About Slice of Mid-Life

I'm a former world-traveling diplomat, turned minivan-driving mom and writer, now living in Seattle with my husband and two daughters.

The End of an Era

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A blogger can rationalize not blogging — blaming it on a new job, a trip to Asia, a kid in college, lack of free time, or even nothing new to say. But when that blogger’s raison d’être ceases to exist –when that blogger has reached a milestone, it seems only right that she should put aside her Sunday New York Times and do some writing.

My name is Alison and I am no longer a minivan-driving mom.

My minivan, my muse for 18 years, and my albatross for the past five years or more, is on its way to auction. As we watched it being driven away, I felt a bittersweet pang. Someday, I might be on the road and see someone else cruising along in my old bumpersticker-laden rig. Will they understand the double-entendre of the Kegels sticker? Will they believe, like I do, that people should wag more and bark less?

The van has been replaced by a beautiful Honda CRV, whose character has yet to be revealed.  I can tell you that, driving to my neighborhood beach with the sunroof open (even though it was raining) and Springsteen’s Jungleland blaring from the speakers, because I had pushed a button on the steering wheel and commanded Siri to play it, this car has possibilities. 

 

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In my book, you’ll find the eponymous Minivan story, which chronicled my initial horror at becoming a new stereotype and my eventual realization that, despite the half-eaten cheese sticks strewn everywhere, the car was a haven of creativity and the one place where my disparate selves came together. There’s also a story about drivers license photos marking the passage of time, especially for women. Now, I realize that major purchases, especially those that require financing, are another way of chronicling your life.

In the four hours we spent at the Honda dealership last Friday night, and the subsequent 10 p.m. trip to Shanghai Gardens for post- document signing sustenance, Jeff and I had ample time to to take a drive down memory lane. First, we recalled minivan highlights — his mostly featuring epic diaper changes on road trips. Then we counted the number of cars we’ve each owned. The CRV is only my sixth car and third Honda, in 40 years of driving. Jeff has a three-car lead on me. I’ve owned two homes to his one, but he once had a boat. In our 22 years of marriage, we’ve purchased one refrigerator, a hot water heater or two, at least three dishwashers, two or three washing machines, and a few dryers. The next time we are stuck in a waiting room, we could count the number of urban pests we’ve battled together. We have raccoons to thank for a few expensive electronic cat doors and enterprising rats to thank for a dishwasher and a washing machine replacement, plus the repair of a few wires in Jeff’s car.

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This blog and my book have chronicled new motherhood, caring for tweens, teens, and aging parents, and caring for one’s aging self in our youth-obsessed world. Recently, I’ve written about the weirdness of my current stage of life — a nest nearly empty and its adult occupants, no longer fixated on bringing worms to the fledglings or picking nits from youthful heads, trying to figure out what’s next.

“Welcome to the SUV stage of life,” said my friend Richard, who is a few years ahead of me on the life milestone path. That path sits before me like a shiny yellow brick road leading to Oz, with no thought of flying monkeys.

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We used to joke that you needed a Hepatitis shot before riding in the minivan. My clean car is a clean slate, and I’ve proclaimed some rules: No eating or drinking or leaving garbage in the van and Daughter #2 (a mostly fine driver) doesn’t get to pilot it for the first year. Though in less than 24 hours of ownership, Daughters #1 and #2 and I have already squabbled about who controls the sound system, this time things will be different, as long as I can figure out how Apple Play actually works. Jeff attributes every parenting challenge we’ve had to my musical acquiescence in the minivan when the kids were little, leading to bad habits and reinforcing their generational need for constant curated experiences (“OMG, Mom, how can you live without Spotify Premium?”). Not this time. My car, my music. Plus, apparently aux cords are the new cup holders. There’s an individual plug-in for almost every passenger.

Last week, I was driving to work, when a man in a truck pulled up alongside me, smiling and waving hello. Amazon notwithstanding, Seattle is a smallish town. I rolled down my window and asked if I knew him. “No, but my name is Steve,” he leered. Maybe in my early minivan-driving days I would have secretly been relieved that someone other than my husband could still find me attractive, despite my uncool car. This time, I was outraged in a #MeToo kind of way, and, to be honest, bewildered. Who comes on to a 50+ year-old woman in a funky old minivan? After reassuring me that I’ve still “got it,” one of my young female colleagues told me she had recently driven behind me and admired my bumperstickers. Oh.

Will I feel the need to assert my individuality by adorning the new, ubiquitous gray car with personalization? Only time will tell. We’re getting roof racks installed tomorrow and getting ready to take this baby on the road.

I can’t wait.

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Rule #4 — all dogs need to sit on their designated doggie beds.

Hey, it’s been ten months since you’ve written this blog. How about a recipe?

Last weekend, as usual, I woke up earlier than everyone else and made breakfast. I was cleaning out the fridge and realized I had all of the ingredients for a frittata. Before kids and when they were little, I made frittatas all the time — a paen to easy brunch sophistication. They’d been pushed aside by weekend demands for pancakes and Dutch babies and more pedestrian egg dishes, and lately scones. In the spirit of reclaiming my pre-minivan self, here’s the template for the frittata I made.  

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Bon appetit!

 

 

The middle-aged mom and the cannabis shop

Stop reading right now if you are expecting salacious details of smoking, toking, vaping, baking, high times, or Alice B. Toklas. Stick around if you want recipes, book recommendations, and a fish out of water story.

One Sunday morning in early July, I went running in the woods to counteract the effects of my breakfast —a very rich and delicious Yotam Ottolenghi recipe for grilled banana bread with honey and tahini —and to blow off steam because I was mad at my family. I’ve had many delightful runs in the park I chose. It’s hilly and restorative and you are treated to a spectacular view of Puget Sound. Initially crabby because my chosen playlist wasn’t working, I had just settled into a groove and was enjoying the music my iPhone had chosen for me when I rolled my ankle and fell. When I tried to get up, it became clear that something was very wrong. The good news is that after they rescued me, my family felt sorry for me and we weren’t fighting anymore.

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I had badly sprained my ankle and, a few days later, learned that I also had an avulsion fracture, which is when a piece of the bone breaks off, along with the torn ligament.

What followed was many weeks of crutches, boot, and ankle braces, hours spent elevating and icing my ankle,

and a lot of time in my lair, indulging in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy.

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I was diligent about regular YouTube “hurt foot workouts” (thank you, Caroline Jordan).

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I managed to get in some stand-up (and sit-down) paddle boarding.

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But I was desperate to get back to boot camp.

After a few months, I was cleared to start physical therapy. It’s been a few weeks and my progress is slow. My ankle is still swollen and now, so is my Achilles.  This week, I decided I needed something more.

In yet another manifestation of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, in one week, four people told me to try CBD ointment, a product derived from cannabis that is gaining popularity as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, though apparently there is no science to back up its efficacy. I’d first learned about it from my 78-year-old mother-in-law. Now three middle-aged female friends, including a doctor, were recommending I check it out. When I brought it up at the physical therapist’s, the tattooed young guy on the table next to me gave it a ringing endorsement too, so I did some research and decided to give it a try.

Marijuana is legal here in Washington and pot shops are becoming as prevalent as coffee shops. Though weed is not currently part of my lifestyle, my peers are increasingly casually slipping it into conversation the way they used to talk about margaritas, as a reward for dealing with the harsh responsibilities of life, instead of something that’s just plain pleasurable. I find it interesting to consider the adult relationship to “naughtiness,” whether it’s Hilary Clinton admitting that she’s been getting through the post-election period with her “fair share of Chardonnay,” or the countless mother’s little helper memes about wine and chocolate. Somehow, I don’t think they talk about intoxicants this way in France.

When the first legal marijuana shop opened in Seattle a few years ago, my brother and I stopped by on the way to take him to the airport. Like Disneyland, the line snaked around and around and there was no way we could check it out without him missing his flight. We chatted with one of the employees, who told us that the clientele was mostly affluent and middle-aged and, as if to confirm that, someone came up to ask what edibles were available. “Just pita chips today, ” said the affable employee. A friend recently told me about her favorite edible — hand-crafted orange dark chocolate paired with a small crop strain of weed designed to tastily take the edge off.

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It was easy to find a pot shop on my way to afternoon school pick-up, but once in, I was disappointed that it looked like a seedy head shop, instead of the high-end emporium I was anticipating. There happened to be a one-day sale going on — 20 percent off everything in the store.

I was waited on by Johnny (not his real name) a friendly young stoner who tried his best to explain the difference between all of the different CBD products, while his bro-colleagues weighed in like a Greek chorus. I’m sure Johnny thought it was funny that he was waiting on someone of his mom’s vintage, so he tried to breach the gap by telling me he liked my earrings. I was instantly transported back to my brief stint as a hall monitor at Daughter #1’s large and scary public middle school. On my first day, I was sent over to break up a group of loitering seventh-graders, who were all much bigger than me. As they surrounded me, I feared for my safety.

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Then, the leader of the pack looked down at me and spoke. “I like your earrings,” he said.

I made my selection and Johnny told me that James (not his real name) would ring me up while he went off to help another customer. But James was occupied with a young woman who was so excited by the 20 percent discount that she was laboriously considering all of her edible options. I interrupted her questions about chewing gum to ask if someone could ring me up. James rolled his eyes. I rolled my eyes. Some people are in a hurry, he said conspiratorially to chewing gum girl. Some people have places to be, I said, not mentioning that I was driving a carpool. I stopped myself from momishly lecturing James and his colleagues about politeness and efficient business practices and thanked him and chewing gum girl, who was magnaminous about ceding her time with James.

There’s not much more to tell. I applied the cream and maybe it’s helping or maybe it’s a placebo. I thought it would be fun to text Daughter #1 about my trip to the cannabis store (Jeff and I use funny things that happen as an excuse to text D#1 at college. She doesn’t know that, in a running competition, we compare notes to see who had the most contact. I figured this would put me in first place, at least that day, and it did.) and she was amused. I texted D#2 that I was running late to pick her up from school because I was at a pot shop. She was characteristically unfazed.

I’m resigned to the fact that I’m in a phase of life in which having the munchies means eating roasted vegetables,

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and an all-nighter means lying awake with insomnia. If that happens to you, I highly recommend Alyssa Mastromonaco’s hilarious memoir of working for the Obama Administration. You have her to thank for the tampon dispenser in the West Wing. (The book was $2 on Kindle a few days ago).

Committed to our Year of Saying Yes, fermenting is on the agenda this winter. I’ve noticed a interesting cross-over between my CBD friend demographic and the fermenter crowd. One of them took me all over Seattle’s International District in search of a fermenting jar and another told me about curtido. 

Here’s to bridging generations!

 

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The Year of Saying Yes

It seems like only yesterday I sat diligently picking nits from my daughters’ hair and sterilizing lice combs.

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Yet a few months ago, my focus shifted to a different pest. As I searched for a suitable New York hotel, I discovered that there is a national bedbug registry   that enables you to track the scourge in cities and in hotels. We were heading to New York for a family milestone. Daughter #1, who was in middle school and already done with lice when I started this blog, was headed to college.

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Welcome to the Big Apple!

I don’t have to tell you about the summer attempts to grab every last sweet bit of family time (tricky, since D#1 worked three jobs and had an active social life), the nest-spoiling moments (thankfully there were few of them), or the obligatory online, yet still overwhelming, visits to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Thanks to the Internet, no one need experience a milestone or Shark Week alone. There’s plenty that has been said about launching kids. My favorite college pieces this summer were this ode to move-in day written by Caitlin Flanagan, this take on the impending empty nest, and now that college has started, Frank Bruni’s Op Ed about college loneliness.

Every summer, I delight in seeing my friends’ vacation pictures on Facebook. This year, I enjoyed the college move-in day photos of kids I’d known since Kindergarten and the kids of my far-flung friends, real and virtual. As a friend pointed out in a comment thread, we’ve peppered our kids all over the country. Some of them might even end up meeting each other.

Several months ago, in preparation for our eventual empty nest (Daughter #2 is two years behind her sister), I suggested to Jeff that we follow the lead of TV maven Shonda Rhimes and practice “The Year of Saying Yes.” Anytime anyone invited the two of us to do something, we’d do it. Anytime we noticed an intriguing, yet intimidating possibility, we’d seize it.

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Jeff and I are relatively sedate people, so don’t expect tales of bungee jumping or Bacchanalian decadence to follow. Yes, we got tickets to Here Lies Love, but deterred by the review of a gay former club-goer, who said he got tired of standing, we opted to sit in the balcony rather than experience the show on the dance floor (mistake). Jeff took a very well-received stab at live storytelling. I helped organize media for the Seattle Womxns March. We got closer to selling our house and our moving fantasies expanded to include the serious prospect of island life (note that we still live in our residence of 21 years).

Despite a badly sprained ankle that had me in a boot for much of the summer, we and our dog did a lot of stand-up paddle boarding.

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We saw Michael Che perform stand-up comedy. I accepted several spontaneous invitations to author readings, and took on a new civic-focused volunteer role. We said Si! to a Bomba Estero concert, saw the play Fun Home, and spent hours standing in line to see the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum.

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I rode the Coney Island Cyclone.

Jeff rode the Coney Island Thunderbolt.

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Better him

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than

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me!

We started having impromptu dinner parties again and the other night… wait for it… we watched a movie and ate ice cream in bed.

I just received an email advertising Cannabis Gummie Bears.

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I think I’ll pass.

Under our noses, in preparation for the tough separation from her sister and the horror of being the sole object under the parental microscope, Daughter #2 was experiencing her own seismic shift. Without much fanfare, she got her drivers license (her older sister is convinced that Uber, transit, and the advent of self-driving cars will spare her that need), got a job, and started thinking about her own college search. Something shifted in the way we dealt with her. Mindful of how fleeting the next two years will be, we started cramming in every bit of advice, enjoyment, and exasperation, savoring almost every bit.

Then, came the eclipse.

Stay busy enough and you can forget things are about to irrevocably change. Do I stretch metaphor too far if I tell you that the day before D #1’s departure, as I donned my glasses and stole peeks at the ever receding sun in between bouts of packing, it was like experiencing a total eclipse of the heart?

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And then, before I knew it came an almost perfect week of family time in New York, which included Jeff’s birthday trip to the Storm King Art Center and dinner on the Hudson, the chaos that is move-in day, and a long airplane ride home.

Honestly, thanks to well honed texting habits, we hardly notice that D#1 is gone, but we are counting down the weeks till parents weekend. I have become quite fond of New York.

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Labor Day is over and, as has been my tradition for the past few years, today, my birthday, I am writing this blog for the first time in many months and baking myself a birthday cake. Since my lemon curd buddy is away at college, I’ve opted for a September classic — Marion Burros’ famous plum torte.

This is my new year and the time of year when I traditionally make my resolutions.

Many of us feel vulnerable now because of the state of our country and of the world, the ash that is raining down from the Seattle sky, the fact that our children are scattered to the winds, and that we are getting older and some of us are battling illness and sadness and the kind of change that is not cause for celebration.

Today, a friend who I met on my birthday, 27 years ago in Thailand, served me coffee, croissants, and fruit. Another brought me flowers and freshly caught crab.

The most important thing to say yes to, now more than ever, is each other.

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Losing my appetite

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Though it’s changing rapidly, I live in the kind of neighborhood where I often run into people I know— including people I once had something in common with who I may not have seen or spoken to for years. There’s something comforting about watching us all age from afar and watching our kids grow up. Now, many of the cars I see driving herkily-jerkily around the neighborhood are driven by kids I chaperoned on countless school field trips to the zoo. Daughter #1 and her peers have just committed to colleges to attend in the fall. Sunrise, sunset.

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Is this the little girl I carried?

A month or so ago, I ran into a person I hadn’t spoken to for years who, nonetheless, is part of my Facebook village. “I love all of your food postings,” she told me. “Believe or not, ” I confessed, “I haven’t felt like cooking much at all.” (In writing this post and reviewing my cooking photos over the past three months, I realize that “not feeling like cooking” for me, may not resemble “not feeling like cooking” for other people. But you get my drift).

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Case in point: A cake from Eat in My Kitchen, produced during my “not feeling like cooking phase.”

Writers have writers’ block and cooks can have cooking block. Sometimes the two can happen simultaneously, which is a bad thing for those of us who enjoy reading and writing food blogs. In my case, the cooking block came on gradually. To coincide with upping my fitness game, I’d embarked on a healthier eating campaign, trying to limit sugar and carbs. I told you about The Food Lover’s Cleanse, which is a terrific book for foodies who don’t want to compromise taste in pursuit of health. Do yourself a favor while there’s still time and make this rhubarb applesauce for your morning serving of steel cut oats. You won’t regret it.

You readers were almost treated to an entire blog post devoted to sardines, a healthy addition to our diets that I am struggling to embrace. When Jeff is out of town, I eat them for breakfast with scrambled eggs.

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When the cat’s away…

Even better is this recipe for sardine rillettes that makes you understand why French women don’t get fat, or at the very least gives you some insight into their mindset.

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Then my interest in cooking fizzled and I found myself wondering, “what’s the point?” Our family of four was often moving in different directions at dinner time and my kids are often not fans of my penchant for global flavors and healthy fare. We were in the middle of a stressful college decision swirl (which, I am happy to report, had a happy ending). Seattle experienced a record-breaking rainy season, replete with a persistent icy wind, which made venturing out to get ingredients unpleasant. For a number of reasons, from both a weather and a personal standpoint, it felt like spring would never arrive.

The return of inspiration came, as is often the case for me, through travel. Jeff, Daughter #1, and I went to New York on a college visit, and Daughter #2 went to France.

Though I grew up in New Jersey, this was my first trip back to New York City in 24 years and Daughter #2’s adventures in France brought back memories of my own personal, post-New Jersey awakening as a student there nearly 40 years ago. Before she left, I made gougeres and pear clafoutis for a French-inspired party, along with the aforementioned sardine rillettes, courtesy of Dorie Greenspan’s, Around My French Table.

There was no time in New York to taste everything I wanted, like giant soup dumplings, Brooklyn hipster Jewish food, or what is reported to be the world’s best rugelach (or at least the best in New York),

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or to pay a visit to Rao’s, Hot Bread Kitchen, Prune, or Blue Hill. I’m happy to report that we made it the iconic Katz’s delicatessen (of “I’ll have what she’s having” fame), where we enjoyed egg creams, pickles, blintzes, knishes, and Jeff dove into a fatty pastrami sandwich.

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Confession: I gave my leftover knishes to a homeless man outside of the restaurant. Jeff said he was probably hoping for pastrami.

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We went to Zabars,

and finally, FINALLY, my husband and daughter got to experience what pizza is supposed to taste like. No offense, Seattle. You do you.

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Enjoyed late at night in a Brooklyn pizzeria. Have I mentioned that I’ve rediscovered Billy Joel?

Back home again, inspired by getting out of my box and happy to have overcome one of three signficant hurdles we face, I slowly felt like cooking again. There were rhubarb scones  and almendrados for Easter and Passover,

inspiration from some newly acquired cookbooks (three scored at a sale table at a local bookstore and one which came to me for free from winning a contest)

and discovery of two new cooking communities.

As a freelancer, who works from home, often not speaking to another human creature all day, (until my daughters come home and core dump the outrages and triumphs of their days), social media is my portal to the outside world. Some time ago, I joined the Cookbook Junkies Facebook page, where I could cavort with my own kind, and I am a haphazard member of Eat Your Books (which is how I won Turkish Delights). Cookbook Junkies and Food 52 both have established Facebook cookbook groups, in which each month people share their experiences cooking from selected books. Food 52 happened to be cooking from Diana Henry’s Simple, a book I’d recently scored on sale. Usually a solo peruser of cookbooks, I never seem to get around to making even half of the recipes that catch my eye. I found it inspiring to see others’ postings, which stoked my creative juices and got me cooking again. Whatever else happens on Mother’s Day, I will finally get around to making Diana Henry’s Lemon Ricotta cake, which everyone has raved about.

After a promising day of sunshine, it’s another blah rainy day in Seattle, where today’s paper reports we’ve had nearly four feet of rain since October. Up much of the night fetching grass for a dog with indigestion, I missed morning boot camp, which usually fuels my day. It’s almost noon, I’m still in my PJs, I’ve got work to do, exercise to cram in (that ship has sailed), and a messy house and a crotchety computer to contend with. And don’t get me started on health care. I will take solace in the fact that I’ve got Lemon and Apricot Cinnamon Chicken with Orzo from Turkish Delights on the menu tonight and feel grateful that I’ve always got cooking to ground and comfort me. Even if my cooking muse sometimes goes on vacation, it’s nice to know she’ll eventually come back home.

A tale of two women

IMG_3261I know I’m not the only person who planned my court date around lunch —specifically a foray to Seattle’s famed Il Corvo, a handcrafted pasta joint in the downtown judicial corridor that is only open for weekday lunch and has lines streaming out the door and up the steep hill of James Street. I’d discovered the restaurant a year-and-a-half earlier while on jury duty. I may be the only juror to be disappointed that my service ended early, too soon for me to have a chance to try Il Corvo. Yesterday, that changed.

Over the past year, the pocket-sized restaurant’s fame has grown, dangerously some might say. Too often when a place gets this much hype, you end up disappointed. I’m happy to report that this was definitely not the case with Il Corvo. Nor was it the case with Salumi, the equally acclaimed and difficult to get into lunch spot owned by the kin of Mario Batali that I’ve only been to once, years ago. Lunch, American-style, has a rushed, snack-like feel to it. How often do we treat ourselves to a luxurious bowl of pasta or platters of cured meats or a steaming platter of biriyani in the middle of the day?

What brought me to municipal court was the culmination of months of a Kafkaesque battle  over two undeserved parking citations, one of which I never actually received. I won’t bore you with the details of the glitches in the online parking app that caused my problems or the months of letter writing and frustrating conversations with the parking collections people who kept losing my proof of payment and providing misleading information over the status of my case. The world has seemed off-kilter since November 8 and I was determined to right my particular injustice by having my day  in court.

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Returning home from a pleasant early morning lakeside workout on the day before my court appearance, my car was rear-ended and the young Latina woman who hit me fled the scene. I wasn’t surprised. Unlike me, a well-educated, middle-aged, well-off  white woman who could plan a court date around lunch, confident that I could plead my case before an understanding judge and have my parking fines reduced, the woman who hit me had everything to lose by contacting the police or the insurance company. My car and I were fine. The front end of her car was smashed in and smoking. Maybe she didn’t have insurance. Maybe she was undocumented. Maybe the father of her baby, mercifully unhurt in the crash, would beat her for the trouble she’d caused. Maybe there was no father and she was rushing to drop her baby off at daycare before heading off to a minimum wage job. Maybe I got scammed. I’ll never know.

After she hit me, I jumped out of my car to assess the situation and she came screaming, wild-eyed out of her car. “You’ve got to help me, ” she cried. “My baby. My baby.”

My heart ached for that baby, who looked up at me, placid and doe-eyed, from her carseat, seemingly unscathed . There was talk of calling 911 and of pulling out of traffic and meeting around the corner. I turned right and parked. The woman who hit me kept going, straight out of my life.

“Spend some time on a police force and you’ll never trust anyone,” said the officer who took my report, no doubt shaking his head because I’d neglected to snap a photo or write down the woman’s license plate details. But as any mother would understand, my first concern had been for the baby.

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Over our luxurious pasta lunch the next day, my wise friend E and I swapped stories. I told her about the accident and she told me about an elderly family member who is at risk of losing her home. We talked about the growing sense of vulnerability people have. “We need compassion for each other now more than ever,” E said.

Indeed, the judge who heard my case was full of compassion, apologizing for my ordeal and reducing my parking ticket fees enough so that, even with a nice pasta lunch and parking factored in, I still came out ahead.

I’m haunted by how things turned out for the woman who hit my car.

I’ve been fortunate, even amidst life’s ups-and-downs, to have faith in safety nets. But my confidence in them is wavering, especially for those less fortunate than me.

After my day in court, I joined members of my local Indivisible group (made up mostly of white, middle-aged women like me) to learn how we could  constructively help the fight to protect civil liberties, the environment, and the Constitution.

“Find the people who are directly impacted and vulnerable and tell us their stories,” our guest speaker advised.

This is a start.

Stressful times and Seattle’s coldest winter in 30 years cry out for comfort food. Inspired by a traveling family member, sending tantalizing photos and descriptions of her travels in Portugal and Spain, last Friday I decided we needed a simple, earthy paella to warm and soothe our souls.This recipe comes from the first cookbook from Moro, a delightful sounding restaurant in London that I hope to visit some day.

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Here’s the recipe. I hope you enjoy this bowl of comfort.

Moro’s Rice with Pork, Chorizo and Spinach

 

 

 

Something happened

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Dear Daughters #1 and #2,

You turned 18 and 16 this week — a week for the history books, and one that I hope marks your entry into a lifetime of civic engagement.

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Thank you, Cupcake Royale

You are too young to remember much about your maternal grandmother and you never had the opportunity to know your great-grandmother, a beloved teacher, community icon, and an early believer in the global community, who set an example for her family on how to live a service and values-oriented life. She lives on in all of us, especially you, Daughter #2, because you look so much like her. Thank you for the daily reminder that she is the woman I strive to be.

What would she be thinking, or more importantly, doing if she were alive today?

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Your grandmother was a political activist, a Jack Kennedy Democrat, active on her county election board and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1960. She was invited to Kennedy’s inauguration in January, 1961 but there was a blizzard that week and my older brother had the mumps. Nine months later, I was born, the product perhaps of redirected political zeal and idealism.

What would my mother be thinking, or more importantly, doing if she were alive today?

Though I grew up with women who believed in politics and service, I also grew up in the wake of Watergate. One of my first political questions was to ask a teacher whether he thought Richard Nixon should be “impaired.”

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an honest mistake

I’ll be honest with you. My peers and I were apathetic. Too young to protest the Vietnam war, though some of us wore POW/MIA bracelets, we were the first wave of the disillusioned. Watergate began the breakdown in trust of our political institutions. Ronald Reagan was elected the first time I voted for president. Many of us threatened to move to Canada then. Some of us disengaged politically, though concerns about nuclear energy and Africa sometimes united us. There were some memorable concerts.

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Though it felt like breakthroughs had occurred, on the feminism front, there were still battles to be fought. You think I’m from the Dark Ages when I tell you about being discouraged from wearing pants to work or having to take typing tests for jobs that had nothing to do with typing (tests the male candidates did not have to take). You perk up a bit when I tell you about my own experiences with reproductive rights, though you have no idea how much harder it was to talk about and obtain birth control than it is now. I haven’t told you about my experiences in Thailand and Russia, when the men I was with, some of whom I respected, abandoned the values they practiced at home and acted disrespectfully towards women. I haven’t told you about the countless times, while at work, a man said or did something blatantly sexual towards me. I haven’t wanted to admit that I shrugged it off, laughed uncomfortably, and looked the other way.

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As planes crashed into towers on 9/11, we went to your toddler music class, Daughter #1, where we briefly drowned out tragedy through song and I tried not to think of the world I had recently brought your baby sister into. We drove around all day, avoiding the television, but I couldn’t resist listening to the car radio. Ever intuitive, even at age 2, you, Daughter #1, asked me what was wrong. “Something happened,” I told you evasively.

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I’m not shielding you anymore. You are 18 and 16 and this is your future. Something happened and I want you to be confronted by it every day. How you choose to respond is up to you.

Yesterday, while marching with 130,000 or so people of Seattle, I talked with a woman my age about how this march was affecting us. “I snapped at my family this morning,” she admitted. “So did I, ” I told her. We agreed that the march, that the need to march had stirred up so much emotion and urgency within us. As many a sign conveyed at marches around the country, women our age are incredulous that we have to fight for our rights all over again.

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I’m interested in the multigenerational response to Trump and was lucky enough yesterday to have the opportunity to interview marchers of all ages, races, and genders to hear what they had to say. I heard anger and hope and pain and calls to action and solidarity and I felt better because of all of it. I have you both to thank for opening my eyes and my mind to what young people care about and the future they hope to create.

Maybe we have to have pivot points like this in history so that each generation can decide for itself what is worth fighting for. I can’t tell you what to fight for or how to fight for it. I can only tell you that I have been awakened from mid-life complacency and that I hope this is your political coming-of-age.

As you each take one step closer to adulthood, my hope is that you will never be apathetic and you will never allow anyone else to decide your destiny. Follow in the footsteps of your grandmother and great-grandmother and be the change you want to see in this world.

Happy Birthdays.

Love, Mom

Here’s one young  Seattle poet’s powerful response to our new government. You go, girl!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barack Obama and Me

There’s an urban legend that, in the wee hours of the night, as he works alone, striving for peace, prosperity, equity, and equality, Barack Obama allows himself to snack on seven almonds. Not six almonds and certainly not 10. Seven is the magic number.

If you’re a user of My Fitness Pal or any other calorie tracking system, you know that almonds are a virtuous snack. An ounce of them (approximately 24) has around 160 calories. They are chock full of protein and offer up the good kind of fat. At around 50 calories, seven almonds is a righteous snack. Very leader-of-the-free world appropriate.

“This is an example of the weird way that the press works,” Obama said, refuting the article that first raised awareness of his almond penchant. 

“All my friends were calling up, and they’re saying: ‘You know, this seems a little anal. This is kind of weird,’” he said. “And I had to explain to them, no, this was a joke.” He went on to say that when he leaves the White House, he may even eat up to 10 or 11 almonds in a sitting.

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Whoo hoo!

I’ve been thinking a lot about Obama, not just because he’s leaving office soon and we’ll all be sad to see him and his wonderful family go, but also because we both just turned 55. It’s been a milestone for me to have a president who is my age. His kids are roughly the same ages as mine too. Maybe in part because I can imagine wanting to hang out with him in college (actually, I can imagine having one deep conversation with him at a college party  and never recreating that magic again), I find Obama’s values, his history, his hopes for the future, and his taste in music and books all eminently relatable. I’d certainly like to hang out with him and Michelle now.

I spent many happy days this summer running while listening to Obama’s summer playlists on Spotify. Whether you agree or disagree with his politics, there’s no denying: the man is cool. (Though Joe Biden has a surprising reputation as a teen heartthrob, I have to say that I found his playlist rather stodgy.)

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55 is its own milestone and it makes turning 50 seem like child’s play. I’ve watched Obama poke fun at his graying hair and gaunt appearance, no longer the young agent of change he was when he took office. He’ll be an unemployed empty-nester soon, contemplating how he will fill his days. If he were like many older Americans with great career credentials and years of productivity ahead of him, he might struggle to find a job. And he might find some of today’s job titles bewildering, especially those that include the word “senior,” which often means two to three years of job experience.

Age discrimination is alive and well and it starts earlier and is more pervasive for women (surprise!).  The good news is there’s a budding awareness underway regarding views about older workers and the skills, experience, and clear-headedness they can bring to the workplace.

(I probably just damaged my own job prospects by admitting that I’m 55, but I’ve decided to own it).

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As I contemplated 55, I decided to embark on a health and fitness challenge to deal with the slow creep of pounds that have affixed themselves to my mid-section each year since I turned 50, made worse by a series of injuries that curtailed my workout routines.

I started eating almonds in groups of eight (Now I see I may have been misguided). I tried to drastically limit the amount of sugar I ate (so long, Skinny Cows and cocktails) and avoid most carbs. I bought a scale and discovered that the fancy new digital scale accuracy is just as erratic as the old school dial model was. Most important, I joined a new bootcamp.

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I’m an early morning outdoor bootcamp veteran, having spent a few years running around at 6 am, rain or shine, until a stress fracture in my sesamoid bone caused me to quit.This bootcamp takes the intensity up a notch or more. For one thing, it starts at 5:30, instead of 6:00. For another, it features lots of stairs.

FYI: Barack and Michelle get up early to work out and apparently Michelle can hold a four-minute plank.

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Admit it. You’re going to miss those arms.

Though getting up and out the door that early is a colassal drag (and is only going to get worse when the weather changes), and it’s hard for me to be present with my family after 8 pm, I’ve found the benefits of boot camp to go beyond the physical.

First, there’s the sunrise.

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Then, there’s the satisfaction of having accomplished a challenging feat long before most people have stared bleary-eyed into their first cup of coffee. I’ve noticed that I feel better equipped to deal with life’s challenges on boot camp days, for example, having the wherewithal to go through two years of parking receipts to prove to the collection agency that the parking ticket they claimed was unpaid (and for which I never received any notice) had in fact been paid on time.

I couldn’t have done that without bootcamp.

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We all know that exercise alone won’t get rid of those added pounds, sad news for a foodie like me. So I was thrilled to discover that the Bon Appetit seasonal cleanses, which I’d heard about but never tried, have been compiled into a wonderful book by Sara Dickerman.

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I don’t follow the plan, I just use these recipes and they are terrific. Think Ottolenghi light.

A benefit of aging is that I can see how far we’ve come from the days when I would eat absolutely awful tuna and tofu sandwiches while sitting in a closet watching a 16mm version of Purple Rain on my lunch hour at the film office where I worked.

Now, I can put delicious tofu chipotle mayonnaise on everything, sitting on a comfy living room couch binge-watching whatever I want on demand.

Here’s the recipe:

Chipotle Mayonnaise adapted from The Food Lover’s Cleanse by Sara Dickerman

3 black garlic cloves or 3 fresh garlic cloves (I just used fresh garlic. Black garlic is a caramelized version)

2-3 T canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (roughly 1-2 peppers)

2 t rice vinegar

8 oz. silken tofu (I’ve made it with regular tofu and it’s fine)

1 t fine sea salt

3 t canola oil

If using fresh garlic, boil a small pot of water, add garlic cloves, and blanch for one minute. Drain.

In a blender, whizz together the chipotles, garlic, and vinegar until chiles are roughly chopped. Add tofu, salt, and oil and blend for two minutes until smooth. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Trust me, it won’t last that long. 

The night before my birthday, we made an impromptu visit to a friend, who in turn, provided us with an impromptu healthy feast. She stuck a lit candle into a cucumber round  (but only because it would have melted the Terry’s dark chocolate orange ball she happened to have on hand) and she and Jeff serenaded me with the birthday song.

“Don’t worry about turning 55,” she advised. “It’s just a speed limit.”

It took me a few blissful minutes before I remembered… so is 35.

I’ll say it again: the man is cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lemonade

I can’t predict how many times I will forgetfully attempt the innocent act of turning on the faucet in the kitchen sink and end up feeling like an urban kid seeking relief during a sweltering summer in the 1950s.

fire hydrantWhile others are sipping cafe cortado in Spain, hiking the Pacific Crest trail, or otherwise enjoying leisurely pastimes, we are experiencing The Summer of Broken Things (to drive that point home, as I typed Summer, the R on my computer keyboard came loose).

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Todays’ surprise; tonight’s fix-it project.

To put things in perspective, none of these things are dire and they pale in comparison to the truly devastating tragedies that have befallen a number of people we know, and the horrifying events that have occurred around the world and in our country this year.

But they are wearying nonetheless and require a roll-with-the-punches, good-humored optimism (and lots of duct tape) that can be hard to sustain. These challenges kind of remind me of the aches and pains that interfere with my exercise. Go to boot camp or go running and end up with a stress fracture in the foot. Substitute swimming laps, only to become a landlubber recuperating from gallbladder surgery. Recover from everything, start doing the elliptical and barre classes, and suddenly wake up each morning with painful middle finger knuckles.

When the faucet went crazy, after a nice sunny afternoon at a lake and an amusing car ride home listening to Jessi Klein’s hilarious breakup story on The Moth, Daughter #1 said, in a world-weary way, “That’s just the kind of thing that would happen to our family.”

I get where she was coming from, but nonetheless, I was taken aback.

Yes, the oven is broken and (because I’m currently unemployed) Jeff has decided we should wait until the end of the summer to replace it, so we can recover from the unexpected car repair bills for his high-maintenance European ride and my stalwart cockroach of a 16-year-old Toyota minivan, which defies death time and time again, remaining more cost-effective to fix than replace (despite the fervent wishes of Daughters #1 and #2 and myself).

The gas grill died a while ago too, so our cooking options have been reduced to stovetop and our old charcoal Weber grill, resurrected from the shed and ceremoniously adorned with a new cooking grate.

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Heroic Jeff has spent many a night watching DIY videos on YouTube and then taking apart the clogged dishwasher, and replacing the headlights and taillights (which went out on a harrowing rainy night five-hour drive home over the mountains) and dome light in my minivan. To be fair, at least once I cleaned out and scrubbed the refrigerator in a show of moral support.

A bunch of little appliances, like our home phone and the all-important hair straightener, have been on the fritz. The computer no longer talks to the printer and Netflix comes and goes. I’ve glued the R back on the computer keyboard several times.

By fixing these things ourselves or doing without, I thought we were modeling resilience and prudence, defying the disposable society. Michelle Obama (and even Melania Trump) would applaud the values we are passing on to our kids.160719005412-melania-trump-michelle-obama-composite-large-169

After all, summer is the perfect time to get creative and be oven-free, finally getting around to grilling fava beans and making panna cotta instead of baking berry pies and cobblers.

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panna cotta

 

 

Summer calls for experimentation and improvisation, as in the fig, orange blossom, and cornmeal pancakes I concocted one morning  (But the scones, something inside of me still cries on Sunday mornings. What about the scones?). You can be lazy in the summer, or you can kick it up a notch and make cardamom rosewater ice tea.

Most important, summer is a time of simple pleasures.

Mosier Mt. Hood Mosier sunset Bow hike Palouse falls Eliote Fideos Mirror Lake

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One night, after a disappointing day, I cried bitter, frustrated tears and watched Inside Out with my family. Had the oven been working, I would have baked brownies, which are the just the thing at a time like that. But I knew I could always rely on a microwave baked chocolate chip cookie in a cup. The next morning, I dusted myself off and moved hopefully onward.

I had intended to ask Daughter #1 what she meant by her comment about being “that kind of family,” when I picked her up from work, but we were listening to Donald Trump’s acceptance speech and somehow, an overzealous, undirected kitchen faucet seemed like the least of our worries.

But her words made me reflective. 2016 feels like an annus horribilus on so many levels, I can see why a person might feel pessimistic. From a personal standpoint, I remember how guilty I felt when we were the ones enjoying cafe cortado in Spain. Given the current state of the world and some of the personal challenges we’ve weathered over the past two years, I no longer feel guilty, just grateful, lucky, and glad to have those memories (and my tinto de verano recipe) to fall back on.

How sweet it is.

How sweet it is.

So how does resilience differ between midlife and emerging adulthood?

In her book, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife, author Barbara Bradley Hagerty suggests that attitude and perspective make all the difference. I’d add history to the mix. I can look back over our 20-year marriage and recall that Jeff and I have owned three dishwashers, battled rats and raccoons, survived the chronic illness of a toddler, handled my mother’s terminal illness, and battled lice several times, including discovery of an infestation on the day of my mother’s death at our home, when the cat barfed on the only remaining untainted bedsheets and I spent that day mourning and doing laundry. We DIY remodeled not one, but two bathrooms, and replaced a shattered refrigerator shelf, yet our marriage survived intact. I thought all was lost when Ronald Reagan was elected president. I had no idea…

For a 17-year-old, who has lived in the same 100-year-old house her entire life, it’s easy to focus on what’s broken. The current inflammatory rhetoric and shocking displays of violence reinforce that mindset. With growing political awareness and just a few months shy of being able to vote in her first presidential election, D #1 is disgusted and scared about the future. My daughters’ cohort has loosely been coined Generation Z or, more hopefully, “The Founders,” serving as the bridge to a more hopeful era.  For their sake, I hope that’s true.

At 11:30 one night, huddling mournfully together, having attended a poignant, beautiful memorial for a boy who left his family and friends much too soon, Daughter #2 remembered the lemonade that had been served at the service. Shaken by loss, she hadn’t been able to eat for several days, but had been able to manage that bittersweet lemonade.

I heard a whirring sound from the kitchen and walked in to find this, courtesy of Jeff:

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I’d like to think that that’s the kind of family we are.

Speaking of history and perspective:

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  1. There is a garden vegetable soup I used to make when we and our friends found ourselves in times of trouble. Recently I had the occasion to make it again. It comes from The New Basics Cookbook, a compendium of standards from the brains behind The Silver Palate gems. I hope you can read this recipe:

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2. When I was a frazzled new mother, on the cusp of 40, with a baby and a toddler, one of the many books that gave me solace was The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Marriage, and Motherhood. Among other things (like the companion book, The Bastard on the Couch: 27 Men Try Really Hard to Explain Their Feelings About Love, Loss, Fatherhood, and Freedom) it spawned the New York Times Modern Love column, which now has a terrific podcast

I recently learned that The Bitch is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier, will be published in late September. I can’t wait to read it.

3. Escaping the ills of the world, I went to Pike Place Market the other day and, among other things, bought a romanesco.

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Do yourself a favor and make this dish from the Los Angeles restaurant, Gjelina.

4. Happy 20th anniversary, Mr. Fix-it!  Wanna go oven shopping with me?

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Advocacy and Conflict Around Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

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Last weekend, the TED Radio Hour devoted its program to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Maslow developed his ideas as part of a 1943 paper on human motivation. Though the rankings have been criticized since then (note that apparently Maslow himself never actually used a pyramid to represent them), breaking down the different components of human motivation can be useful.

Though I studied international relations and diplomacy, a field that benefits from a frank understanding of the drivers of human behavior, I’d never encountered Maslow or his theories until fairly recently. I was introduced to them while editing a paper written by a brilliant out-of -the-box thinker in the education technology field.

Recently I’ve found myself thinking about the hierarchy of needs and what happens when the different needs of different groups conflict. Though I’d encountered this many times in passionate debates about education reform, this time my reasons for considering the clash of human motivation were more personal.

A few weeks ago, I was attacked at around 10:30 in the morning in the parking garage of our neighborhood library. The perpetrator had attacked a woman in an office building before coming into the garage, menacing a mother with two young children on the way to story time, and then trapping and groping me. The attack drew my attention to the increase of crime and homelessness in my previously sedate neighborhood and to the plight of addiction and homelessness in Seattle that has led our mayor to declare a State of Emergency. Last May, I was frustrated by our efforts to have the den of heroin-using squatters evicted from the vacant house next door, which was slated for development. Eventually the people were kicked out, but the police refused to remove the drug paraphernalia. Now, as a matter of course, you can find used syringes littering the green spaces of our neighborhood.

In the days and weeks following my attack, a drug-addled man tried to cut the throat of a local business owner with a shard of glass, a beloved elderly school crossing guard was attacked at a grocery store and later died from his injuries, a body was found near a dumpster, and there was an increase in car and house break-ins. One sunny Saturday, around ten days after my physical attack, I was verbally abused without provocation while walking my dog near the woods where I often go running alone. Shaken by the experience, I confided in a neighbor, who put me in touch with another neighbor who has been speaking out about public safety. I learned that neither of them goes running in the woods anymore. For the record, I haven’t either since the attack.

A small thoughtful group in my neighborhood and its environs has been speaking out about public safety, and this has earned them the derision of a local blogger who accuses them of suffering from a NIMBY (not in my backyard) mindset towards troubled populations. As is typical these days, the fights on social media can get vicious. During a neighborhood walking tour with one of those advocates and our city councilman’s legislative aide, he challenged her when she asked what sort of outreach and monitoring the city had in place for its growing homeless population, especially when lawlessness ensues. “We have to respect people’s right to self-determination,” he told her. Following that line of reasoning, preserving one person’s need for self-actualization could threaten another person’s need for safety.

For the record, the city does reach out to the homeless population, but lacks adequate resources for everyone. Some have called for a mind shift in determining  the hierarchy of needs of at-risk populations.

The hierarchy of needs plays out in so many domains. My 11th grade daughter complains that her Humanities class is less interesting this year because it’s a repeat of the constant cycle of suppression and uprising that has played out around the world since time immemorial. Whenever my kids complain about a peer’s objectionable behavior, I remind them that most people want to feel “important and included,” advice about the youthful hierarchy of needs that we learned years ago in a class about weathering middle school.

Nicholas Kristof and others have penned mea culpas for contributing to the meteoric rise of Donald Trump. The media bears responsibility, said Kristof, not only for giving Trump unprecedented airtime and not adequately fact-checking him, but also for failing to take seriously the concerns of working class Americans, who have felt marginalized.

The 1 percent versus everyone else. Black versus white. LGBT versus straight. Law enforcement officials versus citizens. Freedom of speech versus racism and oppression. Everywhere you look it seems that to meet the needs of one group you must sacrifice the needs of another.

Writer Gregg Easterbrook, author of  The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, says that pessimism has became mainstream, despite the fact that, for the most part, things are getting better. He’s calling for a return to progressive optimism. Easier said than done.

Accused of being an optimist recently, I now wear that badge with honor. What helps me retain my optimism is that, however you want to categorize and prioritize our needs, the common threads that bind humanity are the desire for safety, shelter, food, freedom of expression, love, and a sense of belonging.

My attacker is back on the streets, so I avoid the park where he hangs out, which is across the street from a mission that serves breakfast to the homeless and a nearby urban rest stop, both of which are trying to deal with ballooning populations. The library is adding lighting to its parking garage, but notes that several patrons have said they don’t feel safe in the building anymore. I’m educating myself and speaking out about the need to coordinate our city’s approach to addiction, homelessness, and public safety, so that everyone’s needs are taken into consideration.

Until we adequately address marginalization, in its many forms, we’ll have bigotry and shootings and bombings and Internet trolls, and lawlessness, frustration, fear, and pessimism.

There’s no immediate solution, but as a start, maybe we should all carry around pocket-sized copies of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruuuuuuuuce!

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I’m sharing a piece I just published revisiting the America Dream through the lens of a Bruce Springsteen concert and presidential politics.

http://crosscut.com/2016/03/in-seattle-bruce-springsteen-resurrects-an-old-american-dream/

Here’s a snipped from the show, which was packed with happy mid-lifers. It was four hours of unadulterated joy.