To Eat or Not to Eat, That is the Real Question

I’ve been trying to decide whether to visit my family in Utah before summer ends.

It’s not that I don’t want to go.

It’s just that I have to “weigh” (pun intended) my decision carefully because when I land in Utah, every good habit I’ve worked hard to develop suddenly starts playing a game of hide-and-seek.

It’s the craziest thing, like my good sense goes on vacation and I’m a helpless victim trapped in a smorgasbord of deliciousness.

And I must eat.

I eat things I would never eat in my day-to-day life, and it wreaks havoc on my health goals.

If you asked me to tell you the best bakeries in Washington, D.C. area, I would be stumped.

If you asked me about Utah bakeries, my mouth would start to water just thinking of them.

Sara posed for a photo in front of a cute bakery in downtown Salt Lake City, and that photo went viral in my family, prompting everyone to go there and mimic Sara’s pose.

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After all that posing, how could we not go inside and at least look at their display of yumminess?

A baking celebrity in our family recommended we try the French toast.

French toast?

I can’t remember the last time I even thought about eating French toast.

But, that wasn’t just any French toast.

It was some lemon-filled, blueberry-topped bundle of melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

Hands down best indulgence.

If it had only stopped there.

Family dinners in Utah carry their own set of challenges.

You can never expect to find anything close to a vegetable unless it’s some form of butter-soaked, cheese-ladened potato dish.

And fruit? That’s what goes in Jello salads and hides under layers of whipped cream.

And can I just insert here that it’s a tradition in Doug’s family to have “treat drawers?”

These are deep drawers filled with candy in every kitchen.

As if that’s not enough, there are jars and dishes of candy everywhere.

Remember, Doug’s dad is the man who can’t fall asleep without a piece of chocolate in his mouth. (Yes, he has false teeth.)

And a trip to my hometown absolutely means Mexican food and a dinner at La Casita, a Main Street fixture for like 50 years.

My friend’s sister was a waitress there when I was growing up, and she said Robert Redford even dined there.

Oh yeah, it’s where famous people like Robert Redford and my family go.

images la_casita_2Guy Fieri would love this place. Talk about the perfect dive for Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

Louie, the Mexican that owns the restaurant, greets everyone by saying, “Hello Mexicans! How many tonight?”

One entire wall of the restaurant is covered with old Polaroid pictures of some of the regulars, including one of my parents about 30 years ago.

2014-04-03 18.39.56We also used to have four or five local fast food drive-ins where we could get fries and fry sauce, fried pickles, greasy tacos, malts, shakes and fish and chips and every kind of soft drink concoction imaginable.

Now, most of them have closed. But, my family isn’t opposed to driving a few miles for a good milk shake.

I’m not a milk shake lover so that’s normally not a temptation for me.

Notice I said “normally.”

As I was standing at the counter with everyone ordering their favorite flavors, the clerk asked what kind I wanted.

While shaking my head “no,” I suddenly started stammering out something about an Oreo shake.

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Wait a minute, I thought, I don’t even want the darn milkshake. But there I was with everyone ordering and suddenly I was searching through the list of flavors and forcing myself to pick one like if I didn’t  everybody else might win the lottery and be billionaires and there I’d be with nothing but a bulging stomach full of  Louie’s chips and salsa and all that yeasty French toast.

See what I mean about a weighty dilemma?

Still, I made a reservation.

And, once again, I’ll go there determined not to cave to the eating pressure, knowing full well Sara will introduce me to the latest food truck craze and there will be fruit salads that are really desserts; and Louie will call me a Mexican as he leads us to our table and hands us bowls of chips and salsa.

Heaven help me.






Family, From the News, Memoir

Lessons from NYC 9-11 Memorial

We recently visited the new 9-11 Memorial in NYC, which commemorates the lives of those lost in the terrorist attacks.

One word: sad.


a piece of an original staircase from the World Trade Center
a piece of an original staircase from the World Trade Center

Visitors streamed through the museum in silence; many with tears running down their cheeks.

There were some parts of the museum that were so moving, I stifled outright sobbing.

People lingered over the exhibits, especially the ones with recorded voices of passengers on the hijacked planes calling their loved ones to tell them goodbye.

It struck me that in those final, horrific moments of their lives when they knew they were going to die, they called home and said, “I love you. Tell my family I love them.”

That was all they had to say.

That simple but common message summed up what mattered to every one of those victims; and in the end, their messages reminded every museum visitor what really matters to all of us.

A friend of ours, Walter, recently died from cancer and when his daughter spoke at his funeral, she said that as he was in his last days of his life, going in and out of consciousness, each time he awoke, he just wanted to repeat the words, “I love you” to his surrounding family.

He needed to make sure they knew.

I read an interesting quote that said boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend — everything has an “end” except family.

I didn’t hear any 9-11 tapes of people saying, “Tell my boss that report he needs is on my desk!” Or even “Throw out my incriminating personal journals and delete all my emails.”

A 33-year-old equity trader left a message for his mother as he saw people began falling from the windows above him in the Twin Towers.

“Mom, my building’s been hit by a plane. And right now… I think I’m OK, I’m safe now but it’s smoky.

“I just want to say how much I love you (voice breaks a little) and I will call you when I’m safe. OK mom? Bye.”


According to the above Mirror.co.uk story link, “more than 1,000 phone calls were made in just 10 minutes after the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, struck. And thousands more kept calling as the horror unfolded. Some reached loved ones, others left heart-rending messages.”


A real estate broker who had just accepted a promotion at another firm was clearing his desk for his move when the towers were hit.


He left a frantic message for his wife and daughter, Nicole, as he became trapped. He said: “There’s a fire. I love you, tell Nicole ‘I love you’. I don’t know if I’m going to be OK. I love you so much.”

One phone call, one urgent message.

In the last moments of their lives, they only wanted to call home and tell their families they loved them.

Isn’t that what we would all do?

It made me ask myself a series of questions:

Does my family know how much I love them?

Do they know how hard it would be for me to leave or lose them?

Have I loved them all individually and fully enough that they would always remember my love for them?


Is there such a thing as enough love for a family?

Does my life reflect that my family is my absolute top priority?

One thing I know for sure is that if I were on my deathbed, like my friend, Walter, or going down in a plane or into a pile of rubble like the 9-11 victims, my only thought would be just like theirs — tell my family I love them.

I’d pray a desperate, crucial prayer that somehow my family could grasp the infinite, boundless depth of that love.

The obvious, looming question here is Why wait?

For me, having my life show that my family is what I value most means small things like moving away from my computer when one of my family members calls and focusing completely on our conversations.  

It means remembering to add our new son-in-law to our silly group text conversations, and even trying to consider what he might like to do other than shop when he is with us. (I’m not used to boys.)

It means scheduling time to be together as often as possible, and never forgetting to verbally say, “I love you!” I also think it means being specific about what I love because we can all go a long way with a genuine, specific compliment.

Going to the 9-11 museum didn’t teach me the importance of family. It just reinforced it. And it reminded me that in all the horror of 9-11, and all the other bad things that can happen in life, we have to circle the wagons around what matters most to us and then live like it really does.