Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Moroccan Spiced Root Vegetable Stew

When deciding on something to cook, I'll spend hours, occasionally days, perusing recipes (online and in *gasp* cookbooks), studying them, examining the spices, textures, techniques. In the end, I pick and choose what appeals to me - maybe add an ingredient or two - to create a dish that is truly my own.

Because of rainy winter weather - and plans to entertain several vegetarian friends - I decided that a root vegetable stew was in order. But not just any stew - it was Chanukah and I wanted a hint of far away lands... rich, earthy flavors ... curry, cumin ... Morocco.

So I went hunting for Moroccan Spiced Root Vegetable Stew. There are many many good recipes out there, and I took the best from each one and created something worth sharing. Here you go.

Ingredients
• Root vegetables (suggestions below, but you should choose your favorites)
1 turnip
1 rutabaga
2 sweet potatoes
4 large carrots
4 large parsnip
• 4 large shallots
• 1 large head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
----
• 1 onion
• 1 can diced tomatoes
• 1 can chick peas (drained and rinsed)
• zest and juice of one lemon
• 2 cups vegetable broth
----
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 1tbsp curry powder (plus dusting)
• 1 tbsp cumin (plus dusting)
• olive oil
• salt, pepper, chili flakes to taste

• 2 cups chopped fresh cilantro


Instructions
• preheat the oven to 375
• peel the root vegetables, dice them into uniform bite-size pieces
• peel the shallots but do not chop
• separate the garlic cloves but do not peel
• toss with olive oil salt and pepper
• spread vegetables in ONE LAYER in a baking pan or cookie sheet
• dust with curry powder and cumin (just a SMALLL dusting)
• put in oven for about an hour
• turn vegetables and rotate pan at least twice during cooking

While root vegetables roast:
• Heat some olive oil in a large pot
• Slice the onion and put it in the pot with a pinch or two of salt
• Saute the onions until transluscent - about 20 minutes.
• Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, zest and juice of one lemon, vegetable broth, cinnamon stick, cumin and curry powder to the pot and simmer for a half hour. Add salt, pepper and chili flakes to taste.

• When the root vegetables are finished cooking (they should be brown and carmalized, fork tender but not mushy) take them out of the oven and add them to the pot with the liquid mixture.
• Cook on stovetop for another 10 minutes so flavors blend.

• Serve with couscous, crusty bread, or latkes.
• Offer cilantro to sprinkle on top (or do it yourself but not everyone likes cilantro)
• Remind guests to separate garlic from the skin and spread the creamy goodness onto bread.

Bonus Leftovers!
The stew is even better the next day, but if you'd like to do something special you can easily create individual pasti-like pastries by mounding spoonfuls of the stew into the center of squares of puff pastry dough, bringing the corners up, sealing them witha pinch at the top and throwing it all into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Talk about satisfying. And impressive.

Let me know if there is any confusing bits or if you have any questions about the recipe.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Recreating a Tart

There is a cafe near my home that serves delicious, though overpriced, breakfasts and lunches. Because of the convenience, I find myself there about once a week. Smallish sandwiches are a hefty $8 which is more than I like to spend, but a slice of quiche or savory tart runs about $3.50 and provides me a perfect light meal. 

Their menu changes seasonally so last week I was pleased to see a tart of Acorn Squash, Walnut Pesto and Sage. The flavors are rich and satisfying. A vegetarian's dream (no, I'm not a vegetarian, but if I were, it would be in my dreams.) It was delicious. 

When I was assigned appetizers to bring to this year's Thanksgiving dinner I immediately thought about recreating the tart. There are essentially four parts: crust, walnut pesto, acorn squash and sage - and each requires it's own preparation, but putting it all together would be easy. I decided to do a test-run today (day before TG) and to make enough of everything to easily assemble another one tomorrow. 

Here you go:
SAVORY TART: ACORN SQUASH WITH WALNUT PESTO AND SAGE 
Crust: I don't bake, so I decided to use puff pastry dough. Get it in the freezer section of the store. Use one shet let it thaw per package directions. If you are an expert with tart dough, then, I say - go from scratch
Roasted Acorn Squash: Cut one acorn squash in half and scoop out and discard seeds. Place cut side UP in a shallow pan with an inch of water in the bottom. Place in 350 degree oven. Bake until tender but firm enough to slice. About an hour. After cooling, remove the skin and cut into half-moons.
Walnut Pesto: One cup EACH of walnut bits, parmesan cheese, olive oil and a quarter cup cream. Blend everything together. Consistency should be similar to natural peanut butter. Add more walnuts to make it thicker or more cream to make it thinner.
Sage Butter: Finely chop six fresh sage leaves. Put them in a pan with half a stick of butter and let them melt together. As the butter browns it will begin to smell slightly nutty. Be careful the butter doesn't burn. 
 --------------------------------------
Assemble and Bake the Tart: line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and dust with a small amount of flour. Lay the thawed PUFF PASTRY sheet on it. Spoon the WALNUT PESTO over the sheet and distribute all over in a thin layer. Place the ACORN SQUASH half-moon slices in an attractive pattern over the pesto. With a pastry brush, dab a generous amount of SAGE BUTTER over the top of the squash. Be sure that sage bits get brushed on as well. Fold the edges of the tart over and brush the top with the sage butter. Put into a 400 degree oven and bake for about 20 minutes - until the crust rises and the edges of it and the squash become golden. Serve at room temperature (with a glass of pinot).
 
Here is a (bad) picture of the test tart. You can see that I wasn't able to make nice half moons out of the squash (which kept breaking apart) so it's not as pretty as I envisioned, but it tasted surprisingly like the cafe's version.

Let me know if you make it.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Life Online

It's now old news that I'm experimenting for a month with an online dating site. The process has followed a predictable pattern: One of us contacts the other via the dating site; emails are exchanged; a date is set; phone numbers are traded in case of last minute conflict; a text message or email is forwarded before the date to confirm; the date happens; a followup text message or email is sent thanking the other for a nice time (or not).

Quick. Simple. Easy. Efficient. I love this.

So when someone wants to change the formula I'm put on guard - as happened with this one particular suitor who contacted me via the site. Let's call him "B." B wanted to talk on the phone. I hate the phone. I explained that my reception is bad and text is better but he called anyway. And he talked at me for 20 minutes. I shouldn't say that. He clearly had my profile open on his monitor because he was referring to things I posted on the site ("... here on page 2 you say ..."). At the end of the "conversation" he said that he is looking for "beauty with brains" and that I seemed right for the job ... er, date. Seriously - it was as if he were interviewing me for a business position - but telling me all about the company (him) without asking about the reluctant applicant....

After the phone call I considered breaking the date, but friends said that maybe he was just nervous ... give him another chance .... If nothing else, I decided to stew on it a few days and decide (a'la Ms. O'hara) later.

The next two nights, at around 9, I received text messages from B saying, "sweet dreamz... :)" On the third day a photo was sent... I downloaded it and was relieved to see a view of the SF Bay.... The whole thing was feeling kind of weird, but the date was a couple of days away and, I told myself, I could pull out anytime.

I didn't have to.

Just as I was snoozing off last night, at about the time "sweet dreamz :)" had been popping up on my phone, I received this instead (SIC):
U on Twitter now, tweeting about everything on ur mind, missing in life, ur lack of a relationship with a real and; highly employed Jewish man, about ur college date rape or near one in Israel, what u ate or drank in dirty Berkeley ....omg how PATHETIC.
 Um, what? I was awake now, and texted back, "Really? Wow."
I made plans ... 2 meet a real high-end woman looking 4 a real relationship with a great guy. Take care get a highly talented PhD therapist, bye :)
I recognize that my online life is transparent - sometimes uncomfortably so - and I expect there will be  judgements made. I'm also not naive, and am fully aware that if I give someone my phone number they can do a reverse search on Google and find me instantly. If a guy wants to stalk me --- I mean --- check me out before a date, they are privy to a lot of information. It's happened before - the reactions are telling.

Admittedly I've put some stuff out there that definitely could be considered pathetic, however, the post to which B. was referring is candid and raw. It speaks about deceit and violence and how events can twist your life in ways never expected. It's about growth. There is nothing pathetic about it. That he reels against this particular piece of writing reveals almost as much about him as the post does about me. Following it up with a crotch shot to my home town ("dirty Berkeley") was unnecessary and frankly, irrelevant.

Clearly this guy was not worth meeting in the first place. Perhaps my on-line life will continue to work as a screen to filter out the assholes, but I worry that it could scare some men off. And while I may be a reflection of what I put up here, no one can really know me until they spend time with me. IRL. And even then, I'm complicated.

Happily so.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Testing the Waters

Regardless of what I may have claimed here, I am dating.

And, I've returned to the online search once again because it seems easiest.

In fact, it's really kind of lazy. Beyond writing the perfect essay(s) and filling out a few forms, there's nothing to it. You can sit around in your pajamas (or not), anytime of day or night, cruising (trolling) potential partners who "fit" your profile - according to the algorithm setup by whatever particular site you are using.

That said, I decided to notch it up a tad by joining a site that requires payment. Common sense dictates that someone who's forking out cash to meet dates is probably more serious about it than someone who's not. Right? RIGHT? Whatever.

Immediately, on these kinds of sites, I face a challenge: my profile reads "41, divorced, two children, self employed...." It's all there on the first page. Regardless of how attractive my picture may be, if I were a guy trolling the site, I'd likely click "next." Who needs the baggage? I lamented this fact to my brother-in-law who advised I change "divorced" to "single", "41" to "39" and "2 kids" to just "kids." Really? I consented to being single - because I am - but the rest is a lie, or close to it, and no way to start a relationship. Needless to say, I'm finding the proactive approach most fruitful.

It's been a couple of weeks and I've had a few dates. The experiences have been mostly rewarding in one way or another. I've not met anyone who is less than who they claim on their profile (which, I understand is unusual), so that's good. Furthermore, the diversion is fun. The site makes meeting people a game and there's something to be said for getting marked "favorite" or being "starred" that is stupidly satisfying.

I signed up for the one-month plan and have 14 days before expiration. I'm not going to renew (it's expensive!) but, as far as getting back into the dating pool, it does seem a good way to wet the toes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Avoiding the Core

Angela Pierce, the protagonist in the movie Catfish, is a desperate character who brilliantly paints a fictitious story on facebook. She also paints canvases. The artwork showcased in the film was not impressive to me. The film, however, was - which compelled me to Google Angela Pierce, leading me to her website.

One piece struck a chord and I clicked through to an online store of prints available for purchase. They weren't expensive. I bought it.

Why this one? I wasn't sure at first, but the print arrived almost a month ago and I think it's starting to make sense.

All those apples - symbolic, at least to me, of temptation and loss of innocence. Each fruit, unfinished - tossed aside before reaching the core, which itself is truth. As if she doesn't want to know - she keeps munching, losing innocence, avoiding the truth. Getting nowhere.

Yet those apples are still so tempting. She takes another.
Crunch.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Catfish

By now you've probably heard about the "facebook documentary" called Catfish. Maybe you've even seen it. There has been some debate about whether the film was staged, but honestly, I don't care. The story - the beginning and the end - was sweet and innocent; the characters naive and brilliant.

Sitting through the film was more uncomfortable than, say, watching porn with my dad might be. Seriously. It made me squirm. 

Why?

At first I thought it was the text messages - familiar in their content - like a script I've seen bleeped across my smart phone... SMS intimacy that blooms to "sexting" things that might otherwise be left unsaid. Or maybe the easy way in which they shared (or so it seemed) such personal parts of themselves on social media platforms like facebook. But no. It was bigger.

There's a lot I want to say about this film. It'll take more than one post. I'm going to start here - with the story of MY catfish. So you get a sense of where I'm coming from.

----

It was early 1991 and I'd just completed college. As a mid-year graduate I had a semester and summer to kill while waiting to hear back from applications to grad school. My plan was to go to Israel (I'd been there the summer before and needed, for a variety of reasons, to return) but the Gulf War was in its fullest bloom and I was advised to wait - at least until the scuds stopped falling.

While waiting I lived with my parents in San Diego. I found a job at a gallery in a trendy beachfront mall and spent the evenings "babysitting" expensive Italian furniture and paintings. I'd sit there studying Hebrew and listening to the radio - practically praying that Bush (#1) would pull the troops out and officially end the war.

So it was on one of these nights that two young men walked into the gallery and, after chatting and flirting a bit, invited me to join them at a nearby restaurant for drinks. Which I did. One of them - Bill - and I hit it off immediately. We began dating.

Bill was a medical student at UCSD. He had class during the day, studied long hours and worked for his uncle selling mall jewelry on the weekends - to help pay the enormous student loans.

Still, we saw each other often and because I was living with my parents, he met them sooner than I might have felt comfortable. But they adored him (a doctor!) and immediately embraced his presence. Bill was invited to family dinners and parties with my parent's circle. I remember once, a long-time friend of my folks, a doctor's wife, said to me, "oh - where'd you find this one Cori? hold onto him!" Her husband liked him too and invited him to view a surgery.

All was peachy.

Soon enough, the war "ended" and I was accepted into a masters program in Jewish Studies, to begin in the fall. Despite being in love, I still wanted to go back to Israel to immerse myself in the language - attempt to learn it before diving into the primary sources written in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. 

Bill and I agreed to carry on our relationship while I was away. He was looking into transferring to UCSF so we could be together in the Bay Area when I returned. We wrote long love letters back and forth... he'd share details about his internship at the Salk Institute and I'd relay my adventures living in the most orthodox part of Jerusalem while learning Hebrew in a government run ulpan populated entirely by a newly settled group of Russians. It was quite lovely.

Exorbitant long distance charges kept us from speaking on the phone, so when he called one day - two months before I was due to fly back - I knew something important had happened. And indeed - he had something to say that he was afraid would hurt me. That's OK, go for it, tell me. "I didn't get that internship at the Salk Institute. I told you and your parents that I did because I didn't want you to be disappointed in me." Is that all? Oh. Well, I'm sorry you felt that way but it doesn't change how I feel about you. I love you whether you have a prestigious internship - or not.

He was clearly relieved and we said goodbye

I looked back over the letters and studied the details he'd written about the internship: specifics about his office, research partner, the items served in the cafeteria - even difficulties parking. It was all made up. Pretend.

But I was in Israel and would be for another two months. I put the lie aside. I studied Hebrew. I waited to go home.

Home -

When I arrived at the airport my folks picked me up. My mom said something snide about Bill - something I didn't understand. I kept thinking about it while I freshened myself up for our reunion. And suddenly it hit me. I went to my sister (several years younger than me, still in high school) "Bill isn't a medical student, is he?" Her face said it all - fear, sorrow, pity. "No. - But don't tell Mom and Dad I told you."


I didn't tell. And I didn't tell Bill what I knew when he picked me up that night. I let him suffer through the evening, watching him try several times to confess. Finally, midnight, and we went to the beach to watch the waves. He said, "Cori, I'm not in med school. I'm not in school at all. I just sell jewelry." Wow.

Later I found out that my dad and Bill had had several discussions - at each meeting Bill looked into my dad's eyes and lied. But the lies became obvious and my dad made some calls (no record of Bill ever graduating from the college he said he came from. No record of Bill as a student at UCSD) and finally confronted Bill straight on: WHO the HELL are you?

Imagine for a moment that you are my dad. Have a knot in your stomach? I know I sure would.

But I was barely 22 and wanted to believe the man I was in love with was simply misguided (and not a sociopath). I forgave him. Yup. On the beach that night I said, "Bill, I would love you whether you were doctor or a garbage man. I'm sorry you felt you had to lie." I'M SORRY!?!?! Yea. I said that.

Naturally the relationship didn't last. I moved up to Berkeley for Grad School. He visited several times but I couldn't believe anything he said. His lies were like truths to him and I couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't. Talk about a mind fuck.

It was, actually, more than that: the previous year at college, before I met Bill, I'd been raped on a date and not long after - during my first visit to Israel, at Hebrew University - I was assaulted by a naked man hiding in the dorm bathrooms. He tried to rape me but I fought back and screamed bloody murder They caught him running down the hall pulling his pants on. I spent the last weeks of my visit  learning about the Israeli justice system (further complicated by the fact that my assailant was Palestinian....)

What Bill did to my mind was the same. I felt violated - and this time not by a date or a stranger - but by the man I loved. He'd stuffed a bunch of lies into my head and now he was slowly pulling them out - sharp edges and all. It hurt.

---------

The film Catfish brought all of this back to me. If you've seen the movie, then you know why. If you haven't, understand this: a catfish is something thrown into the mix to shake things up a bit - keep you on your toes. Bill is my catfish. And I say "is" in the present tense because his actions, 20 years later, still affect me. I could heal from physical assaults and even rape, but the way Bill managed to alter my perception... to fool me... I think I'll carry that around to the grave.

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's the Abstract that Hurts

I've had a string of rotten stuff happen. I keep pulling myself up from feeling sorry for myself by focusing on people in situations much worse than mine - like the 33 miners in Chile. I mean, if they can survive a month under the ground, who am I to complain about a few days of crap?

I don't really have a right to complain about the gardener hired by my landlady who called me a bitch at 8am on a Saturday morning. Or the client who insulted me personally and professionally while "excusing me" from duties on a project for which he wasn't paying. Or how about the colleague who, while attempting to sniff out my business plan, swooped in from behind and stole the job.

More abstractly I could complain about how the gardener, calling me a bitch at my own home, enunciated  the fact that there is no man living here (because if there were, he wouldn't have dared speak to me that way.) Or how the self righteous insults of the non-paying client had me questioning my professional capability at the same moment my "colleague" pulled out a knife and stabbed me in the back.

Or I could bemoan a lack of romance - real or imagined. The actuality I can live without - I've got more than a decade of practice. But the abstract romance keeps the pilot on. When it gets extinguished it becomes a hell of a lot more difficult to fire up. And the cooling is piercingly quiet.

But hey, the kids are healthy. The bills are paid. I'm going to see my favorite band perform tonight. (Never mind that I couldn't find a date and am going alone)

I'm not complaining.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Reletive Lepton

Quick background: I came to Berkeley in 1990 to earn an MA in Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union. During my first week of classes I met a man, "T" who continues to be a close friend. Over the years we've studied together, encouraged each other's work, celebrated accomplishments.... He was at my wedding, heard Joe's first breath, supported me (without alienating EX) during the separation and divorce... my children have grown up with him. He's family.

Last night T and I went to dinner (as we often do) and I made a snide remark about the existence of God. "You don't believe in God?" he asked? My answer - "no" - had never flowed so effortlessly from my lips. It surprised us both.

We quickly fell into a familiar and friendly academic discourse about life, death, the "soul" and God. "Humans," he began, "are made up of all these little tiny molecules... we're just one giant mass of living organisms.... So, what if we are really just one tiny little molecule of a larger being. Just like we can be broken down to protons and neutrons, quarks and leptons, suppose we are that tiny of a reality.... Along with everyone else in the whole universe - itself only a molecule - we are one reletive lepton of God."

I kinda loved it. And like a child, I imagined a "god" of huge proportions - a giant - in which we are all swimming, floating, moving towards something blurry and abstract. Granted, we - collectively - may be only a cell in the digestive track, our existence is (still) necessary for its survival.

And *BAM*
We come back to that again.
God can't exist without us.

The answer is still no.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Vlogtober

Some of you know that I used to spend a lot of time over on YouTube. I really enjoy editing video (though I've not done it in eons) and interacting with the YouTube community, but I've not made it a priority in the last two years for a gazillion reasons. That's not to say that I don't keep up with my old YouTube friends. We stay connected on twitter and facebook and various blog posts. I even "meetup" with them in real life when the opportunity presents itself.

Last night a YouTube friend, Mugglesam, suggested (via a twitter dm conversation) that I try doing a daily vlog for the month of October. Talk about the news -  make it current, using tags that are likely to show up in searches - from a Mom's perspective. A mommy vlog. Evidently YouTube (the big "G") has made it known that they're interested in content for the Mommy Blogging community. I'm a mom. I also blog.... Albeit, I'm a divorced mom. Living in Berkeley. So my perspective might be skewed in that direction.

These videos are going to be pretty raw for a few reasons. First, I don't know how to use Imovie9 (yet) and editing is impossible. So - they'll be pretty much one-take one-sided conversations with myself (hahaha). Also, It's at the end of the day - I look tired (because I am) and I don't wear makeup (usually) and I'm not going to put it on for a video. So, there's that. Don't judge. You look tired at the end of the day too.

I'm not going to post all the videos here (in case it's not your thing) but here's the intro if you're interested. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Brisket or Bust

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Yesterday was Rosh ha Shana (5751) and, although I don't go to services, I do like to experience my religion through its food. The Jewish New Year is celebrated with sweets (for a sweet year) -  sweet kugaltsimmis, and apples with honey. I've had tsimmis where the meat is thrown into the pot, but it's not to my taste so I make the meat separately.

So - off I went to buy a brisket.

I called a local butcher who said, yes, they had some; when I arrived, however, I was told that it hadn't arrived yet but would be delivered in an hour. OK ... save one for me.... Off to the local high-end grocery store (the beef really does make a difference - I find that organic, grass-fed is best) ... they weren't expecting a delivery until Monday. Hm. Ok, it was early. I could wait an hour.

But brisket takes some time to braise - it's a tough cut of meat and needs to cook for a long time to become tender.

I called a third butcher - one attached to a restaurant - and they had 4 lbs. YES! Hold it! I'll come right over.

It was an end piece with a big cone of fat through the middle. Fine - I'd take it. Please cut out the lard (which they did and kindly shaved off a half pound from my bill).

I arrived back at my house at around four and immediately browned it up and started it braising.

My recipe is usually pretty straightforward, but this time I decided to add some sweet new year pizazz and alter the formula. The results were magnificent. So much so that I NEED to write them down so I can attempt to replicate it in the future. So - here you go:

BRISKET (or bust)
4lbs brisket 

one can chicken broth
one package onion soup mix
one can chopped tomatoes
one cup Boffo Cart jarred tomatoes (or something similar)
one pint marinated figs and olive (bought at the olive bar at Magnani in Berkeley)
one cup water

• season meat with salt and pepper all over
• in a large sauce pan, brown the meat on both sides (about 5 mins. each side)
• add to the pan: chicken broth, onion soup mix, can chopped tomatoes and cup home-made jarred tomatoes (or appropriate substitute.)
• bring to a boil, cover the pot and lower flame to simmer
• simmer for 1 hour, then turn the brisket over, add the figs/olives and another cup of water and recover
• simmer for another hour
• check for done-ness - should be fork tender if not - cook longer.

Let it sit for a half hour in the pan before serving.
Remove meat from pan and slice across the grain.
Left in the pan is a tomato/olive/fig "jam" - serve it along-side the brisket slices.
Heaven.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

On Dating

Two years ago I left my husband.

Much to the confusion of everyone but me, there were no "other people" involved (neither one of us were having an affair). Overlooking the actual "why" of the end (which requires its own post), it's the "when" to begin that I want to address here.

EX is the type of man, he wouldn't be ashamed to admit, who "needs" a woman in his life and he quickly found a girlfriend to fill the gap I left behind. He was calmer and happier with her which made it easier for everyone. It was a good thing.

I, on the other hand, had a different agenda and got busy finding my way back to me. Mostly this involved meeting and spending time with a bunch of amazing women who supported and inspired me. It's true that along the way I met some nice guys who helped move the journey along, but serious dating - relationships - have held no interest.

The divorce became final a few months ago and, almost immediately, well-meaning friends and family members began to ask if I was dating... or looking to meet someone .... Even my kids, who have seen their dad in two serious relationships since I left, have began asking boyfriend questions.

So I took a step back and examined where I'd gotten (really only measurable by knowing from where I'd come) and decided that, indeed, there is space for a partner. Even more than space–desire. Perfect. I'm ready. How does one start dating?

As you may expect, I began the way I'm most comfortable - online. I put an ad up (on an unnamed dating site) and began vetting responses. The first fellow (#1) and I arranged to meet for coffee. Must have been the longest 45 minutes of my life. He spoke about the demise of his 17 year marriage, his job and then - more about him. I was surprised to receive an email the next day requesting to see me again. When I said no thank you, that I thought we were in "different places," he called me a "mean hearted bitch" and a "nit without feelings."

Once recovered from the misdirected anger of #1 I gave it another try. #2 was a nice guy - a gentleman. I was attracted to him, and the date flowed along effortlessly. When I got home there was an email waiting from him saying he enjoyed himself and was looking forward to our next meeting. I followed up in the affirmative. but the second date was difficult to schedule. He disappeared. Never heard from him again.

I took down my ad. ... but left myself open to possibility. Embraced opportunities as they've come my way. And I've met some incredibly warm and promising men, but no one who is available for a relationship.

Excuse the long winded story because in the end all I really want to say is that I've figured it out and here it is in a nutshell: I'm 41 years old. Men my age either want children of their own (and I'm not birthing anymore babies) or they don't want children (and I have two.) Either way, I lose. OH! there are men who are like me: divorced with children half time. I'm open to a blended family, but I've yet to meet a prospect. At least in my state.

My theory posits that when I'm 50-and my kids are basically grown–able to fend for themselves–I will find my dating pool expanding. Men in my age bracket will be too old to want kids and/or they'll have grown ones of their own. They'll be looking for straight-on companionship and love. From me.

It's all figured out now (tongue planted firmly in cheek): I spend the next nine years concentrating on my kids and my business. Building a firm foundation and fluffy nest for my forthcoming dating days. I'm looking forward to it. But in the meantime I've got a hell of a lot of work to do.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

You Don't Know Me

It was all bullshit.
If you only know me from my online persona then you don't. Know me.

The sound of my voice when I'm sad. The way I laugh when something amuses me.
Did you know that hosting a party puts me in a place of concentration and absorption that is the closest I get to meditation? Cooking puts me there too. Unless you've seen me in that space - you don't know me.

My tendency to tremble when I'm nervous, the way I turn to mush when my kids say they love me – you've never seen that stuff.

Not too many people have. But them, they're the ones that know me.

To you, I'm Berzerkeley.
And really that's just fine.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I Feel Like I Know You

Blending online and offline life has become, of late, generally acceptable. Two years ago, when I made this YouTube video, it wasn't as true, but with the advent of "tweetups" and "gatherings" the tides  have shifted and hearing "oh, we met on twitter" isn't so odd. At least in my circle ... er, bubble.

Amazing in so many ways, social networks have created opportunities for me to connect with moms all over the world, introduced me to the smartest people I've ever met, gotten me interviews, jobs, dates. Doors have opened; worlds (literally and figuratively) discovered.

I tend to be transparent to a fault when presented with a social media platform, so when I meet people IRL (in real life) the first thing I hear is "I feel like I know you." And in many ways they do. If they watch my videos on YouTube they've seen my kids grow up, if they read my blog they know my struggles as a newly single mom. My twitter stream has, at certain times, been more revealing than the diary of a teenager.

You'd think this would make me uncomfortable. On the contrary. Much of the awkwardness I feel when meeting new people dissipates when someone says, "I read your tweet about xyz - how was that?" or "I saw that video of Maia - she's so funny." It opens up avenues of conversation and encourages a more immediate intimacy than with those who don't have online connections.

I've been lucky to meet many of my online friends in person. Berkeley has a nice contingency of people tweeting about local news and events, lots of moms, and foodies. Some I see often, others by happenstance (I'm always surprised by the number of people who recognize me by my twitter avatar). I've yet to have a bad experience.

That said, I've also connected with people who, without the Internet, I'd have never met. Folks with whom I share experiences but live across mountains and seas. Lucky for me, San Francisco is a destination that's fun to visit and hosts many trade conferences – IRL meetings have been generous.

The sweet potential of connection via online medium opens up the entire world for exploration. Everyone is as close as the click of a mouse. It makes our planet seem so small.... and then, inevitably, so LARGE. Spending actual physical time with some of these online friends is SO comfortable that it begs for ... well... more actual physical time. Therein lies the conundrum: While allowing us expand our social reach, the Internet also reminds us of our limits.

A teleportation device has yet to be invented and plane rides are long and expensive. Furthermore, the trappings of life - work, kids, commitments - make even the idea of frequent visits impossible. And so there is a vague bitterness that follows some of these meetings. In this advanced age of the Internet, geographical limitations still apply. Mountains and seas remain obstacles, and someone on the other side of the world who might have become a best friend, flame, or companion is, in all reality, still on the other side of the world.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Kale Chips

Last year the kids and I were visiting a friend at her Napa abode. Along with excellent wine, fruits, almonds, cheeses and breads she served kale chips. Delacate lacy leaves of salty crunch. The children devoured them

Recently I came across kale chips at a farmers' market in Palo Alto. Big jars of them. Super expensive.

Finally, walking along the side walk right here in town, I glanced in a shop window and saw a man busily making ... something. I got in close and started asking questions through the open window. "I'm making kale chips," he said as he brushed marinade onto a leaf. "We sell them all over the country." Turns out I was smack in front of Blessings Alive and Radiant Foods. I must have walked by the shop a thousand times and never noticed it. Unlike the chips I've tried, Blessings Alive dehydrates the kale. Making it extra crunchy.

So, kale chips seem to be a trend.

Of course I had to jump on the bandwagon and try doing it myself - starting with a thick hearty bunch of just-picked kale from my local market. Here's how I did it:

Ingredients
One bunch kale (thick leaves)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove
salt

Directions
• Set oven to 250 degrees
• Pour the olive oil and the garlic clove in a large bowl. Let it sit.
• While it sits, wash and dry the kale leaves (it's important to dry them or they won't crisp)
• Remove the garlic from olive oil and discard (or use for something else)
• Put the kale leaves in the bowl and mix to coat with the olive oil
• Lay the leaves flat in a single layer on a cookie sheet
• Sprinkle with salt (and/or pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, chili flakes, etc)
• Put in the oven and let "bake" until crisp - about 20 minutes

Serve warm, or let cool and store in a sealed jar.
Also great crumbled over soup, salad or pasta!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Baby Baby Baby

More on this later. Enjoy.

A Place Callled "Expectations"

The first time I read The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster I was about eight. My parents had friends with teenage daughters that we visited often. I found the book in their room, made myself at home and opened it up. Honestly, all the backward words confused me, but I liked the idea of a land beyond the tollbooth... and the fact that Milo (the main character) was able to drive.

Like so many other great children's books (The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, etc) The Phantom Tollbooth can be read on several different levels. When I picked it up last week I was planning on gifting it to Joe (DS), but then I took a peek and was immediately sucked in.

The hook? Upon embarking on his journey, Milo bumps into a little man - the Whether Man - who points the way to "Expectations." What? "Why, Expectations is the place you must always go to before you get to where you're going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations..."

I can't stop pondering his words. They roll around in my brain. What are my expectations for this little life of mine? And if I haven't defined my expectations, is it possible to move forward? Does expectation fuel the drive? What happens when expectations don't measure up? Or fall flat all together?

Now, reverse that: what if where get to exceeds Expectations. The roast is tender and delicious, the date went well, the raise was earned. Does it make you happier? By lowering expectations are we creating opportunities for success?

Reverse that (again): high expectations may result in defeat but do they push you beyond where you would have gone with lower expectations?

Confused?
Me too.

But I think the Whether Man is saying that the expectations we impose on ourselves can drive (quite literally, in Milo's case) us forward and perhaps take us to lands we never knew existed. The words have convinced me to raise mine - expect the universe - see how far I get. Watch me fly beyond Expectations.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

How Does It Feel?

On Tuesday morning the phone rang and my attorney said, simply, "You're divorced!" The judge had signed my petition and my divorce had been granted. Since then I've been asked over and over again: "how do you feel?" My immediate answer was "kinda relieved, kinda weird..." I couldn't really put my finger on how it felt.

But I've had a few days to process now - talking to friends, reading back on my old journals and blog posts, generally thinking. So I'm gonna tell you how it feels.

There are certain events in life that are of epic importance yet are not celebrated or even marked - at least not in the Western world. There are three that immediately come to mind: losing ones virginity, becoming pregnant, and getting divorced. If you've done any of these things, then you know how it feels.

Remember the day after the first time you had sex? Wondering if people could "tell." Or how about the first trimester of pregnancy when you carried around a little secret that no one could see or feel but you? And then there's divorce. A piece of paper signed by a judge; the news delivered with a phone call. Kind of a vacant hole in the face of a major transition, don't you think?

So how to "celebrate" or at least mark the moment? A lot of people asked if I was gonna go get drunk ... (which I did) or have a party (at the bar). Though fun, neither seems sufficient. Maybe I've not "processed" or thought through this enough to find a way to properly honor the event. It deserves a ritual or a yearly memorial. Something.

I'm looking.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The House Across the Street





My house has a big window in the living room that looks east. In between the buildings I can see the Berkeley Hills which I find calming. Directly across the street is a lovely home with wisteria growing down the front stairs (left). I find it a source of intrigue and, recently, some sad nostalgia.

When I first moved in, almost a year ago, the neighbors in that house introduced themselves. Two school age girls, their dad and a male roommate. Their mom lived elsewhere.

We haven't talked much over the months but my "view" has made it clear that the girls live there only half time. Sometimes, during drop-off, mom and dad talked, or argued, on the sidewalk. The girls would disappear into the house. Moments like these would make me turn from the window, uncomfortable. Seeing something meant to be private. And so familiar.


Then, last month, there began a series of trucks coming to the house. Boxes and boxes of things being moved. On and off for weeks. Then, Memorial Day weekend, there was a big push. Suddenly mom, dad, roommate, kids and friends were working together to move everything out. It seemed an awkward collaboration where each was on their best behavior. Smiling extra wide.

Yesterday, bringing out the garbage, I had an opportunity to ask my neighbor if he was moving. "yes yes. I'm moving in with my girlfriend in Marin. Since the divorce, four years ago, I cannot afford this house."

WHUMP.

Like a time warp I'm brought back two years, three then four....

We lived in a classic Berkeley bungalow. Nine hundred square feet with a finished garage I used as an office. It worked well for many years. Then there was Moses (the dog), Joseph (first born) and finally, baby Maia, It became a squeeze. We considered selling and buying a new house - and even put an (unsuccessful) offer on one. Eventually, my husband, the architect, convinced me that he could add a second story to our existing house for under $100 grand. He introduced me to the contractor who would do the work. And so, the decision was made - we'd build up. Go.

We emptied the house and moved to a rental (oh how simple those 9 words are, the process was SO MUCH more, but I won't bore your here.) Construction began. When they ripped off the roof I was visiting my parents in San Diego and a friend sent me a picture. I gasped when I saw it. There was no turning back now.

Construction went on for 10 months during which time we plowed through two contractors and countless subcontractors. (yet another story) Eventually, my husband took over as GC and pieced together the work. It would save money, he said. But the reality was (is) that he is an architect and NOT a GC. And an architect who is given charge of his own project's construction is a dangerous proposition.

Needless to say we went waaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyy over budget. More than $250g over budget. The house (left) was basically beautiful (if finished quickly) but the situation itself was a disaster.

We scrambled to pay our new humongous mortgage just as the economy was sinking and our business were struggling. Our families were generous and helped us so we lived there for two years... and then I decided to end the marriage. It seemed sudden to everyone but me.

I moved into the garage, sleeping on an air bed and we struggled to find solutions as to how we might "save" the house.... could one of us live in it with a roommate? Could we rent out the garage as an office? None of the "solutions" came close to being able to cover the mortgage. There was no choice but to sell.

We were lucky. Even in the down economy we received four offers with one at sixty grand over asking and no contingencies. Done. HE and I secured our individual apartments and settled into being single parents.... (hahaha - that makes it sound so easy, doesn't it?)

Now, looking out the window has become like gazing in the mirror - a reflection of the pain of divorce, financial struggles, and finally, moving on (or out, as the case may be.)

I wonder who will buy the house across the street. I'm thinking it'll be a young couple, babe in arms. Maybe a dog. I'll bring them champagne and cookies and wish them the best. The window will cease being a portal to the past and, instead, a promise for a future.... at least for now.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Making My Bed

I'm still not divorced and Sunday was my eleven year wedding anniversary.

Back in the day I'd be greeted on May 23 with a humongous bouquet of flowers - delivered to the front door. Nice, right?

It never failed to irritate me. WHY spend a $100 on flowers (that would die) and delivery when you live with me in the SAME house? What a massive waste of funds. Furthermore, floral delivery indicated that little to no time or effort was put into the gift. It was always a disappointment and it's probably jaded me forever.

Of course, THIS is "the day" NOW, and the anniversary was forgotten until the memory (upon looking at the date) assaulted me on Sunday morning... The wedding itself was beautiful. A sunny May day in Tilden Park's Brazillian Room. The band was great. Everyone danced. I hear the food was good, but I didn't have any because I spent half the night in the bathroom puking.

OK, maybe that's an exaggeration. It wasn't HALF the night. It about 45 minutes. And it happened after I was lifted up in a chair and flung around the dance floor like a giant beach ball. My girlfriend held my hair back as I heaved over the toilet. Somehow my dress stayed clean.

I tried very hard to keep the marriage together. Telling myself often, "I've made my bed, I must lay in it." It was absurd to think that I'd end what appeared to be the perfect success story (marriage, house, kids, businesses, etc etc). But it was all an APPEARANCE. A face for the world.

It wasn't until I EMBRACED the absurd - the end - that I was able to get out of the proverbial bed and start anew.

So, yea, my linens aren't silk and satin, but they ARE 100% cotton, the bed is ALL MINE - and I can make it any way I like.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Malcolm X Day

In Berkeley the public schools and libraries are closed on "Malcolm X Day" in celebration of his birthday. In the past I've not questioned it. This is Ber(zer)keley and the city likes to make a statement. But this year I decided to refresh my memory about his life and and words, it's been more than 20 years since college and my "Afro-American History" courses.

My admittedly brief study led me to YouTube - with video and audio of his speeches, interviews, discussions. The first one I listened to talked about loving oneself; celebrating ones skin, hair, features as African and beautiful.




Nice. I AGREE with what he says. AND people NEED to hear what he's saying. It's the beginning of black pride. Is it worth getting the day off? Not in my opinion. So I search on.

I discover an interview in which a bunch of old white guys rudely ask Malcolm X to explain the "X" in his name. He does this beautifully. The first three minutes are gold.



Then I found this:



and this:



and I felt a little ill.

I'm not arguing that Malcolm X is an extremely important figure in American history. He was a dynamic speaker who knew what the people needed to hear. Brilliant in his own way. I should, as a friend on facebook pointed out, read his autobiography and put myself in his shoes.

In the meantime, it makes me uncomfortable that the kids got the day off of school in celebration of this guy. Surely there are other African American heroes that can be celebrated with a day off.... Rosa Parks? Markus Garvey?

Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mother's Day Coupons Get Real

On Wednesday mornings I volunteer at Joe's school and today I was hanging out in the office putting packets together. A kindergarten teacher was making Mother's Day coupons for her students to fill out and give for presents. They were to get five coupons and needed to come up with a different offer for each.

"What do you think?" she asked. "Hugs? Kisses? Drawings?"

Well, those things are great, but I get them every day. Naturally I started to think about what I'd want if those coupons were somehow to come to me.... here's my five:
REDEEM THIS COUPON TO RECEIVE:
1. Clothes in hamper (as opposed to floor) for a whole week

2. Ten toys picked up and put away before bed for two nights in a row

3. One made bed three mornings in a row

4. A whole day without ANY whining (good for one time only) *I'm a realist*

5. An attention span longer than two minutes (for two minutes) *again, I'm a realist*

What do you want?

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Groove is Good

The combination of Joe's 8am school bell and my lack of morning humor can add up to potential meltdowns, so it's no suprise that the most difficult days of the week for me are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday - the days the kids wake up here and I have to get them out the door by 7:45. Ugh.

In the old days, before we were separated, David - who likes to rise with the sun - would run the dog and take Joe to school. I'd stay home and have a leisurely coffee while Maia ate breakfast. Her preschool had a more flexible start time so we'd stroll in around 9:00.

Oh times have changed.

Getting two kids out the door is a challenge and I've discussed some of the strategies I use for coping in previous blog posts. But it's gotten easier. And this week, it was really easy. Like almost FUN easy. Everything was just smooth - like a well oiled machine. And I tell you, when the morning goes well,  it makes for better day all around. And a better day means a relaxing evening. And that, in short, is how this week has been.

We're in the groove and it's really good.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Two Phases of Understanding

Tonight, while tucking the kids in, we were chatting, as usual. Maia was having a hard time settling into bed. She said (whined), "oh... Mommy, when I'm with Daddy I miss you and when I'm with you I miss Daddy. I want you BOTH." Maia is 4. Her dad and I have been separated since she was two and a half so she doesn't really remember the four of us as a unit. But she DOES understand - and tonight was able to put into words of the first time - that she loves us both and wants us together. This comprehension of the nature of divorce is new and self-learned. It makes me sad. It would make me sadder if Joe didn't respond the way he did.

The 9 year old - who has always maintained his hatred of the divorce and its inane wrongness - said to his little sister, "divorce may not be happy for me or for you, but mommy is happier and that makes me glad."

Holy. F*cking. Sh*t.

My boy just forgave me. Not that I need to be forgiven. But if he WAS blaming me (and given that his dad told him that the I left the family on my own accord, I believe he did blame me) then he just then, in that moment, that sentence - that lesson to his sister - forgave me. He showed such immense empathy and compassion that I could do nothing but break down in tears and tell him thank you. He understood the significance because he hugged me tight and told me he loved me.

That boy of mine.
He is an old soul and I admire him.
We're gonna be ok. And Maia is damn lucky to have such and awesome big brother.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Quinoa Killer

A few years ago I discovered quinoa at a potluck party. The dish was made with tomatoes, basil, garlic and roasted eggplant. I loved it and began replicating it at home. It became one of my staple foods.

Here it is a few years later and my kids won't eat it and I don't bother making it for myself. Until today.

What I really craved was a bowl of hot polenta with nuts, raisins, butter and maple syrup (a'la Guerilla Cafe) But I didn't have any polenta and it was pouring rain so there was no way I was going out. I DID have rice, bulgur and quinoa. I decided on the quinoa and cooked it up according to package direction, using apple juice instead of water and, at the end, mixing in walnuts, raisins, blueberries and butter. The chewy texture of the quinoa didn't satisfy the need for smooth hot porridge, but it tasted delicious and I ate a bowl.

Fast forward 2 hours and you see me in fetal position on the sofa. Moaning because my stomach felt like it was twisting itself in knots in an attempt to exit out my navel. The pain was excruciating. I won't go into the details of the illness, but it wasn't pretty. And it lasted all afternoon.

At some point I felt well enough to get online and google my symptoms. Suspecting the quinoa, I added that to search. Sure enough, I landed on a blog post called "Just Say No To .... Quinoa." Although the writer had different motives for consuming quinoa than I, she had the exact same experience - calling it a "quinoa hangover" and blaming it on saponin - the natural oily residual on the grain that needs to be WASHED OFF because it is bitter tasting and used to make DETERGENT.

I didn't wash my quinoa. My stomach hurt bad enough that I will not chance eating the grain again. EVER. Washed or not. There is no guarantee I can wash it well enough - each and every tiny grain. I don't want to take the chance. It's sad, cause I liked quinoa and it's very good for you (saponin not included). But, I stress again, for me, it's not worth the risk. Ouch.

Can't wait to get my hands on some polenta.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Not Watching TV

Oh no... We're not watching TV. No. At this moment I am downstairs in my office and my children are upstairs. Joe is playing labyrinth. On my Droid (phone). Maia is playing with Barbie. On my MacBook.

Earlier, Joe and I were looking at Google Maps in 3-D. We're still trying to get augmented reality to work right. But, it's soon. As Maia would say, "is it tomorrow?"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Kesler Communicates

Did you know that I have another blog-for my business. It's over on wordpress (to where I'll be moving this blog eventually) and I talk about graphic design and web 2.0 for non profit organizations and small businesses. Check it out or pass it along to someone who might like it. Thanks!

http://keslercommunications.wordpress.com/

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Mandatory Year of Service: Thoughts on "Class Dismissed" by Walter Kirn, NYT

I hated high school. With a passion. So, by sophomore year I'd worked the system in such a way that I could leave campus every day before lunch. I spent the afternoons working at a hair salon (earning work-study credits) and nights taking classes at the community college. But it wasn't enough. I wanted OUT so I doubled up on classes, took summer courses, weekend intensive workshops and managed to graduate a semester early.

Finally free of high school I hopped on a plane and moved across the country to New York City. I was seventeen.

In his article "Class Dismissed," Walter Kirn posits that we should do away with the 12th grade entirely because it's become a "year of licensed irresponsibility." Is it true? I wasn't really there... Perhaps it would be best to offer students a choice the summer before senior year. Or ...

Could we possibly require a mandatory year of service before entry to college? Imagine hoards of 17-year-olds volunteering at elementary school, hospitals, farms (see "Plow Shares" - same issue NY Times Magazine), convalescent homes, and appropriate non profit organizations around the country. Can you imagine entering college after spending a year discovering how your actions help a person, community or even the world? Would this experience have changed the directions taken in university? Would NOT going to college become a viable option leading to long term, valuable, working posts? Would apprenticeships come back into vogue?

I kind of love the idea. What do you think?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mom to Dad and Back Again - Easing the Transition

Divorced parents are not the same as single parents.

Single parents are those who have either chosen to have their child without a partner OR those who have been left widowed. Single parents have their own set of issues and to deal with, but they are not burdened with co-parenting dilemmas.

Like it or not, divorced parents are CO-parents-particularly if they share custody of the children. What happens at dad's house does not disappear when the kids are at mom's. Rules, routines, discipline, even FOOD are different at each home. It might be difficult for a four year old to remember that it's ok to eat on the sofa a daddy's but not a mommy's... And with a schedule that has meant a shift every other day, MY children are really having a hard time of it.

Yes. Due to their dad's new teaching schedule, and our commitment to 50/50 custody, the children are sleeping Monday & Wednesday at Dad's and Tuesday and Thursday here. Still switching off Fri/Sat/Sun. It's not working.

Changing this schedule will mean that the kids will be with me a bit more than with their dad, but I believe it will end up being better for them. Making the transition is hard enough without having to do it every single day.

OH - the transition ... it's not just a changing of the guards, a handing off of responsibility.... It's bigger. Remember the KIDS. They have to adjust their entire being to live in a different home with an entirely different set of rules.

Over the last year I've learned some techniques to help ease transition days. Listed here are five that I find particularly helpful:

1. Be waiting for their arrival with a big smile and open arms.

2. Do not take it personally if they are grumpy or whiny or angry upon arrival. They (especially older kids) are pissed that you guys separated in first place and put him into this position of having to switch houses every day. Additionally, they could have been up all night, or doing errands all day ... you need time to gauge their moods and adjust accordingly.

3. Give them an hour to just chill out in their room or play with their toys. They need time to make the place their own again - they've been gone for many many hours. Sometimes days. They must make sure things stayed the same while they were gone. Consistency, when available, is vital.

4. Do not have guests on the transition days. The kids, even if they don't say it, really just want to spend time with you alone. To be with the parent they've been missing and to have that parent all to themselves.

5. Be prepared for the worst (overtired, grumpy, unhappy child). If the child comes home well-rested and happy, it's a bonus.

What do you do to help ease this kind of transition for your kids? What can you add to the list?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Free to Roam

When I was young, I'd walk myself to and from school. Sometimes I'd go with friends, other times alone. I remember doing it as early as kindergarten. After school I was sent out to play. Everyone was. All the neighborhood kids would be out--tossing a ball, having snowball fights, jumping in leaves ... each season brought new games. We were never bored.

When the street lights came on, or parents called out from doorsteps, it was time to go home. Simple.

Here it is 30 years later. I live on the west coast (no seasons) in an urban environment with two children of my own. And times have changed.

Would I consider letting my kindergarten-age child walk to school alone (never mind that school is 5 miles across town)? No. No way. How about playing outside? I allow them to chalk up the sidewalk in front of our house, or ride down the block on a skateboard or trike... but I'm RIGHT there. Either outside with them, or watching, perched at the window, at the ready to tackle anyone who dares mess with my kids.

At the same time, I'm loath to instill this fear in them.

The New York Times recently took this topic on and opinions on what is “right” run deep. The article reminds us of Julie Pat who, 3 decades ago, let her six year old son walk to the bus stop himself. He was never seen again. However, Lenore Skenay, author of “Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry,” argues that our fears and anxieties are negating the joys of walking to school and the discernment of self care. Independence.

So when my son, almost nine, said to me one day, "mom, I want a kaiser roll. Liam and I will walk to the bread store to get it." Oh, really? I looked at the boys, thought about the 2 block walk to the bakery and heard myself saying, "let me get you some money," and I sent them on their merry way. From what I gather from our conversation afterwards, they ran to and fro, were followed by "a crazy dude" and were faced with a major dilemma upon discovering the shop was out of kaiser rolls. You know what though? The DID it. And they felt proud. They also had something to talk about for the rest of the afternoon and at school the next day. It was an adventure.

Since then, on Wednesdays, when I volunteer at Joe's school and stop to get a coffee, Joe asks if he can walk to class rather than wait with Maia (age 4) and me for my drink. I let him. It's an active two blocks with lots of parents and kids on their way to school. I feel comfortable with it. Furthermore, those few moments that my son is alone, independent, free -- add significantly to his confidence and self esteem. He can do something by himself! Which means that he can do OTHER THINGS by himself. I'm also seeing a greatly increased effort on his part to make his own breakfast or read to his sister.

A lot of people may thing what I'm doing is wrong: turning my son free on the streets of Berkeley ... It's ok. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. I'm not sure mine is the right one. But it certainly is the one that seems best for my child.

The Morning Princess Dilemma

When he was 4, my son, Joe, and I would spend a half hour in front of his closet every morning choosing the day's tshirt -- which usually included some form of superman, batman or spiderman emblazoned across the chest. A character that might have been acceptable last week would be villainous (and unwearable) the next. I'll never forget my frustration.

Here it is five years later and, just as Joe decides he could care less about what he wears, my daughter becomes obsessed with clothes. Super heroes aren't Maia's thing though; she likes princesses. Bonus points if it's a Barbie® princess.

Getting ready each morning was becoming a nightmare. Maia's in preschool. She should be wearing jeans but was insisting on dresses. And not just any dress... she likes the big fluffy ones with velvet and tuel. Too cold out for a sundress? -- no problem! She'll wear a long sleeve shirt and pants under it! Adorning herself with a tiara and assorted jewels (including plastic clip-on earrings) she comes to me with a comb and direction to do her hair so it "swoops" across her forehead, "like Barbie." She finishes her outfit with mismatched socks (on principal) and sparkly sneakers.

Never mind the obvious question (which is "HOW did this happen?"), we'll jump right to the "what do we do?" part. The answer: (almost) nothing.

One thing I've learned as a parent is that I MUST choose my battles with care. Some things are worth fighting for, others are not. As long as she's dressed appropriately for the weather, I say go for it! So what if it's the dress she wore to her aunt's wedding? Maia will be too big for it when the next formal opportunity arises. Why NOT get some use out of it?

The caveat: choose tomorrow's clothes the night before. Maia lays the outfit on the bed to admire and then crawls under the covers, looking forward to dressing the next day. No more wasting precious morning minutes arguing in front of the closet or searching through laundry for the "pink velvet" skirt she must have. Now we have time for breakfast and giggles before leaving for school. A much better start to the day than screaming and whining.

Learning to express oneself is a huge part of growing up. If Maia wants to pretend to be a princess, I'm not going to jump in and stifle her creativity (though I admit to being a bit disappointed that she hasn't embraced super heroes or fire fighters... a subject for another post, another time). I'm just happy we've learned how to make the morning hour relatively peaceful and calm. It makes getting to school so much easier.


Originally published in SchooGo/ParentsTown February 4, 2010

School Participation

Before my child started public school I had all sorts of grand ideas of what I would do with the PTA. I would organize fundraisers, facilitate conversation between parents and staff, help out in the classroom… But when it came time to put my son Joe in kindergarten I found myself struggling financially, working 60 hours a week, and caring for a second baby. I didn’t have time for the PTA.

Here it is 4 years later. Joe is in third grade and Maia will start kindergarten in the fall. I’ve yet to go to one PTA meeting. I am a member ($10) - which is helpful to them because of National PTA funding – but I can’t commit to being part of its core group of volunteers (president, vp, secretary, communications liaison, etc) because I lack the time and energy.

Does this mean that I’m entirely absent from the school? Not at all; but rather than going to meetings and making fundraising phone calls, I’ve chosen to spend my time on three carefully chosen activities.

  1. One shift (about an hour) at the school book fair which happens twice a year. The kids love the book fair and the PTA offers them one free book each session. It’s a great opportunity to meet other parents and see a bunch of happy kiddies getting their “PTA presents.”
  2. Design the poster for the yearly fundraising Carnival. I’m a graphic designer so pulling together this poster is piece of cake. Additionally I get to express some creativity and see it taped up in all the shops around town. I’ve actually gotten one or two paying gigs from this project.
  3. Stuffing the blue folders. Let me explain. On Wednesdays the kids come home with a blue folder filled with flyers, permission slips and completed homework. Someone needs to sort out all the papers and fill the folders and for Joe’s class, every year, that someone has been me. Being in the classroom EVERY week at the same time (first thing in the morning before taking Maia to preschool) affords me a chance to see Joe’s teacher in action, learn about the classroom dynamics, and get to know the other students. It is the most valued of my volunteering activities. The teacher is pleased to have this task taken off her hands, Joe enjoys seeing me in class, Maia adores drawing pictures and pretending to be a “big girl”, and I like listening to the lessons. It’s a win win win win.

Bottom line: I value (highly) the folks who make up the core volunteers of our school’s PTA, but I don’t feel guilty for not being part of it. I’m satisfied with my contributions to the school and love the activities in which I’ve chosen to partake - isn’t that the most important thing? To make the best effort within your means while taking advantage of the opportunity to be part of your child’s classroom experience.

How do you participate?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Five Droid Apps to Keep Your Kids Busy.

My post for the DROIDIE.com blog about apps for kids can be found here. Check it out and let me know which apps you use to entertain your kids -- or just explain why you'd never let your kid touch your Droid. :-)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Massage Fairy

Maia came into my room yesterday and said, "I'm the massage fairy." Then she began rubbing my feet. This is why I had children.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dressing the Princess

Another post for the SchooGo blog. I hope you'll cruise over to read, comment and offer your own stories about the princess living in your house. (click here)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Paste an iPad in Your Panties

For those of you who read this and don't follow me on twitter, I began the day like this:
  • One hour till the mac geek collective orgasm. Foreplay has been going on for months so we're aiming for multiples.
About two hours later:
  • I'm actually finding this whole experience underwhelming. I thought we were supposed to see fireworks. "Premature Ejaculation Jobs."
And then the jokes about the name - iPad (gah!)
  • "iPad" ... the name sounds like it should be pasted into panties. Why?
  • cleaning an iPad requires douche.
  • everyone's iPhone is now just for your lighter flow days.
Those are just mine.
Here's a breakdown of some of my favorite tweets regarding the horribly named iPad:
  • xenijardin Prediction: DRM advocates who criticize Apple for lack of openness will make lots of jokes about iPad vs the need to Stayfree (TM).
  • summersumz I'm wondering how many women were on the iPad marketing team, and why none of them used their "big girl voice" to shoot down that name.
  • @Fritinancy What's this I hear about Apple breaking into the lucrative feminine hygiene market with new "iPad"?
  • @andevers ... there is rarely room for menstrual humor in broad daylight w/ mixed company. Forgive me Mr. Jobs or should I say thanks?
  • @gooddoug: Next year, it's the iTampon
  • @expatina Coming next: the new, slightly larger iDepends.
  • @RenovationTherapy Ipad, for your heaviest cycles.
  • @rebeccaforever: iPad? So what--you use it once a month?
  • @DrJenGunter: Do you charge the #iPad every 28 days? (via @dianefischler)
on and on ....

So it just makes one ask... WHY? Did you steal if from MAD TV when they came out with this video?



Oh well, if nothing else it provided a morning of collective adolescent humor.

Did you hear any good jokes about the iPad? Please, put them in the comments. It'll be a fun collection.