Crime of Opportunity


Once, I took a photo of Tommy Hilfiger.

To be clear, I did not particularly WANT a photo of Tommy Hilfiger – but I took it anyway. Because THERE HE WAS.

My husband and I were sitting with our then pre-teen son in the restaurant at the Beverly Hills Hotel – a location we had chosen BECAUSE my husband deeply wanted to scope celebrities. He happened to be sitting with his back to the table in the side room. So when I ID’ed Tommy Hilfiger (and that’s a proud moment for me, since I am a famously unobservant person), Jonathan was very excited.

“Take a picture!” he said.

“Yes! Yes, of course I will!” I was all caught up in the thrill of being near someone who was – at the time – the host of some reality TV show that we were watching.

And then the lovely hostess at the restaurant came up to me and asked me – so kindly – to delete the photos I’d just taken of a guest at her restaurant and I was simply smothered in shame. I didn’t want a photo of Tommy Hilfiger; there was nothing I was going to do with it. I had been crass and rude and horrible and I was a lowly worm.

I didn’t delete the good one, though.

The unwanted photo (suddenly *I* was the loathsome paparazzi) is a crime of opportunity. A crime that does me NO GOOD AT ALL – it is a break in my moral code. It betrays a weakness of character.

And that break happens all too often, I’m sorry to say.

A few days ago, my Body Dynamics massage with the astonishing Gwynn lined up like an astral eclipse with my standing work-out with brilliant Barbara; I had about half an hour between the two. I was sitting in the waiting area in the interval and thought – I know. I’ll go stretch some muscles in case Barbara wants to go outside and run in the icy monsoon raging in the streets.

I put my coat down on a little side table the PTs use for their computers… and there, right next to my large overcoat, was an innocent little tennis ball. Someone had been using it in their work-out and accidentally left it behind. No crime there; we’ve all walked away from equipment without realizing it.

But I had JUST had a conversation with Gwynn about fascia in the feet, and she’d advised me to roll my feet on a tennis ball for a minute or so every day – just to loosen up the fascia. And THERE WAS A TENNIS BALL.

I’m ashamed to tell you that I stuffed that tennis ball in the pocket of my coat and turned away quickly, thrilled at my daring and at the acquisition of an item I HAD NO USE FOR.

To be sure: I have a can of tennis balls sitting on a shelf in my bedroom, purchased expressly to roll out sore muscles. I did not need the tennis ball I stole.

I repeat: I did not need it. I stole it anyway. It was a crime of opportunity.

I began a calf stretch and darted a glance guiltily to my coat.

I switched legs and my brow furled. I was wrong to do that. Not only am I fortunate enough to not need to steal, but I was stealing from people who I sincerely regard as my friends. What the hell was I thinking?

And just as I was edging over to my coat to retrieve my ill-gotten loot, Barbara appeared and wondered what I was doing – so I had to explain why I was pulling a tennis ball from the pocket of my coat. She looked at me as if I was insane – which, yes, please? May I plead temporary insanity?

I left that ball where I found it and did not take it – but I was a bit shaken by the experience. I’m almost sixty, for Pete’s sake. Wouldn’t you think I’d have learned that just because you CAN take it doesn’t mean you SHOULD take it??!

And then – o, my friend… who can resist the crime of opportunity??

That very evening I’d gone to Panera to pick up my dinner – a nice, healthy salad. (Okay, a sandwich and a bowl of soup; don’t judge me.) (At least, don’t judge me for my menu choice!)

The crowds were thick around the to-go area, and a woman in front of me finally lost her temper. To be fair, she not only had a small child with her but could prove by her receipt that she’d been waiting 25 minutes for her food. I know that because she made it very clear to everyone around her. The people behind the counter ducked their heads like battle-hardened soldiers and kept working.

She finally got her food and left, only to return. I need my DRESSING!

I had empathy for her; she just wanted to get out of there with her child. The place was busy. We all snap from time to time, and the experience made me grateful that I wasn’t starving, didn’t have a small child with me, wasn’t expected at home at any particular time. I waited stolidly in the crowd and practiced keeping a neutral pelvis while I stood tall.

And when I got home with my dinner… GREAT GOOGLY-MOOGLY! Someone behind the counter either got my order wrong or wanted to silently thank me for my patience… because in the bag was a cookie the size of a dinner plate.

God damn it.

Now I was on the horns of a dilemma. I’ve been pretty successful in managing my sugar; I’m going with two no-sugar days followed by a day in which I can have a treat… and the Day of the Accidental Cookie was, actually, a treat day – but I was going with my sisters to the spa at the Hotel Hershey, where chocolate is a constant presence. I was saving up my treat day for a spa blow-out.

(Honestly – a cup of hot cocoa… or six… while dressed in nothing but a heavenly robe in a room that ought to be the study of a British nobleman, complete with crackling fireplace, leather armchairs, and near-silent attending servants… THAT is my idea of a spa!)

But here was this cookie. GOD wanted me to have this cookie. Who was I to say no??!

What to do, what to do… This was a crime of opportunity. I didn’t ask for the cookie – I didn’t WANT the cookie. I had plenty of food to eat, and a good reason to NOT eat the cookie. If I ate the cookie, it was Tommy Hilfiger and the tennis ball all over again. I was old enough to know better.

I ate it, of course.

It was lemon. Really, really tasty.

You can gird your loins for the challenges you know are ahead. You can make a plan and stick to it. You can be the most moral person in the world… and suddenly life will present you with irresistible temptation.

The only thing I can think is: you have to pick yourself up and keep going. Not only is tomorrah anuthah day, Scarlett – but TODAY is another day. Keep trying to be good. Keep trying to resist. Sometimes you return the tennis ball and sometimes you eat the cookie.

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Sorry I took your photo, Mr. Hilfiger. I don’t even know where it is anymore. And – quite horribly – I now realize that because I’m lifting this image without permission from Google Images, I’ve AGAIN taken your photo improperly. Sigh. I just can’t win with you, can I??!




I’VE NOTICED (she said with stern significance) that it tends to be VERY LEAN PEOPLE who insist you can eat whatever you want as long as you control your portion size.

I ask your indulgence as I reply to all the lean people worldwide: That’s just bullshit.

I know all the “portion size” tricks. Oh, they say – you can eat as much steak as would fit on the palm of your hand. Or – whatever you get at a restaurant, just eat half of it. Or – use a smaller bowl – a smaller spoon – a smaller mindset.

Twixt thee and me, darling, I am going to eat the steak that is served to me. That’s just all there is to it. If I eat half of my portion at a restaurant, then I’m left looking mournfully at the congealing, lonely food left on my plate for the eternity of time required until my dining companions have joined the joyful ranks of the Clean Plate Club, at which point a waiter or waitress will regard me with deep suspicion if I don’t want those icy remnants boxed up to take home. Really – I’m just going to throw it out when I get home; why don’t we skip the Styrofoam and head straight for the garbage?

As for smaller bowls and smaller spoons – who, pray tell, do you think you are kidding? My mind and my stomach are not at all fooled by this.

So I think we need a different kind of “measure” to determine the tiny daily nutritional victories that will ultimately lead to better health. For instance:

I’m trying to dial back the control that sugar has on my soul – but it’s really important that I don’t OMIT sugar from my meals because I have always had an all-or-nothing mentality. I can avoid sugar entirely with great success… until I fail. At which point, all effort ceases. I do NOT get back up on the horse. Well, that’s done. Pass the cookies.

So I’m going with the advice of Chip, the wise nutritionist at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA – who says: Eat 80% of your meals for fuel and nutrition; eat 20% of your meals for joy. That means that four meals out of 21 (three meals a day for a week) can have dessert… but I interpret it as a “treat” (be that what it may) once every three days.

So two days out of three are sugar-free for me… which is going pretty well since I started, oh about a week ago.

During at-home days, when I’m scrounging some kind of meal out of my empty fridge, I get to count a no-sugar day as a win… but it’s a pretty easy win. There’s just no sugar in my home. If there was some here, I would have eaten it already. I DID eat it already. This is a Safe Zone, sugar-wise.

(Well, there’s a cannister of sugar, which I use in ample quantities when I drink very large, very hot, very sweet cisterns of Earl Grey – but I’m just not drinking tea these days, so the actual raw sugar is pretty easy to resist. So far, I have not found myself snout-deep in the powder.)

The MEASURE of actual virtue can really only show up if I’m presented with the opportunity for sugar and I gracefully demur, giving a ladylike shake of my head while casting my eyes downward, indicating a very polite refusal to reconsider.

That’s a double-plus good.

The other night, my “Let’s Go Out To Dinner” crew (my sister-in-law Lura and my friend Kevin) was casting about to decide in which restaurant’s kitchen that night’s dinner might be prepared. This was my chance. “Let’s go to the Secret Garden,” I said.

Have you been? It’s this tiny restaurant in Occoquan, up a steep set of stairs. The food is good – but DARLING the desserts! Most restaurants, in my experience, are run by people who grudgingly offer desserts because they can pad bills with them. Most desserts aren’t as good as they should be…

…but someone at the Secret Garden LOVES dessert. If you order the coconut cake,  they will wheel up fully one-quarter of a cake to your table – and it’s not just incredibly ample. It’s incredibly good.

Or so I’m told. For me, coconut cake is a hard pass. Coconut – yuck. But Lura and Kevin order one piece and groan with happiness as they attempt to finish it between the two of them. I, on the other hand, order the chocolate pie which – jeezum crow. If I was a god, I’d change the “nectar and ambrosia” menu plan to “nectar and chocolate pie from the Secret Garden.”

I think it’s the crust, which is pleasingly dense and yet lovingly yielding – as if someone took a brownie with bits of toffee in it and smashed it down as flat as possible to the inside of a large pie pan before pouring in a creamy, dark chocolate filling. (Sorry – maybe I should have noted a trigger words warning first??)

And ample? Oh, my. Ample as in a pie serving – ample as in my hips.

And it’s just ONE PORTION. See, lean people? I’m watching my portion control. One piece of pie. How can you fault me for that??

Where was I?

Right. We went to the Secret Garden – but it was a no sugar day, so I sat calmly before my empty placemat while Lura and Kevin gloried in their coconut cake. I went there specifically so I could resist the chocolate pie – and then I resisted it.

And THAT, my fine friend, must be measured as a TRIPLE-PLUS GOOD for me.

Here’s the thing: When I turn down a dessert, I find I’m more likely to turn down dessert the next time it’s offered. One tiny victory breeds a second tiny victory. I can plan my treats and hold to the plan.

Keep your portion size nonsense. I’m calculating a new form of measurement.

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This isn’t the pie at the Secret Garden (I stole this photo off Google Images – no permission, so don’t tell) but that cut in the pie is the right size for a Secret Garden single serving. See that piece of pie blurry in the background? That implies a pie has eight servings. Not at the Secret Garden; a pie has FOUR servings, and I’m here to tell you that’s GLORIOUS. You know – except for the sugar part.





I remember it with the clarity of constant, low-grade panic. There’s a road in Ireland (hell, ALL the roads in Ireland) that is as wide as a generous garden path. It twists and bends through the countryside like a ribbon of asphalt.

“Oh, how beautiful it is here,” my mother said from the passenger seat.

“It really is,” agreed my sister from the back. “Isn’t it lovely, Pru?”

I had no answer. I spent that entire vacation gripping the steering wheel like grim death, focusing only on the road – because, typically, from around the next tiny little curve would inevitably come a speeding tour bus the size of the Queen Mary, hurtling down the road on the wrong side, bearing down on us along a strip of tarmac that two bicyclists might find cozy were they riding side by side.

The car we’d rented was a standard shift. The foot pedals were in the customary place – left foot to shift, right foot for brake and accelerate – but the gear shift was under my weak left hand, not my dominant right hand. Once I shifted unwittingly from second to fifth (instead of third) in the middle of a crowded intersection; the car lost power at the worst possible moment and I very nearly killed myself, my family, and a whole host of snarling Peugeots.

Being the chauffeur for our Irish vacation quite literally gave me nightmares.

And yet now, when confronted with a task that alarms me, I say to myself that I survived driving in Ireland – I can do anything. And that accomplishment, which is so very massive in my mind, empowers me. I am made stronger in all things because of it.

I happened to be thinking of this yesterday when Barbara and I finished our mile-long trot around Falls Church, VA (the amazing Body Dynamics gym being the beginning and end of that loop).

I’ve been thinking that I’m almost ready to confront Demon Sugar again. Wrest a little control back into my life. Mostly, I’m waiting until my son goes back to college and my days descend once again into the peace of routine (that and I need a few more chances at an ice cream sundae). That’s a pretty big goal for me; saying “No, thanks” when dessert is offered is – well, that’s very challenging.

But I was taking my cool-down walk after the run yesterday, absolutely astonished that I’d made it up The Big Hill. (And really, were you in a car, you might think “that stop light at the top of the hill is red,” but that’s all you’d think – you wouldn’t think “My god, this pleasingly-broad U.S. roadway seems to be surmounting a mountain of Everest-like proportions,” although that’s what I’m thinking when I’m on foot.)

I just hate that hill. I dread it for the entirety of the run. Once I asked Barbara if we could run our loop backwards, so I could run DOWN the big hill at the beginning instead of UP the big hill at the end, and she just got that fiendish “I have a plan” Barbara-grin and said “No way – I LOVE that hill at the end of the run!”

Fine. I put my head down and focus on my feet instead of looking to the top. And I just refuse to stop trotting along. By the time I get to the top, I’m moving by sheer grit. It’s an emotional battle of massive, epic proportions, and yet there is NOT a cheering ticker tape parade at the top. I don’t know why; it really is the TRIUMPH OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT or something.

So I was walking at the end of this impossible achievement and considering how astonishing it was that I actually made it to the top of the hill. I thought, in my oxygen-deprived way, “I think I could say ‘no, thanks’ to dessert now.” Those two things – completing the run and confronting my sugar addiction – were definitely closely intertwined…

…and I realized that empowerment is transferrable.

That’s our lesson for today, boys and girls. Say it again. Empowerment is transferrable.

If you drive in Ireland, it can enable you to tackle writing the social media campaign for the Smithsonian Craft Show. If you run up the hill, it can make it possible to bypass the glory that is a sundae at Artie’s. If you DO THE IMPOSSIBLE, you don’t have to spend that power in the same place. You don’t have to drive in Bermuda if you survive Ireland – you don’t have to run up another hill if you survive the Big Hill.

You can spend that empowerment, like coins from the bank, wherever you need it.


We draw strength more from the dreadful things we survive than from an easy day of doing what makes us comfortable. Little victories beget larger victories.

I can say “no” to sugar. I drove in Ireland; I can do anything.

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As I was writing this, sitting in my bed in the grey light of pre-dawn (sometimes the urge to write strikes me at odd times), I got a text from the kid. Apparently he left for college before I woke up – perhaps his departure is what woke me. He’s already at the Maryland House, getting gas and coffee on his way to Vermont. So (A) wow, boy – you got out of here early! (B) I’m sad and happy that he’s gone. And (C) Guh. I guess I’m tackling sugar now. Pull it together, Prudence. Time to expend a little empowerment.




Seriously, now: How often have you caught your reflection in a mirror and thought – “Oh, yeah. I look GOOD.”

You don’t have to answer; I already know. The answer is NEVER.

And I’m not talking about you looking at a photo of you from twenty years ago and saying “What was I so worried about? I looked fine.” Because twenty years ago, you were STILL walking past your reflection and wincing.

We do it to ourselves… but also, there’s a huge industry, like a vast, invisible machine with cogs and gears and belts and dials humming all around us unseen, designed to keep us feeling like we JUST DON’T LOOK LIKE WE SHOULD. I know perfectly beautiful women who have injected botulism into their faces or who have been “cool sculpted.” A lady I know – renowned for her classic looks – has begun doing that thing where you pull back the skin at your temples, stare at someone, and say “Don’t you think I should have my eyes done?”

And what I’m wondering is – if we’ve spent our lives feeling like we’re not attractive enough, or not as attractive as we COULD be… then will it actually make a difference if we have our eyes done?

I’m thinking – the problem isn’t in the reflection. It’s in the mind.

I’m very fortunate. By the grace of whatever benevolent God is looking out for me, I’m now 60. People die, you know; we’ve all seen it. The fact that we’re still here, wasting time on blogs, is proof that we’ve been more fortunate than a lot of people.

And on the surface, this is how I think about being sixty:

For the first fifty years of my life, I knew (I KNEW) I didn’t look like I was supposed to. Far too fat. If I was thinner, I would have actually lived the life I was supposed to have. I was burdened as much by my guilt as by my hips. Then in my fifties, I looked in the mirror and thought – wait. This is how women in their 50s are SUPPOSED to look. I had reached… The Thickening. Only for me, it was just life as usual. So – there’s relief there. I got to lay down a lot of guilt. That felt pretty good.

And now that I’m 60, I look in the mirror and I see all fingers and toes still attached. I see an unbent spine. I see graying hair, but damn – I earned those grays, and no one is going to take them from me! I begin to think… you know, for sixty? I look pretty good!

But further down, below the part of me that worries about my appearance, I’m reflecting in a different way. I’m thinking that I probably always looked pretty good. Influenced by societal norms and a vicious beauty industry, I’d sabotaged myself. And maybe I should take deliberate steps to counter that.

Like what, you ask?

How about post a photo on Facebook of what I look like when I wake up in the morning? (Okay – I brushed my hair and straightened my collar.) How about saying not just to myself but to anyone listening that we’re all looking pretty good.

We’re here. We’re strong. We’ve been burnished in the forge of life and we’re beginning to gleam as a result. Yes, I could wish for a leaner silhouette – but now weighing less is a goal because I’m tired of not being able to get off the floor without going butt-first.

You know the move. You’re sitting like a groovy hippie on the floor – see how young I am? Time to get up. Groan. (1) Hands and knees. (2) Straighten the knees until the butt is in the air. (3) Walk the feet under and then push off with your hands. (4) Straighten up using your back. (5) Groan and bitch.

But people who are smaller do this: (1) Kneel upright. (2) Put one foot out; now you’re in the classic “Will you marry me” pose. (3) Use the glutes to straighten the leg on the floor. (4) Wonder why the pudge next to you looks like a giraffe going down for a drink – a giraffe that’s groaning and bitching.

So yeah. I’d like to lose a few pounds in the new year, but only because my nascent glute control deserves a little support (or lack thereof) from this powerful, capable body that’s been successfully and diligently carting my brain around for six remarkable decades. Time for a little self-appreciation, I’m thinking, instead of self-sabotage.


I’m not going to wince at my reflection any more. See? Pretty good for sixty!