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Posts Tagged ‘grandfather’

This announcement is more serious than it should be: I’m giving up artificial sweetener.

For the better part of two decades, I’ve stirred the blue stuff or the yellow stuff into my coffee, tea and oatmeal with utter abandon. (As for the pink stuff, seriously, how does that bitter mess still even exist?)

I took up the habit in college during frequent visits to my grandparents. My grandfather, despite never gaining all that much weight, had recently been diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, and my grandmother immediately traded out the sugar bowl for the blue stuff.

I quickly got used to sweetening my coffee and tea with chemicals. It seemed like the ultimate freebie: sweet beverages without bothersome calories.

I can’t tell you if the blue stuff had any ill effects on my grandfather or not. He died from advanced heart disease before the diabetes could get him outright, although I’m sure the two conditions didn’t co-exist peacefully.

Long story short, the increasing amounts of chatter about artificial sweeteners not being free of consequence have finally sunk in. It just makes sense that tricking your taste buds into thinking that they’re enjoying sugar might just be tricking your body that it’s about to have to process some sugar, too. Given my family history of adult-onset diabetes (my uncle developed it in his late 40s), I don’t need to play fast and loose with my pancreas.

Also, the husband, who has been trying to get me to give up artificial sweetener for years, finally emailed me a story on its possible ill effects with the subject line, “Please stop using artificial sweeteners.”

Nothing like a “please” instead of a “you should” to change a girl’s mind.

So, a couple of months ago I promised to taper off as I made my way through my final Costco-sized box of yellow packets. I began by cutting down on the number of packets I was using, adding only one instead of two to a cup of coffee or tea, and sprinkling only half a packet instead of a whole one over my oatmeal.

I soon came to a somewhat surprising conclusion: Artificial sweetener had enabled me to become accustomed to foods that were way sweeter than they should have been. The husband had suggested that I replace the sweetener in my coffee with (gasp) actual sugar, but the amount of sugar required to make it as sweet as I had gotten used to would be obscene. Same with oatmeal: I had been turning a healthy breakfast food into a bowl of candy (albeit candy with few extra sugar calories).

I haven’t used sweetener at work in weeks, which has caused me to cut down on my coffee consumption overall. I can drink unsweetened coffee, but I don’t exactly look forward to it. And I’ve cut sweetener out of my oatmeal completely, meaning I now enjoy the flavors of the cinnamon, walnuts and raisins that are stirred into it.

And now, answers to the top questions that I get regarding this effort:

  • Do I feel better? Meh. I don’t think artificial sweetener was making me feel that bad to begin with. I worried about the long-term effects above everything else.
  • Have I lost any weight? No. I wasn’t trying to lose any weight. I’m reasonably happy where I am. What I am trying to do, however, is avoid the seemingly inevitable post-40 weight gain that accompanies an unexamined diet and slack exercise habits.
  • Have I upped the sugar intake in my diet? Nope. I added maybe a teaspoon of sugar to a cup of tea one evening to accentuate its cinnamon and apple flavors, but overall I’m adapting to eating a diet that just doesn’t feature that many sweet items.
  • Am I turning into some kind of sugar-hating weirdo? Double nope. I love cookies, cake and candy, but I also recognize them as a sometimes food, not a daily treat.

This effort is almost over. There are only a few yellow packets left in the cabinet (I hesitate to take the container down and count). I have to admit, what I’m going to miss most is not the super-sweet coffee and tea (although, man, there’s nothing like a cup of syrupy sweet hot tea on a cold, rainy winter afternoon), but the ritual. You pour your coffee, add a packet or two of sweetener, stir in some milk or half-and-half, and sit down to enjoy the morning paper and/or a nice leisurely chat with your housemates or co-workers.

Only I can’t even get a daily newspaper anymore, at least in Huntsville, Alabama. The husband doesn’t even DRINK coffee, and I haven’t worked anywhere in years where folks truly spent the first 10 minutes of work catching up over a fresh cup of java.

I can’t hold on to the ritual, so I might as well let go of the yellow stuff, too. Adios, sweet chemicals. It hasn’t been real.

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Nanny in her natural habitat: the kitchen.

I realized this weekend that I have successfully made a souffle, but can’t make a fried egg.

My grandmother made delectable fried eggs, and made it look easy. The everyday breakfast options at her house included bacon (turkey bacon after my grandfather’s heart problems were diagnosed), toast (or biscuits, on occasion) and eggs, either scrambled or fried (note: fried eggs, over easy, became known as Paw-Paw eggs, because they were his favorite, and to this day I can barely order them in a restaurant without calling them by this nickname).

I should have paid more attention, I guess. I should have offered to cook the eggs instead of going for the easy job of making toast or microwaving turkey bacon. (Or making the grits. I can’t believe I forgot about the grits option.)

I might not even have this ongoing fear of cast-iron skillets.

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My mother collected this keychain from my grandmother’s house last year. I had made it for my grandfather in, I don’t know, maybe fourth or fifth grade. It bears evidence of my tragic attempts at cursive writing, which honestly has only degraded over the years.

And Papa should be spelled Pawpaw. I have yet to actually picture it spelled the correct way in my head, however. (We all picture words spelled out in our heads, right?)

Am I impressed that Pawpaw kept this knickknack for some 20 years? Sure. But it’s easy to just toss little things like this into the top drawer and never happen upon them again.

The attached keys are what’s really impressive. At one time, somewhere on that reasonably sized farm, was a padlock that could be opened only by hauling out the keychain that I made.

Knowing that my grandfather held on to this item for so long gives me warm fuzzies. Knowing that he actually found it semi-useful simply thrills my inner utilitarian.

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My brother and I take a dip, circa 1975.

Nearly everyone I know who has kids spends tons of money and time striving to plan the perfect summer. A host of activities, from vacations to camp to traveling sports leagues, quickly pile up on this short stretch of calendar, seeming more like duties than recreation.

My childhood summers were pretty unstructured. Maybe we’d take a dip in a tiny plastic pool, or maybe just run through sprinklers. Maybe I’d get to go with my grandfather early in the morning to pick tomatoes or beans, or — if I was REALLY lucky — I’d get to dig up potatoes.

As I was shelling a small bagful of English peas from my CSA box yesterday, it occurred to me that some of my best summer afternoons weren’t spent waiting in line at Disney World, running to the next slide at a water park or shaking the sand off my towel at the beach. My most enjoyable summer moments were spent in my grandparents’ den, shelling peas or snapping beans, enjoying an episode of Woody Woodpecker or Tom and Jerry or, better yet, the carefree, Not Very Serious conversations that adults indulge in when they’re pleasantly engaged in a repetitive task with no real deadline.

If I could choose one childhood moment to relive now, it would be one of these afternoons.

I don’t think you can make memories like this on purpose; really, I think my grandparents probably thought I’d rather be off doing something else. But I do wish that more families would slow down a little this summer and spend a few afternoons doing a little of nothing together.

It’s important, and it may be more memorable than anything you could possibly plan.

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First of all, guess what? I’m totally going to boot camp. At 5:30 a.m. Three days a week. During the kickoff of the holiday eating season.

I’m not trying to lose massive amounts of weight, although a little trim-up here and there wouldn’t go unappreciated. I really just need to get out of my fitness rut — working out by yourself often means that you stop really challenging yourself. Three sets of three different lifts, 30 minutes of cardio … meh. It turns into an uninspired check mark on the daily to-do list.

I’ve been lucky enough to inherit my maternal grandfather’s height (not ALL of it, but I’m taller than most other female relatives) and his tendency toward the slender end of the spectrum. I’m not stick-figure thin, mind you: I have curves that will grow curvier if left to their own devices.

What I want is muscles. Not big muscles, but toned muscles. And not just for display purposes. I like it when my muscles can DO things, like effortlessly move piles of books or march up the stairs two at a time. I like it when I can SEE the muscles outlined on my back and stomach, not because they’re making me look skinnier, but because they’re making me stronger.

They’re also helping me have better bones. Having watched my grandmother suffer with advanced osteoporosis, I want to do everything I can to prevent my own diagnosis.

So back to my first day at Madison Adventure Boot Camp: It was fun and difficult, very reminiscent of the workouts I completed the year that I was on the basketball team in junior high (note: tall girls may not be aggressive enough to play basketball – they may just be tall).

A workout with variety will draw me in me every time. A little jogging here, a few side squats there, some shoulder work (wait, MORE shoulder work?) … boot camp is the workout for those of us with fitness ADD.

Tomorrow’s going to be an achy-muscle kind of day, but in that good way where you can picture little bits of muscle breaking down only to rebuilt with better, stronger muscle.

One advantage I’ve already noticed: a general aversion to the office bowl of leftover Halloween candy. After all, I’m not counteracting all that early-morning work with cheap milk chocolate. (Expensive dark chocolate … maybe we’ll talk.)

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This is the last Wrangler jacket that my grandfather ever wore. (He bought a new one every year or two since, as you can see, he wore the threads off of them.) It was really the only thing I wanted after he died.

I have trouble picturing him in my head without a threadbare blue jacket.

Although he obviously took it off every once in a while.

It makes me happy to see it hanging in the closet. It makes me happier to slip it on, noting that it’s too big for me, but not THAT big, and sort of regretting that it’s so squeaky clean. (Historically, the blue denim jacket had any number of stains on it, mostly consisting of, but not necessarily limited to, mud and tractor grease.)

I think I love this jacket so much because it holds absolutely no value for most other people. It’s torn and faded, and offers little protection against the cold.

It offers nothing but memories.

Don’t let other people choose your heirlooms for you. You may be surprised how much the most ridiculous things will mean to you in the long run.

The lesson from my previous post was that you don’t necessarily have to hold on to things to hold on to memories. A refinement to that lesson: The fewer things from the past you hold on to, the more accessible memories will be.

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I had a total “ah-ha” moment this weekend. (OK, “ah-ha” wasn’t the phrase running through my head when the moment occurred, but let’s keep this family-friendly.)

My mom was showing me a vase that she had gotten from my grandmother’s house. It had belonged to my grandmother’s sister (or sister-in-law, maybe) and had been in my grandmother’s possession for decades after the original owner’s death. I had never seen this vase before, and it struck me as meh, valuable or not. I told my mom I wasn’t interested in it, and she was good with that — she’s learned the freedom of owning less stuff over the years, and respects my right to reject heirlooms.

The thought that ran through my head during the interchange, however, was, “Your treasure is not my treasure.” The thought wasn’t really aimed at my mom, since she’s not one to try to convince me to take things that I don’t want or need. I think it was aimed at the whole mindset people have that there are certain items that MUST be passed from generation to generation for eternity.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pass things down or treasure things from long ago. But we can’t keep everything.

It’s not a personal affront if I don’t want your collection of glass cake plates; it’s just that my favorite cake plate happens to be a weathered old aluminum model with more character than elegance. (Autobiographical cake plate FTW.)

Back to the vase in question: I had never seen it before. Meaning that my grandmother kept it, but didn’t treasure it enough to display it. Therefore, I have no memories associated with this vase. It’s simply an object that I don’t find that attractive. I feel no urge to take it home simply because it belonged to someone I’m related to.

I have plenty of things from my grandparents’ home that mean A LOT to me. A collapsible aluminum cup that my grandfather brought back from World War II. A pair of funky cat bookends from the middle bedroom. An old, golden glass piggy bank that my brother and I spent dozens of hours playing with, poking coins in and then shaking them out.

These things are my treasures.

There are people who would have their children fill their closets and attics with heirlooms, simply to keep those items “in the family.” Don’t do that. Let your children choose their treasures. To facilitate that, choose YOUR treasures. The things you value, not the things you stuff into the attic and the basement, will be the things they actually want later.

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Just another day riding around on barnyard animals (avec supervision — if you look closely, you can see my grandfather’s boots below the cow’s belly as he hides from the camera).

Best childhood ever? You tell me.

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It’s good to have friends who help you maintain a positive attitude and healthy habits. It’s also good to have friends who urge you to make questionable choices every once in a while.

When I emailed a photo of a surprising food find — Little Debbie Banana Pudding Rolls — to a former colleague earlier this week, he responded immediately:  “My professional advice to you is to buy two boxes of them right now. Why two? Because you’ll eat one box on the way home from the store.”

How could a girl resist?

I grew up eating Little Debbie products at my grandparent’s house in South Mississippi — my brother and I could always find a box of the treats on top of the refrigerator. I am the Forrest Gump of Little Debbie products, with a readily accessible running list of the different varieties taking up valuable space inside my brain. Ask me about nearly any of the company’s products, and I can run down a quick review for you. Here are just a few that popped into my head this very minute:

Devil Squares: Their substantial filling and sort of weirdly textured chocolate coating combine for a unique and delicious culinary experience that made me, as a child, feel slightly more sophisticated than my tomboyish habits generally merited. (more…)

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Kids love routine. You may think it’s exciting that you never know what you’re having for dinner until you pull it out of the freezer or the drive-through worker’s hands, or that you can make it to work/school on time only if you miss that first critical red light, but trust me, children want a degree of predictability.

Growing up, my brother and I had a few entirely predictable Christmas gifts, and I, for one, loved the routine. They were all candy items, and they didn’t stop until we had probably grown too old for some of them:

  • DeMet’s Turtles: Our maternal grandparents would give us each a box of these rich goodies every year. They were pretty basic: caramel-covered pecans coated with chocolate, in a vaguely turtle-like shape. They were also huge: If you ate more than two at a time (and just try to stop us), you could potentially suffer from that mythical stomachache that adults always warned us about. Meh. We were hardy children. No candy-induced stomachaches for us.
  • Chocolate mint patties: My paternal grandmother used to wrap up a box of these for each of us every year. You’d think that, given the popularity and year-round availability of the York Peppermint Pattie, these wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but they were thinner than Peppermint Patties and just more Christmas-y. (My in-laws still give my husband a box of them every year.)
  • Chocolate-covered cherries: My mom always made sure I got a box of these – not sure if my brother ever liked them. I loved biting through the thin chocolate shell to release the liquid surrounding the cherry. Looking back, I’m not sure how I ever ate so many — they may be the richest, sweetest Christmastime treat I remember.
  • Lifesavers Storybook: It was just a little cardboard box, hinged to resemble a book, but it held six or eight rolls of Lifesavers in different flavors and I was ALL about different flavors. Imagine. My favorite flavor was pineapple. I recently stumbled across a Lifesavers Storybook filled with gummy Lifesavers. We would have scarfed those down in minutes — maybe our paternal grandmother knew it would take us awhile to get through a box of hard candy.

We had other holiday traditions. We always went to my paternal grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve to unwrap presents, and left when the weatherman announced that Santa was getting close. My maternal grandmother always put walnuts in our stockings hung by the chimney with care, and we always dumped them back into the walnut bowl on Christmas morning. At some point, my grandmother started making fruitcake cookies every year, despite the face that nobody seemed to like them.

It’s funny that the goofy little things are the ones you remember the best. I can’t recall the “big gifts” that I got from year to year, but I can assure you that I would trade them all for one more Christmas with all my grandparents, swapping turtles and chocolate-covered cherries around the tree.

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