Friday, September 28, 2012

Comfort Me With Apples

Autumns of my childhood are inextricably linked to apples.

Every year, my father would run an apple picking trip for the kids in his urban high school; they'd drive their tricked-out cars to the northernmost points in New Jersey, where they parked them under the trees among the apples that had already fallen, now fermenting on the ground.  And they'd do what most people do in an apple orchard: climb trees.  It was the one time every year when I was given permission to climb trees, too, and I remember grabbing hold of the branches, finding a sturdy limb high in a tree heavy with fruit, and resting against the trunk, sinking my teeth into one I'd just picked.  I learned early about varieties of apples: that they didn't just come in two colors, but in all shades of red and pink and yellow and green, some wish a base color and a blush, some with shiny skin.  Some were round, and some were shaped like hearts, with bumps and ridges at the bottom.  And the variety of tastes!  To my undeveloped palate, the sweet crisp McIntosh were the perfect apples, but I learned to love Jonagold and Honeycrisp and Gala and Pink Lady, and as I got older, I discovered the Winesap.

We would pick bushels of apples--more fruit than I thought we could use--but my parents would store them int the stall shower of our basement, where it was dark and cool like a root cellar, and somehow they disappeared into my father's apple spiced apple compote, or into our lunchboxes, or--though more rarely--into a pie.

When I worked in the university, I took my students apple picking a few times, loading them onto a bus, and giving them photocopied sheets about apple varieties, encouraging them to taste them, to notice how amazing an apple could be.  Now that I look back at it, those early days in the orchard were my first exposure to eating locally, knowing where your food comes from, and to the incredible range of varietals--and those bus trips were my attempt to pass on my love for fresh food.

On Wednesday the kids had off from school, and I suggested meeting some of I'.s friends at a local orchard.  We went on a hayride, picked more apples than any of us think we could possibly use, and tasted the difference between Macoun and Cortland and Winesap.  Because the signs are clearly posted telling us not to, we didn't exactly climb trees.  But the kids climbed all over the playground afterwards, looking out across the valley onto the beautiful expanse of autumn in our county.  And then we came home, and S. made pie for breakfast.

Grammy L's Apple Pie
S. loves this pie; it's his grandmother's recipe.  I am a stubborn pie snob, and I prefer my pie, but this one is a lot faster, involves no rolling of crust, and I'm not going to turn down homemade pie, especially if I don't have to make it.

1 stick margarine
2 c. flour
6 T. sugar
7 medium apples, grated
1 T. sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400F.

Crumble margarine, flour, and sugar together.  Press 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of a pie pan.  Set aside the other 1/3.

Combine the apples with sugar and cinnamon.  Top with the remaining crumb crust and sprinkle with cinnamon.  Bake about 40 minutes, or until the filling bubbles.
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Monday, September 24, 2012

Perfect Moment Monday: Simple Birthdays and Strawberry Muffins

Perfect Moment Monday is a monthly blog hop/writing prompt, sponsored by Lavender Luz at Write Mind Open Heart, about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one. Perfect moments can be momentous or ordinary or somewhere in between. On the last Monday of each month we engage in mindfulness about something that is right with our world. Everyone is welcome to join.

When my son was old enough to start attending birthday parties, I was a little bit appalled at the kinds of birthday parties being thrown for the preschool and kindergarten aged set.  I felt lucky when he didn't complain about a party-in-the-park that turned into a big-playdate-at-our-house due to rain one year, and when he asked, at age four, for an "adults-only" celebration.  Last year, we celebrated more traditionally with a space-themed party at our house, but, type A person that I am, I spent months planning and preparing.

When we asked him what he wanted to do for his birthday this year, he told us that he only wanted one person at his party: a little girl who has been his friend and constant companion since he was a toddler.

We love A.  She has the impish grin of an elf, but the seriousness and thoughtfulness of a much older child.  She insists on wearing dresses, but also on climbing trees.  They met when my son went to Montessori school, in the Toddler House, where they spent hours together, since both sets of parents were working full time.  When they moved up to the Primary level, they went to separate classrooms, and were thrilled when those classrooms had to be combined due to some downsizing at the school.  The teachers joked that they were inseparable.  I. and A. talked about getting married, about buying a house at the beach, about how many cars and campers and tractor trailers they were going to have.  It was sweet.  And yet, maybe a little too sweet?

I wouldn't say that we tried to dissuade him from his "party for two," but we gave him every opportunity to renege on the decision. I worried about what her parents would think.  What about your other friends? we asked several times over the next month.  What about the boys?  Every time, he shook his head.  No, he'd say, firmly, I just want to have A. over.  Finally, he became annoyed, and said, in that unmistakeable teenager-y voice, "Mom, haven't you been listening to me?"

Well, I had.  But I hadn't.

I.'s birthday would be early in his first year in a new school, in a class full of people he didn't know.  Of course he wouldn't feel comfortable inviting any of those new people to a party.  And maybe he felt like he just wanted something quiet, and familiar: the companionship of a friend whom he hadn't seen since camp ended, and whom he wouldn't see again for many months.

We agreed, and I offered to take them out to tea, at a local place that does high tea the English way, with small sandwiches, scones, and small desserts.  I'd taken I. before, just the two of us, and he enjoyed the attention, the multiple courses, and feeling grown up; he swilled decaf fruit tea like a pro.  He set about designing an invitation immediately, which I didn't even get to see before he sealed it up and sent it off.  (I still don't know what it said, though A.'s parents assure us that it was entirely appropriate.)

I.'s birthday was a perfect fall day: warm but not hot, breezy without the chill.  A. arrived at mid-day, dressed in blue flowers, and I chauffered them both downtown in the MegaWagon.  We ordered one prince and one princess tea, and they chatted and giggled over banana-nutella sandwiches and strawberries and scones while I tried to eat my salad as inconspicuously as possible.  The staff came out with a candle-adorned cupcake in the middle of generous plates of desserts, and sang happy birthday, as I. beamed, and his companion looked on, grinning broadly.

When tea was over, they went browsing at the adjacent shop that sells all things porcelain, and conspiratorially ran ahead of me back to the wagon.  It was hard going on the way back, since I'd drunk an entire pot of tea by myself, and I made the usual adult groaning noises, which they thought were extremely funny.  Finally, about three quarters of the way back, they decided to pull the wagon together up the hill to our house.

And as I walked behind them, feeling the warm autumn sun on my face, I thought about the beauty of uncomplicated friendships, of the completeness of children's love, and felt grateful both that I. has a friend like A., and that he recognizes what a gem she is.  I felt glad that he didn't feel the need to have a big party in order to feel celebrated, and lucky to have a little boy who has already figured out what's really important.  At one point, I was struck by how perfect it was, watching them walk together, and I snapped this picture with my camera phone,  I hoped that they would always remember that first friendship, and remember how it's easier to pull a really large wagon when you're both holding on to the handle, bodies close together, talking, laughing, wondering about the world, and not paying attention to how heavy it is.

It's a lesson we would all do well to learn.

Happy birthday, I.  May they all be as perfect as this moment.

Strawberry Muffins
These healthy muffins are perfect for a lunchbox, a snack container, or children's tea.  Or maybe for you, to share with a friend.

1 c. regular flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
6 T. unrefined sugar or 1/4 c. agave nectar
1/2 t. salt
3 T. baking powder
1 egg or 1 flax egg (1 T. flaxseed + 3 T. water, mixed and let stand)
1 c. milk of your choice (or 3/4 c. + 2 T. milk of your choice if using agave)
3 T. grapeseed oil (melted coconut or canola will also work)
1 c. frozen strawberries, chopped into blueberry-sized chunks

Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Separately mix together wet ingredients.  Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients.  Stir with a wooden spoon until just moistened ... do NOT overmix!  Add the strawberries and stir gently until just combined.

Pour into 12 muffin cups and bake 12 minutes at 400 (or 13-14 minutes at 375 if using agave).
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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The You Project: a Review

What do you want out of life?  What are the fears that are holding you back from achieving your goals?

Big questions.  Questions that many of us ask ourselves not once, but often throughout our lives, as our circumstances change, as our perspective changes.  They are certainly questions that I've been asking myself over the past year and a half, after I stepped out of my career into the abyss of the unknown.

But honestly, even if you've known what your life goals are for the past thirty years, revisiting those goals and the obstacles that prevent you from achieving them is like taking your car for a tune-up.  Every so often, it's important to reorient ourselves, to check in and make sure that we are living in a way that brings us closer to our most authentic selves.  Which is why I would like Keiko Zoll's newest e-book, The You Project, even if I weren't in a space of transition.  Writes Keiko: "The art of self-empowerment is not simply a destination; it is a fluid state of continuous growth."

Keiko would know; she's been on that journey herself for over a decade.  What started as an anonymous blog catapulted her into the spotlight after her 2010 video What If: A Portrait of Infertility went viral on YouTube, and in March 2012, she relaunched her blog to become a resource to empower infertility patients worldwide.  But for me, the most amazing thing about Keiko is that her approach to "fertile living" isn't just applicable to people living with infertility.  It's about choosing to live our lives mindfully, with intention and purpose, nourishing ourselves (and, as a result, nurturing others) regardless of where we are and where we are going.

I don't usually do reviews here, but Keiko and her book are both full of awesomesauce, and I found her e-book inspiring and relevant.  In it, Keiko takes the lessons she's learned from her own journey so far and offers them to readers in a format that is approachable and engaging.  The book doesn't lecture, because, as she points out, "It's not me; it's you."  It doesn't give readers a prescribed path to enlightenment.  What it does offer, in Keiko's conversational, compassionate, humorous, down-to-earth writing voice, are prompts for self-reflection, ways you can better tune in to yourself, your thoughts, and your values, and suggestions for taking those insights to the next level, by taking action.  Reading the book and using the exercises is like having a conversation with a wise and resourceful friend, the kind who doesn't offer useless advice, but listens carefully and asks exactly the right kinds of questions.  You get the sense that Keiko is taking this journey with you, which isn't so far from the truth; she confesses in the end, she has, in the process of writing, actually rekindled her own sense of purpose.

The book is designed to be used over the course of three weeks, allowing the reader to engage in self-study as a process.  Keiko includes both reflective "WRITE NOW" exercises, designed to help you document your journey and record what you learn along the way for future inspiration, and "YOU DO" exercises, which encourage you to practice authentic living by starting with small, manageable (really! I've tried them!) tasks that you can incorporate into everyday life.  As someone who can easily become trapped in reflective activities, I really appreciated the balance of "think and do" that the book creates.

Of course, three weeks isn't enough to change habits, or behaviors, or patterns of thinking.  There's a reason the word "Kickstart" is in the subtitle of the book.  The tools for unlocking truths, confronting and owning fears, and living in the moment are things we carry with us. They're things we're reminded about when we're standing in line at the grocery store, or having a difficult conversation, or noticing a stream of negative self-talk.  There's no reason not to return to these exercises again and again, including Keiko in your "support crew."

For more information, and a free preview, visit the You Project at The Infertility Voice Shop.  Then, as Keiko writes: "Go forward, live boldly, and kick ass."

What does living an authentic life mean to you?  Do you find that you revisit your goals regularly?  Do you know what fears prevent you from reaching your goals, and if so, how did you identify them?
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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Neighborhoods, Normal, and Doodlesnaps

Life around here has been pretty bizarre lately, and it's left me craving order in my little corner of the universe.

When I was growing up, I had only a few friends in our neighborhood.  The daughter of teachers, I went to school in the town where my mom taught: during the school year, we were up before the crack of dawn and out the door before the neighbor children were awake, and we'd arrive home just in time to start homework and dinner or go to piano lessons or dance lessons or choir practice.  At school, I spent the hours before and after the bell in my mother's classroom, making chalk dust from erasers and collating and stapling dittos.  We had weekends after church and errands were done, and I often spent those precious hours across the street with the two friends that my parents would let me go see on a whim.

And so, despite the ambitious, career-oriented woman that I was, I dreamed of becoming the kind of mother who was known for the freshly baked cookies she always had for visiting friends, who seemed to host the all of the neighborhood kids after school.  I'm not sure why this was my version of normal, but it was.  (In my fantasy, of course, I'd conveniently left out the part about getting home from work at 6.)

The funny thing is that as much as I've loved my neighbors, and as kid-friendly our street is, I've always felt a little bit out of the parenting loop in our neighborhood.  When I was working full time, I got home too late for playdates, and on the weekends people seemed to scatter for family commitments; now that I'm home, it seems like no one is out during the day.  I'd been wondering if the network of stay at home parents I always imagined was just that: imagined.

So I was pleasantly surprised when we were invited to a barbecue this weekend at the house where I. catches his bus in the morning.

We had a perfect day for it: warm, sunny, breezy.  There were plenty of things to nibble on, and a big bounce house for the kids.  The adults sat and drank beer and talked, watching the kids play, soaking in the early fall weather, venturing out past the fenced in yard to play horseshoes.

The hours passed, and somehow it was decided that people would be  camping out in the back yard that night, and by 8pm there were three tents pitched just a few feet away from our house, children playing flashlight tag, reveling in the darkness while their fathers ate Doritos and played cards on the back deck.  And I realized that this was it: this was what I had wanted all of those long years ago, the neighborhood children congregating in my back yard.  And yet, different, because this isn't ever what I'd imagined it would be.  A different sort of normal.

N. and I slept inside, because she would never sleep outside, and woke in the morning to admire the three pods in the semi-dark, wondering when their residents would wake.  And when they did, I made the kids hot cocoa and doodlesnaps, hoping that they'd remember, and come back.

Doodlesnaps are a cross between a muffin and a pancake in 9x9 pan form.  You'll want to eat them warm, because they deteriorate pretty quickly.  Luckily, even though we make them infrequently, that's never much of a problem around here.

2 c. flour (half whole wheat or oat or a combination of flours is fine)
1 c. sugar (or 2/3 c. agave, just reduce the milk by 1/4 c. and decrease oven temp by 25 degrees)
1 egg
1 c. milk (any kind of milk will do)
1 T. oil
4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
brown sugar (or turbinado sugar)

Preheat oven to 325.  Mix everything together and pour into a greased and floured 9x9 pan.  Sprinkle as generously as you like with brown sugar and cinnamon, and dot with a pea-sized bit of margarine/butter every inch or so.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, with moist crumbs.  Let cool for 5-10 minutes, and enjoy.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Friendship, Under the Circumstances: Fudge Brownies

First, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been part of my parachute these past few days.  You feel like you're in free fall, and then you look behind you, and there it is: a beautiful, bright, vibrant thing, slowing your descent, cushioning the fall.  I am lucky to have you all, the virtual friends and the ones I can reach out to touch.

As you might imagine, I've been thinking a lot about friendships these past few days, especially female friendships I've made.  Which is sort of ironic, considering that one of my most recent posts was about sisterhood, and how I was feeling like I came late to the table of female friendship.

The friend I lost this weekend was the co-founder of the working mom's group I started (another irony, since I'm not currently working outside the home).  She wasn't someone I necessarily would have chosen to befriend, except for our circumstances: she was also kicked out of the stay-at-home-moms group that we joined for companionship and support when there were no other alternatives (we joked about this for years).  She wasn't and she was like me: unlike me, she loved her TV shows, she smoked, she was much more laid back than I am, she drove an SUV ... but more like me, she loved her children fiercely, she was smart, she was strong, and she was ready with a wisecrack or with an ear at just the right times.  Together, we coalesced a diverse group of women who were negotiating the balance of work outside the home and the commitments we wanted to make to our families.  The group has been through its ups and downs, and has been pretty quiet formally for the past year or so, but it still exists, and it was responsible for some unlikely life-changing friendships, even if we weren't the ones who were changed.

Crisis has a knack for doing this, doesn't it?  On the anniversary of September 11th, I also think about the friendships that were forged over that tragedy ... the people who happened to be in the same place at the same time watching in horror, or the people who had to cope, together, with the aftermath of unexpected loss, finding each other at the scene of devastation.  Because sometimes, despite the best intentions of others, you simply need someone who gets it, someone who has been exactly where you were.  And sometimes they can take you down roads you would never have traveled.

The blogosphere is like this, too.  There are certainly "tribes" of people that form, reinforcing the things we already share in common.  We look for them, because they make us feel better about our writing and our belief systems.  But there are also "circumstantial" connections that we make, happenstance meetings that change our writing, our career paths, our decisions ... sometimes our lives.  And those are just as worth treasuring as the ones that mirror our experiences.

When I lived in LA, I ran into an old acquaintance ... someone who'd had a thing for me back in college.  He introduced me his high school friend and wife in San Francisco, and the wife introduced me to her friend, whom she made through an ex-boyfriend, in LA.  The chain of coincidences that were required for me to meet this woman was dizzying.  But it was one of the most important friendships I made when I was out there.  C. was like everyone's older sister or aunt, and she took me under her wing.  I have memories of going to visit her in her apartment, cats curling around my leg.  Perhaps most importantly, I remember sitting with her on the 3rd Street Promenade eating pizza that claimed to be just like New York's best, talking with her about my dissatisfaction with graduate school.  Her answer?   "So why don't you leave?"

It had never occurred to me that I could ... but I did.    That chance connection, to someone I would never have befriended, changed everything.

I really ought to catch up with her again.

Today, be open to the happenstance connections in your life.  You may be surprised at where they take you.

Has a circumstantial/happenstance acquaintance ever changed your life?

One Pot Fudge Brownies
Though the memory is grainy like an Instagram photo, I recall us making these brownies in C.'s house one day, or was it a place I was housesitting? maybe after going out for Indian food.  They were completely inedible as brownies; we had to use a spoon to eat them right out of the pan.  But they were exactly right.  I've since tweaked the recipe, and now you can actually cut them and remove them from the pan, but you do have to wait for them to cool.  Otherwise, be prepared to break out your spoon.  And no, these are not very attractive.  Do you really need attractive brownies?

1/2 c.butter
1 2/3 c. sugar
2 T. water
4oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 1/3 c. flour
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 /t .salt
6 to 12 ounces of good dark chocolate chips or chunks

Preheat oven to 325.

Spray a 9x9" baking pan with cooking spray.

Melt butter in a medium to large pot over medium-low heat.  Stir in sugar and water and mix until the sugar is completely dissolved.  The water will want to do its own thing; don't worry about that.  Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate until completely combined.  Stir in the eggs, one a a time, and then vanilla.  Mix well.  Put some elbow grease into it.  Resist the urge to lick the spoon at this point.

Sift together the dry ingredients, then add to the pot.  Stir well.  You'll see that the mixture begins to look like one large mass of chocolate dough.  That's right.

Add the chocolate chips/chunks and mix briefly but thoroughly, so that they don't melt too much.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 25-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out gooey but not wet.  Allow the brownies to cool in the pan thoroughly before you attempt to cut them, and then do so with a wet knife.
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Saturday, September 8, 2012


The world suddenly looks like a caricature when you open a Facebook message informing you that your friend is dead.

You keep waiting for someone to post the witty punchline, because that's what Facebook is for.  This is obviously a cruel practical joke.  You are angry at your friend for allowing the joke to go on this long.  Why won't she post a status update, dispelling the rumors?  Stupid Facebook.

Watching the rain that is now blowing sideways across the yard, you huddle on the phone with a mutual friend, refusing to believe, because refusal will make it not-so.  You hang up to make dinner, as if this sort of conversation happens every day, and leftover homemade pizza is the next event in the natural sequence.

But your mutual friend has connections, and she calls you again to confirm that this absurdity is real.  Together, and then again alone, you begin to gather the story, thinking that maybe it will make more sense once you have all of the pieces.  You comb through the posts on her Facebook wall.  You look at her text messages.  You spend hours on the phone, with friends, discussing the events leading up to this disaster.  You play Nancy Drew.  But you're an amateur, and try as you may, the pieces don't fit together.

It's simply absurd.

Because this is not the sort of thing that happens to your friends, your warrior women friends.  This is what happens on Fox News: women recently separated from their husbands dying inexplicably in hotel rooms in Atlantic City, with their children nestled up against them, one under the crook of each arm.

Fuck that.

You weep over silly things, like the message she sent asking you to join her for hot yoga, to which you replied that you couldn't cheat on your own beloved teacher, but that you'd get back to her.  You think about the last time you saw her, and you hate that you can't remember the last time you saw her.

You weep for her children, for their terminated innocence, for the loss of their true north.  She was their world, and they hers.  You are the sort of person who helps people, and there is not a thing you can do to fix this kind of broken.

You hate that she is a hazy memory already, brilliant, silhouetted by the sun, as if you've Photoshopped her with "Outer Glow."  You are standing with her on the dry part of the rocky creek bed, wordless, watching her children and yours skip stones across the surface of the water.  She slips away from you like the water in the creek, carrying the boat-branches downstream.

You hold her, and your grief, and the whole world, in your heart.
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Thursday, September 6, 2012


So I'd pretty much promised myself that I was not going to do the seemingly obligatory first-day-of-school post, most of which have made me want to go hurl.

But when my son got on the bus this morning for the first time, walking up those steps as if it were the most natural thing in the world, not really knowing, entirely, how he'd get to his classroom or find his teacher or get back on the right bus to get home or get off at the right bus stop to find me ... I was struck by his innocent trust, and by his courage.

Our elementary school is right up the road from us.  The only reason he gets on the bus in the first place is that there is no sidewalk on some very busy stretches of local highway, and there's a wacky traffic circle between our house and there.  And of course the great thing about being home is that if he needs me, I'm a stone's throw away.

But still: he'd never gotten on a school bus before.  Never ridden alone before.  Never navigated his school by himself.  He put complete trust in the bus driver, and in the people who would help him to get off the bus, get to his classroom, get him back on the bus, and get him home.

I couldn't help but wonder, watching him with pride, when we lose that innocent trust, that ability to put our lives in the hands of strangers without question or fear.  And I couldn't help but wish that it came more easily.

When was the last time you put your life in the hands of a stranger?  Did you find it difficult to do so?
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Monday, September 3, 2012

Friending My Mother, and the Need-To-Know Basis: Tomatillo Stew

About a month ago, I got a facebook friend request from my mother.

I sat, staring at my screen in disbelief for a while, and then, I confess: I pretended that it never happened.  The notification is still sitting in limbo in the friend request tab, glaring at me accusingly every time I open that page, shaking its virtual finger at me, neither accepted nor ignored.  Because I simply didn't know what to do with it.

I've been on facebook since July 2005, a bit longer than most people my age.  I originally used it as a professional tool, for the purpose of hunting down students, because they weren't responding to email any more, and hadn't yet been sucked into their little text bubbles.  It worked remarkably well: my students both responded more promptly to my questions or requests to see them, and sought me out more often, saying that they found me more approachable because I had a facebook profile.  My policy was not to friend students unless they friended me first, using the tool primarily as a messaging device until they made the decision to use it to build a relationship.

A few years later, my high school and college friends found facebook, and my personal and professional lives collided online.  Suddenly I'd been tagged in pictures from the third grade.  Not long after that, my family started to find me on Facebook, and I could see who my brother had been out with, and where my father-in-law had taken his homemade rail bike.  Unlike some of my colleagues, I have been OK with this collision, because I felt like it represented a more complete picture of me to my students.  I've never posted anything particularly objectionable.  I don't really have anything to hide from one group or another.  There are no pictures of me with a red Solo cup in hand (mostly because those pictures don't exist).  I've never (as far as I can recall, anyway) used facebook to gossip or to say anything derogatory about other people.

Now.  My mother isn't exactly a Luddite, but she is a slow technology adopter, and not an avid user.  As of a week ago, she still receives and forwards chain mail with animated gifs.  Google isn't exactly a verb for her.  Even if I were to accept her friend request, it's unlikely she'd troll through my archives looking for dirt.  She may or may not look at the pictures I've posted, most of which are dated.  She certainly would not read my status updates with any regularity.  At least, I don't think she would ... though the fact that she only has 14 other friends might make me stand out.

So why am I so hesitant to friend her?
When I lived in West Hollywood, I was mugged at gunpoint late one night by a small group of teenagers while on my way to Starbucks for a cup of coffee.  I'm sure it was a small time gang dare, because they seemed nervous, and the "give us your money, bitch" that they whispered in my ear as I felt the cool barrel of the gun at my head inspired more indignance than fear.  I'd grabbed my purse back from them, told them to "hang on a minute," and gave them the $20 I had for groceries, taking my credit cards back and feeling pissed off because I was a poor graduate student.  They seemed satisfied, we parted ways, and I called the police to make my report.  I didn't call my parents to tell them until about a week later, because I didn't feel like they needed to know; they were 3000 miles away, and would have been upset about something they could do nothing about, something that was already over.  I didn't want to dwell on it.  When it finally did come up, I told my mother that the situation was information I shared on a "Need to Know Basis," and that at the time, she didn't need to know.  Though I didn't mean them hurtfully, I know that she has carried those words in her heart since then; it colors all of our interactions, all of our careful stepping around one another's lives.  As I've been thinking about the facebook problem, I've been wondering if I could draw parallels between my reaction to my mother about her friend request, and the fact that I didn't tell her about getting mugged.  Is this about trying to control what I think she Needs To Know? [updated: I am aware of, and use, various custom groups for making some posts more private.  For some reason, that doesn't affect the way I feel about this situation; I would feel uncomfortable accepting the friend request and then excluding her from my posts.]

The other night, I was talking with a friend whom, I was surprised to hear, was experiencing the same dilemma.  Only in her case, her mother was demanding that she friend her.  Unlike my mother's friend request, which was quietly brooding, only creating guilt because I was inviting it to make me feel guilty, her mother's friend request was like a Howler arriving at Hogwarts, screaming in real life, at the top of its lungs: "you'd better friend me or else."  Her mother was actively looking for pictures to which she didn't have access, feeling left out of an imagined circle of communication.  She threatened my friend with hurtful consequences if she continued to exclude her from her friend list.

I told my friend that this amounted to harrassment in my book.  That she shouldn't have to experience this.   That it was wrong of her mother to make such an unreasonable demand of her adult child who, in my opinion, should be allowed to decide whom to friend.

When we were talking about this, I compared my facebook account to a private room in my virtual house.  I may not have anything to hide in that room.  There are no sex toys, or hidden drugs, or anything that my mother should be worried about.  I bring anything that might be of interest to her directly to the recliner in my virtual living room, where I've invited her to sit.  In fact, she has more access to the things in the rest of my virtual house, where she gets to browse freely.  But if I found her in that one room snooping around, or felt like she demanded to have access to that room, I'd be upset.

The irony, of course, is that I find it perfectly acceptable for mothers of children going off to college to expect that their children friend them (which is a conversation I had with another friend just the day before).  I'm not sure if this is a generational division in my mind.  Do I find it acceptable because the younger generation has always lived with their parents looking over their virtual shoulders?  Or because these children are not yet old enough to be completely individuated?

Facebook friends are not really our friends.  It's a poorly-conceived term.  Some of them are friends, some are acquaintances, some are colleagues.  Some are people we probably don't care very much about at all, especially if we're not vigilant about purging our friend list.  And maybe that's just it: the people I don't care about at all are like people on the street who see my public self when I'm walking downtown with my children; what I post on facebook means nothing to them.  My real friends are the ones for whom my posts have meaning.  So perhaps if I considered my mother my friend, I would friend her ... or, ironically, if I didn't care about her at all, I wouldn't mind accepting her friend request?  What does this say about my attitude towards social media?

I'm stewing.  What would you do?

Tomatillo Stew
Here's something different we decided to do with our CSA tomatillos last week.  It requires a green sauce, but uses that green sauce in a slightly different way than usual.  It's easy to make vegetarian/vegan by using chayote squash as a substitute for the chicken.  Adapted from here.
1 1/2 lbs. tomatillos
2 T. canned chopped green chiles (mild)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 t. kosher salt
2 T. lime juice
pinch of sugar
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes & patted dry OR 3/4 lb. chayote squashkosher salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
extra virgin olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground coriander
2 more cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 t. dried oregano1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

Preheat the broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside. Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and slice them in half. Place them cut-side down on a baking sheet about six inches from the broiler and roast for 5-7 minutes, until blackened in spots and cool enough to handle.

Add the tomatillos, any juice they released, chiles, garlic, salt, lime juice, and sugar in a blender and puree until well blended.

Heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet over medium high heat. Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken or squash and drop it in the hot skillet. Brown the cubes on each side (they don’t have to be cooked through); remove from the pan.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions. Cook until softened and the browned bits on the bottom of the pan have loosened.  Add the cumin and coriander and stir until fragrant. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more.

Once the garlic has become fragrant, add the browned chicken or squash back to the pan. Stir in the tomatillo sauce, stock and oregano. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered for 20 minutes, until the chicken or squash is cooked through. Add cilantro just before serving.
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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Feminisms, and What Sisterhood Means to Me

When my parents announced that I would be attending an all-girls Catholic high school, I thought my life was over before it even got started.  In some respects, it was a relief, because I wasn't exactly the most sought-after female in my elementary school, and I was glad that I wouldn't have to worry about impressing boys on top of surviving adolescence and AP English.  On the other hand, I also knew how cruel girls could be, and I worried what it would be like to be with other females without the distraction of boys to diffuse some of the intensity of emotion.

Our high school had a big sister/little sister mentoring program, but the camaraderie and comfort it promised was short-lived.  In fact, on Big Sister/Little Sister day, it was standard practice to dress your little sister as a baby, complete with bib and pacifier, showering her with gifts of balloons and teddy bears.  The next day, the juniors wouldn't give you the time of day.  It was, you might say, an early education in female relationships.

Like most high schools I knew, we took cliques for granted.  Despite the call to solidarity from movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, we divided up the world into neat categories -- the jocks, the nerds, the cheerleaders, the druggies, the sluts.  And while I'm sure that our brother school had its own system of classification, it felt like ours was somehow more rigid, more stratified, more well-enforced.  For all of its talk about compassion, what I learned in high school is that females can be very cruel to each other, and I left high school mostly hating women (with a few notable exceptions, some of whom read this blog).

Oddly enough, in college, I joined an all-female choir, searching for something I couldn't quite define.  I stayed with the group through my senior year, and even became its two-term president, but it never became a place of solace for me.  Until late in college, most of my closest friends (again, with a few exceptions) were men; in fact, the "maid" of honor at my wedding was actually a "dude" of honor: my first long-term college boyfriend.  In graduate school, the friends I counted among my closest confidantes were male.  Even at my first job, there were divisions among the staff, all but one of whom were female.  I had returned to the place where I was an undergraduate, and I know that when I first started working, women in my unit were jealous of each other, jockeying for what little power and recognition there was to go around.  Back then, perhaps they saw me as an interloper, as a young upstart, as someone too smarty-pants for her own good.  Or as something else entirely, I don't know.  What I do know is that I didn't make friends there until much later in my career, something I still regret.  I told only one person there what was happening during my multiple miscarriages.  I wanted, desperately, to be tended to by a woman during those dark days, when I dragged myself to work, day after day, in a sea of blood.  But I didn't feel safe asking for compassion or understanding.

After I had my first child, I joined a group of stay at home moms, even though I was working full time; there weren't any other groups available, and I desperately wanted to talk with other women about the struggles of parenting for the first time.  For a while I tried to host weekend playdates, and even occasionally take a day off from work to be with my son and attend one of the group's events.  Still, I found them exclusive and cliquey: not all of the members of the group  were treated with equal respect.  Eventually, they said I wasn't participating enough to be part of their group, and they asked me to leave.  I started my own group, a working mom's group, which has now been in existence for over five years, though it goes through fits and starts of activity and connection.

The bottom line is this: though I have been lucky to develop friendships with individual women over the years (JeCaThRe, C., R., C., J., and C., I'm looking at you), the first time I really felt like part of a community of women was when I started blogging.  So when Keiko and Mel posted about their reactions to Mayim Bialik's comment about wanting female comfort after her car accident, I knew I wanted to respond.

Bialik writes:

"At the scene of the accident, I’m certain there were women standing around. For whatever reason, not judging, no woman came up to me to comfort me or console me at the accident site. As a modest woman and a feminist woman, I craved a woman to hold. Just as in labor, I believe women can give women special support and I missed out on that."
Keiko uses Bialik's comment as a jumping-off point for an incredibly brave and bold post about legitimate rape, abortion, and taking collective action against what some people have called the "War on Women" in American politics:
"I feel like now more than ever, given our current national discourse on women and women’s rights to their own bodies – I feel like this is when we should band together.

To be the woman that Mayim Bialik so desperately needed and wanted in her moment of crisis. To reach out and console one another. To fight for another and not against each other."
While I don't think that women always "get other women," as Keiko says -- I have proof of several all-female environments to suggest otherwise -- I do worry about the current discourse on women in the U.S., and I wonder what it will take to turn the tide.  When Senator Akin made his remark about "legitimate rape," I was upset not just because one politician said something stupid (because really, politicans--and many other highly visible people--say stupid things all the time to the national media), but because I know that there are women out there who will still vote for him, who will feel like that comment wasn't about them.

Mel wonders, more generally, why women don't more often step forward to help other women, in real life and in blogging.  Is it, she wonders, because as the receivers of help, we don't express our needs clearly enough?  Or because as potential helpers, we second guess our ability to be helpful?
"If we want women to succeed, to feel as if there is a benefit to being in a community of women, we need to do more to hold each other up.  And the reality is that sometimes that will mean getting messy: jumping into someone else’s emotional world and offering our support and keeping perspective if our efforts are rejected (since we’re all individuals and have unique wants about comfort) and still trying again with the next woman."
Both of these women are women who do help other women.  Time and time again, they have stopped at the scene of the accident, even when they were suffering themselves.  Mel is not only the architect of a far-reaching community of women who support other women through infertility and loss, but has demonstrated her commitment -- through projects like ICLW and the LFCA -- to teaching us how to be more compassionate, involved, engaged bloggers -- not to mention her work mentoring and supporting new women writers.  Since her debut video on YouTube, Keiko has become an impassioned advocate for the infertility community, active in RESOLVE, working to catalyze a national conversation about infertility that is free from shame, but also offering resources like eBooks and eClasses to help individuals on their personal journeys.

I don't know what prevents us from abandoning the role of "bystander" and stepping forward to act on behalf of other women: whether it's fear of possible rejection, or worry that perhaps we can't do enough, or feeling like we are too different, or feeling like we can't know what another woman might need, or worry that our offer of assistance will be seen as demeaning to its recipient.  But what I do know is that we need to get over our hang-ups.  These two posts describe what sisterhood has come to mean for me: not necessarily seeing things the same way, or taking sides on the breastfeeding debate, or judging each other for working or not working, or having the same politics, or wearing the same clothes, or having the same body type, or making the same choices about parenting styles, or being vegan or paleo, but about being here for each other.  Connecting with each other.  We can be a diaspora and still stop to comfort another woman at the scene of the accident.  We can still leave supportive, thoughtful comments on blogs where we disagree with the author.  We can disagree about abortion, but protect women's rights over their own bodies.  We can write two completely different posts on the same subject, and still end up in the same place.

And maybe it will take courage to do so.

But unlike other things that are in short supply these days, courage is something we have enough of to spare.

Assuming you're female (because most of my readers are), what do you do to support other women?  How do you get beyond the divisions we create among ourselves to nurture others in the diaspora?
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