Hot tamale!

When it comes to food, I am much blessed.  Not only is my wife a great cook — but so are all three of my children.

A couple of days ago, Aaron — my son who is home on winter break from grad school — decided to make something he’s never made before: tamales!

Aaron and his tamales

Alicia told him that they were a lot of work, and that it’s great for a family activity.  A kind of party.  With lots of people helping.  A tamales making party.

Yesterday, he went shopping.  Apparently, a nice Mexican lady at a Mexican grocery store took him under her wing and not only gave him the recipe, but sold him everything he needed to make them.

Today, he got up, had a cup of coffee, and got busy in the kitchen.  After about four hours, I could see he was getting frustrated.  He was in the middle of something bigger than he expected.

Tamale making is labor intensive.

Enter Alicia.  She helped.

At six o’clock this evening, I unwrapped the husk of my first tamale.

It was fantastic — so I ate another.  And another.  And another.

He made a huge number of tamales.  He plans to freeze some, and give some for gifts.

The kitchen looked like it had been hit by Hurricane Hugo.  Alicia cleaned it after the last tamale was cooked.

Thanks to Lose It!, I’ve lost 28 pounds in the past seven months.  Actually, I lost almost all of that weight in the first four months.  For the past three, I’ve maintained — intending (but without pressuring myself too much) to lose 10 more.  Thus, each day, I count my calories.

After about seven tamales, I announced that I would have only one more and wasn’t sure how to count these calories.

“You don’t want to know,” Aaron said.

“They’re a lot?” I asked.

“Oh yeah.  A lot.”

“Don’t tell him,” warned Alicia.

“There’s lard in ’em,” Aaron said.

I know when I eat out there’s a chance I’m consuming a little lard, perhaps bacon fat — but I don’t eat out a lot — and lard is not something I eat at home, knowingly.  At home, I choose tasty, nutritious food.  I’ve always eaten very healthy, but twice as much as I should.

“The lady in the store said they had to have lard,” he said.  “In order to taste good.”

It’s so true that context is everything.

Somehow, I’m not craving tamales right now.  They still smell good.  They still look good.  But I’m not hungry.  Not a bit.  I just walked a couple of miles and, as I sit here pondering how clogged my arteries really are, I’m quite sure I won’t be taking in a lot more food tonight.


I wrote this in January of this year and feel like sharing it again, as a way of connecting to the heartbreaking news that Naomi Bernhardt passed away last night after an automobile accident.

I crashed a party Saturday night

Her relationship with my parents was close and spanned the better part of the past century.  They owned businesses across the street from each other, and they had a standing Saturday night dinner arrangement — for decades.

It’s not my place to give details about a life that ended only yesterday — before the traditional grieving has even begun.

This is just to say she was a special person.  A member of a special family, with special circumstances.  A prominent member of her community.

And there’s a special connection.

For this day, that’s enough.

Can't we all just grow up a little?

The Obama protesters — a noisy bunch — strike me as folks who don’t understand how democracy works.

They are horrified by Obama’s agenda — but it’s not new. This is what he campaigned for.

During the campaign, they made fun of “change,” saying Obama just liked to give ‘pretty speeches,’ accusing him of using ‘rhetoric’ (dismissing rhetoric as something undesirable — when, in fact, it’s something quite useful and necessary).

No — it was actually change.

The push for health care reform should not be a surprise. Many of us gave money and walked many miles canvassing — precisely for this “change.”  We had an election. We won. That’s the way it works.

Granted, he didn’t plan on beginning his presidency with bailouts. Nobody liked that.

But…don’t we want our President to deal with a crisis? Would we have preferred another Great Depression? I think not.

Am I stating the obvious? I think so.

Is this outrage real? If so, it’s perfectly legal and okay — but it’s a little late. That energy should have been channelled into the McCain campaign. Is the outrage strategy for future elections? Possibly. I don’t know.

I feels more like a bunch of babies who don’t know how to lose.

It’s almost as if some people don’t understand what elections are, and that if you care — and I know they do — sometimes your candidate still loses.

In fact, losing is normal and complete victory never happens. Even when your candidate wins, it’s a mixed bag.  We have a pluralistic system in which his or her agenda — particularly in domestic matters — is never completely realized.

Recalling a few Presidential elections:

1972. I was a junior in high school. The Saturday before the election, my older brother dropped me off at a strip mall in Kannapolis, NC. Kannapolis, at that time, was not known for its diversity. Let’s call it a “conservative” area. I’m Jewish.  My hair was long, very curly, and unruly. My partner was another long-haired guy with a heavy accent — our Finnish exchange student.

I don’t think we won George McGovern any votes that day.

I liked McGovern. He said something like ‘We’ve tried getting peace with bombing. Let’s try getting peace with not bombing.’  Something like that.  As a sixteen year old who would soon be registering for the draft, I wanted the war to end ASAP.

I remember, about the time the polls closed on election day, talking with the local newspaper reporter who covered politics.

I remember still hoping that McGovern could win. This reporter told me he thought McGovern might win a few states, but that winning was “out of the question.”

I still remember hearing that cold prediction and not believing it. A few hours later, of course, his forecast was confirmed accurate. The next morning, on the way to school, a friend told me, “Don’t take it so hard. Nixon’s not that bad.” I was not to be consoled.

1990.  Here in Salisbury, we had an anti-Jesse Helms rally.  We marched from the Democratic headquarters, on South Main St., to the courthouse steps on North Main, where we made speeches.  Across the street, Helms supports shouted back. It was crazy — but at least it was before the Helms-Gant election, not after.

1992. I took my daughter to Clinton rallies and to the inauguration. We had a blast. Thus began the indoctrination of another generation.

2000. The debate was held in Winston-Salem, and I took my children.  We watched it in an auditorium, on the large screen, with lots of other Democrats. We saw Al Gore ride by in the motorcade.

In 2004, I spent quite a few evenings on the phone, calling swing states. On Saturdays in the fall, I took my daughters canvassing.  It seemed that every door we knocked on (all registered Democrats) was opened by a hardened, pro-war, Bush supporter.  We canvassed all day on election day, in a slightly more sympathetic neighborhood.  Even in a hopeless effort, which North Carolina clearly was, I like to feel that I’ve helped out a little.

That night, when Bush defeated Kerry, these daughters of mine, and one of their friends who was at our house that night — all of whom had worked quite hard all day — began to sob.

It took me a minute to realize that their grief was real. They were really this torn up about an election. I blamed myself for taking this too seriously and transferring that emotion.  Some things in life are more important than others, and at this point in my life, a national election seemed too abstract to take personally.

“Geez,” I said. “It’s not that bad. It’s just politics.  The pendulum swings back and forth. Maybe we’ll win the next one.”

No words could comfort these three girls, sitting on our living room couch, balling uncontrollably.

I realized that I was caught up in the history as much as the cause, whereas they were devoted entirely to the cause.

I’ve always taken comfort in the advice given by Timothy Gallwey in The Inner Game of Tennis, which goes something like this:  ‘If you pay attention to the score, losing is the norm.  Even so, winning isn’t that great and losing isn’t that bad.’  The idea is that one can win all the time by redefining what it means to win.  Full effort and improvement is winning.

And that’s the problem with folks now. Winning can happen — but it’s rare.  Losing is the norm, and it’s not worth going crazy and having a tantrum.

Politics is fascinating, but we seem to have a decent system that is somewhat self-correcting.

So c’mon, Republicans. Get a grip. Grow up. Play fair. It’s better for the country. There will be more elections, and your day will come again.