The Year of Saying Yes

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

i survived lice

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.

IMG_3443

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.

tumblr_lj3t79ToKm1qchk28

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.

Kobe paddle

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.

Kusama.JPG

I rode the Coney Island Cyclone.

Jeff rode the Coney Island Thunderbolt.

IMG_4766

Better him

IMG_4767

than

IMG_4768

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.

CANNABISGUMMY

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?

Juergen FaelchleSolar-Eclipse_Juergen-Faelchle_1494701268725_9459224_ver1.0

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.

IMG_4925

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.

IMG_5031

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Losing my appetite

Brooklyn lox photo

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.

tevye sunrise sunset

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.

sardines

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.

je ne regrette rien

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),

rugelach

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.

IMG_3485

IMG_3486

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

IMG_3479

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.

Brooklyn pizza.JPG

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.

Divorce: Balancing Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I

I’ve just returned from Boulder, Colorado, where I’ve gone to visit my dear friend L., whose son is in college there and who is recovering from the breakup of her 25-year marriage and preparing for her impending divorce.

I was last in Boulder 29 years ago, on a cross-country camping trip with my then-boyfriend.  We stopped in town to visit a friend and probably to take a shower.  I don’t remember much about the place except the smell of patchouli and the crunchy granola vibe.  The aroma and vibe are still there, especially on the Hill, the neighborhood around the University, but Boulder is decidedly more upscale. L. and I ate in several high-end restaurants, where there was nary an alfalfa sprout in sight. The most noticeable change is the preponderance of medical marijuana dispensaries, eyebrow -raising, given the youth and overall health of the population in a city that usually ranks among the top five healthiest in the U.S.


I've heard they even deliver




This has been a year for going back in time.  In the spring, I returned to Paris, where L. and I and her husband first met as students 31 years ago and in August, I returned to Washington, DC (first time back in 13 years), where I lived and worked prior to moving to Seattle to get married. Each of these retrospective trips has been cause for introspection – a bittersweet mélange of memories, roads not taken and the joy of rediscovering people and places that once were central to my life.

L and I have history together.  In my mind, she and her husband were the stable ones, marrying young while I remained single and uncertain until my mid-30s, achieving wealth while I still struggled to pay the bills, and successfully launching three kids and anticipating being youthful empty nesters, while I would remain tethered to soccer schedules and PTA meetings, long past menopause.

For all the times I sought refuge on L’s couch, it’s time for me to provide her emotional support.  We talk about fresh starts over gin-and-tonics. We take a cold, high-altitude hike. We do hot yoga.

On Mt. Sanitas, somewhere around 7,000 feet, we are caught unprepared by a sleet shower that sends us running down the trail, L’s frostbitten hands clasped to her broken heart.  At hot yoga, while attempting to shift from one balancing pose to another, I slip in my own sweat and fall on my ass.  These inescapable metaphors for the newfound instability in L’s life are so obvious, they’re not even worth remarking on.   In the locker room at the yoga studio, another middle-aged divorcee and mother of a college-aged son regales us with her tales of reinvention, which involve neuro-feedback, hormone injections and pole dancing.  “I practiced some of my moves for my boyfriend.  He told me I need to take more classes,” she says wryly.

I introduce L to another friend, also named L, who lives in the area and is a few years ahead in the post-marital breakup recovery process.  L and L have so much in common. They both worked hard to have different lives than their mothers. They were supportive spouses. They read What to Expect When You Are Expecting and became doting mothers.  They were not expecting divorce.

We take their three sons out to breakfast. The boys, who give little thought to the future, eat beignets and biscuits and mounds of rich eggs.  Their mothers, who have learned you can’t be too careful, eat eggs scrambled with tofu and shredded carrots.  And I, somewhere in the middle, eat vegetarian Eggs Benedict.

Some things are timeless:  friends will always be there to pick you up when you stumble, college boys will always live in oblivious squalor.

There will always be a Marley to perform and an audience to appreciate the “don’t worry, be happy” mantra of reggae.

On my last afternoon in Boulder, L and I are taking a walk and we see a message written on a yellow, sticky note that someone felt compelled to place on an area map.

Be grateful for the wonders of your life

Permanent in its impermanence, this is a message we can’t ignore.