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).

Eat in my Kitchen Cake

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.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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Foam Rollers, Feminists, and Feeling the Burn

Whatever else you may feel about the current Presidential race, one of the more interesting aspects is where feminism fits in.

Many (but not all) diehard feminists (many, but not all of them older) support Hillary, pointing to her longstanding commitment to equity — not just for women, but for children, the poor, and the uninsured. Many (but not all) feminists (many, but not all of them younger) are uneasy with the once-idealistic Hillary’s questionable ethics and say they refuse to “vote with their vaginas.” They support Bernie Sanders, an unwavering idealist, one whose contemplative delivery reminds Daughter #1 of her grandfather.

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It’s nice to have a reason to watch SNL again and even nicer to DVR it, so I don’t have to stay up late.

Last week, feminist elders Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright added fuel to the anti-Hillary fire, while Beyonce dominated the Super Bowl halftime show with her “take no prisoners” form of self-expression. The contrast in these feminist displays points to the generational differences in the way women experience feminism— fidelity to a movement vs. fidelity to oneself.

As a woman of a certain age, who fought my own feminist battles  (I’m a veteran of the days when women, but not men, had to take typing tests, no matter what job they applied for; was the first woman in my Foreign Service training class to wear pants; I suffered at the hands of unsupportive female bosses, whose attitude about balancing work and family was, “no one made it easy for me…;” and I have lived through the “Mommy Wars,” pitting working women against stay-at-home moms), this battle for feminist “street cred” bewilders me.

I now live in a household with an emerging  feminist and I’ve had interesting conversations with my daughters about the feminist issues that concern them: rape culture, dress codes, freedom of expression, to name a few. When they ask what feminism means to me, I say “equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work,” and then remind them that women still earn 75 cents to a man’s dollar, and we still don’t have paid family leave, subsidized childcare, and other reasonable practices that enable women to support themselves and raise families.

The continuum from idealism to pragmatism and the accommodations we make over a lifetime is something I had a chance to contemplate when an unusual package arrived in the mail:

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It contained cassette tapes I had made in 1978, as a 17-year-old exchange student at a French high school in Evian-les-Bains, France. Sent to me by my high school buddy, CC, whom I’ve only seen two or three times since high school, listening to them made for some entertaining rides in the minivan with my daughters, especially D #1, who just turned 17.

That’s right. My 17-year-old daughter got to hear from her 17-year-old mother. Back when I was a kid, that would have been fodder for an ABC after-school special.

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Once we got past all the boring stuff (and the girls got done making fun of my hybrid New Jersey/Valley Girl accent), the meat of the tape had to do with my excitement and trepidation over traveling alone in Europe. I recount some “test runs” I took —weekend trips to Lausanne and Geneva, during which I fought off the unwanted advances of North African men, who had the impression that American women were “easy;” learned how to enjoy eating in a restaurant alone; and gained confidence navigating unfamiliar terrain in places where I did not fluently speak the local language. I drop hints about a longer solo trip I hoped to take, hitchhiking around Scandinavia.

My girls know the rest of the story:  I took that trip, which led to more trips, and an international relations degree, which led to me wearing pants at the Foreign Service Institute, where one seasoned female diplomat who spent her career in the Middle East, told us that in that region, she was treated like a third gender: “woman in pants.”

My preoccupations as a 17-year-old budding feminist who wanted to safely explore the world were different from my preoccupations as a 37-year-old new mother, who gave up a career to stay home with her babies.

Now, as a 50-something career woman, who has seen ten 50-something friends (male and female) lose their jobs over the past year, and who worries how we will be able to afford to send D#1 to college and still have money left for retirement, my preoccupations have changed again. Greedy developers are razing the houses in my neighborhood and replacing them with expensive condos, yet we can’t afford to move anywhere else in the city I’ve called home for 20 years. My city is in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom, but we don’t have the infrastructure to support it, and longtime residents are being pushed out.

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In the cacophony of commentary about the Presidential candidates, two recent pieces have stuck with me. One was Rachel Maddow’s reflections on what it feels like to be a liberal voter when no candidate has your back.  The other is a piece by David Brooks reflecting on Obama’s qualities of integrity, leadership, and humanity.

Maybe it’s because we’re the same age, but with Obama I never felt I had to make the difficult choice that many Democrat voters, myself included, are now grappling with. He had my back with his blend of idealism, optimism, and pragmatism. The fact that many are disappointed that he did not live up to his initial promise speaks volumes about our broken system of government and the costs of pragmatism.

After I discovered that my injured knee was actually the result of an IT band problem, some young women at work told me about foam rollers, cylindric torture devices that loosen tight muscles, which everyone below the age of 40 seems to know about. (Madeline Albright’s “special place in Hell” probably is well stocked with foam rollers). After a barre class (my new favorite exercise, which has a throwback feel to it), I gave one a spin.

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Call it a stretch (no pun intended), but where would we be if Jane Fonda hadn’t popularized exercise, making working out and feeling the burn a part of many people’s daily routines?  Trailblazers deserve respect, as do the people and things that come after them.

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Leg warmers are back!

I only listened to snippets of last night’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, because I was in my minivan on my way to volunteer at a school event. But what I heard was encouraging: a real discussion of the issues and the best way to deliver on promises.

I hope we can stop pitting women against each other and move away from making the contest between Hillary and Bernie a battle over feminism, because it should be so much more than that.

In laying out their plans for achieving economic equity and stability, and international peace and security, may the best candidate win.

I don’t have a recipe for you, but Daughters #1 & #2 and I are heading to Los Angeles, where I hope to participate in a food crawl, in between looking at colleges. Thanks to Lucky Peach, I’m itching to try Mapo Galbi. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Toll Booths on Memory Lane

Four years ago this blog was born on a crisp October night when my husband was on a business trip in Asia, my kids were already becoming well versed in ignoring me and I was thinking about chicken and France. There’s something about autumn that makes a person (well me, anyway) tap into her inner, not-fat French woman and think about preparing exquisite chicken and apple dishes eaten en famille, with everyone savoring the meal and the kids displaying good manners and open-minded palates. This was before we had books to taunt us that not only don’t French women get fat, but their kids are better behaved than ours too.

japanese book

And thus, a cottage industry was born.

My first post detailed a plan (which I remained somewhat faithful to for several seasons) for us to eat European chicken once a week. A post about my favorite apple desserts followed shortly thereafter.

Since then, I’ve written about teenagers and puppies and hamsters and perimenopause and work-life balance and gallbladders and colonoscopies and perfume and Tony Soprano, with lots of recipes and bewilderment about aging thrown into the mix. Where does the time go? I’d planned to write this post in August, on the heels of a trip we made to the East Coast to attend the wedding of the son of college friends of mine and to visit New England colleges for Daughter #1, who was still in middle school when I started this blog. Now it’s almost Halloween, that trip has nearly faded into memory along with my tan and Daughter #2 has started high school. Luckily there is a European chicken in the oven.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It’s no accident that wedding bands choose music the elders can dance to. I never thought I’d hear, much less dance to Meat Loaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light ever again. But it was a highlight of the party. “We can dance to your music,” explained the groom, who doesn’t have a patronizing bone in his body. “You have more trouble dancing to ours.” For the record, Daughters #1 and #2 were mortified that we danced at all.

old dancing couple

We spent a week tooling around New England on what is apparently a pretty traditional college road trip. When you’re from the West, like we are, you feel a frisson of excitement every time you cross a state line, which in New England seems to happen every five minutes or so. The girls indulged me each time we crossed a frontier and sang my grandmother’s made-up song which bids farewell to the old state and welcomes the new one.

national lampoon vacation

Visit colleges with your kid and you’re bound to relive your memories. In my case, I was bound and determined to leave the East Coast for the West Coast, which I did via France (where I met the parents of the groom). Now, nearly 40 years later, my West Coast daughter has admitted she has a taste for the exotic East.

My kids make fun of me for being from New Jersey but they also are a little bit in awe of  the classic Jersey “in your face” attributes — the polar opposite of Seattle nice (aka passive/aggressive behavior). So when we arrived at the rental car kiosk at Logan airport and an altercation occurred in line (or “on line,” as we say in New Jersey), my kids, who were fascinated, thought I was in my element and would jump right into the fray.

taxi driver

When I held back and even politely let someone cut in front of me (others had jumped to my defense, which was the reason for the altercation), they were disappointed. “You’ve lost your East Coast skills,” they said and I knew that my feet were becoming cemented in clay.

I worked hard to redeem myself.  I took them for cannoli in Boston’s North End.

cannoli1

I explained the expression “old money.” The Howells

My kids experienced a lot of things they’d never seen before like

men in pink pants;

preppie

flash thunderstorms bringing down sheets of rain in such volume that we Seattlites, used to a more passive/aggressive kind of rain, were unprepared and got drenched;

sky

and tollbooths.

tolling

Though they’d been East before, this trip felt different. My daughters assessed everything with the eyes and attitudes of people who would soon choose where they wanted to live and found everything to their liking, even though I didn’t manage to find them any decent pizza. A particularly sumptuous post-wedding brunch sealed the deal. “I’m going to school on the East Coast too,” announced Daughter #2, whom I’d pegged an L.A. girl.

For me, mixed in with the delight of the once familiar were reminders of all the reasons I’d left. I kept most of these to myself, remembering that a trip to California in1968 had kindled my dream to go West and stay there and my mother never dissuaded me. Who was I to rain on their parade?

We returned home and in the last days of summer I made eggplant parmigiana, a nod to my East Coast heritage. School started and we began the roller coaster ride of college fairs and PSATs. There are more college road trips in our future, including at least one to California. Next year will be Daughter #1’s last with us. Daughter #2, who has begun studying French just like I did, hopes to spend part of next school year in France, just like I did when I was in high school. Those soccer Saturdays and all the driving I do will be over in the blink of an eye. Our house will be much cleaner and I will always be able to find a phone charger when I want one.

But not yet. Until then there are rituals like European Chicken Night to hold us together, even if they happen infrequently now.

Tonight we ate Poularde Farcie en Chaponnade Comme en Correzeor Roast Chicken Stuffed with Garlic Croutons in the Style of the Correze, from Paula Wolfert’s lovely book, The Cooking of Southwest France. Come to think of it, I cooked it in the roasting pan my mother bought me when I was in college.

Here's to new horizons

Here’s to new horizons

What would Bertrand Russell say?

Snow geese in the Skagit Valley

Snow geese in the Skagit Valley

April already? Before I go any further, I want you to know that I have fulfilled all but one of my New Year’s resolutions. I started and maintained a diet. I had a mammogram. I had a colonoscopy for Pete’s sake and, as icing on the cake, a CT scan and ultrasound to boot. And, I wrote my last installment of this blog on January 31, which is pretty much February, so technically two months, not three, have elapsed. But there’s no escaping the fact that I didn’t fulfill the resolution to write this blog once a month.

I didn’t think anyone but me had noticed, but then my friend Peggy said something. Peggy is one of those super-involved, super-organized people, who does a million things, including writing a weekly column for our neighborhood newspaper. Peggy is from New England. She’s one of those pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, no whining kind of people. Recently, Peggy successfully lobbied the producers of the David Letterman show to allow her 80 year-old mother a spot in the studio audience before Dave rides off into the sunset. Peggy started a new organization to combat the out-of-control development in our neighborhood. Peggy gets shit done. I have disappointed Peggy and for that I am truly sorry.

Seen on a dry, 60 degree Seattle day. Was Boston selling off its surplus signs?

Seen on a dry, 60 degree Seattle day. Was Boston selling off its surplus signs?

In my defense, we have been living through what I think of as the winter of our discontent. This is not weather-related for, here in the Seattle area where we like to ski, this winter the big complaint was not enough snow, unlike the concerns of our friends back East.

Our discontent has been lifestyle-related — a knock-you-for-a-loop potential change that sent us scurrying to California contemplating a move.

In February, the principal of Daughter #2’s middle school, about to embark on a sabbatical, sent this quote from the philosopher Bertrand Russell out to families: “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”

Do a little sleuthing and you’ll discover that Bertrand Russell had a lot of provocative things to say. I suspect  (and have since confirmed) that Daughter #1 would appreciate this quote: “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” As the mother of two teenagers, I feel compelled to beg to differ. (And I highly recommend you read this evocative description of the sea change that happens when you raise teens.)

Tumblr

But the quote about not taking things for granted, well, we lived and breathed that quote. Jeff had a job offer in California. Our family pendulum swung from “there’s no way we’re moving” to “maybe we could have a better house and better weather (we hadn’t considered California’s drought) and escape all the Seattle construction and traffic.” The next thing you know, we were on a plane to check things out. It was, I might add, the day after my colonoscopy. I’d kept myself busy during the fasting and prep periods by researching real estate and schools. Jeff was incredulous that I would choose to have a colonoscopy during such a stressful time, but that’s how I roll. Not a lot of people would say this, but I can honestly say that the colonoscopy was the high point of my week.

During the White Food Diet I was required to follow prior to the fast and cleanse, I indulged in two items of note: French toast made with King’s Hawaiian Sweetbread — a family favorite introduced to us years ago by my mother after many sojourns visiting my brother and family at their Maui home — and labneh, basically strained Greek yoghurt which is great as a spread for pita bread, especially if you garnish it with za’atar and sumac. This after a few weeks of very controlled, mostly vegetarian, mostly Ottolenghi eating, which was my way of controlling my life, which seemed to be spiraling out of control.  “Mom is starving us,” my daughters complained to their father, who was out of town. “She only makes spicy rabbit food.”

The post-colonoscopy meal washed down with a sense of humor.

The post-colonoscopy meal washed down with a sense of humor.

And then, just like that it was over. The White Food Diet, the fast, the colonoscopy, the California possibility and winter. We came home, back to our lives, a few new condominiums that had sprung up across the street from us seemingly overnight, and to spring.

spring

Though I appreciate it more now that I’m older, spring has always been my least favorite season. It confuses me and makes me nervous. Unlike summer, which has a devil-may- care feel to it, accompanied by margaritas and guacamole, spring has expectations that I don’t feel I can meet. It always takes me a while to find my footing in spring and this one has had many false starts.

That’s where the Corpse Reviver #2s come in.

corpse reviver

 

Jeff and I were introduced to them a little over a week ago, courtesy of our classy friends G and C, and they have given shape to spring. Last weekend, I whipped up some Corpse Revivers and I cooked, reveling in lemons and herbs and asparagus and fava beans and all of the lighter, sharper flavors that, like spring and the sunshine that comes with it, bring life into focus.

The snow is beginning to clear in the East, in our minds, in our lives.

Bertrand Russell spoke of his personal vision — to allow moments of insight to provide wisdom during mundane times. Spring is a little like that, providing a sneak peak of clarity just when you need it most.

Anacortes

Of Kimchi and Colonoscopies

50 Between-Friends Among my New Year’s resolutions were to get my physical health in order and publish this blog once a month. Mammogram – check. Annual (or, in my case biennial or triennial, but I am turning over a new leaf) physical exam  – check. Colonoscopy – ummm…. Blog – ummm…

It’s January 31, so I am getting this blog in just under the wire.

As for the colonoscopy… Should you be inclined to use the search term colonoscopy on Google, or better yet, colonoscopy humor, all roads will eventually lead to a piece written by Dave Barry in 2008. If you search Google images, you’ll find Dave Barry’s colonoscopy certificate. Dave Barry cert There’s also a Dave Barry colonoscopy hit on You Tube, but I felt had taken my research far enough and didn’t need to peek any further into Mr. Barry’s particulars. Nor did I search for Katie Couric’s groundbreaking televised colonoscopy on the Today show.  But I revisited my favorite piece about colonoscopies, written by HuffPo’s Ann Brenoff, Me, Bruce, And a Colonoscopy. I admire and envy anybody who can have a colonoscopy in the morning and go to a Springsteen concert that night.

I remember how shocked I was when Bruce appeared on the cover of AARP magazine.

I remember how shocked I was when Bruce appeared on the cover of AARP magazine. Farewell, my youth.

Come to think of it, Born to Run isn’t a bad title for a blog about colonoscopies.

My friend Peggy, who writes a weekly column for our neighborhood newspaper, wrote an amusing account of her colonoscopy. Peggy, being Peggy, made friends with everyone involved in the process and then went out for a nice big breakfast afterwards. During my mammogram, at the most uncomfortable moment of breast compression, the tech started chatting about Peggy. I have a feeling her name will come up during my upcoming rectal moment of truth.

Everybody loves Peggy.

Everybody loves Peggy.

Dave Barry ‘s point about being a grownup made me reflect that it takes a few years to get the hang of being in one’s fifties. First there’s the initial shock, and then maybe some element of denial. You look and feel pretty much the same, everybody thinks you’re still in your forties, so it’s as if the decade shift never happened.

Without getting into personal details, women have a harder time sustaining this level of denial than men. But still, if we exercise regularly and figure out how to straddle the fashion line, dressing stylishly in a not-too-young, not-too-old way, we can chug along looking, acting and feeling exactly the same as we have for years.

The fact that I’ve spent so much time grappling over colonoscopies is a sign, I think, that I’ve begun a mental shift towards a different stage of adulthood.

In addition to a growing acceptance that you can’t defy aging, so you might as well make peace with it, there are two reasons for this:

1) Daughters #1 and #2 recently turned 16 and 14. These are my prime dispensing-of-parental-wisdom years. As I’ve been writing this on my laptop, D#1 has been sitting beside me on her laptop, filling out her first job application. Somehow, it comes in handy to be a fifty-something mom, a bit further removed from my youth, explaining the ways of the world. Our daughters think Jeff and I are impossibly square, even though they know bits and pieces of our checkered youth. “What do you think I was like as a teenager,” I asked D #1 last night, after she finished disparaging her dad for his innocent hippie youth. “I don’t know,” she said. “I know you wore flannel shirts and marijuana t-shirts, which is hard to believe since you’re so strict about what I wear.”

It seems so innocent now.

It seems so innocent now.

I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Starbucks for explicitly stating on their application that employees are forbidden from having blue, pink or green hair, visible tattoos and unusual piercings. As D #1 would say, “Snap!”

The writer Elizabeth Gilbert, still a kid at 45, recently posted a great piece on Facebook, which has been making the rounds among my mom friends. In Defense of Teenagers is just the kind of old-soul wisdom you can dispense once you’ve made the mental shift towards remembering your youth, but no longer living it.

Over New Year’s D#1 and I sat side-by-side in front of a fireplace, taking turns reading chapters from Pam Houston’s Cowboys are My Weakness, one of the many books that saved me during periods of young woman despair. As I considered that book through my daughter’s eyes, I loved having the distance from, yet retaining the memory of, my confused younger self.

2) I work in an office where the employees range in age from mid-20s to early 70s. It reminds me of those number lines, when my kids were learning whole numbers, negative numbers and decimals. As someone currently smack dab in the center of the number line, I’m constantly enlightened and amused by my colleagues up and down the continuum.

The other fifty-something women in the office cackled at me when they heard that I have not yet gone through menopause (I felt like I was the only one who hadn’t yet gotten a drivers license), while our late-20s female colleague looked on in shock and amusement.

Twice in two days, when reviewing our website with younger colleagues and learning that they wanted less text and more visuals, I channeled Amy Poehler in Mean Girls. Amy Poehler I learned a lot about colonoscopies from a colleague nearly a decade younger than I am, who has been having regular screenings because of a family history of colorectal cancer. I love talking about Calvin Trillin and Art Buchwald and the optimism of the Great Society with the avuncular founder of the center where I work, and talking about where I was the day Elvis Presley died to colleagues who weren’t yet born.

Kimchi may be the generational glue that ties us together.

Here in Seattle, it’s become an artisan food item. I got interested in kimchi because I’d read that fermented foods help prevent belly bloat and contribute to optimal health. Some Korean kimchi was too strong for me. I decided to see what hipster kimchee was all about. FullSizeRender This set me off on a full-fledged, contagious kimchi kick. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff, eating it for breakfast over rice or oatmeal with splashes of soy sauce and sesame oil and a poached egg on top. My family laughed at me and then they got into the act. These days, when Daughter #2 rejects what we’re having for dinner, or is looking for comfort food, she turns to kimchi. Kimchi, eggs and rice has replaced pizza as a Friday night dinner staple.

At the suggestion of one of my colleagues (I work with several kimchi aficionados), I tried Britt’s Black Market Kimchi, making it a stocking stuffer for Jeff at Christmas (this required me to hide it in the refrigerator, sneak downstairs on Christmas morning to put it in his stocking and then make sure we didn’t forget to refrigerate it once holiday frenzy got underway.) The jar was finished by Boxing Day eve.

The crotchety old lady in me sometime rolls my eyes because, though I appreciate its quality and variety, kimchi, like almost everything else these days, is now a “thing.” And that’s where I turn to the wisdom of my elder Calvin Trillin.

Before a recent trip to Memphis, I read a piece Trillin wrote in 1985  for the New Yorker about Memphis barbecue. Would barbecue, he worried, “cross the chili line” and go from being a regional speciality to a commercialized caricature of its authentic self? I fear for the future of kimchi. But I’m happy to say that the barbecue I ate earlier this month in Memphis was authentic and down-to-earth and delicious. The music was great. And timeless. BealeOne last thing about the joys of cavorting with folks at various points on the age continuum. The other night, Jeff and I had dinner with two fifty-something friends, one of whom Jeff has known since high school. We dined at the Walrus and the Carpenter, our neighborhood oyster bar, which has received national acclaim and can be hard to get in to, unless it’s early on a rainy, weekday winter evening.

Last to arrive, I had rushed over from work and was pleased to find a huge platter of oysters already on the table and a glass of Muscadet awaiting me. As I settled into relaxation mode, I became aware of the music that was playing —an eclectic mix of 60s and 70s tunes straight from my youth. There were the obvious ones, e.g. Whiter Shade of Pale, and some not-so-obvious one-hit wonders (remember Brandi and Dream Weaver?). Who, I wondered, had put this playlist together?  I asked to see the man behind the music, expecting someone around my age.

He wasn’t a kid, but he was a good fifteen years younger than my table mates and me. “How did you come up with this mix,” I asked him. “I’m just really interested in music; all genres, all eras.” He invited me to follow him on Spotify, which I did and I subscribed to several of his playlists, not just the “Walrus Classic” that was representative of my youth.

This is the year I’ll finally get my colonoscopy. I’m making the phone call on Monday, though maybe I’ll check first to see whether Bruce has any upcoming tour dates before I schedule it and if Peggy is free for breakfast. And maybe I’ll make a colonoscopy playlist, featuring 50 years of music.

P.S. D#2 just told me she’s having kimchi and peanuts for dinner.

Plenty More

kitchen wall

For years Jeff and I remarked, not unhappily, that we were in a rut. We had the work/kid/life thing figured out, with occasional grumbling from me about being bored and occasional grumbling from Jeff about his long commute. Life had a humdrum predictable pattern, though we were lucky to take a few spectacular trips along the way, whose effects lingered for several months afterwards. On the walls of our kitchen hang photographs, often askew, of food scenes from Turkey. One of these days the Spain photos will make it up there too.

I remembered Jeff’s sister, some years ago, calling their dad and stepmother one evening in Michigan. No one answered the phone. My sister-in-law was shocked. “Where could they be?” she worried. “They are always home.”

Jeff and I were becoming similarly predictable.

Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic_-_Google_Art_Project

I didn’t realize at the time that the acquisition of our dog 2 1/2 years ago signaled the beginning of the end of the rut, or that the transformation of our lives would pick up speed like a snowball heading downhill.

In early October, the girls and I accompanied Jeff to the Adams River in the interior of British Columbia to witness the “Salute to the Sockeye,” the festival that celebrates the salmon run that is dominant there every four years. We’d been there four years earlier and had seen an impressive array of red, misshapen spawning salmon, along with the carcasses of salmon once their procreation was complete.

Adams 2010

To be honest, we female members of the family didn’t want to make the trip. I was about to start a new job and was concerned about not having a break between my old job, the contract project I was currently working on and my new gig, which would start the day after we returned from fish gazing.  The girls had a “been there, done that” attitude about this salmon phenomenon, something most people in the world never get to see and which is near and dear to their father’s, (a former salmon fisherman) heart.

But Jeff put the importance of this foray into compelling perspective. “This is the last time we’ll all be together to make this trip,” he reminded me. “Four years from now, Daughter #1 will be away at college.”

Can it be possible I’ve been writing this blog for four years? I mentioned our 2010 Adams River trip in a post I wrote about my fleeting obsession with fish oil and the constant role salmon has played in my married life.

Naturally we compared our 2010 trip with what we experienced in 2014. I packed many of the same clothes, (though their fit was admittedly more snug) and we visited all the same haunts. Though, coincidentally, we made both trips the same weekend in early October, in 2010 the river was swollen and red with fish. This year, it was too early in the season. We could tell that the fish were on their way, but had to content ourselves with viewing the leaders of the pack.

Adams 2014

In 2010, D #1 had just started middle school and our evenings were dominated by math homework.

teenager posts math

We’d mentioned to her math teacher that we were making the Adams River trip. “I grew up around there,” he told us nostalgically. “My grandfather had land overlooking the river.” It didn’t stop him from piling on the homework.

This year, things were different, yet the same. This time it was Daughter #2 who was plagued by homework, working each evening to interpret the themes of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. 

On the second day of the trip we hiked up a steep path to enjoy a view of a broad expanse of the river. There were people at the top of the hill and I was somewhat surprised that when Jeff and I reached them, they greeted us in more than just a cursory fashion. There was D #1’s 6th grade math teacher and his girlfriend, her 8th grade math teacher. I chuckled to myself as we made small talk, wondering what D#1’s reaction would be when she reached the top of the hill and saw them.

“I’ve been wanting to make this trip ever since you told me about it four years ago,” said the 6th grade teacher. He gestured toward the land we were headed towards, overlooking the river. “That was my grandfather’s land.”

I couldn’t resist pointing out that our 2010 experience had been marred by the sheer volume and difficulty of the weekend math homework he’d assigned, but he didn’t take the bait. And I’m happy to report that D#1, who has grown up a lot in these past four years, was practically poised when she encountered these two banes of her middle school experience.

We returned home, I started my new job and the dishwasher broke, just as the refrigerator had broken when I’d started my previous job the year before.

How do appliances know the most inconvenient times to break?

How do appliances know the most inconvenient times to break?

We dealt with it, a little more collaboratively than we had handled the refrigerator fiasco, I’m happy to report.

Some days I managed to work all day and easily get dinner on the table, including this surprisingly easy, satisfying healthy one bowl meal. Other days were catch-as-catch can. I brought out the Crockpot and the pressure cooker and bought a new fancy rice cooker that is the same size as our dog.

rice cooker

 

 

Harbinger of change.

The construction in our neighborhood continued, double-time. Three houses that were there when I left for work one morning were gone by the time I returned home in the evening.

One bittersweet weekend, my next-door neighbor Steve and I looked at the muddy pit, where our neighbor Bill’s house and the neighborhood tree house used to be. Tim down the street, just a few years older than us, had died, Steve told me. A few days ago, the large birch tree on Steve’s property was taken down, in preparation for Steve’s departure and eventual construction of a new, ugly, expensive multi-unit building. My neighborhood is changing and for now, we will be one single-family house surrounded by condos.

Bill's house

My friend Peggy wrote a beautiful elegy for our changing neighborhood and my street. Paseo, our favorite neighborhood Cuban sandwich shop abruptly closed down and it dominated the media and conversation for days. “Let the healing begin,” says the Seattle Times, which has just published this recipe, so Paseo devotees can try and recreate the magic at home.

One particularly fraught day, when work ran long and dinner didn’t get made, the mail didn’t arrive until 9:30 at night (postal service cuts). And there was the copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty More, which I had pre-ordered months before. Though I don’t have nearly as much time to revel in cooking as I have for the past 15 years, I took that book to bed with me and read it cover to cover. Yotam Ottolenghi talks about the way his cooking style and philosophy have changed in the years since he published Plenty.

The possibilities are endless.

The possibilities are endless.

We’re in the midst of some more changes now, which are causing a shake-up in our perspective and the fear and excitement that come with uncertainty. Jeff and I are gaining a greater appreciation for the lives we’ve lived individually, within this life we’ve built together. We are no longer in a rut, or at least not the same rut.

I’m revisiting my philosophy about change. For years, I could rely on the Foreign Service to create change for me, every two or so years, with a new assignment, a new country to live in, a new job, a new house, new friends. Jeff, who grew up as a vagabond and was a vagabond when I met him, sometimes marvels that we’ve lived in the same house for nearly 20 years and held the same jobs for nearly 15.

“You can never step in the same river twice,” wrote the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who believed that change is central to the universe. I used that line once, in a speech  I wrote for then-Vice President Al Gore, who was traveling to the Nile River. I was young then and I’m not sure I fully understood its meaning, but I thought it added a certain panache to the speech.

Rivers are always flowing. People and circumstances are always changing.

Four years from now, even if I can still fit into the same clothes and one or both of our daughters is still overburdened with homework, the Adams River won’t be the same river and the four of us will have changed too.

Tonight, at least, the possibilities are endless. Will I try out the Paseo recipe? Or will I make Yotam Ottolenghi’s Iranian Vegetable Stew with Dried Lime? Eggplant Kuku and Crushed Puy Lentils with Tahini and Cumin are calling my name.

Even if I don’t get to them soon, it’s nice to know that whatever’s going on in life, there’s plenty more to look forward to.

 

 

 

Tinto de Verano

restaurant I suppose it was inevitable that the vacation glow would wear off, but I was surprised by how quickly it happened. The first day back from our trip, the first sunny day of a week that would reach vacation-like temperatures in the ’80s, I got into an argument about my dog with our mail carrier. Of course the argument, and my reaction to it, wasn’t really about the dog or the mail carrier at all.

It was about Change. construction If you know me or you’ve followed this blog, you know my neighborhood is changing. As the old-timers die off, developers are buying their land and razing their houses, building three and four-unit expensive condominiums in their place. “Chicken coops,” my taciturn neighbor, one of the remaining elderly men on the block, calls them. “Filing cabinets” is the term preferred by one of my colleagues.

My street is a constant construction zone. It’s loud and busy and my dog and I can’t stand it. He barks, which is what upset the mail carrier. I sometimes bark too, but mostly I am full of suppressed and not-so-suppressed rage.

On that first sunny morning, when my dog and I went for a walk, I learned that the neighbors on the corner, who had built the treehouse that everybody’s kids played in, had sold their property and were getting a divorce. My next-door neighbor, a good-natured handyman, who is always kind enough to feed our cats when we are away, told me he was leaving too. And then he offered to come back to the neighborhood anytime we needed him to feed the cats.

So when Jeff told me to let go of the argument with the mail carrier, he was really trying to tell me to stop fighting the inevitable.

Change. musicians Makes a person want to turn around and head right back to Spain. (I had to laugh when I read the snarky comments in response to the article I wrote about the mail carrier/dog brouhaha and destruction of my neighborhood. One of the more vicious trolls, who obviously saw me as an entitled enemy of honest working people, snarkily accused me of vacationing in Spain.)

Yup, I was in Spain alright. Andalusia to be exact.

Carefully constructed around Christmas time, when we were all sick with the flu, this trip was meant to have something for everyone.

A pitstop in London, for British-obsessed Daughter #1 (with a long-anticipated trip to Ottolenghi for me). Ottolenghi Windsuring in Tarifa, for windsurfing-obsessed Jeff (with a side-trip to Tangier, Morocco for me). tarifa   Morocco stairs Warm weather, for Daughter #2. Morocco foodMorocco doorwayGibraltar, just because. And Moorish history and great food for me.

When you travel internationally somewhat infrequently with your kids, it’s hard to know what will make the greatest impression. You never know what’s going to stick.

The morning of the trip, as I was frantically trying to make sure we had everything together, we realized that Daughter #2 did not have a purse. I know from experience with D#1 that teenage girls are very particular about their purses.

All other options rejected, my eyes fell on a black faux-leather Marc Jacobs shoulder bag that my stylish friend C. gave me when she moved away. “You can use this,” I offered, sure that D #2 would reject it as falling within the fashion domain of a 50-something woman clinging to the last vestiges of style. But D #2 surprised me. “Really?” she asked, her eyes gleaming. “Is that a designer bag?”

“Our boots” flashed before my eyes.

Surprise #1 of the trip was the way in which D#2 and I bonded. We’d been having some tussles and she, far more enigmatic than her sister, rarely let me in on her secrets. Lending (yes, lending) her that purse opened a window. I discovered just how sophisticated her interest in fashion has grown. She discovered that I had a past, one that apparently included more designer swag than she’d realized.

At the airport I told her that in my young, single, traveling days, when leaving a country, I used to take my remaining currency to the duty-free shop and spend it on perfume.

So on this trip, together, we spent all of our airport waiting time in duty-free shops, searching for what she hoped would be her “signature scent.” I spoke with familiarity about Chanel and Dior, Guerlain and Lancome, and she regarded me with a respect for experience that sometimes gets lost in our day-to-day lives.

When, in the last few minutes at the last duty-free shop, despairing of ever finding just the right essence (despite my using my own olfactory history as proof that your signature scent changes, as you change), a kindly British saleswoman (who was clearly one of those “sweet-smelling women,” like those who guided me) took D#2 in hand and helped her navigate the shelves.

No matter that I misread and miscalculated the price of the Gucci perfume we ended up purchasing, only realizing after we returned home just how much we’d spent. provactive perfume

“Our perfume,” I call it. And though she may not realize it, we share it in more ways than one.

Back at home, D#2 and I went on a feminist movie-watching jag, watching the original Stepford Wives, which Jeff rented for us, under the suspicious eyes of the somewhat militant women at the video store, who refused to let him rent the Nicole Kidman remake. (A guy renting a movie like that is the equivalent of a guy buying tampons, which Jeff has also done. Welcome to the domain of women.) and Rosemary’s Baby.

My little girl is growing up.

D #1 looked utterly at home navigating the Tube in London, drinking tea and eating Maltesers. Maltesers-Wrapper-Small

She wants to study there and I realized that she probably will.

I dug even further back, before my perfume-purchasing days, to the two years that I was an exchange student in Europe, years of glorious poverty.

One of the most interesting things about being a parent as your kids get older, is that suddenly you can remember and relate. The distance between your respective experiences seems to shrink. My Eurail Pass self and my designer perfume self are just under the surface. My girls’ equivalents of those selves are just under the surface too, about to emerge. Ronda

But what about Spain?  Did they appreciate the Alhambra and the cathedral in Seville and the tomb of Christopher Columbus and the all-you-can-eat paella on the beach?

Spanishpaella

Yeah, they did. Granada

But more than anything they appreciated eating five times a day, dressing up, wandering around on their own, late night tapas crawls and sips of the drink that defined the trip for me: Tinto de Verano.

Enjoyed more by Spaniards than Sangria (which is apparently for tourists), Tinto de Verano, or summer red wine, is equal parts red wine and lemon/lime or orange soda. It is divine.

Seville

In Spain I was probably drinking a mixture of cheap wine and lemon-lime Fanta. At home, I tried to replicate it by mixing wine with Dry brand blood orange soda and a splash of agave and it wasn’t the same. I’m still tinkering. This uncomplicated recipe, from Saveur, is a good place to start.

The wonderful book that accompanied me on this trip was Michael Paterniti’s The Telling Room: A Tale of Passion, Revenge and the World’s Finest Cheese.

Among other things, it’s about change, or rather the push-pull we humans feel as we struggle to preserve history, heritage and our way of doing things, with the inevitable changes that time brings. Cadiz

Fully back at home now ensconced in real life, with my Spanish sojourn and the sting of having three packs of jamon Iberico confiscated at the airport fading into memory, I can see change on the horizon.

But summer is coming.

As much as possible, I will spend mine trying to replicate our favorite tapa — grilled goat cheese drizzled with honey—cooking from my old favorite Spanish cookbooks, The New Spanish Table, The Spanish Table cookbook (from the wonderful Seattle store of the same name) and my new favorite, Moro, the cookbook, which I learned about one melancholy rainy day from this recipe for spinach and garbanzo beans (courtesy of The Smitten Kitchen), which transported me right back to Andalusia.

When the construction workers have left for the day and quiet returns to the neighborhood, I will lie on my backyard hammock with a good book, a glass of Tinto de Verano nearby.

I’ll try not to worry this summer, as Daughter #1 learns how to drive, reminding myself that change is inevitable.

How sweet it is.

How sweet it is.