Saturday, September 26, 2009

Just a simple "thank you"

Allow me to deviate from the theme of this blog to mention an observation I've made over the years. Most—not all—of the women to whom compliments are given cannot simply answer with a "thank you." I include myself in this group. I'm one of the worst offenders, if this is the right word to describe it.

On second thought, there is a sort of charm to this offense. When told, for example, that the boots you're wearing are adorable, you may respond with "These? They're so old, I almost didn't wear them today. I'm not sure they're still in style." Or maybe someone told you, "I love your hair that way" and you replied, "Do you? I'm having such a bad hair day." Haven't you ever said something like "What a cute blouse!" only to hear the complimentee say "But it has a spot on the left side, under the arm"?

Why is it that so many women cannot let praise be praise? Why must we set the record straight lest the complimentor really think we are clueless about that spot or the outmoded fashion of our boots? I don't have the answers myself, so this is a rhetorical question, unless someone wishes to comment and let me know what's going on.

As I said, I believe this behavior might be charming rather than pathologic. After all, don't women—as a rule—often provide much more information than expected? We tend to overexplain. And maybe that's what makes us women. (Yes, there are many exceptions. But I haven't found too many of them in my own observations.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A meal maven I'm not

One thing I am not doing as I get older: Getting better at cooking. What I am doing is getting better at cooking without cooking. I can make a pretty impressive salad, complete with pine nuts and four kinds of lettuce. I can artfully arrange pita chips around a swirl of store-bought hummus with a little sprinkle of paprika on it. So I guess it's fair to say that putting out uncooked food is my forte. ("Forte" may be an exaggeration since it takes me three times as long as anyone else to cut up a cucumber.)

It's not that I can't cook at all. I'm now expected to bring a batch of potato kugel muffins to every Passover seder. I guess you would call that my signature dish. But, generally, I'm not confident when having to put food into an oven, watch it, possibly baste it regularly, and then know when it's done—with or without a food thermometer. When it finally comes out of the oven, I can't trust myself to slice it properly. Against the grain? With the grain? And which way is the grain going anyway?

I always thought that when I cut back on working (I'm now down to three days a week) I'd have the time to try new recipes and practice my culinary skills. But that hasn't happened. Besides contributing to mealtime only by making salads, I excel at collecting menus from nearby restaurants like Corner Bakery or Go Roma or the carry-out Szechwan palace down the street.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Who am I becoming?

Years ago, I’d watch certain actions by my mother with amusement and a tinge of disdain. Become obsessive about collecting coupons? Not me. Not ever. Amass a pile of shopping bags and plastic totes—just in case they’re someday needed? Nope. Too messy. Too old-ladyish. Spend the day after hosting a family dinner complaining of exhaustion and turning down invitations to go out? I couldn’t see myself letting a little cleaning, cooking, and serving get the best of me.

But that was then. Little by little these days, I see my mother creep into my persona. For example, we hosted a small family holiday celebration last night. My husband did much of the cooking, although I ran up and down the aisles of two supermarkets during the day, dusted, and dragged out the heavy dining room table pads and retrieved the better china. But I also got down on the floor several times to play and commune with my preschool grandsons, each time groaning my way to an upright position. Then came today. I feel as if I’ve been in a triathlon without any training. I ache everywhere, and all I want to do is sleep or eat leftovers.

Am I collecting coupons? Yes, I cut them from the Sunday paper flyers religiously. I also, nine times out of ten, forget to use them. So in that respect, I’m not my mother. In fact, she would berate me for paying full price while a 50-cents-off coupon languishes inside my purse.

And the shopping bags? I have them, in a dark corner of our master closet. You never know when you have something to tote…

But it isn’t just my mother’s habits wending their way into my psyche. Decades ago, I found my paternal grandmother’s frequent meal of cottage cheese topped with canned fruit a little sad and definitely a symbol of old age. But recently I developed a taste for this combination—if only as a snack.

I’m not going to fight this though. I am what I am, or rather, I am what I’ve become and will continue to become. This process has given me a new appreciation for the older generation. I’m sure my mother and grandmother and anyone else whose habits I’ve adopted would love to hear me say that … if only they were still around.