Girls Rising

small world

Note:  This post was mostly written before the Boston Marathon bombings and the ensuing manhunt, which, as I as write this, is still underway. Condolences to all the victims and to the residents of Boston and its surroundings. May “positive disruption” expand so that alienated young men can find non-violent ways to express themselves and politicians can find the courage to support gun control.

Female empowerment has dominated our household for the past few weeks.  On April 3, Daughter #1, who has been volunteering at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attended a TEDxChange talk there on “Positive Disruption”  – a term used to describe making catalytic changes to society, agriculture, technology and communities.

tedxchange-2013

Afterwards the teen volunteers got to meet with the presenters. D#1 was particularly taken with Halimatou Hima, a sweet and soft spoken young human rights activist from Niger.

image courtesy of Unicef

image courtesy of Unicef

She was also impressed by Melinda Gates.  (I couldn’t help but wonder aloud whether Melinda Gates is spared eye-rolling from her kids, who are around the same age as mine.  The consensus  among the teens present in my minivan was that no parent is immune to eye-rolling).

Say it ain't so, Michelle.

Michelle, say it ain’t so.

TEDxChange is a program dedicated to spreading ideas in the areas of global health and development. It was created in 2010 out of a partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and TEDx, a program designed to give communities, organizations, and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level. This talk was TedxChange’s annual global signature event.

D #1 also met Salim Shekh and Sikha Patra, who are featured in the film  “The Revolutionary Optimists,” which describes children who are saving lives in the slums of Calcutta.  That evening, she attended a screening of that film.

TheRevolutionaryOptimists_L1

The next night, Jeff took Daughters #1 and #2 and me to a screening of Girl Rising, the story of nine girls from nine different countries, who fought for the right to be educated.

girl rising

It’s a moving and powerful film and my girls could relate to the girls it depicted.  Except at 6:30 the next morning. “Remember how determined Wadley was to go to school?” I asked, as I tried to pry my sleepy, grumpy  daughters out of bed, invoking the impish Haitian girl who, post-earthquake, staged a sit-in at her reconstituted school, so she would be allowed to study there, even though her mother could not afford to pay the fees.

When your kids are exposed to such stories and when they tell you they were inspired by them, you can feel good, as a parent and as a global citizen.  Isn’t this the kind of leaning in we really want?  For our daughters to be part of a global movement for the betterment of all?

After the excitement of the TED talk and movies died down, we spent the rest of the week and most of that weekend preparing for Daughter #1′s trip to Japan, as part of a school exchange program. There were two mall forays (which, thankfully, turned out better than the first one) and an exhaustive hunt for a travel-safe shoulder bag with zippers that “doesn’t make me look like a forty-year-old woman.” (ouch)The trip involved traveling with a dozen other eighth-graders and two teachers, visiting Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka and then staying with a Japanese family and attending school in the town of Izushi.

izushi1
I’ve tried to take advantage of daily opportunities to expose my daughters to other cultures:
Them:  What are we having for dinner?

Me:  Chicken
Them, warily:  What country?

Bathroom renovation #2 is underway.  Whenever Ds #1 and #2 sit on the toilet, they will look down on a floor embedded with the Talavera tiles we brought back from Mexico.

There has been some eye-rolling about this.

There has been some eye-rolling about this and about my proposed choices of hacienda-inspired wall colors:  fuschia, orange and bright blue.

But this would be the first time one of my daughters would venture into the world without us.

In the background, we were aware that Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s new young leader, perhaps seeking his own noteworthy method of “leaning in,” was threatening to test-fire a missile and that Japan’s Ministry of Defense was assembling anti-missile defenses.

I contacted Foreign Service friends with connections to Japan and Korea in an effort to establish a personal in-country connection. I encouraged the teacher to register her group with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  I scanned travel advisories and alerts and was relieved that Japan was not one of the countries on the list.

My mother told me that when I was an exchange student in France, she used to read my letters, filled with tales of mishaps and near-catastrophes, over a bottle of wine.  “How can you do that,” people would ask her. Because of the time lag with international communication in the pre-Internet age, she knew that by the time she received my letters, I had weathered the storms (though likely had embarked on new adventures).

Daughter #1 left for Japan and Daughter #2 and I went to Los Angeles with friends.

We took full advantage of technology

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and were able to Snapchat and Instagram pictures of the set and one of the stars of Pretty Little Liars

Spencer's mom.

Spencer’s mom.

and look at pictures of D#1 and her friends buying toy swords, riding the subway and gorging themselves on Tokyo sweets.

D#2 and I were in Disneyland when we learned the extent of the Boston Marathon bombings.  It was surreal to be at “the happiest place on earth.”

We embarked on boats and rode through the timeless and, that day, timely classic ride, It’s a Small World, and I almost didn’t mind having the song stuck in my head.

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D#1 will be back this weekend.  I know she will be forever changed by this experience.

I can’t wait to see her.

Just after I started writing this post,  Anne Smedinghoff, a young Foreign Service Officer, was killed in Afghanistan.

Having been a young idealistic Foreign Service Officer in a country that had been devastated by war, I could imagine what she was feeling as she drove down that dusty road. She must have been anticipating the delight of the children who would receive the books she was donating and how impressed they would be that she could speak a few words of Dari. She would drink the tea that was offered to her, pose for pictures and return to her compound, confident that, history notwithstanding, on that day she had made a difference.

I wrote a book about my experiences, but my Foreign Service stories are  only the first section of my memoir.  Anne Smedinghoff’s life story stops prematurely.

To her parents, who supported her desire to engage in positive disruption,  I extend my heartfelt condolences.

My Three Sons

” I have mountains to look at, stars at night to gaze at and it’s so dark that you can see every star in the sky. Also, the people here… everyone wants to help each other.”

“When I arrived here, nobody knew me. Nobody looked at me and associated anything besides the connotations of being American. It’s like someone just hit the ‘reset’ button on my life, and I get to build a name for myself from scratch again. It’s a great feeling to know that anything people think of me before they get to know me comes from questionable stereotypes and nothing else.” 

“Best of all, we got to experience life under a philosophy that’s different from today’s norm. Rather than “keeping up with the Kardashians” and constantly working more in order to buy more, our hosts worked comfortably with what they had. As a result they’ve ended up with a beautiful home, two grounded and fun-loving sons, and best of all, the time to appreciate it. “

Three young men that I have known since birth are on extended forays in Afghanistan, France and New Zealand.  These sojourners — a soldier, a “sheap traveler” and a student — are sharing their impressions of the world, and their place in it, via Facebook and blogs.

(To be fair, the insights about appreciating what you have were written by the sheap traveler’s girlfriend and travel companion.  He’s lucky to be sharing his life and this adventure with such a grounded, healthy “shiny” young woman).

More than thirty years ago, I launched myself into the world.  There was no Internet back then, and therefore no Facebook and blogs, and the only way to share one’s impressions was via tissue paper- thin aerogrammes. It usually took two weeks for them to reach their destination and two additional weeks to receive a reply.

By the time the response arrived, you might have forgotten what had inspired you to write in the first place, having moved on to new experiences and corresponding new emotions.

I like this real time communication.  Yesterday I chatted on Facebook with my sweet, strong nephew A, who is serving in the Air Force in Afghanistan.  He regularly Skypes with his wife, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and I imagine it is a great comfort to them to know that he feels safe and happy under the stars and that the previous night he shared a delicious meal with his Italian friends.  Rather than feel isolated, A can participate in home life and share the sweet mix of pumpkin patches, soccer games, doggy love and memories of good food with the people he loves.

I had to laugh when I read K’s accounts of student life in France.  Not much has changed since I attended a lycee in 1978.  His blog reminds me of the highs and lows I felt each day, as I, too, struggled with stereotypes and the reserve of the French students at my school.

I spent a second year attending college in France in the company of E’s parents.   Reading his stories of living and working in New Zealand on the cheap brings back memories of sleeping in parks and youth hostels, drinking inexpensive red wine and taking endless train trips throughout Europe.

E did a stint living and working in New York, so he’s experienced one version of “grown-up” life.  Now he’s seeing contrasting views of what a satisfying life can be. I can’t wait to find out what he decides for himself.

A few weeks ago, when the Canadians were here, Jeff pulled out his journals from his 1990 Everest trek.

That’s where he met S, aka “Cheesehead” (we’re not talking about Wisconsin here.  Jeff says this is the term used in Bellingham, Washington in the 1970s to describe Canadians who crossed the border in search of dairy products).

More than twenty years later, we laughed as Jeff read us his impressions of S and tales of their adventures together in Nepal.  Twenty years and two very different life paths, yet we marveled after the Canadians left, that Jeff and S still feel a sense of connection and of shared values, as well as a mutual acknowledgement that their international experiences  shaped the way they chose to live their lives.

I’ve been reliving my own first tentative steps into the world as I put the finishing touches on the cover and interior design of my book Ruminations from the Minivan, musings from a world grown large, then small, which should be out by the end of next month (stay tuned for details).

I know of what I speak when I tell these young men that their lives will be forever changed by their international forays.

“Kids, today,” one generation is fond of sighing about the next.

Judging from the tales from abroad I’ve been reading, I’d say, the kids are alright.  They are scaling mountains.  They are making informed choices about their values.  They are not sheep.

If my two daughters  explore the world and show as much insight, sensitivity and open-mindedness  as my three spiritual sons, I will have fulfilled my most important goal as a parent.  Their parents should be very proud of them.  I know I am.

There hasn’t been a whole lot of cooking going in in our house because we are still adjusting to a busier schedule.  One night, tired of quesadillas and pasta, I vowed to make the Garum Factory’s Roast Chicken with Muhammara, but was thwarted by a Justin Bieber-related incident that it took most of the night to resolve (this time it’s personal, Bieber!).  A few nights later I did make that blissful chicken and the night after that, I used the stock I’d made from the chicken carcass to make one of my favorite standby soups, Ezogelin Corbasi, Turkish Red Lentil, Bulgur and Mint Soup.  Recipes for this soup abound. I used the recipe from Turquoise, Greg and Lucy Malouf’s beautiful book about their culinary travels in Turkey.  Here’s a link to the recipe.

You can find some additional fabulous Greg Malouf recipes here.  

Lentils are one of those ancient foods that provide sustenance all around the world.  May these young men continue to find sustenance and broadened perspectives  through the people they meet and the meals they share.

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

The Roads (Not) Taken

We are driving along Interstate 69 on a Thursday night listening to Delilah, the syndicated radio DJ who offers a sympathetic ear to listeners calling to ask for advice and plays songs (usually love songs) to fit their dilemmas or fulfill their dedication requests.

I’d read about Delilah and her immense popularity years before, but had forgotten all about her until we pressed the “seek” button on the rental car radio in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the country. We’re just in time to hear a sad, sweet-voiced caller explain her dilemma and ask Delilah to show her the way.

Our trip is one of looking forward and backwards. It began in Chicago, where we met up with Jeff’s Boston-based cousin Deb, her husband Tommy and 13-year-old daughter Nell. They are favorite travel companions of ours, mostly because of their boundless intellectual curiosity, but also because Deb and Tommy always wake up first and make the coffee.  If you have a question about anything, Deb is right there with her iPad looking up the answer, suggesting books on the topic and, if you’re not careful, she will order you those books and have them shipped to your house with her Amazon Prime membership, before you have time to blink.

Scheduled on the fringes of a trip to visit family in Michigan, I relished our Chicago foray as a chance to expose our daughters to art and architecture and show them a college campus or two.  Daughter #1 will soon be in high school and Daughter #2 will be attending a new school next year. In preparation for the changes they’ll experience, I have been trying to plant the seeds of the future.  A future that belongs to them alone and may have nothing to do with the paths their friends choose.  We have had several conversations about the road less traveled.  We have also talked about the differences in people’s values and in their perspectives.

Aside from a quick detour off the freeway to taste deep dish pizza on a cross-country road trip in 1982, this is my first trip to Chicago too.   New places always energize me.  I’m fascinated to get my first look at a Great Lake (Deb whips out her iPad and cites the lake’s surface area and length and width) and can’t stop raving about the juxtaposition of old and new architecture.  My fragile neck doesn’t ache too much, though I am constantly looking up.

The egg and I.

We go to the Art Institute, where I am excited to show the girls the masterpieces that are part of the museum’s permanent collection.  I ask Deb if she remembers the now out-of-print 1970 board game Masterpiece, which was my first introduction to Degas’ bathers, Van Gogh’s sunflowers and so much more.  You can count on Deb to remember a thing like that.

To get into the spirit of things, I am reading Loving Frank, Nancy Horan’s fictionalized story of the adulterous love affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. What compels a person to defy convention?  What inspires a person to create a new art form?  How do people find the courage to do so when they don’t know how things will turn out?

Jeff was born in Chicago and he and Deb played together on the shores of Lake Michigan when they were toddlers.  But he moved away shortly thereafter and he hasn’t been back since.  Deb attended the University of Chicago Lab School, but this is her first time back in 30 years. Our trip to Hyde Park is a trip down memory lane for her.

At the Lab School, Deb is pleased to encounter one of her favorite professors and the kids are excited when he tells them he is a psychic who can see the future.  They are curious and finally he agrees to reveal one thing to each of them.  “Will I get a dog?” asks Daughter #2.  “Yes,” he reassures her.  “A Lab?” she presses. “No, a smaller, black, fuzzy dog,” he says.  (I silently thank him).  “Will I be happier in eighth grade?” Daughter #1 asks shyly.  “You won’t be happier until you get to high school.  You’ll have a much better sense of who you are then and your entire outlook will change.”

While we enjoy deep dish pizza at Medici,

Deb produces a copy of that fateful poem, which she surreptitiously bought at nearby Powell’s Books.  “Not the road less traveled again,” eye-rolls Daughter #1, but I think she’s secretly glad we have these conversations.  Or at least I not-so-secretly hope she is.  We deconstruct the poem.  I say that if Robert Frost were to present it in a writing class today, he would be critiqued for back-pedaling in the second stanza:

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same

Was one road traveled more than the other or wasn’t it?

“I think the point isn’t that he took the road less traveled,” says Deb.  “It’s that you can’t possibly know, when you embark on a path, where it will lead you.  How could I know that Chicago would lead me to Boston, which would lead me to Tommy, which would lead me to Nell?” (Which would lead Jeff and me to great morning coffee and our daughters to a cousin-friend to share confidences, clothes, make-up, brownies and frappes with).

The girls’ bedroom is a jumble of shared clothes, books and jewelry.  Nell shows them the Hunger Games costume designs she has developed on the iPad.  Daughter #1 teaches them Japanese.  Daughter #2 demonstrates make-up techniques.  They are all so different.  They are just beginning to recognize who they are.  I wonder who they will become.

Later, in Michigan, the girls’ Abuela (a turkey-maker and a sweet-smelling woman) arranges tours for them of the university veterinary facility, where Daughter #1 learns you can have a career as a veterinary social worker, and the university basketball facility, where Daughter #2, an enthusiastic point guard, gets the hard sell for recruitment, though she is only 11.

That night, I order Masterpiece on eBay and text Deb to tell her what I have done.  She tells me she has already ordered the game for me (I’m not surprised) but later manages to intercept it and have it shipped to herself. “We’ll all play it together via Skype,” she tells me.

It is only later, when I am researching Robert Frost’s poem to write this blog entry that I understand the differences in my interpretation of the poem and Deb’s,  Like many people,  I assumed it was called The Road Less Traveled and the primary lesson it imparts to me is to follow your own chosen path, no matter what everyone else is doing.

But the poem is actually called The Road Not Taken.  My father-in-law told me it is about Frost’s decision to abandon farming in favor of the literary life.  Life is full of crossroads.

But hopefully not full of regrets.

On the radio, the sad, sweet-voiced caller waits for Delilah’s advice.

“I can’t tell you what to do,” says Delilah.  “You have to follow your heart.”

“But I can play you a song.”

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost