There's a relaxation that comes from chopping, grating, and measuring together a recipe...
February 14th with a Valentine optional, I began to reflect on ghosts of romance past. What a parade!
Like the movies where the calendar pages fly off, I land on my first real boyfriend. A friend brought him to my Sweet Sixteen birthday party and he was beautiful. A Swedish exchange student who had turned 18 the day before, he was 6’2, sandy blonde hair and had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen.
I’ve been staring down the barrel of my birthday for the past couple of weeks. It’s not a decade year but very close. Too close for my comfort. Trying to get with the very wise words “it’s just a number” but it’s not coming easy. Since my birthday falls on a Saturday, I thought perhaps I’d have a party. Some friends, food and cocktails would surely help the day go down better.
There’s a ballot measure being voted on in my city today. Pretty sure I can call Stockton my city since I’ve lived here for 45 years. I’ve done everything here. Had a childhood, become a grown-up, paid taxes, started a family, brought up kids through school and sports, and worked on behalf of causes I believe in.
I’ve not thought much until now about diluting Christmas by calling it “Happy Holidays.” At first pass it seems fine and PC to encompass all religions and their beliefs (or none). But now I’m wondering if accepting that concept has led to the ridiculous decision of some schools to do away with Halloween. Really?? Canceling Halloween is LAME.
Tomorrow night at this time I'll be at my 30 year High School Class Reunion. To use 1983 vernacular -- what a trip. What a trip that all this time has passed and so fast, and what a trip that we'll be in the same room with people we shared the high school experience with and haven't seen in years; decades even.
I recently let a situation turn into a rollercoaster ride. It's lasted two weeks. Without even thinking twice I slid into the front car of what might as well have been called "The Cyclone." It was a bigun'. The kind with all the thrills - climbing slowly uphill, inching along feeling like you could slide backwards, then getting to the top where you're hanging, perilously perched on the peak right before you--WHOOSH--go screaming downward, losing your stomach, feeling like you're gonna crash. Then the loop-de-loops corkscrew you upside down and around until finally you're right-side up, cruise back into the station and get off feeling nauseous and shaky.
What caused this impromptu spin? The usual. Things and stuff. It was one of those deals that had all the bells and whistles that can cause hysteria; great need, an application, approvals, underwriting, West coast-East coast time difference, signatures, a contract, overnight Fed-Ex delivery. Just another kind of situation I've successfully navigated before. But I totally forgot that. It wasn't life or death. No one was sick, no organs or limbs were in peril. It just felt dire and desperate and I let it take me for a wild ride.
Why do we do that to ourselves? I know better (see "When it's Right it Rolls" http://wp.me/p1v3PS-7F). I write this not to elicit sympathy but because I know I'm not alone. These times seem to create a whirling dervish that can cut quite a path. We have to turn to each other to find our balance and perspective. Sometimes that's a soothing conversation about keeping the faith and sometimes it's a bracing, loudly delivered wake-up call that it's time to cowgirl up because tough times don't last but tough people do. I'm grateful for them both; for someone to step in when my ability to reason stepped out.
I hope that when the next challenge comes I'll decline the rollercoaster ride in favor of better management skills. If not, I know two fabulous Broads who will set me straight.
Confection - kənˈfekSHən/ noun: a dish or delicacy made with sweet ingredients.
Just so you know right off the top, this post is all fluff. There's nothing intellectually deep here. It's all sensory. I went to sleep last night and woke up thinking about a delightful confection that quite possibly may have the power to change your mood or your mind and take you straight to bliss. How could I keep that kind of information to myself? Besides, sometimes what we need is just a little confection to make our world right.
I have a new love affair. With macarons. Do you know them? I can't believe I've lived my whole life up until now without them. I'd seen them around but dismissed them as a funny little colored hamburger looking cookie that probably tasted weird. I passed them over time and again for the same old cookies and brownies. Anything oozing chocolate overshadows everything else in the bakery case. Chocolate is king, right? Until one day a couple of months ago when a girlfriend and I found ourselves in a café and bakery in San Francisco looking for an espresso to make our way home with. What's coffee without something sweet, so I found myself laboring over the minor decision of what to select. I scanned the bakery case, saw the multi-colored macarons and thought my usual, "no, those are weird" but couldn't land on something I wanted. Finally as a last resort I figured what the hell, I'll give the macarons a try. They did come in pretty colors after all. One chocolate, one caramel, one raspberry and one vanilla went into the bag and off we went. A ways down the road I decided to dig into my bakery bag. I fished out a macaron and held it up for inspection. I looked at it from all sides skeptical about its ability to please me. "Here goes" I thought as I took that first bite preparing myself to toss it back in the bag. It's a good thing I wasn't doing the driving because I think I would have slammed on the brakes as that first bite yielded unexpected deliciousness. I swear I heard the hallelujah chorus as I experienced the light, spongy, faint crunch of the macaron followed by the perfection of filling that flooded my senses. "WOW, these are amazing," I thought digging in for another bite. The beauty (one of - there are many) of the macaron is in three bites at the most, it's over. It's like being sprinkled with little fairy dust and then it's gone. Their fabulousness can hardly be denied when offered in flavors such as Lavender Poppy, Persian Rose, Salted Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Almond Amaretto and Red Velvet.
In that instant macarons and me became a thing. It was like overlooking the great guy that had been there all along. I made the ones from San Francisco last for a couple of days but then how was I going to get my fix? Some weeks later while perusing the freezer case at Trader Joe's for a dessert to bring to a BBQ there they were - Macarons à la Parisienne - chocolate and vanilla, 12 of them. Not long after that they started stocking the pretty flavored kind. They're not as good as the bakery but in a pinch, when I'm feeling pinched, they are as close as my freezer and are the magic salve that makes me feel pampered, sated and smiley. I've shared them like a treasured secret with my closest friends who were equally as impressed with the delight of them.
I'm looking forward to a long and lovely future of searching for and experiencing the joy of macarons with the sweetest of people.
Why is it so hard to let life flow? Maybe because as women we're wired to Mama Bear our family and be supportive -- of EVERYONE. That includes: mates, spouses, children, siblings, parents, friends, co-workers, our children's teachers, their coaches...I once had my manicurist ask me for a loan - I kid you not. Where's the flow when key things on our TO DO list like make a home, raise children, have a career, and volunteer demand such high productivity? A river can't flow when it's dammed up and DAMN I'm tired!
I have become acutely aware that when something is right, it rolls. Easily and divinely. I came to this welcome conclusion after many years of following a formula that went: deny, avoid, worry, stress, take action, worry, pray, cross fingers, toes, eyes, hold breath, stress - you get the picture. I've witnessed and experienced how when the right thing is supposed to happen it just does. The yes comes about the job, the house, the money and it doesn't require pushing a boulder uphill. That's not to say you can put your feet up and lounge under the umbrella of "God provides." He may, but he also helps those that help themselves. We've been taught that hard work pays off, and it generally does, but not when we push it as far as shoving a square peg into a round hole.
I struggle with this. I caught myself the other day in the shower banging a bottle against the palm of my hand to extract the last drops of shampoo. It dawned on me that I DO this -- I beat out the last bit of something when there's more to be had. It occurred to me that the only things that should be wrung out are sponges or wash cloths. Not people or experiences.
Once you figure out what you want (no small task in itself) it can be a challenge determining the right amount of work vs. wait to apply. It's usually not static; lots of work then taking your foot off the gas. But it's worth the effort since things can only grow with the right amount of space, air, nourishment and time. Plus life is so much more enjoyable when you're not beating the hell out of it.
To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe. —Anatole France
The criteria that makes up a "perfect" home is always changing. Magazines, catalogs and television channels like HGTV and DIY tell us that not only do we need the sublime open kitchen/great room concept, we should have an outdoor living space. This is a decked out patio replete with rugs, coffee tables and couches with throw pillows. I always think that these areas are outfitted better than my first, second or third apartment. On top of that is the man cave. A blown up clubhouse with a pool table, bar and television with a screen as big as a garage. We women are allocated a space too (see below). Is it me or has the concept of home gone over the top? Don't get me wrong, I would love to have a home full of lovely things but I'm watching HGTV purely for the entertainment value and escapism from everyday life that it offers. If guys have a cave a gal should get a cove; a space to do her thing whether it be scrapbooking, sewing, yoga, mediating, etc. We've been enlightened by Oprah and Pinterest that we should have a sanctuary in our home. Press your nose up against the glass with me and do a little window shop dreaming here: http://pinterest.com/designsponge/meditation-rooms/
And then there's us real people, the average Janes and Joan Q. Publics. What do we have? It's the bathroom. And it's far from sanctimonious. It's not even deemed that off-limits to the rest of the world. If we're lucky the door lock works. But oh, how we make the most of it. For mothers especially it's the only place of respite in an otherwise crazy world. It can be the one location where it's quiet enough to catch our breath, hear ourselves think or read a magazine. If we can steal away long enough we might even get a bubble bath or polish our nails. Sweet luxury! But hey, Zen is where you can find it and if that's in the Loo, so be it. Grab it when you can Girl!
Far be it for me a 2x divorce recipient to give relationship advice. So let me start by saying that this is not that. However with over 30 years of dating experience I do feel somewhat qualified to comment on affairs of the heart. Several years ago I heard Dr. Laura Schlessinger pose the question to a caller on her radio show, "Are you still your husband's girlfriend?" My ears perked up. What?? What did she mean? How or why would you be a "girlfriend" when you had already attained the sought- after "wife" position? I listened a little closer and then began to notice the concept put into play around me.
We're all familiar with the transition that occurs in romantic relationships from "honeymoon" to "real life." There's nothing you can do to prevent it, time marches on. It's a good thing when relationships develop to the next level and grow more serious. But often this other thing happens. We get comfortable enough to think we've got this relationship up and running and now it can cruise on auto-pilot. We don't make as much effort looking nice, doing nice things for and with our beloved or even being nice. I see the last one a lot. You do too, take a look around places like parties and bar-b-ques with other couple friends or even nondescript places like the supermarket. There it is, that uncomfortable experience of seeing one mate disparage the other as you bear witness.
Dis·par·age /diˈsparij/ Verb: Regard or represent as being of little worth. Synonyms: depreciate - belittle - decry - underestimate.
This is not a judgement, we've all done this. We are all equal in allowing this malady to permeate what is supposed to be the love of our life relationships. This is merely the observation booth from where we can look in and see what we might want to readjust.
I think there's some merit to the idea of continuing to be your partner's lover no matter what the length or status of your relationship is. I'm not suggesting we go all "Stepford" but how about recalling what made you want this person to be yours and simply doing the things that got them there. Sure big gestures are great but it's really the little things that are relationship glue. Do we really need a date on the calendar that only comes once a year to remind us it's all about the love? Big profit day for Hallmark but kind of lame if we can't figure it out the other 364 days a year.
So what's the suggestion? Keep seeing your partner through the lover-scope lens. Notice, feel and tell them that you think they are beautiful, handsome, smart, funny, creative, incredible in the kitchen, office, community, bedroom, as a mate, friend, parent, lover. Make a date for FUN, play together often. Make a gesture any day of flowers (Trader Joes has great ones - you're there anyway picking up the groceries), cards, notes, text messages, a cookie or a piece of chocolate - anything that says, "Hey, I think you're cool, I'm lucky!" Speak with care in your voice and bite your tongue when you can't. Extend some grace when your partner blows it, because we all do.
It's true that life + relationships = not always easy. In fact, sometimes it's damn hard. Like lots of things it's a dance where balance is required. Just remember, if you step on some toes or fall down there's always make-up sex.
And so this is Christmas. It's never really been my holiday. Losing my Mom when I was 18 6 weeks before Christmas seems to have cast a pall over the season for me. I thought that would change when I had children of my own and to some extent it has. I shifted from as close to total avoidance as I could get to orchestrating the best damn Christmas EVER. Still, those holiday memories are a blur of exhaustion and tears - mine and the kids from trying to create the "perfect" holiday of gingerbread houses, breakfast with Santa in the right clothes, the desired presents wrapped with handmade bows, baking several kinds of cookies and plating them up merrily for friends and family, planning, cooking and setting a beautiful table for the dinner. I squeezed us all too tightly trying to have an epic Christmas. And, I never quite acquired that joyful aura I saw in other people or the magic described in Christmas carols or movies. The economic downturn saw expensive gifts, parties and dinners morph into something sweeter and more meaningful. Limited resources made it necessary to identify which things were the most important to make the holiday special thereby creating a natural balance that cut down on the craziness. At first downsizing Christmas can seem like a bummer but in hindsight it made it more special.
This year the Christmas spirit is again elusive. I've decided the holidays can occur on a kind of lighting dimmer switch. With kids I can't turn the holiday lights out completely but I can adjust the focus on the things that make it our kind of Christmas. A tree is a must (I asked the kids if we could do a smaller tree and was told "NO") but I came to the conclusion this year that all the ornaments don't have to make it onto the tree. The favorites and some beautiful new ones made the tree fabulous and done without the angst. Some treasured decorations like the hand print Christmas tree tile and the gold pine cone with pom-poms are a must-see but I didn't feel compelled to find a place for every decoration we own. The Santa's Village didn't get set up this year and that's okay. I made a new decoration with some colorful $5.00 ornaments and every time I pass by the table it sits on, I feel happy.
While I haven't been overcome with Christmas spirit, there have been moments of happiness that have come from letting go of expectations of how the perfect holiday should look. I've enjoyed the peace that comes with only doing the things that I want to do and that I knew would make me feel good. The book "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success" says there is joy in repetition. Sometimes by putting one foot in front of the other and really listening to your heart's desire you'll find that you get through ho-hum to Merry Christmas.
Largely ignored due to the warm weather, I "stumbled" onto my fuzzy green blanket a few weeks ago. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I have sought solace and comfort from a favorite blanket for most of my life. One of the best birthday gifts this year was a blanket my daughter made for me. I'm certain it's my new favorite. This was originally going to be a funny post about blankets but something bigger came up. Thinking about the welcome relief I get from something as innocuous as a blanket led me to the following.
Recently my eyes feel newly opened to the widespread life-changer experiences of almost everyone I know. Even in this town it's easy to distinguish the "haves" from the "have-nots." Or maybe it's an illusion. Some of the "haves" now find it slipping through their fingers. There was a lot of bulking up in the '80's and 90's and when those people were full, the banks offered a "better" lifestyle to those that couldn't really afford it. Hell, the banks couldn't even afford it. But they got bailed out. It's painfully obvious that the same entity that got us into this mess isn't going to really help us out of it. Though they pretend that they will. Einstein fits in here; "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." It's a twisted shell game that has left so many d-e-v-a-s-t-e-d. Not just all those millions of Americans but our family and friends. It's so easy to become myopic in our own world view. But the greatness I see coming out of the loss is families pooling their resources with other families to help keep it together and I'm fortunate to be in the co-op. It bears mention that the "haves" are not exempt from challenges. I know those that are struggling just the same, it's only a different scale.
It's just a reality that money is a great equalizer. Another is health. It's easy to have myopia here too. Hey, if you and your family are well it's all good, right? It can only take a minute for the tide to change and you're on your knees (or your back). If I hear one more time, "but you look well..." It's not that that's a bad thing to say or hear, I work hard at not looking on the outside like I often feel. Otherwise is would be Halloween more than just one day a year. And my stuff is no big deal at all compared to what I've witnessed. I watched my own mother battle cancer and recently some friends who've been fighting their whole life to save their son from cystic fibrosis lost him last month. It's the stuff that life-threatening heartbreak is made of. What gives hope is that I have seen, and been personally blessed by, people coming together to carry each other through. My friend Heather says words I love so much, "When you can't, I will." It's the only way we are going to survive and then thrive.
I detect a general malaise in many places that I go. Like a low hanging fog, I see it. Even in the eyes of the employed, those that I have business transactions with. Maybe they're supposed to be happy that they have a job; likely it's still not enough to make ends meet. Not to be forgotten are people who may have money and good health but have a burden on their back just as big. It's worth putting on our glasses to help our myopia and recognize, everywhere you look people are struggling. Kindness is the salve that heals. Apply some where you can.
Maybe the playing field has not been this level since The Depression. Seeing ourselves and others as equally in need of each other, it’s no longer possible to think that trouble is on another side of town or in another city or state. As painful as it’s been, the good news is that we have come to be in community with one another. I’m beginning to see that a good blanket, some love and the human spirit can overcome the human condition.
Come with me for an up close look at a unique strain of mating among a subculture called Foodies. When Foodies meet its not the usual romantic encounter. The conversation starter, "so tell me about yourself" quickly leads to revealing a fascination with food. Subsequent date activities consist of talking about food, perusing recipes (favorites and ones to be tried), and making grocery lists. Going to the farmer's market vs the movies is a highlight. Then there's reading cookbooks together - come on what new couple does that? Foodies, that's who.
A rush of passion occurs when cooking together and deciding who will be the Head Chef and who's to be the Assistant (who says you can't role play outside the bedroom). Then there's the culmination of it all...enjoying the meal, a perfect definition of the term labor of love. It's almost erotic in its consumption and revelry.
Outside the kitchen, pillow talk includes hushed tone conversation about "what are we going to eat today?" Fireside chats equate to standing around the bar-b-que anticipating the perfect result. "Sexting" to Foodies means exchanging pictures of food considered fabulous or rare that must be shared if only photographically.
And the only time Pinterest becomes a couples activity is when new and fantastic food recipes are pored over. "Pinning" dishes like spaghetti filled garlic bread and meatloaf cupcakes to eat during football season becomes a barometer, indicating potential for future time together in the kitchen. Always the common interest and goal is finding, or better yet, creating the next great meal.
Instead of typical romantic offerings such as mundane flowers, Foodies will present the object of their affection with produce such as beautiful heirloom tomatoes or perfectly ripe white nectarines made into a divine cobbler. Or the pièce de résistance - homemade, better than any bakery Red Velvet cake.
If there is doubt as to whether food can be sexy and a strong bond that connects people, I leave you with the following quotes from some of the greatest writers of our time as proof of the power of food. Please leave your comments below with your thoughts about good times in the kitchen.
“If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ― Virginia Woolf - A Room of One's Own
“You can't just eat good food. You've got to talk about it too. And you've got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.” ― Kurt Vonnegut - Jailbird
Back to school. There is no neutral feeling about those words to kids or parents. It stirs up a goulash of emotions; excitement, nervousness, relief, stress, happiness, sadness. And it rolls around this time of year like it or not.
There's the run up to the first day of school that includes the preparatory shopping. Depending on the age of your children (and the size of your budget) this can be a fun experience or it can be a nightmare. Finding just the right lunch container, school supplies, clothes, backpack, shoes, etc. is a challenge no matter how you slice it. Just coming to an agreement on said items for the price you are willing to pay can be akin to hammering out a peace accord agreement. And like accord talks, the process usually takes several days and trips to secure everything needed thankfully leading to détente.
Back to school represents different relief to working parents vs stay at homers. I've done it both ways. For the working parent back to school signifies a return to a more regular, less complicated schedule. If you haven't experienced the brain teaser that figuring out daycare and activities for children for 8-10 weeks presents, consider yourself lucky. And then there's the cost. Exorbitant. Plus the whole thing is a house of cards if something doesn't go EXACTLY as planned. I remember hanging on by my fingernails looking forward to the lesser chaos that having the kids back in school would bring.
Stay at home parents are relieved that their children are headed back to school because everyone, frankly, is sick of each other. The limit on entertaining (nearly as expensive as daycare) has been reached and the words "I'm bored" resound throughout the house. It's time for everyone to go their separate ways again, even if just for 7 hours a day.
Back to school time is however, bittersweet. Facebook chatter among parents starts prior to the first day with the flare signal, "One more week until school starts." This is met with responses like, "Whoo Hoo," "Mothers everywhere are doin' the happy dance," and my personal favorite, "It's the most wonderful time of the year." Then the reality sets in...it's the end of the lazy days of summer. It's back to alarm clocks, hurried mornings, stress about the whereabouts of the backpack, lunch, gym clothes, etc. And let's not leave out the traffic and the monitoring of the homework (UGH!).
But this is the beautiful time of raising our children. And as we are painfully aware, it will go by in a minute. We'll blink and they will be off to college. So here's to being grateful for the arrival of another school year. Another chance to marvel at the growth and experiences our kiddos will take us through this year. Bon Voyage!