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.


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.)


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).

Chris Rock 2.jpg

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.


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.


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.

boot camp.JPG

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.


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.


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.








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).


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.

homer bbq.jpg

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.


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


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:


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

Speaking of history and perspective:


  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:

garden soup

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.

foodie tear

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?

mr fix-it










Miles to Go Before I Sleep

still life icepack

Still life with icepack

Welcome, 2016, from my perch on the love seat in my sun room, where I lay, knee elevated and iced, following an ill-considered evening body circuit class at my neighborhood gym.

This isn’t a case of overzealous New Year’s resolution implementation. In fact, my resolutions, such that they are, are to 1) make peace with and enjoy the aging process; 2) try to eat whole foods and exercise every day; 3) not make a big deal about it if I don’t.

My current injury is the result of mixing things up a bit. Formerly a dedicated early morning exerciser, I’ve been having trouble bouncing out of bed at 5:30, as I did last year, to attend chilly and dark outdoor boot camp, or 6:00, as I’ve been doing this year, to swim at our grimy neighborhood pool. Frustrated at not “catching the worm” these first few days back at school and work, I decided to sleep in and give evening exercise a try.

Sleep has been eluding me. At the risk of oversharing, but in keeping with the truthful spirit and subject of this blog, I’ll confess that night sweats are keeping me awake. In a funny sort of role reversal, my “chill” husband and I remain temperature incompatible, only these nights he’s the one snuggled up under blankets and I’m the one who has thrown them off, as if sleeping in a tropical paradise.

Phyllis 2

When insomnia strikes, I know some say you should get out of bed and be productive, but the looming 6:00 a.m. alarm is a deterrent. Instead, I prefer reading. And in deference to the aforementioned chill husband, I read on my Kindle so I don’t wake him up.

This fall I happily read my way through the four books that comprise Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Stories. Once I had finished them, I was at a loss for what to read next. Though the Kindle was full of tantalizing possibilities, I just couldn’t commit to any one of them. Instead, I indulged in my favorite dorky night time habit — trolling the Kindle daily deals for a $1.99 book that would catch my fancy. I found it in former New York Times food writer Mimi Sheraton’s massive compendium, 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die.

1,000 foods

Want to cure your insomnia? Try reading about baked calves’ brains with seasoned bread crumbs, apparently an Italian delicacy, or Ezra Tull’s gizzard soup (inspired by Hungarian bechinalt). Did you know the Swiss have cookies named for ladies’ thighs (one wonders how this was received by the wife of the chef who created them) or that schmaltz  (rendered poultry fat) used to be highly desirable? As desirable as wild pistachio tree sap, as a matter of fact.

The 1,000 page tome is arranged geographically, starting with Europe (broken down by language groups). Next comes  a transition section called “Jewish.” I read that section in early December and was inspired to bake my own bialys (Mimi Sheraton, who has a taste for interesting book projects, is also the author of The Bialy Eaters, and you can find her recipe for bialys at


Each sleepless night I bounced between disgust, boredom, fascination, and inspiration, as I made my way through the world of food. It won’t surprise you to know that the Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern section is one of my favorites in the book. It was there I discovered Ash-e-Anar, Persian Pomegranate soup. How had I overlooked that recipe in my copy of Louisa Shafia’s The New Persian Kitchen? Two nights before Christmas, as the wind and rain howled and hammered outside, four soothing, tangy bowls of this unctuous delight graced our dinner table.

pomegranate soup

I can’t say for sure, but I imagine  I slept like a baby that night.

Last night I was awakened at 3 am, not by night sweats, but by the pain in my knee. I knew I should ice and elevate it and take some more Ibuprofen, but my cat had just settled on top of me and I feared I would not be able to get down or back up our stairs.

So I turned to that guy with whom I made vows 20 years ago and whispered his name. He was snuggled up under the covers in a deep, untroubled sleep, but he instantly awoke and uncomplainingly went downstairs. He returned with Ibuprofen, water, an ice pack,  a towel, and pillows, then got back into bed and instantly fell back asleep. Must be nice.

As for me, I’m up to the Caribbean now. While I waited for the drugs to kick in, I read about callaloo, a spicy dish of stewed greens that apparently has the power to induce any man who eats it to propose to the woman who prepared it.


Pay careful attention to the vows

I believe in the power of food. I lured my man with mangoes. And tonight, I’ll soothe my throbbing knee and tired soul with Persian Pomegranate Soup. Later, if I can’t sleep, I have conch fritters and pina coladas to look forward to.

At the start of the new year, the Kindle Daily Deals were particularly good.  I scored Jonathan Franzen’s Purity and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, two books I’ve been longing to read. I took a break from my nighttime culinary roaming to read Elizabeth Alexander’s beautiful, poignant memoir of marriage, friendship, and loss. The Light of the World features a few recipes from Ficre Ghebreyeus, Alexander’s Eritrean husband, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 50. Realizing that she and her children must leave the home they’d shared with Ficre, Alexander turns to a recipe for comfort. Though Ficre is no longer there, she can make his spicy red lentil and tomato curry and retain a part of him, wherever she goes.

Ash-E-Anar (Pomegranate Soup) from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia

serves 6-8


3 T grapeseed oil ( I often use olive oil)

1/2 yellow onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 c split peas

1 t ground turmeric

2 t ground cumin

8 cups vegetable stock or water (I’ve used chicken stock)

1/2 c pomegranate molasses

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

seeds of 1 pomegranate

1 c thick Greek yogurt


1/2 yellow onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb lean ground lamb (I’ve used ground turkey and ground pork)

2 T minced flat-leaf parsley

2T cilantro

2 T minced mint

2 t sea salt

To make soup, heat oil in a large pot and cook onion for 10 minutes, until it starts to brown. Add garlic, split peas, turmeric, cumin and stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, partially covered, for 1 1/2 hours, until legumes are tender and soup is slightly thick.

To make meatballs, combine all ingredients in a large bowl, then form into walnut-sized balls.

When split peas are tender, add pomegranate molasses to the pot, then drop in meatballs and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, till they are cooked through.

Season soup with salt and pepper. Serve in bowls garnished with pomegranate seeds and yogurt.

Vegetarian option:

Follow recipe, omitting meatballs. Along with split peas, add 1/2 c lentils, 1/2 dried mung beans, 1/2 c pearled barley, and 1 large bee, peeled and diced. Use 12 cups stock or water. When beans and barley are tender, add pomegranate molasses and 1 bunch chopped cilantro.










Laundry, Labneh and Lablabi

laundryThough it may be more satisfying when life imitates art, a person can derive a certain amount of pleasure when the equation goes the other way.

Art imitated life in a big way last month the night I returned home from a day that began at 4:30 a.m. and culminated in me having my gallbladder removed. There was the surgery prep, the surgery itself, of which I blissfully remember nothing, and the day spent in the hospital doing my utmost to pee out the copious fluids retained by my body so that I could go home.


They say hospitals are the great equalizer and it’s true that once you shed your clothes, don your scrubs and present your arm to have blood drawn, you could be anybody. Looking around the waiting room in the pre-dawn hours, I detected no racial, age or socio- economic divides. Those of us slated to go under the knife sat nervously surrounded by our loved ones, who looked even more nervous than we did. When the nurse called the name of the African-American mother sitting nearby in the waiting room, whose husband had chosen that minute to run back down to the parking garage, we shared a knowing look. What was she supposed to do with her son, old enough to sit by himself for a few minutes, but perhaps nervous that his mom was having surgery?

Later, I heard that woman cracking jokes in the anesthesia corral, a jolly circular set-up where we pre-opees sat behind curtains meeting our surgeons and anesthesiologists, donning our lunch lady-like surgical caps and getting our IV portals installed, amidst the cheerful banter between staff and patients.


I’d been told that surgeons are not known for their bedside manner, and in fact, what you really want is someone with nerves of steel, not a good personality. But, having never had surgery before,  I wanted a surgeon with a stellar reputation who I’d also be comfortable with. Selecting Mr. Right gave me a taste of what online dating must be like, but with much higher stakes. I  wanted my surgeon to be interested in more than just my body; I wanted him to think of me as a person. (I’ve since been advised that it’s better for surgeons to have laser focus on the job at hand, rather than getting distracted thinking about the person they are cutting open).

Must love dogs

Must love dogs

My post-surgery hospital roommate was a well-bred woman of a certain age in the midst of what she called a “clusterfuck.” A planned procedure, for which she had fasted, had been postponed and now she was trapped hungrily alone in the hospital with no idea when her test would be conducted. “They overbooked the operating rooms,” she complained to a friend on the phone, adding, “with gallbladder surgeries.” Had the woman been younger, this would have been the perfect opportunity for her to use the “vocal fry,” the new female speech phenomenon that’s currently getting lots of attention.

“I’m dying for an iced latte,” we heard her lament to her friend, “but they won’t let me leave my room to go get one.” Despite her gallbladder-inspired resentment, we decided to be the bigger people. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help overhearing,” Jeff said gallantly, pulling away the curtain that divided us. “I’d be happy to buy you a latte.”

As the day wore on and her latte kicked in, she was cheering me on every time I attempted to pee. When finally, I’d produced enough liquid to earn my release and was triumphantly getting dressed, she spied my trusty old black Dansko sandals, which I’ve learned over the years inspire cult-like loyalty, “I have those sandals! I love them!


Women’s shoes, another great equalizer

Exhausted after a long day and loopy on medication, I returned home to test-drive my gallbladder-free digestive system with blueberry pancakes, while watching Orange is the New Black, which does a great job of illustrating prison as a great equalizer. And that, my friends, is when I laughed so hard my incisions ached, my abdominal muscles ached, everything ached but I kept on laughing anyway.

SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T YET FINISHED SEASON 3: What are the odds that the night you return home from gallbladder surgery, you’ll watch an episode featuring a back story about the illegal trading of bear gallbladders on the Chinese black market? What are the odds that the concluding scene of the show would feature a scene in which henchmen, having beaten someone to a bloody pulp, would turn to their mistress and ask, ” What else should we do to him?”

chang gallbladder

Needless to say, I appreciated my deft and gentle surgeon, who really does have a nice personality, though when I told him about this funny coincidence at my post-op visit, he said “I’m not familiar with that show.” Barring any complications, he told me we would not be seeing each other again.


In the weeks before the surgery, I’d delighted in cooking Lebanese dishes from Maureen Abood’s book Rose Water & Orange Blossoms, my pre-surgery present to myself. Can a person ever have too many Za’atar Roasted Tomatoes or too much Butter Lettuce with Walnut Vinaigrette?  I think not.

Home recuperating in a post-op haze during the first of Seattle’s summer heat waves, I wanted to take the opportunity to cook. Dork that I am, I’ve long been looking forward to a block of unfettered time so that I could make labneh, which is basically just Greek yogurt strained so that the whey is removed, yielding what some refer to as cheese and others call dip. It really doesn’t take much attention, just time.


Maureen Abood has a recipe in her book, which goes into some detail about the different methods of straining yogurt, yielding different consistencies and products. David Lebovitz has one too and so does Food 52. I made a hybrid of the three, though omitted the lemon juice suggested by Food 52. The whey accumulating in the bottom of the bowl as the yogurt strained made a good conversation piece.

Jeff and I had recently been to a Seattle restaurant with great outdoor seating (a rarity here). When he ordered a whiskey sour, he was told somewhat pretentiously we thought, that instead of the usual egg whites you find in deluxe whiskey sours (that’s not the way our indomitable Auntie Julia taught us to make them), the restaurant made theirs with whey leftover from their homemade yogurt. He decided to have a beer instead. When it arrived, I pointed to the substantial head of foam floating on top and suggested it was revenge whey. 



While I had time on my hands, I also decided to make Lablabi, from a Wall Street Journal article I’ve been saving for the past four years. It was nurturing and good, but made me contemplate the road not taken. Recipe horder that I am, why hadn’t I been smart enough to come up with the idea of writing a weekly food blog featuring recipes I’d clipped from newspapers and magazines, like that smart and now famous Wednesday Chef?

The rest of the time I did laundry, my favorite chore, in a fruitless attempt to help Daughter #2 deal with her “floordrobe” and lay in the hammock reading.

I knew my recuperation was over the night I had to jump into the intrepid, indestructible old minivan to rescue Jeff, whose newer, fancier ride had conked out.  And just like that, life returned to normal.

In the wake of the broken foot and the gallbladder liberation, I’m feeling kind of like that minivan these days. My foot hurts, my side tweaks and… (you Jimmy Buffett fans can fill in the blank).  But as I get back into the swing of things and try to figure out what kind of exercise I can do, I’m fully confident I’ll be roaring again soon.

I’m Just Like Gwyneth. Except When I’m Not.

Let’s start by stating the obvious. Gwyneth Paltrow would never let more than two months elapse without updating her blog.


Bad for the brand.

I’ve been thinking about personal branding lately and, of course, about Gwyneth, because how could you not? For the lonely writer, social media is our water cooler. Gwyneth’s announcement of her split from husband Chris Martin has dominated social media over the past few days, but even better are the writers who have posted insightful and funny retorts to Gwyneth’s comments about “conscious uncoupling” and difficulties of life on a movie set in Wisconsin.

Others have responded so much better than I could, but I will just say, as someone with two jobs, kids doing three sports and and a husband who thinks I have all the time in the world to get his international drivers permit, life on a movie set in Wisconsin with 14 hours of uninterrupted focus on one goal sounds pretty good right now.

wisconsin cheese

Actually, I’ve been on something of a Gwyneth kick lately, exercising regularly, sticking to 1500 calories a day, snacking on cauliflower with bagna cauda and generally trying to maximize my potential.

But years of attempts at personal growth and personal stomach shrinkage have yielded an important realization: I’m good for about three weeks.

Three weeks is the maximum stretch I can regularly run, do yoga and Tabata, limit myself to one glass of wine with dinner, accomplish my professional and personal tasks with aplomb, volunteer at school, take the dog out regularly for long walks, drive carpool, manage the carpool Google calendar, make healthy dinners that everyone actually likes, drive to and from soccer practice and get enough sleep.



Three weeks. Then, something’s got to give.

I just listened to a piece on NPR about male coming-of-age rituals in Kenya. Boys are circumcised at age 13, in an elaborate ritual that involves pulling the penis through the foreskin and then tying the foreskin into a bow. Though I don’t have male equipment, my knee-jerk reaction is ouch. Prior to the ceremony, the boy’s face is caked with mud, which dries into a hardened mask. During the ceremony he is supposed to remain perfectly still. If he flinches or reacts in any way, the mud will crack and he will be branded a “sissy” for life.


Three weeks later

Three weeks later

That’s how Gwyneth Paltrow’s brand of “aspirational” (my new, most-hated word) lifesyle strikes me. I admire the effort to be perfect, but aspire to the more realistic, trickle-down effects of trying to do your best and settling for achieving your personal best, whatever that is, at any given time, with whatever you’ve got going on in your life.

Eventually, the mud will crack

Eventually, the mud will crack

In the months that I’ve contemplated what I wanted to write about next, two pieces served as inspiration. One was a much reviled piece by New York Times writer David Brooks called The Thought Leader, in which he paints a grim picture of the life cycle of a certain type of self-satisfied intellectual.

The other, which ran a few months later in The Atlantic, is called The Narcissistic Injury of Middle Age. As we age, the writer argues, we may find it hard to accept that not just our looks, but also our ideas, are discounted in favor of the young. Wisdom and experience are no longer at a premium, especially in an age of self-absorption.

I found the happy medium in a New Yorker essay by Roger Angell. This Old Man is an account of Life in the Nineties. If you are short on time, stop reading this blog immediately and read that instead.

Wisdom is not dead.

Yes, feminists, I realize I have just cited three works by men. This past week there has been a trove of good stuff written in commemoration of Gloria Steinem’s 80th birthday. I am well aware that wisdom and reflection are not solely the domains of those who have endured penis-centric coming-of-age rituals.


In the past week, I had two contrasting experiences which provided food for thought. The first was the day I spent interviewing third-generation longshoremen on the docks of a busy container shipping terminal. I learned about the values that had shaped them and how they pass these on to the younger generation. The second was lunch in a beautiful penthouse apartment listening to academics and followers of the Dalai Lama talk about ways to bring “secular ethics” into schools.

Both groups were equally aspirational and I guess you could call them both “thought leaders.” And both, though they used different terminology, were essentially trying to accomplish the same thing.

The getting and passing down of wisdom is an important aspect of the human condition and a key tenant of some religions. Blogs and brands and Twitter accounts notwithstanding, it’s generally assumed that wisdom is something that makes an appearance on the heels of experiences, which are accumulated throughout the course of one’s life. There’s no right way to do it and no one time when you’ve got it all figured out.

It’s a solitary and individual experience.

Because we are treading into heavy, preachy Gwyneth-like territory here, please take a moment to watch this video.

I’ve jumped back on my Gwyneth regimen today (because I have three weeks before departing for Spain, where I will happily get off the virtue wagon). And here’s how my day has shaped up so far:

Up at 6:30 to rouse a tired teen who had been at a dance the night before and take her in the pouring rain to meet the bus for her track meet. We stopped at a coffee shop on the way. Didn’t I feel virtuous eating a Morning Glory muffin to take the edge off, so I could attend an 8:30 a.m. power yoga class.

Here’s the thing about that yoga class. I used to do yoga at a trendy studio with lots of young, attractive people in great looking yoga threads, who liked to do handstands and Bird of Paradise and Side Crow and probably use the word aspirational a lot.

gwyneth yoga

Now I do yoga at our friendly, affordable neighborhood gym with a bunch of regular looking people of all ages, shapes and sizes and a teacher who plays great music. I’m not much for the woo-woo aspects of yoga, but every now and then, something the teacher says sticks. Today he reminded us not to worry about how we looked. “Nobody’s looking at you,” he reminded us. “They’re all too busy focusing on themselves.”

Confession: I look at other people all the time in yoga and sometimes, like when my shirt is riding up over my belly, I worry that they are looking at me too. I don’t judge, but I aspire to look like those beautiful older women who look like they’ve stepped out of an Eileen Fisher catalogue.

between friends yoga

I’ll finish this blog post and then, because I’m not on a movie set in Wisconsin,  I’ll go out again in the rain and drive for 40 minutes to pick up Daughter #1 from her track meet. She’s likely to be self-critical about how she did and how she looked and, on the long drive home, I will dispense the wisdom that I, and so many others struggle to remember in this increasingly connected, always on-display world.

Last night, as I drove D#1 to a high school dance, (about as aspirational a venue as you’ll ever find),carrie

the streets of downtown Seattle were filled with people in costume heading into Comicon. We joked about how high school dances are a lot like fan conventions, with people dressing in character and finding their group. “But fandoms aren’t judgy,” (a word I have come to love) she reminded me. “Everyone dresses and acts the way they want to, and nobody gives them a hard time.”







In thinking about aspiration and wisdom and perfection and Real Life, I got to thinking about Roseanne Barr. Have you seen her lately? She looks pretty good. She’s got the relaxed look of someone who has been on her version of the Gwyneth-Go-Round and has figured out that perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Maybe Roseanne should be the next Thought Leader of something I’m calling the “Lighten Up” movement. She’ll remind us all to relax, eat pasta and Girl Scout cookies and wear inexpensive drawstring pants if we need to.

If our mud cracks, it should be from laughter, not pain or self-sacrifice.


Not that I’ve been doing much cooking because of all those sports practices, but my absolute favorite new recipe is this aspirational, yet indulgent, Turkish Poached Eggs in Yogurt, courtesy of Saveur magazine.

This is not a perfect picture, but hey, nobody’s perfect.





Cold Feet: The Thyroid Chronicles, Part I

I’ll start by telling you that I suffer from latrophobia, fear of going to the doctor.  Though I haven’t undergone counseling to figure out the root causes, I think this fear took hold during childhood.  Growing up in a tumultuous household, I was a bedwetter, and I found it humiliating that during my annual physical, Dr. E felt compelled to “examine” my nether regions, looking, I assume, for signs of rash. In those days you didn’t question doctors and parents didn’t ask kids about their feelings.  Even though for many years, on the eve of my check-up I would parade around the house with homemade picket signs which read:

I HATE DR. E!!!!!!!

my mother didn’t pick up on my discomfort or, if she did, didn’t think it was worth alleviating.

It was the mid-1960s, after all.

(You’ll be happy to know this is one of the issues we resolved on her deathbed.  Dr. E was apparently a celebrated pediatrician and my mother thought she was acting in my best interests).

When I became an adult, I dreaded going to the doctor for a different reason:  the weigh-in.  In some crazy, retro, pre-feminist way, I managed to transform what is supposed to be a partnership caring for and maintaining my body/machine into a self-created moral test of my character.

Even though I’m older and wiser now, I still avoid going to the doctor unless I am in desperate need of a Z-pack of antibiotics, have a sports-related injury or am having my annual Pap smear or mammogram (they don’t weigh you for those).

In other words, I don’t get an annual physical.

When I first started noticing that my body seemed different, I assumed the ravages of age and perimenopause were taking hold.

Certain friends who shall remain nameless here have gained a bit of weight around the middle, many have joked about forgetfulness (including my dear friend C., who forgot to feed my cats over Labor Day weekend.  They were hungry for more than just affection when we got home). Broken nails, my friends have seen a few.  Let’s face it, we’re not as young as we used to be.

Reference material nerd that I am, earlier this year I felt compelled to purchase Dr. Christiane Northrup’s book The Wisdom of Menopause and keep it on my bedside table for a little light reading about hormonal changes. As I read through the section on mid-life weight control, something in Step Five:  Get Your Thyroid Checked jumped out at me.

Cold Feet

My feet are always cold, even in summer.  As I read through the rest of the possible signs of hypothyroidism, I realized most of them could apply to me. (It kind of reminded me of one of those quizzes in Cosmopolitan:  Ten signs that tell you he’s cheating.  By the time you finish taking the quiz, you are convinced that he is).

I added getting my thyroid checked to my mental medical to-do list, along with the colonoscopy I should have had last year, but of course, I didn’t do anything about scheduling either one of these important, potentially life-saving tests. (No, JDM, I have not had a shingles vaccine.  No, sister-in-law D., I have not had a flu shot either).

On vacation this summer, I awoke each morning, more bloated than the next.  It felt like more than an excess of tequila and tortilla chips, and, as I thought about it, the problem had been worsening for months.  Was I suffering from cellular inflammation or an overabundance of fat-accumulating hormones, such as insulin?   Was my thyroid the culprit?

Even dogs can suffer from hypothyroidism

There was only one way to find out.  Feeling very mature (in a good way), I called my Ob/Gyn’s office to schedule my annual Pap smear and mentioned that I also wanted my thyroid checked.  The young receptionist wanted to verify my insurance coverage and gave me the name of an insurance carrier we haven’t used for years.  “No,” I said.  My carrier is C**, the same one I had last year.  “You haven’t been here for three years,” she said coldly.

I felt like Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight.

I had to wait till I got home to comb through my insurance documents, call my insurance company and check all of my calendars for the past three years to prove that I had seen that doctor last year and the year before that.  When that turned out to be fruitless, I called the doctor’s office again to ask them to check my physical file.  This time the receptionist was more understanding when she informed me that there were no notes in my file after 2009.  “I know how you feel,” she said sympathetically.  “I was born the same year as you.”

I was not surprised to learn that a faulty memory is another symptom of hypothyroidism.

The plot and my waistline thicken

The weeks I had to wait for my appointment felt interminable, but I tried to make them productive.  I gave up alcohol, tried to stay away from carbohydrates and made sure to adhere to a regular exercise regime in spite of my achy joints (another symptom).

I researched doctors and made an appointment for a physical with one who looked promising (in my own latrophobic defense, apart from my Ob/Gyn, whom I have seen for seventeen years, I haven’t been able to find a doctor or a practice that impressed me with professional, high quality care).

One day while out for a run, I tried to pinpoint what had changed over the past six months to make my symptoms, especially the weight gain, worsen.  I’d started making and eating granola on a regular basis, but it seemed hard to believe a cereal mix could be so potent.  Then I remembered.  Around six months ago, after being diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc, I received two epidural steroid shots and also took oral steroids. Because I have trouble remembering things, I made a note on my iPhone to do some research.

At home, a quick search on the Internet suggested there could be a link between the steroids and my thyroid. (Searching for things on the Internet reminds me of writing high school essays: combing the available research materials for snippets of information to support my thesis).

Next week I will see my Ob/Gyn and hopefully be that much closer to figuring out what, if anything, is wrong with me.  Who knows, my symptoms might just be the normal by-products of aging, which require a change in my behavior, nothing more.

But at 51,  I think I’ve finally learned my lesson.  Now, more than ever, it’s important to stay on top of your health, if for no other reason than to have a baseline to work with if something is really wrong.  Perimenopause and menopause can cause some surprising symptoms (remember pregnancy nosebleeds?).  It’s worth talking to a doctor about them, instead of suffering in silence.

Check back with me in a few months to see if I’ve scheduled that colonoscopy.

This week, four diplomats were killed in Libya and my nephew was deployed to Afghanistan. As a proud former member of the Foreign Service, who served in the Near East and South Asia bureaus, my heart is with those who dedicate their lives to promoting international understanding.

In their wonderful new book Jerusalem, chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, a Jew and a Muslim who grew up in the western and eastern part of that city, talk about food’s ability to break through religious and cultural boundaries.

Twice this week I made Ottolenghi’s recipe for Figs with basil, goat cheese and pomegranate vinaigrette from his book Plenty.

Historically, figs have been revered as a symbol of peace.  I can’t think of a better thing to eat. And they’re good for you too.

And They Called It Puppy Love

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

And I am soon to be one of them.

How to explain the yearning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of the May 7, 2012 New Yorker

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

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

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

Venus Williams and Harold

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

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

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

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

Even if we dress him like Shaft?

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of the New Yorker, May 7, 2012

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

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

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

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

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.

Freeing My Inner Gloria

This weekend I had the honor of participating in the Ballard Writer’s Book Slam, featuring 22 writers from our neighborhood (must be all the coffee shops) reading for three minutes each as well as delicious food and drink.  The event was organized by Peggy Sturdivant, neighborhood champion and author of the At Large in Ballard column and blog.  We had a great turnout.  I encourage you to check out these fine authors.  

Sri Lankan Love Cake - as sticky and delicious as love itself. (you'll find the recipe in my previous post)

Here’s my three minutes of fame:

Shortly after I turned 50, I began taking a Zumba class at the Sonny Newman Dance Hall in Greenwood.  Taught by an infectious Peruvian woman named Ida, the participants come in many shapes, sizes, ages and nationalities and even include one 60 year-old transgender person in pink sweats. While we attempt a series of complicated salsa and meringue steps and the cha, cha, cha, Ida carries on a running commentary, translating the meaning of the songs. “Oh,” she wails.  “It is so sad!  He loves you, but he cannot have you, because you are promised to another.  But he says he will always wait for you.  Now esqueeze your butt chicks!”

I am intoxicated by the music, my classmates and especially by Ida, whose voice and personality remind me of Gloria, the passionate, outspoken buxom Colombian trophy wife played by Sofia Vergara on the sitcom Modern Family.  We all are. When a hip -hop band commands “If you’re sexy and you know it, clap your hands,” everybody makes some noise.

Not long after I began dancing Zumba, I found myself in the bathroom, brushing my teeth side-by-side with my husband, who had been away on a business trip.  He looked fondly down at me, in my cheerful green pajamas, and said “My wife, the pickle.”

Not me


He called in our twelve year-old daughter.  She is savvy enough to bank brownie points whenever possible, so when she saw the frozen look of horror on my face she said, “Actually mom, I think you look more like a snap pea.”

I’m pretty sure that was the moment I decided to liberate my inner Gloria.

The original plan was to dress like Gloria, talk like Gloria and act like Gloria solely for the benefit of my family, waiting for them when they came home from work and school.

My friend L, who is going through a divorce and knows a thing or two about personal transformation, had other ideas.  “You need to be Gloria all day.  You have to go to the grocery store as Gloria, pick the kids up from school as Gloria …”

I imagined myself in the organic produce section of the Ballard Market, leaning forward to reach a zucchini, in stiletto heels and a buttocks-hugging pencil skirt, ample cleavage spilling out of my tight blouse, calling for help:  “Excuse me, can you get me a tickitini???”

Though Ballard has its share of artists and tattooed moms and restaurants worthy of review in the New York Times, it still bears more than a passing resemblance to Lake Wobegon.

I couldn’t go through with it.

So I settled on being Gloria for Halloween and I started a blog instead.

As all of the writers in this room can attest, putting your work out there can be as intimidating as pretending to be Gloria in the Ballard Market.  There will be editors and agents and critics and inner voices who may tell you that your work isn’t good enough or that your book can’t be marketed to fit into one of today’s popular genres.

But as Michael Schein said at this gathering last year, if you want to write, write.  Don’t worry about whether anyone will read what you write, just write.

And if you think you are sexy enough, then dance the meringue, even if you are a 60 year-old transgender person in pink sweatpants or a 50 year-old minivan-driving mom who looks like a pickle.

Revel in your crunchy, sassy, half-sweet, half sourness and don’t forget to esqueeze your butt chicks with passion and with pride.