Sunday, August 17, 2008

Perfect Balance

Achieving PERFECT BALANCE on my 50th birthday

Until recently, this made sense to me. Now I'm convinced that there's no such thing, not universally. This "perfect balance" is more of a personal thing. Let me see if I can 'splain.

We've all heard the advice: seek a balance in all things, you must find a balance between work and life, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And who hasn't been instructed to: curb your enthusiasm, stop fidgeting, turn off the television, it won't hurt you to stop texting during dinner...and so on. These are all ways of saying you're teetering--you've gone too far in one direction and need to pull back a bit. But, who's to say that all of the well-intentioned somebodies who've been dispensing this advice aren't wrong?

Who decides, after all, what balance really is? How do others know when you've achieved this balance? Well, I say that THEY don't--you do. You do for you and I do for me. First example: a lovely cheeseburger. My sweet husband grilled hamburgers for us last night, carefully and lovingly covered each meaty disk with sharp cheddar cheese, set the buns beside them and pulled down the grill cover. A loaded platter arrives at the kitchen counter just minutes later; so far, perfect balance, we both agree. Time to assemble this perfection. Here is where the trouble begins.

I cover both sides of the bun with mayonnaise, I squeeze "just enough" ketchup on the bottom half of the bun and place the meatcheese disk on top of the ketchup, meat side down....OF COURSE. Next comes the thick slice of tomato, the big round slice of sweet yellow onion and the iceberg lettuce. (Iceberg lettuce must have been invented for this--juicy, cold and extra crisp--providing a wonderful contrast to the soft and the sweet and the grilled.) Now, the top half of the bun goes on top, I press gently but firmly and...for me, PERFECT BALANCE. Aaaaaaaaaahhhh.

As for Dewey, his perfect balance seems haphazard, sloppy and all wrong ME. Mayonnaise on the bun, green peppercorn Dijon mustard--way too sharp for this mix of flavours--onion on the cheese (ooohey-yucky), tomato against the mustard (bleaghh) and so on. I cannot watch!

We sit down to eat and both exclaim how wonderful the cheeseburgers are! Amazing! Unbelievable! How can HIS burger taste as good a mine! SEE...for Dewey, perfect balance in every bite of his first AND second burger. For me, perfect balance in every bite of MY burger. The only way that we can accept both statements as true is to accept that "perfect balance" is a subjective quest for what brings each of us a balanced pleasure.

Second Example: Good friends, Marf & Bob, join us for dinner Friday night. Without doubt, I serve a perfectly balanced dinner (no discussion here) of roasted chicken and ratatouille. The chicken is seasoned exquisitely and the skin is crispy all the way around. The vegetables are tender, stewed in the oven in what has now become a lovely thick sauce of tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic and Italian parsley. Each vegetable has had the opportunity to be kissed by the heat , having soft areas and what I call "burny" areas. We have eggplant, yellow squash, onion, zucchini, big lima beans and okra, all engaged in surrendering their individual flavours in this perfect balance on each fork-full slowly guided to the mouth of each of our guests. While most people would agree that this meal had achieved perfect balance, there might be those misguided souls out in the world who might wish for a bit more parsley, a little less salt or (dare I say it) a little less garlic.

My lovingly prepared dinner, I must admit, really was wonderful, but I cannot finish this post without trying to describe for you one of the best pies I've EVER had. Friend Bob, who is a metrologists, an inventor, an accomplished composer and talented guitarist is ALSO a dedicated and delicious pie maker. Okay, what I'm saying is that he is a maker of delicious pies, not that he is delicious, although Marf (his wifey) could tell us about that.

SO, Bob brings to this dinner...surprise, a pie! This, however, is no ordinary pie. This is a heavenly chocolate chiffon pie! I like chocolate, having had my share of truffles, dark chocolate with wine and luscious home-made hot chocolate with way too many marshmallows floating on top, but, I don't dream about it or crave it, the way most women do. This has changed--I have been thinking about Friday night's pie since Friday night, shortly after finishing my piece of the pie.

Bob will usually get up to cut the pie and I help him by taking the loaded plates to the table. Last Friday, Bob thought it would be fine if Marf and I handled the pie distribution. I had the knife in my hand, so I counted six people at the table and proceeded to divide the pie into six (mostly) even-sized pieces. "Oh!" "My goodness!"
"Wh..wha...are we going to eat the ENTIRE pie?" You'll never believe what happened next. A quiet room! We had a quiet room full of previously chatty people! This pie, friends, was light, it was delicious and Bob had achieved PERFECT BALANCE, really. The graham cracker crust was not too thick and not too buttery; the chocolate filling was light, but it had substance; the chocolate flavour was evident, but it was not too bitter and strong; and the whipped cream on top was real, not cool whip, and just barely sweetened--just the right kind of topping for this pie. Oh, then he'd gone and shaved just enough chocolate over the whipped cream.

Hmmmm....I wonder how I can talk him into making and sharing another pie, very soon.

Bob and his guitar
Bob and his guitar contraption

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Truth Is Changing...As We Breathe

I'm sure that some wise and well-known person has said something similar, so I'll have to offer this up as my version: The Truth Is Changing As We Breathe.

If you've lived a little, been around a little or just been a good student of others, then you already know this. For those who have yet to find such a revelation, here's what I'm talking about.

It was about this time last year. It was much, much hotter and I was attending a poetry workshop at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Part of the Writing In Place Conference, sponsored by the Hub City Writers Project and Hub City Publishing, the informal two and a half day gathering was new to me, so there was some trepidation. I'd just come from visiting my father and aunt, an event which always left me spent physically and emotionally.

I love my family, but my father was on the tail end of physical and mental decline and his loving sister, who'd been his caregiver for too many years, was tired. These visits were treasured, but they were also difficult at times. So, here I was, already a little too tired, a little too hot and a little all-on-my-own when I see a familiar face in the parking lot.

"Is it?" Yes, it's John Jeter, the well-know handlebar mustachioed owner of The Handlebar, a wonderful live music venue in Greenville, South Carolina.

"What are YOU doing here?" I yell. "There's no music up here!" With John's broad smile, I'm no longer tired or feeling alone. It turns out that John, is a writer and that he's got a novel, soon to be published by St. Martin's Press!!! Well, there you go--the truth (for me) about John Jeter changed, just like that! I've ordered John's book and you can too. Just wander on over to his little corner of this Blogspot world and check it all out.
For more information on The Handlebar, go to

The Hub City Writers Project of Spartanburg, South Carolina, is focused on the literature of place. A non-profit independent press and literary arts organization, Hub City publishes place-based books and sponsors readings, writing seminars and contests.