Saturday, July 28, 2012

Repost: Dinner Olympics

In honor of the first day of the 2012 Olympics, I am reposting an account of meal events held here in our household during the last Winter Games. Enjoy!

Good evening! We report to you live from Meal Mountain, the Olympic venue for the Children's Eating Event.

Fer, what can we expect to see at tonight's contest?

Fer: Well, this heat is a qualifier for the Dessert event, tentatively scheduled for later this evening. What's important to realize about Dinner is that it is not simply a race of speed and completion. Judges will also be considering manners, style, and the contestants' abilities to remain in the arena.

How does Team USA look in this competition?

Fer: As you know, Dinner is an event at which our Americans have not historically excelled. What we've learned from the past few Games, however, is that Americans pose a threat in this competition in terms of their ability to eat quickly and in large quantities. But tonight's performance will depend on the course. Anything unusual--extra cheese, unfamiliar vegetables, and quite frankly, even something as minor as the appearance of the blue cup instead of the preferred red one--could throw off our team.

Which competitors should we be watching for?

Fer: Representing the US in this event are Big Sis and Little C. Big Sis, the veteran on the team, is in her sixth year of Dinner competition, and has shown tremendous growth over the past few months. She brings to the table adaptability and a rare determination. Conditions will prove important for her performance. Her aversion to black pepper has been an obstacle in the past, so we will be watching closely to see how she handles that challenge if it arises. The judges will also be on the lookout for issues concerning position in her chair, as well as how much food ends up on the floor.

Little C is an exciting addition to Olympic Eating. What she needs to do tonight is remain focused and in her seat. While she may be the lesser consistent of our two contenders, when she's on, she's a proven winner.

We understand Little C is one of Team USA's more colorful competitors...?

Fer: Yes, well...I am sure you are referring to some incidents recently reported in the press. Under duress, Little C has resorted to the use of Potty Talk, which has gained her some notoriety. She will need to be careful tonight: any lapses in language could disqualify her from Dinner mid-course. Her unprecedented enthusiasm for eating, though, is what gave her the edge over more conservative contenders for Team USA. She can be a joy to watch.

What will qualifying for Dessert mean for the USA?

Fer: Our team is under incredible pressure tonight. At stake is an opportunity to be the first Americans to qualify for Dessert in many, many dinners. And Dessert is what our team has been training for diligently. If either competitor makes it to the next round, we can predict a gold for the USA. At the very least a medal. Both Big Sis and Little C excel at Dessert; in fact, they have often expressed that they wish it were the qualifying event, with Dinner representing the medal competition instead. But despite pressures from both the American and French teams, so far the IOC is not entertaining a change to the Eating event. So we've got to get through Dinner. It continues to be our challenge.

It looks like the competition is underway! Let's take a look:

Fer: The table is set for a fortuitous night for our team. As you can see, napkins are in proper position and Big Sis has both legs under the table. The forks approved for tonight's qualifying round will be very familiar to our competitors as they've trained with that small metal variety for years. We're waiting now for a glimpse of the course.

Are there elements we can expect to see?

Fer: I am going to guess that tonight's course will feature a starch base--most likely pasta of some sort. Team USA has deep experience with noodles, so that is not likely to present major challenges for our team. Any kind of sauce could be dicey. Protein is likely to be included--ground turkey would be a safe option, but sausage would throw a curve into this course. And then there are the vegetables. Vegetables are a feature of any Olympic Eating course--it's just a question of what kind and how much our competitors will face. Finally, the IOC favors water over milk, but it's not a requirement of the race for it to be completed during the heat.

It looks like the plates are being presented!

Fer: Well, as predicted, we have a pasta: angel hair. This is exciting for Big Sis--she would prefer a thin spaghetti noodle over, say, a penne course. The pasta is tossed with broccoli, a familiar challenge for our team. They will have to watch their confidence in that area. Some leftover homemade meatballs add bulk to the course. But what will make tonight interesting is the addition of orange peppers. Not to mention the onions. Onions could really define tonight's event. Little C in particular will need to put her head down and power past them.

And the event is underway, with Big Sis already two bites ahead!

Fer: We could expect Big Sis to pull ahead with an early lead. In terms of form, she has more experience twirling her spaghetti, giving her an advantage over her less experienced teammate. But she has a tendency to slow down towards the end, which is when Little C will have her chance to take this event.

But Little C looks unhappy.

Fer: She just noticed the onions. Judges will observe that she is strategically moving them to one side of the course. She is exerting a ton of effort, and she looks angry about the situation. She needs to focus on the broccoli. Focus on the broccoli, Little C!

Big Sis just took a HUGE BITE of cappellini!

Fer: Judges will likely deduct points from Big Sis's overall score for the pasta that fell out of her mouth back onto the plate, her lap, and the floor. But she is looking confident. Little C is tackling the pasta now. Her form is sloppy, but the noodles are going in. She could make huge gains if she keeps up this momentum!

Something is going on with Big Sis...

Fer: Oh no! Even though Big Sis already conquered three pieces of meatball, it's clear she has determined that this part of the course is not her favorite. She is pushing the remaining meatballs all around the course, wasting valuable time. She knows that if she leaves more than one on that plate, she is not likely to qualify for Dessert. The pressure is intense. You know, she's been regularly training with meatballs, but this race just illustrates the danger of relying too much on formulaic courses. While she has mastered Trader Joe's meatballs, these homemade ones are throwing her for a loop. Her coaches are going to have to consider more variety, moving forward.

Little C is almost finished! But she appears distracted...

Fer: Well, it's not a good sign when Little C is communicating with spectators, particularly when she's left only peppers and onions on the course, the toughest part to finish. She's looking a little out of control. Unfortunately, Little C has been known to walk away from a race when she knows she won't qualify. The judges will be looking for her to make sincere effort here. If she finishes two-thirds of those vegetables, it might make up for points deducted earlier for talking with her mouth full.

Big Sis looks like she's going to vomit.

Fer: Big Sis needs to pull it together and show the judges what she's got. If she thinks she can tackle Dessert tonight, she can hurdle a meatball. Own it, sister. You can do it!

And Little C is in tears.

Fer: This is where maturity comes in. Little C just might not be prepared to finish this heat. Dessert may be too much for her tonight. She's letting the peppers and onions overwhelm her prior successes on the course and it's a shame. They're only accessory vegetables, after all. And she didn't even need to eat all of them. But you know, she has a lot of years--and Desserts--ahead. This just may not be her time.

Little C is leaving the arena.

Fer: It's over for Little C. But look at Big Sis! She's pulling it together. The judges are likely to overlook a meatball remnant here and there in favor of advancing her to the next round. This is a typical performance from her--highs and lows along the way, some lapses in confidence, but ultimate success. I see a gulp! She's pushing back her chair and appealing to the judges. We'll await their verdict.

And an American has made it to the medal round!

Fer: This is an exciting night for Team USA. Big Sis has demonstrated the kind of courage that will inspire the folks at home to try more orange peppers in their pasta. All that's left for her is Dessert. Meanwhile, we hear from Little C's coaches that the Dessert event was past her bedtime anyway. We look forward to seeing her in future Eating Events.

I want to take a moment and comment on the years of hard work, training, and preparation that go into the completion of one successful course on Meal Mountain. Surely Big Sis is thinking right now of her parents, and the years of commitment and sacrifice they've put into her training: the groceries wasted, the failed recipes, the tears, and the pleas invoking starving children from other countries. Their labor has not been in vain.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bar Tricks

That right there in the foreground, folks, is the cherry stem I tied in a knot with my tongue a few weeks ago.

In the background is the rum punch I drank to celebrate this feat.

I didn't accomplish much while on vacation with my daughters and extended family in the USVI (the point of the trip was less doing, more being), but there you go.

Here's to the stuff that doesn't happen every day, including ordering drinks garnished with maraschino cherries.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


"The moon is low tonight.
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
I'm not sure all these people understand.
It's not like years ago,
The fear of getting caught,
Of recklessness and water...
These things, they go away,
Replaced by everyday."

St. John. Three families...all cousins, pretty much (cousins of cousins: what do you call those?). Fifteen kids, but the four eldest of them are at an overnight eco-camp for three days. The remaining are spending the night at a lovely resort with an expansive pool with waterfalls, overlooking the bay.

Kids and parents are fed. Rum drinks have been drunk. It's time for nightswimming.

A dark walk to the pool, where we dive and jump and tumble to the sounds of crickets, birds, and frogs.


Then my brother whisks me off to the bay, where the resort has an obstacle course of Wipeout! sorts, with trampolines stretched between inflated pathways seemingly impossible to traverse. We swim across the calm, quiet water beneath the Big Dipper and a billion other stars and then clumsily climb on and stumble and fall off the inflatables, our giggles, squeals, and exclamations the only punctuation in nature-sound sentences.

This is vacation. Family. Beauty. Extraordinary experiences. Letting go.

If only Husband were here.

Friday, July 6, 2012


I woke up this morning in the St. Thomas home of my brother and sister-in-law and nephews and nieces and thought, This is what I need, to live out of one suitcase for two weeks (the weather and view and beach visits and time with family won't hurt either).

I think this is vacation, distilled, for me: one suitcase. Less baggage, people; I didn't bring much. The albatross didn't fit either. One suitcase means fewer decisions, less stuff to manage. I've left behind the broken things (fridge, bathroom, light fixtures) in need of maintenance, which, because it's summer and I have time off work, remind me more often that they're still languishing and I have fewer excuses for their neglect.

I've left behind the piles.

Poor husband has been abandoned too, working his busiest season, perhaps enjoying a little less to manage himself. He returned only a week ago from a trip Midwest to visit his dad and sister; it seems this summer will be about tending to our farther-flung relationships, or at the very least our own needs to do so.

This past month I've been feeling a lot, as if my skin and scalp and heart and mind and soul have been over sensitized. My brain and body, accustomed to the distraction of work and daily routine, find themselves idle, in search of objects of attention.

My body is easy to occupy for the summer; I can run more often, sleep more.

My brain proves less simple to lasso or healthily engage. I'm driving more, imagining disasters. I could crash so easily. This vacation, ripe with potential in the abstract: What if we drown. What if our plane crashes.

My summer reads are rife with import and suggested relevance. This one features an unhealthy marriage and I sift for elusive parallels. This one's main character is an ailing 44-year-old. Mortality thoughts overwhelm me, and I find myself growing accustomed to the squeezing of the chest, the tummy clench. For the first time, perhaps, I understand a desire to escape oneself and the cloying anxiety. I anticipate a crescendo and hope I'm at the vertex of menses and my annual summer transition limbo. After all, I know many without the luxury to dwell on imagined anxieties.

The last time I felt this way it was called The Baby Blues, and I had my firstborn to clutch, she the reason for my momentary madness as well as its antidote. Now two strong bolts bind me firmly to husband, my hinge.

I work to relax my psyche. I wave my arms at the crazed birds threatening to circle my head in frantic orbit and blur my vision. I am still. I am patient.

And this morning, one suitcase, two girls. Damp air that makes my hair curl and my skin and edges soft. Cousins who carry off our daughters in a hurricane of play and activity and love. A house that's not mine to tend to. Faith in all we've left behind.

Oh, and a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey from my sister-in-law. I can feel the stress ebbing.