Friday, July 28, 2006


OK, here is it comes. I am tackling the BIG one!

I guess I have always been fat. Looking back at pictures of me as a baby I had fat little cheeks. My body wasn’t huge or anything like that, but my face was round and puffy. Some things never change – they just get bigger.

I grew up in the South and had a steady diet of wonderful food, most of which is now banned in polite circles. If you could fry it, we fried it! Or, we saturated it in gravy. And salt was almost one of the three food groups. Salad was iceberg lettuce with tomatoes (which I hated). We did have some healthy foods too – fresh tree-ripened fruits and wonderful melons; fresh peas, beans and squash. And there were always plenty of wonderful pies and cakes. My mother was a fantastic cook and quite the hostess, and people raved about her recipes.

My grandmother was the traditional Southern cook. She could fry incredible chicken and her green beans seasoned with fatback were amazing. What I particularly loved (and have never really been able to replicate) is her fried corn.

Most of my childhood, I enjoyed food, except for a brief period when I was about three, when for some reason I decided that I was not going to eat in front of my father. My parents told me that if I didn’t eat I would have to put on my little white shorts and my little white shirt and go to the hospital. They kept them in the bottom of my dresser. After a few weeks, I relented. And I haven’t stopped.

About the time I was 14 I realized I was FAT. My mother grew concerned about my weight. Now, looking back at the photos from that time, I really wasn’t fat at all. I probably weighed 130 pounds, but you were supposed to have a waist like Scarlett O’Hara and I never have – ever. Of course Scarlett got all laced up in a corset.

In typical teenage fashion, I ignored my mother’s warnings and ate whatever I pleased.
And it wasn’t hard because we had great food. And although I played tennis every day, I usually followed this vigorous exercise with a cherry turnover topped with an incredible sweet buttery sauce (the specialty of a local coffee shop).

My mother, who had a small weight problem herself, managed to buy some cans of Metrecal powder from the man down the street who was a hospital administrator. She bought several cases of the stuff. I don’t think I have tasted anything more blah than this mixture. It sounded good – just 900 calories a day. But the boredom was incredible! We kept it around in case of World War III. Some people had a fallout shelter; we had about 40 cans of Metrecal and some Clorox jugs full of water in the laundry room.

By the time I graduated from high school I was pushing 150 pounds. My mother, in desperation, took me to the doctor. No way was I going off to college being FAT! The pediatrician gave me the “cure” – the same “cure” that thousands of teenage girls all over the US were given. Diet pills (now known as amphetamines) were all the rage. One little green and yellow pill and you didn’t want to eat. Of course, you talked a mile and minute and actually fooled yourself into believing that you could focus.

But, the summer of 1964, I lost a whopping 27 pounds and I was off to college looking good at the magical weight of 125. That summer I ate the grapefruit diet. I had half a grapefruit every morning, plus one piece of bacon well-drained and an egg fried in a Teflon skillet. Mid-morning I ate 7 dry soda crackers. For lunch I had a hamburger patty and a salad. In the afternoon I had a small cup of lime sherbet. For dinner I ate what other people ate, but severely limited my portions and no bread or dessert. As diets go, it wasn’t awful.

The first year and half at college I took the diet pills regularly, though some days I took them in the afternoon, instead of the morning and found I could stay up late and study. Of course, every other slightly pudgy girl in the dorm was doing the same thing. I watched in horror as a few friends became addicted to the pills. Soon I discovered that I was feeling lousy, so I threw the pills out and vowed that I would never take them again – no matter what any doctor told me to do!

Of course, I promptly gained 20 pounds and by the time I graduated from college I was about the same weight as when I graduated from high school. What put the weight on was the “machines.” There were soft drinks in small paper cups with ice, candy bars and cheese crackers. It was in college that I discovered the combination of chocolate and peanut butter and its addictive properties.

The year of graduate school I ate OK and lost some weight again, and by the time I married I weighed an acceptable 135 pounds – still FAT, mind you, but not all THAT fat!

Within a couple of years our son came along and I gained about 20 pounds. I jokingly say that he is 34 now and I am still carrying the baby weight. I know it is bad joke, but at least party true. I did lose some of it -- for a while.

By the time we moved to Maryland I weighed 145 – respectable for a 30 year old, but still FAT. Soon 145 had crept up to 155 and then to about 160. I think it might have been wafer bars with chocolate and peanut butter that did it. Another factor was my mother’s heart attack in 1977. I stayed in a Birmingham hospital day and night, subsisting on nothing but machine food (i.e. sodas, crackers, candy bars). Fortunately, my mother recovered, but my weight was another matter.

My mother made most of my clothes from the time I was a baby until I was in my thirties. She would measure me and just make them bigger. She would, of course, lecture me each time that the waist had to be a bit bigger, but I wasn’t listening. After she died in 1988, I was forced to encounter the real "Women's World" section of the department store and began to appreciate outlet shopping as a way of life.

But then along came Atkins. I had found my perfect diet. I could eat fried food, fatty steaks, pork rinds and whipped cream. I loved the diet, felt great and lost about 18 pounds. Then it stopped working. Or may I just fizzled out with it. You can just eat so much whipped cream.

Next I tried a weight loss system where they provided all your food. Every week I had to go blow into a machine and they would be able to tell if I had cheated. I hated the food, and though I lost some weight I couldn’t stick with it. In time, I regained what I had lost and more.

Then I tried Weight Watchers and even a special program for people with 50 or more pounds to lose. It worked for a while, but I lost interest. Something came along to jar me back into my normal eating mode. I still have a file drawer of coupons which I am sure are of no value now.

After that I got really busy with my business and resolved that being FAT was OK – at least for now. But from time to time I would try Atkins again, or pick up a fad diet book at the bookstore. I would try a new diet and it would work for a bit, but then I couldn’t stand it anymore. Meanwhile, my weight kept going up, with the occasional downward dip.

A few years ago I bought some motivational CDs that are designed to help you relax and while you are relaxing the tapes sooth your soul with building a new, not overweight persona. These actually do seem to help! But you have to listen to them!

Over the years I have consulted professionals with expertise in this area. They all say the same thing – eat a balanced diet and the weight will come off.

So, finally, as my 60th birthday approached, I realized that this was going to have to be a watershed day in my life. I used to think 60 was old, but, of course – no longer! I want to live another 20 or 30 years and I want my quality of life to be good up until the day I go. Probably an unrealistic dream, but…

The day after my 60th birthday I told myself – “Self, you are running out of changes. You know how to eat right. Start doing it. Don’t try to play mind games and rationalizations. It is no use. Just eat the right stuff. If you don’t do this, you are going to die too soon!”

So far I am about 6 weeks into my plan, and I have lost about 12 pounds. And I feel better than I have felt in years. I am sleeping through the night without any sleeping pills. But more importantly, I am happy. Yes, I am definitely losing weight and this time it might just work. The main reason it might just work is that I have literally changed the way I think about food and it was amazingly easy.

I know you are trying to track through this and figure out how much I weigh right now. Don’t bother; I am not going to tell you. The only way you can find that out is read my driver’s license and add 5 pounds.

Check back next week for a summary of my diet and an update on my progress.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


When I was about four they taught me my phone number; it was 6-6130. The phone was heavy, black, sort of a square shape, with a very heavy receiver. It belonged to Southern Bell (aka The Phone Company). My mother taught me how to dial the numbers and it took a lot of effort to get my small fingers to move the dial. It made a clicking sound when you let go of it. In time, if I listened carefully as my mother dialed the phone I could tell who she was calling by the number of clicks.

I don’t recall that my grandparents, who lived with us, used the phone very much. My mother mostly managed the telephone. It lived on a small stand in the hallway between the bedrooms. I still have the stand; it sits in my entrance hall today with the silk flowers in a vase and a pair of porcelain doves I got as a wedding present.

When my mother used the phone, I didn’t like it because she would talk and talk. I was supposed to stay there with her while she was on the phone and read books. There was book shelf right next to the phone and if she got on a really long call I would pull all the books off the shelf and amuse myself by rearranging them (sometimes failing to put them back).

My father seldom initiated phone calls. When he did answer the phone (usually after it was passed to him by my mother), he responded with something that sounded like “Harry.” I wondered why he only spoke on the phone to my Uncle Harry, until I learned that he was actually saying “alright.” I guess he meant – OK, so you have me on the phone, ALRIGHT, tell me why you called.

When I was in elementary school, they changed our phone number to State-5-6130. That meant, we had to dial St5-6130. Everyone complained about it a lot--- just one more thing to remember. You could tell by your exchange where you lived. My father had a Fairfax for his work number. Our friends who lived “over the mountain” all had numbers that started with Tremont.

We did eventually move “over the mountain” ourselves, back in 1958. In the language of Birmingham, “over the mountain” means on Shades Mountain and points south, rather than within the confines of Jones Valley, as defined by Red Mountain. The move back then to “over the mountain” meant you had arrived.

So with our move, we got our Tremont exchange, and our number was Tremont 9-2215. After a couple of years, however, they ran out of Tremont numbers and gave us a new number – Valley-2-3003. My mother was not too happy about this; I think she always liked the old Tremont number better, but life goes on. Eventually, the phone company dropped the use of letters and our number became 822-3003.

Along with our move “over the mountain” came a new kind of telephone. In fact, we actually had FOUR telephones in our new house and each one was a different color. We had a beige phone in the family room and yellow wall phone in the kitchen. Down in the basement we had black wall mounted phone in the laundry room. My parents had pale blue phone between their twin beds. All of the phones were rotary, very heavy, and belonged to the phone company.

List most teenagers in my acquaintance, I mostly used the laundry room phone. There was more privacy that way. The laundry room was just off what we called the “rumpus room.” Today this room might be referred to as a “club room.” The idea was that the homeowner would finish off part of the basement to be extra space to be used for casual entertaining (aka place for teenage kids to hang out without damaging the good furniture).

It wasn’t long, however, before I wanted my own phone. My Daddy ran a wire into my bedroom and hooked up an old phone he had in his collection of used “stuff.” This one was VERY old and sort of round shaped. The dial made a loud noise and the receiver was quite heavy. While it was, of course, originally black, my mother painted it gold. It somehow went with the gold trim on the furniture that she had painted white. In those days it was fashionable for teenage girls to have French Provencial furniture. Rather than splurge for all new furniture, my mother simply painted their old mahogany furniture.

My father also decided he wanted a phone in his basement workshop, so he installed one. It was a conventional looking phone in basic black, but it had a red hand set. He liked red a lot, so why not.

I don’t think the phone company ever knew about those two phones (mine and his), but eventually it became a moot point when it became OK to add your own phones.

We never did have “Princess” or “Slim-Line” phones – not in our family. Some of my friends had them, but “we” didn’t like them because they were too light and silly looking. A phone, should, after all, look like a phone and not be so light that if you pulled the receiver cord too hard you pulled the phone onto the floor. But, we were sort of unusual in our taste for big clunky phones.

Sometime when I was still a teenager, we started having area codes. Now our phone number of 205-822-3003, but we didn’t have to use the 205 except when dialing from out of state. Just one more number to remember!

When I was in college, we didn’t have phones in our dorm rooms. Instead there were a couple of phones on each floor and another in the sorority chapter room. For that reason, we didn’t talk on the phone very much. When you got a phone call in the dorm, someone to answer the phone and come get you.

When Steve and I got married, we opted for one phone in the kitchen and another in the bedroom. We kept up with this arrangement up until we built our new house in 1992. From our apartment in Illinois, to our house in California, to our house in Maryland, we had a yellow wall phone in the kitchen and white phone in the bedroom. But when we moved to Maryland in 1976, we upgraded to touch-tone.

When we moved to Severna Park, we were given a 544 number. Soon I learned that the 544 number would forever brand us as newcomers. Real oldtime Severna Park people have 647 numbers. But, in time, 544 became more socially acceptable. Other new numbers that nobody ever heard of were assigned to the latest influx of newcomers.

Knowing the value of the 647 exchange, when I set up the phone service for Chesapeake Academy, I asked for a 647 number; ditto for Bay Media, Next Wave Group, and FacetsWoman. Our fax number is a 544, but some things in life you have to just live with.

We got our first answering machine sometime in the 80s I guess. At first I swore I would never have one, but in time I gave in. Now, of course, everybody has them and they have become a way of life.

But in 1992, when we built our own house, we included a phone system. We have phones all over the house – the kitchen and master bedroom, of course, plus all the other bedrooms, the laundry room, and both of our offices. We even have phone jacks on both of our decks. Although we moved from Severna Park to Arnold, we stayed in the same phone exchange and and did not have to give up our old 544 number, which we have had since 1976.

In 1996, when I set up my office, we bought a multi-line phone system. We have about 15 instruments spread throughout the offices. It is an OK system, though it seems to be vulnerable to losing its programming during power outages.

I got my first cellular phone at a Chamber of Commerce raffle in the early 90s. It was a “bag phone” about the size of shoe box. It plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter. I thought I was “hot stuff.” The phone was “free,” but the service wasn’t. I found myself with a monthly bill to Cellular One. Sure, it was the poor woman’s cell phone because it wasn’t actually wired into the car, but it was a big help and gave me great comfort. I was glad I had it the day my car’s timing chain went out at the entrance to the 14th Street Bridge in DC.

The bag phone eventually gave way to the “flip-phone.” It was large and gray and clunky, but so much better than the bag phone. I could actually fit into a large purse.

But eventually it died, and I got a Nokia stick phone. I never liked it as much and I was glad when I could upgrade to a Star Tac flip style phone. Sadly I lost that one out of my purse when I fell in the snow. I ended up with a Motorola stick phone – the cheapest thing I could get at the time because I was so angry with myself for losing the cute little Star Tac. In time, however, the batteries started fail, so I started looking for a new option about a a year and half-ago.

My current phone is a Palm Treo 650. I love it! Of course, it was so much more than a phone and that makes it all the better.

I see yet another phone revolution in my future. Our son is doing VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) consulting and is going to help me set up a VOIP system for my business. I imagine in time we will have a similar system for our home. But one step at a time!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Cleaning Products

I noticed recently that our dishwasher was developing a bit of mildew and I was not happy about washing dishes in it. In response to my complaints, my husband (being a husband) did not suggest new dishwasher; instead he recommended using Lysol to clean it. So we bought a bottle of old fashioned Lysol and ran it through the dishwasher. No doubt it killed any germ that might be lurking in there. But, of course, the house smelled of Lysol.

Steve said the smell reminded him of his childhood. His mother apparently used to be regular used of Lysol. It reminded me of my childhood too. My grandmother used to soak her flower bulbs in it. For both of us it was a very familiar smell. He found it nostalgic; I can’t say that would be how I would describe it. Actually, it really reminded me of the dog pound.

The other day I bought product that is supposed to clean the shower automatically. All you do is put the dispenser in the shower and the last person of the morning pushes a button; the thing beeps for 15 seconds; it then starts squirting liquid all over the shower. I am optimistic that it will work, but it will be another week before I know for sure. My husband, on the other hand, is skeptical. He is a big believer in the old fashioned scrub brushes. I lack his enthusiasm for scrub brushes; they make my hands hurt and I don’t do well on my knees or on ladders. Most things that need scrubbing are in inconvenient places.

All of this got me to thinking about how cleaning products have changed in my lifetime. When my mother and grandmother did their Spring cleaning they relied on Tide in the bathtub for the Venetian blinds; they used Johnson’s Paste Wax on the hardwood floors; they used Glasswax on the windows; they used ammonia or bleach to clean nasty places, but never mixed ammonia with bleach. They scrubbed the sink with Ajax powdered cleanser. They had liquid wax for the furniture. Nothing seemed to come in a spray bottle, much less a spray can. Cleaning was a BIG deal and there seemed to be no short cuts.

I remember when Pledge spray wax came out. My role in the past, when it came to cleaning, was to dust. They were always wanting me to dust. When Pledge came along suddenly waxing was within the scope of my duties. Did I feel powerful or what?

The Glass Wax soon gave way to Windex. Along came 409 and Mr. Clean and a parade of specialized cleaners to make the life of the housewife much easier. By the time I was young and married, I had a whole new arsenal of cleaning products to choose from.

I guess we all have our favorite cleaners. Personally, I like Dow Bathroom Cleaner. For years I have used it in the bathroom, of course, but also in the kitchen. I have discovered that it will clean smoker residue off furniture, as well as layers of old wax (or a mixture of the two).

Regardless of the cleaning products, cleaning is simply hard work. Maybe we don’t have it as rough as our mothers and grandmothers, but we don’t have as much time to clean either. We working women are continually trying to squeeze in cleaning between everything else. All the new products we have make it quicker and easier than in the past. Is our cleaning as deep and effective as the way past generations did it? I don’t think most of us even come close. When you have cleaned a window with Glass Wax (they still make it), that window is CLEAN. I think that is true of most of the old labor intensive products. They were time-consuming to use, but they did a great job!!!