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It can’t be that fattening, right? And after all, it has fruit in it. At least that was my thinking when I bought the cherry pie a couple of weeks ago. Usually, I just scoot right by the pies when grocery shopping, but on this particular afternoon, my progress through the crowded aisle had come to a dead stop right in front of the dessert choices. The apple pie crumb pie looked good but not quite inviting enough to tempt me. That’s when I saw the cherry one. After hesitating about ten seconds, I tossed it into the buggy.

I maneuvered the cart though the rest of the aisles as I picked up yogurt, milk, bagels, apples, grapes, bananas, and a yellow onion. No cookies, chips, or ice cream landed amongst the healthy choices. But then, there was that cherry pie. The picture on the box looked so tasty. And well, it conjured up a memory of a Sunday afternoon decades ago.

Dinner was over, and the rest of the family had skedaddled to do whatever whatever they chose. I, however, was stuck with kitchen duty that day. As I removed the plates and leftover food from the table, I noticed two pieces of pie, tempting and tasty, left in the pie plate. I wanted one—or at least a sliver of one and asked my mother if I could have a piece of a piece.

I’ll never forget her reply. In fact, it’s become somewhat legendary among the females of my family.

“Of course, you can a second piece, but you need to know that’s how people get fat.”

She didn’t say “gain weight” or “get chubby.” She said “get fat.”

At that time, I was on the skinny side of the curve. Seriously, maybe the 35th percentile for weight. Not only was I not in any danger of becoming “fat” (hate that word), but also there was no talk anywhere about the dangers of kids’ diets and exercise. Those topics were just not part of the social conversation. We played outside A LOT, and very few people had sedentary lifestyles—at least not the people I knew.

But when my mother warned me about the perils of a second slice of pie, though a small one, I cringed. Even as a child, probably ten or twelve years old, I recognized the truth when I heard it. Choices count.

“No Ma’am, “ I told her. “I think I’ll pass for now.”

Now whenever I think of having a second piece of fried chicken, a extra dollop of ice cream, or a loaded baked potato instead of broccoli, I remember a Sunday afternoon exchange between my mother and me.

Big deal, you might be thinking. Who cares about cherry pie? What I knew then was something that has been reinforced over and over and over throughout the years. Choices count. As Sartre said, “We are our choices.” Do your homework or go to class unprepared? Pay your bills on time or get a bad credit rating? Clean your house or allow it to get so cluttered that you feel unsettled? Walk around the block (or do some type of exercise) or do your laps on the couch? Finish college or drop out?

It’s your choice.

I succumbed to temptation and bought that cherry pie a couple of weeks ago. I also bought some small cups of ice cream to plop on the top of our warm slices. Right before beginning this post, I got the pie out of the freezer to read the directions and learned that there are 340 calories and 17 grams in one eighth of a pie. Seriously.

When I told my husband the bad news, he asked, “What about the sugar?” I could hardly believe my eyes: 17 grams of sugar in one eighth of a pie. And this is without the cup of ice cream!

We decided to wait for another day to enjoy that tart, red, juicy fruit cooked in the flaky crust. I also decided to go for a short walk around the block, do a little work on my fall classes, and sweep the kitchen. Choices count.

One of the many enjoyable things I did during the Christmas holidays is reconnect with old friends. On New Year’s Eve, I met Dorothea at Nacho Hippo at Market Commons in Myrtle Beach, and we spent an enjoyable hour or more reminiscing and philosophizing. Dorothea and I had a great time talking, talking, talking, and I found myself wishing we’d had more time to get better acquainted when we were younger mothers.

One of our topics of conversation was personal choice. Over delicious nachos and tacos, I told her that the most profound thing I learned in college was that I am the master (or should that be mistress?) of my fate. I can blame my disappointments and shortcomings on the weather, the economy, my children, or my ancestors, but that’s a copout. Really, it is.

Decades ago, I was sitting in a PHI 101 class stealthily working a crossword puzzle while I listened to the professor talk about some of the great thinkers in philosophy. A lot of the things he was saying were either too complicated for me to understand or too boring for me to think about. But then, Dr. Jones began extolling the work of Jean Paul Sartre and said these thought provoking words of Sartre: “I am my choices,” a simple phrase that I’ve never stopped thinking about.

Granted, there are “extenuating circumstances,” but overall, I truly believe that we as humans are the sum total of all of our choices. Each day, each hour of each day, we make choices about what we’ll eat, how we’ll spend our time, with whom we’ll associate, whether we’ll study or watch television, whether we’ll exercise or waste more time on FB, and so forth. Physically, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally, we make choices all the livelong day. Plus, as Dorothea and I discussed, the little choices we make pile up over time and can affect us in all sorts of ways, some good and some not so good.

As I sit here at the computer, I’m dining ( late lunch) on some goodies that one of the admissions counselor’s mothers brought by for us. I ate a ham sandwich on white bread (no wheat available) without mayonnaise. I opted for pretzels instead of chips, one dark chocolate Bliss square, and a tiny little piece of a brownie. Oh yes, and I’m drinking water. I can’t see myself drinking another soft drink after reading about the correlation between sodas and diabetes and obesity. I’m not bragging on my restraint (I wanted a brownie, chips, and another sandwich) but merely demonstrating the impact of personal choice. Oh, and I also went for a three-mile walk before work this morning, and YES it was cold, very cold. It would have been easier to stay in my warm house and play Scrabble on my Kindle, but too many choices like that, and I’d end up stiff, grumpy, and chubby.

That’s one type of choice. Here’s something else I heard from a student yesterday. She’s begun and dropped out of three different programs at the college, all for the same reason: they take too long to finish!

“What are your career choices if you don’t graduate?” I asked her.

“That’s why I’m back again,” she said. “I’m going nowhere fast in my present job. I don’t even have any benefits.”

Looking through the schedule of classes, we found a couple that would fit her schedule. Unfortunately, she hasn’t committed to either of them yet. Too late at night, too hard. What will she decide? It’s her choice, and it’s a choice that could affect her entire future and that of her children. It’s only a semester and only two courses, but these courses are fundamental stepping stones…or not.

Last week Dorothea and I walked out of Nacho Hippo still animatedly discussing the importance of personal choice, and I’ve got a feeling she’s still thinking about it today. I know I am.

Announcement to my husband and children:  I won’t be buying any more soft drinks to serve in my home.  Nor will I buy them for any of you in a restaurant…not even the diet variety. And not even Sprite. I’ve always suspected how unhealthy they are for us, but from listening to NPR this morning, I learned that they are “uniquely bad” for humans.

Anyone who’s even halfway aware of what’s going on in our society knows that we have what’s been referred to as an obesity epidemic. Beginning in infancy, obesity (defined as weighing 20 percent above recommended weight  for height, etc.) has become a growing (pun intended) problem. We also have more problems with diabetes than ever  before, and according to the interview on NPR’s On Point, soft drinks are one of the chief culprits. High in sugar and low in nutrition, Americans gulp them down, sometimes several a day, and a doctor (didn’t catch her name) on the program believes that this habit is primarily responsible for the rise in diabetes and in obesity.

How has this happened? Some of my friends and children would say it’s because they taste good. True, but what else? A commentator on the show mentioned that soft drinks are far less expensive than 100 percent fruit juice. When people on limited incomes are trying to economize, it’s cheaper to buy Pepsi than cranberry juice. And children love the sweet syrupy taste, just like their parents do.

In addition to talking about the zero nutrition of soft drinks, the animated discussion covered the controversial topic of using government money to buy cola drinks. Naturally, people who use food stamps are upset about the possibility of having this privilege curtailed because they feel that it isn’t fair and that it robs them of their choices. One caller asked (paraphrase), “So as a taxpayer, I not only have to work to support the people on assistance but now I have to support, even encourage their poor health too? I have to buy their groceries and promote obesity too?” It should be interesting to watch how this situation plays out in New York, especially if Mayor Bloomberg has his way.

It’s easy for me to spout off about this topic because I don’t have a craving for Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, or any other cola beverage. For a long time, however, it’s bothered me to see people consume such huge quantities of it when it has zilch in the way of nutrition. I was just thinking about Thanksgiving and how yummy the sweet potato soufflé is going to be.  I’d also like to try Connie’s recipe for hummingbird cake.  Those items are loaded with sugar, but somehow I can justify it because of the vegetable/fruit ingredient. But what, my friends, is the healthy ingredient in cola beverages?

Maybe I’m just like everyone else, able to rationalize about the merits of what I like while failing to see it in the preferences of others. That’s too much for me to ponder this evening. All I can tell family and friends is that if you want a soda at my house, bring your own bottle. I can’t purposely contribute to diabetes or obesity, two of the major causes of premature death in America today.

P.S.  Just have to add this afterthought. When I walked into the building for my afternoon class, I heard an interesting conversation coming from the break room. A young man was stocking the drink machine, and one of the people watching him asked when he was going to put the real Mountain Dew in the machine, not the diet stuff.

When my children were little, I fed them Pecan Spins for breakfast. Sometimes they ate cereal, and if I recall correctly, Carrie’s favorite was Fruity Pebbles. That’s okay with milk, right? And they also drank orange juice, plenty of it. It was loaded with sugar, but I didn’t know that at the time. When Pop Tarts became popular, we switched to them for a while. All those flavors, and they were quick and easy to prepare. What more could a mom ask for? Even Paul, the reluctant breakfast eater, liked them. He liked Eggos too, as long as I didn’t smear any margarine on them before pouring on the syrup. Later, he graduated to fried bologna. In fact, he liked it so much that he soon learned to cook it himself. Carrie loved going to McDonald’s and would promptly slather syrup all over her sausage too.

I know so much more now. Sure we ate plenty of fruit, especially apples and bananas, but I don’t remember that many blueberries (unless they were in muffins) or Bing cherries. All three children liked grapes, maybe because they were small, easy to eat, and neat…nothing to peel or drip. Until I got a lesson on nutrition from Lisa, little did I know that white grapes weren’t really all that healthy, at least compared to purple or red ones. In the vegetable area, we often ate green beans, corn, sliced tomatoes, and speckled butter beans. Only rarely did I serve asparagus and broccoli.

What was I thinking??? I was ignorant, pure and simple. I mean, I knew about the five food groups and tried to make sure that everyone got his and her fair portion every day, but it was wrong, just plain wrong, to let French fries count as a vegetable. One evening, a high school friend of my husband’s came by to eat hamburgers with us, and even though he was a gracious and mannerly guest, he said, “I’ve always heard that the whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.” Well, we certainly hadn’t heard that, and we thought he was a bit fanatical. 

That was yesteryear, my friends, and my diet is a lot different now. I think I’d choke on a Pecan Spin, and the absolute last thing I’d let my grandchildren eat for breakfast is a sugary cereal. Whole wheat bagels and peanut butter is my standard breakfast fare.  There’s a lot more information out there on nutrition than there was “back in the day,” and as an older (er, more mature) adult, I can well understand the certain impact of food on the body. I want to feel energetic and prevent diseases like cancer and diabetes, and it doesn’t take a genius to know that certain foods are better or worse for one’s body than others.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an extremist who spends her life chomping on carrot sticks and glaring condescendingly towards anyone devouring those yummy rolls at Fatz. In fact, I’ll probably grab one from time to time. And if my better half is eating fries from Mickey Dee’s, I’ll undoubtedly snap a couple. Connie and I dined at San Jose’s last night, and I chowed down on the chips.

At the same time, I’d like to live 25 or so more years and BE HEALTHY. That’s not going to happen on a steady diet of cheesecake, loaded baked potatoes, fried chicken (love that stuff!), and cola drinks. Pass the wheat bread, please.

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Love this picture taken by Allie Bowers and sent to me. It's so awesome that someone as young as Allie appreciates the beauty of our world.

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