Biscuits, Toast, & Cornbread

My Grandmother Padgett was a marvelous cook. Even now, I drool at the thought of her walnut pound cake and the dark chocolate covered coconut candy she served. And it wasn’t just the sweet treats she excelled in. Her roast beef, chicken and dumplings, and angel biscuits were unsurpassed.

My other grandmother, Grandmother Clyburn, was my mother’s mother, and her cooking must have been fair (like mine?) because I never heard a single person brag on it. In all my years of knowing her and being in and out of her home, I don’t recall ever tasting any of her kitchen creations except toast and eggs. She broiled the toast after smearing it with real butter, and I loved it.

I’ve come to realize that I’m a mediocre cook at best. I can do it, but I don’t look forward to it like some folks. In fact, the idea of preparing a delectable dinner with several dishes is daunting to me, and I’m wondering if that’s why I’ve gravitated towards hosting holiday drop-ins with tasty finger foods for the past couple of years.

Last week as I began putting Christmas paraphernalia away, I came across three sets of Christmas china, none of which I had used for a “sit-down” meal,” a good old-fashioned family event. What is wrong with this picture? I asked myself.

Knowing I was going to see two of my three children over New Year’s weekend, I decided to prepare a traditional meal that included black-eyed peas, greens, and cornbread. We set the time for late Sunday afternoon, and I was filled with anticipation and honestly, a little bit of dread. What if my plans for around the table sighs of gustatory delight backfired?

My daughter Elizabeth, always organized, helped me plan and gather what I’d need. With ham, rice, cornmeal, buttermilk, green beans, and spinach, we felt good confident about the meal.

That’s when the self-doubt came to call.

I felt like something was missing, so we dropped by the Piggly Wiggly  at Market Commons. They have the best deli in South Carolina, and I chose a loaded baked potato salad, a Waldorf salad, and a small chef salad to supplement our Sunday feast. Armed with the essentials for a memorable New Year’s meal, I was content.

But here’s what happened:

  • The rice that I had so cleverly prepared with chicken broth was a solid, gummy mass of goo. Apparently, I forgot to burn off the burner.
  • The ham was incredibly salty. Also, I had heated and added a glaze that was much too spicy. Live and learn, right? I won’t be doing that again.
  • The Waldorf salad had too much celery, and I removed each tiny piece of it and then added a sliced banana for that mellow taste. Everything was fine until little Ethan announced that he didn’t like the “white things” on his apples. Despite his mother’s reminders that he liked coconut, he couldn’t be persuaded to eat one bite.
  • The green beans in the steamer bag were so green that they looked almost artificial. They were waxy and chewy and tasteless, the latter because  because I forgot to add seasoning.
  • The loaded potato salad that looked and tasted so good after being warmed in the oven for a few minutes became a soupy mess after being forgotten for another half hour.
  • The cornbread was so-so without my mother’s cast-iron frying pan to bake it in.
  • The chef salad that was supposed to add some texture and color to the menu remained uneaten in its festive bowl. Without a drop of salad dressing in the house, the dish was unappealing.
  • The Star Wars cookies Elizabeth made were colorful and yummy.
  • I had planned to prepare spinach, but well, why waste the time?

My idea of having a traditional around the table meal panned out. We used plates that had once been my mother’s, and we decorated the table with Christmas items that had not yet been put away. The scene was pretty. But the food. Well, it was so unappetizing that the experience has helped me come up with my word for the year: IMPROVE.

Improve in cooking, writing, loving, painting, teaching, helping, and every other area of my life. Vying for first place was learn, but since that’s something I already make it a point to do every day, improve wins the day.

Has anyone else decided upon a word to guide behavior, thoughts, and feelings this year? If so, what is it? And why or how did you decide on it?

Let’s Get Happy!

new-york-08-042

It’s been a sad season in our household for the past couple of months, but I’m coming around. Part of the reason for my resurrection is my innate temperament, and another part is a book I’ve been reading, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. About temperament, Rubin’s book reminded me that genetics accounts for about 50 percent of one’s emotional set point.

Since I’ve been teaching psychology since, well, let’s just say a long, long time, I already knew most of the things in Ms. Rubin’s book, but I haven’t thought of the host of interesting and doable applications that she suggests in The Project. While many people think that lots of money, parenthood, or age are major factors in happiness, they really aren’t.

I’ve already put some of Rubin’s suggestions to use and can tell a difference, not just in my elevated mood but also in that of others that I’m around. That’s not surprising. After all, one of the concepts of psychology is emotional contagion, a phenomenon in which people “catch” emotions from other people. I’d rather infect my friends and family with good cheer instead of gloominess, hadn’t you?

While we were discussing my quest for more sustained happiness, my brother asked, “Why not joy?” I replied that I’m not sure that joy is as attainable and sustainable as happiness. Rubin quotes one of her blog readers who said, “But happiness is more accessible. We can be miserable and then find ourselves laughing, even if it’s just for a few seconds. It reaffirms the will to live and from there we can branch out.”

During a Celebration of Life following the funeral of a loved one last week, I saw and heard several people laughing—people who deeply loved the dearly departed. Although their hearts were broken, they could still find something funny or uplifting enough to laugh about. A quick example is of a cousin who whispered the name of her unborn child to her grandmother who was in a comatose state. No one else knows the name of this soon-to-be-born baby boy except for Nana, and as my cousin was relating the story, she smiled and laughingly told of how she had to make sure that her own mother wasn’t eavesdropping.

“Oh, your mom would never do that. If she told you that she wouldn’t listen, then she wouldn’t,” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said with a lilt in her voice. “Mom’s the one who always shakes the Christmas presents in our house.”

The conversation was mood elevating to me. The room was filled with people who lived and breathed because of Nana, and although she had “passed through the veil,” she took the secret of her new great grandson’s name with her. I love it. And so did the people who were listening, people who loved Nana’s daughter and granddaughter.

Happiness is my word for 2014. Like Rubin, I’m a happy person. BUT as she said, “I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change. In that single moment, with that realization, I decided to dedicate a year to trying to be happier.”

Me too. I’m going to continue reading and rereading The Happiness Project and apply many (most?) of the recommendations to my life. I’ll be writing about my successes and failures here and hoping that you’ll be inspired to jump on the happiness bandwagon. What have you got to lose except a sour attitude?

Young, Determined, and Persistent

IMG_5595e

Can you see the figure in the distance? She’s one of my role models, the one I look for each time I go walking at Scott Park. Young, determined, and persistent, she’s there winter and summer, in rain and sun and wind. And yes, she’s there the other seasons of the year too. Without even knowing her name, I’m impressed with her.

Young, she’s doing something important for her body that will stand her in good stead when she’s older. Developmental psychologists state that the human body is at its optimum level of functioning in our 20’s and 30’s, and many people in that age category somehow magically believe that the state of health they enjoy currently will be theirs in ensuing decades. I’m pretty sure that humans reach their physical peak around 25, and after that it’s a slow, steady, inevitable decline towards old age. All this is to say: Put on those shoes and join my friend and me at the track.

She’s determined. When I first saw this young woman, she was heavier than she is today. Because of her determination and persistence, she has not only lost a lot of weight, but she has also become more toned and less sluggish. I’m not sure how this works, but persistent involvement in moderate exercise can actually energize us, not deplete our energy resources. Note that I said “moderate exercise.” You don’t need to run several miles a day. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week can do you/us a world of good.

Although I’ve already alluded to the persistence aspect of my young friend, there’s something else I need to mention. So many people start diets and exercise regimens in a gung-ho manner, and after a couple of weeks, they’re making excuses for staying on the couch: the weather, a cold, too tired, and many other alibis too numerous to list. They’ve also probably begun sneaking French fries and sipping sugar-laden drinks. An occasional indulgence is okay; a steady diet of them is not.

Am I a doctor? No. I don’t have the scientific aptitude for that. What I am is a senior citizen who is aware of the long term consequences of health decisions that we make when we’re young. It’s never completely too late to turn things around, however. I say “never completely” because once certain diseases take hold, it might be everlastingly too late.

Back to my young, determined, and persistent friend, I missed seeing her couple of days recently, and when I recognized her in Wal-Mart, I asked about her absence. It turned out that we had been visiting the track at different times. Plus, I’d been doing a lot of beach walking. We chatted about the stress relieving factor of exercise, and she said that her children had recently urged her to go. They didn’t want a cranky mom, and as young as they were, the little ones realized that exercise was good for their mother’s psyche and mood. But that’s a story for another day.

For today, I’m interested in hearing your exercise success stories. How has consistent exercise helped you physically and emotionally? How do you find time for it?

Other Blogs

IMG_2353

Quick post to say that this blog appears to be my primary one, and I can’t change that (have dutifully followed instructions several times). I have three blogs, and this one is more about personal experiences and ponderings in the day-to-day life of a mother, grandmother, wife, teacher, sister, friend……..you get the picture. It’s a potpourri of many different topics, so if that’s what you’re looking for, then this is it. Since Mom’s Musings is the first blog I started, that’s probably why it’s still listed as my primary one regardless of my attempts to change its status.

My other two blogs might interest you too. Or rather, they might interest you MORE than the above mentioned one because they’re focused on specific topics. Gossip and Solitude (http://jaynebowers.wordpress.com/) is a weblog about my writing experiences and is an attempt to meld a website and blog together. Not only do I post about the fun, woes, rewards, hassles, disappointments, and triumphs of writing, but I also post book reviews.

The third blog, Beating a Path, is about teaching experiences. I’ve been teaching in the SC Technical Education system since 1975 (ouch…long time!), and this blogs includes ideas, suggestions, and stories. I’m still teaching part-time, mainly because I just can’t leave the magic of the classroom. Educational practices and trends continue to change, and for a number of years I’ve also taught online classes. The link to Beating a path is http://www.jpbowers.wordpress.com.

I hope you’ll check out the other two blogs, especially since I think a lot of people are directed to Mom’s Musings by accident…or rather because of a wordpress issue that I can’t figure out.

Happy Blogging!

Do It Anyway

Today I got an email from Dr. Susan Jeffers. Actually, it was a newsletter that I receive every month, but this one was quite different from the others. It was an obituary. Dr. Jeffers died of cancer in October, and someone who loved her sent the monthly newsletter. Among other works, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway influenced millions of people, including yours truly, and this evening, I’m copying and pasting something from this book that I wrote in a psychcentral blog about a year ago. Here goes:

From reading past posts, I’ve realized that self-help and personal development are among the most popular topics. For that reason, I’m re-reading 50 Self-Help Classics by Tom Butler-Bowden and choosing a few that I think you might find both interesting and helpful.

One of the classics reviewed by Butler-Bowdon is entitled Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. The author, Dr. Susan Jeffers, says that people see fear in the wrong way, and that it’s actually a green light to keep going. Trepidation is undeniably real, but we just need to push forward, to feel the fear and do it anyway. Sure, security and routine are safe, but can’t they be a little risky if they prevent you from living a full life?

Dr. Jeffers says we need energizing every day, and that just like breakfast energizes and fuels our body, reading inspirational quotes and books fuels our psyches. Take control of your mental inputs, Jeffers advises. Say things like, “I am a confident person in every situation.” Never be fearful of mistakes. Lighten up and be happy that you had the experience…that you tried. Wouldn’t be awful to come to the end of your life and still be thinking coulda, shoulda, woulda?  From teaching Human Growth and Development, I’ve learned that the #1 regret of elderly people is that they DIDN’T give things a try, that they let their fears hold them back. By that time, it’s too late to make that call, start that business, write that article, or fly around the world

Jeffers offers a perfect example of how she worked through humans’ #1 fear, rejection.  These are her words lifted right from her website:  “It took many, many rejections before my first book, FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY, was finally accepted by a publisher. The worst rejection letter I ever got was that “Lady Di could be bicycling nude down the street giving this book away and nobody would read it.” Can you imagine being told that? I bet that publisher has regretted that snide comment hundreds of times. What if Jeffers had listened? What if she had given up? What if she had felt the fear and stopped?

Are you going to be one of those people who allow fear to stop you from taking chances, or are you going to be courageous? Why not start small?  Think of one thing, just one thing, you can be brave about today and DO IT! Oh, and share it on this blog. Who knows? Your courage might inspire someone else.

The Incredible Shrinking Woman

At dinner the other evening, my friend Connie and I discussed the fact that we don’t blog as much as we used to. “Why is that?” we wondered aloud. Sure, our lives are busy, and at times we’re a little frazzled, but that’s nothing new. What we think is that Facebook and Words with Friends has cut into our blogging time! We love social media, and yet it can be quite distracting. Both Connie and I have dozens of things to write about, and we develop blog posts as we’re driving along en route to our various destinations. The problem is (or one of them) that we don’t write these things down.

That said, one of the things I’ve thought about numerous times during the last several months is the incredible shrinking woman. She’s a young woman that I often seeing walking at a local track. When I first saw her at Scott Park, I could tell that she was struggling to keep on keeping on. I wanted to say, “You go, Girl! You can do it!” I didn’t say anything though. Unsure of track decorum, I kept my enthusiasm for her efforts to myself.

Since I don’t go to the park every day, it was probably three weeks before I saw her again, moving a little faster that time. Walking steadily and resolutely, she and I came face-to-face and nodded a greeting. I remember thinking, “YES!” to her perseverance and determination.  I continued to see her almost each time I visited the track, and then one day I noticed a change in her appearance. She was noticeably smaller and quite a bit faster.

And then the  morning arrived when I couldn’t believe my eyes! She had lost so much weight that I just had to comment on it. “You’re looking good!” I said as we passed each other. She didn’t just nod; she twirled around with a smile and said, “Thanks for noticing.” How could I help but notice? Just guessing, I’d say that she had probably lost 60-75 pounds from walking those tree-lined paths.

The beautiful, healthy young woman has probably paid more attention to her diet too. It’s been my observation that once people begin an exercise regimen, they care more about what they put into their bodies. I’m not saying we don’t like Hershey bars; I’m just saying we eat them more infrequently.

So kudos to the incredible shrinking woman who consistently demonstrates the power of exercise. Keep in mind that she’s not working out with fancy machines or paying for a membership at a fitness center. Nope. She’s putting one foot in front of another, one of the most inexpensive and effective types of exercise there is.

Hope, Direction, and Gratitude

On Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to get together with June, an old and dear friend. Among the many topics of conversation that afternoon was the awesome power of books to change one’s thinking, give hope, and offer direction. Yes, we talked about paint chips and husbands and careers too, but somehow the topic always returned to some of the books we’ve read and how they affected our lives.

While there are dozens that I could mention, I’m only going to highlight a few:

The first three words in Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled were sobering for both of us the first time we read it. Basing his premise on the noble truths of Buddha, Dr.Peck states, “Life is difficult,” and then goes on to say that as soon as people accept that fact and stop whining, then they can go about their lives in a more effective way.

June and I went through a season in which we devoured the words of Sarah ban Breathnach in her book Simple Abundance. We even gave each other gratitude journals and followed Sarah’s (we felt we were on a first name basis with her)  advice to write five things each day for which we were grateful. What this taught us was to be more mindful and to pay attention  to the good things in our lives.

And how can I forget Melody Beattie’s The Language of Letting Go? I can’t. In fact, I’ve  given several copies of this book away and currently have a copy here at home, at the beach bungalow, and on my Kindle. Sometimes I forget that I deserve all that life and love have to offer, and I need a reminder from Melody. I’ve also learned about detaching with love, the power of waiting, and knowing  when to say no from her.

Then there’s Dr. Stephen Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I first read this book 14 or 15 years ago, and I continue to dip into it whenever I need a reminder to be proactive, make some deposits in an emotional bank account, or sharpen the saw. Everyone who knows me knows I’m a big Covey fan.

Though small, Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved my Cheese? also gave me much food for thought. A student introduced me to this book, and his favorite line soon became one of mine: “It is safer to search in the maze than remain in a cheeseless situation.”

Before I get too carried away with more favorites, I just want to reiterate that reading can change a person’s perspective, lift her out of the doldrums, and show her a better way. I’m hoping that my new book, Eve’s Sisters, a compilation of essays applying psychological principles to the women of the Bible AND the women of today, will help people as much as other books have helped me!