Home Alone

This holiday weekend I found myself unexpectedly home alone.

As someone who toggles the stay-at-home mom/work part-time from home lifestyle, I spend a lot of time alone in my house.  I enjoy the solitude and find myself practically shooing the last person to leave out the door in the morning (because of different school schedules, the morning wake-up, breakfast and departure routine is nearly three hours from start to finish).  The alone part of my day (around 4 1/2 hours) never seems long enough and, I’ll admit it here, I am sometimes resentful when a child or a husband stays home sick on a day that I have Things planned.

Jeff travels fairly often for work, so I am also used to being without another adult. It can get lonely, especially on balmy Friday evenings when all I want to do is sit in the yard with him, unwinding from the week over a cocktail. But my daughters are becoming more and more like girlfriends and I often enjoy my time alone with them, watching chick flicks, eating pasta and listening to pop music.

A few weeks ago, in the Sunday New York Times travel section, I read Paradise Lost:  A Mother-Daughter Spring Break, the tale of a mother who had splurged on a Florida resort vacation for herself and her college-aged daughter. It was a disaster, partly because the pricey resort was neither comfortable nor accomodating, but mostly because the mother and daughter, who kept different sleeping and waking schedules, couldn’t find ways to connect with each other.

This was on my mind as Memorial Day weekend loomed and I discovered that I would be spending it alone in Seattle with Daughter #2.  Jeff is an avid windsurfer and from now until September, weekends will be dominated by the quest for wind.

It’s the deal I accepted when I married him and it’s the life I’ve lived for almost twenty years, though over the years his windsurfing opportunities have dwindled as we’ve made accommodations for comfort and Other People’s schedules and preferences.

A month or so ago, Jeff reserved a campsite for us at the Columbia River Gorge, but as Memorial Day weekend loomed nearer, I found myself on the beginning of the roller coaster ride that May and June can be for parents of school-aged kids, and less than enthusiastic about prepping for a camping trip or about camping at all. The kids were also unenthused.

Then things got complicated. Daughter #1 got invited to go to the beach with a friend. The same friend who’d invited her to go skiing in Utah over spring break, when we went to Chicago instead (she reminded me a tad resentfully).

Puppy-like Daughter # 2 did not want to go to the Gorge without her sister, and opted to stay in Seattle, despite the fact that few of her friends would be in town for the weekend and those that would had family plans.  Nobody asked me what I wanted.

Friday after school, with slightly forced enthusiasm, I brought D #2 and a group of her friends to our neighborhood ice cream shop before everyone scattered for the weekend.  We got take-out Cuban pork sandwiches at our favorite beach shack

and I bought tickets for us to see How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at a neighborhood high school that night.  So far, so good.

Pancakes Saturday morning and then I went for a run.  When I returned, with a beautiful sunny day stretched before us and the Northwest Folklife Festival and the Seattle International Film Festival going on, we couldn’t agree on anything to do. “I’m glad I’m not an only child,” D #2 said pensively.

I found myself wishing that our puppy, who already has lots of expectations to live up to, were with us. A frustrating, petulant day followed, redeemed in the late afternoon by an outdoor Yahtzee game, cheese popcorn and later, a movie fest.  D #2 saw her first Woody Allen movie.  “He annoys me,” she said.

Sunday was worse and we, who are often at loggerheads these days, had a confrontation over a closet clean-up project.  Desperate to hear another adult’s voice, I turned on This American Life, put in my headphones and went for a walk.  When I returned, D #2 was meticulously organizing all the clothes in her closet.

She was rewarded for her good karma with an invitation to join a friend on a “stay-cation” for a swim at a downtown hotel pool and with a sleepover invitation from another friend. I got to drink wine poolside with the friends’ parents and we all ate fish and chips and strolled the Seattle waterfront.

Buoyed by our fun evening, I hoped the sleepover would be at our house.  But the friend’s desire to sleep in her own bed and the lure of her puppy, made it otherwise.

Which is how I found myself home alone at 10:00 on Sunday night.  In the past fourteen years, I have been home alone thousands of days, but only once or twice at night.  I struggled to remember how I had handled this when I was single.  There were no reruns of Sex and the City and, even if there were, watching it at this stage of my life, I would probably question the wisdom of spending so much money on uncomfortable shoes.

If we had HBO, I would probably identify with the mother, not the Girls of that groundbreaking new show.

I trolled around Netflix for a chick flick and stayed up way too late watching a bad one with Gwyneth Paltrow attempting a British accent.

The next morning, I realized I could make anything I wanted for breakfast and not suffer the consequences of adding preserved lemons, roasted peppers, dried fruit or nuts to the concoction of my choice.  But it seemed like too much work to cook something elaborate just for me, so I settled for an omelette (albeit with prosciutto and comte cheese).

For the rest of the day I forced myself to do things I wanted to do, not things I had to do for other people. I discovered and downloaded the music of Swedish/Argentinian guitarist Jose Gonzalez.  I finally got around to spending the gift certificate I’d gotten for my birthday  almost nine months ago, on Tunisian dinnerware.  I drank a glass of rose in the middle of the afternoon and I cooked things I wanted to cook, without much regard for whether anyone else would enjoy them.  But I also made muffins for the family to eat for breakfast this week and spent part of my gift certificate on a gift for someone else.  I began collecting pictures for Daughter #2′s elementary school yearbook, which I have volunteered to coordinate.

On Facebook I found a link to something called The Opposite of Loneliness.  Written by Marina Keegan on the eve of her graduation from Yale, she worried what it would be like to venture out into the world alone after enjoying the supportive environment of a college campus.  “We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life,” she said. She never got the chance to figure out how to spend a lonely Sunday night or how to create a new nurturing web for herself because she was killed in a car accident the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

When my family came back together on Monday night, I wish I could tell you that it was unmitigated bliss, but it wasn’t.   After gushing about her fun beach weekend (which involved a lot of root beer and YouTube), Daughter #1 took umbrage at having to participate in the usual Monday night ritual of cleaning the cat litter boxes and taking out the garbage.  Daughter #2, who had claimed to miss her sister so much, unceremoniously booted her off the computer. Jeff returned tanned and healthy from his windy weekend, reluctant to jump back into the family fray.

So we all sat together and watched the National Geographic documentary Life in a Day.

Before I knew it, the holiday weekend was over.

Marina Keegan described “these tiny groups that make us feel loved and safe and part of something” and “the feeling that there are people…  ..who are in this together” and her hope that she would once again have this in her life.

I remembered that at the peak of my frustration this weekend, it was Daughter #2 who got out the Yahtzee game, who cleaned her closet and who willingly ate the Lebanese kefta kebobs I made for dinner.

“I’m sorry this was such a crummy weekend,” I said. “Dad and your sister had all the fun.”

She looked me square in the eye and responded, “We had some fun together too.”

With heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Marina Keegan

And They Called It Puppy Love

Move over, soccer moms.  There’s a new stereotype in town:  middle-aged mothers of middle-grade kids in love with middling (okay,small) dogs.

And I am soon to be one of them.

How to explain the yearning?

What parent hasn’t listened to years of entreaties from kids begging for a dog?  In our case, the begging came mostly from Daughter #2.  When we describe the difference in our daughters’ personalities, we sum it up this way:  Daughter #1 is like a literary cat, who loves solitude and curling up with a good book.  Daughter #2 is like a dog, craving activity,  people and balls.

It was difficult to harden our hearts to Daughter #2′s dog dreams because we knew how good a dog would be for her and, by extension, for the rest of us.  And when your child is naturally inclined towards something, it’s hard to resist.  I say this as the mother who rushed out to buy a discounted piano the night before we hosted a party for 100 people in our cramped 1912 house because our neighborhood piano store was going out of business and because Daughter #2 showed musical promise.

I sobbed as we re-arranged the furniture, so moved at having had the power to grant her wish.  Have I mentioned that now, four years later, Daughter #2 would like to quit piano lessons?

We managed to push aside the dog requests by making sure Daughter #2 had plenty of access to other dogs: her friend R’s dog, dogs in our neighborhood and in her dogless friend B’s neighborhood.  We were never so rash as B’s father RC to make promises such as, “if you clean up 40 dog poops, we’ll consider getting a dog.” Daughter #2 and B have steel wills and have probably picked up 400 poops between them.  RC is on the spot.

Around two years ago, I found myself wavering.  If Daughter #2 wanted a dog so much, I reasoned, why not give her one?  We’re already experiencing family life at full throttle, so what’s one more thing?

This had been my rationale for breaking my anti-rodent injunction when Daughter #1 graduated from elementary school.  A rat, or any rodent with a long nasty tail, was out, but I could live with a hamster.  And live with a hamster I do.  A very sweet hamster named Zen, whom I found on Craig’s list and whom we drove from Seattle to Whidbey Island to get, after several email exchanges and photo sharing with the owner of her birth parents.

It was a bit over the top, but at least I didn’t cry.

Around six months ago, after a particularly heartfelt request from D #2 for a dog for her elementary school graduation, Jeff confessed to me that he was softening (for the record, his opposition to a dog had been our limited yard space. If we moved to a bigger house in the country, he was all for a dog).  A few months after that, I injured my neck and began taking long walks every day, passing a host of neighbors and their dogs strolling companionably together.

“If you get a dog, no matter how much your kids promise to help, the dog will end up being your responsibility,” everyone warned me.

I had a lot of time to think during those walks.  I imagined what it would be like to be responsible for a dog and began listing the qualities my ideal dog would have:  no shedding, easy-going and good with cats,

Courtesy of the May 7, 2012 New Yorker

small with small poops.  A far cry from the Lab or Golden Retriever Daughter #2 had dreamed of.

Luckily, her friend G had just gotten a Shih Tzu puppy.  I tested the waters,  Given the choice between a small dog or no dog, which would D #2 choose?

We considered all sorts of breeds before I settled on Havanese, a breed that is growing in popularity.

Venus Williams and Harold

I hunted down reputable breeders looking for puppies and we suffered one disappointment when a possible puppy was sold the day before we were scheduled to visit her.

Meanwhile, I trolled petfinders and rescue sites and Jeff, wary of a small, designer dog, suggested we visit shelters.  We found several sad dogs and a few big, beautiful dogs, but none that was right for us.

In the end, I found a lovely breeder named S and things worked out similarly to the way they did when we got Zen, though we didn’t have to drive as far. S invited us to visit her expectant dog and sire, and shared emails and photos when the puppies were born.  Shortly thereafter, just after dropping Jeff off at the airport for a business trip to Taiwan, the girls and I went to S’s house to choose our puppy.

This weekend, Jeff will meet him for the first time. He says he’s slowly getting used to the idea of a little dog, though draws the line at walking the dog if he (the dog) is wearing any article of clothing.

Even if we dress him like Shaft?

The girls have nixed all the great Cuban names we came up with and are hoping that once he meets him, Jeff will agree that the compromise name the three of us came up with is a perfect fit.

While we were en route to meet our puppy, we listened to a rebroadcast of This American Life’s episode In Dog We Trust. In Act 1, The Youth In Asia (which you can also find in his book Me Talk Pretty Someday), David Sedaris reminisces about his family pets.  The death of one of them, he says, felt like the end of an era.

For me, this puppy feels like both the end and the beginning of an era.  I have wondered, with the women I know who love these little dogs, whether they are replacements for our children, who are beginning to stick a few toes out of the nest.

My recent experience with a chronic ailment was a sobering reminder that I won’t always be able to push my body the way I want to.

Courtesy of the New Yorker, May 7, 2012

The dog walkers in my neighborhood all seem to be in pretty good shape, though.

Though I have a few years left as a soccer mom, I can tell I will be entering a new subculture.  My puppy and I already have some summer play dates lined up and I’ve gotten tips on where to find the best groomers in town.

When I think back to those sweet early days, when my kids were babies and toddlers, I didn’t always fully appreciate being in the moment.

I plan to enjoy every (or almost every) moment of our remaining time as a family of four with two cats, one hamster, eight fish (last time I checked) and one dog.

More Cooking With Sureyya or… It Takes a Village

I know what you want.

You want uncomplicated blog entries about food with a few recipes thrown in, rather than musings about art and architecture and the paths we choose in life.  Unless, of course, there are recipes.  Turns out, Frank Lloyd Wright is not an SEO-friendly tag.  Chicago-style hot dogs probably is.

I’m going to give you what my readership statistics tell me you want, but I’m going to sneak in my favorite blog ingredient – food for thought.

Just over a year ago, we were in Turkey as an early celebration of my 50th birthday.  Everything about the trip — the months of planning and anticipation, the experience itself and the months-long afterglow exceeded my expectations.

We stopped in Paris en route, a city I hadn’t been to since I was a student at the American College in Paris in 1979.

The food is just as good.

That’s where my Slice of Mid-Life gravatar came from.

And the city is just as beautiful.

But instead of an international array of backpackers with “No Nukes” patches in various languages sewn onto their backpacks, as there were in my day,

there is an international array of break dancers who perform at the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

Turkey is a special place with warm, wonderful people.  There is something special about their food.

Could it be the ingredients?

So now that I’m back home, I jump at every opportunity to relive that trip and to cook and eat Turkish food and take classes from the wonderful Sureyya Gokeri, whom I’ve told you about before.

During last month’s class, we learned how to prepare a Turkish wedding feast.

The menu:

Yogurt-infused Turkish wedding soup

Maklube (Upside-down Spicy Pilaf with Lamb and Vegetables)

Dag Salatasi (Mountain Salad with Walnuts and Pomegranate Molasses)

Ispanakli Borek (Phyllo pastry with Spinach and Feta)

It melts in your mouth.

Kerevizli Yogurt (Celery Root and Yogurt Dip with Garlic) and

Gul Tatlisi (Rose Dessert)

While we were cooking, Sureyya regaled us with stories of village life.  On wedding and other feast days, women gather early in the morning to cook and while they do so, they talk.  The same thing happens within the Turkish community of Seattle and, I’d venture to guess, within Turkish and other tightly-knit communities around the world.  Even though they don’t cook (though they are intimately involved with lamb procurement and slaughter), the men talk too.

I’m sure it’s not all Borek in the Sky and that talk sometimes turns to gossip which sometimes turns to passing judgment about someone’s soggy baklava, their choice of spouse or their political opinions. A lot of that is probably going on in Greece right now.

But the thing about cooking together and celebrating together is that, whatever your differences, these are shared, face-to-face experiences.

Much has been written about the Internet, our faceless global village, and its power to connect as well as to alienate.  It seems that every time I read an intriguing opinion piece online, I also read several vitriolic and often anonymous responses to that opinion.

I know I’m not alone in lamenting how uncivil public discourse has become and how closed we’ve become to the ideas and experiences of others.  I recently wrote an article about it and received several favorable responses and a few uncivil, anonymous ones too.

So, since I know you like recipes, and since I believe you catch more flies with rose water- infused syrup than with vinegar (except perhaps, Balsamic), here’s Sureyya’s sweet ending to a community gathering.  You can find more recipes on her website.

 Gul Tatlisi (Rose Dessert)

3 cups water

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 capful rose water (optional)

In a deep saucepan, boil sugar and water for 20 minutes on medium heat.  Add lemon juice and boil for two more minutes.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Pastry:

1 egg

1/2 cup yogurt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup semolina

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 teaspoon orange zest

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 to 4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.  Mix all ingredients except flour, baking power and walnuts in a bowl.  Add baking powder and flour a little at a time. Sureyya says you’ll know you’ve used enough flour when the dough is as soft as an earlobe,

Roll out half the dough to 1/4 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface, making sure it does not stick.  Cut out two-inch circles.  Lay four circles overlapping each other.  Roll the circles together and cut them in the middle to make two “roses.”  Put a walnut piece in the middle of each rose.

Place the roses on a greased tray (or use parchment) 1/2 inch apart.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until they are browned.  As soon as you remove the tray from the oven, our the syrup over the roses and set aside for 20 minutes.  The, turn roses over to evenly absorb syrup.  Ideally, the roses should soak in the syrup for two to three hours.

Finally, as a former Jersey girl, I got a kick out of the following article and I hope you do too.  But be forewarned.  There are some snarky comments afterwards.

Me, Bruce and a Colonoscopy