The middle-aged mom and the cannabis shop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But I was desperate to get back to boot camp.

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

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

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

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

edibles

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

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

simpsons mean kid

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to bridging generations!

 

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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.

Girls in White Dresses with Blue Satin Sashes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, Kids! It’s European Chicken Night!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

I think it’s a night for pretending.

Some trusty classics