Free This Weekend!

A new edition of Slice is coming soon, I promise.

Just wanted to let you know that March 16-17 my book Ruminations from the Minivan: musings from a world grown large, then small is available as a free Kindle download. Here’s the link.  Thank you, Sheila, for reminding me to include it.

Please spread the word!  For those of you who read the book and like it, please consider writing a review on Amazon.com.  My algorithms and I thank you.

Now available on Amazon.com.  Ask for it at your local bookstore.  They can order it.

Now available on Amazon.com. Ask for it at your local bookstore. They can order it.

Collective Soul

A fellow Seattle-based blogger who is much loved (for good reason) recently confessed on her blog that she has been diagnosed with post-partum depression. Her revelation, and the outpouring of support and thanks she received, got me thinking about the differences in the way women share their experiences now and the way things worked when I was a first-time mother in January of 1999. (Daughters #2 and #1 turned 12 and 14 this week, so I am feeling sentimental).

madonna-and-child

First, there were the books. The pregnancy and parenting books of course:  The What to Expect series, Brazelton and Leach, Sears and all of the behavior books that would follow.  My personal favorites?  The now quaint-seeming age-specific series by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D. and other members of the Gesell Institute of Human Development, written in the 1980s.  Many’s the time I’ve found comfort in these books and their evocative subtitles, such as Your Three-Year-Old:  Friend or Enemy or Your Seven-Year-Old:  Life in A Minor Key.  When my daughters were old enough and there were clouds on the home front, we would read these books together, delighted and relieved to learn that eleven-year-olds are so difficult at home that everyone in the family would benefit from a “geographic cure,” such as camp, a visit to grandparents or boarding school.

Your-Seven-Year-Old-9780440506508

I can’t tell you how sad it makes me to realize that we are on our last Louise Bates Ames book, Your Ten-to-Fourteen-Year Old, which doesn’t have a subtitle, though I can think of a few, some not appropriate for a family-friendly blog. I am reassured that, at twelve, D #2 will be “a dream come true.” We have already experienced the “boundless energy and optimistic enthusiasm and goodwill” from her now fourteen-year-old sister, along with the realization that she finds practically everything we do objectionable.

3986-failed-test-mom-amp-dad-teenager-post-teenagerposts-Favim.com-459511

If there were blogs when I was a new mother, I didn’t know about them.  Essays were the sharing mechanism of choice.  When Brain, Child, the magazine for thinking mothers debuted it was like manna from Heaven.  Here was a treasure trove of other women’s experiences with the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of parenting (a verb that was still relatively new back then).

The only online parenting site I knew of was the wonderful Mothers Who Think section of Salon magazine.  These essays were eventually collected in an anthology; eventually there were many anthologies, including The Bitch in the House, Toddler:  Real Life Stories of Those Fickle, Irrational, Urgent Tiny People We Love and a host of great collections from Seal Press, publisher of books “by women, for women.”

I became a rabid consumer of essays about motherhood and eventually started writing and publishing them myself, having the good fortune to have one of my stories included in the Seal Press anthology Secrets & Confidences:  The Complicated Truth About Women’s Friendships.

Years later, I received an email from a fellow parent from my daughter’s elementary school, a woman I had never met.  “I recognize your name,” she told me.  “We’re in the same anthology.  We should get together for coffee.”

I found her story in the anthology, got on her website, read her blog and I panicked.  She sounded so cool, not like the square, boring, goody two-shoes parent I had become.  She rode a motorcycle.  She wrote erotica.  She wrote raw essays about her struggles with infertility and the challenges of fostering and later adopting a little boy. Her writing was funny.  Her writing was real.

adorable-lady-gaga-mother-monster-motorcycle-not-a-motorcycle-the-fame-Favim.com-69087

When we met, I relaxed.  She was just as funny in person as in her writing, but also self-deprecating and down-to-earth, not the hip mama I feared would judge me.

Not long ago, a fan of this blog commented that he had enjoyed the book Poser:  My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, Claire Dederer’s memoir of life as a new mother in Seattle.  “I know her, ” I told him.  “Our kids used to do toddler gymnastics together.  I was secretly envious of her. I had no idea she was so frustrated.”  I emailed Claire and told her of this exchange and she responded “I always thought you seemed so smart and together — I was kind of intimidated by you, to be honest.”

I jokingly replied that we could edit an anthology of frustrated mothers and the different ways they secretly found to combat this frustration — her, yoga; me, cooking; who knows what everybody else was secretly doing.

mother+cooking

When I was alone in my kitchen, cooking away the frustrations of confinement, I had no idea there were others like me.  Today’s new mothers need not feel that sense of isolation. They cook, they blog, they comment, they support each other in real time.

On weekend mornings when the kids were little I would drive my minivan to our neighborhood coffee shop, situated at the top of a bluff overlooking Puget Sound.  I would leave the car in the parking lot and go running through the woods.  My route ended with a flight of 77 steps that lead to the coffee shop.  Often I would see a group of women walkers, older than me, and ahead of me on the stairs.  When I reached the top I would retrieve sippy cups from my van, go into the coffee shop and buy lattes for Jeff and me and cocoa for the kids.  The women would be there too, contentedly drinking their coffee, without the urgency of getting home to young children.  I often thought of their presence ahead of me on those stairs as a metaphor for where they were in relation to me on life’s journey.

stairs

I delivered a copy of my book to that blogger, in the hopes that it will bring her some comfort.  She probably doesn’t need it, as she’s received heaps of support in the form of comments on her blog, but, since I’m ahead of her on the parenting stairway, I thought she might like a hand with the climb.

No real food adventures to report, as we’ve been busy with work and birthday parties and planning for my book launch, which is tomorrow night and which may actually draw a sizeable crowd (though Seattleites have a unique relationship with the RSVP, so I really have no idea who will actually turn up).

I’ve been trying to eat healthily and found two recipes from the Washington Post’s Lean & Fit column:  Everyday Stir-Fry (Sabji) and Kale and Chickpea Stew.  While eating the latter, Daughter #2, a white food fan, who has never met a cheeseburger she didn’t like, commented, “Hey, this isn’t bad.”

Maybe she’s turning into that delightful twelve-year-old dream come true.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Mom

For seven years I have facilitated a mother-daughter book group, established when Daughter #1 was in second grade.  We started the group because the first signs of girl bullying were beginning to surface in the classroom, and so we gathered every girl in the class together on a Saturday to discuss the book The Hundred Dresses.

Over the years, the group has shifted from school-based to home-based and the membership has waxed and waned.  It’s now comprised of a core group of avid readers, young and not-so-young, who have discussed everything from race relations in the South during the early1960s to dystopian societies of the future; dysfunctional and functional families; the complexities of mother-daughter relationships; and girl power:  extraordinary and ordinary.

Our most recent book was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which was followed by a group outing to see the film.  The main character, who is a freshman in high school, deals with SPOILER ALERT suicide, depression, molestation, abortion, drugs and gay bashing, in addition to the typical emotional highs and lows of adolescence.

The girls, all but one of whom are in eighth grade, chose the book because they wanted to see the movie. Daughter #1, the first of her peers to read it, found it unexpectedly depressing.  “I can’t believe that the main character is one year older than me,” she said.  So I starting reading the book. I found it riveting because it captured many of my own high school experiences (especially the Rocky Horror Picture Show obsession).

Did you read Catcher in the Rye, Go Ask Alice, Girl, Interrupted or Ordinary People?  Depressing stories of depressed teenagers are nothing new (and Perks was actually written in 1991).  But there’s a moment in the book, and also in the film, in which the main character is riding in a truck with newfound friends and a song comes on, the perfect song.  He describes the way he feels as “infinite.”

A few days after I finished the book, there was knock on my door. A neighbor wanted me to know that the police had been called because one of the inhabitants of my house had broken into her house and set off the alarm. I looked at my charge, whom I still think of as young and innocent, and didn’t want to believe it could be true.

Hadn’t I spent years instilling good values?

He broke in through the cat door, stole some food and beat up my neighbor’s cat.

At the beginning of the school year, a group of ninth-graders in my neighborhood allegedly stole a parent’s car, sped down a neighborhood avenue and hit a parked car, which mercifully protected them from the telephone pole behind it. The owners of the smashed car left it there for weeks with a note on it and on the telephone pole, the gist of which was:  “Dear Kids, If you’ve come to see the results of your accident, know that we are glad you are okay.  Please take care of each other.”

I took Daughters #1 and #2 to see the smashed car and the note.  “I can’t believe the kids who did this are one year older than me,” said Daughter #1.

There were apparently marijuana-laced brownies at the middle school Halloween dance and whiffs of other pot rumors have been floating in the air. (Yes, I do live in Washington State, where we’ve just legalized recreational marijuana, but not for middle-schoolers).

My daughters and I watched a few episodes of My So-Called Life.  It was depressing to watch fifteen-year-old Angela Chase struggle with questions of identity, which involved sneaking out of the house and having confusing experiences, before returning home, usually miserable and defeated, yet sometimes grateful to be back in her mother’s orbit.

Late one Saturday night, my puppy, who is perfecting his watchdog skills, spied movement at the abandoned home of our recently deceased neighbor. As he barked, teenagers came spilling out of the house and scattered into the alley.  I wondered whether I should call the police.  There are so few abandoned houses anymore, as there were in my youth, and this one is likely to soon be replaced with a modern duplex. My guess is that the kids inside were feeling infinite.

The other mothers were as riveted by The Perks of Being a Wallflower as I was.  We discussed whether the book was too depressing for our daughters and C, who may sometimes be forgetful, but is always wise, said “Better for us to introduce these topics then for them to learn about them elsewhere.”

When our group came to discuss the book, we mothers told carefully chosen stories about ourselves in high school. The girls were fascinated.  “I can’t believe you’re telling us this,” said the daughter of the formerly raucous Catholic school girl, who became an emergency room nurse.  “We weren’t always the way you see us now,” we told them.  “We grew up.”

There is a scene at the end of the film version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in which one of the characters, who has been away at college, tells the high school protagonist what he has to look forward to:  “The world gets so much bigger,” she says.

Our daughters liked the film, but they were equally impressed with the art house theater where we saw it. It was the first time any of them had seen a film in a venue so funky and cool.

Their worlds will get so much bigger and I am glad they will have moments when they feel infinite.

I just hope they will take care of each other when they do.

For most of my high school years, I felt infinite at the Jersey Shore, specifically the boardwalk at Seaside Heights. My heart goes out to everyone who was affected by Hurricane Sandy, especially the inhabitants of my former home state.  Please continue to take care of each other.

I won’t pretend that I’m not apprehensive about the looming parenting challenges, but I have found one sure-fire method to bind the family together:  potatoes. Specifically, the Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook.  No matter how angry or uncommunicative or hormonal anyone gets, these potatoes bring them around, even me, a rice aficionado, who has never been a fan of making or eating mashed potatoes. These mashed potatoes are tangy and comforting without being too decadent.  Anyway, sometimes it’s important to ignore the glycemic index in the interest of family harmony.

Here’s the recipe:

Zuni Cafe Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes (serves four, but I always double it to serve four)

1 1/4 lbs. peeled potatoes (I use Yukon Gold), cut into chunks

Salt

2-3 T heavy cream (you can also use milk or half-and-half), warmed

2-3 T buttermilk at room temperature

3T melted unsalted butter

1. Boil the potatoes with salt until tender.

2. Drain and mash, while piping hot and then add hot cream, followed by buttermilk.  Finish by adding butter.

3. Mash vigorously and add salt to taste.

4. Enjoy your family.

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

International Comfort Food

Even though I was not allowed to listen to Pandora during my recent shot in the neck, the Pandora in my head provided a soundtrack. Lying on my stomach, held tilted down, arms immobilized underneath me, all I could think about, as the doctor drew an X to mark the spot where he would inject me (perilously close to my spinal cord), was the Neil Young song “The Needle and the Damage Done.”

Luckily, the Pandora in my doctor’s head must have been playing Pat Benatar.  He hit me with his best shot and I am grateful.

Scheduling the shot had been tricky. The doctors warned me I might feel some “discomfort” afterwards and would likely be uncomfortable for a day or two, but everyone stressed the urgency of getting it done.  So I ended up having the procedure just hours before I was supposed to attend an Egyptian cooking class at The Pantry at Delancey.

I told you how much I admired journalist Annia Ciezadlo for dodging gunfire in Beirut to make sure the pasta wasn’t overcooked.  Discomfort or no discomfort, there was no way I was missing this class.

Words can’t begin to describe what a wonderful antidote it was to the clinical procedure I had endured.  If people resemble food, then teacher Sureyya Gokeri is the best bowl of sweet, spicy noodles you’ve ever tasted.

When we arrived, we were greeted with a comforting cup of sahlab, the warm, cardamom-infused “intimacy drink,” that is sold by street vendors during Middle Eastern winters.  It’s normally thickened with the starchy ground bulb of an orchid ground to powder form, but Sureyya taught us to make a version using cornstarch.

Here are some other highlights from the class:

Muhammara: Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Walnuts and Pomegranate Molasses

Fuliyya: Fava beans with Chard

Pomegranate-Glazed White Fish

Tamar Al Ghiraybah Mamoul: Date-Stuffed Semolina Cookies

And, my favorite new must-have kitchen item:

Mamoul mold

The next morning, I felt more than a little “discomfort,” but had a raging craving for Parsi Eggs, courtesy of Madhur Jaffrey, who, along with Claudia Roden, is one of my favorite cookbook authors.  And as the day wore on, and my headache and neckache intensified, I remembered Sureyya’s sahlab.  I happened to have a box of the instant stuff.

Though not as good as the real deal, it made me feel better.

I spent the rest of that blustery Seattle weekend in bed reading Ann Patchett‘s State of Wonder.  Thanks to the pain I was in, and the altered state brought about by my pain medication, I was able to intensely connect with this tale of intrigue in the Amazonian jungle. Without my contact lenses in, I could even pretend that the raccoon cavorting in my next door neighbor’s tree was really a sloth.   

When my mother was dying, I made big pots of congee, which sustained us whenever we could manage to eat.  The Thanksgiving that everyone (except me) had the stomach flu, I soothed them with bowls of chicken donburi.

We eat pho and Armenian Chicken Soup when we have colds, and Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato sauce with onions and butter over pasta when life gets to be too much.

Every culture has its version of comfort food and I’m sure I’ve just scratched the surface.

I would love to hear about your favorites.

Sometimes words can be as comforting as food, and sharing stories can be particularly nourishing.  Seattle friends, take note: On Tuesday, March 20, I will be participating in the inaugural Ballard Spoken Word Live Storytelling Event.  

I’m honored to share the stage with my fellow Ballard Writers Collective authors Joshua McNichols, Ingrid Ricks, Peggy Sturdivant and Jay Craig.  They will share ghost stories, tales of love and unexpected friends lost and found, a new way of seeing and a new take on religion.  I’ll be sharing my parenting philosophy:  “The Battle Hymn of the Jersey Mother.”

The next morning, I’m having my second epidural steroid shot.  

When my fellow performers express concerns about stage fright, I’m able to share this perspective about performing without notes in front of a live audience:

 “It’s better than a poke in the neck with a sharp needle.”

Here’s how I’ll be finding comfort afterwards:

Sureyya’s Sahlab

makes 4-6 servings

2 T cornstarch

1/2 cup water

4 cups milk

3 T sugar

1/2 t ground cardamom or 2 broken cardamom seeds

1/2 t vanilla or to taste

Claudia Roden’s recipe includes an optional 2 t of rose or orange flower water.  Sureyya mentions vanilla later in the recipe, but the copy I have neglects to give the amount in the ingredients list.

Toppings:

1 t ground cinnamon

1 t nutmeg

2 T chopped pistachios

1 T unsweetened, shredded coconut

Combine cornstarch and 1/2 c water in a small bowl and stir well. Add milk to a saucepan or Dutch oven over low heat.  Stir in cornstarch mixture before milk warms, stirring vigorously to prevent lumps.  Cook over very low heat, stirring continuously, until milk thickens (approximately 10 minutes).  Then, stir in sugar, cardamom, rose or orange blossom water and/or vanilla. Increase heat and let boil for two minutes.

Serve hot or warm in coffee cups. Sureyya, who is originally from Turkey, says her mother refrigerates this and the family eats it like a pudding.

Parsi Spicy Scrambled Eggs (Ekoori)

(from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking)  Serves 4

3 T unsalted butter or vegetable oil or ghee

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 t peeled, finey grated ginger

1/2-1 fresh, hot green chili, finely chopped

1 T finely chopped cilanto

1/8 t ground turmeric

1/2 t ground cumin

1 small tomato, peeled and chopped

6 large eggs, lightly beaten

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium-sized, non-stick frying pan. Saute onion until soft.  Add ginger, chili, cilantro, turmeric, cumin and tomato.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until tomatoes are soft.  Pour in beaten eggs.  Salt and pepper lightly and scramble to desired consistency.

The Things We Do For Love

This week’s Modern Love opens with the description of a woman enduring a rugged backpacking trip with her husband, kids and in-laws, braving mosquitos, the lack of running water and flush toilets and endless card games.  She comes to the conclusion that love involves sacrifice.

Yes, we all know love involves big gestures. In a few weeks I myself will make such a sacrifice, driving for eight hours in a cramped car with my family to a ski resort in Canada, where I will have the pleasure of being cold and slushy, cooking three meals a day with limited food and kitchen supplies and washing and drying endless pairs of wet socks for a sport that (pardon the pun) leaves me cold.

I would much rather be lounging on a beach somewhere with a reliable supply of tequila, or feasting in as -yet-undiscovered Paris bistros or eating quinoa and kale and doing yoga at a Napa Valley spa.

The big sacrifices, at least those made for spouses, carry with them an implicit tit-for-tat, as in, I’ll make you stir-fried peanut chicken on Oscar night and do the dishes too, if you let me watch basketball for almost the entire month of March.

Sounds like a fair trade to me

But the little things and the every day things and the things you don’t have a choice about  are less quantifiable and there’s not necessarily a corresponding tat.

Except for the daughter who spontaneously gives you a hug one evening because you spent the day doing girly stuff with her and sharing stories about your adolescence while you are driving together side-by-side (still something of a novelty) in the minivan.

Or the daughter, previously surly and unappreciative, who comes downstairs to apologize, sporting false eyelashes.

Or the cats who, like Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, have trouble grasping the concept of a weekend, yet unexpectedly let you sleep in on a Saturday morning.

As mid-winter sets in, so does the drudgery of the things we do for love.  Sandwich generation friends I’ve spoken to have complained that their days off from work are spent shepherding aging parents to doctors appointments, everybody’s tired of making lunches, making dinner, monitoring homework and piano practicing and, especially, driving.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Some say one reason we aren’t thin and we are frazzled is because we aren’t French.

Apparently, their secret (in addition to lacy lingerie), is to go after what they want and not let anything stand in their way.

Once in a while, this approach backfires

There is a not-so-quiet revolution currently underway in the publishing world — a French revolution, if you will.

Writers, frustrated by the gatekeeper mentality of the traditional paths to publication, are taking matters into their own hands.  They blog, they share via social media, they create their own alternative forums (check out Modern Love Rejects) and more and more, they are self-publishing their books.

The other day I was at Aster Coffee lounge, where my friend Ingrid held an information session for a parade of neighborhood writers, all of whom are at various stages on the path to self-publication.  They spoke knowledgeably about Kindle Direct publishing, free Kindle downloads, Create Space, author pages and rankings, things I was previously unfamiliar with.  Though nobody was sporting a scarf tied just-so, there was a frisson of electricity in the air.

You can ponder the merits of self-publishing, the future of books and independent book stores and the You-Tubization of a world in which it is increasingly easy to have one’s fifteen minutes of fame.

You can have heartfelt discussions with your spouse about how much time you should spend on creative pursuits versus the practical ones that add to the family coffer mindful that you both wish to avoid leading lives of quiet desperation.

The writers I know aren’t necessary expecting to get rich or famous or to receive any other tit-for-tat, other than the satisfaction of putting their work out there and hoping it resonates with somebody. They write because they love to write and they’ll do it even if it means waking up at 5 a.m., sneaking off to coffee shops, hiding in their bedrooms to avoid the demands of family members (as I am doing now) and constantly jotting down story ideas in notebooks or on iPhones.

I’m pleased to have joined the Ballard Writers Collective, which, in partnership with our neighborhood independent book store and library, is fostering the work of local writers.  Like the Jacobins (though not nearly so bloodthirsty), we meet in cafes and community centers to plot different ways for our voices to be heard.

Next month, while I’m on that ski trip in Canada, in addition to cooking three meals a day with limited food and kitchen supplies and washing and drying endless pairs of wet socks, I’ll also be polishing my manuscript Ruminations from the Minivan, musings from a world grown large, then small to get it ready for publication sometime in 2012.

These are the things we do for love.

Who knows, maybe at the end of a satisfying day of skiing and writing, I’ll even manage to whip up Coq au Vin too.

If you are looking for some good reads, check out Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story, my friend Ingrid Rick’s riveting tale of escaping her fundamentalist Mormon upbringing and Jay Craig’s irreverent The Scottish Buddhist Cookbook, which saved me from going over the edge during Snowmageddon, when the kids were out of school for a week.

If you live in Seattle, Ingrid and Jay will be reading at Secret Garden books on February 15.

Finally, check out my friend Jennifer D. Munro’s funny book The Erotica Writer’s Husband and other Stories, available free today (January 29) as an Amazon Kindle download.

Upstairs, Downstairs

First week of the new year and I feel like I’m recovering from jet lag, despite the fact that I didn’t go anywhere.  I’ve been dragging myself out of bed at 6:00 a.m., am exhausted by 9:00 a.m. and brain dead by 8:00 p.m.  Though I didn’t exactly vacation during the holidays — there were special meals to prepare, houseguests to host and lots of laundry and dishes — the absence from our usual routine was refreshingly stress-free.  We slept in, watched multiple episodes of Downton Abbey and ate whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.

No sooner did January begin, then the onslaught of emails and calendar commitments began, along with a series of professional and personal deadlines, resulting in a feeling of impending doom.

It doesn’t help that the Seattle winter rain has begun in earnest, making excursions, especially evening ones, bone-chilling and soggy.  No wonder Daughter #1 wants a cloak for her birthday.  Cloaks make venturing out in nasty weather seem dashing and romantic, not mundane and pitiful.

Let us be off to piano lessons!

Thank goodness for books.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to finish the ever-growing stack of books on my bedside table.  Usually I have so many magazines and newspapers to read that the flow of my book reading is constantly interrupted (kind of like trying to work with the alluring distraction of email, Facebook and Linked in). I’m in a Mother-Daughter book group and a grownup book group, so am often juggling multiple tomes. Plus, I’m usually so tired by the time I crawl into bed that I tend to fall asleep with the book, newspaper or magazine on my face.

I have a pretty big stack of back issues of the New Yorker too

But while I was sick, I took to my bed for a few days and read.

Books.   One at a time, for hours at a time.  Just like I used to do when I was younger and didn’t have to contend with the competing distractions of electronics and other people.

I read Iranian-American chef Donia Bijan’s delightful memoir Maman’s Homesick Pie (and used her mother’s delicious fruit and pine nut stuffing recipe for our Christmas dinner) and finished A Tale of Two Cities, a book I hadn’t read since high school.  There is something very satisfying about reading a book with a famous first line and a famous last line, though when you try to apply these to say, the middle school experience, sometimes people don’t fully appreciate the comparison.

I read Day of Honey, journalist Annia Ciezadlo’s memoir of food, love and war (complete with recipes) in Baghdad and Beirut, which also includes such universal topics as mother-in-law clashes and spousal career clashes (as in, “I gave up my job to follow you to a war zone, I’m just beginning to establish myself as a freelancer and now you want me to leave?!”).

One of my favorite scenes in the book is Ciezadlo’s description of dodging gunfire aimed at her kitchen window to make sure the pasta wasn’t overcooked —  a woman after my own heart.

She has an especially garlicky recipe for melokeya that enticed me to buy some of the dried leaves so I can try it.

The women of Downton Abbey don’t appear to read books,  but the “upstairs” ones seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in their bedrooms resting, despite the fact that they have no jobs or household responsibilities, other than plotting and dressing for dinner.  Their bedrooms are like fortresses, impenetrable from the demands of public life.

We all know that in modern life, we are more like “downstairs” women (see paragraph one), though not as properly turned-out.

So as an experiment, and out of desperation, during the first few days of re-entry week, I tried heading upstairs to my bedroom in the early evening to “rest” with a book. (Michael Ondaatje‘s The Cat’s Table).  I’ve since decided that books will be my “upstairs” reading and magazines, newspapers and Facebook (where I get many of my ideas about what to read, courtesy of NPR, Slate, Salon, the Atlantic and my other “likes”) will be left downstairs.  The true test of this approach will come this Sunday night, when I have to forego the temptation to get into bed with the Sunday New York Times, my guilty pleasure.

Someone I know will appreciate the extra space

Work will also be upstairs, in the office, instead of downstairs at the dining room table, where’s it’s too easy to throw in a load of laundry or soak the beans for Boston Baked Beans, the first of many colonial cooking endeavors we will undertake this month, courtesy of Daughter #2 and her creative teacher Ms. P.  (I am envisioning an amusing twist on European Chicken Night, a F**k You, European Tyrants! recipe for Chicken and Wild Rice).

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  By mid-life, we’ve had years of dueling January admonishments to eat a more healthy diet, exercise more, be more productive, but also to take time for ourselves to stop and smell the roses and unplug (see what Pico Iyer had to say in the New York Times on the joy of quiet.  I read it last Sunday night in bed).

We also know that come early February, all of this will be forgotten in the push to promote romance and expensive chocolate.

I sometimes entertain myself by imaging the editors at O magazine, fed up with devising countless different magazine covers enticing us to “live our best lives”, creating a “dummy” issue:

Don't Bother

Stick With Your Dead-End Job Till Retirement

You Can Buy Bigger Clothes in Smaller Sizes at Target

I leave you now to exercise and tackle those pesky deadlines, while the Boston Baked Beans are in the oven.

But know that tonight, when I head upstairs and take to my bed with my book, to paraphrase Sydney Carton, whose fate was far more gruesome and noble than mine will be this evening, “it is a far, far better rest that I go to…”