Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Life, Dichotomous

dichotomy  (daɪˈkɒtəmɪ) 
— n  , pl -mies
1. division into two parts or classifications, esp when they are sharply distinguished or opposed.

Juggling has become a skill in which I excel. Every month I strategically buy groceries, pay the bills, fill my gas tank and somehow manage to pay my outrageous Bay Area rent. Sometimes it means borrowing money until the next check comes in (I work freelance). Sometimes, when I juggle, things drop.

On the other hand, if you follow me via social networks like twitter, facebook, google+, instagram, flickr, foursquare or here, you might see status updates indicating the opposite: gourmet restaurants, exclusive events, theater seats, trips to Mendocino, Montana and NYC.

How is this possible?

There are a number of explanations. The first is work. I have many fabulous clients that do a variety of wonderful things - such as supporting cultural arts - music, food, dance, wine, performance, etc. I'm lucky enough to be able to attend these events - some of which are exclusively for donors who wear pinky rings worth more than my yearly earnings. 

Second, many of my friends have been successful in their careers and work in high places. Maybe they have expense accounts. Sometimes they invite me to their company events. Or they take me to lunch. Either way, I'm the recipient of perks that probably weren't meant for me. And I'm alright with that.

I also have very generous friends. And I'm not just talking about corporate accounts or holiday Secret Santa stuff. In addition to surprise gifts, sponsored vacations and emergency funds, these folks believe in me. I have worth to them. At least this is what I tell myself. In turn, I, myself, begin to feel worthy and THAT is the real gift. The idea that I'm thought of well enough to be gifted an iPad or flown to NY for the weekend. That there are people out there who like to see me happy. Wow.

Finally, as you may expect given the first paragraph of this post, I'm not skilled at keeping a personal budget. As a freelancer there are times that I have lots of work and great big checks appear in my mailbox. But sometimes it's slow and I can barely meet my rent. Why not save the "big checks" for slower times? Because when they arrive I get very excited and after paying off everything I owe, I might think there is enough left over to, say, go to Montana for a few days to hang out with a friend. A smart person would put that money away. So I'm not the smartest. But I'm learning. 

In the meantime I lead this dichotomous life - one minute deciding which Broadway show to see and the next selling belongings to come up with money for gas and electric. And that's ok. Half the time.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Cornflake Chicken

On the side of the Kellogg's Cornflakes box is a recipe for chicken. You can make that, or you can make mine. Mine is easier and the kids eat it.

• 3 cups cornflakes
• 1 package onion soup mix
• 1 egg
• half cup milk
• chicken tenders (package)
• olive oil

Preheat oven to 350.
Prepare baking dish by coating with olive oil.
In a large bowl crush 3 cups of cornflakes and mix in the onion soup mix.
In a smaller bowl whisk together the egg and milk.
Dip chicken tender in egg/milk and then coat in cornflake/soup mix.
Place coated chicken tender in baking dish.
When all are coated and in the baking dish pop it in the oven.
Take it out 30 minutes later (when the juices run clear.)
Serve with coleslaw.

Tastes delicious the next day on a sandwich with avocado and said cole slaw.

PS: if you are snobby about onion soup mix then leave it out and add your own custom spices. Just don't judge.

Friday, December 2, 2011

New York City and Me

I posted this last year and someone flagged it for copyright. All the words are mine. The photo is from Flickr's The Commons Collection and has no known copyright restrictions. Last year I didn't have the time/strength to deal with the false claim. This year I do, so I'm putting it back up because - except for the part at the bottom which says it's my first time in NY on my own - it's all relevant. It's just that it's my second time. 

High school wasn't a fun place for me. Rather than just plod along and deal with it I decided to find a way around the system.

New York City skyline from Queens, c. 1974
From The Commons at Flickr
My school offered several ways to get credits without being on campus. Working 15 hours a week counted as "work experience" so I took on a job (receptionist at a hair salon). Furthermore, I was able to work the system such that I was able to take community college courses at night in lieu of high school classes. As it worked out, I only had to be at school in the mornings. I left before noon and went about my life which, on a good day, meant putting in a couple of hours at work, going home to my apartment (yes, I lived outside my parents' home as a junior in high school - perhaps I'll write a post about that sometime), cooking dinner and then taking off again for night classes. I don't know where I got my energy. But then again, I was 17.

This isn't to say that I didn't have a healthy teenage social life. I did. But my friends were a little older.

Somewhere along the line I got it into my head that I "belonged" in NYC and so that is what became my goal. My grades didn't warrant Columbia and my SATs kept me out of NYU, so, thinking I'd study fashion merchandising, I applied and was accepted to FIT - Fashion Institute of Technology - a SUNY school that required general ed along with marketing, advertising and design courses. They also had dorms.

With all the extra courses I took (summer school included) I was able to graduate high school a semester early, so in January of 1987 - two months before my 18th birthday - I found myself on a plane to NYC.

We (my dad and I) flew directly into a wild winter storm and were stranded in Chicago for two days before we finally arrived. FIT was out of dormrooms, so they cleaned out a storage space and furnished it with a bed, a bunk bed and three desks. I was so pleased to actually, finally be there that I wouldn't have cared if they'd stuffed us in the basement.

My dad and I went shopping for bedding and such and then he had to catch a bus back to the airport. We said our goodbyes on the corner 7th Avenue and 34th Street. To this day he says it's the hardest thing he's ever done. Of course, my memory is absolute elation - I'd made it to New York. And I was on my own.

I lived there for two years. The only constant was my job at the New York Health and Racket Club and a wild ride. Let's just say that I moved through three universities (finally ending up at Hunter) and four apartments. While there I dated wildly, went "clubbing" with my pals and learned how to handle my liquor. By 1989 I was done.

I told folks it was the high cost of living. I was making barely $6/hour and my rent was $900/month. But really, the city was eating me up and spitting me out. It was the late 80's - AIDS had come into public awareness and Madonna was in vogue - Like a VirginRudy Giuliani hadn't become mayor yet and the city was a mess. From my apartment window (granted this particular apartment was on 46th and 10th) I could watch the prostitutes and their pimps and learned who belonged to whom and how to avoid a police raid. Maybe it was too much for me. But looking back on it, I can't help but feel I gave up.

I didn't really make it in NYC.

I left and moved back to California where I worked through my last two years of college at UC Riverside (with a stint or two at Hebrew U) not dis-similarly to how I got through high school: head down, straight on.

Marriage - and the fact that my husband and his family were from New Jersey - brought me back East several times over the past 12 years, but I've not had an opportunity to spend time in New York on my own - without the arguing or the children. Until now.

The stars have aligned in just the right way to stick me on a cross country flight over a long weekend. I've got four days to re-discover New York as a woman more than twice the age of girl I was in '87.

I'm so excited.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Montana Part III - That Moment

Last month my friend Jenna Skype'd to say she was getting her ovaries removed in (yet another) preventative measure to hopefully avoid a cancer relapse. I was in a rare position to afford the $300 plane ticket to Kalispell, Montana and decided to fly out to give her hand. This is the last of three posts about that trip. The first post is here and the second post is here.

A couple of days before leaving for Montana I received an email from Jenna saying that her cousin's daughter, Lillian, had gone to sleep on Halloween eve and did not wake up. Lillian was a healthy, 13-day-old baby.

Jenna (a graphic designer) volunteered to design the program for the funeral service and was able to complete it a night before she went to the hospital. Prepping for surgery should not include this sort of activity, but no one plans for death, and certainly nothing as unthinkable as this.

The funeral was on Sunday so, three days after her surgery, Jenna was sitting in the front of the sanctuary with her husband, while I stayed in the back of the room, sitting quietly with her boys.
"Let us not grieve that Lillian is gone, but celebrate that she was here. Look around this room, see how many lives she has touched in her short time with us."
Indeed, the room was full of people. Of course, I knew very few of them, and many (like me) had never even met Lillian. But we were all in tears by the end of the slide show that was meant to celebrate her life.

Later, at the reception, I heard Jenna say to her cousin, "I know what it's like to have everything be one way one moment and then totally different the next. Please let me know if you'd like to talk." Of course, the "moment" Jenna referred to was the one where the doctor told her "you have cancer." Those words spoken in that moment changed everything for her.

I'm grateful in my life to have not had such a moment (knock wood). Of course this is not to say that change hasn't happened. It has - but my "moments" have been longer - allowing space to adjust and become, eventually, comfortable. This, I've learned, is a luxury.

My friend Erin Vang has just completed an amazing project called Kaddish in Two Part Harmony and she has dedicated this beautiful Kaddish to Baby Lillian. (A Kaddish is a prayer of mourning). Erin's french horn is particularly lovely.

Translation of the Mourners Kaddish:
May the great Name of God be exalted and sanctified, throughout the world, which he has created according to his will. May his Kingship be established in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, swiftly and in the near future; and say, Amen.
May his great name be blessed, forever and ever.
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored elevated and lauded be the Name of the holy one, Blessed is he- above and beyond any blessings and hymns, Praises and consolations which are uttered in the world; and say Amen. May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us and upon all Israel; and say, Amen.


Lillian's older sister (12) wrote this poem in honor of Lillian.
Lillian Isabel, Oct 18 - Oct 21, 2011


Lillybel, Lillybel
My oh so sweet baby
Our beautiful Lillybel

Come to us in our darkest
We showered you in love
For 13 days I held you
Our sweet Lillybel

The more we cry
The more we love
It was and is all
for you.

Lillybel, Lillybel
My oh so sweet Lillybel
Our beautiful baby girl

Even if you cried
at night
Even if you need us
We are here for you
And you are up high for

I’ll pick a star up
in the sky
Just for you
And think of you all day.

Lillybel, Lillybel
My oh so sweet Lillybel
Our beautiful baby girl

You knew no cruelty
You only knew love
We shielded you from
Just to save ourselves

Now we are hugging, kissing,
waiting… waiting for
you to show yourself to
us again

Lillybel, Lillybel
My oh so sweet baby girl
Our Beautiful Lillybel

Our one and only
In loving memory of Lillian Isabel Nelson
I dedicate this poem to you

Your always loving Big Sister

Monday, November 14, 2011

Montana Part II: Kid Swap

Last month my friend Jenna Skype'd to say she was getting her ovaries removed in (yet another) preventative measure to hopefully avoid a cancer relapse. I was in a rare position to afford the $300 plane ticket to Kalispell, Montana and decided to fly out to give her hand. This is the second of three posts about that trip. The first post is here. The third post is here.

Jenna grew up in Montana and moved back with her California-born husband in 2002 but they come back to the Bay Area every summer (mostly because her husband's job demands it) and I get to spend time with her then. Still, our schedules are busy (she works too) and we tend to plan our outings in such a way that we can be without children (and husband, in her case) to catch up and chat without interruptions.

Don't get me wrong. I love her husband and kids - and even their extended families - but when time is precious, I just want to hang out with Jenna. 

This trip to Montana would be different. For one thing, I was going with a purpose. While I was absolutely looking forward to long chats on her recovery bed, I was also determined to make myself useful by entertaining her two boys and taking some stress off her husband who is working full time AND going to school. I wanted Jenna to rest and recover from the surgery. My job was babysitting and cooking.

Of course I've spent time with Jen's kids. I've watched them grow up. I hear about their triumphs and challenges from Jenna. They know me as "Mama's friend Cori" in the way that a lot of kids know a long distance aunt: I say things like "oh how much you've grown" and pinch their cheeks and make them give me hugs. I'm also the one who takes away Mama's attention - or worse - takes Mama away completely when she comes to my house for an evening away... So, the first sentence in this paragraph is actually false: I've never really spent time with Jenna's kids.

I arrived on Friday - the day after Jenna's surgery. The boys were at school so we took the opportunity to settle her in (she and her dad had picked me up on her way back from the hospital!) and get her set up with tea, water, snacks and all her recovery drugs. We talked about the forthcoming weekend and everyone's schedule. At 3pm she said, "the boys will be home in 15 minutes" and sure enough they came skidding up to the door on their bikes, happy for the weekend to begin.

Noah is 9 - born a year and a half after (my son) Joe - and Kai is 6 - the same age as (my daughter) Maia. The brothers are mirror images of each other in that the older looks just like Jenna and the younger, exactly like his dad. Their energy is delightfully "little boy" which was a welcome presence in the recovery room. They were excited to see their mom who had been at the hospital for the past two days and - after the necessary hugs and kisses - I harnessed their attention (thank you Smarties lollies!) and brought them downstairs to let Mama rest.

The boys warmed up to me quickly and we were soon laying next to the fire chatting about school and friends and the kinds of things they like to do. When their dad got home I brought out my iPad and they all got busy playing with Google Earth (big map fanatics, these guys!) By the next morning Kai and Noah felt comfortable enough with me to leave their parents home and take me around the hood while giving geo-caching a go. We didn't have luck finding a cache, but ended up at a cozy local restaurant for hot coco and grilled cheese. On Sunday we poked around the house - played with apps on my iPad, made fabulous marshmallow/toothpick structures (lots), did homework, played some word search and I may or may not have introduced them to The Simpsons.

More interesting than all of this is what I learned about the boys. Jenna had always said that Noah was smart, but the kid is actually off the charts gifted. He enjoys studying cookbooks in search of the perfect chocolate dessert and he plans biking trips through the Italian countryside. He asks questions like "why do people prefer push pins to thumb tacks" and he wants a serious answer. (my statement about using magnets was not accepted.)

Kai bursts with energy. He is self sufficient (sometimes to a fault, but we don't cry over spilt milk) and somewhat stubborn. He loved playing with TocaBoca apps on my iPad and excelled at creating marshmallow/toothpick structures. Someday he may very well be an engineer. Of course, the highlight of my time with Kai was when he snuggled up next to me at bedtime and - instead of reading a story - we worked out way, together, through a word search puzzle.

By Monday night Kai and Noah were asking why I couldn't stay longer. They thanked me (seriously unprompted) for spending the weekend with them and gave me hugs and kisses without me asking.

I wish I'd spent more time with them sooner.

Of course Jenna and her husband say that Noah and Kai were on their best behavior because I was a guest. Furthermore, my job was to entertain them - of course they were good - they were having fun! So it got me thinking... I should spend time with other people's kids more often. In fact - other parents should spend time with my kids as well.

As a single mom there are times when I'm with my children for days on end without a break. We all begin to grate on each other's nerves. But what if I take a clue from my experience in Montana and swap kids with another mom for a day.


Children always act best when they're not with their parents. Spending time with a new/different adult is a learning experience for them and fun - in that the activities are different than what they'd be doing at with their own folks. Really - just a change of scenery, a change in general, can be a relief for everyone involved.

So, the next time your kids are driving you up a wall (during the upcoming holiday school-break, for example), approach a trusted friend and suggest a swap. She may look at you like your nuts, but when you explain that you're talking about kids (not husbands) she'll be relieved enough to actually consider it. Try it once. I'll bet you'll do it again.

Montana Part I: Jenna's Cancer

Last month my friend Jenna Skype'd to say she was getting her ovaries removed in (yet another) preventative measure to hopefully avoid a cancer relapse. I was in a rare position to afford the $300 plane ticket to Kalispell, Montana and decided to fly out to give her hand. This is the first of three posts about that trip. (Part II is here. Part III is here.)

Jenna and Me c. 1999
(yes, I had short hair.)
Jenna and I met 20 years ago when we both had our first "real" job at a well known San Francisco publishing house. Neither of us made enough money to live comfortably and we bonded over lunch strategies (soup or potatoes? Rice or beans?). We struggled through boyfriends and breakups - job changes and moves. We were first attendants at each others' weddings (neither of us like the term "brides maid") and we went through four pregnancies between us. She moved to Montana in 2002 but it didn't keep us from seeing each other - she visited the Bay Area often and we had our phones and computers to stay connected.

In 2009, a few months after I left my marriage, Jenna was diagnosed with breast cancer. It wasn't just a little lump that had to be removed. She was looking at a full course of chemo, a bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction, radiation, hormone treatment and (now) the removal of her ovaries. She was 39. We both were.

For me it was a reality check. I didn't think anything could be worse than what I was going through by attempting to end my marriage (though officially separated, my husband and I were living in the same home) but suddenly I was grateful for my health.

Because the hospitals in San Francisco and Marin County (where her in-laws live) specialize in breast cancer, much of her treatment was done there. For me it meant she was a mere thirty minutes away and I could spend some time with her. The chemo - she said - wasn't so bad. She was never sick. Just really really tired. Three days after returning from the surgery that removed her breasts, Jenna was up and around visiting with people at her mother-in-law's home on her 40th birthday. And no. I'm not kidding.

Jenna was a picture of graceful strength. Inspiring in her humble silence.

Furthermore, Jenna never made light of my divorce proceedings. She'd always ask how things were going, offer advice, listen to me cry. She never said "well at least you still have your boobs." If I were her, I'd have sure been tempted.

My divorce is over and my life, though different, is generally good. Being a single mom isn't as bad as being married to the wrong person. Yes -I  struggle to pay the bills and juggle schedules but I'm not worried about a relapse. It's over. 

Not for Jenna. Almost three years since her diagnosis and she made the decision to have her ovaries removed, a step to make permanent the depletion of estrogen circulating in her body since her tumor was one that feeds off her own natural hormones. In January of 2009, when she was diagnosed, I wasn't able to fly out to be with her. This time everything was lined up to make it work: a little extra cash in my wallet, a surprisingly affordable plane ticket and her surgery was taking place right before a weekend my kids would be their dad.

I was off to Montana.

PS - Here is a link with instructions on how to check your breasts for lumps every month. DON'T WAIT to see your doctor if you find ANYTHING suspicious.

UPDATE: From Jenna:
Statistically, younger women are diagnosed with more aggressive and faster-progressing cancers, so if a younger woman (pre-menopausal) feels a lump OR ANY MARKED CHANGE (mine wasn’t a lump) in her breast she should have it checked. Many younger women wouldn’t even really think that they have breast cancer -- “it’s an older woman’s disease”, “I don’t have BC in my family”, etc...First time I felt mine I never gave a serious thought that it might be breast cancer.

I honestly believe that if I had gone to the doctor early in December when I first felt the thickish firmer part of my right breast rather than a month later, I may have been diagnosed at stage II before it went to my nodes and the nodes are the big deal.  

The 5-year survival rate between stage II and stage III is about 20% better and looking at a 80% survival rate is WAY better than a 60% survival rate. If you are younger and feel a change in your breast you can’t necessarily afford to wait.  And even if they did mammograms on younger women, waiting a year between exams would likely lead to a stage IV or metastatic disease if you had an aggressive cancer.  

I had even had my annual exam and my doctor had done a breast exam in September and it didn’t make a difference for me.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupied at Ten

Driving home from school the other day I asked Joe (10) if he'd heard about the Occupy Wall Street movement.


They haven't talked about it in school?


So I started to explain that people are angry because of the growing divide between the rich and poor due, in part, to corruption of financial institutions and blah blah blah...

"OH! oh I think I know what you mean."

You do?

"Yeah. Remember when Grandma took me to open my savings account at Wells Fargo?"


"We put in $30 and then the next time that Grandma came to visit we went back to the bank to put in ten more dollars but there was only FIVE DOLLARS left!"


"Grandma was so mad and said it wasn't right and that I should be getting money: INTEREST. But the Banker told her it didn't work that way and there was a $10 fee every month the balance was below $100.... Is that what you mean by Occupy Wallstreet?"

Yup. He understands perfectly.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rules and Routines

(NOTE: This post was originally published at Single Mama NYC Single Moms Sunday series on July 17, 2011. I may or may not have taken the liberty to change certain facts upon this republication.) 

Every parent knows that predictability provides a comforting familiarity that children crave. When my kids were babies, I made my plans around nap-time. Missing the afternoon siesta resulted in meltdowns at dinner that could take hours to tame. People thought I was nuts (can't they nap in the car? in the stroller? in my bedroom?) but I learned quickly not to change the things that worked. I learned that routine mattered.

I don't have babies anymore. My kids are 10 and 6 but routine still matters... more for me, than them.

It started with the garbage. Taking it out every Thursday evening had been my husband's job. Now that I was alone the job - like so many other things - was mine. Then one night about a year ago, as I dragged the bins the curb, it dawned on me that I hadn't thought much about the garbage for months. "Remembering" to take it out had become as second nature as bringing in the mail every day...

This was a huge revelation because, although the weekly "routine" seemed to be under control, daily activities were not. The worst of it occurred in the morning rush to school - what to wear, eat for breakfast, pack lunch, etc. DVD's were watched while eating and fights broke out when it was time to leave ("just five more minutes!!!") School starts at eight a.m. We were always late.

So I started to institute new rules and routines. Not just for the kids - but for me. Lunches had to be made and packed the night before - likewise for choosing my daughter's outfits. I had to get up earlier and shower before waking them. They are allowed one mutually agreed upon television show to watch while eating breakfast. But no DS, Computer, smartphone, or anything else that could result in a reply such as "let me just finish this level!!!"

The first month was hard. Like you, I'm tired at the end of the day. I've worked, carted kids around, made dinner, gone grocery shopping and any number of other things. But I made myself prepare the lunches every single night. Upon waking, the relief of having this chore done was significant.

Now it's been almost a year and I've got the routine perfected. I wake every morning pleased that the "night-time-me" took care of the "morning-time-me." My kids wake up to a smiling, un-frazzled mom. We don't have to rush or raise voices. Everything is prepared.

I've listed what I do below. What are your life-saving routines? (Not just morning routines - I'd like to hear about ALL routines that help you manage.)

Evening Routine
(while the kids entertain themselves after dinner and/or after they go to bed)
  • choose my daughter's clothes with her
  • clear table and clean dinner dishes
  • make lunches
  • prepare coffee maker 
  • tidy up the living room

I allow one 15-20 minute TV show
while eating breakfast.
Morning Routine 
(while the kids sleep *note I sleep downstairs and the rest of the house is upstairs)
    • wake at six and go upstairs
    • push the button on the coffee maker
    • shower
    • fill my mug with coffee, smile at the filled lunch boxes when I open the fridge to grab the cream, and go back downstairs
    • dress
    • sit down on my bed with my coffee and iPad or laptop and play (ie. Words with Friends, twitter, facebook, etc.) This has become one of my favorite times of the day.
    • 7 a.m. I wake the kids and get them dressed
    • they're eating breakfast by 7:30 (and I'm finding I have time to make them pancakes if they want)
    • the agreement is no electronics but I allow one 15-20 minute tv show while eating breakfast. (I'd like to nix this, but for now it makes them happy and happy means a smoother morning)
    • and we're out the door by 10 minutes to 8

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Braids Before Bed

    All ready for bed!
    My daughter has a mane of thick wavy golden hair. Over her (six) years we've seen it through several styles. First, bangs with the classic bob. Then, after getting lice in preschool, we cut it all off and it curled up into a little old lady style that somehow suited her. Since then we've been growing it out. She has no bangs and it's gotten pretty long - to the middle of her back.

    Getting to the point where I can actually comb through her tresses without tears has been a mess of trial and error. After years of fights, we've finally come up with a system that works for us and I'm sharing it here in hopes it might work for some of you as well.

    • Hair is washed every other night.
    • In the shower I put in shampoo and conditioner at the same time and, after scrubbing her head, allow it to sit on her hair while I wash the rest of her body.
    • Using a wide toothed comb I comb through her hair while the shampoo/conditioner is on her head. 
    • Rinse it all out.
    • Towel dry hair by squeezing (not rubbing) into a towel.
    • Comb through again (should be super easy) and braid (this is a crucial step) before going to bed.
    • In the morning take the braids out and brush (should be very few knots because the braids have kept it from knotting up) and re-style for the day.
    • Evenings when it's not washed we brush and braid it before bedtime so the morning is easy and ready for restyling.

    Following this routine has made our mornings so much easier. There are never tears and rarely arguments. She's become excited about trying different hair styles and tolerant to the time it takes me to achieve them. More important, bedtime hair-brushing before books has become a time for us to bond, chat about the day and plan for tomorrow.

    It's amazing to me that something we used to dread so much has become a lovely end-of-day ritual that leaves us both smiling.

    On weekend mornings (when there is more time) she
    can take out the braids and brush her hair -get this -
    all by herself!

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    There is Wine on the Ceiling

    While at shopping at Trader Joe's yesterday I decided to buy the ingredients for meat sauce. Along with ground beef, garlic, onions, beef broth and tomatoes, I usually add red wine so I picked up some Two Buck Chuck

    Once home I chopped up and sauteed the onion and garlic in olive oil for about 20 minutes - until the onion was translucent. I added the ground beef, breaking it up into small pieces and browning well. Dumping in one can of tomatoes and one can of beef broth I set about to open the wine.

    Where was the corkscrew 
    I searched everywhere without luck. My sauce was simmering but a main ingredient was missing. Desperate, I grabbed a knife and stabbed it into the cork.

    Obediently, it plunged into the bottle allowing the wine to squirt out freely.


    I need a corkscrew.

    Sunday, October 9, 2011

    Where Did the Time Go?

    I made the skirt for six-year-old Maia with about a yard of fabric (given to me by an awesome friend), elastic for the waist and some red rik-rak along the bottom seam. The shirt she never wore because she didn't like the picture (it was Andy Warhol) so I covered it with a piece of the skirt fabric. 

    I kinda can't believe I made this.

    I started at 10am and suddenly it was noon.

    Cowgirl Skirt and Shirt Set 

    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    The Zone

    In seventh grade I somehow ended up in a sewing class. I don't even remember why I chose it. I'd never used a sewing machine before - let alone hand sewn a button. None of my friends sewed. It wasn't something that interested my parents.

    But I found myself in the sewing class with a dozen machines, a bunch of girls I didn't know and a silver-haired teacher with glasses and a stern face. Our first project was a pair of shorts. For the life of me I couldn't figure out how the front and back came together to create something that could be worn. My mom took me to the fabric store and I chose a lavender cotton with tiny white dots. It wasn't a pattern I would ever wear, but I wasn't really thinking about that. It hadn't occurred to me that this new hobby could produce garments I'd actually be seen in.

    Halfway through the semester, my parents and sister went on vacation (being an uncomfortably rebellious teenager, I refused to go.) A friend of my mom's had a daughter in college - Laura - and she came to stay with mr for the week.

    Laura arrived with her sewing machine and a stack of Seventeen Magazines saying, "I heard you like to sew, so I brought these projects for us to work on!" The project was to sew two t-shirts into a dress and embellish with ribbons and such. The magazine photos were SO cute. We got started.

    Sewing requires a lot of space so we set up on the long table in the kitchen. Snipping and seaming and gathering and sewing. I was fully involved and ended up with - if not an exact replica on the Seventeen model - something that was very close. Done! I looked at the clock and it was half past twelve. Midnight. The last time I'd looked it had been around 8. It was the first time in my life that I'd gotten so absorbed in a task (save reading) that everything else disappeared.

    I call that place "the zone" and it's a wonderful place to be. There are very few activities that get me there, but the ones that do are my confirmed passions. Certainly reading was the first - getting so involved in a story that I entered the world inside the book. Then sewing, as I mentioned. In my late teens it became apparent that cooking and preparing for a party put me in that zone. Where others became frazzled and stressed at the thought of entertaining, I found the hours before the guests arrived to be similar to a solo dance around my home - cooking and cleaning and decorating - nothing else mattered. Then in my early 20s - three quarters of the way through a Masters in Jewish Studies - I got a computer and discovered a program called Printshop. It was my boyfriend's birthday and I had no money so I made him an extended card - a booklet really. It took me hours to complete - learning the program as I went along - but time stood still. Once again, it was almost midnight. Little did I know I'd discovered my career.

    It took another three or four years before I realized that design could put me in that "zone" for which I longed. Then it took another few years before I understood that graphic design was a job and I could make it mine.

    So here I am. It's 18 years later and I'm a graphic designer. I'm lucky that my work allows me to enter "the zone" on a regular basis. Don't get me wrong! It's not all timeless activity. Reaching that place is still a novelty but it's always a pleasure coming out of it with a beautiful product to show my client.

    I bring this all up now because last week a friend bought me - I mean Maia - a sewing machine. I've been teaching both kids to make pillows and bags from scraps of fabric and old clothes. This weekend the kids are with their dad so I thought I'd try my hand at sewing from a pattern again -- first time in a couple of decades. I decided to go with pajama pants (which I needed) and bought a pattern and some gorgeous fabric on sale. I got started at around two pm. Next thing I know it's 4:30 and I have a pair of jammies that are über cool. The afternoon happily melted away. In fact - I forgot to eat - which is great since it's Yom Kippur and I was supposed to be fasting anyway.

    How do you reach the "zone?"


    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    World's Easiest Blackberry Galette

    Last week I walked into the local market to find mounds of plump ripe blackberries begging me to take them home. I'm a compassionate soul and complied.

    Once home I perused the kitchen for ingredients to bring out the most flavor from the berries and found a box of pre-made pie-crust, sugar and ... yes, I had one egg left. All the makings for a galette.

    Following the directions on the pie-crust box I unrolled it flat on a piece of wax paper. After gently tossing the blackberries in about a half cup of sugar, I dumped them onto the middle of my pie dough.

    Folding it all up is easy - fold up one section at a time - overlapping like pleats so that all the berries are contained.

    To save washing, I cracked the egg into the same bowl that was used to toss the berries. A pastry or basting brush can be used (as can the back of a soup spoon) to brush the egg (white, yolk or both - your choice) onto the dough. A final sprinkle of sugar and into a 350 degree oven for about a half hour  - or until the crust is firm and golden.

    Let cool slightly before serving with ice cream and shaved chocolate.

    (Be sure to save some for the next morning - berry galette is gorgeous for breakfast with a strong cup of coffee.)

    Joe eats his galette happily.

    Sept. 29, 2011 - UPDATE:
    Last night I made two galettes  - one with peaches and strawberries and one with figs. The only thing I did differently than the blackberry galette is that I added brown sugar and butter to the top of the fruit. Raves.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011

    Summer of the Fleas

    Back in May I volunteered to watch a friend's small dog because I thought it would be fun for the kids - Maia in particular. She loves little dogs. In fact - moving past the fact that the dog wasn't really house trained and that it irritated the hell out of Moses the Dog, our large Shepherd mix - we had fun with it.

    The little dog stayed for almost two weeks and on the last day, while waiting for my friend to pick it up, I saw a flea scurrying across it's back. Whoa! I haven't seen a flea since I was in college when my cat had them. We used to give Moses flea medication, but since the marriage ended (three years ago) I've not bothered (that stuff is expensive!) and because Moses is basically a solitary dog, he's been fine. Nary a flea or tick in site. Ever.

    I told my friend about the flea. She seemed to think it came from my backyard and shrugged it off. I knew my backyard was not responsible and also shrugged it off. The little dog left and the kids, Moses and I got back to our normal everyday routine.

    Flea Trap made with a pie pan,
    reading light and soapy water.
    Towards the end of June small little bites started appearing on my ankles. They itched like crazy and I suddenly became aware of Moses's frantic scratching. Uh... do we have fleas? So I vacuumed, did tons of laundry and Ex brought me some topical flea medication to put on Moses's back. I even made a flea-trap. It didn't get better.

    By the first week in July it was so bad that I felt like the little buggers had taken over my life. I was in pain and woke up every morning with new bites. A friend who had suffered the same fate years earlier took me under her wing and let me sleep in her guest room (while the kids were at their dad's). My first night there I slept for 16 hours - it was SUCH a relief to be rested and to wake without a new bite. She helped me devise a concrete plan to rid my house of the pests and gifted me $500 to help me see it through. (And thank goodness! See cost list below).

    The plan of attack (literally) included an arsenal of itch-relief medications for me; medications, shots, baths, and boarding for Moses; flea bombs and professional treatments for my home. My friend  recommended Fleabusters and I called to make an appointment. In the days before they came I boarded Moses and bombed the house. Twice. I did it again a week after they came because Fleabuster treatment takes six weeks to work and I was leaving town anyway... And then, when I returned, another friend helped me vacuum my one room with carpeting (the room that serves as both my bedroom and my office). Over and over. And over.

    It's now the end of August and the situation is much better but it's not finished. While Moses is now clear (on a double treatment of Comfortis and Advantage), I'm still seeing a flea here and there and I definitely got a new bite last night. Yesterday marked six weeks since Fleabusters treated my home and tomorrow morning I'll call them on their one year guarantee. Hopefully they'll come and treat the house again and six weeks from now I'll really be out of the woods. What is that? Second week in October? Here's to a flea-free Halloween.

    PS - for whatever reason, the kids were not bothered by the fleas and didn't get any bites. Or if they did get bites they had no reactions to them.

    Summer of the Fleas: Costs
    $425 Fleabusters
    $300 bombs (3 each, 3 times) and sprays
    $300 medications, shots, washing and boarding Moses
    $80 professional housecleaning
    $100 anti-itch creams and lotions for me
    GRAND TOTAL: $1205 (and the reason I didn't get a new computer monitor this year.)
    Note that this list does not include the many hours spent vacuuming, laundering and sleeping at others' homes.
    Not to mention the physical pain suffered from the bites. Scars will last for years.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Breezy Birthing Day

    Pregnancy does not become me. Aside from the usual nausea and fatigue, I break out in acne worse than a pubescent hamburger flipper. It's nasty. Additionally, I'm a small person, so the last trimester is particularly painful. Maia (my second) would push at my ribs with her feet - as if she wanted to stretch out her legs. It became so bad that I had my friend, a midwife, strip my membranes to try and induce labor - something that was done quite successfully during my first pregnancy. It worked: two days later the contractions began.

    During Contractions
    Between Contractions
    This is where most women launch into a diatribe about the trauma of their birthing experience. I know this because it's what I did after I had Joe (my first). Descriptions with details about episiotomy stitches and epidural headaches abound. I'm not gonna do that.

    The contractions came exactly six years ago on a hot afternoon - soft and far apart - just like they're supposed to. I conducted my day as usual - worked (there was a deadline that had to be reached!), hung out with Joe, a new neighbor came by to visit. I called my doula - a longtime girlfriend who was coming up from Santa Cruz to help me out and take photos - so she could start her one-hour drive. My friend, the midwife, lived next door and checked in on me often.

    It was late when the contractions became stronger and closer together. My husband (at the time) left me in the capable hands of my doula-friend and my midwife-friend who took shifts while he slept. It was wonderful. The labor was textbook - there was no pain between contractions and it was hard to tell when to leave for the hospital. Eventually my midwife-friend checked how far I was dilated and proclaimed us ready to go.

    Once admitted to the hospital my friends and I lit a gardenia scented candle and tried to get some sleep (then-husband was at home with 4-year-old Joe). In the morning they offered pitocin to speed things along. When it was time to have the epidural I questioned it - maybe it's not needed? But the nurse and midwife-friend said to take it then or I there wouldn't be another chance. I took their advice.

    My husband (at the time) arrived just as I was starting to push, and Maia slipped out fifteen minutes later. A beautiful healthy baby girl.

    Easy, peasy, breezy.

    Especially when you compare it to my first birthing experience: with Joe I had back labor and the pain was excruti----oops - I said I wasn't gonna do that.

    What's your labor story? I know you want to tell it.

    (All photos by Deborah Bresnick)

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Guest Post and Pestilence

    My friend and fellow Single Mama Extraordinaire Issa Mas is running a weekly series on her blog featuring single moms from around the world. I was lucky enough to participate. My post was published yesterday and you can find it here. It's all about rules and routines and why it's important to have them both.

    Flea Bites on My Legs
    Sadly, since writing the post, my house (and myself) have been infested with fleas. While they don't seem to bother the kids, Moses and I are being eaten alive. Let me be the first to tell you that any kind of routine is ripped to shreds when faced with pestilence. And here I will complain: it is hard enough being a single parent in GENERAL - but when issues like lice, fleas, illness, or broken bones enter the picture the job becomes ginormous and overwhelming.

    I'm very lucky to have a good friend who is helping me through this ridiculous ordeal. I've been sleeping at her house (to escape the fleas) and she has helped me organize cleaning and boarding for Moses (the dog) as well as coordinate a visit from fleabusters. Honestly, I don't know what I'd have done without her this past week.

    We're supposed to be the strong-willed, hard-working, much-loving single parents.... but it doesn't always go smoothly. "Life happens" (quote from my mom) and it must be dealt with. But sometimes it just CAN'T be done alone, and it's OK to reach out for help. All those people who've said "I don't know how you do it, being a single parent..." Them? Those are the ones to ask. 

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    Accountability and Why Twitter Should Have a Dating Component

    It's no secret that I spent several months testing my luck on a couple of dating websites. I met a lot of guys. Had a lot of fun first dates. A few seconds. And zero thirds.

    A few weeks ago, a friend who's known me for years set me up with one of her coworkers. We met for coffee and got along well. Several enjoyable dates later it became apparent that we were not a match, but we had a few lovely meals, a couple of hikes and many long conversations. It was nice getting to know each other.

    What's the difference?

    Let's just say that the men I've met via dating sites were more comfortable cruising to second base (or stealing third) than men I'd met through friends. Why? Because he knew me from nothing - no connection, no commonalities - if he chose to attempt a homer and then never call again I'd be the only one to know he's an ass. No skin off his back.

    The other guy - the one I met through a friend? He's accountable to her. He knows that if he's rude to me or does something unreasonable that it will be reported to our mutual friend. It could make him look bad if he tries to jump bases. He doesn't want to look less than stellar, so he's polite, nice, even chivalrous.

    Where does twitter work into this?

    I've been on twitter for several years (@berzerkeley) and have built up a wonderful community of friends. (People who don't tweet don't understand this, but those of you who do - and I'll bet there are at least a few of you reading this - get it.) Many are parents. Single moms and single dads. Some are from Berkeley. Most are not. But they all have a presence on twitter. Through this community I've met and dated a few different people. Because we followed each other on twitter we had a base understanding of each other and a connection via a common group of people. In other words, we were both accountable to the twitter community from which we met. If either went "out of bounds" there was a danger of it being reported publicly. In my circle this breeds good behavior. The experiences were excellent. Better than anything I ever found on OKCupid or jDate.

    Back in 2008 I made a (fictional) video about just this. In the three years since then, meeting people through social media in general and twitter in particular has become a more acceptable venture. So I'm wondering, why hasn't this been mined.

    Developers, coders, app-creators - whatever you're called - could someone please create a dating site from what already exists in the twitterverse? Can you make it easier to search single men my age and geographically near me, so I can stalk - I mean follow - them? And that's just the beginning. Hashtags and lists can be brought into the mix. Come now. It can't be that hard.

    Get to work!

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011


    My Droid finally broke down and died last month. I took the opportunity to trade (up?) to an iPhone 4 - on the Verizon network. I've been a happy Verizon customer for 15 years.

    What's the first thing I do with my new phone? I mean like - the VERY FIRST THING - before I make a call, send a text, set up email - before any of that - I download the application Instagram and take a photo of myself. Still in the parking lot.

    It's why I bought the phone.

    Seriously. For the past several months I've been admiring the stunning photographs posted by my friends via Instagram.  I was dying to see how it worked and try it out. but the app isn't available for Android so, until I did the switch, I was helpless to participate.

    Since that day, about a month ago, I might have gone a little overboard with the photo app purchases and downloads. Last count, I had about 20 of them. Aside from Instagram - which I adore - my favorite applications for photography are LensFlare, Blender, Labelbox, ColorSplash, Diptic and Camera +. I use them in combination to create what the iPhonographers call "appsperiments." Sure, I'm used to touching up photos in Adobe Photoshop on my client's projects, but altering them significantly - no way. Maybe this is why I so love this hobby: it's exactly what I don't get to do at work.

    A flickr pro account (graciously gifted by a friend!) allows me to upload all of these crazy photos to one place to organize, label and tag. Finding flickr groups to join has been fun. Being invited to join groups: gratifying.

    I love using this phone as a camera. In fact, I use it more often as a camera then anything else. It should really be called an iCamera with a built in phone.

    But I digress.

    There is a lot that I've learned about graphic design over the (ahem) 15 years in the business that correlate to composing photographs. With the iPhone apps, I can go beyond the capture and add elements that tell a richer story. Because, lets face it, a truly good photograph tells a tale. It speaks in larger ways than words.

    Aside from great personal satisfaction with this new hobby, I've gotten some really nice feedback from the public specter that is tremendously encouraging. In the last two days:

    So, if you're on Instagram, please follow me at berzerkeley. And just to confuse you, on flickr, I'm corikesler

    Let's share photos. Let's tell stories.

    Monday, May 30, 2011

    The Monthly Book Report

    Joe's fourth grade teacher has been very creative in the way she assigns monthly book reports. Rather then traditional written papers, the projects have ranged in style from cereal boxes, mobiles and book covers to board games and pinwheels. Each form requires the same fundamental items (setting, characters, etc) but the production and vehicle for communication is different.

    At the beginning of each month Joe chooses a book. By the end of the month, he's read five other books besides the one he'd planned for his book report. It's amazing to me that he doesn't mix everything up. He remembers the details of the characters, plot, thoughts, ideas - everything.

    We work together on the reports. It's often a challenge and it would be fair to say that there is occasional dread involved (from both of us) at the impending due date. I've found that each report requires at least four hours and is best to do over two days - usually the weekend before it's due. Getting through each project is gratifying and, despite (not) infrequent arguments, his pride in the creations is gratifying. The time spent together bonds us. It's been good.

    The final report of the year was "free choice" and Joe asked if he could do a movie trailer (I've been working with the students on digital stories so this is an acceptable format of submission) We got to work - starting with a story board... we created our own, not realizing that iMovie offers templates for movie trailers - had I known we were going to use one, I would have had him start there. (Live and learn --- Learn and live!)

    We decided quickly that the kinds of images that Joseph wanted were too specific to find in a creative commons search, so he decided to draw his own. BEST DECISION EVER! His artistic skills (in my humble opinion as his mom) are stellar. Because we'd taken the time to make the story board he  knew exactly what illustrations he needed. It took out the guesswork. I taught him how to color his sketches in Adobe Photoshop - a program I use professionally. He was impressed with my familiarity of the software and he learned something about my field of work.

    When he was done drawing, he took digital pictures of the illustrations and imported them to iPhoto, and from there to iMovie. Using the template provided, he chose the images he wanted; when he didn't like the number of images required by the template I explained how to add up the time of each clip provided so he could insert what he liked while keeping the movie in concert with the music.

    Tomorrow Joe will turn in the dvd with the story board and notes in a plastic cd case What he created is really excellent. I'm a very proud mama.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    Two Radicchio Recipes

    Lately I've been having intense cravings for radicchio. When I have a craving for something I don't question it - I go with it - so I've been eating radicchio. A lot.

    Together with some staple items I have in my kitchen, radicchio can be salad or a pasta "sauce."

    This is how I've been preparing it:

    #radicchio #saladRadicchio Salad
    1 head radicchio chopped
    half cup crumbled blue cheese
    1/4 cup currents
    1/4 cup walnuts
    1/2 apple, thinly sliced
    1/2 avocado chopped small
    juice of half a lemon
    2-3 tbsp olive oil

    Toss all ingredients, add salt and pepper to taste.
    Serve with crusty bread.

    Radicchio Pasta
    1 head radicchio chopped
    2-3 tbsp olive oil
    1 clove garlic
    half cup crumbled blue cheese
    1/4 cup chopped walnuts
    2-3 tbsp olive oil
    pasta (I used spaghetti)

    Heat olive oil and garlic in a pan (careful not to burn garlic)
    Add radicchio and saute until limp - about 10 minutes

    Add cooked pasta to the pan with the radicchio and toss
    Serve with a sprinkling of blue cheese and walnuts