Sunday, September 5, 2010



September 5, 2010


I am reminded today by my friend’s daughter, Sarah as she tweets about her hanging with her mom at the local IHOP after church, that I love pancakes. In fact, I have been to that very same IHOP outside of Boston after church with Sarah, her sister Chante and their mom, Cynthia on occasions too numerous to count. And when you add in the late night after partying breakfasts I have eaten there, I dare say IHOP owes me some dividends! The times I spent there with the Prescotts are some of my fondest memories of Boston. Hours lollygagging in a booth drinking quarts of coffee, pints of orange juice, tons of pancakes and International omelets while we giggled, snickered and uproariously laughed together in the days before cell phones.

These experiences with my family-friends always struck a chord with me. They were reminiscent of earlier days when Mom and Dad would pile us all into the station wagon and take us out for breakfast at Bickford’s. This was always a big deal. One, feeding a family of five in the sixties was expensive enough, but taking a family of five out to eat breakfast, well, it was a real treat. Secondly, we are black and even in the north, the prejudices were palpable. The excitement of the event inevitably was better than the actual experience. Nonetheless, off we went with promises of pancakes, eggs and ham, my Nana back at home shaking her head wondering why we would waste good money when anything she could cook would be much better. However, she too knew the value of young people having experiences in the world. So, off we went, prim and proper to Bickford's, the old New England bastion of all day pancakes.

I remember the sights and sounds of those days. Waitresses flying by with heavy plates filled with corned beef hash, huge ham steaks and of course pancakes, golden brown, evenly round, slathered with butter and awaiting another New England tradition – pure maple syrup. The strong coffee brewing, little boys’ and girls’ eyes bulging just as mine did with anticipation of soft buttery deliciousness mine often filled with ripe Maine blueberries – oh, the delight the thoughts bring to my mind. Our breakfast conversations would always be peppered with Mom’s admonitions to sit up straight and take our elbows off the table, and to put the milk down. I always injected impatience. Why was that family eating already when they had just sat down? Mommy would cut her eyes; I would hush and Daddy would get the attention of the waiter. At six foot three and a burly 300 pounds or more, they only kept him waiting a short time. Inevitably, a manager would come around and ask if, “You folks enjoying your meal?” We would all nod. After breakfast, we would pile silently stuffed back into the car, endure the ride home until we could get out of our dresses and into our play clothes. We would tell Nana of our experiences, laugh at the little things which happened; frown at the unpleasant moments and Nana would always end with, “As long as you had fun.” It was a different day and time. Even time spent with the Prescotts in comparison to now has changed.

Now I cook the family meals. I am the chef of the house. In relationships or out of them, it is clearly MY kitchen. For years my house was the one where friends came to share a good meal and with few exceptions, I cooked them. (I do recall one house in Cambridge where cooking duties were shared experiences). There were holiday feasts, trim-a-tree festivities with a smorgasbord of treats, new cookbook dinner parties where the guests were unwitting guinea pigs to my trials and errors in cooking (sorry folks). There were grill parties, and beach parties and more seafood than anyone should ever eat. There were after Pride morning parties involving supermarket runs at three in the morning to get lobster and clams for an early morning clambake. But nothing, nothing at all beat the breakfasts.

Here again, piles of food spread out along a twelve foot dining table. Fresh fruits cut to top homemade Belgian waffles, shrimp and grits, fried catfish, pork chops, bowls of grits steaming with butter, omelets stuffed with spinach, lobster, mushrooms, cheese oozing out of its sides, yogurt and granola parfaits, pitchers of mimosas and carafes of coffee and yes, stacks and stacks of gorgeous golden brown pancakes each layered with sweet creamy butter and real maple syrup. On these days we sat and ate and stuffed ourselves to oblivion. Guest would remark how they hated coming to our home for this very reason. How were they ever going to live through the next 364 days until they came again? My nephews and nieces would wander up from their playground terrace level of one particular home late in the afternoon and pile their plates high with the homemade goodness that now defined their youth. And even now, I sit here menu in hand preparing yet another gastronomic exercise for yet another generation of would-be foodies for next weekend. In the end, I know we will all have fun.

That said, why then is it that on my day off, when I have time to prepare a delightful meal for myself, I instead reach for the box of Complete Pancake mix and the faucet to make my breakfast? Why do any of us do that? Why is it that when we have our loved ones near we will go to any lengths to please them, but when it comes to our own needs, we shortchange ourselves? I don’t have the answer on this one, but I do know in my own life it has to stop. I don't have to stop being the chef for them, but I do have to start being a better caregiver to me.

I am learning. Self care is one of the things women especially forget about. And if it is any indication of just how bad things are, a British study in 2009 said that women are better at taking care of themselves then men are. Granted they were looking at cancer risks, but it says a lot about who we are as a whole. Can you imagine? If we women are doing a lousy job taking care of ourselves and men are even worse off, what does that say about the next generation? If I am not taking good care of me, what am I teaching my daughters and sons about taking care of themselves?

On airplanes the flight attendants always stress the importance of putting the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping those next to you. How do I instill in my children, my nieces and nephews the importance of putting on their masks first and then helping the person next to them? How do I teach them that we are better to one another when we are good to ourselves. I can teach them by learning to do it for me first. Actions inevitably speak volumes louder than words.

So today, as I sit and write this blog, I made pancakes. I didn’t do it from scratch because I just didn’t feel like dealing with the mess afterwards, but I did add some fresh ingredients to make the pancakes a richer experience. And after burning the first two, I realized that multitasking is a lie. You can do two things at once, but you can only do one thing at once well. I stopped writing long enough to pay attention to the pancakes I was making for me. The attention paid off. They were delicious along with the red grapes I washed, stemmed and put in a nice bowl. Presentation is everything. I am about to put on a pot of coffee to drink while I edit. All just for me. A little self care goes a long way.


There are a lot of little things we each can do to improve our lives through self care. Think about each part of your life and break it down into compartments.

Mine is my writing life, my job life, my family life, my social life, my spiritual life, my health. I try to think of things I can do big and small which will improve my lives. For instance, I spend time writing everyday even if only for fifteen minutes. It can be a poem, a blog or just my Facebook post, but it has to be meaningful, carefully thought out and planned. That means I can’t do anything else during that time and since my job schedule changes from day to day, I have to be flexible about when I write. But I write.

For my job life, I give myself an hour and a half every work day to get ready. I stop whatever I am doing and prepare. It doesn’t take long to shower and dress, but some days it takes a long time in traffic to get there. Doing this means I am on time or early and happy to be there when I arrive.

Spiritually, I pray daily. I read and write affirmations. I am conscious of my thoughts and actions. I am careful about what I speak into the universe. Family and socially, I make phone calls or send Facebook messages to at least one family member and one good friend each day. This keeps me connected with the vast array of friends and family members who I love. It keeps me informed and that connection keeps me grounded and feeling the love. Health is still a challenge, but I am getting better. I make better and more conscious choices about what I eat and how I move in the world, everything from parking further away from the store to pushing back from the table before my plate is empty. It all works.

There are some great resources on the Internet and in your own communities. This one I found from Virginia Polytechnic Institute was helpful and informative: It focuses on Self Care as a means of Stress Management. Check your local hospital or wellness center for workshops and clinics offered sometimes for free or for a nominal fee. Emory Hospital in Atlanta  and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston are two terrific resources for health and wellness classes, resources and services for women.

So, what can you do for you to take care of you? Today, I made pancakes.

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  1. Ur memory 4 detail has always amazed me... Down 2 a Mother's glare @ a table n restaurant.... Which would have ben a lost memory 4 me til u brought it 2 surface...

  2. what i can do is read this blog; and make a comment. and then be inspired to write my ownself whole. and make a bowl of grits!!! thank you, robin. thank you.

  3. yeah. self care is something i've been reading about and taking note of lately. it's making me feel much better.
    and it helps to talk to someone you can confide in who can encourage you to do just that.
    so i appreciate you sharing this sis.
    as you know i took some time to get to the beach..labor day motivated. and it was a good friend who gave me some suggestions on how to stay motivated to do it.
    I really needed that.
    And i see that putting one foot in front of the other, takin it one day at a time is moving me forward nicely. It is also helping me to look at the future with more clarity.
    I couldn't ask for more at this time.