Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: June, 2016

TRULY – boasting never pays off.

photo of antique pie tin with "Home Made Pies" embossed on it

(Just stick with me. I promise it’ll make sense.)

You remember how I squealed on Hubby in the Tackle Box Teddy story? As he read that painful episode from his teen years, it reminded him of a later episode (when he should’ve been old enough to know better) and – believe it or not – he suggested I tell the tale to the world. Can you believe it? Well! I couldn’t flip open my laptop fast enough. (Apparently, some people prefer even bad publicity to no publicity.) So here’s

…yet ANOTHER tale
which illustrates
that boasting

Sometime in his late twenties and early thirties, Hubby developed a baker streak. It was during that inauspicious era when sourdough anything had become popular. Some enthusiastic sourdough-er gave us a sourdough starter batch, which I planned to ignore until it stank and then throw it out. Hubby, however, took up the challenge and decided to become a sourdough baking wizard. (Did I mention he rarely set foot in the kitchen at this stage of life?)

After introducing him to the stove, oven, and of course, the eminently useful Joy of Cooking cookbook, I left him to it. After conferring with the other women in his life who did know about these things, he spent his Saturday mornings – with our boys pitching in – trying his hand at sourdough pancakes, sourdough biscuits, sourdough cookies, sourdough pizzas, sourdough breads, sourdough cakes, and sourdough pie shells.

It was that last one that tripped him up, but I’m getting ahead of my story. (See, the photo above is already beginning to make sense, isn’t it?)

All fall, he honed his sourdough baking skills. Developing productive new skills is almost always a good thing. Boasting about it? Rarely ever a good thing. After the whole Tackle Box Teddy debacle, as I’ve said, you’d think he would’ve learned this lesson but then I couldn’t be telling this story if he had, now could I?

That was a year when we would travel the 1100 miles back to spend Christmas with my family in Indiana. Every time we talked with my parents on the phone that fall and early winter leading up to Christmas, he bragged on his sourdough whatever – but especially on his sourdough pie shells.

After listening to way too much of his braggadocio, I decided to let him fall on his own sword. I decided not to tell him about my father’s pre-Prevention-reading days and the days before our trek down the path of culinary austerity, which were well before he entered the family. I decided not to tell him what he had no way of knowing – that my mother was the meanest pie-baker for miles. Her tender, flaky crusts filled with her perfectly sweetened apple fillings had disappeared in seconds at family reunion dessert time.

Meanwhile, clueless Hubby kept on with the endless bragging.

A day or so after arriving at my parents’ home, Hubby realized he’d remembered to bring the sourdough mixture, but not his pie crust recipe. “Oh, well,” said The Braggart, “I can remember most of it.” You’re way ahead of me, aren’t you? If you know anything about baking, you know that remembering “most” of a recipe is a recipe for unpleasantness at the table.

On the Day of Disaster, overconfident Hubby entered my mother’s kitchen and announced he was making his very own Famous-Amos, sourdough, cherry pie and could she please get out all the necessary accoutrements and then get out of the kitchen? Those were the last questions he asked, bless his heart. From there on, he had things wonderfully under control. No need to ask silly questions about liquid-to-flour proportions, differences altitude makes in baking, pie dough handling, or anything else. No siree. He was on it.

After a while, though, the determined set of his mouth told me perhaps his “most” recipe wasn’t working out so well. Didn’t care. I went on about my business. Several more minutes passed. Mother, artfully keeping a sly eye on his progress, whispered to me, “If he doesn’t stop pounding and stretching that crust, it’ll be tougher than a boot!”

Not to worry, Mother. I’m sure that no matter what happens, most of us will enjoy dessert immensely.”

By the time the dinner hour arrived, there was a feverish feeling in the air. Everyone around the table – except Hubby – knew what was coming after the main course: a totally inedible dessert. We couldn’t wait! After clearing the table, Mother set the pie, pie server, and dessert plates in front of Hubby so that he could do the honors (knowing full well she didn’t have the muscle required to wrestle concrete from a pie pan).

As he began to cut, Hubby’s expression changed from smug self-satisfaction to mild concern to all-out panic to gritty resolve. Now everyone knows the first piece of pie is the hardest to get out. This pie’s first piece was, well, harder than most. Hubby sawed and hammered and whacked and chiseled until he had the first piece on a dessert plate.

Whew. Six more to go.

When all seven dessert plates of cherry concrete had been distributed, the fun began. Mother gamely took her first bite, tried to down another, and thereafter, picked at the remaining stone-like mass. My much younger sister took one bite and asked to be excused from the table. Witnessing all this, I tried to choke down a small morsel and decided it just wasn’t worth risking my teeth. Once our sons saw their very own mother abandon the sinking ship, they mutinied, too, and quietly slipped out of their seats and slithered into the living room.

Now, never let it be said that my father didn’t know how to play the game. Not only was he able to hew a bite-size piece from the rocky stuff, he managed to chew his first bite and – here’s the amazing part – swallow it. After the obvious effort it took to swallow it, he said, “THAT is delicious! I believe I’ll have another bite.”

Of course, the next bite was a process that took just as long as the first bite process. It, too, had to be hacked off the mother ship, speared with his fork, and then chewed and chewed and chewed, and then bravely swallowed. After the second bite, he proclaimed, “My, that’s tasty!”

And on it went – long after my sister, my mother, our sons, and I, and – yes – even Hubby had given up and left the table. Hubby slunk off to the family room and pretended to watch the evening news. Our sons hung out safely in the living room. Mother, Sis, and I did the washing up, and cleared the table, except for my father’s dessert plate and fork. We turned off the dining room lights and left him to it. Every ten minutes or so, from the darkness, we all heard another, “Well, this IS superb pie!” or something to that effect.

After his final bite of cherry concrete, my father (who by now you know was The King of Understatement) pushed himself back from the table and stood up to announce to anyone still within earshot – once again – “I believe that is the FINEST cherry pie I have EVER eaten.” And with that final pronouncement, he walked quietly (though a little stiffly, since he had a bellyful of concrete grinding down a few hapless cherries) to the family room.

Pay attention.
Here’s the part you’ve been waiting for:
the first pay-attention point.

Understated comeuppance is sometimes – though not always – more effective than beating someone over the head with an “I-told-you-so.” In fact, in certain circumstances, it can be THE most effective Boast Buster there is.

And, as you’ve just read, someone in that house desperately needed more than a wimpy serving of comeuppance. My father, ever glad to oblige, administered a walloping dollop of comeuppance with a master’s hand. I’m telling you, it was a performance worth the suspense and the waiting. 

But hey, there’s more –
a second pay-attention point.

The next year, my parents and sis made the same 1100-mile trip, traveling the opposite direction, to spend Christmas at our house. Christmas morning dawned, and the gift orgy began. My seemingly innocent little sister (egged her by her parents, no doubt) handed a small package to Hubby.

Why thank you!” said The Braggart. (Here’s a third pay-attention point I’ll throw in for free: don’t thank the gift-giver for a gift until after you’ve opened it.)

He opened the beautifully wrapped package to discover – yes! – an antique pie tin (the very one you saw at the beginning of this blog post). As you can see, it states demurely, “Home Made Pies” – just what every sourdough baking wizard needs.

photo of worn Teddy with tartan bow and antique pie tin

Yessir. It’s the Dynamic Duo of Boast Busters.

While Hubby’s sourdough baking phase has long since passed (thank goodness), his pie tin (given a full year from his ruinous boasting fiasco) finds its way to a prominent place in our house from time to time. This happens for the same reason that Tackle Box Teddy has to make similar appearances: when you-know-who needs a not-so-subtle reminder of how boasting really never, ever, ever pays off. And it works – for awhile. 

red box with white text: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” – Proverbs 27:1, NIV Bible

Hoo, boy. I’ll say!!!!! Just ask you-know-who.


red box with white text: “Boasting begins where wisdom stops.” – Japanese Proverb

Don’t you just love that Japanese pithiness?

©2016, Teresa Bennett

Pride Before the Fall

white box of rows of apostrophes

You’ll get it – really. Promise.

Have you ever been faced with a new task that you had absolutely NO IDEA how to handle? That happens a lot when we’re in our twenties and thirties – less frequently as we age and acquire a lifetime of experiences (most of which can be transferred). Laugh along with me as I rat on myself and tell a story of my astounding and prideful cluelessness.

A Story
of Pitiful Pride

Back in the Dark Ages, when Hubby and I were living in Married Student Housing, we had the extremely good fortune of living just below a couple on the floor above us who were from New Orleans – seafood capital of the world, to have heard them tell it. My connoisseur husband, though he hadn’t a great deal of experience with seafood, had enough to know he loved it. The problem? We were college students on a small campus located on a land-locked northern fringe of The Deep South. Finances and location conspired against us where seafood was concerned.

Enter, our kindly upstairs neighbors, who thoughtfully brought a bag of shrimp back after a home visit and gifted it to us. Hubby was ecstatic. I was not. It wasn’t that I didn’t like shrimp. It was that I had NO idea what to do with it – except eat it. You’ll remember, I’d spent my first 18 years in the middle of Indiana farm country. Not much seafood activity going on there in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, if they’d given me a big ole hunk of pork or beef, I would’ve been marginally better equipped to deal with it. A bag of shrimp? Not so much.

On the night when Hubby had set his taste buds for shrimp, I whipped out my Joy of Cooking cookbook that some optimistic matron had given me at a wedding shower. (The joy of cooking?? Really? Says who?) With gritty determination, I skimmed the Table of Contents and read the 126 pages on seafood preparation. Well! It appeared there was a good deal to be done to shrimp: peeling, deveining, yanking off their little tails, boiling, etc. Whew. Better get started. I slaved over those smelly things for over an hour – after reading for a half hour as I tried to understand how to administer all this “joy.” When Hubby returned from his part-time job, the shrimp and I were ready. Yessss!

The few times my non-gourmet, farm-girl mother had ventured into seafood territory, it was some kind of frozen gunk that she plopped out of a box and into a few inches of hot oil. Having completed my grim work with the Joy of Cooking routine, I figured I could stop reading at that point, and just follow my mother’s example. Pouring a healthy glug-glug of cooking oil into a large pot, I set the burner on high.

While Hubby washed up in the bathroom, I dropped the shrimp into the hot oil, and busied myself setting the rest of the meal on the table, figuring I had plenty of time. By the time I returned to the shrimp, they looked considerably different than they appeared just minutes earlier. Oh well, maybe that’s how they’re supposed to look. Or not.

You remember how it feels when you’ve done everything you thought you were supposed to do, but you still have that queasy feeling something isn’t quite right? That’s the pit-of-the-stomach feeling I had about then. To make myself feel marginally better, I made a bed of paper towels, artistically laid the little dears in neat rows, and covered them with a cozy paper-towel blanket.

Hubby trounced in from the bathroom, saying he’d been waiting all day for this, and wasn’t it cool that we had such generous neighbors, and wouldn’t this be a meal to remember? He was right on all three counts – just not in the way he expected. As he reached out to lift up their paper-towel blanket and cast a drooling, covetous eye on his prey, I stayed his hand and suggested we pray first. I mean, really; that IS the first thing we do at the table (and I figured I’d be needing a little divine protection in a few seconds).

Warning: from here on, the story goes from warm-your-heart goodness to something-that-needs-forgetting. When Hubby pulled back the paper-towel blanket, he found a plateful of black apostrophes – a literary feast, as it were. Being an English major, this made perfect sense to me. While they possessed a certain high-brow, literary classiness, it turns out crispy black apostrophes aren’t all that tasty. Actually – and we know this as fact – they’re inedible.

Hubby was not amused. That old standby, the PBJ, was not what he had been salivating for all day. In fact, he carried a grudge about this unfortunate episode from our early-marriage days for a very long time. Now, he can laugh about it. For many years after The Shrimp Episode? Not so much.

Meanwhile, you’re thinking, “Is there a pay-attention point to this pathetic story?” Well, of course. Why else would I tell such an embarrassing story on myself?

Pay attention!
When you don’t know
how to do something
but you know someone who does,

Don’t check out a book from the library. Don’t buy an e-book from Amazon. Don’t Google it. Don’t read a magazine how-to article. Don’t be proud: ask the person WHO KNOWS for some help – first! That might be all you have to do.

It would’ve been
for me.

If Id just left Joy on the shelf, swallowed my outsized pride, walked my little white legs up the stairs, and asked my neighbor how to prepare those expensive suckers, I would’ve learned there was nothing to prepare. Not only did cooking oil not belong in the picture, they’d already been boiled in the shell IN WATER. All we had to do was peel them, dip them in cocktail sauce by their tails, and chow down, tossing the tails to the wind. Who cares about the veins?!

I wasted time and effort and perfectly good shrimp whod given their lives that we might taste their succulence – all because I wouldn’t ASK for help. I also denied my neighbor the chance to show off her N’Orleans know-how and to feel exceedingly helpful to such an idiot neighbor. Now, is that not the silliest pride story you’ve heard in a long time?

Oh wait.
Let’s talk about you
for a minute.

‘Fess up. You just did this not very long ago, didn’t you? Your dad knows how to _______ but instead of asking for his advice, you went to the Internet instead. Granted, the project got a little messy and doesn’t actually function very well but, hey, you did it yourself.

Or maybe you wanted to make _______ like your BFF makes. But instead of calling and gratifying her with a request for her knowledge and recipe, you checked Pinterest for a recipe like hers, complete with step-by-step instructions. Dang. In spite of all that effort, yours didn’t turn out like hers – not at all like hers!

Or maybe you decided to get crafty a few Saturdays ago and create a mini quilt project. Instead of calling Aunt Dot (the family’s in-house quilting expert) for some concise pointers, you Googled “quilting projects.” And – big surprise – by the time you finished your Googling experience, Saturday was pretty much over, and you had no time left to actually DO some work on your project.

Sound familiar? We ALL do this. Most of us are just too self-sufficient for our own good. Pay attention and learn the lesson. ASK FOR HELP from people in the know. Almost always, you’ll:

  • get way more practical and useful advice,
  • save time,
  • be happier with your results, and
  • make someone feel better just because they were able to help someone else – you.

This is one of those hard-learned lessons whose scars I still bear to this day. Every time I eat shrimp, I’m reminded of my proud folly. Every time Hubby eats shrimp, well, you know what happens: it’s déjà vu all over again.* Learn from my mistakes!

*Don’t you love Yogi Berra malapropisms?

©2016, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: "You like to be independent, but you will need to learn to ask for help. It doesn't make you weak.” – Taya Kyle

(Husband killed by fellow Marine with PTSD)


red box with white text:

Pride often precedes avoidable unpleasantness.

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