Resilience

IMG_1785-1Last week was one of the worst weeks I’ve had in recent memory. There was bad news (not the kind that makes you sad, the kind that makes you frustrated), mechanical failures, more bad news (the kind that makes you mad), home renovation stress, sunglasses stress and a mall mishap.  One bright spot in the week was Daughter #2’s first ultimate frisbee game on a very blustery day, which cheered me up until the black clouds returned. (She and I are both disappointed that the Famous Minivan, which sounded like it was about to blow up, only needed a minor repair.  We’d been hoping to be able to justify buying a jazzier ride, even though we try to live by a “one car payment at a time” rule).

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The good news is that everybody and everything is fine, though I am somewhat worse for the wear.

A few Sundays ago I read a piece in the New York Times by Bruce Feiler. Entitled The Stories that Bind Us, it describes developing resilience in your kids through the telling of family stories.  Feiler is the author of The Secrets of Happy Families, a newly released parenting guide billed as “a new approach to family dynamics, inspired by cutting-edge techniques gathered from experts in the disciplines of science, business, sports, and the military.”

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A week or so before Feiler’s piece came out in the Times we watched him present a TED talk on incorporating the concept of “agile programming” into family dynamics.  I am discovering that TED talks are useful teaching tools for our family.  Rather than listen to Jeff or me lecture them, the kids get to look at a screen and watch people much cooler than us impart life lessons much more succinctly than we do. Like watching Modern Family or Downton Abbey or Glee, TED talks can provide a nice source of family time (proud parent moment:  next week Daughter #1 will be in the audience for a TED talk hosted at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she has been volunteering).

I had been working on a story about student entrepreneurs and had spent several weeks interviewing a wide array of current and former university students who have developed a wide array of businesses.  Talking with them, I was flooded with emotion over how proud their parents must be and how the world has changed since I was in college, when the thing to do was settle on a predictable career path that would guarantee you could support yourself after a few bohemian years of eating rice and beans and other inexpensive fare.

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But mostly I was impressed with their fearlessness.  Not only are they not daunted by the vicissitudes of the economy, they are also not daunted by developing business plans, presenting these plans to potential investors, patent disputes, unreliable suppliers and distributors,  or the challenges of figuring out how have spring break in Cabo San Lucas and still make it to business meetings in China. One indomitable young woman said, “If you asked me to make a spaceship that could fly to the moon, I have no idea how I’d do it; but I’m confident I could figure it out.”

That’s their mantra:  figure it out.

We’re figuring out this pesky bathroom renovation project, which has taken some U-turns along the way but is now officially underway.

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There’s a toilet in our bedroom and Jeff and I will have to resort to sharing a bathroom with Daughters #1 and #2 (the worst prospect of all).  I’m trying to figure out restorative justice for the mall mishap

Neither one of us can hide in the bathroom

Neither one of us can hide in the bathroom

and am hoping, hoping, hoping that the news we will receive this week will be good.

As a start to what I hope will be a better week, I decided to figure out what we’d be having for dinner.  Understand, this is my “best laid plans” list, which only barely takes into account an ultimate game, swim practice, a Japan trip meeting (Daughter #1 leaves in three weeks), spring soccer practice, a Ballard Writers group meeting and a parent education event.

So instead of leaving you with a recipe, I’m leaving you with my list, which is my attempt at resilience, bolstered by the reappearance of the sun in Seattle and the blooming plum trees in front of my house.

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Check back with me next week to see if I managed to cook any of it.  And if any of the recipes intrigue you, please let me know (I’ve provided links where possible).

Monday – Chicken and Plantain Stew

Tuesday – Pressure Cooker Risotto with Kale Pesto

Wednesday – probably panini sandwiches

Thursday - Curly Pasta with Spring Vegetables

Friday – Scallops, grits and greens (this one comes from chef Becky Selengut’s book Good Fish.  I recently took a fantastic mushroom class from Becky (talk about resilience, how about brushing mushrooms) and expect great things from this cookbook.

Wish me luck

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Zen

Our dear hamster Zen passed away a few days prior to Thanksgiving. Her death was not unexpected; we’d been on hamster death watch since August, when the ravages of old age were beginning to show, and on high alert for most of November, as she slowed down and eventually became paralyzed.

Zen’s death was the first we’d experienced since the death of my mother, in February 2010.  Just as we had with my mother, we observed Zen eventually stop eating and had to coax her to drink.  In her final hours, just as we had with my mother, we took our iPod and played the songs she’d loved, while telling her how much we loved her and what she had meant to us.  My mother’s play list:  the Israel Kamakawiwo’ole version of “Hawaii Aloha,” Madama Butterfly, Camelot and “Stardust,” sung by Willie Nelson, because that’s the only version I could find on iTunes.  Zen’s playlist:  Sean Kingston’s “Dumb Love,”  Ed Sheeren’s “The A Team,”  and Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me.”

We went out in the pouring rain and buried Zen in the “kitty arbor,” where three cats and one bird rest beneath a pieris japonica plant and a statue of a sleeping cat.

There’s a wonderful David Sedaris essay (which I mentioned in a previous post about dogs) called Youth In Asia that, among other things, talks about how the pets in our lives mark the passage of time.

Zen was Daughter #1’s fifth grade graduation gift.  Now as D#1 prepares to go to high school, it feels as if the last vestiges of her little girlhood are fading away. As we tour prospective schools, she is feeling the pressure of PSATs, SATs, leaving some of the friends she’s gone to school with since kindergarten and contemplating college and beyond.  I used to say that our kids’ remaining time living with us was equivalent to the lifespan of a guinea pig.  Suddenly, for Daughter #1, it’s dwindled to the lifespan of a healthy hamster.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many of my friends from New Jersey posted updates on Facebook about the havoc wreaked by the storm, including how they had coped with power outages.  One of the most heartfelt updates came from my high school friend S., who included this picture:

This is her turtle Speedy, wearing the sweater S. made to ward her off from the cold while the power was out. S. says she also held Speedy over a steaming pot of boiling water, but reassured her that it was for warmth, not turtle soup.

Speedy has lived with S. for more than forty years.  When we were young and S and her family went on vacation, I used to feed Speedy cantaloupe and watch her slowly make her way around S.’s house.

Speedy has been a constant in S.’s life, and, I guess by extension, mine. Though S. and I haven’t seen each other since we were in college, the fact that she still has Speedy is a reminder that she is still the person I knew and loved.  Speedy brings back fond memories of S.’s and my mostly happy high school years.

I wanted to do something special for Daughter #1 to acknowledge the loss of her pet.  Quiet, gentle, bookish, artistic and dreamy, D#1’s feelings are sometimes overshadowed by the loud and harsh realities of everyday life.

I decided that after Zen’s funeral we would have lemon curd, something D#1, adores almost as much as she enjoys Britishisms. (In a recent report she did on British cuisine, D#1, who has an excellent sense of humor and a firm grasp of the inner workings of the middle school mind, decided to steer clear of mentioning “spotted dick.”).

Get your mind out of the gutter. It’s a steamed pudding with currants.

When she was little and couldn’t pronounce the letter L, D#1 would refer to the tangy marriage of lemons, butter and eggs as yemon curd.  Other little kids, who had trouble pronouncing her multi-syllabic name, sometimes referred to her as Lemony. For birthdays she enjoyed the Lemon Butter Cake with Fresh Strawberries and Butter Cream from our friend Leslie Mackie’s Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook and my favorite White Chocolate Whisper Cake, featuring lemon curd and raspberry preserves.  You can find that recipe in Leslie’s new book More From Macrina.  I am the “fellow soccer mom” mentioned on page 169, who enjoyed the cake on my fortieth birthday.

So even though I was up to my ears in Thanksgiving preparations, I took a breather from pies, turkey stock and the cranberry- pomegranate sauce from Food and Wine magazine that will now be a staple in my Thanksgiving repertoire and I made lemon curd, using David Lebovitz’s recipe. We ate it with shortbread cookies while watching an episode of Modern Family to cheer us up.

I don’t know if we will get another hamster, though, if we do, we agreed a few years ago while vacationing in Turkey to name it Suleiman the Magnificant (there is some back-pedaling about that agreement now).

The advice about high school I would give Daughter #1 comes from the immortal words of Bob Marley:

Finally, in the immortal words of Jon Stewart, here it is, your moment of Zen (and Speedy’s brush with fame):

As the holiday roller coaster speeds up, we could all use a few moments of Zen.  I finally took some time to collect all the recipes on this site onto one page and also to provide some information about my forthcoming book. It was kind of relaxing. You’ll find both of these pages at the top of the site.  

Good and Plenty

I’m not supposed to be writing this.  I’m supposed to be packing for that ski trip I told you about.

But I couldn’t resist telling you about a few good things that have come my way lately.

This is the granola I made this morning, inspired by the wonderful blog Orangette.  My horoscope for today recommended that I “make something with honey” (in 40-odd years of reading my horoscope in the morning paper, I have never been similarly advised) so maybe it was in the stars, but it took Molly Wizenberg extolling the virtues of homemade granola and providing me with a few great recipes to convert me.  The house smelled great.  Do yourself a favor — read Orangette.  And make your own granola (I haven’t yet tried the recipe you’ll find by clicking on the above link.  I used an earlier Orangette granola recipe, which Molly adapted from Nigella Lawson.  You can find it in the Orangette recipe index).

(I also made my own pancake mix, but we haven’t tasted it yet, so I’m not ready to share the recipe.  I snuck in flax seeds.  Shhhh.  Don’t tell Jeff and the girls).

While I was making the granola, I listened to a few stories from The Moth, the live storytelling project based in New York.  I learned about The Moth last week, when I was asked to participate in a Spoken Word performance on March 20, as part of the Ballard Writers Collective.  The stories I heard today were funny and touching.  I’m looking forward  hearing more from The Moth during our eight hour road trip.  (I’ll tell you more about the March 20 event later).

As you know, I’m interested in eldercare and in spreading the word anytime I hear of anything that makes life easier for the elderly and their caregivers.  This recent post from The New Old Age is just such a thing.  At a networking event this week, I met an eldercare advisor and was reminded of this growing business.  If you are caring for someone and feel overwhelmed, you can hire a consultant to help you navigate Medicare, find senior housing, etc.  Also, Jane Gross told me to tell you about her Facebook page, where she provides useful updates and information for fans of A Bittersweet Season:  Caring for Our Aging Parents and Ourselves.

Yesterday, at Costco, I found this fantastic Near East-inspired vegetarian cookbook.  I’ve read about Yotam Ottolenghi and Plenty in my cooking magazines and in The Guardian, and have even made some of his recipes, but I was unprepared for how blown away I have been by this book.   I want to cook and eat everything in it.  Tonight.  Instead of packing.

Finally, it’s no secret that there are a few places I would rather be going than skiing.  But, to paraphrase Adele in her beautiful cover of this Bob Dylan song (you can buy the live version on iTunes), I’d go to the ends of the earth for the ones I love (though eight hours in the car with a teen and pre-teen might be pushing it).

(Check out what Margaret Cho had to say in response to Karl Lagerfeld’s snipe about Adele after the Grammys. Thanks, Theo Nestor, for sharing it.)

That’s all, folks.  I’ll be diligently doing my physical therapy exercises and writing next week, and maybe even doing a little bit of skiiing too.

Happy President’s Day.

Pain in the Neck

It’s 6:30 on a Friday morning and daughter #1 and I are sniping at each other.  I want to be sure she has everything she needs for the ski bus she will take from school to Snoqualmie Summit later in the afternoon.  Skis, poles, boots, helmet, gear bag and food are all piled up by our front door, just as they are every Friday morning.  But this morning, I am bitchier than usual and daughter #1 is rolling her eyes and refusing to go through the checklist with me, though we both remember her maiden ski bus trip last year, when we packed everything except the ski boots, an omission she did not discover until she was on the mountain, ready to go.

I am bitchy because I haven’t slept for the past several nights, due to a pain in my neck.  I’d like daughter #1, who is 13 and can’t always control herself, to stop being a pain in the bleep and cut me some slack.  It doesn’t happen and we part on unfriendly terms.

Later, after I have been diagnosed with a herniated disc, pumped full of steroids and set up with a physical therapy regimen, I will have the foresight to send her a text apologizing for my bitchiness.

Still later, when she has been strapped to a backboard and rushed down the mountain in an ambulance, I will look at her texted response to my apology:  “I’m sorry I was a whiny schmuck.”   Me: “I’m glad you’re my whiny schmuck  :).”  Her:  :).

The next day we are walking companionably together in stiff-necked glory, me, whacked out on steroids and pain meds and a muscle relaxant, her, a little sore and just beginning to realize what might have been.

She tells me she dreaded making the call to us that night, knowing we would be upset.  I tell her how helpless we felt because we weren’t there to comfort her and about the confusion of receiving several truncated calls from the ski patrol, her ski instructor and a chaperone who happened to be a doctor, trying to piece together what had happened and assess her situation.  She’d fallen and somersaulted, landing on her back, while learning mogul safety, but had managed to ski herself down the mountain (good sign) before realizing she felt dizzy (bad sign).  As a precaution, she was strapped to a backboard and it was determined that she should be taken by ambulance to the emergency room.  The experts deliberated over which one, and we reacted to each possibility: the one nearest our house (good sign), the one at Seattle’s largest trauma hospital (bad sign), and finally, the one closest to the mountain (good sign).

She tells me what it was like to be immobilized on her back in a screaming ambulance, crying, with no one but an awkward EMT to comfort her with small talk.

I tell her about rushing to the hospital, a 45 minute drive from our house, with her pajama-clad frightened younger sister in tow.  On the way, something smashed into our windshield, aimed at my heart.  “Have we been shot????” Jeff was rattled by the sudden impact.  Indeed, there is a bullet-like hole on the outside of the glass and it seems hard to believe it could have come from a rock.

By 11:00 p.m., backboard just a memory,

we are at a drive-through Krispy Kreme at a strip-mall in Issaquah laughing at the strangeness of our situation and allowing the first waves of relief to sink in, along with the sugar.

Though I am unable to turn my head toward the backseat to smile, we agree that this was the mother of all gazumps.

Daughter #2 suggests I can bog about this.  I feel a twinge of guilt over what we may be turning into.

The pharmacist calmly explained all the possible side effects of my meds.  My friend Diane, a nurse, puts it in plainer terms.  “You’re going to be bloated and bitchy and miserable.”  I already feel that way 11 days of each month, thanks to my perimenopausal PMS, which is kind of like PMS on steroids and which I have learned to manage with exercise, smoked salmon, red wine and my private reserve of dark chocolate.

I keep it on a special shelf in the freezer.

Now that I am experiencing perimenopausal PMS and am on steroids, I realize that my previous forays into moodiness were a walk in the park compared to this new dimension of craziness.  I have never suffered from chronic depression, nor have I ever taken anti-depressants.  I have a new-found empathy for those who do.

My funny family is able to make light of Mom’s ‘roid rage and Daughter #1 buys me some Doublemint gum to cool me down. But, though I stop taking the muscle relaxants after the first one, and limit the pain meds to just one at bedtime, my consciousness is altered, like a mid-life follower of Timothy Leary, though I drive a minivan instead of a magic bus.

I take a four-mile walk on a glorious sunshiny day and my iPod astutely shuffles to Katrina and the Wave to help cheer me up.

It doesn’t work.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the intensity of feeling one experiences in middle school, when the mountains can seem more beautiful than they ever have before

yet you question your place in this world.  I have a new-found empathy for those who feel these extremes and also have to navigate the intricate social dynamics of the school lunchroom.

As the pain lessens and the meds wind down, I am regaining enough healthy perspective to understand that we dodged a number of bullets.  That fateful Friday would have been the 17th birthday of my friend Beth’s son Ian. There was a madman with a gun terrorizing a neighborhood to our north, where residents were advised to stay home behind locked doors.  There was an accident at our Sunday Farmers Market, resulting in the serious injury of a baby. I think the moon was full.

Our insurance will pay to get the windshield fixed. Daughter #1 is planning to go skiing again on Friday and I’ll be up and running again in no time. Over the years, we will re-tell the story of Daughter #1’s ambulance adventure when she comes home from college for the holidays or whenever we pass a drive-through Krispy Kreme kiosk.

In the grand scheme of things, I am grateful that in the end, this turned out to be nothing more than a pain in the neck.

Though many things can cause them, herniated discs can also be a by-product of aging. I’m grateful to my Facebook friends who stuck their necks out for me by sharing their stories and favorite remedies.  Thanks to Nancy Schatz Alton, a member of the Ballard Writers Collective and co-author of The Healthy Back Book, which jump-started my efforts to take charge of my own recovery.  Thanks to Christina Wilsdon, witty writer and animal aficionado, for suggesting Treat Your Own Neck, by Robin MacKenzie.  Thanks to my neighbor Shannon for the nightly laser treatments, to Diane for the frankness and the heating pad, and to Liz and Paul for the promise of a rotisserie chicken and cookies.

In addition to drugs, physical therapy and ergonomic office arrangements, everyone agreed that dark chocolate has charms to soothe the savage beast.   Some kindred spirits also felt that the pair of pink shoes I’ve been ogling would certainly have profound therapeutic benefits.

Finally, I haven’t felt much like eating because of the water retention, and have felt even less like cooking, which, if you know me, you know signals that my stars (not just my neck) are out of alignment.  But this morning, while thinking about anti-inflammatory, all-around good for you foods, I remembered this wonderful salad from the cookbook Turquoise: A Chef’s Travels in Turkey by Greg and Lucy Malouf.  Afiyet Olsun! (Turkish for enjoy your meal)

Green Olive, Walnut and Pomegranate Salad

3/4 cup walnuts, toasted for 5-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  After cooling, pour the nuts into a towel and rub well to remove skin.  Then coarsely chop

1/2 cup pitted green olives, washed and coarsely chopped

1/4 unsalted shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

2 small shallots, peeled and finely diced

1 red serrano chile, seeded and finely diced

1Tablespoon shredded flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 Tablespoon olive oil

I Tablespoon walnut oil

splash of pomegranate molasses

juice of 1/2 lemon

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently.  Let stand five minutes before serving so flavors can meld.

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.

Girls in White Dresses with Blue Satin Sashes

My daughters turned 13 and 11 this week amidst Seattle’s Snowmageddon.  We managed to survive a week with no school, a magazine article deadline, a hunt for an ice-cream cake when the streets were caked with frosty, frozen snow, a lively Mother-Daughter Book Group meeting and two birthday parties.  

As things wind down, I’m allowing myself a little walk down memory lane and want to share with you a piece I wrote, which appeared in Seattle magazine’s Balancing Act blog in June 2010.  

 All of us have changed, including Jennifer Carroll, who lost her baby weight and is no longer curvy, but no less ebullient.   I’ll be writing about those changes, including something you don’t hear about so much — parents’ emerging independence from their kids —  in subsequent posts.

Consider this the first installment of what I think of as “The Hormone Chronicles.” 

We are in the dressing room in the juniors department at Nordstrom and my eleven year-old daughter is cringing as she tries on the outfits that her fashion savvy, ”naturally cool” nine year-old sister and I have picked out.

It is fifth-grade graduation time and this old-school mom has proclaimed that Melanie must wear a dress or a skirt to the ceremony.  I have also instigated a movement among her friends’ parents, encouraging them to make their daughters eschew pants for the day too.  The teacher has encouraged the kids to wear something special.  Some of the boys have admitted that they will be wearing suits.

For the past year, Melanie has done everything possible to avoid being noticed.  Her uniform du jour has been jeans, a T-shirt and a baggy sweatshirt.  Her hair is always in a ponytail.  (To add insult to injury, I have requested that she wear it down on the big day).   Though two years ago she was thrilled to get her ears pierced, I have to remind her to wear earrings now.

I get what this is about.  After a year of learning about and experiencing her changing body, Mel wants nothing to do with these changes.   I have found the Old Navy sports bra I had bought at the beginning of the school year crammed behind the refrigerator.   She “forgot” to take the sample sanitary pads they handed out at Family Living and Sexual Health Night.  I was the same at her age, and she enjoys hearing the story of me ripping up each and every Kotex in the package my mother kept in the bathroom closet to be ready for the inevitable.

But now, staring down 50 like a deer in the headlights, it is hard to watch my daughter resist her young womanhood, while I cling so desperately to mine.  I enjoy being a girl now more than I have ever have and view my femininity the way I used to view vacation time – use it or lose it.  Though most days I dress like I did when I was 16, in jeans, a shirt and comfy shoes, I accessorize with care.  When I wear a skirt I feel pretty.  Heels would send me over the moon if they weren’t so uncomfortable. And underwear…

I discovered Bellefleur, the Fremont lingerie boutique, last Christmas when searching for something special to take me out of my drill sergeant efficient mom persona and add a little romance to my life.   I’ve never felt comfortable in “girly” stores (buying a wedding dress was torture.  Thank goodness for the late, lamented low-key Pike Place Market boutique Local Brilliance) and at Bellefleur I expected to be snubbed by a skinny French woman of indeterminate age, who would make me feel like I didn’t belong in her shop.

So it was a delight to discover Jennifer Carroll, Bellefleur’s curvy, ebullient owner, whose book Underneath it All, a girl’s guide to buying, wearing and loving lingerie, is a manifesto for women of every shape and size to allow themselves to be beautiful, not just inside and out, but also, well you get the picture.

The day of my maiden visit to Bellefleur, I saw a mother with her tall, thin, yet big-busted college-aged daughter stocking up on bras, relieved to have found flattering styles that fit.  A medical resident, lamenting lack of sleep, also stopped by for something to perk her up.

On a more recent visit to the new, expanded Bellefleur, still in Fremont, but now located at 3504 Fremont Place North, next to Bliss boutique, Jennifer explained that her clientele runs the spectrum of womanhood.  “Once, we had four generations of one family shopping here together,” she remembers.  “The needs of the youngest member of the family were very different from the needs of her great-grandmother.  We took care of everyone.”  Jennifer’s advice for mothers of newly developing daughters is to include them in the lingerie experience.  “If they see you enjoying lingerie and being comfortable with how your body looks in it, chances are they will be too.”  You don’t need to spend much money on training bras, says Jennifer, but once your daughter’s breasts have truly developed, be sure to get her properly fitted.

On graduation day, to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, a procession of students in a mish-mash of outfits – fancy dresses with high tops, suit jackets with ripped jeans – galumphed past their proud families.  They then stood at the podium, poised in their awkwardness, and told us what they could do to make the world a better place.  I felt something wet on my nose and eyelashes and it definitely wasn’t snowflakes.

After the ceremony, Melanie lifted her skirt to show me the shorts she had surreptitiously donned, then pulled off the skirt and went out to run around with her friends.  They seem so grownup sometimes, with their iPods and backtalk and bravado.

But underneath it all, I guess they are still girls and boys.

Hey, Kids! It’s European Chicken Night!

Ever since I had kids and my international career came to an end, I’ve traveled the world without leaving my kitchen.  I’m an inveterate collector of cookbooks and an avid tester of recipes, known for my ethnic dinner parties, unusual potluck contributions and weeknight dinners that deviate substantially from the usual family fare. When the kids were little, I would sometimes pretend we were in the country of the cuisine of the evening, giving everyone new names and encouraging them to speak English with foreign accents.  It was fun and it saved me from the drudgery that caring for a young family can sometimes be.


Now everyone is older.  The kids have traveled to some of the countries we’ve pretended to be in and to others we never even imagined.  Our evenings are filled with the realities of homework, soccer practice and piano lessons and there doesn’t seem to be much time to pretend anymore.

Except on Thursdays.  This fall, I have dubbed Thursdays European Chicken Night.  Chicken – described as a blank canvas for the creative cook and the little black dress of the kitchen.  They do sublime things with it in France, mostly involving cream sauce.  While going through ten years of cooking magazines and reorganizing my substantial stash of cookbooks after a recent kitchen painting project, I unearthed mouthwatering recipe after recipe with chicken as the star and felt a sense of urgency that we had to try them before it was too late.

Week One:  It’s September, school has recently started and there is an unseasonable (for Seattle) chill in the air.  What better night to serve something the NY Times magazine (who adapted it from Chez Panisse Fruit) calls Poulet a la Normande and my French cookbooks confirm is indeed a classic from the Normandy region of France — chicken in a cream sauce flavored with apples and Calvados.  The kids remind me that they lapped it up like kittens.  I think European Chicken Night is going to be a success.

Week Two:  It’s too hot to cook, much less think about eating chicken. I find a vaguely Greek recipe for barbecued chicken skewers but I am missing some key marinade ingredients and make poor substitutions.  There is one odd ingredient in the recipe that we all agree is out of place.  The meal, the ingredient and the recipe are quickly forgotten.

Week Three:  This night will be unforgettable.  I have found a recipe for Roast Chicken with Apples that comes from the town of Metz in the Lorraine region of France, where the first Jews settled in 221 AD.  Though we are a secular household, I think this is the perfect dish to commemorate the Jewish New Year and I spend the day in happy anticipation.  Reality check:  one daughter comes unglued after school, my husband wants to know why no one ever told him about European Chicken Night, the daughter who hasn’t come unglued gets tired of behaving and I want to throw the chicken at all of them.  I wonder if French women ever feel that way.  But then, voila!  Small miracle.  We sit down and tuck into the sweetly cinnamon-flavored chicken and apples and everyone calms down.  I tell them about the Jews of Metz and about the history of the accompanying pilau, a rice dish which originated in Persia and has traveled around the world.  We happily reminisce about meals we have eaten in other countries.  This is my little tribe and I love them. (I got this recipe from epicurious.com.   It comes from Joan Nathan’s new book about Jewish cooking in France.)

Week Four is upon us.  My husband and I will be like two ships passing in the night.  He will return from a business trip only in time to eat whatever leftovers remain from ECN.  I leave the next morning for a long weekend.  He departs the morning after my return for another business trip, with more time in the air then on the ground. Everyone is battling a cold. Though my taste buds are craving the exotic, I know better than to impose my whims on the kids or to burden myself with an ambitious cooking project.  So I think I will rely on a favorite standby – the Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Fresh Sage in Patricia Well’s book Trattoria.  I’m sure Patricia doesn’t make this with defrosted Costco chicken breasts, but it doesn’t matter. There are some cookbook authors you can depend on no matter what and I love it when I can follow a recipe to a T. Anyway, if I weren’t a harried fifty year-old soccer mom in a rainy city with ravenous kids who will be gone before I know it, I might be dining peacefully in a charming trattoria in an undiscovered village in Italy.

I think it’s a night for pretending.

Some trusty classics