Thursday, June 18, 2009

Burn. Scrape. Eat.

My new toaster is way too complicated for me. Why? I can’t figure out how to perform the simple task of toasting bread.

My last toaster had only two buttons, and it always made perfect toast. This new one is far more modern with multiple buttons and multiple choices to make for toasting a couple of pieces of bread. I have yet to get perfect toast from this modern machine.

Toasting some bread for a BLT sandwich at noon took me back 50 years or so. That’s because I used the same procedure for making toast today that my mother did in the 1950s: burn the bread; scrape the toast; eat the toast.

Toast in my childhood home was always scraped, and there were always burned fragments that still clung to the toast; the fragments always stuck to the butter knife. That meant our butter always had little black spots on it.

I didn’t realize until I took home economics in the 9th grade that there was another way to prepare toast: toast the bread; eat the bread. I asked my teacher why she didn’t scrape the toast before we ate it. She had no idea what I was talking about.

I haven’t had a piece of burned/scraped toast in a long, long time. Like my mother used to do, today I scraped my burned toast into the sink. And like my mother did, I think I’ll leave it there until supper.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Summertime in South Austin

My backyard is big enough to hold a small circus. It’s wooded and beautiful and backs down to Little Williamson Creek. When I bought my house in 1996, I thought I’d live in the backyard. And I did for a few years.

Gradually, however, I’ve moved my outside living to my front yard. My swing was the first sign of front yard living. For several years, I’ve sat outside, just a swinging, and greeting my neighbors who saunter by. Several years ago, I started planting my tomatoes in the front yard; several of my reverse-chic neighbors have joined me in front yard gardening. It gives the neighbors lots to talk about when we walk around the hood.

Now my front yard is equipped with a swimming pool—or a South Austin Cold Tub as I call it. Why would I want my precious grandchildren to be hidden in the backyard when all the action is in the front? Along with the pool, there is a kiddie swing for them, too.

This week I reached a new high (or low?) in South Austin Living. While the children were playing in the pool and enjoying the shade of my huge oak tree, I rolled the barbecue pit around from the back yard and cooked some mighty fine pork chops while keeping an eye on the family and greeting the neighbors and their dogs—all in the front yard.

I still have visions of making the backyard a playground for William and Caroline and growing lots of tomatoes and other veggies. But until then, you can find me in the front yard—just a swinging, swimming and barbecuing. Everything they say about South Austin living is true.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

We Can Have It All

Post Cereals has recently launched a new nation-wide television ad campaign: “Progress plays no role in Post Shredded Wheat,” says the actor who is supposed to be the company’s CEO. Then he proudly states, “We put the NO in Innovation!”

Most other advertisements boast that their product is the newest incarnation and will make us better citizens in this fast-spinning world. Post says shredded wheat is fine, just the way it’s been for decades

If shredded wheat were an appliance or an electronic device instead of a cereal, the company could never have taken such an approach. Imagine an ad for an 80-year old paper shredder. “Progress plays no role in our paper shredders,” the announcer would boast. That means we’d still be using something that resembles a hand-cranked pasta maker to destroy our old IRS records and love letters.

And what about an ad that claims, “There’s been no progress in microwave ovens?” There’s certainly no room in my small kitchen for the earliest microwave oven — the one that was 5 ½ feet tall and weighed almost 800 pounds. That 1947 microwave would leave no space for even mini shredded wheat.

Smarter cars and phones, the newest digital recorder, tweeting, and measuring time in nanoseconds—these advancements can put us in a tailspin and leave no time to stop to smell the roses.

Then one morning we wake up and want to check out. That’s when we take a break, sit on the deck at Deep Eddy or trek to the beach. That’s when we head to Colorado or to Jamaica or to Bastrop or Lake Travis. That’s when some move to the country to escape the hustle and bustle of city living and settle into a life that embraces a simpler, calmer time.

And then we start to fret because some of those places don’t have Wi-Fi; internet connections are slow in rural areas; and there are miles and miles of Texas without cell phone service. That’s when we question our decision to check out and wonder why we can’t have it all.

We can have it all — we just have to be clear about what all is, and when we want it. I think it boils down to paying attention and making choices. For even in the most tranquil life and in the most tumultuous one, we can choose what we do and what we pay attention to. Nobody makes up pick up our smart phone the minute our plane touches down; nobody makes us sit and stare at a lake. We’ve always had those choices, and we still do.

Maybe Post is reassuring consumers through their shredded wheat ads that we still have a handle on our cereal even if we can’t decide between the latest PC or Apple or which phone meets our needs. Post Cereals, I’m certain, is giving us an opportunity to philosophize about lots of issues and to reexamine our values. And I bet all they intended to do was to sell some shredded wheat.