internalized that scandalous move to such a point that to this day when I see a kid (or worse, an adult!), sitting on their feet, or cross-legged, at a dining table it makes me wince. I try not to stare. We were also expected to excuse ourselves from the table. My kids were expected to adhere to these rules, too. The excusing rule bit the dust early, I think once the third kid arrived and dinnertime exits multiplied exponentially I just gave up.

The Thanksgiving place setting growing up, meant china, wineglasses and fancy goblets. I don’t think we added a lot in terms of plates and utensils, they just got nicer. As an adult, we’ve gotten to spend only a few Thanksgivings with our families. The Thanksgiving meal for military families reinforces the concept that family often includes people not born of the same parents but borne of the same circumstance. We’ve eaten at tables set beautifully, on card tables packed into someone’s living room, at our own table with dogs begging at our feet.  Not once did I think about whether my knife was turned toward the plate or if my fork had the correct number of tines.

Like my mom, the Marine Corps is a big believer in etiquette. Parade etiquette, ceremony etiquette, dining etiquette. The list goes on and on. Especially in the officer ranks.  As the wife of an enlisted marine, no one talked to me about etiquette.  When we moved to Quantico for The Basic School (TBS) when Lee was a newly commissioned Lieutenant, I was inundated with etiquette tips and training. I still have the book Parade Rest, which answers questions about everything from calling cards to dress codes.  Every November, the Marine Corps celebrates its birthday and storied history with a time-honored ceremonial ball usually with dinner, dancing, motivational video and cake! It’s a fun and moving event that comes with a lot of tradition.

The EPI has a tip that could be useful this ball season. Hold your hands in front of you and touch the tips of your thumbs to the tips of your forefingers to make a lowercase ‘b’ with your left hand and a lowercase ‘d’ with your right hand (bd).  This gesture serves as a reminder that the “bread and butter” (b) go to the left of the place setting and “drinks” (d) go on the right.  Maybe you’d like a more high-speed tip? Feeling like you need more than FOrKS and bd are able to provide? Might be time for BMW. This helpful tool was sent to Lee as part of an information packet for his ball this year.

BMWPlacesettingjpg

BMW, similar to the bd method, but less likely to cause embarrassment when you are seen holding up a little b and little d during a formal dinner. Even though I know the glass goes on the right, every year it seems like I can’t figure out which water glass is mine! This little reminder might help or maybe I should skip the cocktail hour.

Unless you are a member of the royal family or a frequent guest at high-dollar fundraisers you probably don’t have to decipher complicated formal place settings on a regular basis. If you are a fundraiser regular, please tell me how you ended up reading this blog? For the rest of us, whether it’s a wedding, a military ball or some other occasion where you find yourself confronted by a formality outside your comfort zone just remember that it’s usually about the people and not the fork placement.

We aren’t sure exactly how many balls we have attended in Lee’s over 32 years of service but we’re going with 32, some years we’ve gone to multiple balls, other years deployments and other issues intervened. This year, as we attend our 33rd Marine Corps Ball, I will wear a dress I’ve worn before, watch a ceremony I’ve watched…32 times, and eat a meal that, most likely, will taste like it’s been microwaved. What will make the evening is the people: young marines tearing up the dance floor, long-distance friends we’ve known for years who we now live near again, faces I can finally put with names I hear from Lee every day. Eating with the wrong fork or taking someone else’s roll would be embarrassing but not life-changing. I’ve got a couple of tips for you.  Learn to laugh at yourself. Extend kindness to others, be kind to yourself. Everyone is trying their best. Ask questions if want clarification but don’t take it all too seriously. Try to enjoy each moment. These times won’t last forever. Whatever you do, just don’t sit on your feet.

Do you have any etiquette tips for me? I’d love to hear your thoughts on place settings and celebrations! Care to share any embarrassing etiquette stories? For now, I’m off to the ball! My prince charming will call our Uber and we will celebrate the holiday tucked between Halloween and Thanksgiving, the Marine Corps Birthday. I’ll be back to report on the event soon, in the meantime, practice your FOrKS, sit up straight and finish your milk.

Before you go…I have to mention the ball gifts we get every year!  Gift might not be the right word since I think we actually pay for these ourselves but it’s the thought that counts right? In the early ball years, all we received was glassware, of all different types. Cocktail glasses, wine glasses, beer steins, you get the picture. Each one staged as part of our table setting. This is not a coordinated effort to get attendees a perfectly diverse set. Remember, these balls are at different duty stations, different units with different ball committees. Eventually, coffee travel mugs and beer koozies joined the group. One ball we got flasks, very cool actually, printed with historic USMC recruitment posters. I don’t personally have a need for a flask but they looked great. However, someone stole most of them off of our table. I feel like that’s the last year our gifts were placed on the table. Coincidence? You decide. Recently, we have received our gifts in advance.  We’ve gotten pocket knives and wine stoppers, respectively my least and most favorite of all the gifts. We have travel mugs and coasters that we continue to use years after we received them as ball gifts!

1988 Ball Glass
First USMC Birthday Ball Gift, Camp Pendleton, CA 

Although I understand the need to branch out from glassware, I have to say, I kind of miss them. Each one usually has the unit name and the year of the Marine Corps Anniversary.  Maybe it’s because I’m roughly 153 in Marine Corps spouse years but it’s cool to be able to look at your glass collection and relive your memories in real time.

Oh, and speaking of gifts, one last etiquette tip from my mom. Don’t forget to write your thank you notes!

Table Setting Guides

Silverware Art by Elisabeth Suttee

 

 

Walk a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

In January, we set up a book display of biographies in my library and called it Walk a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes. I think the notion of exploring another person’s life from the inside is what makes biographies and autobiographies so compelling.  My official READ A BIOGRAPHY (OR AUTOBIOGRAPHY) OF SOMEONE YOU ADMIRE book is Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly.

Endurance

Loved it!  I wasn’t a space geek but I might be one now.  Interweaving Kelly’s childhood and path to becoming an astronaut with his year-long mission on the International Space Station, Endurance offers a fascinating look at a life so completely unlike my own.  As you read this, astronauts from NASA and various countries around the world, circle the globe.  We know that but do we really think about it? I certainly didn’t. Certainly, not with any true acknowledgment of just how absolutely amazing that is.

The title pays homage to Sir Ernest Shackleton and his doomed yet ultimately miraculous expedition to Antartica on the ship Endurance.  One of the few personal possessions Kelly brought with him for his year in space was a paperback copy of Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. It’s a fascinating book that I read several years ago. When the magnitude of Kelly’s challenges weighed most heavily on him, he would think of Shackleton and his crew and know that he could endure what was required of him.

Shackleton

As I was finishing the book, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule took off from Kennedy Space Center for the International Space Station (ISS), paving the way to launch astronauts into space from the United States for the first time since 2011. I even thought about staying up late to watch it.  I didn’t, but I thought about it.

If I had completed this challenge as a child, I might have chosen the biography of an author, maybe Judy Blume or possibly Louise Fitzhugh, author of my all time favorite book and sometime alter ego, Harriet the Spy.  Or, maybe one of my favorite athletes: Nadia Comaneci. In the name of transparency, and in full cringe mode I’ll admit that as a teenager I would read anything I could get my hands on about 80s new wave singer, Adam Ant.  If you can’t see now how much I trust you, you never will.

A couple of things that became apparent as I completed this challenge:

1. If you follow the blog on Facebook you know that I shared some biographies and autobiographies that I’ve enjoyed. In compiling the list it became glaringly obvious that I need to read more books about people of color.  And not just people in the entertainment industry.  I started Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Written as a letter to his teenage son, Coates writes unflinchingly about his experiences as a black man in America.  Powerful, uncomfortable and important. My daughters refer to their no-nonsense talks with their grandmother as “real talk with Granny”. Real talks about real stuff that make the particpant feel trusted and respected. Between the World and Me is like real talk with Granny: no euphemisms or shielding the truth. I will finish the book but it is a heavy read that requires small bites and time for contemplation.

Betweentheworld2. Reading challenges are my favorite.

3. In trying to select a biography about someone I admire, I found myself drawn to people from my childhood: Bob Keeshond, also known as Captain Kangaroo, from my favorite early childhood TV show; Peanuts Illustrator Charles Schulz; TV comedian and actress, Carol Burnett; beloved icon Mr. Rogers. Regardless of how it looks, I did do more that just watch TV as a kid.  I listened to Carol Burnett’s memoir In Such Good Company: Eleven years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox and actually finished it before I started Endurance. It was such a personal book, connected to memories of my childhood, and it made me think so much of my mom while I was listening to it.

burnett

4. So many books. So little time. Hey, I should put that on a t-shirt!

You know how when you go to a meeting you always leave with more to do? Challenges are the same way.  So, in addition to astronaut tweets to read, sushi to eat and puzzles to complete, I now have a pile of biographies on my coffee table and a list of holds from the library. I may have to quit my job.

Currently listening to:

Codes
Codebreaker extraordinaire, Elizebeth Smith Friedman. Quietly kicking a– and taking names.

In my reading future:

Mattis
I met General Mattis once years ago when I worked at the library in Quantico, VA. He’s a voracious reader and donated many books to the library. I hope he tells his own story one day.
PrairieFires
Recommended to me by a library patron. I love books about writers.
FactBody
True crime. I’m in. Always.
Douglass
Discovered this book pulling titles for our Black History Month display. If the length of the holds list is any indication, this is going to be a good one.
CatherinetheG
Recommended to me by my daughter, Elisabeth. Can’t wait.
Rogers
Needs no explanation. Although, I’m scarred by the idea that on a bad hair day I look like Lady Elaine Fairchild. Interested in finding out if she had a real-life counterpart. Luckily, I’m too young for it to be me.
schulz
Snoopy and the Peanuts gang were a staple of my childhood. Wonderful memories that make me think of my mom.
PDJames
The British mysteries of PD James are the best. I’m a fangirl.
CapKang
We named our cat, Fatrick, after a cat we saw on the show. Bob Keeshan was a Marine. Started my childhood mornings with Mr. Green Jeans and Co. Aha moment: Could Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit be the reason I like puppets?
becoming
Inspiring,
Burr
Haven’t read the Alexander Hamilton bio by Ron Chernow that inspired the musical Hamilton yet. Feel compelled to read more about Aaron Burr.  Chernow has a new one about U.S. Grant, too. I’ll spare you another picture.

So, tell me who you read about?  Or share one of your favorites. I’m not afraid to add more books to my list.  I only get worried when I don’t know what my next book will be.   Thanks for reading!

Before you go…I’ve recommended Endurance to several people since I read it but I can NEVER remember the title.  Is it Endurance or Endeavour? Endurance or Endeavour?  Both seem like they would be appropriate. Seriously, CAN NOT REMEMBER.  In my defense, one of the space shuttles was called Endeavour.  Close enough to cause confusion, right? I have a similar issue with those canned peppers in spicy sauce…chipotles in adobo.  I so frequently referred to them as chipotles in adobe that I am no long sure which I’m supposed to say and so do not refer to them by name anymore.

 

 

 

 

The Irrelevance of Rob Lowe, Dewey and Bigfoot

READ A BIOGRAPHY (OR AUTOBIOGRAPHY) OF SOMEONE YOU ADMIRE

So, when I planned to tackle this as my next challenge, I thought it was going to be too easy.  I mean, people think I read for a living anyway.  But, I’ve started and restarted this post multiple times.  I feel like I have reader’s block.  If you are a big reader you might know this syndrome: a general inability to get into something that you are “supposed” to read.  For me, it usually involves some kind of deadline to start and finish an “assigned” book. It’s probably amazing I ever made it through school!

At this point in life it most frequently manifests itself in book clubs. People often ask me how many book clubs I’m in.  None.  I have enjoyed book clubs over time and would join again if the right situation arose but for now, I’m more than happy to be riding solo.  I’ve got a bit of “stick-it-to-the-man” in me even when it comes to books.

In this particular situation, I actually am “the man”.  I’ve got to get over the assignment feel of this challenge.  Maybe it’s because I read a lot of fiction. For some people, that means I’m wasting my time. Not “learning” anything.  Whatever. It’s not that I don’t read nonfiction, I do. I just like fiction better. It’s like cake. I’ll eat any cake that looks good, but there’s nothing like a white cake with white frosting. That will be a controversial statement for the chocolate cake eaters out there.  Just move on.

I do enjoy a good biography or autobiography.  In fact, while reading a memoir several years ago I was motivated for the first time to reach out to someone famous via social media.  It’s always exciting when someone with some influence talks about libraries. I was enjoying my library copy of Love Life when Rob Lowe told a story about his time in the  library researching Bigfoot as a child. Then this happened: “Has there ever been a more horrific barrier to reading than the Dewey Decimal System? No wonder libraries are becoming irrelevant.”  Well, thanks for that.

 

Why am I promoting this? Actually, his books are good.

The majority of autobiographies or biographies that I read are interesting or entertaining but are not necessarily about people that I admire.  Not that I don’t admire them, but, usually admire would be too strong a word.  See previous Rob Lowe story. I’ve been undecided for awhile on this so I guess it’s going to be a game-time decision.  I’ve started the clock ticking with this post and by next week I need to have selected, read and written about this book. It’s like being in college again!

Are you an autobiography/biography reader?  Do you read about people you admire? Read along with me this week.  Just don’t overthink it like I do! I’d love to hear what you’ve read, this week or previously, and what you recommend. I’ll be back here next week, and hopefully, you will, too.  Thanks for reading!

Before you go…I’m not letting this library thing go.  First of all, Horrific Barriers to Reading for $2000, Alex.  Does the Dewey Decimal System even make the cut? I’m not going to defend the Dewey Decimal System but I will challenge you to go to your local bookstore and try to find a book on Bigfoot without asking anyone for help.  Irrelevant, my a$$.

 

 

 

 

We Ate Things We Didn’t Recognize

I crowd-sourced what cuisine I should try for the TRY ANOTHER COUNTRY’S CUISINE Challenge and the winner was: Ethiopia! (I took a poll on Facebook and Instagram and Ethiopia thumped Russia/Uzbekistan in the voting). This was one of those challenges where I thought, “Why did I say I’d do this?” We did a little research about what we should eat and, maybe more precisely, what we should avoid. Tibs: stir-fried meat, yes.  Kitfo: raw lean ground beef, no. Feeling fairly prepared, we ventured out but I can’t say we were too excited.

Sora
Full disclosure: taken as we were leaving.

Turns out there are six Ethiopian places within walking distance. We chose Sora Ethiopian Market and Cafe, which is only half a mile from out house! It’s not a large place and luckily we weren’t the only diners. Game plan: order some kind of identifiable meat and be comforted by the idea of bread. We had decided we needed to order one of the combo platters that seem to be the staple of Ethiopian cuisine. So we picked the Veggies of the Day and added something called YeShint Tibs: cubed ribeye steak sautéed with onions, garlic, tomato, jalapeño and some kind of seasoning.

menu
Notice the YeShint Tibs. As well as various other Tibs.

In Ethiopia you eat without utensils.  Meals are served with a spongy flatbread called injera which you tear off into small pieces and use to scoop up the meat or vegetables. It’s not bad once you get the hang of it, but messy.

injera
Injera. An endless supply.

So, I’m sure you are wondering, how was the food? It was pretty good! I was surprised that I liked the vegetables better than the bread or the beef.  Let’s start with the bread.  Injera has a strange, almost sour, flavor.  It serves primarily as a vessel to get the food from plate to mouth.  It certainly isn’t something that I would just eat alone but with the veggies or meat it almost disappears flavor-wise. The temperature was off-putting, room temperature with an almost clammy feel.  I’m not sure I’d even describe it as bread? Lee and I were in agreement about the injera.

For the meat entree, YeShint Tibs, I liked the seasoning but the steak was just okay,  I wanted it to be more tender and I thought our server said it would be thinly sliced.  However, looking at the menu now it clearly says “chunk cubes” of ribeye, so…I guess that’s on me.  Lee liked the meat better than I did.

On to the veggies.  I was nervous about them. In the pictures they looked mushy and of indeterminate origin.  However, I liked all but one of the five!

Foodlabeled
All platters are served on injera.

A veggie breakdown:

Messer: spicy lentil stew- my favorite!  Good texture, nice level of spice!

Alicha Messer: non-spicy whole lentil stew- not a lot of flavor and in certain circumstances that’s a win!

Alicha Kik: yellow split pea stew- not a ton of flavor and full disclosure, I thought it was described by the server as being sweet potatoes, which probably made me give it the benefit of the doubt before even tasting it.  The whole dish was kind of an exercise in suspended disbelief anyway because it looked like corn.

Kay Sir: red beets, carrots and potatoes cooked with onions and garlic- surprisingly good!  I do like beets (cooked only, please!) and potatoes, to the picky eater, are a god-send, plus carrots, I can do.  I was good once I realized that even though I couldn’t tell whether a chunk was beet, potato or carrot they all tasted fine.

Gomen: Collard greens cooked with onion and garlic- I saved the best for last…no. This was no bueno.  Wrong language,  I know. Wrong country even, but really just plain wrong. I’m not a fan of collard greens, in general, and these were probably perfectly fine if you like them, but, just no for me.  I did try them and, honestly, it was the only thing I ate all night where I was like, just swallow and try not to make a face.

We admitted to our server that this was our first time eating Ethiopian food and she said we seemed like naturals!  I think she was impressed that we didn’t ask for silverware.  Overall, we enjoyed it.  We might even go back.  Maybe.

coke
Liquid security blanket.

So, did you eat something from somewhere different? What did you think?  I’d love to hear about it!  I was about to write that maybe we’d try out more new food from other countries but, you know, I’m going to pace myself.  I’ve promised to try sushi and we might just give the Uzbek/Russian place by the movie theatre a go but after that I think I’ll give my tastebuds and my overactive imagination a rest.  Thanks for reading!

Before you go…I must admit that Lee tasted everything first and told me what I’d like and what I wouldn’t!  Although, I was going to try everything anyway it helped me to prepare mentally.  Let’s just say he’s my food wing man.

 

 

 

 

 

Mayo Roll

Let’s jump right in. The first challenge of 2019: TRY ANOTHER COUNTRY’S CUISINE.

Growing up in Moore, OK I didn’t have much exposure to international cuisine. Or people from other countries. Circa 1980, for international flavor we had a Taco Tico and a couple of pizza places. Also, I’m a picky eater. Fear of condiments. Hatred of pickles. Fish, no thank you. Once referred to as “the big plain, plain” for my continued preference for a plain burger. I’ll own it.

Early in our marriage I had the opportunity to visit Lee in Hong Kong. We explored,  shopped and toured. We ate and ate and ate at …Pizza Hut. Given the opportunity, Lee would have tried the local fare but he didn’t make me feel bad because I wouldn’t. Probably helped that he hadn’t seen me in five months. I was young and afraid. But I’ve grown to like a lot of foods that I never thought I would. I’ve learned to try a lot of foods I never thought I would.

I’m trusting that I can tell you that story and you won’t judge.  Now, I’m fighting the urge to list all of my international food experiences, both here and abroad, to redeem myself. But, no one wants to read that and that’s not what we’re here for. We need to find some food and find it quick.

img_7259
Not this.

First up, determine what country’s cuisine I haven’t tried. This might be fairly challenging.  Luckily, we currently live in a very diverse area and I’m going to use that to my advantage.  I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of options.

Next, what to eat? I am thankful for my wonderful friends and coworkers over the years who have made and shared delicious dishes from their cultures and traditions. Food from the heart is always the best food.  But, I’m not going to go begging my friends. Not making it myself either.  The book provides a recipe for making sushi which I was up for trying but 1) I’m too lazy to buy a sushi mat and 2) I’m disgusted/appalled that the sushi recipe calls for mayonnaise!  I’ll admit that I’ve never eaten sushi–I know, I know–but I do need to know if mayonnaise is something that one would normally find in sushi.

Anyone up for this challenge? Make it yourself, try a new restaurant, rope your friend into cooking for you, whatever works! What’s the best international dish you’ve ever eaten? Anything you’ve been hoping to try? Sushi eaters…mayo in sushi, is that a thing? I’ll be back here next week with tales of daring eatery and delicious feasts. Maybe you will, too!

Before you go…one of our favorites is Pho (pronounced “fuh”), Vietnamese noodle soup.  If you haven’t tried it, you should.  Almost as good is the creatvity of Pho restaurant owners. Some of our favorite Pho restaurant names:  20 Pho 7, Pho Real, Pho Sho, and the new Keene, New Hampshire restaurant Pho Keene Great.

 

 

Direction Over Speed

I’m amazed, and frankly a little scared, at how fast time passes.  A lot has happened since I last wrote and yet somehow I can’t believe it’s been over a year.  2018 was in most ways a year like any other.  I worked, I ate, I laughed, I cried, I moved.  Ah, yes, the ever presenting moving.  It was also the year I turned 50.  That birthday so dreaded by many but also rightly celebrated. A milestone. The combination of its approach, an additional major life change and an unassuming little yellow book are what initially led to this blog.  I knew I wouldn’t complete the challenges by 50 but I’m ready to start again.  I’ve missed this endeavor.  The planning, the writing and the connection, not only to my faithful, supportive readers but to myself.  Two of my new guiding principles for 2019 fit nicely with this: live deliberately and direction over speed.  As I’ve written before, one of the benefits of this blog has been that it’s forced me to live more deliberately.

My subconscious has been busy trying to convince me that it’s been too long for me to pick up where I left off.  The ship has sailed, no one cares, you (shockingly) failed to finish something again.

img_7238
Rare sighting of my subconscious watching me write.

But, I’m in charge here and I want to pick up where I left off.  I’m choosing direction over speed.  As a military spouse I find this to be a difficult task.  We don’t feel like we get to choose the direction and once we land somewhere we have to act with speed, ever aware that time is precious and finite. The truth is that whatever the outside forces or internal whispers WE get to set the speed and direction of our lives. Obstacles just make it more challenging and interesting. I’ve said all of this to say, I’m back! There are many challenges ahead and I hope you are still with me. Let’s do this.

Before you go…Facebook has been reminding me that all 69 of you that liked my Before You Grow Up page haven’t heard from me in a while…I’m not sure if that’s supposed to motivate me or depress me but either way it worked.

Ok, I just realized that I’m the 69th person (or probably, more accurately, the 1st) so to the other 68 of you, thanks for reading.

Waking Up in a Different Time Zone

One day I fell asleep in North Carolina and several months later, just like on TV, woke up in California. But unlike your favorite series, it wasn’t a clean cut. It wasn’t easy or without pain.  If you are still with me after this extended hiatus you are either very patient or, more likely, related to me but either way thanks for hanging around. We’ll now resume where we left off, tackling the 100 THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU GROW UP. This week’s challenge is to STEP OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE.

Let’s be honest, this is pretty much a staple of adulthood. As you get older you realize that you can somewhat design your life to minimize encountering situations that require you to step outside your comfort zone. I was probably 24 years old before I realized that I actually didn’t have to ride roller coasters if I didn’t want to.  But with this challenge I feel like I’ve stumbled onto what is probably the existential test of the average person’s life: how to balance comfort and security with continued growth and purpose. Now, I’m no self-help expert so if you are expecting me to give you some timely tools to help you with this I’m going to assume that you are new to this blog and assign you the chore of reading the earlier posts and then going to the library for the latest self-help title.

The book suggests trying a new food, talking to someone you’ve never met, or exploring somewhere you’ve never been.  It says you’ll never know what you’re truly capable of until you push beyond your boundaries a little bit.  I agree. I’ve gotten better at trying new foods as I’ve aged, I’m embarrassed to say that sometimes I am that person who chats up the next person in line and I like to explore places I’ve never been.  These are good comfort zones to expand as a kid.  Life as a military spouse requires a fair amount of time outside the comfort zone. I have learned a couple of things, both as a military spouse and just a participant in life. 1. Discomfort is okay, it’s temporary and usually not as bad as you expected. 2. Always look forward.  My kids know that “Don’t look back” is a long-standing motto of mine, usually deployed upon seeing an animal hovering at the edge of a highway. If we can’t stop something from happening without hurting ourselves our best recourse is to not look back. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t torture yourself over things you can’t change. 3. Who am I kidding? I don’t have a number three.

Sometimes pushing yourself means trying tripe or attending a conference where you know no one. Other times life gives you a push.  For the first time in 27 years I am living in a house without any of my kids. Not only do they not live with me, they live on the other side of the country. Now, I know that many people have it much worse. I have friends living in other countries that put their college student on a plane in August and don’t see them again until June. Comparing one person’s trials against another’s is a long and deep rabbit hole that I have no interest in digging.  What I’m saying is that I am outside my comfort zone and I’m doing ok. Next week I’ll spend the first Thanksgiving, since I had kids, without kids.   But, I’m happy that they will all be together. And, I know that we will all be together again. I’m embracing the discomfort, enjoying time as an empty nester with my co-empty nester, and not looking back. It’s been exciting to watch as my little people have developed into big people. More importantly, developed into good people. The kind of solid people that you spend a lifetime of love and patience, mistakes and worry, pain and joy, hoping you’ll end up with.

So, how big is your comfort zone?  Are you a roller coaster rider? A raw fish eater? An empty nester?  I’d love to hear your experiences. If you did look back on that road and what you saw wasn’t pleasant please keep it to yourself and I won’t say I told you so.

Before you go…I’m well aware that “don’t look back” could be construed as encouraging denial as a coping tool.  Your point is?

 

Ramblings of a Mad Woman

I managed to record my dreams, or at least, attempted to capture and recount strange fragments of an alternate reality.  In the process, I can’t say that I unlocked the secrets of my brain but I did learn a couple of things:

-Most nights I remember two dreams.  The first dream of the night is longer and more in-depth making it harder to recall details, the one right before waking is easier to remember but not very substantial.

-My subconscious mind is preoccupied with moving and getting a job.

-I don’t remember my dreams every night.

-To have any chance to remember an average dream you have to write it down right away.  If you write down your dreams, make sure you go back and read what you wrote in a timely manner, otherwise it just looks like the ramblings of a mad person.

dreamrecord

-The dreams of adulthood are different from those of childhood.  It’s not surprising that three of the five popular dream themes listed in the book–monsters, being lost, and being chased– reflect feelings of powerlessness.  As an adult I can’t remember the last time I dreamed about any of those things.  It’s not that adults don’t dream about feeling powerless.  Apparently, when I am feeling powerless, I dream that my teeth are crumbling out of my mouth.  I have had that dream from time to time and, man, am I glad when I wake up and realize it’s only a dream!

Several people mentioned their recent dreams to me.  Did you know that if you dream about wearing inappropriate shoes that could be indicative of feeling unprepared for a situation? If you dream of falling, and you aren’t afraid, you might be overcoming obstacles.  If you’re falling, and it is scary, it could indicate that you feel a lack of support. If you are cleaning an object in your dream, the related area of your life might not be functioning as it should. Being late?  You might be taking on too much.  Naked? Vulnerable.

So, did you attempt to write down your dreams? Remembering to do that was not as difficult as I thought it might be. Did you learn anything? I’ll admit that I like the world of my dreams and I enjoy it when I remember them. If you recorded your dreams, or even just remembered them, I’d love to hear about it.

Before you go…do you know how difficult it is to capture a dream in a photo?  If you are following the blog on Facebook or Instagram you are well aware. No matter how hard I try it ends up looking like an ad for a feminine hygiene product or a bad 70s album cover.  Maybe I missed my calling.

 

Dream On

This challenge could be very interesting…if I can remember to do it.  RECORD YOUR DREAMS FOR A WEEK.  THEN TRY TO DECODE THEM TO DISCOVER WHAT’S GOING ON IN YOUR BRAIN WHEN YOU SLEEP.  From what I understand, everyone dreams but not everyone remembers.  I am one of those people who remember their dreams.    Although my dreams are vivid and strange they are usually forgotten once I start my day.  It will be a challenge to 1) remember to write them down and 2) take the time to do so.   Trying to decode my dreams might be even trickier.  Do I really want to know what’s going on my in brain when I’m asleep?

Sometimes decoding my dreams is easy.  Because I often dream about things that I have on my mind when I go to bed, I have a rule that I don’t talk about subjects that could be stressful or thought-provoking right before bedtime.  This rule was initially put into play when my sister, Emilie, and I started a reusable bag company, circa 2006.  Lee always wanted to talk about it as we were heading to bed, thus the institution of the “no bag talk after 8pm” rule.  This rule has morphed and been used for many topics.  I highly recommend it. It’s necessary for my self-preservation and required if I’m going to get a good night’s sleep.  Don’t get me wrong,  it’s not that I won’t be able to fall asleep, although that happens occasionally, but that I will spend the night living out our discussions with strange tweaks and weird settings.  Not conducive for restful sleep.

Recurring dreams are supposed to reflect an unresolved conflict.  My first recurring dream happened when I was in either 6th or 7th grade when my sister, Emilie, left for college.  I dreamed I was riding my bike around Stillwater, OK looking for her but whenever I arrived somewhere she would have just left.  I’ve had other recurring dreams but I wouldn’t say most were the result of unresolved conflict as much as a reflection of a large change in my life.

The biggest challenge might be translating my dreams into writing.  If you’ve ever tried to describe a dream to someone you realize that there is really no language that allows you to adequately detail such a singular occurrence.  I’ll do my best and you’ll just have to promise not to conclude I’m a weirdo.  One especially peculiar aspect of  dreams appears when you “know” you are in a particular place, like your home or work, but it looks nothing like your home or work.  Another occurs when you have a famous person in your dream, let’s say Derek Jeter, but as the dream goes on you realize it is not Derek Jeter but your husband instead.   I’m not saying I’ve ever dreamed about Derek Jeter, that’s just an example.

So, do you remember your dreams?  Are they vivid and strange, like mine?  Please tell me they are! Do you find it difficult to capture them for other people? If you are up for this challenge, I’d love to hear about your dreams.  I’ll be writing down my dreams each morning for a week.  Next week, I’ll be back to let you know if I remembered to write them down and, more importantly, if I’ve managed to decode them and crack the puzzle of my sleeping brain. Oh, boy, wish me luck!

Before you go, I think we’ve all had that I’m-at-school-naked dream at one time or another but I’m wondering if you have work specific dreams as an adult?  I’ve had a couple of library Storytime dreams…most recently I had a Dance Party nightmare!