In the South It's Just Called "Food"

Subtitle: Mom Freaks Out About Milkshakes

An Arby's Giradelli chocolate milkshake snipped from
Vacations are like a blank check for the ice cream bank. I'm not sure this is the case with other families, but in ours, being more than two hours from home is the only reason needed to have a milkshake. We'd divided our drive into two parts on the way to our Columbus Day beach getaway and looked forward to some chocolate shake love with dinner. When the appointed time came, restaurant options were limited. By limited, I mean we couldn't easily find an Arby's. We pulled into the Hagerstown, Maryland Bob Evans.

They don't serve milkshakes.

It was okay. Early in the trip. Not a big deal. Dinner was fine.

The second day, my purse full of coupons (Arby's, Wendy's, and Subway) for the road trip, we made it into North Carolina before lunch. Though we were looking for the family favorite, obviously Arby's, we were prepared to use those other coupons. It's good to have backups especially since the southwestern hat, that beacon of tasty roast beef, was very sparse as we plunged further south.

"Maybe we should try Bojangles Chicken and Biscuits," I said. "Those are everywhere. We could really be missing something."

I was kidding of course. No one was in the mood for food adventure.

At exactly noon, we arrived in Mt. Olive, NC. A sign proclaimed it the home of the tiny pickles we buy from Sam's Club. The only fast food establishment that aligned with my coupon inventory was Wendy's. Everyone felt this was okay. We could get chocolate Frosty's.

After a stop in the restroom we joined the queue with just a few people ahead of us. To be exact, we were fifth in line. Over the course of several minutes, the line extended into the seating area of the restaurant because this was the. slowest. Wendy's. ever.


Things are slower in the south. I learned this on a trip to Walmart during a beach vacation years ago. Everyone wants to know "how y'all doin'" and it's very nice and folksy. The uppity northern Pittsburgher inside me wants to scream. "JUST SCAN MY GROCERIES!!! DO NOT STOP BETWEEN ITEMS!!! KEEP DOING IT UNTIL THERE AREN'T ANYMORE!!! AND THEN DO IT FASTER FOR THE NEXT PERSON!!!!"

I have to breath deeply. Sometimes with my eyes closed.

The Mt. Olive Wendy's of my most recent experience was fully staffed. During the forty minutes (FORTY minutes) of my life that passed while waiting for a Dave's double with cheese, a chicken snacker, three Frostys and some nuggets, I counted at least six adult humans in the kitchen. Only one woman could actually take orders. She'd do this two customers at a time and then go herself to pull the orders, painstakingly placing each sandwich onto its tray and personally filling fry and nugget containers. Food was ready and waiting, but this woman was the only one that could put a sandwich in a bag.

I looked around and thought of asking, "I know we're in the south, but this is slow, right?"

After I ordered, Frostys were produced quickly. I was done eating it and had forever erased the memory of it long before my chicken sandwich made an appearance. It was SO. SLOW.

The time at the beach was ice cream free. We were busy with other things and surely we'd find some on the way home. Occasionally there'd be this glimmer of a hint of a memory about a Frosty. But the promise of a proper shake was enough to prevent our wasting beach time on the pursuit of ice cream.

We left Wrightsville Beach at 1:00pm on Sunday and steamed away for home. Well past Mt. Olive by dinner, we perused the GPS and identified Fredericksburg, Virginia as the place to find an Arby's. We'd stayed in Fredericksburg on the way down. We'd seen the Arby's just a block away from the hotel. It was a solid plan.

As we slowed to make a left into the Arby's, a sea of humanity poured into the four lane road. People, dressed in nice business clothes, ran, walked, sauntered and traipsed across this super busy road. Tim stopped the car to avoid running over pedestrians. One gentleman smiled and gave an exaggerated thumbs up. There must have been sixty people. Did they get off of a tour bus? Did a huge convention just let out into the street? We couldn't tell, but I thought, at least they're not going in the Arby's.

By the time we turned into the parking lot, about a quarter of the street people had gone into the Arby's.

Bathroom. Line. Twelve people ahead of us. I'm going to die before I get this milkshake.

It was Virginia though and almost by magic the line moved swiftly. Before long it was my turn and I was saying, "two small chocolate shakes, one without whipped cream and one..."

"Our milkshake machine is broken," she said.

"...large chocolate shake." My face must have turned white or maybe red or maybe white with blotches of red. I was conscious of my chest heaving as I took a deep cleansing breath.

"I'm so sorry," the cashier said.

She was sorry because she could see that she almost made me cry.

We ate our roast beef while driving on North on I-95. The bun tasted weird and the girl didn't properly apply my coupons. So it was expensive, weird and milkshake-less.

"We'll be okay," Tim said.
"We could find a Dairy Queen," Julia said.
"I'm never going South of the Mason Dixon again," I said.

Two of those three things are true. Although I still haven't had my milkshake...

Travel Montage

This time last Sunday, I was asleep on a weird hybrid bed in the living room of a fourth floor suite in the Shell Island Resort at Wrightsville Beach. It has become my habit while traveling to take my trusty air mattress and sleep outside the bedroom. One of my traveling companions snores. During this quick weekend jaunt, I positioned my twin sized bed on the pull out couch without actually pulling out the couch. And so I slept for two nights on a wobbly stack of sofa pillows and air.

It occurred during several hours of sleepless nighttime reflection that our blissful and blessed beach getaway included twenty hours of driving and less than forty-eight hours at the destination. Even so, it was worth it. The car time passed easily enough. Julia binge watched the entire Pirates of the Caribbean series while the grown ups navigated through rain storms. When we entered North Carolina, our videographer daughter began recording. Before we could step in the ocean we were entreated to take in her travel montage, super speed stretches of roadside cotton fields cut with welcoming road signs.

In my daydreaming moments, I tend to think of my life like it's a movie. If it were, this whole weekend would fit comfortably in a zippy montage.

Among the shots of harvest ready cotton and crystal clear ocean waves you'd find us walking along the shore as the sunset.

Stand up paddleboarding through the intracoastal waterway for two and half hours, carving paths through the grass, snacking on homemade oatmeal bars while our feet dangled in the cool water.

Digging holes and building a sad sandcastle. Wearing a wide brimmed hat exactly once to prove it was worth packing.

Jumping over waves, slipping under others, and riding the boogie board until it breaks.

Burying a man in the sand.

The movie montage might not show the moment I hit my sand tolerance limit or the amount of laundry even a short trip generates, but it would get the good stuff. And there was no shortage of that.

How My Upset Stomach Made Me a Better Chef

In 2014, I went to a dietitian to solve a decade’s worth of tummy problems. The elimination diet she gave me was tough, like a week of beef and pinto beans followed by the distant promise of once again eating mozzarella cheese tough. I spent quite a few evenings in tears with no quick or easy way to feed myself. I was still cooking for my family, ordinary, delicious meals that I could only see and smell.

This was what I could eat for the first week except it turned out
I couldn't actually tolerate wheat, watermelon, pineapple or
strawberries. So for week two, instead of adding stuff, I went
again with an even shorter list.

Though it took longer than anticipated for my system to calm down, the diet eventually worked. For a few years, I avoided corn, wheat, and soy. I had to take it easy on fruit. My symptoms disappeared entirely and I adapted to cooking the soy laden foods I craved from scratch.

Lately, I’ve eased up on the restrictions. Corn and wheat no longer bother me. I avoid soy whenever possible, but if I eat it there’s a minimal reaction. I’ve found some pre-packaged food that meet my new standards. I’m back to having an occasional Arby’s roast beef which makes it nice not to have to cook every meal.

The special diet achieved its goal and even came through on the promise of a return to “normal” eating.

Last week, I made potato pancakes for dinner. I was struck by the feeling that it really wasn’t a big deal. Potato pancakes stand out in my mind as a side dish I long for but don’t often make because they’re a lot of effort. There’s grating potatoes and frying.

I use a basic recipe to make latkes like the ones in this picture. Source:
“These aren’t a big deal to make anymore,” I told my family as I placed the golden brown latkes on the table.

“Well, you cook from scratch way more now than you ever used to,” my husband observed.

That must be what it is. I make a rice flour batter for fried chicken that’s better than any restaurant. I’ve perfected Alfredo sauce. I even make homemade tortillas and bake wheat free snack bars. I’m a better chef for having conquered the weekly challenges posed by a limited ingredient list.

Many people have told me they wish there was something they could do for their own stomach problems. I tell them there is. It’s hard. And it’s totally worth it.

Has the World Always Been This Bad?

I’ve been asked some questions since I undertook raising a young human twelve and a half years ago. I’ve explained where babies come from (with diagrams), weather phenomena, and mathematical concepts. I’ve googled things I don’t know. I’ve looked up what I can’t remember. I’ve participated in grand theological musings and entertained silly hypothetical scenarios. I’ve walked alongside a young girl as she develops her own world view.

I have to say it’s my favorite part of parenting.

I found out about the shooting in Las Vegas after she’d already gone to school. Among my first thoughts was the realization that she was going to hear this very horrific news in her first period World Geography class. History teachers are always quite smitten with current events in my experience and this seventh grade instructor is no exception. Though I know she can handle it, there’s something that’s always rubbed me the wrong way about bad news being doled out in school.

By the time she got home that afternoon, I’d checked the headlines a dozen times. I’d been on and off Twitter. I’d consumed my share of second hand tragedy. She sat next to me on our front porch stoop for our regular after school debriefing. There was homework that night and she told me about how she showed someone pictures of our dogs on her phone.

“So you heard about Las Vegas I guess?” I asked.
“Yeah. Mr. K— told us about it,” she said. “He put CNN 10 on because he thought they’d be talking about it but they weren’t. Then he put on some other news channel and his Internet stopped working.”

She went on to tell me that he’d ranked the shootings in our country by casualties.

“Yeah. They’re saying this is the worst in modern American history,” I said.
“I don’t think the number of deaths makes one worse than another,” she said. "He didn't even have Kent State on the list."
"That was different," I said. "Worse maybe because it was the government."
"Has the world always been this bad?" she asked.

She's been asking me that for a while now. Were there mass shootings when I was a kid? Did everyone seem angry and ready to kill each other over political disagreements? Was life better in the '90s?

It's a line of unanswerable and wholly sickening questions.

"Well, there's always been evil in the world," I tell her.

My husband got me this front license plate so I can "put
love in the world wherever I go."
We reassure ourselves by talking through the horror regular people must have felt walking roads lined with people being crucified by the Roman empire. We think about what it must have been like to eat breakfast while Dad and Brother were down the road fighting in the Civil War. Two great-grandfathers fought in World War II. Nana and PapPap had to learn to duck and cover because they lived in constant fear of the Soviet Union. My middle and high school history teachers had us talking about Waco, the Unabomber, and Oklahoma City.

The world has always been full of bad stuff. There's nothing new under the sun. Essentially, there's no reason to hope for us ever getting it right in this life.

Except we do. We hope. And we're continually disappointed by these tragedies that continually erode our ability to believe in the basic goodness of the people around us. We're tired.

"We need to keep putting love in the world," is my final answer. "No matter what."

And so we do knowing that one of these days, it's going to make a difference.